the world needs more casio cz-1 pictures.

Click here for a high-res photo of the Casio CZ-1 (1240×539). The daddy of the CZ phase distortion synthesizers.  Share it and rehost it as much and wherever you want. While I was trying to decide if I wanted one, the internet was of almost no help at all and after loads of digging i couldn’t find one decent detail picture of it. That seems absurd for what is in my newly formed opinion, classic.

I’ve been wanting one more midi capable synth to round off my setup and I was looking for something affordable, old and digital, but not FM.  I’ve got FM, Analogue and VA covered so Wavetable and Vector synths were looking like the route I was going to go, but then I spotted a CZ-1 for $175 at a local shop and wondered exactly how much of a similarity does it and it’s early form of Phase Distortion synthesis actually have to FM sounds and programming, and what else is it capable of. Just because a review or two in the past said it does, that the technology is “similar” or a “cheap variation”, and has had those opinions regurgated repeatedly, doesn’t tell me anything about what this thing will sound like or what it actually does. I’ll tell you right now, I fell in love with it instantly.

Casio CZ-1


Aftertouch? Synthesis structure? Cross modulation? Split voice? Sampling rate? Bit depth? DAC quality? Chorus style (love those rolands!)? Mono mode? Sound range/style? Multiple EGs? Voicing modes? How will all these and other features  be implemented? Many times people only think of the synthesis engine as the heart of a synthesizer’s sound when that’s not entirely true. Particularly with 80’s synthesizers, which was a time when technology (multitimbre, multivoice, split, effects, etc) was starting to appear in even the ‘budget models’ and change the way synths appeared and were organized. So many variations and competition on basic feature sets, implementation (sometimes misguided) and ideas brought about alot of unique and cool synths – as well as some bombs. With such synths even the most basic controls such has Hold can have an impact on the sound and capabilities of a synth as much as the filter specs and types of oscillators and/or synthesis do (the CZ-1 btw, has no less than 16 DCO oscillators.. which it shares in common with some much more appreciated and expensive synths such as the Juno106). And that’s honestly not an overstatement; The Hold+ Held Transpose playing method on DCO synths such as Crumars and Roland JX synths is very unique to their class.

Anyways, these character traits and features of synths are what attract me – that and as much hands on features as i can get.. and not only is the CZ-1 full of them, but it’s got a very solid sound to it and as a plus also makes out as a feature packed midi controller with aftertouch and velocity (the quick access to MIDI transmit on/off via a button is a nice touch as well). The DCW reminds me of Korg’s DWGS synthesis like on the DW8000 and MS2000, similar in design but sounds nothing like it. The envelopes are a bit strange at first but don’t take long to figure out. I havent needed to crack open the manual yet except for some operational and save info regarding splits/voice modes. Dual voice aka Multitimbral /2 timbres. The responsive aftertouch and velocity sensitivity makes a strong impact on the sound as well.

The Phase Distortion synthesis takes place in the creation of the waveform types and the way you ‘string’ them together using the Waveform and DCW Envelopes. The envelope generators, ringmod, noise mod, voicing modes (incld. unison), etc., allow you to further shape them. It can range from typically sounding 80’s DCO subtractive bass/pads, to FM, the odd/noisy, and everything inbetween. The Saw based sounds are some of the best I’ve heard.  IMO, anyone that claims this synth sounds  ‘thin’ needs to get more familiar with the synth or needs a helping hand in programming… if you can’t make 16 DCOs sound fat, don’t blame it on the synth.

Each OSC can have 2 waves, set apart in steps. Keyfollow on the DCW specific section combined with an envelope (all envs can go from 1 to 8 steps) will act like a filter when used for waveshaping into sine. Combined with the 8 stage envelopes you can get some really slick filter’d sounds going. You’d be suprised how fat this can sound.  On the strings, pads, and everything else side.. that’s where the chorus and FM / Addivitve sounding patches show their strength when combined with lengthy Envelopes settings. The Envelopes can go on endlessly if need be… speaking of that, drone-wise using the envelopes it would be possible to make a nearly endless patch that morphs and evolves over a very, very long time.

For the synthesis wise, here’s a quick description: Essentially the envelope, keyfollow, velocity, and level all have customizable breakpoints. Even the OSCs can have 2 breakpoints. These ‘breakpoints’ can all be used via a waveshaping type of synthesis to create the waveforms (DCO section) and act as a waveshaper in place of a filter (DCW section). You can also do amplitude modulation using the waveforms on the amplitude section (DCA).

Update: I have since figured out the multitibrality features of the CZ-1. It offers up to 8 timbres simultaneously via MIDI, depending on the # of polyphony you assign to each channel. This is a thing of wonder! 175$’s for a sweet sounding and wide ranging canvas with access to 8 patches @ once?! To add to this, you can assign the voices in Dual and Split modes to seperate outputs (2 mono or 1 stereo pair in several different A+B combinations).

Wow. I used to think the Roland JX-3P was the top 80s synth that gets overlooked or underappreciated, the CZ-1 is definitely up there too…fighting for position. What it lacks in knobs it makes  up for in price, voices, programming options.. and immediate access buttons for everything within the synth, which makes the page editing quick and easy.





6 Responses to “the world needs more casio cz-1 pictures.”

  1. 1 Adriel
    November 6, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Just wanted to say how helpful and appreciated your review is!!! I, too, have found the lack of photos to be frustrating. Very nice, thank you!

  2. 2 Peter
    April 12, 2009 at 6:48 am

    Hey thanks for the great article. I have been looking for one of these for ages!!!!! i was wandering if you or anyone knew where to get one of these from. Thanks

  3. 3 Al
    June 2, 2009 at 10:47 am

    I have just joined the cz-1 owners club!

  4. September 14, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Hey, thanx for the link to my site.
    Yes, the CS are beasts and the CZ-1 can sound like hell. Check my site and dowsnload my „Monster’s Sound collection” (there 5, all syx) – a lot of them use the hidden waveforms of the CZs; and these sounds make the Casio unbelieveable: creepy, non FM, non PD. Pure digital something. And don’t forget to check Selaed’s deep Synthesis site; he made an editor (SoundDiver only) to select the hidden waves directly; a completely new universe for CZ-users! btw: The site is in english too!

  5. September 28, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I bought one of these used in ’89 and didn’t know how to really use it. At one point I accidently lost one of its two levels of preset sounds. At least I think I did- could’ve just needed batteries. I normally used the wall wart. Anyway, I sold it after my 5 year enlistment in the Marines, and now wish I hadn’t. I liked its sound, and construction(solid), and am now on the lookout for one again.

  6. 6 Arthur SImpson
    October 31, 2011 at 5:37 pm

    I have one of these beasts, but I can not find a much needed Librarian program that actually works any help would be greatly appreciated.

    I am running windows 7.

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