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!

Portable Music with the Boss Micro Br Recorder

Boss Micro-Br Recorder
Boss Micro-Br Recorder

Today I found and picked up a used Boss Micro BR portable music recorder here in Japan. It’s incredibly small and very light weight. I currently don’t have any recording devices other than samplers, loopers, or the computer. I thought about getting a larger recording device, but I always felt that the computer was probably the best choice for me so I tend to use that when I need to record.

There were several factors that prompted me to buy the Boss Micro BR. Originally I was considering the Korg Sound on Sound Portable Multitrack recorder which I still like, however I can only find it new and I’m not ready to pay full price for one yet. I basically bought the Boss Micro BR (unit only) for $50. The 128mb demo SD card was found inside but that was it. At home here I already have an extra AC Adapter plus a 2GB sandisk memory card that worked great although I’ve heard the Boss Micro-br only works up to 1GB. That’s fine for now though. I also had plenty of cables and the manuals are all available online which I prefer. Being in Japan, most manuals are in Japanese anyway so I obviously migrate to the internet to get the necessary literature.

Although I play the keyboard most of the time nowadays, I grew up playing and still play the electric guitar. I find that the Boss Micro-br is FANTASTIC for sitting anywhere in the studio, house, or even outside for playing. The Boss Micro BR runs on batteries and I can just sit anywhere and jam on the guitar to either the built-in drum machine or to backing tracks that I record. I even think it’s possible to create your own drum patterns using a Drum Pattern Arranger which is available via shareware. I can also use the available conversion software and either import or export WAVs and/or MP3s which is nice.

Basically though, the Boss Micro BR is a fun little unit. I grew up in the 80’s and the only thing close to this that I once had was the Tom Scholz Rockman which had that “Boston” Rock sound I recall. I never really used it much because I remember it being quite one dimensional with the “Boston” sound and there were other little quirks too like no drum machine and you couldn’t record on it. It was great at the time because I could jam on my guitar while walking around the house. It was certainly a novelty at best. With the Boss Micro BR I can get a very good amp simulator, great quality sound, and loads of effects. Plus I get a dedicated drum machine and 4 tracks to record ideas and/or back tracks. Through headphones the Boss Micro BR really sounds fantastic. Some people are critical of the distortion, but again coming from the old classic Rockman of the 80’s I find the distortion to be better than anything I’ve ever heard unless of course you are a big Boston fanatic…laugh.

I also will likely use the Boss Micro BR as a voice recorder and MP3 player. I tried both and it performs very well with these two functions. I also own another Voice-Trek recorder which I use quite a bit. Being in Japan, I often send MP3 voice messages to family and friends, so it’s nice to have a backup with the Boss Micro BR. I’m also constantly listening to music and knowing I have something I can use as a backup MP3 player is great. I’ll probably throw all kinds of music and podcasts on this. Plus you can use the Boss Micro BR as a means to slow down music for learning songs, chords and riffs for either the guitar or the keyboard. This works very well also. It will also be great to throw the Boss Micro BR into my Roland SH-01 GAIA case and have something to record or jam with on the go.

I bought the Boss Micro BR over competing brands simply because it had a rock bottom “used” price and it had some pretty good functions to start my recording with. Whether I move on to something else or not will likely happen if I encounter some major problems or find a used Korg SoS recorder for a good price. There may be something else out there as well and if anyone can recommend a good portable music recorder alternative, please leave a comment. I’d sure appreciate it.

Although Music recorders have been around for a few years now, it’s still a slight volatile market with updates happening every year or less it seems. I think the Boss Micro BR was released in 2006 if correct. All in all though it’s a fun little device and can be used and enjoyed in many different ways. Support from Boss seems to be good and so far I haven’t had any issues with learning how to operate the device. Some say it’s overly complicated, but as a synth player, computer programmer, and overall sound nut, I find it’s not that hard really. Like everything else, it just requires a bit of work to learn initially and then you’re off and running. Again, my expectations are low and requirements are simple, so perhaps that’s why it’s been a good match so far.

Should be fun doing some keyboard jams with it too!! Enjoy!

Yamaha V50 YSEDITOR with Steem Atari ST Emulator

Yamaha V50 YSEDITOR Librarian
Yamaha V50 YSEDITOR Librarian on Steem

Today I had some great success in using the YSEDITOR version 3.35 for Yamaha V50 running on Steem version 3.2 Emulation. Steem is an ST Emulator which recreates the Atari ST computer in software on a PC. My OS is Windows 7 32 bit and I run the YSEDITOR inside the Steem ST Emulator. This was my first time running both applications on the Windows 7 platform and with reading the readme text info, I was able to figure out how to get everything running.

