SUPERB SOUND audio products   Superb Sound EK-905
FM keyboard with bizarre lo-fi tekkno sounds
DYNAMIC... a perfect combination of shape and sound

This midsize FM keyboards was apparently a close predecessor of the great Fujitone 6A (see there); its 100 sound bank has similar sound names and shares most of the wonderful grainy tekkno synth preset sounds of the latter, using the same 2 operator FM sound generator. But unlike the latter, most of the natural instrument preset sounds here are so extremely off that its programmer must have been drugged or deaf. Imagine, you select a "marimba" with sustain and get a snare drum!, select "oboe" and get extremely harsh distorted C64 synth strings - or select "brass ensemble 1" and get a synth noise which atonal bass range that sounds like a cross of a helicopter and a didgeridoo!

Most instrument preset sounds also contain an annoyingly strong  4Hz wahwah tremolo (like with "bagpipe" on Fujitone 6A), which makes also those ones sound unnecessarily artificial, those timbre would be otherwise ok. Unlike Fujitone 6A, this instrument has no drumpads and also contains neither 4 operator sounds nor any complex envelope tricks (mandolin ring, siren effects etc.), but great is that it has portamento (although not adjustable) to make wonderful grainy howling glide tones. Interesting is also the octave up/ down button, which shifts the keyboard range of newly played notes by an octave. But in comparison with the noble sounding 6A, the sound is colder, thinner and has (at least through internal speakers) way less bass. The percussion is made from typical electronic sounding thin FM drums. The accompaniment patterns are quite standard but have each an intro, fill-in and ending, and they accept also disharmonic key combinations and not only those few ones considered "chords" by the establishment. Bass and chord can be quickly selected from 5 preset sounds using a slider, and the quick responding single digit rhythm number entry behaves like OBS buttons.

main features:

EK-905, electronic keyboard DIGITAL SOUND



This tablehooter was made by the infamous company Superb Sound, who also released the horrible Superb Sound EK-91DX mini keyboard, and as you can imagine, the control panel is full of Engrish misspellings, and the German language part of the manual is even worse. Unlike that mini keyboard, the Superb Sound EK-905 is at least reasonable playable and has nice OBS controls, although the sound set of the 100 sound bank is rather a bad joke than a credible attempt of programming realistic instrument timbres. (These simple 2 operator FM are capable to do this much better - audible on Yamaha PSS-390 or PSS-780.) At least there are many lovely synth effect sounds on it, like known from Fujitone 6A (which shares most preset sound names with it, despite especially the instrument (not effect) sounds are made very different). The black case with its semi- oval speaker grills reminds to early 1990th ghettoblasters, and like with these, the display rim and some headings are printed in gold. The fairly dark printing on the control panel is badly readable under non- optimal lighting conditions. The black keys have no protection against bending upward and thus may crack off easily. Strange is that this instrument sounds rather thin, bassless and a little cold, while all my other non- Yamaha FM keyboards have a nicely warm timbre. Possibly the DAC bit resolution is lower, but it may also be amplifier feedback loop distortion. The main voice polyphony is also only 6 notes, while comparable keyboards normally have 9 with rhythm off. The case design has some similarities with Steepletone SEK-929; a silver version of the same case was later used for the Elta KE-491, which also sounds thin and shares PCB construction details with the EK-905.

