by Ken Hughes
A Casio synth appeared in the video for Bob Seger’s “Shakedown.”
Newly re-formed one-hit-wonders Johnny Hates Jazz say that
“Shattered Dreams” was about 60 percent Casio synths. The aftertouch
on Casio’s AZ-1 made it the “serious” keytar preferred by artists such as
Thomas Dolby. But that’s about all the high-profile use Casio’s pro gear
got during the “Frankie Say Relax” decade.
Different story these past ten years: Casio digital pianos like the
Privia PX-3 (Key Buy award winner in October 2010) have gained a lot
of traction—both with beginners for their affordability and with gigging
pros for their feather weight and surprisingly good sound. What the PX-3
did for stage pianos, the WK-7500 aims to do for synth workstations.
Styled as the pro’s backstage companion, the WK-7500 is a quick
and capable all-in-one keyboard for writing and composing away
from one’s home studio. We’re also invited to imagine it as the heart
of a home studio for songwriters and composers of modest means.
Right now, that’s a lot of us! With that in mind, I took it along during
preparations for my band Maybe Tuesday’s CD release shows.
The 76-key WK is quite light at just under 20 pounds. Though the keys
are very solid, they do have a light, springy feel. Casio’s not trying to
satisfy the Tony Beliveaus of the world with this action, but the fully
skirted, piano-shaped keys certainly say, “not a toy.” The rubber buttons
on the panel have a nice feel, but aren’t clicky, so keep an eye on the
display to see for sure if your button presses register.
The audio inputs (1/4" instrument and mic jacks, and a stereo 1/8"
jack to mix in an MP3 player), 1/4" headphone jack, and SD card slot
are all pertinent to the WK-7500’s killer app: audio recording. Plug
in a dynamic mic (there’s no phantom power for condensers) and/
or a guitar or bass, and you can record a stereo track of your live or
sequenced keyboard performance, plus whatever’s plugged into the
back. One corner that’s cut to hit the rock bottom price: there’s MIDI
over USB, but no five-pin MIDI jacks.
They’re good. Really good. The grand piano is startlingly good
when you remind yourself that it’s coming out of a $500 keyboard.
The electric pianos, from dark and smoky to tinkly and sparkly, are
satisfyingly dynamic. Even the tremolo sounds authentic, though you
can’t have tremolo and chorus at the same time—it’s one or the other in
the same DSP effect slot.
The preset Organ bank is full of workman-like Hammond sounds,
plus church organ sounds that are perfect for your annual re-creation
of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. Well-rendered, musical, and very
expressive guitar and bass sounds are on hand. Many of the distorted
guitar patches benefit from actual distortion from the built-in DSP
effects, as opposed to that cheezoid, sampled-in distortion we all loathe,
and the basses—acoustic, electric, and synthesized—are booty-licious.
I loved several of the String patches, including both variations of “70’s
String.” Very analog-esque, but with a vaguely vocal-formant timbre that gave them a distinct character. A great selection lives in the Synth bank,
including analog-like staples and even a few recreations of Roland D-50
sounds. Based solely on the factory sounds, you could easily throw
down a bar-band gig on this Casio. The built-in speakers do a fair job of
showcasing the sounds without undue coloration, but things definitely
open up when you play through external amplification.
< The CTK-7000 is identical to the WK-7500 except for having 61 keys and costing about $100 less.
Editing is limited to attack and release of the volume envelope;
filter cutoff (no resonance); vibrato type, depth, rate, and delay; octave
shift ; touch response; reverb and chorus sends; and DSP effect type,
with various parameters according to type. It ain’t full synthesis, but
Tone editing (and a bank to store your custom Tones) is not something
you’d expect from a product in this category or at this price. Nice.
Six alternate tunings are European, and ten more are Indian and
Middle Eastern. You can set the root note of your temperament, and
whether your choice affects the accompaniment. Rajasthani karaoke
Impressively, the WK-7500 and CTK-7000 offer drawbar
organ simulation, complete with nine sliders (these double as mixer
faders in auto-accompaniment and sequencer modes) and a rotary
speaker simulator. Any good? A bit of a mixed bag, but yes. The big
disappointment is that each drawbar has only three possible levels,
so you can’t dial up Hammond registrations verbatim. For example,
58 6000 311 would most closely translate as 23 2000 111, and would
sound significantly different. For commonly-used organ sounds
where any drawbar is either at maximum or zero (“888,” just the 16'
and 1', etc.), you’re obviously fine.
At this price, you might not expect simulated dirt or tonewheel
leakage, but the WK has it—you can choose between pure sine and
“vintage” waves. Th e harmonic percussion sounds authentic and
triggers correctly as well. No vibrato/chorus effect is available, but
the simu-Leslie is serviceable. Realism can be enhanced a bit in the
Tone Editor, which yields a better-quality overdrive than expected.
At extreme settings, it’s completely fizzy, so Marshall-head-througha-
Leslie sounds are out of bounds, but when used with restraint, the
overdrive sounds downright pleasing.
Bümchukkaland. That’s where we’re headed, right? Well, yes.
