Kurzweil K2000VP

Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology Workstation

Published in SOS September 1998
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Reviews : Keyboard workstation

It's certainly borrowed (for the purposes of this review), and it's unquestionably blue, but is it old or new? Synth Guidance Counsellor and long-time K2000 owner PAUL WARD checks out Kurzweil's makeover of the legendary K2000 workstation to see whether it's a blushing bride or mutton dressed as lamb...

Sound On Sound first reviewed the Kurzweil K2000 way back in March 1992 -- and mightily impressed we all were too. Many synths have come and gone in the interim, yet the K2000 still holds a special place for those seeking a machine of quality and flexibility.

pros & cons

KURZWEIL K2000VP £1617

pros
Powerful workstation/production capabilities.
High-quality sounds.
Proven expandability/upgradability.
Slick, tried-and-trusted operating system.
Compatibility with a wide range of sample formats.

cons

Use of the onboard sequencer is fiddly for other than the basics.
Limited assignment of global effects for multitimbral use.
Limited polyphony by today's standards.

summary

The best of the S+S breed of sound engines. Powerful workstation features and 32-track sequencer are still amongst the best, and the user interface is still pretty good by modern standards. Its polyphony and effects capabilities are now looking fairly dated, but the latest version of the K2000 is still a solid workhorse of a synth.

From the very first, Kurzweil promised continuing support for the K2000. Well, actions speak louder than words, and over the years Kurzweil have proved themselves trustworthy. A steady flow of both hardware and software upgrades has kept their customers' purchases moving right along with the times. Major improvements in the operating system have brought along a powerful and highly usable 32-track sequencer, extensive third-party sampler compatibility, advanced disk operations and a whole host of useful tweaks. And for more demanding users, Kurzweil eventually introduced the K2500, with more processing power and double the polyphony of the K2000. Happily this still didn't stop the advance of the K2000 -- the software updates continued, including several features introduced with the K2500, such as an increase in the number of drum channels to eight.

The K2000VP sitting here before me encompasses all of the previous improvements and now adds the waveform ROM of the K2500. In fact, the waveform material differs little from that of the original K2000, except that there is a completely new set of drum and percussion samples.

THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER

The observant among you may have noticed one major difference between the K2000VP and the older K2000: the VP comes resplendent in a rather fetching shade of blue. I say 'fetching' because it nearly had me fetching a tin of black paint. I'm sure some will love it, but I've had the old and new side by side and the older livery exudes a far more professional image.

Despite my reservations about the colour, the build quality is beyond reproach. The feel of all of the controls suggest that they'll still be working in 10 years' time and all of the rear sockets are recessed out of harm's way. The 61-key, five-octave keyboard is blissfully clatter-free and feels very smooth and responsive to the touch.

On the rear panel is the VP's socketry, through which it communicates with the outside world. In addition to the main stereo mix sockets, there are four further analogue outputs in order to separate program material for external mixing. Lurking at the other side of these sockets are 18-bit D-A converters, which ensure a healthy and noise-free signal. Provision is made for two footswitches and a control pedal, all of which are freely assignable as controllers inside the VAST (Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology) synthesis engine. The usual trio of In/Out/Thru MIDI sockets is present and a SCSI port is included as standard. The K2000VP also implements the SMDI (SCSI Musical Data Interchange) sample transfer format for vastly increased data transfer rates between compatible machines.

At the time of the K2000's original release, the 240x64 pixel backlit LCD was looked on as being quite a generous display area. With the advent of bigger and better screens, such as that found on Korg's Trinity, this offering is starting to look a tad cramped, especially when dealing with waveform displays.

GOING IN

Just below the main display are the six 'soft' keys used to select the functions displayed above them on the screen, and the Edit and Exit buttons sit either side of these. To the left of the display are the eight mode buttons that take us into the K2000's operating pages. These are labelled Program, Setup, Quick Access, Effects, MIDI, Master, Song and Disk.

  • Program mode is the default mode of operation. Selecting a Program here assigns it to the currently selected MIDI channel.
  • Setup mode permits three Programs to be zoned or layered on up to three MIDI channels.
  • Quick Access mode displays Programs or Setups in named groups of 10 which are then easily selected by use of the numeric keypad. Kurzweil have provided some useful groupings for quickly identifying and auditioning similar, or associated, sounds such as orchestral, basses, or drums. New banks are easy to define and are particularly useful for live work where Programs can be grouped together by song.
  • Effects mode accesses the K2000VP's internal effects processor.
  • MIDI mode defines how outgoing and incoming MIDI data is to be processed. Kurzweil include a variety of options as to how the K2000VP will both transmit and respond to MIDI bank change messages -- would that other manufacturers were so thoughtful concerning this difficult subject. The MIDI controller number of the physical control options is also determined here, so you can redefine the modulation wheel to send (say) breath controller data. A sub-screen accessed from here goes on to display settings for each individual MIDI channel, such as whether it is on/off, or whether it will respond to MIDI program change or volume messages.
  • Master mode holds parameters that affect the machine as a whole, such as display contrast, tuning and keyboard intonation.
  • Song mode throws you headlong into the K2000VP's sequencer.
  • Disk mode typically handles loading and saving from or to floppy disk, or any attached SCSI storage device. Here also is a handy toolkit of various disk utility functions such as file Copy and Delete, and disk Format.

