keyboard, cassette and radio
So much is crowded onto the KX101, you almost have to throw a six to start. It is... in no special order, a programmable cassette player and recorder, an FM/AM radio, a portable stereo amp and speakers, a four note polyphonic keyboard and a sequencer.
I counted 53 buttons, seven switches and 10 sliders, not including the 37 note keyboard (where some notes have treble functions) and the 23 key, chord accompaniment manual. What, still no built in alarm clock??
Where Casio have lately been concerned, the future of rock and roll is portability. Then maybe it's no surprise that they should finally take the hi-fi out on the road, as well as the keyboard.
It measures about 27in long when the two detachable speakers are clipped into place, weighs 6.7kg (without the eight SUM-1 batteries in place), but can run on mains and churns out 3W per channel.
It's silver and black (mainly), sounds very good for such a small unit, with more thump from the 4in bass speakers than you'd expect. But it's hissy up top. And so, to the sections.
Strong reception (in London) from the 37in telescopic antenna on the main FM stations. No interstation muting so there's plenty of splutter as you're tweaking the dial. Medium and long wave signals have a messier time with the built in ferrite rod but tuning and stereo indicators, plus a seven step signal strength, LED ladder help you get the best by turning the KX to face the waves.
The tone balance and main volume sliders affect this section and all others. Tuning is via a large knob mounted edgeways near the right hand speaker. A needle in a window near the top indicates the frequency against a painted on scale which happily resisted any attempts at being scratched or worn off. There's a headphone socket as well, again with plenty of available volume.
A semi-intelligent cassette player, I suppose. The 'computer play' function lets it fast forward searching for clear tape for new recordings; select the first, ninth or 999th track; repeat one song indefinitely; play a programmed selection, a random selection or sample the first 25 seconds of every song on the tape.
Don't expect it to perform these miracles on all commercially available cassettes, however, as the Casio needs four second gaps between each recording to find its way around. Fades and quick joins can occasionally fox it.
When recording your own collections from the radio or other people's albums – always presuming you would commit such a foul and heinous crime, of course – you can load in those gaps yourself and the Casio will fast forward past them later using the jump playback button. That removes any pregnant pauses. The intro tester is a brilliant way of discovering what you've got on an unmarked C90.
You can record direct from the Casio radio, and use the machine as a digital dump from the keyboard section. Annoyingly you can only have one section on at once. You can't play along with a tape or a broadcast. A pity. That kills some of the potential fun.
The sounds are not much of a departure from previous mini Casio's. There are nine basic tones – piano 1-3, harpsichord, organ, clarinet, flute, horn and mellow – which are the usual simple and slightly fizzy sounds. Two worthwhile additions are the mock Leslie effect which swings notes around the stereo speakers, and a unison mode converting the four note poly keyboard into a much richer mono one.
A second mini keyboard to the left selects chords in major, minor, 7th, aug, minor 7 – flat 5, sus 4, minor 6, 6th, maj 7th and minor 7th configurations. There's a one key play system to let you load the notes then add the timing, plus 12 standard, 'family type' drum rhythms and three fills. Nothing out of the ordinary.
Where we do find a fresher approach is in the KX101's ability to make sense of musical score – with a little help from a human.
With the music in front of you, you can first input the notes of the melody line, then go back and complete the timing by pressing keys marked with crotchets, quavers, rests or whatever.
Next comes the counter melody which can contain up to three part chords. Finally there's the drum rhythm and autochord accompaniment. All three sections can have different tones, which can be changed at any point during the song programming. True, "Air on a G String" did come out sounding suspiciously 'K-Tel' thanks to the Rock 1 rhythm, but it's an interesting step up from the normal 100 Top Pop favourites routine.
"You can later cancel the melody channels and play along live or (gulp) sing along. According to the manual's instructions there's a jack socket for a microphone plus a slider for mixing its level. Editing allows you to step through the program a note at a time, deleting the bad ones, substituting (hopefully) better ones.
Yes, you can change the pitch of the keyboard. No, it does not contain MIDI.
Maybe you could build up some speed across the keyboard but it's reaching that miniaturised scale where chords and fast fingering are definitely hitting hiccups. If you wanted to impress anybody you'd have to program it, time it, dump it and play it back.
The KX101 comes with a tape of demonstration programs. The cassette player's search facility is even more useful here, tracking down the songs you want to demonstrate to whoever's been silly enough to accept the late cup of coffee and packet of digestives.
You can also fit a RAM pack for extra memory space, taking the total from 473 events to 985 (1 for a note change, 1 for a chord change, 0.5 for a fill, arpeggio, repeat marker, etc).
Never having had a ghetto blaster round the hovel before, I was amazed how handy they are for keeping boredom at bay. Wander from room to room, fiddle with the radio, don't like that, drop in a tape, not bad, what about that demo I mixed down the other day, oh yea, maybe it needs another melody line, switch on the keyboard, give that a whirl, how does it sound against the rest of the chords, program it up, dump it next to the original demo for reference.
One of those cases where if you haven't got ANY of the individual elements, you'd be doing well. If you have, then you're buying redundancy. Pricey, too.
Review by Paul Colbert
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