The 100 sound bank includes most of the favourite Fujitone 6A synth sounds (see there) like "hand bell", "fireworks", "leaf spring", "hand saw", "metallic synth", "human voice" 1..3 etc., but the natural instrument sounds are very different and also some synth sounds differ, because the EK-905 has neither complex envelope tricks (mandolin ring, siren effects) nor 4 operator sounds. Thus e.g. the "machine gun" doesn't go "brrrt" but only fires one shot, the "synth-tom" 1..2 don't go pitchbend down and the "dog pianist" sounds much thinner by the lack of a subvoice. Annoying is that some sounds are even identical (e.g. "comet" = "crystal"). The natural instrument imitations are not at all natural but are partly ridiculously off, and most contain an annoyingly strong 4Hz wahwah tremolo (like with "bagpipe" on Fujitone 6A) with audible zipper noise, that makes them completely unnatural (fortunately there are also few sounds without). In the following I will not mention this particularly, but only explain sounds those are otherwise very special. Partly they contain harsh and grainy digital noises, those almost remind to My Music Center despite the sound generator is very different. E.g. "harpsichord2" almost rings like a telephone or mandolin by its extreme tremolo and has a very atonal bass range; 3 is shorter. "honky- tonkclavi" has a similar, but less thin ringing timbre. "marimba" 1 & 2 are identical, and the sustain button adds noise to them and thus turns them into a sort of reverbing snare drum(! | short key presses cause longer notes). The "soft trombone" is rather a very pure sine wave organ tone (does not decay, no tremolo). The "brass ensemble1" resembles with higher notes a mildly distorted clarinet with that infamous tremolo, but in the bass range it gradually distorts more and turns into an atonal bassy synth noise which sounds like a cross of a helicopter and a didgeridoo! 2 sounds of tuba, while 3 resembles a dull wooden pipe organ rank (with only mild tremolo). "synth" is just a very short clarinet tone, while "oboe" otherwise is an massively harsh distorted C64 synth strings timbre that also reminds to a 3 bit sample of a human chorus or the like (very un-FM); it also goes into the My Music Center direction, although even way grainier. The "bagpipe" is similar distorted and has a farty bubbling black FM bass range. Also "violin2" has grainy distortion in its strong tremolo, despite the timbre is still recognizable. "strings" is similar, but very hollow (thin in the treble range, brassy in the bass). The "banjo" is rather a harp, while "mandolin" is too metallic (typical FM timbre). "classic guitar" is brassy and may be best an e-guitar (with the severe tremolo); the other guitars are not better. The "ukulele" is almost a steel drum with bubbling FM bass range. The so-called "shamisen" is here a snare instead of a picked string (with and without sustain button). The "harp" is rather an e-bass. "flute & harpsichord" misses the flute and resembles "harpsichord1". "oboe & vibraphone" is a sustaining bright and grainy metallic synth timbre with long sustain: high short notes resemble a banjo (no similarity with what the name suggests). "clarinet & harp" lacks the clarinet and resembles an e-bass. "violin & steel drum" lacks the violin. Possibly with these preset dual voice sounds the programmer was instructed to use the 4 operator mode to layer 2 sounds, but he couldn't figure out how and thus programed only one instrument timbre. "whisper" is a flute with slow attack phase (fades louder) and long sustain. "whistle" resembles a high sine wave organ tone. "dog pianist" has here only a thin, sitar- like timbre with tremolo (on Fujitone 6A there is a 2nd subvoice). "duck" is a metallic synth brass with tremolo. The "telephone bell" doesn't ring, but only makes a clang with the grainy tremolo. "emergency alar" sounds just like a trombone (some tremolo, misses the siren howl and the 'm' in its name). "bell" sounds nasal with a lot of that grainy tremolo. The "wave" is an ocean wave noise that hisses louder and then slowly fades silent (no automatic repeat).

Great is also that (like most FM keyboards) the timbres are time- dynamically playable, i.e. the timbre of notes changes depends on how long a key is pressed, which provides a relatively expressive playability despite the keyboard is not velocity sensitive. The "sus" button adds sustain to the sounds, during which the tremolo continues. A bit strange is that the release phase of previous notes is always truncated by newly played notes, which makes the sustain sound thin and behave rather like on a monophonic instrument. The "vibrato" button adds vibrato, but with many sounds its effect is almost inaudible or only appears in the release phase. The "portamento" button plays glide tones by sliding from one note to another; the duration depends on the distance between both notes. Unlike other keyboards, the active portamento here always slides from one note to another and not only when both keys are held. With the "up /down" button the octave range of the keyboard can be switched by 1 octave, which does not change the pitch of held notes. Selecting a new preset sound with held notes also changes the timbre of these, which can be used as a sound effect since the cipher buttons respond rapidly.

The percussion has the typical electronic FM timbre known from the OPL3 "MIDI synth" of early PC soundcards. The accompaniment patterns are quite standard but have each an intro, fill-in and ending. The into and fill-in is identical and a little long for a fill-in; it also contains no accompaniment. In fingered mode ("A.B.C.") the accompaniment also accepts any disharmonic note combinations and not just establishment chords. The chord track in fingered mode can be disabled by selecting "auto bass", which plays the chord timbre manually in the left keyboard section. The "auto chord" mode mutes the bass and behaves like the fingered chord mode. The "auto accomp" mode slider can be also used for quickly muting the running accompaniment. Strange is that with rhythm off there is no single finger chord mode, but it always switches into fingered mode (without bass). The bass and chord timbre can be switched among each 5 preset sounds by quickly responding sliders, those also affect held notes and nicely work as a realtime sound control. The chord preset sound "default" selects one of the other 4 depending on the selected rhythm. Due to the 10 rhythms are selected by 1 digit numbers, the quickly responding cipher buttons work here like OBS rhythm select buttons and thus can be used to switch among running rhythms, or to quickly trill among 2 of the "default" sounds with rhythm off. Bizarre is that the tempo buttons use "31" for the slowest, and "0" for the fastest tempo; pressing these buttons also halts the running rhythm for a fraction of a second.

The demo melody is a polyphonic and fairly nice arranged version of "Take a Chance On Me" by Abba, which cycles through many sounds but sometimes changes the chord a bar too late and thus doesn't sound really professional.

A direct EK-905 successor was released as Super Sound Brand - SBS EK-906 (same case, but hardware likely like Yongmei YM-2100, seen on eBay). Another bizarre sounding FM keyboard full of sound glitches is the Majestic EK-660, which was possibly a predecessor. A close successor of the EK-905 was the Elta KE-491 (with MIDI- out and simple synth). Another 49 midsize keys FM tablehooter with bizarre lo-fi sounds was the Leetone PF-50 (with MIDI- out).

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