All classic synths deserve a software emulation. ARP, Moog, Prophet and now...er...Casio. Andy Jones sees (or Cz) why...
I've interviewed many hundreds of musicians over the last two or three decades and each one of them has a favourite classic synth or three.
The most common names are, of course, Moog, Roland (Jupiter, Juno, TB, TR...), Prophet, Korg, Yamaha... all the old favourites. But one name that comes up more than it should especially given that its mother company is now perhaps unfairly known more for ‘home’ keyboards than anything else – is the ‘CZ range’. Or, more specifically, the ‘Casio CZ range’.
See? It's Easy…
The original hardware range employed a type of digital synthesis that relied on phase distortion to fatten things up. The range used up to 16 oscillators (eight on earlier models) – and therefore 16 notes of polyphony depending on the sound used. Analogue fans probably embraced the architecture because of the resonant waveforms that gave it an analogue edge and also the familiar modulators. Digital fans liked it because it was simple compared to, say, FM, which was the backbone of the engine in Yamaha's DX series.
With Virtual CZ, Plugin Boutique has stuck with many of these features including the phase distortion and (up to) 8 stage envelope. The software even acts as a SysEx editor/librarian if you are lucky enough to have the original hardware (CZ-1, CZ-101, CZ-1000, CZ-3000 and CZ-5000) and, of course, this being software, you get bonus features too. These include full graphical displays for envelopes and velocity settings, 32 notes of polyphony, added effects and a couple of hundred (great) presets.
Sound wise it’s bang on the money. Rasping, ravey, phasey, and surprisingly beefy - all the elements that have made so many people admire the CZ range over the years. There are some great squelchy, almost analogue basses, a fantastically deep jungle sub bass or two, plenty of in your face lead sounds and many elements that are finding favour (again) in today’s brasher and bassier dance music. Just stepping through the five banks on offer (with the VST version – this does vary depending in the format you use) greets you with everything from heavenly sonic pads to dirty in your face bass.
This variety is thanks largely to the synth’s architecture which is well worth getting your head around. Lowering the polyphony essentially allows you to fatten sounds up with unison and the 8-stage envelopes add enormous flexibility. It will take a slight shift in synth understanding – we’re talking ‘lines’ of oscillators and Digitally Controlled Waveshaping rather than filter – but you will be start to understand how the engine can produce such varied results and therefore quickly realize why so many people hold the originals in such high esteem. (And it’s nowhere near as hard as other digital synthesis methods such as FM so be happy to spend the time learning!)
If you are sick of real analogue, virtual analogue and a sea of classic analogue emulations, this is a must-buy, if only to realize that digital wasn’t as bad as we all make out. This is an accessible, highly flexible and, most importantly, a hugely inspirational synth.
- Emulates original CZ range synth engine
- VST2, VST3, AU and AAX plug-in formats
- SysEx librarian for original hardware
- Two phase distortion oscillators
- Six envelope generators
- 32-voice polyphony
- 200 presets included, ‘1000s available on-line’
- MusicTech Verdict
- Stunning and surprisingly varied sounds
- You'll realise why the originals are so well regarded
- As easy as digital synthesis gets
- Just like the originals
- Just like the originals! (the interface might be off-putting)
Virtual CZ is a real gem of a synth in a world that has become obsessed with analogue. A must-buy to increase your sonic palette.
Original Source - MusicTech Magazine.