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Kurzweil K1200 & PRO 76

The Innovator Returns

Kurzweil may have invented the ROM sample player as we know it, but others seem to have reaped the benefits. Four years on from the 1000 series, the K1200 and Pro 76 keyboards, and Pro 1 module, offer improved sounds and facilities. David Etheridge dives in at the deep end.

A few years ago, I read words to the effect that inventors and innovators are very often not the people who actually make money out of their inventions. Usually it is the next in line who capitalise on a new development.

A case in point is perhaps the story of Kurzweil and the sample player. When in late 1987 Kurzweil launched the 1000 series, the first of the ROM sample playback modules we know and love, reactions were mixed. Why can't you sample into it? Why no separate outs? Why was this unit made? (Then there was the naughty salesperson in a London emporium who claimed that the PX only had piano sounds in it. Hmmmm...) By the time Roland and Emu got in on the act with their own lines, many former critics of Kurzweil were rather silent about the fact that it was the 1000 series that led the way.


In the US, the K1000 was regularly in the top 10 best selling keyboards, but when rumours of the company's financial problems began to filter over to this side of the water, many people assumed that Kurzweil just might end up going the same way as Moog and ARP, and the best that might be hoped for was perhaps a Japanese rescue, a la Yamaha's buyout of Sequential. Happily, we now know that that rescue arrived in the shape of Korean company Young Chang. Guitarists know Young Chang through the amazingly high quality/low price Fenix range of guitars, and the Young Chang name is long established in the piano world. Thus, the rescue of Kurzweil not only ensures the future of the company and its products, but is also a very shrewd business move on the part of Young Chang.

What exactly makes Kurzweil different? In a word, sound. Quite simply, Kurzweil's samples are (still) the best around, having a depth, resonance and quality that you simply won't find anywhere else; even taking third party 'Best of Kurzweil' samples won't actually give you quite the breadth of sound of the original. This quality of sound is achieved by Kurzweil's use of its own brand of computer-based sound modelling, in which mainframe computers are employed to instill more definition and fidelity in the sound than any other manufacturer. The sounds of each instrument (say, the famous piano sample) are recorded many times at differing dynamics and ranges. When the sounds are analysed and compared, the computer looks at the common factors in the sound to come up with the essence of the original instrument. (The same technology is used in Kurzweil's own voice-activated word processors, and 'talking units' that read letters and articles for the blind; music products were actually a spin-off from this area.)

When the 1000 series was introduced, it offered all the advantages of K250 sounds, with double the polyphony (24 voices; common today, but not in 1987), without the £12K price tag of a K250. There was obviously no need to sample when you had all the best sounds ready to go, but that was only the beginning. The 1000 series keyboards and modules offered not only samples, but synth waveforms galore (courtesy of the K150 Fourier synth, a 240-oscillator, 64 partials per voice rackmount instrument), and more FX and sound treatment capabilities than most people had ever heard of: LFO exotica such as the double pulse circular wave, and white, red, green and blue noise waveshapes; FX included Vibrato, Tremolo, Chorus, Echo and Phaser; and with envelope invertors, negators and mixers, all available for each program, the lack of separate outs became academic. For fans of the Prophet T8, exotic tuning options were made available: Indian, Javanese, Werkmeister, plus a host of others, and you could create and store your own.

Most importantly, Kurzweil adopted a first class upgrade policy — instead of your pride and joy being out of date after a few years, the company made hardware upgrades available to add new sounds and improve operating systems. For the PX, upgrades A and B were available, and for the SX and HX modules, upgrade A was available, adding new sounds and waveforms.

Having used both PX and GX models extensively, I've found even after three years work with them that I still haven't begun to explore the possibilities. Every time you think you've reached the limits of what's on offer, another level reveals itself to you. Is this perhaps the 'iceberg' of modules, with another 90% hidden, no matter how deep you go into it? At times it certainly seems so.


