The Mould Breaker
Casio's CT6000. A first foray into the pro market.
The CT6000 marks Casio's initial foray into the pro-market. Leto Atreides assesses whether it was worth waiting for.
Casio's new range for Fall 84 (as they say in the States) is going to open a lot of eyes and a lot of wallets, simply because it includes two machines with radical innovations on the sound production side, as opposed to the gadgetry and gimmickry at which Casio have excelled. These two — the MT-400V and the mighty CT6000 — are going to take the company into the realm of the pro keyboard player for the first time.
Casios have done amazingly well in the keyboard market over the last couple of years in fact creating new markets where none existed before, simply because they offered affordable polyphonic sounds and total portability. They've been great for rehearsal, home entertainment and practice, but hardly up to professional standards despite frequent claims from the company (such as when the CT-1000P was launched) and "novelty' use by The Human League, Trio and others.
The trouble is that the basic sound was too distinctively cut-price. Casios could do all sorts of sounds, but they all sounded like Casios. An unusual system of digital sound generation — splitting each preset into a "vowel" and a "consonant" — saw to that.
This system is retained on the miniature MT-400V, but with a difference - a good old analogue filter, as seen on all the early monophonic synths, and a very familiar ADSR envelope, LFO for modulation, and so on. Casio don't use this exact terminology — they're still after the home market as well on the 400 — but that's indubitably what you've been given. The MT-400V is capable of making many of the basic polysynth sweeps and twangs, although the single filter makes it resemble one of the older ensemble keyboards (or indeed the more recent Korg Poly 800) more than a genuine polysynth, since the filter will retrigger on held notes if you play new ones.
The CT-6000 at £695 is another kettle of fish altogether, and is to be the first in a range of professional-quality, full-scale synths. It's fair to call the thing a synthesiser because the vowel — consonant method of sound generation has been dropped entirely, to be replaced with something which gives preset sounds comparable to the Roland Juno 60 or a similar budget polysynth. This is the machine to remove any stigma attached to the Casio name in the eyes of pro users — in fact it would have been quite justified if the company had launched the 6000 under a new brand name, since it bears little resemblance in feel to the existing models.
The 6000 has a full-sized five-octave keyboard which is both velocity and aftertouch sensitive(!!) and features MIDI with full tranmission of touch data. This certainly works from one 6000 to another, and from the Casio to Roland and Sequential Circuits synths. The company claim it works with Yamaha's MIDI as well, which would be quite an achievement. Styling is much improved, although future models will probably be even more professional in appearance and there's talk of a soundless MIDI "poser's keyboard". Stereo speakers are included on the 6000.
The CT-6000 has 20 preset sounds which have typical Casio names such as Strings, Synth Bells, Brass and so on, but very UNtypical performance — thick, impressive sounds with velocity-controlled volume on all sounds plus after-touch controlled volume on sustained sounds such as organ and strings. It may sound unlikely to claim that both velocity and aftertouch are MORE responsive than on the Yamaha DX7 but this certainly seems to be the case without the opportunity to do an A/B comparison.
As on the DX7 the after-touch is polyphonic — it will affect all notes held to an equal extent once introduced on any note — but the velocity response is very pleasing. The only problem is that maximum volume seems to be set at a normal playing level, so you have to play softly at first and build up if you want volume changes. Still, the keyboard's very responsive, with good definition and no lost notes even when playing softly. On some sounds — such as the startling Funky Clavi — the sound becomes realistically brighter at higher velocities as well as getting louder.
Each sound is called up with an accompanying set of effects, but these can then be changed at will. They include three Unison modes (including one which will give air-shifting solo sounds of which the Juno 60 and the like aren't capable), an Ensemble, Celeste, Sustain (with footswitch option) and Delay Vibrato. In addition there's a Chord Progression memory for simple sequencing, a transposition slider for lazy vocalists and other tricks of the trade, and a sprung pitch bend wheel with variable response up to an octave and switchable Chromatic setting — very nice for solos, particularly when using a powerful sound such as the Sax preset in Unison mode.
All the usual accompaniment facilities are there, including (PCM?) drums with nice intros and fills, Auto chords, bass and arpeggios and a "Super Accompaniment" section which throws fills into the drum patterns and generally follows what you're doing on the melody side. Each rhythm uses one of the ten polyphonic accompaniment sounds, and here's where the hidden bonuses come in. If you choose an accompaniment sound without switching on the rhythms you get a layered polyphonic effect across the whole keyboard, and if you switch the accompaniment to "Fingered" you get a split at the bottom octave-and-a-half.
The effect of Harpsichord layered over Strings, or Synth Bells layered over Chorus, really has to be heard to be believed, and the possibilities for solos over chord backings (the pitch bender doesn't affect the fingered backing sound!) are endless. The string sounds are as good as most commercial string synths and the piano-type sounds are so clear that some kind of FM seems a good guess for the new system of tone generation.
Presumably the next move is a programmable version of the 6000 but at this recommended price the 6000 itself is an amazing proposition. Obviously the inclusion of MIDI is the greatest single advancement, since it makes the 6000 attractive to all sorts of users, including those who are into computer composition and who may have stacks of expanders lying around rather than conventional synths. The 6000 — which is cheap compared to any of the proposed MIDI control keyboards coming onto the market — is an ideal match for expanders from Korg, SIEL and Roland, and indeed for Yamaha's forthcoming DX7-type module since its velocity and touch sensitivity seem so reliable.
Another possible mate for the 6000 would be Oberheim's amazing Xpander, which at £3,500 could well leave you short of the cash for an OB8 or other more obvious control keyboard. One problem would be that of calling up patches from the Casio — since it only has 20 presets this could be difficult even on a DX7 which has 32, but we didn't have a handbook to look up such MIDI-related data.
Obviously the Casio's biggest problem is the lack of variability of the voices, but as a layered sound under another MIDI synth it would be much more than adequate. The temptation is there to wait for a programmable model, but the 6000 itself more than lives up to its promise — if you got your hands on one you wouldn't be disappointed.