Casio FZ-1 Digital Sampling Synthesizer Display Repair

Casio FZ-1 Digital Sampling Synthesizer
Casio FZ-1 Digital Sampling Synthesizer

A few months ago I picked up a Casio FZ-1 Digital Sampling Synthesizer in Nagano, Japan for $10. Yeah, it was 1,000 Japanese yen and I couldn’t believe it. I thought there probably would be a ton of things wrong with it, but to my surprise everything worked great, even the belt driven floppy drive. The minor problem ( so I thought ) was that the display needed a new foil for the backlight. I’ve done this many times on other synths and it’s really pretty straight forward.

NOT SO with the Casio FZ-1 Sampler!!

Unfortunately, there are these really old etched ribbon cables attached ( soldered/taped ) to both the display and LCD board. Altogether there are six cables and boy do they look detailed and complicated. The problem is that when replacing the foil for the backlight, it’s almost too easy for the cables to lose a connection or two. This causes missing lines and even garbled data on the display. In fact for the better part of a day while trying to fix the problem, I had a really nice shiny LCD, but no text!!

After some research, I ran down to the 100 yen shop and bought some balsa wood, metal clamps for paper, and 0.6K insulation tubing I use when I solder wires together. I then proceeded to clamp down all cables attached to the display and LCD board. I managed to clamp all sides and after removing the metal handles on the clamps, could successfully put the display back into the FZ-1. The LCD board I could not fit back into it’s original position, so I just secured it slightly above it’s normal spot. I then closed the FZ-1 back up and the photo below is my FINAL result. No way am I going to go any further as likely it will either result in more missing lines or too much work!!

Casio FZ-1 Display Repair
Casio FZ-1 Display Repair

Are there any alternative displays out there? Not according to my research just yet. You basically have to find another FZ-1 or just cross your fingers and hope that you don’t crimp, pull, or mess up the ribbon cable when changing the backlight. Had I known I would go through all of this trouble, I probably would not have done the change. If you can see your screen reasonably well in your studio, I don’t recommend putting in a new backlight. However, if you need to perform or play in darker venues, then of course you’ll have to just go for it.

Best of luck with your display repair. Be VERY careful with those ribbon cables. The instructions that came with my Backlit foil didn’t say a word about them.

Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack Sampler and SCSI Repair

Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack Sampler
Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack Sampler

Last weekend I picked up a used Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack Sampler in the used music shop here in Nagano-city, JAPAN. It was pretty cheap mainly because the sales clerk couldn’t provide an OS disk, manual, or any other accessory. Thus he couldn’t properly test the product, so he basically sold it as junk and practically gave it away.

I bought the sampler because I’ve always been a big fan of the ASR-10 keyboard, but never found one for a reasonable price in Japan. Although I would have probably preferred the keyboard version, the rack works out well because I feel I already have too many synths and samplers as is. So, this rack shouldn’t take up much extra space.

The condition of the ASR-10 rack is excellent. In fact, inside it was pretty much spotless with no visible signs of wear or dirt. The outside had no scratches, but it was missing the rack ears. I powered up the ASR-10 rack after acquiring an OS disk copy and it booted just fine. I noticed that the OS was 3.53 and the firmware was 1.50. Note I had to create the OS disk using my Windows 98 laptop in DOS using special Ensoniq software.

The Ensoniq ASR-10 rack works fantastic in all areas with the exception of the SCSI interface. Only ONCE, could I successfully boot the ASR-10 rack and get the “searching for SCSI devices” message upon startup. At that time I had my trusty blue Iomega 100MB zip drive with disk inside ready to go. I was able to get to the Format SCSI Drive screen. I proceeded through all the steps even getting past the Interleave screen. When it hit formatting, it just blinked for a second and then reverted to “disconnected SCSI device”. I have since been unable to get back to the “Searching for SCSI Devices” screen during the boot stage. Frustrating! Note I don’t believe I got a light blink which indicates the ASR-10 detected the Zip drive.

