SongMax HMP-138 HMP-138
(toy keyboard with light effects, realistic samples & nice demo melodies)

This quite big toy keyboard is another modern successor of the My Music Center hardware family. Its special feature are 2 rings of red LED lights those flash in various walking light patterns during rhythm. Unlike My Music Center, the 16 sample- based preset sounds are fairly realistic (more like a Sankai 01504H) and with the "edit sound" button additional an echo or a siren- like howl effect can be added to them. The 8 preset rhythms have each a fixed- key accompaniment that can be switched off; the accompaniment styles differ quite much. There are also 4 drumpad buttons and 8 quite nice demo melodies.

But all together this is one of the sound- wise less interesting toy keyboards, because as well the medium resolution samples as most percussion are programmed quite natural and thus sound rather boring. Only the howl effect is halfway interesting. Unfortunately a keyboard flaw makes the 2 polyphony voices cancel out each other during fast play.

main features:


Unusual is that the instrument has a "demo/ play" switch at its bottom, which in "demo" mode overrides the power switch and switches the instrument permanently on while it disables the battery warning jingle and the start-up jingle. This way for sales demonstration the instrument stays always on and is only turned off during play pauses by its auto power- off feature. Also my Cyber Keyboard has a hole for such a demo switch in its bottom, although none was installed there. The red LED rings around the speakers sparkle alternatingly in varying patterns during rhythms and demo tunes. Although the flash speed is synched with the rhythm tempo, the flash sequences itself are quite stubborn and not well synched to the music. Thus the visual appearance resembles more the fixed built-in flash patterns of a cheap light hose or xmas illumination than a sophisticated programmed light show. All buttons play a beep noise; unlike other My Music Center variants, the volume and tempo buttons even keep beeping after their highest or lowest value has been reached, which is quite confusing. Unlike My Music Center, the SongMax HMP-138 is stereo, i.e. the sounds have 3 different panning positions {left, middle, right}, which is particularly used by the rhythms. The keyboard cancels out notes during polyphonic fast play and responds a bit sluggish - possibly because the keyboard matrix also controls the LED light effects. (E.g. the Chicco - Sing 'n' Dance Orchestra also controls many LEDs and has slow key timing too.) The entire electronics sits on the PCB of the CPU COB module, which has the writing "05-MAR-03", which seems to be the design date of the CPU; the solder joints look quite messy (the left LED ring had a bad contact).

The semi- OBS preset sound buttons play their sound when pressed. Very unusual is that a press on their bank switch button (labelled "inst. switch") does not change the currently selected sound, but only exchanges the sound set on the preset buttons (those need to be pressed to hear the change). The preset sound names of the 2nd bank are neither written on the control panel nor in the manual, thus the here mentioned sound names were chosen by me. The preset sounds of this instrument are made from medium resolution loop samples and sound quite realistic for such a toy keyboard, thus I only mention the unusual ones here. The sound quality is comparable with the Sankai 01504H and has noticeable analogue(?) distortion; most sounds (e.g. "piano") employ a key split with a duller sample at its highest keyboard octave (likely to circumvent the aliasing noise known from the famous My Music Center "trumpet"). The "music box" sound rather like a vibraphone without vibrato. "bass" resembles an e-bass. "e.piano" resembles more an acoustic guitar. "jazz guitar" is a steel string one. The "pipe organ" is a metal pipe organ rank with percussive attack phase and only very little sustain. The "guitar" resembles an acoustic one, while the "clavinet" resembles a steel string e-guitar (undistorted). The "e. organ" timbre sounds brassy with percussive attack phase; the timbre could be also another metal pipe organ rank.

With the "edit sound" button the preset sounds can be modified with echo or howl effect. The "echo" adds 7 echoes, those start with 3Hz and turn slightly faster at the end (like a clanger bouncing on a string); it ignores key press duration. The howl effect makes the pitch of a new played note howl down by about 5 semitones during 0.5s and then keeps howling up and down like a siren by about 2 semitones with 2 Hz. As soon a 2nd key is pressed (2 note polyphonic play), the sound instead immediately howls like a strong vibrato with 4Hz; when one of the keys is released, the remaining note howls like described with 1 note. (If you like such wicked siren effects, watch out for a Casio SA-35; it has lots more of them.) The "edit sound" button can not be combined with rhythm or sequencer (it stops them); likely it needs their timers for its own effects.

The rhythms always start with their default tempo and after a stop come up with accompaniment enabled. The accompaniments have nice latin and rock styles and differ much, but unfortunately they are fixed- key and thus of little use for melody play. With the "chord" button they can be switched off. The 4 drumpad buttons mute the rhythm percussion for 1 bar.

The "beat mode" button was likely intended as something like the "samba" mode on My Song Maker, but this one is almost completely useless, because it only assigns patterns from 4 of the given preset rhythms (with accompaniment always on) to the 4 drumpad buttons (each pattern repeats 2 times after a button press), while it plays a lullaby- like newage/ waltz accompaniment monoto (chinking "musicbox" + bass) when no drumpad is pressed. The lullaby pattern can be regarded as a 9th preset rhythm ("chord" button does nothing here).

The monophonic sequencer is as useless as with other My Music Center variants since it looses its data when any other function is selected. This one stores even only 19 notes, ignores note duration and always plays a rhythm (without accompaniment).

The 8 demo melodies are nicely arranged, and like with My Song Maker they can be played in a "one key play" mode, which makes the accompaniment (when enabled) repeat in a loop; the resulting monoto patterns may be interesting for tekkno- like things. The demos also can be played to, which automatically mutes their melody voice for a bar.

The 8 demo melodies of this instrument are:

  1. Spring
  2. If You Are Happy
  3. Long Long Ago
  4. Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  5. Yankee Doodle Dandy
  6. Are You Sleeping
  7. She'll Be Coming Round
  8. O Cow Boy
Many of these demo melodies also exist on the great Cyber Keyboard, although IMO its arrangements are even better since they are less establishment.

Someone e-mailed me that a close variant of the SongMax HMP-138 was released as HMP-139, which has a slightly different sound set with a "jar" sound instead of "clavinet" and no "e. organ". A variant of these instruments may be also the Deluxe Teaching Keyboard HMP-188, which has also 16 preset sounds, 8 rhythms and 8 demos, although it has different controls (more like the Cyber Keyboard), 5 drumpad buttons and a blue case with a silver control panel and a red, rectangular LED bar (seen on eBay). An instrument with a quite similar case like the SongMax HMP-138 (same LED rings but 44 keys, no silver parts) was released as Yongmei YM-238C, thus possibly the HMP keyboards were made by the same company.

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