The Kawai K4 Synthesizer ROCKS!

Kawai K4 jimatwood.net

Today I found a used Kawai K4 in the local used music shop and I must say it absolutely ROCKS! Oh my, what a gem. I already have a Kawai K4r and that is basically the same thing as the keyboard version, however, the synth version has some very good features that are had to pass up. For $50 bucks, I couldn’t pass up this beauty.

The Kawai K4 can split up to 8 different sections at once. For live performance this is fantastic. In addition, you can have up to 8 different tone layers. There is also a “link” function which allows you to program a queue and change patches on the fly during a performance. This makes moving from one patch to another seamless. Plus there is velocity switching, so you can have different sounds play depending on how hard or soft you press the keys.

The Kawai K4 is a 61 key with attack, release velocity, and aftertouch pressure. It’s a digital powerhouse monster and frankly I couldn’t stop playing with it when I was testing it in the shop. It was so much fun to play and sonically, it beats the crap off a lot of good gear I have. Lots of reviews cite the Kawai K4 as a very good synth for Industrial, Synthpop, DnB, and Hardcore/Breakbeat/Chemical synth style music. I agree 100% and then some. I simply can’t believe nobody else either has or promotes this synth. I did hear that only a limited number of them were made, so perhaps that is one reason why. It is a “VERY” digital sounding machine, BUT it does have a very warm sound to it and with some patches it sounds very analog”ish” to me. Thus I could care less if it’s digital in that it simply rocks my socks off! This leads me to believe that with effective programming the Kawai K4 can improve even more which is hard to imagine because I already love it.

Without a doubt, I recommend the Kawai K4 over the K4r for one simple reason. The keyboard version is just so much fun to play live and peform with. You really need to have easy access to layer, split, and program the velocity switching on the fly so that you can really get the most out of this beast. MIDI implementation is exceptional and with my Kawai Q8 sequencer it should be a blast to program some good drums and sequences. It all integrates seamlessly even with the Kawai K4r. Along with the Kawai K4 I was able to snag a DC-16 Memory Card which was a huge bonus because I’ve heard these are near impossible to find. In addition, there is an effect processor in the Kawai K4 synth version which is actually quite nice. The effects on the Kawai K4 absolutely make a world of difference to the sound and edginess of the K4. The Kawai K4r does not have effects.

Seriously, if you ever find a Kawai K4 sitting on a shelf for a decent price, I wouldn’t hesitate one second to pick it up. In fact RUN, don’t walk! If you are a synth band who is looking for some unique synth sounds that will cut through almost any mix, the Kawai K4 will hold the job of “secret weapon” nicely. Even the guy at the music store thought the Kawai K4 sounded better than the other keyboards I played and/or purchased before. “Wow!” he said in Japanese, “That synth really has a lot of character! BOOM!” As soon as his eyes opened up to the capabilities of the Kawai K4, I new I had to wrap it up and get the heck out of there with it. It is a diamond in the rough for sure!

Note that the photo above was graciously borrowed from a gentleman on Flickr. If you click the photo it will take you to his photo stream where you can see other shots of the Kawai K4. The one I bought is equivalent in quality and condition. It’s practically in mint condition despite the age. Now back to some jamming fun on the Kawai K4!

Roland TR-606 Vintage Drum Machine

Roland TR-606
Roland TR-606

UNBELIEVABLE! Today I snagged a vintage Roland TR-606 from the local used music shop here in Nagano city, JAPAN for only one dollar (thats $1.00)! The unit was really dirty and there was a note that said it didn’t make any sound. I bought it anyway because I couldn’t take their word for it. I’ve bought things in the past from this same shop with notes that said “Not working” when it only was because they didn’t understand or know how to use the music device. I got home and found a working adapter. It turned on right away, but indeed it didn’t make any sound. The reason is that you must know how to operate the unit!