The WK’s preset rhythms do go into expected and oft -ridiculed
territory, but they have to. I liked “NewOrlns R&R,” which put me
vaguely in mind of Thomas Dolby’s song “Silk Pyjamas.” I couldn’t
help but smile while playing dominant seventh chords on “Dixie,”
with its banjo and bendy trombone parts. The more current styles
represented (“Dance” and some Rock presets with “Alt” in the
name) are maybe a little bland, but Casio is going for the broadest
possible appeal here. While I couldn’t propose, straight-faced, to
my band that we use the WK’s auto-accompaniment in place of the
custom-programmed backing elements in our live show, they sound
a lot less like a musical vending machine than you might remember
from the last time you played an auto-accompaniment keyboard
anywhere near this price.
Multiple chord fingering modes mean beginners can make instant
music while more accomplished musicians can voice chords exactly
as they’d like. The WK-7500 can handle bass substitutions (D major
over F#, for example) or even scan the full keyboard (not just the left -
hand fingering mode) to interpret your chordal intentions on the fly. We’d expect that on more expensive arranger keyboards, but it was a
pleasant surprise here.
An even bigger surprise for the price is the pattern recorder, which
lets you compose your own rhythms and accompaniment styles. Like
the factory styles, these can have different subsections that you’d trigger
during performance (verse, chorus, fill, etc.) and of course, respond to
your chord changes in real time. This is a big deal, as it lets you replace
any perceived cheese factor in the factory styles, or craft custom backing
parts for covers or original tunes.
There’s a 32-track sequencer hiding under the hood. Sixteen tracks are
for recording and playing back the built-in accompaniment tracks, and
the other 16 are available to the Song sequencer. It’s a mite confusing
at first; the Song sequencer can either use the 16 auto-accompaniment
tracks or not—your call. Either way, you get 16 tracks to record whatever
you like. Obviously this means you can use the WK-7500 like you would
any full-blown pro keyboard workstation.
A special System Track records all panel-related data: tempo, time
signature, split points, sound selection, and so forth. This also records
you hitting the fill-in/variation buttons or changing Tones. Mixer fader
moves aren’t recorded, but Part on/off button presses are. Replace and
overdub record modes are available on all tracks, but there’s no undo, so
if you flub an overdub, you’ll have to “Clear” the track and start again.
Automatic punch-in is also offered.
It’s a highly capable sequencer, with measure delete/insert, track
copy/merging, and editing all the way down to the event level (via an
old-school MIDI event list). The overall experience isn’t as luxurious
or speedy as on a pro-grade $2,500 workstation that has fancy color
graphics; there’s more button pressing and scrolling to do here.
The WK-7500 lets you record a live keyboard and vocal/instrument
performance, with or without auto-accompaniment. You can also play
back a sequence you’ve recorded while playing or singing along. There’s
no audio editing onboard; everything simply gets printed as a stereo file
to an inserted SD card, and cards of up to 32GB are supported.
You can also play back audio or Standard MIDI files from a card.
You have to format the card on the WK, which will create a folder
called “Musicdat,” then plug the card into a reader connected to your
computer. At that point, you can drag WAV or MP3 files into the
“Musicdat” folder, then put the card back in the WK and play the files.
Obviously, this is crazy useful for backing your live performance with
tracks you’ve craft ed in your studio. The “Musicdat” folder is also where
recordings made on the WK appear, so you can drag them into your
computer for further work.
Five hundred bucks? Seriously? Sure, there are compromises. The WK-
7500 clearly isn’t intended to compete with four-figure heavyweights,
but it’s a knockout to have around for jamming, songwriting, and
getting ideas down. Being able to add live vocals or instruments
to internal arrangements and later transfer that recording to your
computer is a huge upside. It’s not multitrack audio, but for most things
I’d do while away from my home studio, I’d rather use the WK-7500
than my portable digital multitrack. Tuck the WK under your arm and
head to an open mic night. Take it with you on the road for making
quick demos. In high school and joining your first band? Unless Mom
and Dad are willing to pony up for a $2,500 workstation (if they are, be
grateful and keep your grades up), ask for one of these and get jamming.
If they need convincing, tell them the WK-7500 won our Key Buy award
for its outstanding value.
06-2011 Casio WK-7500 User-Created Accompaniment Style by KeyboardMag
*Audio example of user-created accompaniment style.
PROS Wicked price/performance ratio. Excellent sounds. Powerful arpeggiator
and sequencer. Drawbar organ mode onboard. Lets you create and trigger
your own auto-accompaniment styles.
CONS Keyboard feel isn’t for everyone. Sequencer editing can be tedious. No
XLR mic input or 5-pin MIDI.
CONCEPT Do-everything, take-anywhere arranger workstation and
songwriter demo factory.
POLYPHONY 64 voices.
SYNTHESIS TYPE Sample playback; individual drawbar control
for organ sounds.
SEQUENCER 32 tracks: 16 for accompaniment and 16 for
WEIGHT 19.6 lbs.
PRICE List: $699.99
Approx. street: $500