From top: “DJ,” “performance” versions of the new Casio synth, though the functionality of each is fairly close. Photos from Casio, and yes, it’s time to get better photos.

What if a workstation arrangement keyboard were designed for DJs and synth rockers instead of, uh, whoever normally buys workstation arranger keyboards? Casio has taken the wraps off their new keyboards, and they appear to be affordable, all-in-one electronic beasts. Oh, except one of them has an organ. And an arpeggiator and step sequencer. So you can certainly step-sequence your drawbar organ, if you like.

There are also some retro-Casio CZ sounds, numbering in the thousands, loaded into these machines, so it seems Casio hasn’t forgotten why we loved them in the 80s.

And we hear the announcement via some charmingly-awkward headlines. They seem not so much lost in translation as something that makes me wonder what the original intent was:
A Groove Synthesizer with Many of the Cool Sounds and Features a DJ Uses in a Club

A Performance Synthesizer Specially Designed for Creating Sounds and Expressive Playing

That’ll otherwise be known as the XW-G1 and the XW-P1, respectively. I’m not sure which name is worse, so I’ll proceed.

I think all of this calls for celebration. Calvin Harris was echoing through my mind as I thought about CZ PCM waveforms:

Here’s what’s actually in these things.

A Groove Synthesizer with Many of the Cool Features a DJ Uses in a Club basically combines:

  • A step sequencer with 100 pattern banks and 16 trigger buttons, and the ability to sequence multiple patterns together into bigger patterns
  • A 100-phrase phrase sequencer
  • Assignable keys (I think; here I get lost in translation)
  • Solo synth (monophonic Virtual Analog) and PCM presets you can dial up
  • Arpeggiator
  • Sample looper with 19 seconds storage, overdubbing, and the ability to load samples as user PCM waveforms
  • 61 full-size keys
  • A “designated rubber holding space” – read, a mat that you can use to sit other gear on your keyboard

There’s 128KB of memory, but there’s also an SD slot, though it appears you can only use the SD to play SMF files.

You get a surprising amount of I/O: aside from USB, MIDI in and combined MIDI out/thru, you get a mic in, a line in, and a minijack line in. And the whole thing weighs just 5.4 kg (under 12 lbs).

The solo synth is truly monophonic. The routing appears to start with either a PCM or a Synth (hopefully Virtual Analog) pair of oscillators, or a hybrid (1 VA + 1 PCM), then route through filter and amp as expected.

There’s also a noise block, though, so you could presumably program some percussion sounds. And you can route an external input through the filter and amp envelope, via a pitch shifter, which is a bit more out of the ordinary.

There’s also a reverb, chorus, master EQ, and DSP block, though the DSP and chorus and Solo Synth all appear to use the same DSP.

80s jokes aside, in other words, this is not in any way an 80s synth.

A Performance Synthesizer Specially Designed for Creating Sounds and Expressive Playing is more or less the same synth, but with:

  • “Hex Layer” for up to six-part combo “ensemble” sounds
  • 50 drawbar organ presets
  • 2,158 PCM waves, including presets from the CZ series (though I’m not sure if some of those CZ sounds aren’t also on the DJ model)

In fact, the Phrase Sequencer, Step Sequencer, and Arp are all in the “performance” synth, too, along with all the same I/O; it only lacks that loop recorder.

So, DJ version: 10 user wave slots and a looper.

Performance version: More presets overall, with the same synth presets, but “Hex Layers” for ensemble combos and some drawbar organ sets.

In other words, unless you really want to play a lot of organ or I learn it lacks those CZ PCM waveforms, you’d get the “DJ” version.

We know these are shipping in March and April, and that’s about it. I obviously need to pay the Casio booth a visit and find out if they’ll say anything about price, and get a look at these crazy-looking control layouts.

This NAMM, more than is even typical for NAMM, seems to fold back in time. I’m not sure if it’s 1978, 1988, or 1996. Or, at times, I think I may be at Macworld in the iPhone section.

I just wouldn’t write this keyboard off yet, as it might be some fun. It’s biggest challenge is going up against more-focused offerings from KORG that focus on pattern, looping, and other features. I’ll check it out.

Now, I’m just going to be very, very careful talking to US TSA airport security and Customs, because I don’t want to wind up in a “designated rubber holding space” on my way out of here Saturday.

Official PR announcement

Nod to Synthtopia, whom I’m fairly sure aren’t sleeping

  • minijack

    can companies please quit using the word groove? does that term really appeal to anyone at this point? unless you're marketing to people that are making big beat. love that they included the CZ sounds, but these are probably the ugliest keyboards I've ever seen. something is just really off with the whole layout of the controllers. those pitch and mod wheels look sad, all crammed into 1" of space….

  • I’m trying to make out the dark area on the right of each keyboard…

    Oh, right: it’s the floppy drive.

  • markLouis

    Peter, why does the Casio website call this a "monophonic" synth? I mean, it can play chords, right? Is the mono talk a translation glitch, or some kind of synth technicality? I mean, it can play chords, right?

    • griotspeak

      they may or may not have changed that word choice to 'solo' – > check now.

      • markLouis

        At the general Casio site it says solo, but at the dedicated website <a href="” target=”_blank”> it says monophonic in a few different places, though, I think, it describes the arp as polyphonic. I mean, I'm sure it plays chords (?) but at the dedicated site it does say mono a lot.

      • markLouis

        Hmmm, my link didn't work. I'll try again: <a href="” target=”_blank”>

  • At least they solved one problem I've always had with workstation keyboards…where to put the snacks/lunch so you can keep working. All it needs now is a cup holder on the side.

  • Veridical Driver

    Well, these Chinese-market keyboards are pretty awesome now that they have the Casio logo painted on them, and a few old phase modulation sounds stored as PCMs.

    If they wanted to milk the Casio name, they should have re-released the SK-1!

  • just remember you'll probably be able to get one for $200 in a couple of years (or less) — or now?! are these really worth more than their top-o-the-line homey synths with the built-in speakers?

    should've included more sampling capabilities, though

  • peterkirn

    I tried unsuccessfully to find a rep, but if I don't talk to someone in person this week, will follow up next.

  • I wonder what the pricing might be.

  • Kim

    I want this synth and I hope its cheap. I thought Casio was dead. I don't care if its ugly and I like products that are described with the groove marketing term. I will put this new synth right next to my DJX 1 2 and 3b also my JX 305. I have a Jupter and a Juno 106 but these groove products are fun.

  • Rob Jeeves

    they need to hire new product managers. what the public wants is an SK-1 with a cool iPhone/iPad app to pair with it.

  • simon

    Without having heard it, this reads like 1999 material. A new era? Yeah right…

  • nick

    Casio has never gone away they just pulled the plug on their pro gear by the end of the 80s. It is ironic that Korg captured the hacker audience and Teenage Engineering has the neat gizmo thing down these days. But since they do have a presence all over the world it does make sense in them offering keyboards that seem more hip when in the company of more conservative home keyboards.

  • tewSedssela

    Привет, мне на день рождения кто нить купит? аааа???

  • Buiggeneiccug

    ugg boots, drugs whatever send me i buy all – ok popinjay ? here i my adress observations