KAWAI MS720 - personal keyboard digital keyboard with simple synth, built-in complex music patterns & MIDI One Finger Ad-Lib (tm)

This keyboard from 1991 (embossed case date stamp) has sounds made from 2 mixed medium resolution samples, a simple synthesizer (ADR envelopes for both subvoices) and MIDI in/ out. But its special feature is an accompaniment mode that Kawai called "one finger ad-libtm". This feature simply automatically plays pre- programmed typical music patterns on the keys of the middle keyboard section (one pattern per key). The patterns correspond to the current rhythm style and play in the key of the current single finger chord so long their keyboard key is pressed. Unfortunately it has no fingered chord mode and behaves a bit stubborn, and also the patterns can not be mixed but only play one at a time. But although it was not designed for tekkno and has many restrictions, with some skill you can at least improvise in a Doop- like steamjazz style on this thing, and it is generally quite fun and can be inspiring to play around with this virtual band. The instrument has also 4 user assignable drumpads, pitchbend up/ down buttons (no wheel), a simple sequencer and can layer 2 preset sounds, but the control panel is contra- intuitive by the lack of display feedback and thus quite awkward.

This instrument (or a close variant?) was earlier released as Kawai MS710.

main features:


The user interface of this thing is quite awkward because the control panel gives too little feedback. Although it employs group buttons (like Casio SA-35), there is only a column of 4 LEDs to indicate the currently selected sound/ rhythm in its group, but no means to indicate which group button is currently active. I really don't understand why there is no additional row of 6 LEDs to indicate the active buttons, which would make it e.g. way easier to find out the currently selected sample of the synthesizer or the 2 currently layered sounds in the dual voice mode. (E.g. even the cheap Letron MC-3 had lots of such LEDs despite its intuitive OBS operation didn't need them in any way.) Also the current setting of the synth parameters can be only heard but not displayed in any way and there are also no acoustical hint sounds. All buttons are of silicone rubber. The PCB is a complex multi- chip hardware. A switch PCB is marked "MS710" from the predecessor(?) while the main PCB is marked with "MS720". Inside the case are embossed date stamps from 1989 and 1991. (I haven't examined it closer yet.)

The main voice preset sounds are made from medium resolution samples and sound cold, static and a bit dull (too coarse to sound real, but too natural to sound electronic). Most presets sound like what they are supposed to be, but in boring quality. The "piano" bass range resembles more an e-bass. The "strings" sounds fairly realistic of classical orchestra (unlike a waveform sample), but cold and a bit dull. The "jazz organ" is a Hammond imitation, while the "rock organ" has a sonorous bass range like a multipulse squarewave timbre, while the trebles are harsh, resembling bagpipes. The bass range of the "sax" resembles a cello. The "cosmic" resembles a rough sort- of Rhodes piano with some sustain, but has a very dry, harsh and buzzy bass range (like a multipulse squarewave timbre, a bit like "frog" on Casio MT-60). The "e. guitar" is is brighter than the "a. guitar" (metal strings), but not distorted. The "e. bass" has a funky timbre. When not used for a long time, also the 4 user presets contain dedicated sounds those differ from other presets. "user 1" resembles a squarewave organ with muffled bass range and a weak fast vibrato. "user 2" is an electronic organ with a brassy (or guitar- like?) tooting timbre with weak fast vibrato and no envelope. "user 3" has a decay envelope with a rough bubbling, semi- brassy synthesizer timbre that sounds like sampled from an FM synth (fast looped "dwelng" sound). "user 4" is a sort of brassy piano with percussive attack rate and weak fast vibrato (could be a Clavinet). The vibrato button adds a fast (6Hz?) and medium strong vibrato to all sounds. The "stereo chorus" button adds a sort of fast panning with only a small dose of chorus to all sounds (halves main voice polyphony). 2 preset sounds can be layered by selecting the 1st sound, then pressing "dual" (has own LED) and then selecting the 2nd sound. In dual voice mode the vibrato button apparently affects only the 2nd sound; switch "dual" button temporary off to access the vibrato of the 1st sound instead. Adding vibrato to "strings" gives them a nicely fluttering tape mess timbre that somewhat reminds to a Mellotron (historical tape based sample keyboard). The pitchbend up/ down buttons bend the main voice sound by 1 note up or down, but apparently neither speed nor distance can be edited.

