Fatar master keyboards have been widely available in the UK for three or four years now, and seem to be doing well with the support of distributors Arbiter. At the top of the current range is the 88-note Studio 2001, with four independent MIDI outputs, eight keyboard zones and six controllers; next in line is the Studio 1100 (see SOS review, December 1994), also featuring 88 notes and a slightly curtailed spec. The latest entry in Fatar's Studio series takes the 1100 as its starting point, and places it in a more compact 76-key package -- hence the name, Studio 1176.
The operating surface of the Studio 1176 is clean and uncluttered: the Pitch Bend and Mod wheels are on the left above the keyboard, to save space, and the editing controls and 3-character LED display are in the middle. There are two sliders next to the display: one is an overall volume control, and the other an assignable slider that does duty as a data entry control when editing. Several black keys on the keyboard also double as a numeric keypad, for entering parameter values and Program Change numbers directly. A recessed back panel hides the connections -- in addition to the MIDI In and two parallel MIDI Outs, there's a sustain pedal socket, plus an assignable control pedal socket. There's also a mini-jack power socket, since power is supplied by a 9V external supply.
The 1176's keyboard is velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive and can be split into four Zones, which can be layered (up to four sounds playing at the same time) or given separate key ranges (so, for example, you could have a bass patch assigned to the lowest zone, a pad sound to the next, a piano to the next, and so on). Each Zone can have its own MIDI channel, Program Change number including Bank Select (to select a patch on your sound source), volume setting, and transposition value. The above parameters are set and edited using the four buttons labelled Preset/Function, and the four labelled Zones. It's easy to do: select one of the four Zones with its button, press one of the Function buttons, and you're in edit mode. Now cycle through the three parameters available under each of the Function buttons, using the Control/Data slider to alter values, which are shown in the 3-digit LED display. When you've finished editing, your settings are automatically saved as a so-called Preset. There are 32 of these memory locations, and when these are full, the memory can be dumped to an external MIDI storage device.
While creating a Preset, you can also define whether each Zone will be able to transmit aftertouch, pitch bend and mod wheel information, and set the keyboard's velocity response in each Zone -- so you could have a different keyboard 'feel' for a piano patch than for a string pad, for example. Velocity customisation can also allow you to create a velocity 'crossfade' between two layered Zones. In addition, the Control/Data slider and the Control Pedal input can both be assigned to any MIDI Continuous Controller between 0 and 120 -- on a per-Zone basis, naturally.
Usefully, there are one or two things you can do with Zones without even having to go into edit mode. If you no longer want a Zone you've set, you can mute it simply by pressing its Zone button (active Zones are indicated by a yellow LED), and if you want to change the sound assigned to a Zone, pressing the Zone button and keying in a Program Change number selects a new patch on the attached MIDI sound source.
Fatar keyboards feature some of the best simulations of piano feel around. The company's 'patented hammer action' is once again used on the Studio 1176, and the result is an eminently-playable weighted keyboard. For those reared on plastic synth keyboards, an action such as the Studio 1176's will probably be hard work until you get used to it. For pianists moving in the opposite direction, there should be no such problems.
Other controller keyboards, including Fatar's own 2001, offer more Zones, more Controllers, more keys, and more independent MIDI outputs -- but they also cost more. The Studio 1176 is a straight-ahead, high-quality MIDI master keyboard, with convincing piano action and a sensible level of MIDI control, at a reasonable price. If that's what you're after, your search may be over.
The following functions are available under the four Preset/Function buttons on the front panel:
LOW KEY/HIGH KEY: define the key range of a Zone; key ranges for two or more Zones can overlap.
PROGRAM: selects the sound to be played on the connected MIDI sound source for each Zone; includes Bank Select.
CHANNEL: sets the MIDI channel over which a given Zone transmits data.
WHEELS: turns the Pitch Bend and Mod wheels on or off, per Zone.
VOLUME: sets the volume level of the selected Zone
VELOCITY: allows you to customise the keyboard velocity response for each Zone.
AFTERTOUCH: turns aftertouch on or off for each Zone.
TRANSPOSE: sets the transpose value (+/-24 semitones) for each Zone.
CSL: assigns the control slider to any MIDI Continuous Controller between 0 and 120.
PEDAL: as above, for the control pedal.
Excellent keyboard feel.
Good MIDI control options.
Good value for money.
Only one MIDI Out.
Only a single control pedal input.
Sufficient MIDI control options for most people, coupled with 76 notes of excellent keyboard quality, at about the right price.
£ £749.95 inc VAT.
A Arbiter Group plc, Wilberforce Road, London NW9 6AX.
T 0181 202 1199.
F 0181 202 7076.