WHAT IT ISN’T: AN ANALOG MODELING SYNTH, THOUGH IT PROCESSES
sampled analog waves (and plenty of digital waves, too) through a well-rendered
DSP simulation of analog filters. It isn’t a workstation, though it has intriguingly
powerful multiple sequencers, one of which can even control external
sound sources. It isn’t an arranger, though it can trigger sequences and arpeggios
from keystrokes the way an arranger can.
What it is: a highly impressive, versatile, powerful,
fun instrument that can work itself into all
kids of gigs. The XW-P1 has plenty of raw materials
to fill a weekend warrior’s needs, whether
those weekends are spent in bars, clubs, hotel
lobbies, art and wine festivals, or churches. Minus
the six D batteries you’ll need if you don’t
use the included AC adapter, the XW-P1 is just
a little heavier than your guitar player’s favorite
Les Paul. A non-skid pad at the right end is ready
to hold your iOS device. In our tests, cell phone
proximity induced no noise in the synth’s output.
Pure electronic sounds—analog and digital—are
the XW-P1’s first foot forward. Warmth isn’t
lacking. In fact, there’s so much energy in the low
mids that I wondered whether Casio applied a
fixed EQ curve at the output stage. Whatever the
case, boatloads of synth waves are available. You
see “CZ” a lot as you scroll through them, and fair
enough—Casio’s vintage CZ synths are only now
being properly appreciated. “MG” and “JP” waves
announce their origins loud and clear as well.
They run through nine-stage volume and filter
envelopes, which can be clock-triggered in addition
to note-triggered. The samples are short-ish,
and some of them loop awkwardly in the top
octaves. Others alias quite obviously when you
use the pitch-bender. Now, the success of Casio’s
Privia stage pianos proves that they can capture
high-quality wave data and assemble it into musically
accurate sounds, so these anomalies must
have been included intentionally. Lo-fi samplers
like the Ensoniq Mirage and Casio’s own SK series
trade briskly online today, so perhaps Casio
is after some of that mojo. The fact that preset
0-0, “XW SoloSynth,” whistles and whines like
there’s no tomorrow proves they’ve embraced
“rude.” The dark side of rude? Sweeping parameters
with the four knobs often reveals audible
stepping; no smooth filter sweeps.
Hex Layer mode, as its name indicates, lets you
layer up to six sounds. These have to be from the
PCM bucket; the Solo Synth or Drawbar Organ
modes are off limits. But you can still get plenty
fat, and—somewhat shockingly on a modern
synth—even overload the output bus if you want:
Push all six layers to the max using the realtime
mixing sliders, and call yourself Cap’n Crunch. Bug
or feature? Who cares? I like it.
Here’s a gonzo feature I’ve not seen on any
other keyboard lately: the ability to run everything
through the same resonant lowpass filter
and DSP effects at once. Yup—drums, arpeggiated
or sequenced riffs, the sound you’re playing live,
everything. In Performance mode, the mixer
screen shows the option “mixer all.” Pick this, and
the DSP effects applied will be those active on
the current Solo Synth sound—plus that sound’s
filter settings. This is great for DJ- or remixer-style
mangling of the entire mix.
Samples of acoustic and electric (non-synth)
instruments abound as well, and they’re very
good. For gigging or composing, the acoustic and
electric pianos are far more than good enough.
Drums, basses, guitars, accordions, winds, brass,
strings—name it, it’s here, and it won’t give you
A word about the DSP eff ects would have to
mention the four-band parametric EQ, swimmy
chorus, aggressive flanger and trippy phaser, serviceable
reverbs (they sound a little metallic and
less diff use than I’d like, but they’ll do), distortion
from subtle to ravening, and Edge-from-U2-
worthy delays. They don’t match Motif/Fantom/
PC3 quality, but then, they live in a keyboard
that streets for $499.
Quarter-inch mic and instrument jacks appear
alongside a stereo mini jack. Any of these—
one at a time—can be routed through the XWP1’
s filter and effects. You can even trigger the
filter envelope with the audio input.
Clonewheel sound and functionality is much
improved over the last Casio we tested that had
it, the WK-7500 (reviewed June ’11). The XW-P1
offers all eight volume levels per drawbar as opposed
to the WK’s three, and they update in real
time. There’s also a more realistic simu-Leslie with
tonally improved (but still overcrisped) distortion.
Convincing vibrato/chorus is still missing,
but if you’re not a B-3 tone obsessive, this organ
is good. Using it onstage wasn’t quite one of those
“Yesss!” moments, but I was humbled by how well
it held up in the mix. It’d be nice to be able to put
custom drawbar sounds with rotary effects into a
Hex Layer, but there is a workaround: Choose an
organ wave from among the presets for your Hex
Layer. You can easily get that icy Pink Floyd organ
layered with whatever you like.
Arpeggiator and Sequencers
Yes, as in plural, and we’ll start with the arpeggiator.
A hundred preset arpeggio patterns and
another hundred locations for user arpeggios
nullify any objections about variety. Step-type
arpeggios can contain up to 16 steps, and can be
set to start from the lowest note played, highest
note played, or they can play with up to five-note
polyphony. You define notes in the pattern by
how many semitones they are away from the
note you play on the keyboard, and each step’s
velocity can be specified. You can also specify the
“step size” or note value: quarter, eighth, eighthnote
triplet, sixteenth, sixteenth-note triplet,
and 32nd. Further, you decide the length of the
note sounded within each step, from 100 percent
of the note value to 50 percent.
