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Kawai K5M Synth

Article from Making Music, December 1987


Here we have a new all-digital synth which has sneaked up on us without the fanfares which heralded the arrival of the DX7 and the D50, and which seems to be every 'bit' as innovative.

The K5 uses additive synthesis, which in this case means that we're allowed to specify the relative volume and envelope of each one of up to 126 harmonics. Harmonics are the extra frequencies in any sound that give it its distinctive character.

Thanks but no thanks was my first thought. But I soon realised that this system gives you enormous control and flexibility and, theoretically, the ability to imitate anything exactly. I say theoretically because we're not actually told at what frequencies the harmonics are, although there are available adjustments for odd, even, fifth, and octave harmonics. I think if we're given this much to play with we should have been allowed to tweak the actual relative frequencies. Also, the manual could easily have been a lot more expansive on the theory side.

The enormous range of parameters to play with on the harmonics alone is compounded by the ability on a 'single' patch to combine two sets of harmonic numbers (1-63), or to have one set working the full range (1-126). Furthermore, a 'multi' patch allows you to combine (layered or split) up to 15 'single' patches, depending on how many voices each is allocated — the total cannot exceed 16. These can each be controlled by a different MIDI channel and assigned to one of four different outputs.

Shaping this lot is a comprehensive set of six stage envelopes, with rates and levels — you have a choice of four for each harmonic (!) and one each for pitch, filter and amplitude — these three parameters following largely analogue lines of adjustment.

Well, every synth seems to specialise in a particular sound, and here it's their very good acoustic piano patch. And you'd better like it as there're loads of variations of it; none of them sounds amazingly different, but they do nonetheless prove the effectiveness of the KS's technology. Strings and brass sound good too, but otherwise the factory sounds seem to fall short of the synth's potential — I only had to fumblingly prod a few buttons for some great noises to emerge (from the synth, that is).

Notable features include a massive display which gives you all kinds of movable graphs and patterns and took me back to the days of etch-a-sketch. A fun page both visually as well as sonically is the 'digital formant filter' which is a very effective 11-band graphic. The control panel is attractively and concisely laid out; data entry is via a kind of notched alpha dial which works well but is too stiff to enter single increments easily — a pair of +/-, yes/no buttons would have been helpful.


Lurking behind the unsatisfying factory presets is a powerful synth which is packed with features. Kawai should take a lesson from Roland in how to make the most of an instrument's potential as I think their application of additive synthesis makes the K5 easily as interesting as anything else around. I hope it succeeds.


Kawai, (Contact Details)


SOUND SOURCE Digital additive synthesis
MEMORY Internal - 48 Single/48 Multi; memory card — 48 Single/48 Multi
DISPLAY 64 x 240 bit LCD
DIMENSIONS 19in (483mm) x 4.7in (120mm) x 7in (177mm)

Featuring related gear

Previous Article in this issue

Washburn SBT-12

Next article in this issue

Roland TR626 Drums

Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Dec 1987

News and Reviews

Gear in this article:

Synthesizer Module > Kawai > K5m

Gear Tags:

Digital Synth

Review by Alastair Gavin

Previous article in this issue:

> Washburn SBT-12

Next article in this issue:

> Roland TR626 Drums

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