I completely took apart the ASR-10 Rack and checked all of the fuses which tested just fine for continuity. I then pulled and reseated all of the cabling which included cleaning. Everything looks amazing inside, but unfortunately, the SCSI simply doesn’t work right now which has left me unsure about what to do next.

Other than the SCSI problem, the Ensoniq ASR-10 Rack works perfectly and it’s really easy to sample and jam with right away. Currently I have 16MB of ram on board, but it will be a chore loading and saving all that data without the SCSI working properly should I choose to utilize it all. The floppy drive works great and I also have a backup HxC Floppy Emulator that works too should I require another drive.

Note that I have tested the ASR-10 rack with a working Iomega 100MB SCSI zip drive, Olympus SCSI MO drive, 2GB SCSI hard disk, and an old SCSI CD Rom drive that all work with all of my old samplers. I don’t believe I have an SCSI cable, drive, or media problem. The issue resides somewhere inside the Ensoniq ASR-10 rack.

No doubt I’ll be making great use of the ASR-10 rack as it’s extremely easy to use and sounds amazing. It’s so much easier to use than my old Akai gear in fact. I just wish I could get the SCSI to snap out of it and start working. I’ll update this article should I find a solution. Stay tuned!

NOTE #1: A few times I got the infamous ASR-10 “Error 129 reboot” message. To fix this you need a 100% working OS floppy disk. There are some bad OS images floating around including those on sites where everybody gets them. After using a quality floppy disk and image, I was able to completely eliminate the 129 reboot message. I haven’t had it all week, not once. I have about 3-4 bad image disks from various sources and they literally flood my ASR-10 with 129 reboot messages. The error is a software one, which means you need a decent software image.

Akai S900 Replacement LCD Display and OS Version 4

Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair
Akai S900 LCD Disply Replacement Repair

This afternoon I was able to successfully replace the LCD Display on my newly acquired Akai S900. There are already a few replacement LCD kits available on Ebay but I found them to be rather expensive ranging from $55 to $65 not including airmail to Japan. So instead I elected to find the sources of the LCD displays which I found from buydisplay.com. On Ebay I believe I payed $20 including shipment to Japan for the LCD display that most were providing in their kits.

Akai S900 Cool Blue Display
Akai S900 Cool Blue Display

Installation was not too difficult. After removing the front plate of the Akai S900 I was able to easily remove the old LCD Display. I then clipped the right side two wires going to the Inverter and removed that as well which you can see in the photo below. With the replacement of the new LCD display, the Inverter was no longer needed. On the left side you then have to remove the 14 pin angle connector from the old display so that you can then re-solder it to the new one. This was the only difficult part but with patience and careful desoldering, I was able to remove the pin connector just fine. I then cut the two P-401 wires connected to the inverter so that I could solder them to pins 15 and 16 to power the backlight LCD of the display. The 5V wire is the one soldered near the resistor on the Inverter board for those who know what I’m talking about.

Akai S900 Inverter
Akai S900 Inverter

Finally, you solder the 14 pin connector on to the new display along with the P-401 wires to pins 15 and 16. Then you screw the LCD back into the front panel frame using small nuts to secure the LCD. Note that the LCD is a tad thicker so you have to screw the LCD behind the frame and not in front. That is why you need nuts to secure the LCD. You should know exactly what I mean once you see how your LCD is connected. Then you just power it on and all should work well. IF you should get a faded or partial lit LCD, then look for possible shorts connected to your soldering and the screws. The upper left hand screw is VERY close to the pin 15/16 solder joints. If you don’t solder that properly you may get a short.

Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk
Akai S900 OS 4.0 Disk

In addition I was able to locate and make a copy of the Akai OS 4.0 software that pretty much brings the Akai S900 specs alongside that of the S950. I used an old Windows 98 PC along with Teledisk to make the copy to a DD floppy. It worked great.

