Lagrange Audio Writes: You might have noticed from my previous blogs that I don't do reviews. The main reason for this is that there are plenty of other people out there doing them and none better than Sonic State.
However Nick's a busy bloke and he can't cover everything so maybe I'll help him out a little here. Our subject then will be Virtual CZ from Plugin Boutique (http://www.pluginboutique.com/), a team effort lead by Oli Larkin (http://www.olilarkin.co.uk/index.php?p=virtualcz). However we are also going to touch on a little about Casio's Phase Distortion Synthesis and use Virtual CZ as our reference point, so hopefully a little more than just a review.
In the mid 1980's Casio joined the synthesizer 'club' in many respects with their line of CZ synthesizers. Known as a member of the big Japanese 'four' they wouldn't however stay in this space for terribly long. The VZ models would keep them involved until the latter part of the decade but they would then step out of synths for a long period until very recently with the release of the much anticipated XW-P1 (see our review) and G1 models.
Retrosound CZ-101 Demo
The CZ range was pretty varied ranging from the 49 mini-key CZ-101 right through to the flagship CZ-1. There were also 'S' versions of some of these models as well that featured onboard speakers, just think Roland Juno-106S and you get the idea. The CZ synths looked good, sounded like, well themselves and sold pretty well and still command attention today. For many the accessible price point introduced digital synthesis to a lot of people for the first time.
What strikes you immediately about Virtual CZ (AU, VST2/3, AAX and standalone) is the UI and how it captures the aesthetic of a Casio CZ synth. That's important because it makes no bones about the fact this is a direct emulation of a Casio CZ synth in a landscape populated with a reasonable number of very good Phase Distortion (PD) emulations, quite a few of them 'inspired' by Casio's hardware from the mid 80's. But Virtual CZ is clearly focused on the CZ and not just about PD, that's the fundamental difference here.
So why am I interested? Well for that I'm going to take you back a bit. I bought my first synth in 1984 and that was a Korg Poly 800. It had very basic MIDI at a time when MIDI was very new and something that I was and still am, quite excited about. So with my limited budget I had to go get another synth to connect it to, enter the Casio CZ-101 the following year. Aside from being comparatively cheap the CZ-101 also featured a synthesis engine similar to Frequency Modulation or FM, which esoterically I am also interested in. This brochure probably didn't help matters in that regard either in terms of fueling my interest:
So the CZ-101 kind of met both of my requirements. Now I am not going to get into a huge amount of technical detail about Phase Distortion, we will get there soon enough and there are plenty of websites out there that can explain it far better than I however I will in the first instance point you to Jon Hodgson's excellent article over at GForce Software (http://gforcesoftware.com/extras/syntharchive/casio-cz-101) which serves as great background.
All the modules in the miniMOD range together in a standalone keyboard