Just a few months ago you couldn't buy a new additive synth; now you can pick from no less than three, and although they're from the same family, there are enough differences to make the choice less than straightforward. Derek Johnson adds it all up.
When we ran our exclusive review of Kawai's K5000W additive synthesis workstation synth in January, it was mentioned in passing that sequencer‑less keyboard and rackmounting versions were imminent. Both have now materialised, and they differ enough from the workstation to justify their own quick review.
The most visible differences between the K5000W and the K5000S are the absence of the workstation's sequencer and the addition of 16 real‑time control knobs (Macro Controls) on the synth. Obviously, the 2U rackmounting K5000R lacks the synth's 61‑note keyboard and knobs; otherwise, the two new instruments are essentially identical to each other. The K5000S and K5000R are both more and less than a K5000W. For example, both feature a sophisticated arpeggiator, and the K5000S has two programmable footswitch sockets (in addition to sustain and volume pedal sockets) plus three switches (two programmable, one activates portamento) above the wheels. On the debit side, the R and the S have only one set of MIDI connections each, are only 4‑part multitimbral (to the W's 32 parts), and lack GM compatibility; the W's PCM‑based sound set, which included drums and doubled the workstation's polyphony, is also out. Both rack and synth are equipped with two pairs of stereo audio outs (as is the K5000W), and also retain a floppy drive.
Kawai's additive synthesis system — Advanced Additive — is more sophisticated than that offered by the company's '80s vintage K5. Let's start with a Single (in Kawai speak) patch; this is formed from up to six Sources — 'oscillators', if you like — and each Source can be additive or chosen from a collection of 123 attack waveform, transient and loop samples (note that these are not the comprehensive set of samples used to create the K5000W's GM and PCM patch banks). The more Sources you use in a patch, the less of the 32‑voice polyphony is available, and dynamic patch memory will also fill up more quickly — there are nominally 128 memories in each of two banks, but there's not enough patch RAM to allow you to save, say, 128 six‑source patches in each. Luckily, a two‑bank memory expansion is available.
Advanced Additive is built around the additive Wave Set, a collection of 128 sine wave‑based harmonics available in two groups of 64 (harmonics 1‑64 and 65‑128, so use two Sources if you want access to all 128), each with its own level and 5‑stage looping amplitude envelope. Further filtering is provided for each additive Source, in the shape of a 128‑band formant filter, and this can itself be controlled by envelope generators or LFOs. Whether you choose to use additive or PCM Sources, each is equipped with a comprehensive set of synth parameters, including pitch envelope generator, resonant filter, filter envelope and digitally controlled amplifier. The whole works are passed through four effects processors (offering preset configurations from a list of 37 effects, including delays, flanging, distortion, and so on), reverb (11 types) and EQ.
As you can see, there's a lot of parameters; fortunately, Kawai have provided some short‑cuts, especially when it comes to managing the additive harmonics, their envelopes and the formant filters. For a start, you don't have to work on each individual harmonic or formant filter band. Kawai allow you to work on groups of harmonics (labelled Bright, Dark, Even, Odd, and so on), and you can also work on groups of filter bands. The so‑called 'Morf' display offers another short‑cut, whereby the K5000 creates new harmonic shapes using four Sources selected from other patches.
There's just one other programming level on the K5000R/S: the Multi, of which there are 64. Up to four Single patches can be layered, split, or assigned to separate MIDI channels to form a Multi. This is confusingly similar to what's called a Combi in the K5000W (although Combis lack the MIDI channel assign option).
Now to the K5000S's Macro Controls. This 16‑knob matrix offers instant real‑time access to 16 parameters, live or in the studio. All 16 knobs also transmit their movements over MIDI, and these could be recorded into a sequencer for reliable playback at any time. Once a patch has been Macro‑tweaked, the result, which might be a drastically different sound, can be saved as a new patch — editing doesn't get any easier than this. It's just what the newcomer needs while coming to terms with the complexity of additive synthesis.
Four of the knobs are user‑assignable, and can be set to control such things as attack, decay and release times, formant filter envelope/LFO depth and high and low harmonics (called 'destinations' in Kawai‑speak). Up to two 'destinations' can be assigned to each knob, with the display keeping you informed of which destinations each knob controls. With a few minor restrictions, the Macro Controls can also be used on Multis. In use, zipper or quantisation effects rarely occurred, and when they did (while tweaking at speed), they often added interesting effects.
