Technics are understandably excited about their latest product, and its smaller brother the SX-K100 (both of which are due for release during November), as the machines represent a slight change of direction for them and include two features described as 'World's Firsts'. However, there's a basic problem of approach to be solved before examining this instrument; Technics insist on marketing it as an 'organ' when potentially it can be much more than this.
In common with the other keyboards examined, the SX-K200 combines a selection of polyphonic voices available over the whole of the four octave keyboard with several automatic accompaniment features on the lower 1½ octaves. There are two built-in speakers on the top surface, and the overall styling is extremely smart, in black and silver to match Technics' hi-fi range. Additionally, on this keyboard there is an extra section of switches for the monophonic 'solo synthesiser' presets which operate on the top note played.
The 8 polyphonic voices are produced by conventional organ analogue circuitry derived from Technics' top-of-the-range Pro U-90, recently seen on television's 'Show Me Show'. The sounds are interesting, not always strictly imitative — for example, on the Guitar which consists of a sharply resonant 'twang'; some of the solo voices are also reminiscent of popular synthesiser settings, for instance the Cosmic Wah, while the beautiful Pan Flute has a touch of 'breath' derived from the white noise generator of the rhythm box.
If accompaniment is required it is available in the form of percussion rhythms (with volume control) and bassline/chord accompaniment (with volume control); the chords can be played normally or in single finger mode, and can appear as a 'strummed guitar' or 'arpeggio piano' style when the rhythm is operating. A Transpose control can be preset to alter the pitch of the entire instrument to any degree at the touch of a button, and the rhythm unit can provide a four-bar opening, fill-in, or automatic variation on every eighth bar.
The rhythm sounds themselves demonstrate Technics' proud claim toa 'World First' in the use of Pulse Code Modulation (PCM) techniques as part of an organ accompaniment section. Each sound has been digitally sampled, and is stored in a custom-designed memory and recalled by the central processor each time it is needed as part of a rhythm. The hi-hat can be clearly heard in open and closed positions, the skin on the tom-tom stretches and contracts audibly and the bass drum has a kick like a mule; certainly this is the only way to obtain Linn Drum quality for a few hundred pounds! The fills and variations are very carefully composed, and are expressive without being overbearing - it's certainly worth hearing this instrument for its rhythm section alone, particularly when using a pair of the matching SYT100 40 Watt bass reflex combo amps, available at £130 each.
The last major feature, which draws together all the others, has been left until last because its basic concept is a little difficult to appreciate, and because it's seen as being infinitely expandable in the future. A combination of ROM (Read Only Memory) and RAM (Random Access Memory) is used to give the SX-K200 the ability to store tunes internally or externally in a 'library'.
The tunes permanently stored in the internal ROM can be recalled by pressing one of the top keys which are numbered 1 to 8, and are complete down to the details of voicing and variations. The 'Full Band Setting Computer', the second of Technics' 'World Firsts', enables the user to program his own tunes in this way, entering the details of setting, chords and melody as slowly as necessary on the keyboard, and then transferring all the details to a 'RAM Pack' contained in a recess on the top of the instrument. Blank RAM Packs cost £11.99, and can contain 8 programs of up to 50 bars each: in other words, the user can store eight tunes on each pack, label the pack, and instantaneously load it into the machine ready for the melody to be added on 'live'.
Technics' hope is that users will build up a library of packs in order to be able to play 'requests' in a live situation, exchange packs with other owners to show off their compositions, and generally begin to use these small cassette-like objects as a new form of information transfer which is instant, non-volatile, non-degrading and totally accurate. Apparently the idea of marketing 'pre-recorded' packs hasn't been accepted yet, but it's one of a long list of possibilities. There are only three SX-K200s in this country at the time of writing, and one of those is with Status Quo - it should be interesting to see what uses they come up with for it!
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