I looked up the manual online as I was guilty as well not understanding how to properly use or test the Roland TR-606. I found some instructions on how to access the patterns. To my amazement the TR-606 performed beautifully. In addition, I noticed on the back there were five custom outputs which meant there must have been some sort of custom MOD installed in the TR-606. I spent about an hour cleaning up the drum machine and it looked fairly nice after that. I still can’t believe I found this for only a buck!

I also noticed that when I went through some of the patterns that the previous owner had programmed in the TR-606, they were quite erratic. If I had to guess, the owner before me was either into speed metal or didn’t know what they were doing with respect to programming the TR-606. Perhaps that also might explain the type of person that would drop this off at a used music shop and allow it to be sold for one dollar. Obviously, the store owner didn’t pay more than a dollar so he must have gotten the TR-606 practically for free. The beauty of this used music shop I frequent is that the music gear must be working 100% so that they can provide their standard 3 month warranty policy. Otherwise it’s classified as junk and the price is set to simply get rid of it as fast as possible. This is why the store employees usually seem me in the shop 3-4 times a week. I’m pretty sure that Roland TR-606 would not be in the junk box for very much longer.

One of the main reasons I am really excited to find the Roland TR-606 is that it has an output trigger ability to send sync signals to my Roland Juno 6 and Juno 106 synthesizers. The Roland TR-606 is really small and by the looks of the controls is probably quite easy to program once I read the manual once or twice. It should work awesome along with the Juno 6 both as a drum machine and a trigger to start the arpeggiator on the Juno 6. Fantastic!

Here is a video that someone uploaded to Youtube with the Roland TR-606 Drum machine triggering and in sync with the Roland Juno 6. It’s not a great video but it gives you the idea of both working together.

Roland W30 SMFW30 Software Upgrade

SMFW30 Last Beta
SMFW30 Last Beta

There is a new release of SMFW30 is coming soon! It’s a Sound Manager for the Roland W-30, S-330, S50, and S-550 Vintage Samplers. Over on the SMFW30 Forums, Miro has released some beta info about the new Roland W-30 Software Sample Editor. I think registration is closed there due to spam issues, but you should at least be able to view the updates. I’m on there so if anyone has any questions, I can pass them along to Miro for you if I don’t know the answer. Above is a screenshot which looks great. This is definitely a welcome upgrade and should hopefully add some new life to the aging but popular Roland W-30.

Hare are some details taken from the forum posting.

Tone Editor
* Import of waves with odd length
* Editing of tone/subtone title
* Editing of all tone/subtone parameters with waveform preview

MIDI Editor
* Correction of SYSEX troubles

Patch Editor
* Basic implementation – Load / Save / Rename and Delete patch

I am really looking forward to this release. Currently I prefer transferring my WAV files to the Roland W-30 via the S-330 and other software connected to it via the computer. However, if I can do everything I need with SWMF30, then that would clearly be the way to go.

Stay tuned for more news and about about the SMFW30 software upgrade for the Roland W-30.

Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer

Roland GR55 Guitar Synthesizer
Roland GR55 Guitar Synthesizer

Probably the coolest thing in my book coming out of Namm 2011 is the new Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer. Sure the Korg Kronos is pretty cool too and hopefully that will knock the price down on the Korg M3 and maybe even I’ll find some used M3’s in the second hand shops here in Japan..fingers crossed. I mostly buy used gear which is why it’s likely I will not buy the Korg Kronos even though it does look great. In addition, I’m excited about Karma now being compatible with the Yamaha XS/XF keyboards as well. IF I were to buy a new synth it’s likely to be the Yamaha XF7 anyway. Not to mention the nice Boss RC-3 and R-30 Looper updates. Great stuff!

As I mentioned, I am most excited about the new Roland GR-55 Guitar Synth. It’s got the dual tone layers, virtual guitar layer, and the COSM effect layer. Plus you can edit and save your own patches and transfer them to the computer. I also like that fact that you can stick some backing tracks on a USB stick and basically gain a track to jam along with. There is also a looper which is really cool, BUT we don’t know exactly how much recording time there will be available in the GR-55 yet. Plus it’s not known if you can save or transfer your loops to the computer. The addition of the COSM effects is nice. It will br great fun to combine the synth parts with the virtual guitar/amp parts. The GR-55 also has an audio or guitar out for straight sound and there appears to be good MIDI capabilities in the unit.

