Casio CZ-1
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Casio CZ-1

CZ-1, Digitaler Synthesizer from Casio in the CZ series.

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midcomsys 09/04/2009

Casio CZ-1: Produktbewertung von midcomsys (content in English)

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Casio's ultimate 'Phase Distortion' synth. It offers up the following:
1)5 octave unweighted velocity and aftertouch keyboard.
2)Standard pitchbend and modulation wheels.
3)16 note polyphonic.
4)Chorus effect.
5)8 Part enhanced multitimbral Midi (full sysex spec).
6)64 patch memories, 64 operational memories, 64 cartridge memories. NO PRESETS.
7)Stereo, mono, headphone outputs + sustain pedal input.
8)Backlight LCD (Blue).
9)Casio's fully programmable enhanced Pro Phase Distortion sound engine.
and lots more....

UTILIZATION

The original initialised sound set is basically the same as its siblings (CZ101 - CZ5000) which is tragic for a synth with additional sonic capabilities. The stereo chorus effect has only one control, a linear pot for depth and a bit noisy compared to dedicated FX units but good nonetheless. User manual is pretty standard although Casio didn't explain the PD sound engine very well and since this was cutting edge technology when released (initially a poor man's DX) they should of tried a little harder. Analogue anoraks where still trying to understand FM synthesis (hard even today) so a little more help would have been a godsend. The chapter 'Sound Seminar' isn't much better either. You get the impression that both are half hearted attempts at a basic explanation. That said, you have to don your cap to Casio for giving musicians such unbelievable sonic power in an age where DX7 ruled and equally cost the earth.

SOUNDS

It's a sonic marvel so Casio should have made this thing sound big, instead we got marimba. I suppose that in the 1980's manufacturers were still searching for the Holy Grail, true synthesis and acoustic realism. The CZ range for the most part sounds synthetic even plastic but is very good at glass, bell and percussive instruments. The synth is fully programmable with no presets so if you should ever want to recall the original sounds you'll have to initialise the keyboard, sadly deleting your own unless your lucky enough to have a memory cartridge or sysex dump facilities . Why you would initialise is beyond me cos they're awful to middling. Makes you wonder what Casio were thinking, cost cutting perhaps. Personally I think they would have sold a lot more CZ-1's if they showed its full potential. You've got to remember its original price (999 sterling in 1986) and competing against very stiff competition from other prominent manufacturers. Thus wading into battle with slightly damp powder.

Underneath its strength is quite simply being a Jack of all trades. It can sound clinical as any digital synth of that time, as vicious as an analogue digital hybrid, or as mellow as a classic Moog or ARP. Bass, pads, leads n sonic FX are well catered for and as previously stated can emulate most other non sample (PCM) based sound engines. Great for most music genres and generally good allrounder. Simply put, it's as good as the person programming it and always delivers. Amazingly after so many years of ownership I've yet to exhaust its sonic repetoire. The user interface is by design almost analogue instead of digital, obviously reflecting the mindset of potential buyers. It's certainly an improvement to Yamaha's incomprehensible FM system which frustrated rather than inspired. Most reviews state that Phase Distortion is psuedo FM synthesis resembling 4-op FM synths when imitating acoustic instruments. That's somewhat true but where the similarities end as PD is far more powerful than most 4-op Yammy's. I wouldn't pit it against the DX7 range, they're completely different beasts. Better referring to the VZ range for that.

Programming can be a hit n mix affair until you get to grips. You quickly find your way around and that's when you realise it's a little gem. Compared to its little brothers the added velocity and aftertouch parameters make a HUGE difference to the PD sound. It's excellent and puts this machine in a league of its own. I've yet to hear a synth like it although so distinctive it can sound very abstract compared to other synths especially in a mix. It doesn't have a filter section but opts for 3 special TAPAZOIDAL waveforms that mimic resonance. This feature has a sound all its own and doesn't really hit the mark if your looking for standard analogue LFO sweeps. Its close though and has a unique sound that you either love or loathe. ~I love it.

Personally I think the best genre for PD synthesis is pseudo analogue, for some reason it produces an astonishing array of near perfect 70's synth sounds.  Monophonic leads and polypads are easily achieved with captivating and often staggering sounds produced. I own some classic Korg n Rolands from that era and this is where the CZ-1 fits in nicely. Its multi timbral features can render the afore mentioned virtually obsolete. Another excel point is bass particularily sub n techno, and with the additional velocity / aftertouch parameters it's the equal of any. As with all CZ synths it has inherited the same defined sonic weakness, noise generation. The noise circuit seems to be an after thought and linked somehow to ring modulation and isn't very usable unless you want 'Typhoon' or industrial type sounds. It can't really be a subtle addition to say flute or other breath instruments, it's just harsh n plastic more akin to atmospheric background noise. Modulation effects are really good with 4 waveforms creating some unique sounds when coupled to Casio's 8 stage envelopes that are associated with vitually every wave shaping parameter.

Another enhancement added is 'Operation Memory' which is an additional 64 memories that can generally be either tone mix or keyboard splits. Crucially you get a lot of control for each individual sound such as oct+/- chorus on/off, mono/poly modes, portamento, glide, modulation etc etc. This is great for live performances and is only available on the CZ-1.  Multi timbral mode also has extra features over the rest of the range. You can assign single / multiple notes plus add performance contols to each channel. The onboard midi is quicker than say the CZ3000, maybe updated processing power. Sadly these settings can't be saved to operations memory so having to manually change the settings, shame. I have to give it a ten since it is the best PD synth ever and that includes the rare VZ IPD synths. I own a VZ10M which doesn't sound anything like a CZ and athough excellent it's just to complicated.

OVERALL OPINION

I've owned my machine since 1990 and at one point had 2 of them. Strangely never sounding like the other even with the same sound patches. Obviously different production batches. I also owned a CZ3000 which isn't as good (more handsome though). I've read somewhere that CZ-1 competes with CZ5000. Well put it this way the CZ5000 is a CZ3000 with a simple sequencer (similar to the SZ-1) with none of the CZ-1's extra parameters. If you use a modern computer based sequencer then the CZ-1 pips it although there was never any doubt.

There isn't much to hate about it really, the insane menu system could be improved upon but nowadays you can get computer based editors. Saying that I've never come across an editor that supports the CZ-1's extra features so your stuck with just the standard parameters supported by its CZ siblings. Pity. I got it from a local music shops shutting down sale and was an ex demo. I think I got it for 40 pounds sterling, not bad eh. Value for money then but nowadays your lucky to see reasonably priced CZ's for sale even on EBAY. Usually it's either a battered CZ101/1000 and these go for a couple of hundred pounds. CZ-1 is a rare synth with owners reluctant to give them up, little wonder because they're just that good n full of character. I'm sure Phase Distortion will make a comeback some day probably in VST format. I'm glad I kept mine and if it died I would either get it repaired or replaced.
I can't applaud Casio enough for introducing the CZ/FZ/VZ and other 'Z' ranges. They were affordable cutting edge machines that should have brought Casio to the fore in the pro music scene. I just think that they should of done more to advertise and promote their commitment. Rather pro musicians were still left with the assumption that these were just overgrown toys and 'just a Casio' which would spoil the image. If they just done a little more a little different they should have progressed. Saying that, nowadays this range of synths is just as popular if not moreso.

Summing up, one of Casio's finest moments but never given enough Casio commitment to realise its full potential. Damn shame...