Casio CZ 5000
big and sequenced
MAYBE Casio's CZ range of synths aren't going to extinguish the opposition after all. There's been no significant wailing and gnashing of teeth from the homes of the better-established professional synth lines yet, but nothing else on the market offers the same versatility even for half as many luncheon vouchers again. Perhaps it's still the "Casio" label that's putting people off — but have they heard the things? Amazing.
The CZ-5000 is the third of the Casio pro synths working on the Phase Distortion principle, which I don't intend to go into here (as Mr Liberal used to say in Sociology classes when he came to something he didn't understand). Suffice it to say that PD lies halfway in operational method between conventional analogue synthesis and Yamaha's FM system; you don't have to know exactly why it lies there to appreciate the fact that all the CZ synths have the happy ability to approach either a Juno 106 or a Yamaha DX7.
So what does the 5000 offer that the earlier models don't? For a start a full-sized keyboard (the 101 has miniature keys and the 1000 has full-sized keys but only four octaves of them). The 5000 boasts the standard five octaves of full-sized keys, and is thus very much a Casio non-portable — just because Casio wanted to give it some of the abilities of a DX7 doesn't mean they had to make it weigh the same, surely?
Other new aspects of the 5000 include the provision of a keyboard-split facility, a stereo chorus and a powerful sequencer. There's also an expansion of some of the familiar facilities — the memory capacity for both preset and user sounds is increased to 32 each and the socket for cartridge sounds is transferred to the back panel (not so easy to use, though).
There are two banks of digital oscillators (DCOs) which allow the CZ 5000 to play 16-note polyphonically with one bank of oscillators or eight-note polyphonically in two banks (twice as 'polyphonic' as the 1000). The conventional filter is replaced by a Digital Waveform Generator which can produce eight waveforms, from a basic sawtooth and square to bizarre sine-square shapes and complex noise forms. Instead of altering tone with a filter, the CZ synths sweep along the waveform table under the control of an eight-stage envelope generator. Shades of the massive PPG system, which has a hell of a lot more waveforms to choose from but a very similar method of operation.
In fact the Casios can sound more like the PPG synths than like the DX synths. The final sets of controls are those for the DCAs (digitally controlled amps) which again have eight-stage envelopes to control them. Incidentally, the oscillators have similar envelope controls for pitch, which allows you to produce some complex special effects.
You can also make the waveform and amp parameters follow the keyboard pitch, which makes for some well varied textures, and the oscillator banks can be detuned both in large intervals and in small amounts for thickening the sounds. Such adjustments are made on a DX7-style LCD display on the centre of the panel, which displays the sound name or number unless you select a particular parameter for editing. If you do choose to edit a sound — say by hitting DCW1 ENV, to edit the envelope applied to the waveform of the first bank of oscillators — you're likely to come up with more than one choice of parameter to alter, just as on the DX7 or PPG.
In this case, you'd in fact receive the cryptic message "Wave Step 1 Rate = XX Level = XX". This is no occasion for retreating into the nearest dark corner stricken by terminal technofear — you're going to need your wits about you to jolly well lick this sound into shape. Here goes.
"Wave" means we're talking waveforms, out of the selection of eight previously mentioned. "Step 1" means step one of the wave envelope — a special pair of controls, Env Step Up/Down, chooses which of the eight stages you're editing (there's a little diagram of them on the top of the synth's panel to help). "Rate" refers to the time which that stage of the envelope takes from beginning to end and "Level" refers to the strength of its effect on the sound — these two parameters are toggled by a pair of cursor buttons which underline the parameter being edited, while a pair of Value Up/Down buttons actually alters the values displayed.
Sounds complicated? Well, in a way it is; it's certainly a bit on the slow side, but when you're talking eight stage envelopes, what do you expect? To be fair, though, there seems no particular reason why the Envelope Step controls couldn't be incorporated under the cursor selection procedure.
