In 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
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.
Build 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 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.
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.
In 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.
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.
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
PRICE List: $4,190
Approx. street: $3,500