Thursday, 25 October 2012

'Casio' and 'groove' mentioned in same sentence!

Casio XW-G1 Review

It’s not unfair to say that in recent year’s the name Casio hasn’t probably figured highly in discussions about must have, hi tech music making gear. But it is clear that the company is now intent upon making a bit of a statement with its two new synths, the XW-P1 and the XW-G1. The former is very much a player’s instrument with a vast range of synth, organ and rhythm sounds, and handy features such as ‘hex’ which allow the layering of up to six sounds. But the XW-G1 is a slightly different beast, aimed at what might be diplomatically termed the ‘DJ’ market. This is a sort of code for people who tend to not be terribly musically literate, and might struggle with things like chewing food whilst reading. Okay that’s a little unfair, but what the XW-G1 can do is add some much needed flair to the DJ and dance music setting.

It is essentially a six oscillator synthesiser with the capacity to record phrases and samples. It looks great and two things initially struck me namely how light it was and how ‘generous’ it is with 61 keys. These are weighted just a little so they are much more fun to play than the usual ‘springy’ kind of synth keyboard. And I also immediately noticed the non slip area on the top right, which would be ideal for an iPod, or similar such device.

The main controls are divided into what are essentially three main areas. The left deals with the editability of tones, with four assignable knobs, and nine sliders. Three parameter program button options on the left allow the sliders to be used for different sound editing functions. It also doubles as the event editor for the sequencer function and is laid out in a way reminiscent of classic Roland kit synonymous with techno. I could speculate that Casio may have felt this was a kind of genre standard.  The right hand section deals with navigating around the preset sounds and user banks. It is the middle which will interest the dance music fraternity greatly however.

This area has the main volume knob as well as controls for the three main functions - performance mode, tone editing mode and the step sequencer. In performance mode the keyboard can be divided into four and there are one hundred user and one hundred preset tones, available plus the capacity to play pre recorded sequences and phrases. Tone editing allows the user to generate new tones, whilst the 16 step sequencer consists up of nine note parts and four control parts. Five of these are for drums, one for bass, two for solo instruments and one for chords, however there is still plenty of scope to create phrases for jamming, or augmenting a performance. And there is the sampling capability, with up to 19 seconds per sample available. Used intelligently this is the kind of firepower that will make you look good.

It has all the expected ins and outs on the backpanel, but one handy feature is the option to run other devices through its processing engines.

The XW-G1 is in essence a production workstation. It is generally laid out in a functional manner, and features the sorts of capabilities that will appeal to DJs who want to take their performance up a notch – the preset sounds are very ‘club’ and there are plenty of rhythm kits and so forth. It is probably not intended to be a standalone piece of kit and should not be judged as such. What it can do is provide a considerable presence to DJ and live electronic music performance, and its sequencing/sampling capability allows complex phrases to be stored and played with one key stroke, meaning it will make you look good, even if you are not the most experienced keyboardist. Oh and the price….with change from a grand it represents pretty decent value as well. And if the manual intimidates you at all, Casio product expert Mike Martin has plenty of tutorials on You Tube that take you through all the main functions.

Casio are back and it will be interesting to see what else the company has in store.

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