So what else do we have apart from 16 oscillators with six waveshapes with three eight-stage envelopes? For a start there's Portamento, with an On/Off switch and time parameter, Glide with the same facilities, Noise and Ring Modulation in various combinations, Bend Range and Modulation Depth for the pleasantly sprung bend and mod wheels (the latter also having an On/Off switch), and an Initialise setting for reducing sounds to their basic components before building new ones.
There's also Master Tune, Key Transpose, Solo Mode (not Unison unfortunately, but the 5000 is quite capable of doing screamy leadlines without it), and a stereo chorus which is non-programmable and simply controlled by a Depth slider. I left it on full all the time, but that's the sort of person I am. It works, and it's not hissy.
Now the complicated stuff — Keyboard Modes, and the Sequencer. Tone Mix sounds like an Italian ice cream but in fact refers to the simple ability to layer two sounds. This leaves you with reduced polyphony but will, of course, give some very interesting textures, particularly if one sound's fading out just as the other gets up steam.
Next up is Key Split, which allows you to play two sounds again, this time one either side of a split point which can be adjusted from Key 1 to Key 60, so you could have 59 keys of sanity followed by one key with an extremely silly noise on it. More likely, though, you'd want an octave-and-a-half of bass and three-and-a-half octaves of strings, for instance. There's something decidedly odd about the key assignment on all the CZ synths — if you play and release all the available voices with one hand you'll kill any held by the other hand, even if a fully sustained sound is being used. But this has less effect on the 5000.
The sequencer is, if anything, too powerful for the machine (particularly since Casio have their stand-alone SZ-1 sequencer in the pipeline). It has eight tracks which can be played back individually or collectively, and can record in step time or real time. Before it works you have to hit a large blue button marked Sequencer which is about three feet away from all the other sequencer controls.
The sequencer in fact has three banks of controls on the right of the synth. Ref/Fwd/Play/Stop act like a tape recorder's controls, and actually allow you to scan backwards through a sequence if that's what turns you on. Record, Reset (to the start of a sequence), Real Time, and Manual, (Step Time) are all fairly straightforward, and the top bank of controls refers to the eight sequences available and doubles as note length selectors for step time programming. In addition to these sets of controls there's a Track Check button which illuminates an LED above any sequence which is recorded, a pair of Tempo controls, and a Repeat button for looping sequences.
Making a multitrack recording is fairly easy provided you stay inside the limit of the number of voices in the synth. Hit Record/Realtime and 1 and you're asked how many voices you want to use on the first pass. Select the number using the Value buttons, adjust your desired tempo and beats per bar, then hit Play to produce a bleeping metronome to play along with. When you're finished, select a new sound, wipe a new sequence, go into Record, set the previous sequence to play and you're away. When you've used all your voices the synth will tell you by refusing to enable any more sequence channels.
Step Time recording offers a choice of Beat Length, Rest, Tie, Triplet, Repeat and End facilities, but of course comes up with similar-sounding results. The fact that the Casio can produce several different sounds at once implies that it could work in MIDI Mono mode, which in fact it does; you can assign any sound to any incoming channel, alter the channel transmitted, enable program changes from external sources, and switch from Poly to Mono mode at will.
You want more goodies? There's Edit/Compare while you're altering sounds, a program dump to cartridges or tape, stereo outputs, headphone socket, volume pedal and sustain footswitch sockets, memory protect switch, and MIDI sockets (just In and Out — although perhaps there'll be a Thru socket on production models).
Altogether the CZ-5000 has about two problems. The styling isn't too good — the pushbuttons on the review model were particularly cheap. The weight of the thing, as mentioned, takes it further out of the portable category than seems necessary (no batteries or speakers either), and there are no individual outputs for the separate voices, which takes away some of the point of the multitimbral sequencer and mono MIDI mode facilities.
OK, maybe three problems. And about five million good points. Twangy analogue noises, clinical digital noises, bizarre PPG-like noises, expressive soloing, split-keyboard effects, complex multisplit MIDI control, versatile sequencing. At this price, surely enough at least to put thinking caps on the opposition.
CASIO CZ-5000 poly: £955
CONTACT: Casio Electronics Co Ltd, (Contact Details).
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Review by Mark Jenkins
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