At long last, Casio have come up with a keyboard acceptable to both the pro and domestic fraternities. Paul White checks it out.
They've had the technology to do it for some time, but the 6000 is the first concrete indication that Casio are willing to make concessions to the semi-pro musician.
Casio have a firm foothold in the consumer electronic marketplace: their calculators, watches and musical instruments have brought modern-day technology to the masses in attractive and cost-effective packages that are both easily affordable and easy to use. Until recently, Casio had concentrated their musical resources on budget keyboards intended primarily for domestic use, complete with automatic rhythm and accompaniment facilities that enable absolute beginners to create some form of music with the bare minimum of practice.
With the possible exception of the CT202, no Casio products have really made the grade for live performance or serious recording work, but the CT6000 may be an indication that Casio are about to span the gulf which presently separates the home user from the professional and semi-pro.
Casio's first MIDI-compatible keyboard, the CT6000 is a polyphonic instrument with 20 preset voices, a keyboard spanning five octaves and the familiar Casio autochord and rhythm sections, which are present in a more sophisticated form than previously. The system permits up to eight notes to be played simultaneously, and this number is not reduced when the auto-accompaniment section is in use. No manual was supplied with the review model, and it's a testament to the 6000's logical control layout that no real problem was experienced in operating the beast.
Measuring only 38" x 13½" x 5", the CT6000 incorporates two loudspeakers and built-in power amplifiers which provide ample volume for practice or home use, though as is customary, stereo line output jacks are fitted for recording and live work.
The bottom 18 notes on the keyboard may be linked to the Casio's autochord section, and directly to the left of these is the pitch-bend wheel, which is centre-sprung.
Touch controls (or 'membrane switches', as Casio call them) are located behind a thin plastic facia for voice, accompaniment and rhythm selection, and the individual sections are colour-coded in decidedly Yamaha tones - an indication that Casio want pro musicians to take this instrument seriously. However, unlike Yamaha's touch-switches, the buttons on the 6000 have no positive 'click' in their action, which makes them a mite tricky to use: a clear case of technological considerations overriding human ones.
Anyway, above these selectors is a row of slider controls for level, rhythm tempo, and keyboard transpose adjustments, while an orange bar conveniently located above the bottom octave of the keyboard allows the instantaneous selection of intros or fill-ins.
The entire case is tastefully fabricated from sheet steel and finished in two-tone metallic grey, and although it's quite heavy for its size, it's nonetheless quite easily portable.
"The string ensemble - so often a weak point on previous Casios - is simply astonishing, especially when played with sensitive application of the after-touch facility."
The keyboard itself has an unremarkable action, but what is remarkable is the inclusion - on an instrument in this price and market category - of touch-sensitivity and after-touch sensing. It should be pointed out that this feature isn't quite as complete as it sounds, since while softer-than-average keystrokes produce a correspondingly quieter output, harder than average playing only results in the same level output as that obtained from normal playing. Still, you can't have your cake...
Before we look at the auto-accompaniment section in detail, it's worth devoting a bit of space to analysing how the preset voices perform. Of the 20 present on the CT6000, some are good, some are bad, and some are indifferent, which, as many of you will probably recall, was pretty much the situation on the CT202. However, the good sounds are really rather special: Funky Clav is an excellent rock harpsichord sound, enhanced even further by the addition of the 'Unison 2' treatment (see later), vibraphone has a gorgeous percussive attack and retains its full tone throughout the keyboard's length, chimes are similarly impressive, and the string ensemble - so often a weak point on previous Casios - is simply astonishing, especially when played with sensitive application of the after-touch facility. It's not all roses, though. The koto is nowhere near as good as the voice of the same name provided on the 202, while some of the other ensemble presets could do with a bit of cleaning up, but the most significant fault is that, due to the digital nature of the 6000's voice-generating system, chords played in the upper registers can exhibit unpleasant dissonant overtones that might be safely concealed in a live performance but could pose problems during a serious recording session. This hiccup has been present on just about every Casio keyboard I've ever encountered, but you'd have thought that for £700, they could have attended to it...
