Technics EW01NX Review

Technics Keyboard Wave Expansion Boards: Technics EW01NX Review

Technics EW01NX Pop Production board

ew01nx_200x172.jpgBen Oram reviews the EW01 Sound Expansion Board for the KN6000, KN6500 and KN7000.

Ben's review was written for the KN6000 but equally applies to the KN6500 and KN7000 keyboards.

The KN6000 is hardly short of sounds having in total 1006. Of course some of these are variations on a theme with suffixes such as “NV” for “No Vibrato” and “DE” for “Digital Effect”, but these variations are often very useful and when it comes down to it, how many sounds do we really need? If the demand for software is anything to go by owners of the KN6000 want as much of everything they can get! If you fit in that category the following will be of interest to you!

After much speculation Technics has announced and launched at the British Music Fair a plug-in board for the KN6000 providing new additional sounds. At this point I should explain the difference between a Sound Expansion board and a disk with new sounds. We’ve seen software for all kinds of Technics products up to and including the KN6000, which feature new sounds.

These of course are sounds created with the instruments’ own samples, so what is loaded into the instrument from the disk are parameters which are stored in the Sound Memories.

A creative programmer can make many different sounds from the same samples and many fine examples exist for the KN6000. What the Sound Expansion board does is not just to provide new sound parameters, but new samples too

[Ed: We're not so sure about this, at least on KN7000 the sounds can be loaded into memory by disk].

The Sounds are available to download here - Technics Keyboards EW01NX FREE Downloads

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That’s what it is, so where does it plug in? There is a panel on the under side of the instrument which, when removed, reveals the main circuit board with not one, but two sockets which accommodate the Sound Expansion board. Be advised by your dealer as to how to fit the board as I have no detailed information about whether Technics recommends installation by an engineer. However, and whatever,

it is a very quick job to install the EW01.

After installing the board and updating the KN6000 the Sound Explorer acquires a new “tag” which says EXP1 or EXP2 to the right or left of the screen depending on the socket in which the board was installed. When selected the main category list in the Sound Explorer changes to a whole new list of Sound Groups as follows:

Piano (7), Electric Piano (9), Acoustic Guitar (10), Electric Guitar (14), Strings (9), Vocal (19), Vocal Patterns (40), Organ (13), Brass (20), Synth Brass (10), Sax & Flute (10), Bass (17), Synth Lead (20), Synth Pad (20), Effects (10) and Drum Kits (8). The numbers in parentheses indicate the number of sounds in each group, which I make a total of 228
plus 8 drum kits.

Once you’ve selected “EXP1” selecting the sounds from the Expansion Board is exactly the same as using the Sound Explorer for the built in sounds. Sound names appear to the left and right sides of the screen and where there are more than 10 sounds in a group the page indication appears and you can select the next page in the usual way. So let’s have a look at what you get for your money!

First of all the Piano Group features what is clearly a new and different sample from the KN6000’s preset piano. This is a slightly more “pop” sound to my ears and would sit well in a mix with other instruments without dominating. There is no clear way to tell which make of Grand Piano this is. The preset piano is that most famous of pianos, the Steinway. But of the six expansion board Grand Piano sounds one has the name “Empire Grand” which has the hint of “Imperial” about it making me wonder if it is the Bosendorfer. Whatever, it sounds good and substantially different, although it would benefit from another dynamic sample. Having said this the emphasis of the Expansion Board is “Pop” so this piano seems aimed to work in a musical mix.

Also in the Piano group is a sort of “new age” piano sound called “Eventuality”. This is a combination of Grand Piano and warm strings, and gives a hint of great things in store later in the Strings group.

Next in the list of Sound Groups is Electric Piano and this group also has a new sample.

Obviously all of the samples in the board are new, what I mean in this case is that it’s a sample of a sound that Technics has never had before, that of the Wurlitzer Electric Piano. Yes, I know there have been sounds that said “Wurly” in their name, but these were based on other samples such as the Rhodes or even synth waves. Now we have the real thing!

Technics has featured many great EP sounds including personal favourites such as the Suitcase EP and Modern EP. The Wurlitzer is another favourite of mine, having a sort of electric guitar quality. It’s well represented here and very expressive this time having two dynamic samples.

