Long‑time Kurzweil K2000 user Paul Ward casts a cautious eye over the latest facelift for his favourite synth's operating system, and is delighted with the results...
Kurzweil have a fine tradition of product support, and are continuing this support with the eagerly‑awaited K2000 version 3.0 software. This latest incarnation of the K2000 operating system largely attempts to satisfy two of the main areas of criticism levelled at the original spec — namely sequencing and disk operations. To go into detail here would take up far too much space, but here are the highlights.
The original 'sequencer' presented to the K2000 buyer was really little more than a scratchpad affair. Sixteen separate tracks could be recorded or overdubbed in real time, but that was basically it. Niceties such as quantising or editing were conspicuously absent, as were arranging or mixing functions. Version 3.0 has remedied this in spades: the K2000 now sports a feature‑packed sequencer that is as good as those offered on any workstation that this reviewer has seen — and even gives a few computer‑based packages a run for their money.
Both pattern and linear modes of recording are possible, and combining these methods results in 32‑track capability! Also available is a drum machine‑type step record function. Timing resolution is set at a healthy 768 ppqn (pulses per quarter note), although the display resolution is limited to 480 ppqn. Auto punch‑in and out are supported, and both points can be set on the fly. Quantisation can be applied as a track is being recorded, or can be defined as a playback parameter. While we're on the subject, quantisation values can be set to just about any usable value, with the welcome inclusion of a reference/groove quantise, and a programmable swing function. Many editing functions are on offer, with all the insert, delete, copy, bounce and shift functions that might reasonably be expected.
The Arrange mode provides a way of playing songs within (and along with) a song. This is where the 32‑track capability of the sequencer is realised. Song objects are triggered via the keyboard, and the pitch and velocity of the key being pressed can be superimposed onto the triggered object if required.
A button press away from the main sequencing page lies the new 'Mix' page, where 16 pairs of volume sliders and pan knobs are presented. A specific control is adjusted by placing the cursor over it and moving the alpha wheel. These movements can be recorded, and will play back on screen before your very eyes. What I found more exciting was playing the K2000 from an external sequencer with volume and pan commands embedded in the incoming sequence data. The on‑screen knobs and faders proceeded to move around in response to the incoming messages just as if they had been programmed internally — brilliant! I found myself able to send volume commands from a Roland MCR8 controller, with its bank of real knobs and faders, and could get instant visual feedback from the 'virtual' knobs and faders on the K2000's screen. This certainly makes life easier, even if you never use the K2000's internal sequencer at all. I've often wasted time checking leads and connections only to find (eventually) that a MIDI channel had received a zero volume command. My K2000 will spend a lot of time on the mix page from now on!
The K2000's disk handling was somewhat, er, basic in its original form. In many cases, it could handle other manufacturer's files better than its own! This has all been put to rights in version 3. Individual programs, samples, keymaps and songs can now be copied, moved, saved and loaded at will. Sub‑directories are now supported, as is the moving and copying of files between sub‑directories. Individual objects can also be deleted or renamed, and file names chosen by referring to a previous disk entry. New 'Macros' enable several disk files to be loaded in a single step, even if they reside on physically separate disk drives. A special start‑up macro will also force the K2000 to configure itself each time it is powered up, by loading in a specific set of files before you start work. Again, a full list of features would run into many pages, but I can't think of a disk function that I would want to perform that is not now covered. Kurzweil have also taken the opportunity to improve the range of drives with which the K2000 is compatible.
There are other very welcome enhancements to the operating system as a whole. The new 'Objects' page, in particular, is of great help in tracking down specific objects by name or type, and allows for copying, moving, deleting, renaming or dumping over MIDI. The functions on offer here do for RAM objects what the new disk functions do for files. Not least of the general enhancements is the ability to trigger samples from the sample inputs as an audio trigger function. A few other double key presses have been added to make navigation easier, and the selection of drum voices for editing has been made faster and more intuitive. Sampling can now be triggered from the keyboard, output gain assignment has been tidied up, and a few extra control sources have been added to the already vast selection on offer.
Previously, I was quite happy to put up with the idiosyncrasies of the K2000's disk operating system for the sake of the sounds and operational simplicity that the machine offered, but I would now be extremely loath to return to version 2! The sequencer is also a long‑overdue addition to the K2000's talents, but it certainly seems to have been worth the wait. Admittedly, some of the operations are a bit costly in terms of the numbers of button pushes required, and things can get a little complex when editing functions enter the fray. The limited screen space also takes us into 'wallpapering the hall through the letterbox' territory, but the K2000 is no worse than most other workstations in any of these respects, and is considerably better than many.
Kurzweil seem to have put an awful lot of effort into improving the K2000's weakest areas. Whilst it may be argued that certain of the features should have arrived with the original software, one has to recognise the extra time and cost that would have been incurred before the K2000 hit the market. That Kurzweil are continuing to listen to their customers and produce real upgrades — as opposed to mere tinkerings — is a credit to them.
Version 3 gives the K2000 a world‑class spec that now truly places the coveted 'workstation' mantle around its shoulders. Or should that be workstation anorak? Who cares when it fits this well?
The cost of the v.3.0 upgrade will depend on the version of the software you're upgrading from. The following prices are only a guide, as they have not yet been confirmed.
- If you have v.1.0 or 1.3 software, upgrading to v.3.0 could cost you £499.
- Upgrading the more recent v.2.07 software will cost you around £200.
- If your software has a 'J' in its version number (ie. 2.07J), the upgrade will cost you around £155. The same price goes for the most recently available version, the 2.08J.
- If you have any other versions of the K2000 software, or would like a less approximate idea of the price, call Steve Wright of Washburn.
Not all the new K2000s hitting the shelves have the v.3 software installed yet. According to Steve, most of the new rackmount versions (the K2000Rs) do have the new operating system, but the keyboard versions will take a little longer to replace — so if you're considering buying a K2000, check the version of software installed before you part with your cash!
- Brings true workstation capabilities to the K2000.
- Disk operations are now flexible and comprehensive.
- Good mixing facility with friendly graphic display.
- Object management is very much simplified.
- It's not free to existing K2000 owners (and could be fairly heavy on your wallet — see the 'Pricing' box above for more details)
- Use of the sequencer can be fiddly due to the small screen display.
- Still no improvements to the K2000's effects handling.
- I miss the old 'scrolling waveform' startup display.
A superb upgrade for a superb synthesizer. The K2000 can now be thought of as a real contender in the workstation stakes. It's just a shame that it's taken so long for Kurzweil to catch up — if the original K2000 had been released with this software in place, then the opposition would have had reason to be very worried indeed. But as I always say, better late than never. Highly recommended.