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September 11, 2008 | Reviewer: Stu Hosking

casio-ctk-5000Casio has been building the suspense on the pending release of their new CTK portable keyboard line up and now its time to see if they live up to the buzz.
Before we start I have to say that in the past it’s been easy to be a bit flippant about portable keyboards, “seen one, seen them all”.  Many in the past have promised “connectivity” and “creativity” and sadly fallen short of the mark.So, when I received the newly announced Casio CTK-5000 and CTK-3000 I launched into my playtime with them not expecting too much to have changed from my last encounter.

On the surface the CTK-5000 looks very familiar … all the usual suspects are here, tones, rhythms and song bank. First surprise pops up here, the tones are really nice! Given that the keyboard in these models is touch sensitive and the piano tone sounds like a real piano, it looks like this highly touted new AHL  sound source is right on the money.  Of course the 2-way speakers in the 5000 model really help you appreciate the stereo piano sounds with adjustable digital reverb thrown in.
On-board sampling is a feature out of left field in a keyboard at this price, the CTK-5000 has 5 program slots allocated to sampled sounds with a max time of 10 seconds (1 second on the CTK-3000) and once you plug your iPod or mic in and do the obligatory funny samples,  this feature is actually very usable both as melodic instruments, and as percussion sounds within drum kits  and the innovative loop feature where you can use the bank buttons under the screen to trigger the sampled sounds or drum loops “groovebox” style while you play over the top, nice.

We’re off to a good start.

Also among the range of the 670 sounds in the CTK-5000 (CTK-3000 has 400) are your standard 128 General midi sounds and drum kits which comes in useful when connecting the Casio to your computer, and this is where the “connectivity” promise is tested and passed with flying colours. Connection is indeed simple, the built-in USB connection means one cable and you’re ready to go, no hassles, so using these models as a quick and easy keyboard with your favourite PC/MAC software is a breeze and they even allow for sending the accompaniment data out to the computer for you to edit … Slick.

But before you even connect to your Mac or PC, the keyboard gives you plenty of options built-in. Along with the sampling, the addition of pitch bend wheel and arpeggiator, there is the standard rhythm mode featured on most portable keyboards but on the CTK-5000 new rhythm editor it allows you to dig into those accompaniments to edit them to your liking, including changing the drum kits.

The on-board keyboard recorder is also a nice touch and it allows you record 5 songs each with 6 tracks along side each other, this is where the 48 note polyphony really helps out so that you don’t have cut off notes in more complex phrases. All of this would be crippled without a means of backing up your data, but thankfully this has been thought of and the CTK-5000 allows you to save your song recorder data along with user rhythms and samples to either SD-card or via USB to your computer.

Another new feature on these CTK models is the “Step up lesson system,” the idea being to enable you to listen to the song you want to learn, then watch the LCD as the keyboard shows you the notes/keys  and which fingers to use, then play along with the backing as you learn. Similar systems have been around before, and this “step up” system builds on these to feel very natural as you learn pieces from the easiest (twinkle twinkle) to the more challenging. The backing even slows down and waits for you if you’re struggling, then helps you along with a reminder tone for the pitch of the note and a voice prompt for which finger to use next. The phrase based teaching makes the learning easy, and this piano teacher doesn’t smell anything like MOTHBALLS!

One small peeve is the way the manual refers to buttons by number not by the button name  which can make for a little frustration , but making a photocopy of the button layout page as a “cheat sheet “ cured this problem.

CTK-5000 VS CTK-3000. Neither of these keyboards could be called expensive, both offer excellent value, the 3000 lacks some of the more advanced features of the CTK-5000 like on-board rhythm editing but still retains the important  traits, quality sounds, easy computer connectivity and the phrase based  lesson system which make it a bargain, not to mention it’s also touch sensitive . For my money though the expanded feature set of the CTK-5000 along with its punchier speakers will be remembered and welcome long after you forget the extra $ spent.

Looks like Casio have lived up to their promises with the new range of keyboards and delivered something special.

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