Dr Chris Stanbury reviews the new range of CT-X keyboards from Casio and explains why this latest series is the best yet.
Casio’s name has long been associated with some great innovations in keyboards for well over thirty five years. In fact, the Casiotone CT-201 was the first ever electronic keyboard, launched in January 1980. Other notable keyboards include the SK-1 sampling keyboard (a firm favourite amongst electronic musicians), the iconic VL tone (as used by Human League, Thomas Dolby, Robbie Williams and Lady Gaga) and the extraordinary CZ-101 synthesiser.
I remember spending hours on these instruments at school and at home, creating some great sounds that weren’t available on any other keyboard at the time. Ever since then, I’ve always admired the way Casio have produced their products, with an emphasis on innovation and usability.
So, when I got the call to visit Casio Music UK and try out the new CT-X range, I couldn't wait!
There are three instruments in the range: the CT-X700, X3000 and X5000, which replace the CTK-4400, 6100 and 7200 models. The outgoing models were some of the best selling keyboards in the industry, not just for Casio, so their replacements are eagerly awaited by the industry and musicians alike.
All New Sound Technology
Casio say the CT-X series is all new, featuring a new sound chip (called AiX), new case and panel designs, many new sounds and accompaniment styles together with some incredible new speakers (more about this later).
“We’re incredibly proud of the new AiX sound chip” says Neil Evans, Divisional Manager of Casio Music UK, “It’s the result of a huge investment in research and development, and it means that CT-X can produce some stunning sounds that, frankly, change expectations of what instruments in this price bracket can achieve”.
As part of my visit, I’m allowed to try pre production samples that have just arrived from Tokyo. I try the CT-X700 first, and am immediately struck by how detailed the stereo grand piano sound is. Neil explains: “AiX stands for Acoustic Intelligent Expression, and it’s an incredibly powerful processor. Not only have we increased the quality of the new sounds, but the processor now adapts to your touch.”
I put this to the test on the CT-X700 and try the new Acoustic Guitar sounds, which sound fantastic. Playing gently produces some gentle string tones, whilst playing forcefully produces effects such as hammer on and slide. Straight away, I can see the potential of this new sound chip: it can produce some incredibly expressive performances, the type of which I’ve only managed to produce on keyboards costing over £500. To be able to do the same thing on something that is half the cost is incredible.
My other favourite tones are the Electric Pianos. Not only does the CT-X have some great new sounds in this category, but I can also hear effects such as phaser, delay and panning being added automatically. “That’s another advantage of AiX” say Neil, “we can now have much more detailed effects added individually to each part, which really brings the sounds and styles alive”.
New Sleek Designs
As well as the sound, Casio have clearly spent a great deal of time looking at the design of each instrument. Each of the three models has an all-new case design, which looks really distinctive. One innovative feature on the CT-X700 is the inclusion of a built-in stand for a smartphone or mini-tablet. This is great if you use music apps, as the stand places your device's screen at the ideal angle for viewing. Connecting your devices to any CT-X is really easy, thanks to the built-in audio input and USB connection.
Moving on to the CT-X3000, I notice that the chassis and panel design is different. There are a few added features, such as the Phrase Pads, where you can add extra guitar riffs, piano arpeggios and more when performing. The speakers now use Bass Reflex technology, giving a wider dynamic range, which is really noticeable.
There are some much bigger changes on the CT-X3000 to talk about though. As well as a USB Audio Player, which means that you can play along to any standard WAV file (and cancel out the vocal part so you can play it live), I was really impressed to find that the CT-X3000 has something that I've long been looking for in affordable keyboards: an expression pedal input.
As a teacher, I've noticed the lack of expression pedal inputs in affordable instruments. Although all the major music exam boards require the use of expression pedals, you could only use them with keyboards costing nearly £700, which is too expensive for most students. I am genuinely pleased to see expression pedal connections now included on the CT-X3000 and CT-X5000.
On the flagship CT-X5000, you can even plug in a microphone and put your vocals through the effects processor too. An exceptional dual 15W speaker system, the largest I’ve ever seen on a keyboard in this price bracket, transforms the sounds and styles. With features like this, it's clear that this is the model designed for the ambitious performer. It really has to be heard to be believed. What's more, you'll find standard Line Output connectors on the back of the CT-X5000 which will plug into a mixer or PA speakers.
There are lots of small details that Casio have included on the CT-X5000 that make performing just that little bit easier, such as every instrument category having its own shortcut button for quick access, LED indicators to show which of the 128 registration memories you have selected and a controller wheel that can switch from pitch bend to modulation with the press of a button.
I’m really excited by the potential that the CT-X range offers. Put simply, these are the best mid-range keyboards I've ever played. Casio have included some features that have never been seen before on keyboards in this price range.
I can’t wait to try them again soon in my local music retailer.