When in several of the edit pages the mode buttons also do duty for muting and soloing Program layers and provide a page mark/skip facility.

On the left of the front panel are the volume control and the data slider. Just to the left of the screen display are the up/down buttons, which have responsibility for scrolling between Program layers, MIDI channels and the Quick Access banks. To the right of the display are the alpha wheel, four directional cursor control buttons, a pair of +/- buttons (for fine editing) and the numeric keypad. Off to the left of the control panel is the floppy disk drive, which formats M

FEATURES

* 61-key mono-pressure keyboard
* 240 x 60-pixel backlit display
* 24-voice polyphony
* 8Mb sample ROM, upgradable to 24Mb ROM
* 2Mb sample RAM, upgradable to 64Mb RAM
* 32-track sequencer
* 4 audio outputs plus mix outs
* 25-pin SCSI port
* Dimensions (cm): 140 x 34.1 x 10.5
* Weight: 11.8kg
S-DOS compatible disks, but will nevertheless read a variety of other disk types, including Akai and Roland formats. An internal hard drive to a maximum capacity of 850Mb can be accommodated, although use of an external drive allows up to 2Gb partitions to be accessed. To the left of the keyboard are the pitch and modulation wheels.

ROM AT THE TOP

The K2000VP's 8Mb of sample ROM contains a high-quality collection of 16-bit samples, even by modern standards -- no mean feat when you consider that these samples are pretty much the same as those found on the original K2000. The old faithfuls, such as piano, synth, brass, strings and vocal samples are all included, but Kurzweil have added the drum samples which were first introduced with the K2500. ROM SoundBlocks are available as an optional extra which will expand the VP's sample ROM to a maximum of 24Mb. Three of these are currently available; an Orchestral block, a Contemporary block and the excellent 4Mb Stereo Grand Piano.

Kurzweil have blessed the VP with the K2500's ROM soundset of 200 Programs and 100 Setups. These are mostly very usable and provide a good starting point for anyone wanting to take the plunge into making their own soundset -- which, on a machine of this calibre, is only to be encouraged. One particular delight the K2000 has always offered is the option to load user samples into up to 64Mb of RAM and use these in exactly the same way as if they were ROM samples. Imagine your very own sample material bending its way through Kurzweil's powerful VAST (Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology) synthesis engine, and I defy you not to salivate! 2Mb of sample RAM is included on the VP to get you going, and although this is welcome, it seems a little stingy by modern standards. Fortunately, the sample RAM is expandable up to 64Mb with standard Macintosh-type 30-pin SIMMs. The VP will read Roland, Akai and Ensoniq library disks, and can also translate AIFF and WAV sample files -- so there's plenty of scope for quickly building a large sample library (I speak from personal experience!). If you want to use the K2000VP for sampling from scratch, you need to purchase the optional SMP-K sampling option.

All of your programs, keymaps and songs are held in the K2000's P-RAM, of which there is 120K, though this can be expanded by a proprietary memory upgrade to 760K. P-RAM is battery-backed (with three AA batteries in a door underneath the keyboard), so this data will be pres

"The original K2000 was an impressive synthesizer that quickly grew into a powerful workstation. In many ways, however, the rest of the world has had time to catch up..."
ent in the K2000VP each time you switch on. Interestingly, the ability to use up to eight drum channels is dependent on the P-RAM upgrade being present, so if you need the extra drum channels this is a necessity. What's a drum channel? Let me explain...

Each 'standard' (ie. non-drum) K2000 Program consists of up to three Layers. A Layer is the home of a Keymap, which defines how individual samples are assigned across the width of the keyboard. Each Layer is assigned one of 31 possible algorithms, which delimits the type and configuration of up to five DSP (Digital Signal Processing) functions such as the filter, amplifier, high-frequency stimulator, EQ, and so on -- in other words, the heart of the VAST processing engine (and a very potent array of sound-shaping processes it is too). A Drum Program contains up to 32 layers, meaning that 32 possible algorithmic treatments may be applied to 32 different voices simultaneously! There is, I think you'll agree, scope for a very neatly trimmed set of drum samples here! The important point to note, however, is that these so-called Drum Programs do not necessarily have to be used for drum sounds at all. Imagine a 32-layer bass patch running with that amount of power! Whilst the original K2000 limited the user to one such Program at a time, a K2000VP (with the P-RAM upgrade) always allows MIDI channels 1-7 to make use of drum Programs, and a parameter on the Master page now all

THE K SERIES IN SOS

* K2000 review: March 1992
* K2000 sampling option: August 1993
* K2000/2000R ROM1 Orchestral board: June 1994
* K2000 v3 software upgrade: February 1995
* K2500R preview: September 1995
* K2500R review: October 1995
* K2500 preview: March 1996
* K2500/2500X review: April 1996
ows the user to define an eighth channel. If you're thinking that this sounds too good to be true, there is a slight catch. Each actively playing layer requires one note of polyphony, and with a maximum of 24 to go round, this is obviously going to be the limiting factor, although you can of course work within such a limitation quite easily.