I now have a pretty cool Akai S900 that both looks and works very well. If you are having LCD issues, I strongly recommend picking up some LCD screens from the seller mentioned above on Ebay. You’ll save a lot of money from the kits that are being sold if you can do it yourself. I basically figured out how to do this from my experience with changing my Yamaha SY-77 display. It was pretty much the same concept.

Please feel free to post questions if you like. Thanks!

Roland Juno-106 Beyond Effective Range

Roland Juno-106 – “Beyond Effective Range” Vocal – Retro 80’s Groove.

Had a lot of fun working with the AKai S3000XL this evening. I used Propellerhead’s Recycle to slice up a vocal phrase and send it directly via SCSI to the S3000XL. I have an old Windows 98 computer that that is connected to the AKAI S3000XL which is also connected to an MO drive. The Roland Fantom XF is controlling the S3000XL which I’m playing on the lower part of they keyboard. Everything in the video is improvised including the sequenced parts and drums which were put together this evening.

In the video I’m playing live:
Roland Juno-106 – Synth Lead ( Right Hand )
AKAI S3000XL Sampler ( Left Hand )

Roland MC-909 Sequenced:
Synth 1 – Roland D-550
Synth 2 – Roland MKS-50
Synth 3 – Roland SH-101

Drums were loop recorded with the Boss RC-300 Loop Station.

Akai S3000XL Sampler
Akai S3000XL Sampler

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler Review

Akai S612 Vintage Sampler
Akai S612 Vintage Sampler

Today I picked up a great little sampler called the Akai S612. I actually had seen this sampler tucked away at a nearby used music store about a month ago but didn’t think much of it. I took a snapshot with my iPhone and later did a bit of research. My initial findings were that the Sampler wasn’t worth the effort. It had 1 to 8 seconds of sample memory depending on the sampling frequency. You also couldn’t save any samples unless you had the MD280 quick disk drive addon. As I searched for more info though, the tone seemed to change among the Sampler gurus that the S612 was in fact a rather hidden gem. In fact many said if you saw one to grab it quickly, so that I did…laugh. I ran down to the store and bought it from the guy who actually thought I was nuts. He said it didn’t work. He stuck his guitar cord into the line out jack and connected the input jack to the amp. He again said it didn’t work. I chuckled to myself and said not to worry.

After working with the Sampler this evening I found out some rather interesting things about it.

First I seem to have OS version 1.0 inside the box. This is potentially a problem because I can send wav samples to the S612 using Sample Wrench or the Atari based S612 editor using Steam. However, in all cases I couldn’t receive a sample dump via midi. The end result was a frozen connection. My thinking is that it’s possible OS v1.0 of the S612 is not working properly for sample dumps. The good news is that I can definitely send samples to the Akai S612 via midi and it takes just 50 seconds to do so. I know all the young sample musicians out there with the latest sampler gear will likely call that insanely long, but honestly that’s pretty quick and stable to get a sample into the machine. Due to the possible OS v1.0 glitch, I won’t be able to save sounds I sample just yet. I’ll need to find an OS Eprom update OR acquire an MD280 quick disk module. For a single sample machine, the time it takes to get a sample in there and ready to go is pretty good.

For live performance, I think the Akai S612 is going to be fantastic. I can easily load samples into the S612 using my Macbook Air running Windows 7 Bootcamp and Sample Wrench. As I mentioned it takes less than a minute to transfer a sample. I can then play the sample using a controller keyboard and tweak the LFO, Time, Decay, and Filter with the S612 knobs. I can also adjust the beginning and end points of the sample with the on board sliders. The results are awesome and it’s really a lot of fun to teak in real time. I also found that in Sample Wrench I can reduce the Sample Rate which effectively lengthens the sample when transferred to the S612. It’s particularly effective when using dialog or vocal phrases. You can then use the loop sliders to isolate the words in the phrase. Pretty cool!