This is the EP sound made famous by (among others) “Supertramp” on numbers such as “The Logical Song”. Again, thanks to the ingenuity of the sound programmers there are no fewer than eight varieties of EP using these samples in some way.

It’s tough to single out one but for sheer grittiness in the bass end “Well Its A Piano” is my choice. There are some synthesizer type EP sounds also worthy of mention. “EP Fusion” reminds me of the internal preset “New EP Routes” although the foundation is the Wurlitzer rather than the Rhodes.

The next group is Acoustic Guitar and as Technics has always presented a respectable stable of guitar sounds of both the acoustic and electric variety I wondered what they could do here that would make me feel I needed to add the board to the internal sounds. Acoustic Guitars are particularly difficult to emulate well in my opinion. If the sample was recorded with the microphone close to the guitar it is tough to get a real feeling of the instrument being acoustic. Also the playing technique required on keyboard to make a sample really sound like a guitar is quite tough to do.

Of the 10 sounds in the Expansion board some have that very “close up” feeling and this is fine and reminiscent of the typical Technics sounds. However, the sounds which struck me as different and in a way easier to express in a guitar-like way are such as “Smooth Folk Gtr” and “Resonant Folk Gtr”. With these I feel as though I am sitting away from the source, hearing the total result of the instrument. I checked out how the “Resonant Folk Gtr” sound had been programmed and found some intuitive use of the Trigger function for each tone in the sound.

One of the internal samples of acoustic guitar resonance has been added to the new Folk Guitar sample and set so that it only sounds when keys are played legato. This means that when you play a chord the resonance samples sounds. Switch off reverb to appreciate this fully, its very effective! This section definitely adds a new flavour to the Technics sound library.

Next are Electric Guitar sounds which are frankly easier to emulate than Acoustic Guitar. But a very pleasant addition to the current library includes three “Chorus Guitar” sounds that apparently have the Chorus effect included in the sample. This seemed a little strange to me bearing in mind the KN6000’s huge variety of DSP effects, and considering the memory capacity needed to sample with Chorus. However, the sounds are good and I would guess the original Chorus unit was costly! Again, the variations seem justified and there is a similarity to Andy Summers’ sound from famous Police songs such as “Walking On The Moon”.

Earlier I whetted your appetite (I hope!) for some new Strings sounds. I think Technics has always had a good string library in terms of authenticity. These are very useful for sequencing those epic movie themes or indeed for classical performances. But here again there has been a certain character of string sound missing, namely, the big “swimming” string pad that some other manufacturers have featured.

Now, its fair to say that some other manufacturers’ orchestral sounds are not up to the Technics standard, so you pay your money etc., etc. But now, among these new String sounds are those big “swimming” pad String sounds with which you can create a romantic movie score - almost just by playing a C chord.

Some of these sounds have a very long release, which makes them great to play singly, but if you want to you can reduce that very easily using the Sound Controller. Just press the Mode button and select “Envelope” in the screen. Now move the Sound Controller trackball south towards 6 o’clock (along its “Y” axis). You’ll find the release is shortened. This will also record in the sequencer so lots of fun to be had here.

Again there is a feeling of distance with some of these sounds, for example “Mellow Strings”, “Studio Strings” and “Texture Strings”, as though I am listening to them from the back of an auditorium. This is great for producing music with the KN6000, allowing you to place sounds more sympathetically in a mix.

This is not especially relevant (in the case of strings) to placing the sounds in the orchestra, because of course the string players sit at the front. But in the sense of popular music production these sorts of sounds add a new dimension. “String Consort” is perhaps most like the current strings concept and seems like a chamber orchestra. “Le Violon Rouge” leaves me a little cold, but it’s the only one that does out of nine string sounds!

Among the most striking presets on the KN6000 are the Vocal sounds and the EW01 continues the story with what seem to be more samples of the same singers! This is a good thing of course because these can easily be combined with the on board samples. I can definitely hear the male voice from “Bob’s Scat” in several of the new samples, and the girl singers seem to be, well..., singing from the same hymn sheet as the ones in the KN6000 itself!

