Much has been made recently of the news that Casio are now producing professional keyboards of a standard to challenge the established makers of pro instruments. I'm afraid to say, however, that the CK-500 isn't one of them, and at best can be described as a 'ghetto blaster with keys'.
This instrument (one uses the term loosely) sports twin speakers, AM/FM radio, two cassette decks, a radio antenna and a keyboard. I mention this last because it's probably the least useful feature of all - thus disproving the old saying 'last but not least'.
The 12 preset sounds from the rather spongy miniature keyboard can, in my opinion, be best described as excrutiating and include 'Pipe Organ' (what sort of pipes?), 'Flute' (the best of the bunch) and one labelled 'Funny' (a real rib-tickler!). Buttons labelled 'Effects' only serve to add injury to insult - for example, the 'Reverb' trails off into distortion that cuts out suddenly before it properly dies away. It's not really a conventional reverb at all, more something akin to release time on a synth, and a pretty bad one at that. Feeding the stereo output of the CK-500 through a good, punchy sound system only served to highlight defects in the quality of the sounds, and I found it best to stick with the internal speakers.
Also onboard is a drum machine with the usual selection of tacky rhythms - rock, pops, bossa nova, beguine, etc; you know, all those beats essential to the modern musician! These can be coupled to a bass/chord accompaniment which is guaranteed to drive you bonkers within 30 seconds. Let me try to describe this.
In the 'Figures' mode, the bass line roughly follows chords played on the bottom one-and-a-half octaves of the keyboard, pumping out those chords in four stages of pre-ordained rhythmic monotony. However, in the 'On' mode major chords and appropriate bass patterns can be played merely by touching the root note of the chord; minor chords occur when two keys (any two) are pressed at once. Alternatively, and best of all, the bass/chord accompaniment can be switched off entirely, giving you your selected sound over the entire four-octave keyboard.
Turning attention now to the recording facilities brings me to the tricky question of dubbing. The two cassette decks are so linked that, while recording from one to the other, you can add extra keyboard parts to a track already laid down. This isn't strictly overdubbing as that technique implies recording in sync, on some sort of multitrack machine; but bouncing from one machine to another can be very useful for practising or building up simple arrangements. I found the CK-500's twin cassettes to be quite effective for this type of work, and the provision of a phono input meant that I wasn't restricted to the sounds on the keyboard itself. Bear in mind, of course, that with no noise reduction and a preset (rather low) level to tape, only three generations maximum are really viable.
To sum up, this is not an instrument which is of much use at all to the serious musician. It's really a Casio 'toy', and, at around £350, a rather expensive toy. One thing I would say in its favour, however, is that it has a great radio! Thanks, but no thanks!
Further details from Casio Electronics Co. Ltd., (Contact Details).
Review by Nick Graham
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