Sound Mixer HMP-288  (stylish toy keyboard with spectacular light effects & key lighting)

This big and noble looking toy tablehooter from 2004 (printed PCB/ CPU date) has sample based sound and key lighting on the white keys. During demos and rhythm it shows very impressive looking complex walking light patterns in the style of a modern gambling or pinball machine demo mode. But the lack of key matrix diodes prevent reliable polyphonic playability.

The impressive looking case is quite large; its 49 keys are even bigger than normal midsize keys. Despite there are no audiogames, it has the same strange flipping mechanism like the Potex - Super Jam, but here it is poorly constructed and only makes the case unstable and fairly wacky. The big illuminated center piece flashes like a disco light in red, blue, pink and all intermediate colours and constitutes the only drumpad of the instrument; it can be set to various percussion and tekkno effect sound samples, and its center is a pseudo- scratch disc that simply plays one sample per direction, but it not even senses the direction correctly. The main voice has 10 preset sounds of short looped medium resolution samples, those can be combined with a long echo or slow vibrato effect. The 8 preset rhythms contain over- orchestrated fixed key accompaniments, which makes them badly suited for melody play; although the chord track can be muted, the bass track always keeps running in its fixed key. The user interface is also in no way OBS but most functions are cycled through by multiple presses of a single button, which makes it badly suited for live performance. In unmodified state an annoying key matrix flaw prevents reliable polyphonic play of more than 2 notes, and the keys also respond a little slow, but this tablehooter is anyway rather a spectacularly illuminated show object than a good instrument to play. However with its slow howling vibrato it can at least make some nice pseudo- analogue organ timbres those remind to my Tuttivox tube organ.

The preset sound names are in wrong order and the control panel writing is full of lies:
"Stereo Piano" Genuinely the instrument is only mono.
"Bass Boost System" The bass reflex holes are fake and the speakers sound bassless.
"One Touch Setting" There are no OBS features. Possibly it means that a single buttons cycles through multiple preset sounds or rhythms.
"MIDI" Hmmm... There is absolutely no MIDI jack anywhere.

main features:

The case is much bigger than Potex - Super Jam.



The noble case design of this tablehooter looks quite unique and may be inspired by the tekkno synth keyboard Yamaha DJX-II. Unfortunately it has not much else common with that professional instrument nor it is well suited for tekkno. The spectacular light effect feature of the Sound Mixer HMP-288 was likely a direct successor of that on Yongmei YM-238C, although the splendid walking light patterns here are even more variable and remind to the demo mode of modern gambling or pinball machines or the light bulb effects of certain old fairground orchestrions. Unlike with Potex - Super Jam, the strange case flipping mechanism of the HMP-288 apparently serves no purpose and because it has neither a locking mechanism nor a stabilizing plastic peg at the case front, it only makes the case mechanically unstable and fairly wacky. Also the keys are a little wacky and the pretty metallic buttons sometimes get stuck. By the lack of keyboard matrix diodes the instrument often plays additional wrong notes when more than 2 keys are pressed. (Soldering 48 diodes in would fix this.) Also the lousy working scratch disc not only ignores turning speed, but even fails to recognize the turning direction correctly, thus about every 3rd turn plays the sample from the wrong direction or the drumpad. I remember that the Play 'n' Jam keyboard had a similar scratch disc flaw, which could be fixed by soldering pull-up resistors to each of its matrix input lines. The preset sounds are selected through group buttons those each cycle through multiple sounds; all buttons beep or play the selected sound, which disturbs live performance. The power off button on the control panel only switches the instrument into standby, from where it comes up again by any key or button press at fairly loud volume and "piano" sound. Also the auto- power off switches it to standby already after 20 seconds. The real power switch is on the case bottom and looks like the small "demo/ play" switch of various Potex toy keyboard. After power on, an arpeggio- like synth jingle of 4 fast notes (same like the first sample on the first "sound effect" button) fades louder and a tambourin fades quieter with a light pattern on keys, speaker and drumpad, which has a quite micro$oftish appeal. By a bug the startup jingle does not play when the scratch disc is rotated into a wrong position. The lowest volume setting is still a little loud, and the sound distorts already at medium volume. (I haven't examined the hardware closer yet.)

The preset sounds are made from short looped medium resolution samples, those consist of a sampled attack phase followed by a short looped waveform sample with simple volume envelope and no sustain, thus they stop immediately after key release. The preset sounds are cycled through by 2 big group buttons and despite the timbres are well recognizable, most sounds have wrong names printed on them. The "piano" employs 2 key split zones. "vibraphone" plays a trombone, "marimba" a slap bass. "hammond" sounds like expected and plays a dull Hammond organ timbre, which sounds almost identical in different octaves. "steel guitar" instead plays a vibraphone without vibrato. "jazz guitar" plays an oboe, "finger bass" is a guitar (like intended?), "trumpet" plays a dull e-bass (2 split zones), "oboe" a xylophone. "clarinet" sounds like suggested. The "echo" button cycles through echo, vibrato and normal sound. The echo restarts the envelope of any played note 7 times and decreases the volume during each restart to approximate an echo. The echo of each note clangs 5 seconds long and stays quite loud during the first seconds, which tends to causes a cacophonic note cluster and thus strongly limits its musical usability. The vibrato howls at slow 3Hz by almost a full semitone, which sounds quite funny; with the "hammond" timbre it sounds almost like my Tuttivox tube organ, and also with "clarinet" it creates a nicely cheesy analogue organ appeal.

Unfortunately there is only one drumpad to assign sounds to, and the assign buttons always play their sounds during selection, which makes them pretty useless for live play. Each drumpad sound also sets the 2 samples for both directions of the scratch disc.

The rhythms always start at their default tempo and active accompaniment. The accompaniment patterns are quite complex and over- orchestrated, and they unfortunately play in a fixed key. Even when the chord voice is disabled with its button, the fixed- key bass voice stays present, which makes them almost useless for playing normal melodies, thus you can only improvise to them. The highest tempo setting is ridiculously fast and also accelerates the light effects to that speed, which can be used for tekkno, but without key press the auto- power off throws a wrench into it after only 20 seconds. The "beat mode" button does quite bizarre and barely useful stuff; it starts a 9th rhythm, and each time the 'rhythm' select button is pressed, it selects the next rhythm (as expected) but plays it only like a fill-in in the current tempo and returns to the 9th rhythm after few bars. Also the "drum & cymbal" button (that normally assigns drumkit sounds to the drumpad) cycles through 3 fill- in accompaniment pattern in this mode. (I have no manual of this thing, thus there might be still hidden features I don't know, but with such wacky toy keyboards this is rather unlikely.)

The 8 demo melodies of this instrument are:

  1. Old McDonald
  2. Yoake
  3. Yankee Doodle
  4. Picnic
  5. My Bonnie
  6. Little Brown Jug [wrong melody]
  7. Island Of Capri [same like "Ka-Bu-Le Island" on Elta KE-6]
  8. Jingle Bells
The demo musics are complex arranged with a lot of cartoon- style effect noises. They are also used by the key lighting feature. Press the 'lesson' button to start it; although the key lighting makes the correct key flash first and stops flashing after a while, the timing of this change is completely wrong and far too slow to indicate the correct timing to play notes. The next key always flashes as soon the previous was pressed, and the accompaniment track of the song repeats in a loop until the correct key is pressed. In any key play mode (press 'OKON' button) the instrument behaves similar, with the difference that now any key presses steps through the melody.
 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
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