So, we come to 1991, and the release of the 1200 series, consisting of the K1200 and Pro 76 keyboards, and the Pro 1 sound module. The sound architecture of all three is identical, apart from some difference in memory capacity, and the K1200 and Pro 76 have different keyboards (88-note piano weighted for the K1200, 76-note for the Pro 76, both velocity and aftertouch sensitive). 1000 series instruments can be upgraded to 1200 spec.

At the heart of these instruments are Soundfiles (see accompanying box), the building blocks of programs. These can be mainframe-edited samples or synth waveforms, and you can layer and combine up to four at once to make up your sound. Add to that the considerable number of editing parameters for every part of the sound and you have a powerful musical tool under any circumstances, for the K1200 is a synthesizer as well as a sample player.

Having chosen a Soundfile as a basis for a sound, you then apply 'modular effects' (Kurzweil-speak for matrix modulation) to change the sound and create one of those four layers. There is no filter, but the degree of complexity in pitch and amplitude control is quite enough to satisfy any programmer. Each layer can be subject to such goodies as 7-segment envelope editing (with looping), two LFOs, invertors and negators (which respectively reverse the amplitude and function of the modulation source that you're working with), and mixers that combine control signals on each layer. Once the different sound layers are combined, the resulting combination can be subjected to two sets of global LFO and ASR treatments.

The other type of effects editing involves Compiled Effects, which operate on the combined four layers: Compiled Effects allow you to apply treatments such as Vibrato, Tremolo, Leslie, Chorus, Phaser, and Echo. Put the whole lot together and you have the basic program, which is then subject to more parameters regarding note range, splits/crossfades, tuning, zoning across the keyboard, etc. These are referred to as Master parameters.


The 1000 series modules had a total of eight buttons on the front for editing purposes; there is now a generous complement of 23, which we'll look at next. The top row are used for accessing the editing functions. From the left, they are: Play/edit; Mode/layer; Channel/menu; Program/parameter; Value/No/Yes; Enter/compare; and Store.

Press the play button, and the Mode button will select MIDI Omni, Poly or Multi Modes. Most people leave it in Multi, as individual channels can be assigned/deassigned/disabled as you choose. The K1200 is 16-part multi-timbral. Press Edit, and the Layer buttons tell you which Soundfile is used for any layer. You'll find some surprises here, as sometimes the most unlikely sounds are used in programs; it also gives you some idea of the transformative power in the editing functions.

"For those who missed out on Kurzweil back in '87, look again at the 1200 series, as it offers perhaps the widest range of both realistic as well as inspiring sounds for the composer, arranger, or orchestrator to work with."


The lower set of buttons cover program number selection and Bin Banks; these are three sets of 10 programs which you can use to store programs for fast access, perhaps in performance. The buttons are numbered A, B, and C, and 0-9. To store a sound in a Bin Bank, select A, B or C and then a number, scroll through the programs to find the sound you want, and press Store. Bin Banks can also store performance presets, allowing multiple zoning of sounds across the keyboard. You'll find some of the presets interesting to say the least; 'Wichita' gives you an instant Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays combination from the album of the same name. I couldn't stop playing it for over an hour!

The numerical buttons are fairly essential when selecting programs, because you can access up to 1,000 of them on a K1200. But doesn't MIDI only allows for 128 patches? Well, using a proprietary feature known as Extended Program Changes, the K1200 organises 10 Program Lists of 100 numbers (actually 0-99). MIDI program numbers 0-99 are used as normal, but numbers 100-109 will select Playlists. Hence, program 100 selects Playlist 1 (099), 101 selects Playlist 2 (100-199), etc. To select program number 925, you send two MIDI program changes: 109 (to select Playlist 9), and then 25. Any of the 163 programs in ROM can be allocated their own number in any program list. Once you add RAM sounds and your own custom sounds (even those you may have created on an earlier 1000 series instrument), you can see why program numbers 0-999 are not only possible, but also desirable.