With the EW01 there are additional syllables to play with including “Bah”, “Bap”, “Da” and “Dow” which very musically glides downwards. There are sounds created with velocity switching similarly to “Bob’s Scat”, and perhaps the latest version of that sound is “Doodle Babble” which has three different samples starting “Hmm”, “Da” and finally “Dow”. Baroque Scat is a sort of “Swingle Singers” sound although you’ll need good control of touch to use it well and of the “pad” type, vocal sounds “Jazz Humming” is my favourite. These are singers at 3am in the night club after a few bevies, so there is a slight “croon” on the beginning of the note, which is great. I would use it with a sparse accompaniment like a jazz combo.

Last and certainly not least is the jubilant cry of “Yeah” which has to be heard to be believed. This is not the ubiquitous husky “yeah” but a full on Soul singer, also full on pitch so great to play in chords.

Next comes a pretty interesting application of the new vocal samples in a group called Vocal Patterns. Here you just hold down a chord and the sound plays a vocal backing for you. Perhaps the toughest one to describe without being able to just show you! There are several pages of different vocal patterns at various useful tempi each with a name that describes what you are going to hear. For example: “Do Yeah Bap”, “Bah-Bap Bah-Bap”. Well, I’m hopeful that you’ve got the idea. Great fun to use and the quality sounds amazing. If you are into sequencing, these patterns will save you a lot of time and really bring your sequence to life.

I had wondered about the range of sound types on the EW01 because of its “Pop Production” leanings but the above shows that it has a very wide range of tastes covered. The Organ group takes that even further providing Jazz and Rock tonewheel sounds but adding several great Theatre Organ sounds. I enjoyed the sounds so much that I forgave the slight problem in equating Theatre Organ with Pop! There are five in total ranging from “Theatre Warble” (a kind of Tibia Chorus) to “Fabulous Fox” and “Ritz Reeds”. Now onto one of my hobbyhorses! On closer examination I was pleased to find that these sounds do not use DSP Rotary or other DSP effects for an overall tremulant. This is one of the biggest failings of sound programmers trying to recreate a real Theatre Organ sound. In the case of these sounds attention has been paid to giving each section of the organ its own tremulant using the LFO section in Sound Edit. “Ritz Reeds” is a good example of Tibia, Brass and Strings with tremulant combined with a straight Reed stop. Try them out and you’ll see what I mean!

Next the Brass section and again this is an area in which Technics has always produced some good results. As the main Brass instruments are covered in the KN6000 itself (and in the basic GM2 / Nexus sound set) there is scope of a little diversity, and the opportunity has been taken! There are some good solid new Trombone and Trumpet sounds, but I am most impressed with new muted brass sounds. Cup Mute Trumpet, Harmon Mute Trombone and Bucket Mute Trombone join the current lineup providing great scope for Big Band and especially 1930’s and 1940’s style orchestrations. There are many great ensemble sounds layering these new samples, perhaps my favourite layered sound being “Jazzy Muzak”. Its almost impossible to play anything with this sound without it sounding like late night Radio 2 Jazz! The “Forties Mutes” sound is definitely better in its higher registers but is very effective for Miller songs when the reeds are taking a breather! It combines new sounds with the internal Flugel Horn and hence is a little “croony” in the lower registers. The next section is Synth Brass and before we look at that I should mention “Tight Pop Brass” in the Brass group which is also a new character for Technics. Synth Brass is predictably replete with “parpy” sounds reminiscent of the super Oberheim synths that we all yearned after in the ‘80s. Again there are some great warm sounds here which remind me of more Pop orientated products and show the mettle of the KN6000’s sound engine and filters.

Whilst on the subject of synth sounds I’m going to skip a couple of groups and go straight to Synth Lead and Synth Pad. Your appreciation of these sections is always coloured by your taste in music. There are some synth sounds that are “out there”, even reminding me of some of the DSP generated sounds from the likes of the Korg Prophecy. There are also the sweet synth solo sounds that you might associate with more mainstream Pop or Fusion. The KN6000 is obviously an instrument not typically used by the modern Dance fraternity and so a great emphasis on Dance sounds would be wasted. Having said that its not short on raunch! In the Synth Pad section you’ll find the huge sweeping extravaganzas with which you really could produce a relaxation CD just by holding down a few notes. These sounds are great fun and names like “Sweepener”, “Time 2 Touch” and my favourite “Hold Me & Push” (?) do describe the intended method of performance. Just hold down a long dreamy chord and let it all happen! There is an amazing vocal sound called simply “Vintage Voice” and this reminds me of the Mellotron, although I suspect that this is rather better quality.