CUTTING AND POLISHING

Far from the perfunctory 'scratchpad' sequencers built into workstations of old, the 32-track affair on the K2000VP is powerful and capable of very polished results. Many of the editing capabilities more usually associated with a software sequencer are included, such as cutting, copying, quantising and bouncing. There is even an event list editor, which, whilst a bit fiddly to use for major changes, is certainly welcome for last-ditch salvage operations.

Snatches of sequences may be assigned to play back when triggered from the keyboard, and the triggered key's pitch and velocity can be imposed onto the sequence, with the option to prevent drum and percussion tracks from being transposed.

I have used the K2000's internal sequencer while I've been away from my computer, and I can say that I find it perfectly adequate for most of the basic tasks. Unsurprisingly, though, there usually comes a point where more editing is needed, where I like to turn to a mouse, a larger display and a more sophisticated set of tools, such as those available in Cubase. Well-thought-out instruments, of course, provide the option to move files between hardware and software sequencers, and the VP does not disappoint, being capable of reading and writing standard MIDI files with no problems.

If Kurzweil's K series has a specific weak spot, then, it must surely be the increasingly creaky effects section. The K2000VP either applies the amount of effect globally for all audio assigned to the group A outputs, or applies no effects at all by assigning to the B outputs. With many workstations and synths now offering multiple discrete effects processors, the K2000VP's provision in this department seems very limited.

However, this is mitigated to some extent by the fact that the effects themselves are generally excellent, and all of the standard EQ, modulation, delay and reverb effects that might be expected are there (the reverse reverb is particularly good!). Up to four effects can be used in series, although the algorithms provided determine the type of effects in the chain.

FAVOURITE PATCHES

If you want to impress your mates next time you're in the music shop, call up these Programs for instant credibility:

1: 'Acoustic Piano' -- still sounding as good as ever.

9: 'Classic E Piano' -- smooth changes between hard and soft sound, showing other manufacturers the way it should be done.

15: 'Big PWM' -- you say this is a digital synth...?

79: 'Moogy Bass 2' -- Mod wheel and Data slider vary cut-off and resonance. You sure this is a digital synth...?

87: 'Strummer Guitar' -- Played well, this would fool most folks into believing you play acoustic guitar.

117: 'Stereo Slo Str' -- Those famous K2000 strings, without which no film soundtrack would be complete.

Bundled with the K2000VP is a generous set of 31 disks containing Kurzweil's very own Analogue Collection. The program material covers a bumper selection from a variety of vintage synths from Moog, ARP, Sequential Circuits, Korg and Yamaha. In particular I found much to enjoy in the Oberheim sounds, especially those from the mighty OB8 (see the Retro review starting on page 266). The Pro One bass samples were all quite inspirational, and I own a real one, so that's no small praise! All of the disks contain valuable and useful sounds which cover just about every analogue sound you could ever need. Rest assured that if any extra tweaking is necessary to get things just the way you like them, the K2000VP is more than up to the task.

CONCLUSION

The original K2000 was an impressive synthesizer that quickly grew into a powerful workstation. In many ways, however, the rest of the world has had time to catch up. 24-voice polyphony now seems very restrictive for a multitimbral instrument, and the single effects processor just looks tired.

As a committed user of the K2000 I would have no hesitation in recommending it to anybody, but whereas the K2000 once stood head and shoulders above the rest, it is now struggling to keep its head above the crowd. I had hoped that the VP would at least come bristling with all the expansion options as standard, a hard disk drive and bags of sample RAM -- but a fully loaded K2000VP is looking quite an expensive proposition.

There is little doubt that the K2000 still has plenty to offer, particularly if you are prepared to go for the available upgrades. But with physical modelling showing the way forward and new analogue instruments taking the best of the past, it remains to be seen whether Kurzweil's lick and polish of the K2000 can generate as much interest the second time around.

  £1617; Piano daughterboard plus Orchestral and Contemporary ROM blocks £577; Sampling Option £577;
P-RAM upgrade £381.
All prices include VAT.
 
  Washburn UK, Amor Way, Letchworth,
Herts SG6 1UG, UK.
 
  +44 (0)1462 482466.  
  +44 (0)1462 482997.  
  kurzweil@aol.com  
  www.washburn.co.uk
www.youngchang.com/kurzweil/index.html
 

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