MIDI spec on the 1200 series instruments is more advanced than most; Sys Ex implementation is comprehensive, and engine (operating system) and setup version data are both available via MIDI to editor software; useful when editing different modules in a MIDI system, as well as for telling you how 'current' any secondhand model may be (the data can also be called to the front panel LCD). A chain link facility allows you to connect up to 12 K1200s effectively in parallel, controlled from one MIDI controller, without a patchbay or MIDI delays. MIDISCOPE is a handy facility in times of sequencer misbehaviour: press Play/edit and Channel up/down, and as soon as the 1200 receives any MIDI info, it will immediately display it in detail. A display might read:
644 (ms). Note Off, Ch(annel) 11, Kn (Key Number) 66, Kv (Key Velocity) 48.

Finally, when everything seems to be going wrong and you don't know which piece of equipment to swear at, the 1200 series has a self diagnostic test to see whether your pride and joy needs servicing. Firstly, turn the instrument off, and connect a MIDI cable from Out to In. Hold down 'C' and Play/Edit, and switch on. The instrument will then run through checks on Program ROM, Setup ROM, RAM, battery backup, Timer, UART, VLSI 1 and 2, Sound ROM, Sample, Sine Wave (11 steps), LCD and button test. At the end the display will show the number of passes (any number), and errors (none, hopefully).


The above whistle stop tour of the features still doesn't bring us to the really important point: the sounds, and how good (or not) they are. The 1200 series features the best of sounds that have been available on the K1000, PX, PXA, and K1000SE and their upgrades. Some of the rather naff sounds from the 1000 series have been thankfully ditched. The electric piano sound is much improved; while the original was excellent, the new version is a cunning velocity crossfade between clean, almost DX-like tones, and a really buzzy overdriven suitcase Rhodes, inspiring more expressive playing. Indeed all the pianos, both acoustic and electric, benefit from the greater variety of piano waveforms. The acoustic guitar sound is rather brighter than that on the GX module, perhaps too bright when heard solo, but still maintaining its presence when combined with, say, strings. Touch Ac Bass has a pressure (downward) note bend, and as a double bassist myself, it's nice to hear slides on a sampled bass note. Electric guitar sounds are good'n'dirty, even down to amp and speaker noise. The drum kit sounds remain the best and most lifelike that I've ever heard (and spread across all 88 keys of the 1200 keyboard too); cymbals with long, clean and bright decays, thermonuclear snares, dumpy toms, and percussion FX galore. There's really something for everyone here.

The synth sounds offer a variety of textures, but for a recreation of analogue sounds, you'll need to go a long way to find better. Just Like A Mini goes, well, most of the way to giving you one of the classic sounds of synthesis. In combination with sampled sounds, as in the synth brass and synth strings sections, the waveforms work well. Orchestral Strings are improved with the addition of (delayed) 'tremolando'; it makes a change from writing loads of 64th notes into a sequencer! I'm not so sure about Stereo Slostring, where the left sound comes in after quite a delay from the right. Except in a few circumstances, the effect gets downright annoying for most musical uses. All the other sounds, pads and effects are excellent, and Tomita fans will have fun with Sister Ship and Krellian Falls. The main point about the sounds on the 1200 is their playability; as soon as you hear them, they can't fail to inspire and give you ideas for material.


For me, the Kurzweil 1000 series quickly became the cornerstone of my MIDI setup, even using the early models with version 1 setups and soundblocks. For 1000 series owners, the PXA and PXB upgrades are available to convert your 1000 series into a 1200 in sounds and specification. For those who missed out on Kurzweil back in '87, look again at the 1200 series, as it offers perhaps the widest range of both realistic as well as inspiring sounds for the composer, arranger, or orchestrator to work with.

The beauty of the whole system is that you simply plug in and play those superb sounds, and you can explore the programming side of things as and when the fancy takes you. With two ST/Mac/PC programs available for simple librarian work (Object Mover) or full scale on-screen editing (K-Edit), creating sounds need not be as difficult as you might expect. Try the sounds out for an hour or so, and you'll be hooked. The innovator returns, indeed.