Although the module lacks the physical knobs of the synth, the same thing can be done using the display, though parameter access makes the process slower and you can only deal with one 'virtual knob' at a time.
Both synth and module are reasonably easy to navigate. The keyboard synth will have the edge for many, due to the Macro Controls and front‑panel arpeggio knobs, although both instruments can be confusing, simply because there are so many parameters. Luckily, there are some short‑cuts, and generic synth editors should have profiles soon; I've heard that an Emagic SoundDiver K5000 profile is currently being tested.
The display on both keyboard and rackmount is huge, and very helpful — although not large enough, it seems, to provide PCM waveform names in the DCO window; like the K1 a decade ago, the K5000 expects you to manage with numbers in the display and a name list in the manual. The eight function buttons across the bottom of the display are great, but the four buttons on either side of the display don't always line up to their respective parameters in quite the way you'd like. I also found the manuals lacking, with odd organisation, many explanations lacking depth (especially for novices ), and no index. Kawai US's web site (www.kawaius.com) provides a couple of general articles on additive synthesis; it would have been nice to see something like this in the manual.
There hasn't been so much variety in the world of synthesis for a long time. After what seems an age of "You can have any synth you like, as long as features Samples + Synthesis", the serious synthesist now has a choice of S+S, genuine analogue, analogue under digital control, physical models of analogue, wavetable, and, thanks to Kawai, a family of additive options.
But the significant differences between the members of this family mean that for the customer the choice isn't simply between a workstation, a synth and a module. If you've got £1800 to spend and want a one‑stop box for composition, the K5000W is a good bet: PCM sounds, 32‑part multitimbrality, decent sequencer, and the novelty of additive synthesis. If, however, you enjoy the process of sound creation, like the idea of the dedicated edit knobs and arpeggiator, are itching to check out the possibilities of additive, and won't find the limited multitimbrality and halved polyphony a problem (most current physical modelling synths are similarly restricted), go for the K5000S — use the £400 difference to pick up another module for increased multitimbral capability. At close to a grand (£1059), the K5000R is the bargain of the family; though it lacks some of the immediacy of the 'S', everything else is still there, and it's simply the cheapest off‑the‑shelf additive synth you can buy. It might not be a simple one, but the choice is yours.
Arpeggiators have made a comeback over the last few years, led, no doubt, by their use in contemporary dance music. Kawai, therefore, have seen fit to equip their new synth and module with this feature. Note that only the K5000S has dedicated front‑panel controls (labelled Pattern, Mode and Speed), although both have an arpeggiator switch. It's a pretty good implementation, too, though Kawai don't give it much coverage in the manual, with no explanations of the preset patterns and sequences. This is especially missed in the case of the module, since you have to go to a special page, not discussed in the manual, to access Pattern and Mode parameters (it's obvious from the display which button to push, but that's not the point).
The Pattern switch offers 11 options: Up, two variants of Up/Down, Down, Key Order, Random, Chord Trigger, Chord Gate, two Sequence Patterns and User. The Mode knob selects between one‑, two‑ or three‑octave ranges, with three options: Normal, Hold, and Hold & Retrig. Parameters such as note value (regular and triplet values between quarter note and 32nd note), gate time and key range are accessible from a separate menu.
Creating or editing User arpeggiator patterns is fiddly, but rewarding, especially given the options available. Each of eight User patterns can be up to 32 steps long, and you can create gated or triggered patterns, or programme up to four notes per step in a more or less standard arpeggio. There's comprehensive control over gate time, velocity level and pan position, and you can save arpeggios to disk.
One of the few disappointing aspects of the Kawai arpeggiator is that none of its parameters can be saved with a patch (something which Yamaha's CS1x allows). But one thing the K5000 does (that the CS1x doesn't) is transmit arpeggiated notes over MIDI, which is great. As expected, the arpeggiator syncs to MIDI clock.
- Sophisticated (but under‑explained) arpeggiator.
- Real time control (on S).
- Unique additive sound.
- Only four‑part multitimbral.
- Manuals could be better.
The K5000R and K5000S are two more aspects of Kawai's great‑sounding and unique Advanced Additive synthesis, and provide viable alternatives for different purposes and pockets.