Among other things you can overdub after your initial sample recording. You can adjust the sample rate that you sample from Sampling 4 kHz to 8 kHz to 16 kHz and finally to 32 kHz. Sampling time is 1 second at 32 kHz on up to 8 seconds when sampling at the lowly 4 kHz frequency. I have found 8 kHz to be quite good, especially when transferring samples from Sample Wrench to the S612. 4 kHz is not bad but it’s definitely got that Lo-Fi sound. It’s going to take some experimenting to determine which samples work best at what rates, but for now 8 kHz is best for balancing quality and sample time. 8 kHz would give you about 4 seconds of sampling time. In a live song where you stutter, glitch, or adjust the tempo of the sample it works very well.

Basically I view the Akai S612 as a single instrument sampler or synthesizer. It’s absolutely not a workstation nor is it a multi-sample instrument like the later Akai models. Rather it’s a single “Oscillator” kind of sampler where it’s best to find that one great sample and incorporate that into your song as if it’s a regular instrument in the mix. That’s pretty much how I plan to use it and I think for that sort of thing, it is a very unique piece of “hands on” sampling gear.

It’s pretty neat what the Akai S612 can do and I feel if one thinks outside the box a little, it can even have more interesting uses. The analog filter inside could also be used to warm up a sound as well. More and more I’m finding these ancient samplers to be very useful for creating additional INSTRUMENTS in the mix. If you’re into looping, I think the modern day sampler offerings are still probably the best choice, including software.

I haven’t found any decent Akai S612 videos on Youtube that are what I call musical, but I did find this one that was pretty good in showing some of the features. Enjoy!

Roland Varios Open System Module

Roland Varios Open System Module
Roland Varios Open System Module

Last weekend I picked up a used Roland Varios Open System Module from a used music store way out in the countryside in Nagano-city, Japan. I bought it for $180 which included the Roland VC-1 D-50 expansion card. I already have the Roland V-Synth 2.0 along with the VC-2 Vocal Designer Card, so I was pretty excited about scoring a mint condition Roland Varios. I have heard that the Varios is no longer supported by Roland and it’s not as popular as the V-Synth, but I was eager to get it due to the VC-1 card being included.

Roland Varios Sample Editor
Roland Varios Sample Editor

Inside the Roland Varios can house 20MB worth of samples that you can import either via USB or PC Card Slot. This might not seem like much space for samples, but actually I found it to be plenty when creating instruments. There is a rather nice Sampling Editor which installed and loaded just fine under Windows 7. If you use Mac OSX, I believe you’ll run into driver troubles. I’ve tested quite a bit with Windows 7 and thus far have experienced zero issues, so I basically use my Windows 7 desktop or a Macbook pro running Bootcamp. Both work great.

Roland Varios Sequencer
Roland Varios Sequencer

You can also slice the samples and sequence them or arrange them differently on a time line. It works rather well and found that you could really come up with some interesting results from mangling your samples. You can vary the speed at different times or pitch. You can also copy segments and repeat them to create excellent stutter or glitch results. It’s really quite powerful and fun to experiment with. It has the Varisynth technology aboard which is the same as the VP-9000 and what you find on the V-Synth. If correct, the Varios is the same as the V-Synth 1 version.

Roland VariOS-8
Roland VariOS-8

In addition, you get a full blown synth inside called the Roland VariOS-8 which apparently is an emulation of the Roland Jupiter 8. In all actuality this is totally false and probably shouldn’t be advertised as such. However, the synth is very powerful and quite frankly worth the price of a used Roland Varios alone. Yes, you have to boot into the Varios-8, but you do get a nice editor and the sounds are only 30 patches in total. However, you can of course create your own and hold up to 128 sounds. The Varios-8 synth simply rocks and it really sounds great for an Analog emulation. I HIGHLY recommend it.

