Saturday, January 22, 2022

Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Keyboards. In Depth Preview.

 


Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Review / Preview. 

I'm old enough to remember the days when Casio were a force in 'pro' music and often shook up the music tech establishment with surprise product releases that offered groundbreaking capabilities at previously unheard of prices, and sometimes with 'quirky' features that gave them 'cult' status. 

Think of the CZ101 phase modulation synthesizer. A mini keyboard that was a fully programmable synth, not a 'portable keyboard' with rhythms and backings. The FZ-1 sampler, the first affordable 12 bit sampling keyboard.... with what was then an enormous editing screen, and, of course, the VL-Tone micro keyboard that had ADSR synth style editing. 

So when rumours started of some new Casio products that might be a little more geared towards the 'pro' arena, I looked forward to hearing about them perhaps without the preconceptions that Casio were 'just' a portable/piano/home keyboard manufacturer.   

So in the depths of this year's Winter, I made myself a cuppa and huddled around my ancient laptop awaiting Casio's 'Live Keynote Event' live video with accompanying live comments. The whole of which can be viewed below. Exciting though these instruments are, the presentation and available documentation have perhaps left as many questions as answers, but I'll try and answer as many as I can. The instruments themselves are available from Monday 24th of Jan, so not long to wait for some 'hands-on' play.  






So two new keyboard models were launched and the first question, I guess, is 'are they pro keyboards?'. Well...... yes...... and no..... let me explain.....

The two new keyboards in question are the Casio CT-S500 and CT-S1000V and as far as I can tell they really differ only in one regard and that is that the CT-S1000V has Casio's 'Vocal Synthesis' feature on board and can be easily identified from the bold red sections on it's fascia. 

And here they are........



So before getting to the Vocal Synthesis bit of the CT-S1000V let's take a look at the 'basics' which are common to both models. 

We have a touch sensitive 5 octave (61 note) keyboard with  64 voice polyphonic AIX sound generator with 800 preset tones. AiX stands for Acoustic Intelligent eXpression and is Casio's latest generation of sampled sound generation and articulation. So we're largely dealing with acoustic recreations although it does include a number of 'classic' Casio synth tones from VL, VZ, and CZ series synthesizers. There are some real-time editing controls for filter and effects, but no in depth synthesizer editing. So I don't think we can really call these instruments 'synthesizers'.    

As a preset sample player, the keyboards sound really good, in particular the 'German Grand' piano preset which the instrument defaults to when powered up. 

The CT-S500 and CT-S1000V further betray their 'portable keyboard' roots by providing 243 'auto accompaniment' rhythms and styles.

I guess the inclusion of a built in speaker system also tends to suggest 'portable keyboard' rather than 'pro synthesizer', although this feature does certainly have it's uses. 


CT-S500 and CTS-1000V Arpeggiator, Sampling, and Sequencer.


Other features include a preset arpeggiator with 150 preset patterns. 

Sampling is available for user drum sounds, loops and beats. Drum samples can be mapped across the keyboard or a single sample can be 'pitched' across the keyboard. Sample time is listed at 10 sec (melody), 3 sec (drum). 

A 6 track sequencer is provided which is kind of a nod to the 'workstation' concept. There are slots for 10 songs. Functionality and editability remains, at this point, an unknown quantity. 

Which brings us to the question of storage. The keyboards are not equipped with an SD card slot. USB is provided via a micro-b connector. The available information states the 'no drivers or installation is needed' which perhaps means that settings can be stored by simply copying the data to your PC. This area still requires some clarification.  


CT-S1000V Vocal Synthesis. 

In truth, the focus of this launch was the 'Vocal Synthesis' of the CT-S1000V. 

Vocal words and phrases can be entered via the iOS/Android app and then the pitch of each syllable, word, or phrase can be altered via the keyboard. Twenty two vocal 'types' are provided including solo and ensemble types and each can also be adjusted for filter and 'age'!

The vocal 'tones' seem to be treated rather like the traditional keyboard tones so they can be used with the arpeggiator and sequencer.  

Christian Matthew Cullen has provided a great video demo of this through a complete song. 





As we speak, the CT-S1000V is only around £50 more than the CT-S500, so I would imagine this would be by far the more popular model.


CT-S500 and CT-S1000V Street Music Potential. 


All the time I spent looking at these keyboards I was struck by the efficiency of their design. How so much is included in such a compact box with so few controls. How the elliptical speakers keep the chassis sleek and narrow. To me, the whole concept just screams 'street music' and busking, and this may be where the new CT-S' find their niche. They can be powered via six AA batteries.

Lightweight, portable, built in speakers and a few choice tunes using the 'vocal synthesis' of the CT-S1000V would be more than enough to stop a few passing tourists in their tracks for a few minutes and hopefully reach into their wallets for a few coppers. 

Oh...... and there are strap anchors at each end so you can sling it 'round your neck.  
 

Casio CT-S500 Video Demo:




Casio CT-S1000V Video Demo:



Conclusion.

It's a little difficult to pin these two products down. It's easier to imagine Casio's designers trying to steer away from all the traditional concepts of 'portable keyboard' or 'workstation' and produce something more innovative that defies categorisation. 

The design is stunning. To produce a keyboard in these dimensions that sounds so good, has so many features, and is so accessible and easy to use is a design triumph. They may even achieve cult status in that regard. 

The AiX sound source provides plenty of high quality sounds and, at this price point, it really can't be argued with. Users looking at the more programmable aspects and features such as the arpeggiator, sampling, and sequencer may not find what they are looking for here and a more 'traditional' workstation product such as Korg's remarkable 'Kross 2' may be more up their street, although a much steeper learning curve may be involved.   

So who are they for? As 'home entertainment' and 'learning keyboards they are difficult to argue with. Those looking for a composing or songwriting tool may find the 'programmable' features somewhat lacking. For me, as mentioned earlier, these keyboards will find their niche in the burgeoning busking and 'street music' scene, for which they were born, and may become 'classics'. 


Casio CT-S1000V and CT-S500 Links. 

Casio's international site has the most comprehensive information on the CT-S1000V


If you're in the UK, you can purchase the items from Casio UK. 


and Casio's Youtube channel has lots of informative videos including the ones here. 



Disclaimer:

The information contained within this blog post is offered on an informal basis and is correct to the best of my knowledge. I accept no responsibility for outcomes arising from the mis/interpretation or use of this information and/or associated download files. Always download files via security/scanning software.

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