In last month's Equipment Scene we previewed the EPS-1, which is a versatile combination of electronic piano and string synthesiser. Since it should be appearing in the shops in the first couple of months of 1983, and its retail price has just been fixed at £919 including VAT, it seems an appropriate time to look at the quality of what is undeniably a fairly expensive instrument.
Happily this turns out to be very high indeed. The EPS-1 is partly derived from Korg's Symphonic Piano series, which with their wooden finishes and luxurious presentation are evidently intended largely for home use. This didn't stop Jon Lord taking one on stage at the recent Zildjian Cymbals show at The Venue in London, and making it clear that they have the power and clarity to cut through a full-scale PA mix.
The EPS-1 if regarded as a stage or professional version of the piano should then be capable of some impressive sounds, which in fact it is despite a specification which at first glance appears a little basic. There are six Piano sounds with a three-way Equaliser, Presence, Key Dynamics and Stereo Effects controls, and a single string sound with a two-way Equaliser, Attack and Release, Key Dynamics and independent Volume control.
The keyboard is very pleasant to use, being carefully weighted although still in plastic, and spans six and a quarter octaves (76 notes) from E to G. In addition it's possible to transpose the pitch of the whole keyboard up or down, as described below.
Working from left to right along the vertical panel above the keyboard, the controls are as follows: Master Volume, which affects both piano and strings when the Mix output is used. Piano Equaliser, with controls calibrated from -5 to +5 for Bass (shelving), Middle (peaking) and Treble (shelving). Piano Presence, calibrated from 0 to 10 and activated at anytime by the pull-on method. Push-buttons with accompanying LED's for Piano I, Piano II, E. Piano I, E. Piano II, Clav I, Clav II and Piano Off.
Stereo Effects for Piano section: Chorus and Tremolo pushbuttons with LED's, Speed Control with LED, Intensity control. Key Dynamics for Piano; Transpose control for whole keyboard.
String Attack/Pull-on Attack Dynamics, String Release, String Equaliser, with controls calibrated from -5 to +5 for Bass (shelving) and Treble (shelving), Strings On with LED, Strings Volume.
The Power on/off switch is located on the back of the instrument and doesn't have an indicator light as such, although the Effects Speed indicator at least will always be illuminated when the power is on. There's a heavy piano-style sustain pedal included in the price with a socket on the back panel, and a soft cover also included, although there's no facility for a music stand.
In operation the instrument is quiet, easy to use and rich-sounding. The piano sounds are reasonable imitations of a grand and an upright piano respectively; the electric pianos can give a good version of a Fender Rhodes or Wurlitzer, although of necessity without the overdriven tine bar effect, and the Clavinets can be deep and funky or thin, delicate and Baroque.
In each case the II setting is brighter than the I, and the equaliser can expand the range of effects available. The Presence control is a new introduction, a complex lowpass filter linked to the keyboard to add harmonics and distort the sound according to how hard the keyboard is struck. The handbook claims that this makes it possible to colour the sound as a guitarist would, although its use as a complex tone control alone more than justifies its existence.
Chorus and Tremolo are fairly standard, can be used together and operated in stereo. The usual effects from a slow shift to a manic wobbling vibrato are obtainable. Key Dynamics increases the variation available from the touch sensitive keyboard as it is turned towards 10 — although the handbook states that only the quieter ranges are extended, whereas in fact there's some loss at loud volumes which the user would have to compensate for using the Master volume.
The Key Transpose situated centrally is the now familiar notched slider with C scale central, G at the bottom and F sharp at the top. Fine if you want to fit in with a singer or saxophone — a little unsettling if you've got perfect pitch! This control effects the strings as well — Key Dynamics here can be made to determine the attack of the strings with a pull-on switch so that harder playing gives faster attack. The notes are all individually articulated, so this mode of playing can be highly expressive. Alternatively the switch can be pushed in to give a conventional attack control ranging from a fraction of a second to about 3 seconds, with release working from a fraction of a second to about 4 seconds. The sustain pedal gives up to 6 seconds on all functions.
There isn't a lot of variation available on the strings, although it is possible to get an excellent deep organ-like bass. On the other hand, the sound is very good as it is, permanently chorused and reminiscent of the classic Polymoog string sound. One excellent setting has a touch-sensitive chorused Piano I over a slowly attacking string section, the rear panel output jacks giving the options of a stereo chorus, or splitting piano and strings to two different channels, or even both. Use of the sustain pedal gives plenty of time to change settings or change keyboards without a gap.
An expressive and rich-sounding instrument, then, which will appeal to those who want classic simple keyboard sounds rather than a lot of synthesizer hardware. Probably a permanent fixture in many studios, for instance, in the near future.
The Korg EPS-1 is distributed in the UK by Rose-Morris, (Contact Details).