Roland Varios 303
Roland Varios 303

You also get an emulation of the Roland TB-303, but I honestly haven’t tested this feature yet. If it’s anything like the Jupiter 8 / Varios-8 emulation then it’s NOT a TB-303 rather just another synth that should be treated on it’s own merits and not a TB-303 emulation. I’ll add some additional comments once I get a chance to play around with it. Like the Varios-8 you get a rather nice software editor to tweak and create patches with.

Roland D-50 V-Card
Roland D-50 V-Card

The Roland D-50 VC-1 card is a HUGE score with finding this particular Roland Varios in Japan. It can also be used with the Roland V-Synth 2.0 and it simply sounds fantastic. I already have a couple of D-50 synths and the D-550. I can honestly say it’s the real deal. What I like best is that it contains all of the Roland released preset cards on it plus several additional banks for your own patches. You can import or export D-50 patches and swap them with your original D-50 with ease. It’s simply a fantastic card although I would never spend $500 on Ebay for one. Be patient and they will turn up for around $200 which is much more reasonable. Yes, you can buy an original D-550, but I like the extra patch banks with the VC-1. Plus a PC card is much smaller than a D-550 and much more reliable.

UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50
UniQuest VC-1 Editor Roland D-50

Along with the Roland VC-1 card there is the Uniquest VC-1 Editor which is pretty cool. This is very hard to find supposedly. It uses the Soundquest MidiQuest technology for the editor and is supposedly custom made for the VC-1 card. It works well and covers pretty much all of the parameters on the VC-1 D-50 card.

All in all, the Roland Varios was an excellent find. Once you get it loaded and set, you can easily disconnect it from the computer and use it in your live rig. I have a Roland A-800 Pro connected to it and have created a preset that works great for the Varios. There’s just so much you can do with the Roland Varios. With how cheap they are going for I highly recommend grabbing one if you can. Enjoy!

Akai S-900 Midi Digital Sampler

Akai S900 Sampler
Akai S900 Sampler

Last week I bought an Akai S900 along with an Akai S3000XL for $50 bucks at the second hand music shop in Nagano, Japan. I didn’t need the S3000XL as I already had one, but since it came with the S900 I thought I might find some use for it. Sometimes if I find a double, I put one in a rack next to my office computer and run the other in my studio room. That way I can just shuttle a floppy disk back and forth, rather than moving the entire deck.

The Akai S900 is new to me and although I’ve heard great things about the S950 version, I thought the S900 might be fun to use with some waveform samples that I have from synths like the Waldorf PPG, Fairlight, and Synclavier. The S900 did not come with a system disk, but I did find out that it had the 1.2 OS chip inside. I have an old windows 98 laptop that I use for creating OS disks and found it relatively easy to find the OS 4.0 disk image on the web. The main problem was getting Teledisk to play nice and copy the image to a 720KB DD disk. I found that only Teledisk v2.16 worked. So after wasting an hour with 2.11 and 2.12, I found a 2.16 version and all copied well. The S900 loaded up the V4.0 just fine.

I also used Akaidisk v2.2 in order to transfer the waveform files over to a floppy disk formatted by the S900. It all worked flawlessly. I then loaded up the floppy and with using the Roland A-800 Pro as a controller, I had fun playing some nice PPG 2 sounds on it. I was able to squeeze about 28 sounds onto the floppy which all sounded fantastic. I now have to find a fix for the LCD screen as it’s rather hard to see. Or I might try to find an editor to work with the sampler if possible. I haven’t found out if MESA works with the S900 yet. I know in Japan you can buy an LCD so that shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The Akai S3000XL also works great and whoever brought these samplers in probably used both of them together. Unfortunately neither came with any effects on board, but that’s ok as I usually use external effects.

I strongly recommend thought having a good working Windows 98 machine around for use with the old Akai samplers. Yes, you can use Windows XP, but I have found Windows 98 to be much more useful in my experience thus far, especially when working with floppy disk transfers and conversions. Teledisk for example only works when rebooted in DOS mode, so win98 seems to be the only machine to do that.

In any event, the 1986 Akai S900 has been a nice addition to the studio.