MIDI Home Keyboard
Both home keyboards and Italian manufacturers Siel made rapid progress during 1984. From their early, decidedly shaky, efforts, home keyboards can now be expected to sound perfectly respectable, as well as to offer accompaniment aids at every available opportunity.
And so the MK-900, Siel's first home keyboard, had drawn a good deal of interest. The MK-900 may not be quite the be-all and end-all of this genre, but Siel can take pride in having produced an instrument that stands out in a field where cloning is normally the name of the game.
A central carrying handle, below the keyboard, and rubbery push-button controls single this keyboard out in physical terms, and Siel's offer of 'Double Sound Generation' layered voices ensures that few rival instruments sound similar.
On their own, the MK-900's ten basic voices aren't world-beaters. Only the trombone and one of the synth sounds approach real 'class' - but in combination, many of the voices are strong and sufficiently 'different' to be both useful and fun.
Not only can voices be combined across the whole keyboard, but there are three (predetermined) split points, and, taking advantage of the smooth stereo chorus, some impressive results can be obtained. Two 6.5 watt speakers are secreted below covers at either end of the control panel. I experienced a fair amount of noise when the MK-900 was hooked up to a larger amplification system, so the internal speakers are going to be quite important. Luckily, they push out quality as well as quantity!
The MK-900 has all the usual functions of 'OFC' (One Finger Chord) arpeggiators, auto bass, etc., and a couple of not so usual ones that deserve a special mention. First is their 'Help' feature - a slightly more intelligent OFC - whereby chords will be produced when two of the prime notes in a chord are played by the left hand. C and B-flat, for instance, would produce the chord of C7. C and B-natural would produce C Major 7. Several house points for this, Siel!
The boxed drummer in the MK-900 is far from well, however. No, there was nothing actually wrong with the model I tested, it's just that the sounds themselves are a bit suspect. This is the one area that the MK-900 could be hampered by. Still, there are ten patterns to choose from, as well as room to program a small two-bar pattern of your own, using the top five keys on the keyboard as bass, snare, toms... I use these words very loosely, though!
The internal sequencer, on the other hand, has been worked out well. 280 notes, up to 50 chords and a drum pattern (even your own) can be stored with the minimum of fuss. Two multi-functioned controls for record and play govern solo lines or chords, and the rhythm unit acts as your metronome. Up to four chords in a bar may be programmed, and a seemingly endless succession of notes - sounded like real-time to me, anyway! - and, once stored, you can use any of the voices or presets for playback. Drum patterns, too, can be changed, although I did experience some weirdness when I switched to and from radically different patterns.
You can either record bass, drums and chords, and play a lead line over the top; or drums, chords and lead line, and play your bass line 'live'.
Other 'spicing-up' goodies include Siel's 'Left to Mono' device, which is a way of harnessing a sound selected for left hand use, to be added to the top note of passages played (with its own sound) by the right hand. Also, harmonies can be stacked onto right hand lead playing - taking their cue from the chord you're playing with the left hand.
The MK-900 is a MIDI keyboard. Transmitting data related to Note, Program, OFC, Help, and Counter-Melody; and if you're using the split keyboard capability it can transmit on MIDI channels 0 and 1.
The 61-note keyboard is pleasantly positive, and the overall look of the MK-900 is modern and up-market. But for the drum sounds, Siel would have produced a truly first-class instrument here. As it is, the MK-900 is still an extremely valid buy, with innovative sound mixing features, useful auto aids, and the simple but clever sequencer.
The MK-900 is the first in a series of three home keyboards from Siel, and it looks as if they are now on the verge of becoming a major keyboard/synth 'name', with several new products in the performance and home keyboard spheres combining with their adventurous computer music software.
RRP £449 inc. VAT
More info, from Siel (U.K.) ltd.. (Contact Details).
Review by Julian Colbeck
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