HBATEC international (analogue squarewave keyboard with bizarre sound, accompaniment & programmable analogue rhythm)

This strange analogue instrument looks (besides slightly larger drum pads) almost exactly like the digital Letron MC-3 (see there) and has many similar functions, but it contains totally different hardware and makes a lot of bizarre sound glitches. Possibly it was an obscure predecessor of the latter, I therefore describe here only the differences to my Letron keyboard. The main difference to the MC-3 is that the HBATEC is only 2 note polyphonic and employs real analogue percussion (that can be nicely modified).

The PCB contains the small numbers "89-12", those may be the initial manufacturing date (december 1989) of this instrument.

different main features:



Here you see the row of knobs I
have added.

The brass coloured bar is the sensor contact.
Blue knobs control the drum envelopes.


I really don't know what this strange instrument was intended to be. The case top has on its backside pre- moulded holes for the many LEDs of the Letron MC-3 (but round instead of rectangular ones), and 4 parallel wired OBS sound buttons exist to imitate the Letron's 12 sound button layout. But due to the CPU has more functions than the Letron and the analogue drums are costlier, it makes no sense to be a pirated Letron (besides that a Letron is no well- known brand product commercially worth to be imitated), though it can only be a predecessor. The HBATEC has a "tango" rhythm button where Letron has "rock" (despite that the rock rhythm exists as easteregg also in the HBATEC) and also the sound buttons are labelled differently.

My theory is that either 2 different companies independently(??) imitated a 3rd this way looking brand product keyboard, or (likelier) the manufacturer had first designed the HBATEC hardware with its 28 pin "Zilog KZ 283" CPU for an older instrument, then started to develop the Letron MC-3 and already produced many plastic cases for the new model, but by a technical problem he couldn't finish the new model's ICs in time and though built the old hardware into the new cases, which would explain the pre- moulded LED holes and duplicate sound buttons etc. Strange is also that the manual booklet of my HBATEC (some pages are missing) describes instead an instrument of the name "HBATEC DX", which seems to be rather identical with my MC-3 (e. g. the "500 Miles Away From Home" demo melody is mentioned there). Even more mysterious is that even a 3rd instrument Fujitone 3-A with the same case design was made, which technology and behaviour is extremely similar like the HBATEC, but it has even a few less functions (e.g. no organ chord mode), only a mono amplifier and is based on a 40 pin CPU "KZ381" with the strange brand label "Angeltone". Either this was a predecessor of the HBATEC, or it was even a successor that attempted to replace the Zilog brand CPU (bought from an external company and thus possibly expensive) with a re-designed CPU made by the instrument manufacturer, but he omitted some functions because he didn't manage to get them to work in time. (On the box of my Fujitone 3-A is even a photo of an instrument with the same case but no brand label and button names corresponding to the MC-3.) Later I found the Elta KE-3 toy keyboard, which contains another Zilog CPU with 40 pins and similar main voice sounds (but no percussion), and the case photo on its box shows an Angeltone brand label. Thus it might be that Angeltone was the genuine designer of all these "KZ" keyboard CPUs.

The main voice sounds of the HBATEC are made from squarewave with different pulse widths and generally resemble much the Letron MC-3, but it features a "banjo" with a (rather slowly) ringing mandolin effect and uses more different octave settings (e.g. "piccolo" has a very high pitch). The harsh "clarinet"/ "oboe" sound matches rather the latter name and is harsher than the MC-3 timbres. Also the "xylophone" is a quite harsh sound with the same timbre like the "guitar" - only with shorter envelope. The "harpsichord"/ "clavichord" otherwise uses a dull 1:1 pulse ratio and should be better named "music box" or "cowbell" or "celesta"; also the "banjo" uses this timbre. Like on MC-3, also here the OBS sound select buttons can be abused for realtime sound changes, although the HBATEC always restarts the envelope of held notes when any of these (and various other) buttons are pressed. A little nasty is that this instrument employs a "last note priority" scheme in that when (without accompaniment) 2 simultaneous notes are played and a 3rd key is accidentally touched (e. g. by pressing a key before completely releasing another one) the first of the 2 previous notes is shut off to play the note of the newly pressed key. This can be unpleasant when 1 key is hold down with the left hand in the intention to play a continuous bass tone while the right hand shall play a monophonic melody to it, because an accidentally touched 3rd key during this can stop the bass tone which is quite confusing, despite it may help a lot to train discipline to hit keys more precisely. Especially annoying is that also by very fast play the instrument truncates the note of a held key to re-use its channel to keep the release phase of a previous note played with the other hand. (Some small Casio and Bontempi keyboards have a similar flaw.)

If you want an easily playable squarewave instrument, then one with MC-3 hardware is certainly better suited to fulfil this need; also its 4 note polyphony are an argument for it. But the HBATEC is (IMO) the more interesting beast - simply because its behaves so bizarre in many ways and one can do so many strange sounds on it. It also seems to sound somewhat warmer (almost a Minimoog- like timbre?), while the Letron is more like a C64. The HBATEC is also way more fascinating for circuit bending due to its analogue hardware and the lots of separate sound output lines of its CPU.

Unlike the MC-3, the HBATEC has lots of funny sound glitches and in organ chord mode the tone pitches seem to be quite off when chords are played. There is also always a low tooting hum present, which gets higher for some seconds after a note is played. (Don't worry, the famous historical Hammond organ also featured a well known background hum.) The rhythm tempo of the HBATEC can be set so high that the rhythms turn into a drumroll. Particularly with rhythm volume muted, in this state the accompaniment patterns (especially with arpeggio) start to sounds much like the famous arpeggiator effects known from C64 homecomputer musics. The modified drum section of my HBATEC can create a variety of strange analogue percussion, from tom- tom and base drums or congas up to metallic stuff like (sort-of) gongs and triangles, and when drum decay is set too long, it results in howling self- oscillation. (The point where this happens is very depending on the actual drum pitch and distortion settings.) Also the hihat input sensor contact makes lots of funny tweeting or squelching sounds when touched. Its much fun to create tekkno- like musics on it by cranking the drum sounds knobs while the rhythms plays. (Remember: there is even one programmable rhythm pattern available.)

At eBay I once saw a keyboard "Damff Intertone" which had the same case like the HBATEC, but was claimed to be 4 note polyphonic. I am not sure if both are genuinely technically identical, or if the Damff Intertone was just another variant of the Letron MC-3. At least the button field on the blurred photo looks extremely like the HBATEC. Either a direct predecessor or direct successor of the HBATEC was the Fujitone 3-A (not to confuse with Fujitone 3A). Unlike the widespread MC-3 instruments, these 2 keyboards seem to be generally very rare; I only saw one original HBATEC keyboard on eBay yet. Someone spelled it there "HBA TEC" (in 2 words); im am not sure if it was just misspelled or really a different variant, because I also saw a variant labelled HBA International, which has the same case but apparently contains MC-3 hardware (according to button writing). Also the HBATEC DX (described in my manual) seems to be an MC-3. A common and easy to find successor of the HBATEC hardware class (with same great analogue drum section and 16 OBS rhythms) is the Angeltone DM-380, which can be cheaply found on German eBay. Also a different "HBATEC" keyboard was released with MC-3A case (and likely MC-3 hardware inside, see there), which also had no model name.

 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
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