K1200 (88-note keyboard) £1,899 inc VAT.
Pro 76 (76-note keyboard) £1,789 inc VAT.
Pro 1 expander (19" rack unit) £1,529 inc VAT.

Acrobat Music, (Contact Details).


Playback Technique: Digital sample player and programmable wavetable synthesizer.
Polyphony: 24-voice.
Multi-timbrality: 16-part.
Memory: 6 Mbytes sound ROM, 167 Presets in ROM, plus 48Kbytes RAM (Pro 1200) or 24Kbytes RAM (Pro 76, Pro 1) for user Programs. Up to 1,000 Program numbers are supported.
Audio Outputs: 2 x unbalanced! 1/4-inch jacks.
Nominal Output Level: -14dBV.
Maximum Output Level: +17dBV.
Impedance: 100 Ohms.
Recommended Load Impedance: 10 kOhms minimum.
Output Noise: -86dBV typical.


0. Kurzweil/ROM/Pro
1. Grand Piano
2. Hardstrike Piano
3. Ster Extnd Piano
4. Ballad Piano
5. Studio Piano 2
6. Honky Tonk Piano
7. Piano & Slow Str
8. Dual E Piano
9. Xfade E Piano
10. Chorused E Piano
11. Fluid E Piano
12. St TremE Piano
13. Grand & Electric
14. Stereo RockPiano
15. FuzzE Piano
16. EPnow/Bell
17. E Piano Pad
18. E Pno & Pop Flute
19. Br Bass/E Pno
20. Steel String Gtr
21. Acous 12 String
22. Chorused Guitar
23. 12-String & String
24. BassPianoGuitar
25. Delay Dulcimer
26. Acoustic Bass
27. Brt A Bass & Piano
28. Touch Ac Bass
29. Dual Bass
30. Yes Bass
31. Water Bass
32. Ostinato Bass
33. Wah Bass
34. Distorted Mutes
35. Dist Mutes 5ths
36. Lead Guitar 1
37. Echo Guitar
38. Clean Kit 1
39. Gate Rock Drm
40. Big Kick&5nare
41. Kit w/RvsCymbal
42. GateEcho 76 Kit
43. Monster Rock Drm
44. 16 Kit/Roll/Perc
45. Rap Kit
46. Drums & Congas
47. Gated Congas
48. Perc Ensemble
49. Metalfest
50. CaveTribe
51. Tappy Triangle
52. Echo Marimba
53. Guitar & Synth
54. Klavinyet
55. HydroKlav
55. Synth Hrpschrd
57. Synth Banjo
58. Synth Kalimba
59. Synth Pizz 1
60. Canyon Horns
61. Plucksynth 1
62. Tootsynth
63. Ringers
128. Baritone Horn
129. Warm Organ
130. Electric Organ
131. Organ w/ Preslie
132. Drawbars 2
133. Full Stops
134. Clav Organ 2
135. Piano & Organ 2
136. Dynamic Orchestra
137. Fluid Piano
138. Orchestra 2
139. String & Choir Pad
140. Flootz
141. Slow Vibes
142. Triangle Strings
143. Q Orchestra
144. Nuageux
145. Slow Guitars
146. Long Horns
147. Texture Synth
148. Breath Pad
149. Slow Reed Pad
150. Dark Phazer
151. Krellian Falls
152. Crickets
153. Sister Ship
154. Clockworks
155. Klaus
156. Ecoplecks
157. Surf/Seagulls
158. Sub Mergence
159. Bats Away
160. Slow Cymbals
161. Alien War
162. TuningNote/Click
163. Synth Strings

Also featuring gear in this article

Previous Article in this issue

Hands On: Sound Tools

Next article in this issue

Steal The Feel

Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.


Sound On Sound - Nov 1991

Review by David Etheridge

Previous article in this issue:

> Hands On: Sound Tools

Next article in this issue:

> Steal The Feel

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