Those points aside, the 6000 is a definite sonic advance for its manufacturers. It's no DX7, but some of the presets come pretty close.
A variety of sound effects can be applied to any of the voices (some of them are applied automatically when the voice is activated, so it's up to you to get rid of them if you don't want them getting in the way), and these include two separate chorus effects (going by the curious titles of 'ensemble' and 'celeste'), sustain, vibrato, delayed vibrato, and three unison modes, the last of which adds a fifth to whatever note(s) you're playing.
Moving to the 6000's rhythm section, the basic drum machine sounds are a definite improvement over Casio's previous efforts, and most of the problems that do arise are more a result of inappropriate (and sadly not user-adjustable) level settings than inadequacies in the voices themselves. The hi-hat, for instance, is outrageously high in the mix, overshadowing some of the better voices such as bass drum and toms.
Once you've selected your desired pattern (there are 20 to choose from) and activated it, a green LED flashes in time with the rhythm, and this turns to red on the first beat of each bar - a thoughtful touch.
This is where performance skill sinks into the background and the CT6000's auto-accompaniment section takes over. Essentially, the section has four modes of operation. The first is 'Off', which lets you use the whole of the keyboard's five octaves as a normal, non-mechanised pitch controller. Next comes a button labelled 'On' (makes a change - Ed) which causes the bottom 18 notes to control the auto-accompaniment. This enjoys a selection of ten preset voices, many of which (the harp and human chorus, for example) are unique to this section.
"For domestic players considering entering the world of computer music via MIDI and a suitable home micro, the CT6000 is an extremely attractive package."
When a key is pressed, a major chord corresponding to that key is produced automatically, but if a higher key (still within the bottom 18) is depressed simultaneously, a minor chord is produced instead. Add a further higher note and the chord becomes a seventh, and if you can manage four fingers at once, you get a minor seventh for your trouble. In this mode, the automatically-generated chord continues to sound indefinitely until a new key is depressed and, if the rhythm section is also engaged at this point, the notes within the chord arpeggiate in an extremely agreeable fashion dependent on the rhythm and accompaniment voicing selected.
This mode really is simplicity itself to operate, but just in case you still can't handle everything, a chord memory section lets you record your sequence so that when you go into Play mode, the chords play along in time with your chosen rhythm, leaving you to concentrate all your attention on the right-hand melody.
A further mode (somewhat distastefully titled 'fingered') frees the user from forced adherence to the CT6000's chordal patterns but, since this also entails playing chords manually, it might be considered dangerously close to musicianship for some people's liking.
'Free bass chord' had me fooled at first, but actually it's rather useful since it allows you to play bass notes in real-time without interference from the automatic arpeggiator.
In addition to the usual mains input and stereo line outputs, the Casio allows you to connect sustain and volume pedals and a pair of stereo headphones for private musical self-abuse. Overall tuning - distinct from the instrument's automatic transpose function mentioned earlier - can be adjusted via a preset on the rear panel, but most significantly of all, MIDI In and Out sockets are also present, enabling the 6000 to control (or be controlled by) any other MIDI-compatible device such as a synth, drum machine, or computer-based sequencer. Sadly, though, no MIDI Thru socket is provided.
There can be no doubt that the CT6000 packs in an awful lot in the way of facilities for its asking price, and that those facilities can be more or less equally divided between domestic and pro options.
The quality of some of its preset voices, the extra possibilities afforded by the touch-sensitivity and after-touch, and the inclusion of performance controls and MIDI all point to an increased commitment to serious musicians on Casio's part. It remains to be seen whether sufficient numbers of said players will be willing to pay this much for an instrument that has such an extensive (read 'costly') auto-accompaniment section, but what is beyond question is that for the more discerning domestic players - particularly those considering entering the world of computer music via MIDI and a suitable home micro - the CT6000 is an extremely attractive package.
Personally, I'm still waiting for the time when Casio come up with the fully professional instrument line-up they've been promising for some while - and which we all know they're capable of producing. But the CT6000 is an important step in that direction.
RRP of the CT6000 is £695 including VAT, and further information can be had from Casio at (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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