I much prefer using the Sound Quest editor for the Yamaha V50 as it’s a little easier to edit with in my opinion. However, as a librarian, it’s got a problem with loading and saving banks to the Yamaha V50. It loads individual voices and performances just great, but cannot load entire I-IV banks at all. The editor is also better with Midi Sound Quest because it’s visually nice being color, but also you get realtime updates with your sound edits. You also don’t have to run either Steem Emulation or the YSEDITOR which requires Atari.

Initially to get the YSEDITOR formatted voice banks into the V50, I had to find something different for that and the YSEDITOR for the V50 worked very well. As you can see by the screenshot I am able to load and save banks of 100 voices or performances very easily. There are also several banks of voices that come with the software editor which I have now converted to Midi Sound Quest format. It was particularly nice to get the TX81Z Rom library for the V50 which has the famous “LatelyBass” voice. A couple of the other libraries has “Shimmer” one and two which are very good.

It took me a couple of hours “trial and error” to get the correct setup that worked well with the Yamaha V50. Getting the YSEDITOR, Steem Atari Emulator, and the Yamaha V50 all in sync and working together did have some minor hiccups. Once I got my settings down, I was then able to proceed transferring and working with the voices in a stable manner. Again, my goal with the YSEDITOR was simply to access the large library of voices in the Atari format so that I could transfer them over to Midi Quest. When done, I’ll probably only work with MidiQuest editing voices, performances, and creating my own custom banks.

The developer of YSEDITOR offers no support for using the editor with Steem ST Emulator which I understand so you’re on your won when using these two together, but they do both work just fine. I wanted to mention that the YSEDITOR does work with STEEM very well on Windows 7 32bit platform connected to a Yamaha V50. For all I know, I am the only one using the Yamaha V50 so I’d much rather field questions if anyone should have any…laugh. Info about the Yamaha V50 or anyone using it is hard to find. So feel free to email or comment with any questions regarding the YSEDITOR and it’s use with Steem and the Yamaha V50. Once setup correctly it’s very stable and a very powerful editor for the Yamaha V50. There’s loads of voices in that format with sounds that are pretty cool.

Yamaha V50 Digital Synthesizer

Yamaha V50 Digital Synthesizer
Yamaha V50 Digital Synthesizer

Today I bought a used Yamaha V50 Digital Synthesizer for $50 in near mint condition. I had heard these synths were pretty hard to find so when I saw it in the store it peaked my interest. What’s amazing is that this synth was released in 1989 if correct, and the condition was fantastic. The Yamaha V50 had all the Demo and Voice disks still packaged in a nice plastic case with the words “Yamaha V50” on it. All of the buttons, disk drive, LCD screen, and keys were in perfect working order. I then fired it up and browsed through some of the sounds. Before long I knew I had to have this. The sheer enjoyment of playing the synth was incredible.

A long time ago I saw a couple of videos on Youtube which I’ll post here that originally put the Yamaha V50 on my radar screen. When I saw the synth in the store, I pretty much was set on buying it. I actually couldn’t believe the condition for that price. I also heard that in Europe for example, the Yamaha V-50 was highly sought after, but I’m not sure if that’s true. If you check on Youtube there are quite a few people using for some really different sounds. To me, it’s got great stuff for that cool 80’s and 90’s dance, rock, or funky electronic sound.

Later that evening I sat down with the online manual to see what I could create out of the Yamaha V-50 and I was absolutely amazed at how easy it was to play. First I should mention that with a keyboard this old, it’s important in my opinion that one kind of knows how to play the piano when using this synth. It’s more of a manual style synth with little “auto” functionality, however, the Yamaha V-50 was very well thought out as I’ll explain.

The functionality the Yamaha V-50 matches quite a few of the newer keyboards of today. For example, I hit the Rhythm key and right away I was able to call up a drum pattern. While it was playing I could adjust the effects and turn down the reverb which you MUST do with this synth. The Yamaha V-50 has some serious reverb cranked up on all it’s presets, so you need to dial that crap down right away.

After I had the drums grooving, I then was able to tap into “Performance Mode” while the drums kept playing and find a performance patch that I liked. Performances can be layered, split, have applied effects, etc. while the drums are playing. I thought it was extremely cool to call up drums, performances, and effects all LIVE without stopping anything or pushing a zillion buttons.

