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Casio VZ1 (and VZ10M)

The Casio VZ1 is a strange beast. Although sold as the successor to the famous CZ series, it certainly doesn't sound anything like it. In fact it was a step backward in many ways. It was an unpopular instrument for many reasons, not least the amount that Casio were asking for it (£1000 list in the UK). I can't imagine that many people paid that price for it, though.

When it was first marketed other systems like the M1 or D50 were much better value for money, were better specified, and had more instantly appealing sounds. Even more important, they had the built in effects which turned their weedy sounds into something more impressive than the Casio was able to produce.

The factory sounds are almost all uniformly awful and the output signal is a bit noisy. Although there are stereo outputs, there is no pan control in any performance mode. You just get hard left or right. Changing patches from the front panel is awkward. If you change from say A1 to C5, as you hit the "C" button it will change to patch C1 instantly and then as you hit the "5" button to C5.

The midi implementation is mega-weird. A software editor is a must; there are so many parameters that front panel voice creation is nigh on impossible (unless you have detailed knowledge and extensive experience of both synth programming and keyhole surgery). The VZ will not recognise single parameter changes via MIDI - the editor has to send all of the current voice data to the synth each time you change one parameter. The VZ recognises local off control but does not have its own local off switch. It does not recognise volume change commands in multichannel mode.

However, if you've already got a VZ1 or are thinking of buying one then it's worth looking at the positive aspects of the machine - there are quite a few.

I bought the VZ1 because I wanted a cheap master keyboard with an good unweighted action, channel aftertouch, and with good controller options. I certainly couldn't have done better for the price. In fact at £250UK new the internal synth was a bit of a bonus. The action is good, there is a pitch wheel and two mod wheels (one sprung, with user definable controller number). There are sustain pedal, foot volume, and controller sockets on the back. It can transmit on up to four zoned midi channels.

The best way to approach programming using the iPD tone generation system in the VZ1 is to create sounds which do not try to accurately imitate other instruments, though organ and electric piano type sounds aren't too bad. It can produce a very strong low bass fundamental sound that will push your woofers to their limit. Forget bass guitar sounds, though.

If you take advantage of the Casio envelope system - up to 8 levels (any of which can be the sustain portion) and 8 rates there are a lot of possibilities. Spacey sounds and repeat effects work quite nicely. Much improvement can be made to sounds by playing in the operation memory mode with the same voice going to either output with a bit of detuning and/or differing controller settings. Of course this halves the polyphony from 16 to 8 but I think it's well worth the sacrifice. The pitch bend can be set to a maximum of +/- 48 semitones... that's four octaves up and down!

There are 8 original banks of sounds for the VZ1/10 (64 patches per bank- sounds and operation memories). I am giving them all away free (yes free!) as a zipped sys-ex file.

A lot of work has gone into these sounds which exploit the capabilities of the VZ. All sounds are original; almost all are "start from scratch" rather than just edits of other sounds. A text file gives instructions for loading the sound and operation memories (it's not easy) and tips on using the VZ1 that have been deciphered from the truly awful instruction manual.

For Atari ST users I am also giving away two sys-ex utilities, The Incredible Bulk and Auto Bulk written by my brother Quin (thanx Quin).

There is also a VZ Cubase MIDI Mixer file written by moi with local off, mode change, card bank change, programme changes and volume control (WOW!!).

As part of the QuinSoft range of software titles for the ST now available on this site, Quin's amazing VZ Editor/Librarian for the ST is also available for download.

Where to now Mæstro?

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