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Kurzweil PC4

Performance Keyboard
By Robin Bigwood

Kurzweil PC4

Kurzweil's PC4 is a solid all-rounder with hidden depths...

Kurzweil are grandees of the big, complex, workstation-style keyboard world, with a history going back to the early '80s, and a remarkable legacy of products. The current Kurzweil pro-keyboard line-up encompasses stage pianos, workstations and, in the case of the PC4 on test here, 'Performance Controllers'. The name could be misleading: this is not just a MIDI controller (though it's capable of that), but a workstation-like synth in its own right. Whatever you want to call it, the PC4 sits in the middle of the Kurzweil range; more expensive and complex than the SP stage pianos, but cheaper than the Forte–series workstation and Artis stage piano. There is as yet a single 88-note version, but it wouldn't surprise me if a 76–note counterpart appeared at some stage.


Headline specifications are as follows. Two sound engines are on hand: VAST, which encompasses sophisticated sample playback, virtual analogue and FM layers, and Kurzweil's KB3 tonewheel organ emulation. Two gigabytes of factory sample content is supplied, leaving a further 2GB for user samples and other storage needs. Polyphony is 256 voices, with a fixed number of those non-dynamically allocated to the KB3 engine when it's in use. Sixteen multitimbral parts can be active at once, with the proviso that you're limited to a single KB3 organ instance. Over 1000 single-sound Programs and 50+ layer/split Multis are provided from the factory, with room to add 4096 user versions of each. An onboard sequencer with basic but useful editing facilities lets you layer up your 16 PC4 parts, and/or drive external MIDI gear. And, finally, the effects provision is extensive — 32 effects units in total, available to be deployed at master and part level, as two aux send/returns available to all parts, and even to the individual layers that make up a part.

The hardware side of the PC4 is an interesting mix too. The case is plastic (though seemingly tough), and this helps to achieve a very manageable 13kg overall weight. Keys are velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive, and the word on the nerdy piano forums is that it's a Medeli (rather than, say, Fatar) action. White-key dip is 10mm, with black key fronts sitting 12mm above — entirely unremarkable, neither particularly deep nor shallow. Nor is it either notably light or heavy, but somewhere in the middle, so a good choice for this type of keyboard, where you're playing acoustic piano one minute and monosynth sounds the next. The action is a little noisy, with some hollow-sounding bumps from the case on both key down and release. There's also almost no give at the bottom of the key travel, and you'll need firm fingers to explore aftertouch response. Overall, though, I have few criticisms of this keyboard. It's not as nice as a top-of-the-range Fatar, Kawai, Roland or Korg, there's no wood in it and no escapement feel, but it's a lot better than budget 88-note clunkers.

Real-time controls come in the form of a bank of nine sturdy sliders, knobs and buttons, pitch and mod wheels, and a Variation button. The rest of the user interface is based around a 480 x 272–pixel colour LCD with six soft buttons, and a whole panel's-worth of dedicated buttons for mode and sound selection, transposition, tempo and transport functions, and navigation. There's also a large 'alpha dial' that's essentially just a value wheel, in the style of an old-fashioned iPod.

Round the back we find MIDI and USB ports to the left and a generous selection of pedal inputs and audio I/O to the right.Round the back we find MIDI and USB ports to the left and a generous selection of pedal inputs and audio I/O to the right.

Connections to the outside world are good. Two quarter-inch output pairs can be configured as a mirror or as separate stereo outs, flexibly fed from internal parts. Not only that, but a quarter-inch input pair can be routed through onboard effects, and there's an 3.5mm stereo socket as well. For those that like to give their feet something to do, the PC4 sports two continuous pedal inputs, and two sockets for switch-type pedals which can handle no fewer than four switch pedals if they're wired appropriately. There's just a MIDI In and Out on five-pin DIN sockets, but USB A and B sockets allow for the use of thumb drives as well as a computer connection. Power enters via a 15V 2.5A mains adapter: rather disappointing given how grown-up the rest of the I/O provision is, and it doesn't help that there's no strain relief for the input plug, although the adapter itself looks to be of good quality and runs cool.

Shallow End

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Published March 2020