Instantly, I was able to get a jam going and then was able to make modifications to the sounds. Once I had my ideas set, I could stop everything and then start recording real time with the built in sequencer. Simply brilliant and easy!! Again, if you know how to play the keys well and you have worked with sequencers, the Yamaha V-50 is a “creative” breeze to work with.

Referring to the Youtube videos again, you will notice that the guy from Yamaha just sits there and goes through a fast and simple process of creating a song or groove. In my opinion, this is exactly what the Yamaha V-50 is all about. It’s creating a song from beginning to end all in an evening and having fun while doing it.

How about the sounds? The FM sounds are actually quite good provided you again dial down the reverbs. They are definitely overkill on this synth. I think the pads, strings, basses, and metallic sounds are brilliant. They really cut through the mix as they say. The choirs, brass, flutes, and other dreamy sounds are classic FM/DX sounding and are very nice in my opinion. The Yamaha V50’s sounds can also be layered for a fatter sound or in creating some cool atmospheric sounds. Plus you can create splits or overlap certain areas of the keyboard.

It’s an incredibly versatile synth that has stuff I wish some of the newer synths had. Of course the sounds are late 80’s and 90’s sounding so beware if that’s not your thing. In that case, you can simply create your own original sounds.

With out a doubt, the Yamaha V-50 is probably the most fun I’ve had in creating music. It’s what an idea scratch pad should be in a synthesizer which not many modern synths do.

I remember a guy telling me once how old keyboards were so difficult to program and work with. That same guy then turned around and said he didn’t know how he was going to learn all the cool stuff his new Korg M3 had with all the manuals. To me, that sounded the same.

Whether your synth is old or new, you have to put time into learning the product. I am so glad I bought the Yamaha V-50. It’s by far the most fun I’ve had in getting my ideas down fast on a synth.

Roland SH-201 versus SH-01 Gaia

Roland SH-201 Synthesizer
Roland SH-201 Synthesizer
Roland SH-01 GAIA Japan
Roland SH-01 GAIA

Roland SH-201 versus SH-01 Gaia.  I own both of these synthesizers and here’s what I think.

First, I bought the Roland SH-201 used for $500 bucks over a year ago, so I definitely got it much cheaper than paying full price for the Roland SH-01 Gaia.  Personally, for what you get, I think the price should have been the other way around to a certain degree.

For my purposes, I actually prefer the Roland SH-201 over the SH-01.  Here are my reasons.

1.  The Roland SH-201 has software that fully supports the creation and catalog of sounds on the computer.  The software is really good.

2.  Via the software, you can split the keyboard any way you like.  This makes it great to play a bass sound on the lower part of the synth, while cranking out a lead solo on top.

3.  If you plug in an iPod with backtracks, you can more easily create a sort of one man band using the Sh-201 since you can split the keyboard better.

4.  You also can save your own created arpeggios to the user slots on the SH-201.  This is what the SH-01 should have had and I’m mystified as to why they dropped it.  User arps is a must for me.

5.  You get an extra octave over the 37 keys on the GAIA.  Yes, it’s longer but the synth is really not that much bigger and the SH-201 is still light weight.

6.  If you only use two layers of sounds ( which most people will I’m guessing initially ), then the SH-201 will get you close to the great sound of the Gaia.  Sonically, the Gaia is better, but not by a wide margin in my opinion.  I also think the SH-201 is a bit grittier which I personally like for Rock oriented synth stuff I sometimes like to play.  Some think basses are slightly better sounding on the SH-201 as well, but that is subjective I know.

7.  You still get the D-Beam, Ext In, Phrase Recorder, and all the other bells and whistles that the Gaia has with the exception of the effects.  Most will probably just plug in an external effects processor to compensate.

8.  The Roland SH-201 can be found at blow-out prices if you act quickly.  Later on, the demand might hike it up once people realize that “perhaps” it is a nice synthesizer after all.

While I slightly prefer and recommend the SH-201 over the SH-01, the GAIA does have some notable pluses.  The sound is better by most accounts, you get the three tone layers and effects palette, plus it definitely is more portable if you need to hike around with it.  It’s also arguably better looking.  You also get the USB stick connection and it’s new, so support may blossom, although Roland so far has been very weak and slow with marketing this product.

All in all, if I could only choose one synth to buy, it would be the Roland SH-201.  There’s just more functionality to it and sonically, not that much off the Gaia so far.  Perhaps my view may change later on.  Stay tuned..