The Step Edit screen is pretty painless, but
here’s a place where you’re aware you’re working
with a $500 keyboard rather than a $2,000 one:
There’s no graphic of what’s going on, just a list,
so you’ll need to know the tonal center of your
riff and how many semitones away each step
should be. That, or use the eight sliders to edit
step values directly; a button toggles them between
steps 1-8 and 9-16. You can turn the steps
themselves on or off using the 16 buttons above
the nine sliders. Lit buttons indicate active steps.
Arpeggios can hold upon key-up or start and stop
(and sync) with the Step Sequencer (more on that
in a bit). Overall, it’s not totally unlike working
with a vintage groovebox or analog sequencer.
Then there’s the Phrase Sequencer, which the
manual calls a scratch pad but is usable in lots
of other ways. It records input from the pedal,
wheels, and knobs in addition to keystrokes, and
can do so in multiple passes in overdub mode.
Again, 100 preset phrases and 100 user phrases
of up to 1,600 notes each offer you lots of variety.
Odd meters are supported; wildly, whether you’re
an electro-pop disciple, a Dave Brubeck fan, or a
prog monster, the XW-P1’s Phrase Sequencer will
Wait—there’s more! The Step Sequencer uses
the scheme Roland more or less invented for
the TR-808. You get nine tracks for instruments
and four for recording MIDI controller moves;
you can apply each control track to your instrument track of choice, and steps can play melodic
notes as well as drum hits. You can also choose
the MIDI out per track: USB, five-pin, or both.
Anyone making electronic dance music doesn’t
need me to tell them that messing around with
this is just as fun as it is on a TR-808, and our
resident EDM expert Francis Prève agreed:
“Used in conjunction with the drum grooves,
the Step Sequencer delivered really cool results
right off the bat.”
The Step and Phrase sequencers can run together,
and although they’re clock-locked, they’re
not necessarily beat-locked, meaning you can
trigger a phrase from the front-panel button or
a keystroke while the Step Sequencer is playing,
whether it’s “in time” or not.
A weekend worship gig brought the XW-P1 into
a rig that includes a Roland RD700-GX, a Korg
BX-3 organ, a MicroKorg, sometimes Logic/
MainStage, and sometimes Reason. The XW-P1
did not embarrass itself in the company of all
these other instruments.
I needed a mono lead with a ghosted, overdriven
pad behind it and a tempo-synced delay.
Hex Layer mode let me nail it, and the Tap
Tempo button let me match the drummer’s
count-off. Another tune wanted a warm pad,
and rather than going to my usual on the RD-
700, I Hex-Layered an impressively fat analog
pad with Prophet-like character, a couple of
detuned sawtooth patches mixed really low,
something that was surely Fairlight’s “ARR”
sample, and a PWM sound low in the mix that
animated against the two detuned saw sounds.
It was flat-out gorgeous.
It’s funny—the slight opacity of the interface
(compared to workstations at four times the
price or more) made experimentation more fun
for me, and reminded me of the hours I once
happily burned peering into the displays of my
Ensoniq ESQ-1 and Roland W-30.
Working with the preset drum kits and patterns,
electronica producer Francis Prève was
able to quickly customize a groove by turning
steps on and off and nudging the sliders, which
changed the drum sample assigned to the various
steps. Moving the master slider changed all
of the drums simultaneously. “For grooves with
a world or tribal flavor, the Step Sequencer delivers
instant inspiration,” he observed. “For synth
riffs, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but you’ll
get results you wouldn’t get using standard sequencing
The XW-P1 is a provocateur that offers a compelling
argument for spending less. Casio says they
had the Korg PS60 (reviewed Oct. ’10) in their
sights. I get it—Hex Layer mode in particular is
similarly useful. But the PS60 doesn’t have multiple
sequencers, a true drawbar organ mode, or
audio inputs. This seems like Casio’s first salvo in
a new assault on pro keyboard territory. If this
is any indication of where they’re headed, look
out. The XW-P1 is a clear Key Buy for its excellent
sound, solid arpeggiator and sequencers, delightfully
insane ancillary features, light physical
weight, and low price.
PROS Very good synth and
acoustic sounds. Flexible
and capable arpeggiator
and sequencers. Does pretty
and ugly equally well.
MIDI over USB and 5-pin
MIDI can be addressed
separately. Lightweight and
CONS Display is Casio’s best
in a while but still limited.
Aliasing and grunge on
some synth sounds won’t be
to everyone’s taste.
The price of entry into serious
standalone pro keyboards hits a new
$699.99 list | $499.99 street
POLYPHONY 64 voices.
SYNTH TYPES Monophonic
analog-style solo synth, 400
PCM-based polyphonic sounds,
drawbar organ mode. “Hex Layers”
can consist of up to six PCM
SEQUENCING Phrase sequencer,
13-track Step Sequencer, and
WEIGHT 11.9 lbs.
We got an early look at Casio Data Manager 6 while it was still in beta. It looks
to be a great resource for programming and shuttling data between XW and
computer. I’d have been happier to be able to edit sequences in addition to
the synth parameters shown here, but no dice—yet.