Kawai K5000 Review

This review was written in 1998. The K5000 line has been discontinued.

The K5000 produces a wide range of distinctive sounds, from smooth analog emulations to shimmering soundscapes that evolve slowly over time. Because it is a challenge to program, the K5000 may not appeal to all players, especially since it's only four-part multitimbral. The K5000 comes in three flavors: The W, which is a workstation and has a large complement of PCM waves to use with the additive engine; the S, which loses the sequencer but adds a lot of knobs; and the R, which loses the keyboard and the knobs. A knob box for the W and the R is available; knob movements transmit controller data. This review is based on the K5000R.

Sound. The K5000 has a particular digital sound, thanks to the additive engine. Most synths produce a "sound," which is then manipulated by filters and modulation. Think of additive synthesis as breaking down a "sound" into individual harmonics -- 128 in the K5000's case, with up to six of these "sounds" per patch. Each of these harmonics can be edited and controlled individually: Time-consuming to program, but you end up with tones that are vibrant and original. These harmonics can be filtered over time using a formant filter. You can also use the onboard digital filters.

So how does it sound? Well, I've been able to come up with some evocative pads that sound like no other synth I've heard, suitable for everything from dark ambient to romantic space music. The modulation lengths on the K5000 are impressive: I've clocked some patches that take almost a minute to fully evolve. There are many options for looping envelopes, as long as the key is held down. You can also morph between the setting of patches to create complex modulations that can get quite otherworldly. This is just a taste of the many paramaters at your disposal. There's also a menu of PCM sounds, mostly attack transients, to beef up the sound

Besides interesting pads and sound effects, the box also comes programmed with a fair number of "emulations." The organs sound pretty good; the e-pianos are very 80sish. Many of the patches have an e-piano attack that moves into a pad, but I find myself editing out the attack. There's a wide variety of basses, from typical saw sounds to 303 wannabes. There's also a supplemental disk of more sounds. Kawai sells disks of patches, and there's a couple of sites on the Net that are home to some programmer's hard work.

There's built-in effects, with up to four per patch, configurable with preset algorithms. Included are the typical chorus and delay examples. There's also some interesting modulation effects (Ensemble and Celeste). My favorites are the phasers, flanger and auto-pan. Global reverb and EQ settings round out the effects.

Although the K5000R is only four-part multitimbral, the sound can get pretty dense when the slots are filled with complex patches. Another frequency filler is the arpeggiator. The typical examplesˇup, down, random, and all their permutationsˇare included. There's also space for eight user patterns, with up to 32 steps each.

Interface. Editing is done via a 5 inches by 1 inch screen. The screen size really helps because you can edit the harmonics and envelopes graphically using a combination of soft keys and the data wheel. The K5000 also ships with a version of Sound Diver for editing by computer.

The K5000R relies on dynamic memory, with no ROM presets, so the space available for patch storage depends on their complexity. A little over one hundred patches, split between two banks, seems the norm. This limitation is negated somewhat by the built-in disk drive, which can store patches, multitimbral setups, and user arpeggiator patterns. System updates are also by disk.

The front panel is filled out with a keypad for accessing patches or multi setups. There's also two dedicated volume knobs for the main and individual outputs.

Conclusion. It's pretty amazing that such a complex and programmable synth can be had for under $600. Some people will be turned off from a synth that doesn't have loads of flashy presets and is only four-part multitimbral, but those with a programming inclination will be kept busy navigating through the many paramaters and features this review has glossed over.