Thursday, November 29, 2012

Casio RZ-1 Digital Sampling Rhythm Composer reference sheet, 1986

Casio RZ-1 Digital Sampling Rhythm Composer reference sheet from 1986.

Here we have Casio doing what it does best.

1. Take something that's professional and costs a lot.
2. Keep it professional and make it affordable.

Sure, there was a drum machine or two on the market that could sample their own drum sounds, but I don't think they were in this price range.

Casio first did a great job of this strategy with their CZ synthesizer series, especially with that $499.00 CZ-101. And now they are doing it with drum machines. And - spoiler alert - a professional sampling keyboard isn't far behind.

The RZ-1 may have only started to appear in Casio ads alongside other "x"Z instruments in September 1986, but the buzz around the instrument started months before. One of those early appearances was a one-pager Keyboard Report in the May 1986 issue of Keyboard Magazine.

Reviewer Dave Frederick gets right to the point in the introduction, explaining what makes the $599 RZ-1 drum machine unique:
"The first thing you notice about the RZ-1 is that it has a lot of features not usually associated with drum machines in this price range. For instance, separate audio outs for the instruments, slider-controlled levels, a lighted display, and user sampling."
And eyes must have gone wide when reading this review in 1986 when realizing this thing has 10 audio outs, individual slider volume controls and user sampling! Jack pot. Especially that last bit - user sampling. Dave Fredrick agrees...
"The sampling is very clean and the sampling process couldn't be easier. The .2-second sampling time is adequate for percussive sounds. We were able to create great new percussion instruments by taking random samples from the radio. Or use the four notes of your favorite bass sound and sequence your bass parts along with the drums. If you need longer recording times, it's possible to combine the sample times to create two .4-second samples, or one .8-second sample."
I bought my RZ-1 years after it was released, used, and at a bargain basement price. I just had to know what it sounded like next to my other 80s drum machines from Sequential, Roland and Oberheim (yes, my 80s drum machine collection became a bit of a fetish, not surprisingly around the time eBay came into my life). And even if I wasn't as happy with the sounds of the machine itself, the fact that I could sample from those drum machines into the Casio made it rock. A 909 sample, even at 8-bit, sounded delish.

I also tried the bass trick from the Keyboard Review too, but didn't find I liked the results as much as I liked the general idea of a pulsing bass coming out of my drum machine. Maybe it was the 20kHz sample rate/10kHz frequency ceiling that I ran into. Even bass sounds need some high-end.  :)  

A month before that Keyboard Review showed up, it appeared in a rather unassuming April 1986 Spec Sheet promo bundled in with a few consumer products - the SK-1 and MT-500. I've just included the RZ-1 content for this blog post.
"Casio announces the RZ-1, a programmable drum machine with 12 PCM-encoded sounds. User sampling is included.  Sampling time varies between .2 and .8 seconds. The unit's memory holds 100 patterns and 20 songs. Individual line outputs and MIDI connections are provided. $599.00."
Remember how I said Casio's marketing around the xZ instruments during this time period was a little scattered? I ventured a guess that this was at least partly due to all the other professional, semi-professional and consumer keyboards Casio was also trying to hawk at the time, and the lack of planning around a strategic, consolidated, marketing campaign.

This Spec Sheet  is a good example of how those other non-professional products, although cool (the SK-1 was a crazy little consumer keyboard and consumers and bedroom musicians everywhere ate it up), were getting in the way when trying to get good info about the RZ-1 out to the professional readers of Keyboard Magazine. The RZ-1 description, if promoted by Casio on its own, could probably have been a lot larger, but instead its just one of three products on an already crowded page.

To make the point, I've listed below all the keyboards Casio promoted in their catalog from this time period that includes their whole line of consumer, semi-professional and professional keyboards.

They included, using Casio's own groupings...

 *ahem* - had to clear my throat before listing them...

Digital Sampling Keyboards: SK-1, SK-5, SK-8, SK-100, SK-200, and SK-2100
Casio Piano Sound: CPS-2000, CPS-101, CPS-102
Spinet Type Keyboard: CST-2000
Popular Tone Keyboards: PT-1, PT-31, PT-82
Mini Keyboards: MT-20, MT-25. MT-55, MT-110, MT-210
Standard Keyboards: CT-360, CT-605, CT-620, CT-630, CT-6000, CT-6500
Melody and Chord Guide Keyboards: MT-88, MT-820, CT-805, MT-28
Arabic Keyboards: SK-8A, AT-400
Drum Solo Keyboards: MT-205, MT-520, CT-450, TC-510
High Quality Sound: HT-700. HT-3000, CZ-203S
Cosmo Synthesizer: FZ-1, CZ-1, CZ-5000, CZ-2000S, AZ-1, RZ-1, SZ-1, TB-1

Good lord.  Just looking at that list makes me tired.

And, like I said above, could be a reason that musicians reading Keyboard at the time may have had a bit of a problem distinguishing the kid's toys from the big boy's toys.

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