By far the largest category, the Synth Programs encompass a huge range of monophonic and polyphonic sounds ranging from the most delicate tinkles to screaming outpourings of teenage angst. Many have names that tell you what inspired them and, despite fighting the impulse, I soon found myself playing the original tracks. This is also where you’ll find the VA1 sounds, many of which are, in my humble opinion, all but indistinguishable from those generated by genuine analogue synthesizers; it’s no accident that some of the biggest bands have for years been using Kurzweils on stage to replace their vintage synths. Complementing these, the Pad and Hybrid categories contain some gorgeous sounds that are, well, just gorgeous. You’ll find many of the K2700’s Mellotron patches here and... Oh no! There’s one named Trick Of The Tail. Somebody stop me please! Oops. Too late.
I’ve always had a soft spot for Kurzweil’s picked and chorused guitars, to the extent that in the early ’90s I even bought a K1000GX to extend the subset in my K1000PXA. Sure, there were more accurate guitar sounds to be had, but there was something very playable about the Kurzweils’ and there still is. Having said that, I don’t think that I would ever turn to a Kurzweil for lead guitars, but I rarely compose anything without using my K2500 for bass guitars; they have a depth and warmth that almost always works beautifully.
If you’re wondering where all of the vocal and choral patches are, you’ll find most of them in a category called Misc, which should have been named Vocals, Choirs, More Mellotrons, And All The Patches That We Couldn’t Decide Where To Stick Elsewhere. Again, there are numerous gems here. Finally, we come to the Drum/Percussion category. There are many useful sounds within the percussion Programs and, while I’ve never been a huge fan of Kurzweil’s drum kits, I suspect that other users will like them very much, and it’s unlikely that you’ll fail to find something here that works for you.
I view it as a mighty polysynth that would be a superb gigging instrument, both for its own sounds and for controlling other sources.
It’s impossible to explain the complexities and possibilities of VAST in a review, so I’ve tried instead to give you some idea of how the K2700 sounds, what it’s like to use, and what its strengths and weaknesses might be. (If I’ve missed a feature that you feel is important... well, them’s the breaks.) But I suspect that what you most want to know is whether it’s a true successor to the K2500 and K2600. That’s much easier to answer: in my opinion, it’s not. Without sampling, the K2700 should more properly be named the PC5. But I can see why the company wanted to capitalise on the K series name; calling the K2700 the Forte 8 MkII or the PC5 wouldn’t have struck the same chord with fans of the brand, myself included.
The other thing that became clear during the review was that the K2700 isn’t designed to be a direct competitor to workstations such as the Korg Kronos or the latest Roland Fantoms that offer multiple synth engines, sampling, and much more powerful on‑board sequencing. Instead, I view it as a mighty polysynth that would be a superb gigging instrument, both for its own sounds and for controlling other sources. You may revel in its vast (pun intended) possibilities or you may be content to cherry‑pick from the factory library and perhaps tweak sounds to suit but, however you approach it, I’m pretty certain that you’ll be impressed. The K2700 can be as frustrating as it’s fascinating and as impenetrable as it’s playable but, as I have written before, there are times when a Kurzweil simply sounds nicer than the alternatives.
The K2700 has an unusual effects structure. The basic unit is the Chain, which can contain up to 16 individual effects selected from numerous reverbs, choruses, delays, flangers, phasers, tremolos, panners, rotary speaker emulators, distortion units, EQs, compressors, filters, envelope followers, ring modulators, frequency shifters and more — up to a maximum of 32 units of DSP resources.
Each Program can take advantage of eight Insert Chains, with each allocated either to a specific Layer or to the Program as a whole, and there are two Auxiliary chains that can be used as additional Program chains or accessed by all of the channels in a Multi. You can also program up to 30 sources to control the parameters within the effects, and these can include VAST’s obscure mathematical functions as well as conventional modulators such as LFOs and contour generators. And if this isn’t complex enough, you can also modulate the modulators that are modulating the effects.
Of course, none of this tells you how the effects sound, but there’s nothing to worry about here — many of them are first‑class. But if I wanted to choose the most important aspect of the effects structure, it would be that it’s multitimbral, which means that you can (for example) apply a spring reverb, an overdrive and a rotary speaker effect to your organ, a nice ambience to your piano, overdrive, chorus and delay to your guitar... and more, up to the DSP limit. Then, at the end of the signal path, there’s a dedicated master effects section to add a final polish. The only obvious shortcoming is that, when sustaining notes of one sound while selecting a new one, their timbres and levels can change as the new Chains are initialised. There’s no glitch, but it’s something to take into account when planning sounds for live performance.
When you consider that VAST was released more than 30 years ago, it’s amazing that the K2700 offers any degree of compatibility with its ancestors, but it will load many Objects (Programs, Multis, arpeggiator patterns, effects chains, Keymaps, and so on) from KRZ, K25, and K26 files as well as from the PCx, Artis and Forte series. Nevertheless, some of VAST’s previous algorithms can’t be loaded, Triple Mode Programs can’t be loaded, and neither can earlier KB3 Programs. Furthermore, the effects in the K2700 are different so, even if loading is successful, many Programs will require editing before they sound the same as before.