Currently I own several guitar synths. I have the Roland GR-1, GR-30, and GR-33 Guitar synths along with the Roland GI10 and GI20 Guitar MIDI interfaces. These are all great fun, but the Roland GR-55 with the added functions and updated sounds is really exciting. Hopefully the price will be good too.

Novation Drumstation V2 a TR808 TR909 clone

Novation DrumStation V2
Novation DrumStation V2

Found a mint condition Novation Drumstation for $50 today in the used music shop called “Hard Off” here in Nagano-city, JAPAN. I don’t know much about it but I know that Novation makes some pretty decent products. Besides the price being good, the unit had lots of knobs, outputs, and it was very MIDI capable. The size was small and it apparently does a decent job of cloning the Roland TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines sounds. I particularly like the fact that you can tweak the bass drum, snare, etc. separately and trigger it all via an external sequencer. The OS of the Drumstation is 1.3 which is the latest OS version if correct. The Novation Drumstation looks like a V2 unit, but I’m not sure.

Overall the sound is good and I plan to hook it up to my Korg Triton Rack for making RPPR TR808 and TR909 drum patterns. These patterns can then be triggered by any controller or synth hooked up to the Korg Triton. Once the patterns are playing, I can then tweak the Drumstation to taste and hopefully get some cool grooves going. I’m a big fan of the Roland TR808 so having something similar ( but not the same I know ) will be fun. There is also a DIN Sync connection on the back of the Drumstation. Plus I got a PSU4-100 adapter and manual along with the unit. The Novation Drumstation a really neat drum sound module with lots of knobs and it’s very small for a rack. You can basically stick it anywhere and and it will not take up much space.

Here is a pretty decent video of the Novation Drumstation in action. (Triggered by a Roland TR505)

Yamaha DX7IID Programmable Synthesizer

Yamaha DX7IID Synthesizer
Yamaha DX7IID Synthesizer

Happy New Year!

Well my efforts were surely rewarded today! I visited my local used music shop hoping to find something new. I hadn’t visited for about 5 days due to New Year festivities here in Japan. I walked in and pretty much saw the same old stuff, but in the junk area I found a new ( old ) keyboard sitting on the second shelf that I hadn’t seen before. I ran over and took a look and to my surprise it was a Yamaha DX7IID in excellent condition for $60 including Yamaha hard shell case! [V1.6 87.04] I couldn’t believe after all the work on the DX-7 and the couple of years of frequenting the used shop that I would stumble upon a used DX7IID at this time.

So, I picked it up primarily because I had never owned one and also because I wanted to check out the Dual and Split functionality of the DX7IID. Since I’ve been dabbling in FM stuff I thought I should check it out. The price was good too. What a find!

The DX7IID is actually in very very good condition. There are no scratches, marks, or any problems of any kind with the exception of a “Change Battery” message I am getting. Everything sounds great so the battery is probably just starting to go. This week I’ll probably crack it open and solder a new battery in there with a holder. I suspect the price was lower due to the battery message the shop owner indicated. Plus anything older than the year 2000 he tends to throw in the junk section.

Other than that it was a stroke of luck to find a Yamaha DX7IID where I live in such nice condition. What timing!! Funny.

Note I’ll likely not install an E! board in this as I don’t think I will need one. It seems to have everything I would use in Stock form.

Also, while playing both this evening I found that older DX-7 to be a little warmer and fuller sounding. Yes, it’s a bit noisier, but with a noise gate attached to the DX-7 it actually sounds really nice. I need to get better sounds in the DX7IID and tweak it a bit, so it’s likely I’ll get comparable if not better sounds from it than the older DX-7. The DX7IID is definitely quieter and the dual/split is awesome!! Both are fun in different ways. The DX7IID is much cleaner, but that old 12bit grit in the DX-7 is super as well!