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  WK-1800 At a Glance
Click for larger view arrowReleased: 2000  Specifications
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tommyde (tommyde@compuserve.com) writes:
The Casio WK-1800 Discount warehouse review ~~~~~~~

As a member of the Society Of Gigs And Gigging Musicians Everywhere (SOGAGME), I'm always on the lookout for keyboards that sound good, transport easily, and provide good family values (read this as "cheap").

I discovered the WK-1800's sibling, the 1600, in a Sam's Club during the pre-Christmas shopping crunch. The muted silver case with the bright blue display looked more appealing than the lines of Yuletide delay at the checkout lanes, so I wandered over to its long 76 note keyboard and played a few chords. Wow! What a nice piano sound from a ... what is this thing? A Casio? Oh please, what's a nice piano like you doing in a Casio?

An hour later, when the crowds had thinned around the checkstands, a new crowd had gathered around this shiny Christmas toy. And I had played my first gig of the Christmas season on a Casio keyboard in a discount warehouse! For free! Yes, the board got my attention.

So I sought out my local keyboard dealer, found the WK-1800 model with the disk drive, and after running it through it's paces for a few more hours, knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas. Besides world peace, of course.

Sheesh, the spirit of Casio Christmas past must have overtaken me.

The Facts ina Nutshell: The WK-1800 is a programmable 76 key, 32 note polyphonic, auto-accompaniment and auto-arranging/synth/sequencer/drum-machine and General MIDI soundboard, with built-in 5W+5W stereo speakers, and a floppy disk drive thrown in for good measure.

Highpoints:

- sounds are programmable (32 user-patch locations). The synthesizer allows for two pcm samples per sound program, so the more wimpy sounding GM instruments can be fattened up.

- control layout is excellent, with dedicated buttons for most commonly used functions. Cursor keys, + & - keys for data adjusting (no data wheel - sob), most needed buttons for live playing are located on the panel area right above the keyboard. Performance controls surround the large central display.

- very legible, brightly backlit display, contrast adjustable, with grand staff note display plus onscreen keyboard display for played and MIDI received notes. WOW! This large display is as well-organized and useful as I've seen in any synth.

- onboard speakers/bass ports deliver good sound quality without the need for an extra amp (usable for small rooms; with the volume set at 50%, it's about as loud as an unamplified grand piano)

- the lightweight plastic cabinet is a super-cool silver-grey color (appearance is everything), and the bright blue display glowing in the center of the main panel is a very inviting sight. Contrary to Casio's kiddiekeyboards, this machine looks awesome and ready to fire phasers.

- 76 keys (E1-G7 {Middle C=C4} ) and it only

- weighs 21lbs.

- if you need to sequence or practice in the back of the band van, will do all of the above running on 6 D cell batteries!

- it carries a street price of $400 US

- the disk drive will read standard MIDI files (SMF0) - Yay!

Lowpoints:

- the disk drive will not write standard MIDI files... BOO, and really inexcusable at any price point; providing a read capability of a format, but not a write function. I have to keep reminding myself that this keyboard is not intended for the pro market, and things like this zinger make that all too clear.

- rhythm section lacks a tap tempo function ( tap tempo is an "must have" feature on these auto-boards for live performance). Casio could toss out the melody auto-harmonize function and use the button and code-space for a dedicated tap button.

- lack of an "always on" tempo LED (of course, coupled to the tap button). When you set a tempo, do you think, "The tempo should be at 128bpm", or "the pocket should be HERE... tap...tap...tap... blink ---blink ---blink... yeah, right there! Tempo LED is necessary, or you'll wind up babysitting the rhythm section instead of playing.

- pcm sample table omitted from the manual, along with the other vital program data, such as the pre-set amplitude and pitch envelopes etc.

- manual is printed using a footnote-sized typeface. Alright, nobody reads them, who cares as long as there are support and user sites.

- sustain pedal switch-polarity is not software selectable. The excellent Roland DP-6 sustain pedal won't work with this board. I purchased a switchable pedal that works fine, but it slips around since it's not a DP-6.

- non-intuitive, slightly confusing choices between the "Enter", "Start/Stop", and cursor buttons to select menu functions. Not a big deal once you get the interface under your fingers.

Wishlist:

The WK-1800 seems to fill quite a few slots on the SOGAGME wishlist. The built-in speakers/amp solve the hassle of amplifier placement in cramped setup areas. Since they are pointed up and angled slightly toward the player, volume complaints from people seated too near the line of speaker fire are eliminated. On a stage venue, the built-ins become monitor speakers. The stupid, clunky monitor amp can sometimes stay at home.

WK's 76 keys also fix most of the complaints we keyboard players have about working on the shorty-boards.

The disk drive is indispensable for chain-playing music for our fabulous intermissions.

The total weight of 21lbs. makes this the winner of the "76-key tote-me-everywhere" award.

The soundset, while not great overall, has enough useful sounds for live gigging. Some of the factory presets, at location #130 and up, are excellent. Try #157 for a lovely strings/english horn pad. Play the intro to E.T. Yes, Ell-i-ott! The organs are heavy hitters also. The grandpiano patch, while not Kurzweil great, is very usable as a solo voice, and layers well with the other kids on the soundblock.

The $400 price is so good that gigging players may want one to keep one in the back of the van as a backup board. ("Yes, I'm sorry to hear about the fire in your piano, ma'am, but for an extra charge I can bring in my super-digitally-empowered keyboard").

In my opinion, the WK-1800 needs three major improvements to become a preference of the SOGAGME set.

1) MIDI file write capability. If the box can read them, it should also write them. 2) Tempo LED. We often play out in low light situations. An "always ON" tempo LED is what keeps us in the right groove. 3) TapTempo button. It's amazing how quickly I became attached to this feature on my old Roland E series board. The Alesis SR16 drum machine also has this necessary button, as do most of the other auto-arranging boards. Hey, Casio... add the Tap to everything you make, including the watches.

Summary:

As a lifetime menber of SOGAGME, I recommend the WK-1800, with the above-mentioned reservations, for pro use. It accomplishes many of the daily chores that musicians demand of their keyboards. It's fun to play around with, sounds good, and is a fairly simple introduction to the world of electronic music-making. At a street price of only $400, it's an inexpensive addition to any computer system or gigging setup. And, since its 76 note keyboard will drive any module via MIDI, it could serve as an ultra-lightweight controller board for those venues where you don't want to lug the big keyboard hoss out of the studio-barn.

I'm definitely going to investigate Casio's new MZ-2000 board when it debuts.

But I'm laying off the free concerts at discount warehouses... that is, until next Christmas.

- tommyde ~ 2/9/2001

Comments About the Sounds:
FYI, I prefer a 5 point rating system instead of four, because you have the option of using #3, average. I consider the WK-1800 sounds overall to be about average for a GM synth.Many of the factory patches (#130 and above) are very good. And many of the GM type patches are thin and generically General MIDI sounding dreck. The organs, in particular, sound very good, and are among the most useful presets onboard.The main patch on this board is #000 Grand Piano, and it sounds good. Not Kurzweil great, but it's better than many of the piano patches that come with sample-playback synths, and it's usable as a solo voice.

(Thanks to tommyde for this info.)

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