Let’s back track to Sax & Flute. Here the KN6000’s Breathy Flute section is augmented by some sounds using a very hard chiff sample. Very ethnic sounding and good for world music. I was generally less happy with the Saxes with the exception of two Soprano Sax sounds which I enjoy very much. The KN6000’s own Sax sounds are pretty impressive and a tough act to follow, but the Soprano Sax in the Expansion Board has improved on the preset one. Basses are interesting with some new Precision and Jazz Bass samples and what sounds like a bass with active electronics, with a very clean and clear top end to it. Lots of synth bass sounds are really useful for Pop Production although for my own use I particularly like the new bass guitars. Great for accompaniment patterns!

Effects includes a few silly things which you’ll use once (well OK, maybe twice) but the “Nutshell Tree” is wonderful. I would be quite happy for the Effects group just to have this one sound!! There are some useful things for modern Dance such as scratching and rumble noise, but I have to say “Nutshell Tree” once more! Also great to use with the same Sound Controller setting that I suggested for the String Pad sounds but moving the trackball north to 12 o’clock and increasing the release. I’ve said “Nutshell Tree” too many times. Nutshell Tree. Oops!

Last and certainly not least are new Drum Kits. Of complete GM style kits there are four: Studio Kit, 70’s Kit, Resonant Kit and Rock Kit. By complete GM kit I mean that the layout of the drum sounds is the same as the GM drum map, plus some extras as always with Technics. The Studio Kit is punchy with some processing in the sample with gated reverb on the snare and toms and seemingly even a little on the Bass Drum. The 70’s Kit is quite the opposite with a very dry production and much lower pitched Hi Hat, and a brighter snare. The Resonant Kit is like a step on from the preset Live Rock Kit. When you play a real drum kit the snare rattles when you do... well... just about anything. Sneeze and it rattles. So naturally the snare will rattle when you play the bass drum or Toms too. The resonant kit emulates this matter of physics. Hit the Bass Drum and you’ll hear the Snare Rattle, the harder you hit the louder it rattles! The same happens with the Toms. This would be about as live as you’d want a kit to be but it is interesting to hear and fun to play.

The snare in the resonant kit is very dynamic as it is in the Rock Kit. I would certainly like to see software produced using these new kits. In addition to these there are two “Club Kits”. These are interesting because each kit has five separate drum kits over five octaves. Each kit has two bass drums, one snare, four toms, open and closed hi hat and ride and crash cymbals. The kits are suited to rock, pop and dance music and this really is a great way of using them.

The simple operation belies the huge variety from simple dry kits to huge gated reverb rock kits and analogue dance kits. Scope for a set of Custom Rhythms just for the EW01!

Finally the most exciting parts of the Drum Kits group (for me anyway) are the Timbales and Bells kit and the Shakers Kit. It is tough to do justice to the clarity and vibrancy of these kits, and the detail in sampling. The nuances captured even in Agogo Bells or a simple Cowbell is stunning, from muted to open to accented to rolls. Timbales include rolls and flams and at last there is a tambourine that really sounds like a tambourine!

We really are used to the simple representations of Latin Percussion in the typical General Midi drum kit. Combine the EW01 with the KN6000’s built in Bongo and Conga kit and forget those limitations forever, this is true musical integrity and recognition of the Latin Percussionist’s art. The sounds are all labelled with their (one assumes) newly assigned program change and bank select numbers for you computer sequencer users, and where needed they take advantage of the KN6000’s Sound DSP and Chorus functions.

You can tell that I like the EW01. I started out saying that it’s tough to imagine needing more sounds than the KN6000 already has, but I found the KN6000 reaching a new feeling of completeness with the addition of the EW01.

Against a background of 1006 sounds built into the KN6000, an additional 228 sounds and 8 drum kits may not seem a lot. But here is a classic case of being numbed by statistics. The KN6000 needs a huge range of sounds for software compatibility such as GM, GM2, GS, XG and previous Technics models. The EW01 doesn’t have to provide that because it is added to an instrument that does. In my estimation more of its apparently extensive memory capacity has been devoted to each higher quality and detailed sample.

If this is the policy behind the EW01 it works well for me! I heartily recommend this addition and look forward to what will happen to fill the other expansion slot!

Ben Oram, August 2000

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