The synthesizer has 2 buttons those each control one of the 2 subvoices of the currently selected preset sound, stepping through {level, attack, decay, sustain}. (Most presets seem to use the same loop- sample on both subvoices.) The selected parameter (indicated by the 4 LED column at the sound preset buttons) can then be modified with the tempo +/- buttons (result is nowhere displayed but only audible by keyboard play). To store it, select the user preset (with its group button) you want to overwrite and press "store/ recall". When you select a normal preset sound, the "store/ recall" button switches back to the last edited synthesizer sound. The edited seem to be stored in battery backed- up memory, that content is also kept without battery for half an hour or the like (by a capacitor?).

With the "lower mode" switch on "drum & pad select" the left keyboard section plays 19 sampled percussion sounds. They sound a bit dull and can be assigned to any of the 4 drumpads by holding down the pad and pressing the key with the selected sound. Unusual is that beside normal samples there are also 3 drumroll patterns, those tempo correspond to the selected rhythm tempo. The 1st pattern is a fast and louder fading snare roll. The 2nd is 3 high toms to the left followed by 3 lower toms to the right (stereo). The 3rd is a tambourin or hihat with 5 quieter echoes. (When turned on, the drumpads are assigned to the 3 drumrolls and a hihat.) When not in synthesizer edit mode, the tempo LED continuously flashes with the current tempo (quite confusing; normal keyboards do this only in synchro mode to indicate that any key will start the rhythm).

The accompaniment has unfortunately only single finger chord mode (switch "lower mode" to "auto) and thus only accepts a few standard chords. The accompaniment styles are complex orchestrated and have an individual intro, ending and fill-in. With rhythm off, the accompaniment section plays a manual chord, which timbre depends on the selected rhythm. When the "one finger ad-lib" button is pressed, the keys in the middle keyboard section play each a looped music pattern. The music style depends on the selected rhythm. When accompaniment is started, it automatically plays a pre- programmed chord sequence in this mode until the player plays own single finger chords; with accompaniment the one finger ad-lib pattern plays always in the key of the current accompaniment chord. Each pattern starts as soon its key is pressed and stops as soon it is released. Unlike a groovebox it does not sync by itself to the rhythm, but this otherwise permits to trill the key in tricky ways for stutter effects; the patterns also can not be combined to play multiple tracks simultaneously. Although this thing was clearly not designed for tekkno, it makes still fun to abuse e.g. the "march" and "polka" rhythms in this mode to play in a Doop- like electronic steamjazz style. Unfortunately there are no separate volume controls for the individual tracks. The patterns each select its own main voice sound unless the player selects his own (switch one finger ad-lib off and on again to return to automatic selection) and partly contain pitchbend and volume change effects in a way that can not be played manually on this keyboard. In the rightmost keyboard octave the player can still play manually (with the preset sound selected by the pattern when no manual sound selected).

Annoying is that instead of explaining the unobvious synthesizer features, on the control panel is only a huge advertisement text that gladly praises the trademarked "one finger ad-lib" feature. On the Kawai MS710 there instead was at least a diagram about the synthesizer envelope. This is the ad text:

1. Press the yellow ONE FINGER AD-LIB button. (Red lamp will light.)
2. In the LOWER MODE section (at left), select "AUTO"
3. Press the START button.
4. Hold down any key in the ONE FINGER AD-LIB section.

I yet didn't try out the MIDI functions, nor I own the manual of this instrument, thus there may be still hidden features or settings I don't know.

The demo music consists of a funky late 1980th fusion pop synth track followed by a latin fusion tune that style resembles the Sega arcade videogame "Outrun". Remarkable is also that the one finger ad-lib patterns of the rhythm style "heavy wave" sound very typical of late 1980th Sega arcade or Megadrive/ Genesis videogame musics.

Kawai apparently released only few different midsize keyboards. The earlier(?) Kawai MS710 looked almost identical like the MS720, but had more colourful buttons and according to eBay "Top Note Dual 576 Variations", thus I am not sure if the hardware was identical (variation counts are a matter of interpretation) or just similar. Smaller variants without MIDI(?) were the Kawai MS510 (no synth, no drumpads, only each 20 preset sounds and rhythms) and MS210 (only 37 midsize keys, mono, no synth, no pitchbend & sustain buttons, only 16 sounds & rhythms). The only more toy- like Kawai beginners keyboard was the Kawai MS20 (32 midsize keys, 80 sounds, 16 rhythms, one finger ad-lib). A 49 midsize keys keyboard with one finger ad-lib and even 100 great electronic accompaniment styles was the very rare Kawai MS50; unfortunately its user interface is stubborn and it has no MIDI. A beginners keyboard with MIDI was the (fairly rare) Kawai PH50 (49 keys, 200 preset sounds, 50 combination sounds, 30 rhythms, joystick for {pitchbend up/ down, modulation, velocity}, no synth, no accompaniment), although this one has already short fullsize keys.

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