Fun with the Roland Sh-01 Gaia

Roland SH-01 Gaia Synthesizer
Roland SH-01 Gaia Synthesizer

A little over a month ago I picked up a brand new Roland SH-01 Gaia Synthesizer at Shimamura Music Store in Nagano City Japan.  It was the very first model they received and the owner whom I know well was kind enough to hold it for me.  Why did I buy it and what do I think?  Here are some initial thoughts.

PROS:

1.  The Sh-01 is compact, lightweight, sleek, and battery powered which means it will be the synth I pack with me to my daughter’s dance and skating events.  I can sit on the bleachers and jam away for a couple of hours.

2.  You can save all your work on a USB stick plugged into the back of the unit.  Data can be transferred to and from the computer.  This is great.

3.  There are knobs and sliders for everything on this synth.  Much like my Juno-6 and Juno-106, I’ll be able to adjust all the needed parameters three fold!

4.  The three tone layers are fantastic.  I can layer motion sounds over static synth pads and then even have a third layer for additional elements over that.  Getting a nice thick and layered sound should be easy.

5.  The on board effects are outstanding thus far, especially the Bit Crusher effect which I use quite a bit.  There are reports that Chorus is missing, but I should be able to create that by other means.

6.  The sound DOES live up to the hype.  It’s a great sounding synth which is why I’ll definitely be keeping it despite the many CONS written below.

7.  Has an audio Ext In which is great for attaching my iPod with backtracks and audio tutorials.

8.  The D-Beam Controller is surprisingly good and usable on the Gaia.  I really like it so far, especially when use with effects.

9.  Easy to shift the keys down an octave or two, so having only 37 keys is not that bad.  The keys are full size and great by the way.  You can definitely “run” fast when soloing.

CONS:

1.  The SH-01 is Polyphonic BUT not multitimbral.  This sucks in that I really wish I had at least two to split sounds with.

2.  There is no way to split the keyboard probably due to point #1 above.

3.  You cannot create user arpeggios or save them as there are no user slots.

4.  You can create and save real time phrases using the built-in recorder, BUT, once you change the patch, the sound in the phrase changes too.  This really sucks because it means you can’t layer a solo over a background patch.

5.  USB storage capacity is fixed which means you can’t go any higher than 1GB.  This is ok, but you would think it would be possible for more, but nope!

6.  Roland still has not released the CB-37SY case for this synth yet.  They’re late!!  I have one on order at Shimamura but no word yet on it’s release.

7.  No software available for the Roland SH-01 Gaia yet.  Is there one in the works?  Not sure, but I think a librarian will be needed with how easy it is to create new sounds on the Gaia.

8.  Some might not like that fact that the board is only 37 keys.  See my “Pro” point #9 though.

9.  Despite the nice feel and sound, I do think Roland over priced this unit a little bit.

Overall, I am happy I purchased the Roland SH-01 Gaia.  It is hard to get one where I live and not many appear to be arriving in stores.  I would like to see Roland support it more with software, extra sounds, and perhaps some additional sound creation tutorials.  In the end though, I am very happy with the board for the main reason of being able to carry it around and playing it while on the go.  Ultimately, the Roland SH-01 Gaia makes for an excellent synth to create new sounds, but also as a lead solo synth on top of your other gear.

Roland Juno 6 Synthesizer in Japan

Roland Juno 6 with Case
Roland Juno 6 with Case

This week I picked up an excellent condition Roland Juno 6 for $90 bucks at a local second hand shop here in Nagano City, Japan. What a fantastic deal! The Juno 6 powered up just fine and absolutely everything worked like a charm. No problems at all! I also was able to get the case, manual, and some connection cords as well. I think somebody had this tucked away in their home for a long time and decided to sell it. I saw it sitting up on a shelf and instantly grabbed it to check out the condition. I brought some headphones and just rolled over at the price tag. I new then I was going home with a fantastic Roland Juno 6.

The sound of the Juno 6 is awesome in my opinion and it’s been a blast jamming on it for the last couple of days. I find the Juno 6 to be so much more reliable and stable than the Juno 106. Which sounds better? I think they both sound great in their own way in case anyone asks. I love the LFO trigger on the Juno 6, plus the arpeggiator is awesome as well. In fact, in my next post I’ll explain how I got it to sync with my drum machines. Indeed the Juno 6 does not have midi nor patch storage, but that is not a problem. I found a way to sync the arpeggiator and because I can play keyboards and program synths well, the patch storage is only a minor issue if at all. It’s definitely a fun machine.

Cool video found on youtube.
http://www.youtube.com/user/elfferichfour