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 jams, anyone?
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.
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 song recording.
WEIGHT 19.6 lbs.
PRICE List: $699.99
Approx. street: $500