If you think that this sounds like a lot of caveats, I don’t blame you. But to put it into context, the Roland JD‑800 and Korg 01/WFD were launched in the same year as the Kurzweil K2000, and no‑one expects to be able to load their sounds into a Fantom or a Kronos. Consequently, I’m much happier about the legacy K2x00 sounds that I can still use than I am unhappy about those that I can’t.
The rear panel isn’t as busy as you might imagine for a flagship model such as this. For one thing, there are no digital audio outputs and it offers just four balanced/unbalanced quarter‑inch TRS analogue outputs arranged as two stereo pairs. (I must admit that I was surprised to find that you can’t direct sounds to these independently except by panning.) To the far right, there’s a quarter‑inch stereo headphone output that should, in my view, be sited on the front of the instrument. Alongside these you’ll find two XLR/quarter‑inch jack ‘combi’ audio inputs with mic/line/guitar level options and optional +48V phantom power.
Four analogue controller inputs are provided: two for switches and two for continuous controllers. These are typically used for sustain and expression pedals, but you can reassign them on a per‑Program basis. The K2700 will analyse the polarity of connected pedals during power‑up so that you don’t obtain reversed operation, which is a nice touch. However, it has failed to reinstate the breath controller input that was lost after the PC3 series, which is not.
At the digital end of the panel, MIDI in and out (but no thru) are provided via 5‑pin DIN sockets as well as USB. Stereo audio is also available over USB with word lengths of either 16‑ or 24‑bit and sample rates ranging from 44.1kHz to 192kHz. Alongside these, a USB A socket supports low‑powered USB devices for external storage and updates. The final hole is an IEC socket for the universal internal power supply.
The K2700 comes with a very basic Getting Started guide, and you have to download its manual from the company’s website. Having done so, this again illustrates the complexity of VAST synthesis. Happily, the first version of a free Soundtower editor appeared during the course of the review and, as always, it helped to clarify what’s going on in the depths of the synth. But it didn’t make everything clear and simple; there are too many parameters for that, resulting in numerous edit pages, at least one of which would require a computer monitor about four feet high to display all of its knobs and other options. I have to admit that I prefer the layouts of the editors for previous Kurzweils but, if you’re going to dig into the K2700, I would still recommend that you download and use this.
The 16 velocity‑sensitive pads to the right of the panel can perform numerous functions. Most obviously, you can use them to play drum kits, chords of up to eight notes, and individual notes, which means that they can also trigger extended samples. You can program them on a per‑Program or per‑Multi basis to control all manner of parameters as well as to enable or mute individual arpeggiator or CC sequencer steps.
You can also determine whether just one pad can be used at any given moment or whether multiple pads can be used simultaneously, and select the MIDI channel on which they transmit, which means that you can use them to control external sound generators. Oh yes, and you can choose from a range of velocity responses to suit the sounds being played. It takes a while to create a new pad setup from scratch but, if you want to access the same pad settings for different sounds, you don’t need to reprogram them every time because you can import setups from existing Programs.
There are many similarities between the K2700 and the Forte. They share the same Fatar keybed, the same display, the same underlying synthesis engine, almost identical KB3, VA, FM and Kore64 extensions, the same number of arpeggiators, riff generators, CC sequencers, effects units and master effects, similar MIDI sequencing, and what appears to be the same degree of compatibility with previous K series models. Nevertheless, there are differences that might influence you to choose one over the other.
For pianists, the most important of these might be the fact that the grand pianos in the Forte are generated using a greater number of samples, which explains its much larger ROM — 16GB as opposed to 4.5GB in the K2700. So, if you’re after a stage piano that is also a powerful synth (rather than the other way around) you might be best advised to look first at the Forte 8. On the other hand, the maximum polyphony has been substantially increased in the K2700, the user sample memory has increased, and it offers substantially more factory Programs and Multis as well as more user memories. There are also advances in the USB implementation and, for the first time on a Kurzweil workstation, USB audio. You pays yer money and...
- It’s an immensely complex and powerful synthesizer with a huge factory library of usable sounds.
- What can I say about the Kurzweil sound? You either love it or... you love it.
- It’s a powerful MIDI controller.
- It’s both solid and attractive.
- It has an internal, universal power supply.
- Although it’s not a sampler, it can load and use samples generated elsewhere, but...
- ... although it can load and use samples generated elsewhere, it’s not a sampler.
- There are no graphics to aid sample editing, making this a tortuous process.
- Its grand pianos are not the best that Kurzweil can offer.
- A semi‑weighted 76‑note version with its pitch‑bend and modulation wheels in the right place would be welcome.
- It would benefit from more, and individual, outputs.
Despite its name, the K2700 is an extended hybrid of the PC4 and the Forte. Furthermore, despite being described as a workstation, it’s not designed to compete with products that offer sampling and more powerful recording and sequencing capabilities. Instead, it’s a gorgeous polysynth with immense sound‑design possibilities. If you’re a fan of the Kurzweil sound, you have to check it out.