Kurzweil PC3K8

January 1, 2011
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PC3K8_MAIN.jpgIn my review of the original Kurzweil PC3 in December 2008, I praised its huge selection of gig-ready sounds, incredibly deep synthesis engine, and seamless melding of sample-based, virtual analog, and clonewheel (virtual B-3 organ) sound-making in one instrument. We awarded it a Key Buy.

Kurzweil devotees who wanted to replace their aging K series workstations or PC2 stage pianos had waited a long time for the PC3, which combined and updated elements of both. Where the PC2 upgraders were generally pleased as punch, the K series power users lamented the absence of two features: compatibility with sounds they’d spent years acquiring and tweaking for the K2000, K2500, and K2600, and a way to host the user samples on which many of those sounds were based.

Now, the PC3K aims specifically at those needs. Plus, its user sample memory is non-volatile flash, so any samples you’ve loaded will survive a power-off and not need to be reloaded. This review will focus on what’s new and different about the PC3K. Since its factory sounds, synth engine, and sequencing features are otherwise the same as the PC3, you can read about them in the original review, which we’ve re-upped at keyboardmag.com/article/90823. I realize that begs the question, “C’mon, are the sounds as good two years later?” Um, yeah—as do-it-all gig keyboards, the PC3 and PC3K still rock.

PC3K8_OUTPUTS.jpgBuild and Action
Currently available in 88 weighted keys only (hence the “8” in the full model number), the PC3K changes the PC3’s indigo finish to black, and the sideboards are of hardwood from Young Chang’s piano factory. It’s the classiest looking Kurzweil since the five-figure Audio Elite System of the mid-’90s.

The PC3 I reviewed in 2008 had the semi-weighted action. The fully weighted version in the PC3K (and PC3X) features matte-textured black keys. Its marriage to percussive sounds like acoustic and electric piano is superb, and it really lets you bring out all the nuances that come from as many as 15 layers in some of the grand piano Programs and up to the full 32 layers in electric pianos. On synth sounds, the quick key return enabled some of the fastest leads I’ve ever managed on a weighted keyboard. Single- note “machine gun” trills (think Billy Joel’s “Angry Young Man”) required the key to recover almost fully between notes, so alternating index fingers from either hand worked better than the more organ-like technique of drumming two or three fingers of the same hand on the key’s surface.

Loading Sounds
The PC3K supports class-compliant USB, meaning you don’t need a driver. Connected to your Mac or PC, it becomes available to the OS and programs as a MIDI device. Hit the Storage button, select “USB PC connection,” and the PC3K shows up on your desktop as a drive. However, this drive icon only mounts the PC3K’s Program memory, not the sample memory. Therefore, you can only drag-and-drop Program and Setup files (K26, K25, and KRZ files are supported) onto it—dragging a sample file will almost certainly generate a “not enough space” message.

So how do you get samples into the PC3K? You load them—along with associated Programs and Setups—from a thumb drive plugged into the USB device port on the back. Select “USB device” after you’ve hit the Storage button, and the soft keys navigate and choose files. Though the PC3K should see any USB storage device, it won’t power anything beefier than a thumb drive. My advice: Just get the stuff you want onto your computer, from there onto a thumb drive, then into the PC3K.

Kurzweil’s website says the PC3K can play “most K series Programs and Setups,” so I set out to find the limits. Any sound set loaded wholesale with its own sample data works great: Kurzweil sent me their Take 6 vocal library (which sounds fresh even though the a cappella stars recorded it over ten years ago), and in minutes I was shoo-bop-ing my heart out on the keyboard. Custom Rhodes, Clavinet, and orchestral sounds for my K2000 that I’d pulled off old Iomega Zip disks? Check. Hits and patterns I once sampled from TR-808 and MPC60 drum machines? Check. Anything in WAV or AIFF format? Check—subject to the 128MB memory limit, of course.

PC3K8_REAR_DETAIL.jpgIn place of the PC3’s xD memory card slot, the PC3K has a port for USB thumb drives, which are cheaper and far more commonly available.

 

Programs that depended on K series factory ROM are a different matter, as the PC3K has different (and far better) ROM samples. One example: I tried both K2000 and K2500 versions of the well-known Pink Floyd “On the Run” Program by sound designer Daniel Fisher, and the PC3K got only the hi-hat part right. Kurzweil will add full compatibility in a planned ROM expansion, but this shouldn’t be an issue for the majority of users. If you want to load legacy sounds, they’re probably the high-end sort that came with their own samples.

I then tried the KS-B3 sounds that developer Kevin Spargo (ksounds.com) designed for the K2600’s KB3 organ mode. I figured that since the PC3K has KB3, they’d load without a hitch. They loaded, but as soon as I tried to play any of them, the PC3K went silent and only a factory reset or a power cycle got things back to normal. I alerted Kurzweil, and they confirmed that since the PC3 family’s KB3 mode has more parameters and more advanced DSP modeling than that in the K series, old KB3 programs aren’t compatible and confuse the heck out of the machine.

So, the PC3K’s backward compatibility is broad but not perfect. Let’s put this in perspective. I can’t think of any other current synth that lets you load sounds from as far back as 15 years—with no re-sampling, no reconstructing of keymaps, and no reprogramming of synth parameters, no less.

Since the PC3K lacks audio inputs, it can’t be a standalone sampler (though it does respectable sample editing) or a vocoder. To do stuff to audio, you have to load it as a sample. Once you do, it’s fair game for processing using the PC3K’s Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology, and that’s powerful stuff. I’ve elaborated on VAST in other Kurzweil reviews, but for the uninitiated, even the earliest K2000 approximated a “virtual modular” synth comfortably before any soft synth developer had drawn their first graphical patch cable.

WEB EXTRAS:

Conclusions
Who cares about playing old sounds on a new keyboard? For starters, pros who’ve put a lot of time and money into getting those sounds exactly right for a high-pressure gig, but who can’t keep relying on aging hardware that lacks modern connectivity. That so many Kurzweil users fit that description speaks to how much the company got right the first time. If you don’t need to load samples (for backward compatibility or any other reason), the PC3X offers the same factory sounds, weighted action, and all other features at a far lower price. If you do, though, the PC3K combines the best of what’s old and what’s new in the Kurzweil ecosystem. It lets you have your cake and eat it, too.

Specifications

PROS Excellent piano, vintage keys, synth, and orchestral sounds. Integrated analog and tonewheel modeling. Memory retains user samples with power off. Superb action. Broad compatibility with sound libraries created for K2000, K2500, and K2600.

CONS Backward compatibility has exceptions, such as old factory programs and third-party KB3 sounds. No audio inputs for processing external signals live.

PRICE List: $4,190
Approx. street: $3,500
kurzweil.com

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