Casio VZ-1 / VZ-10M

Casio VZ-1 Image

The Casio VZ-1 was released in 1988 hot on the heels of the successful CZ line and became Casio's flagship synthesizer, replacing the CZ-1 at the top end and going flat out to town with the feature list, easily putting it toe to toe with products from Yamaha, Roland and Korg. The case design also reflected a more professional approach that Casio was taking; a sleek and minimal all black design free from clutter with a brushed steel front plate, making it a very impressive unit to look at - it is also very well built having an all metal chassis, yet maintains a relatively light weight making it especially good for gigging.

The first notable departure from the CZ line is the programming interface, replacing analog-like button per function programming with a page driven system similar to that of the FZ-1 released the previous year. The large (for the time) backlit dot matrix graphic LCD display made programming this synthesizer far easier than Yamaha's DX7 and DX7-II; envelopes and signal path, for example, were edited graphically rather than a number at a time and in text only mode and several parameters were viewable on screen at once. Unlike other synthesizers on the market at the time, the edit pages were not nested and their location and function were clearly marked on the front panel above the menu and function buttons.

The VZ-1 takes a hybrid approach to its sound generation. Where the CZ line used Phase Distortion Synthesis and the Yamaha DX line used Phase Modulation (incorrectly advertised as FM), the VZ-1 uses Phase Distortion for ring modulation and waveform generation but true Frequency Modulation Synthesis to generate harmonics. The end result is a unique and hauntingly space-age sounding synthesizer with many smooth "twangy" textures - but it can also be very harsh and noisy when complex phasing is employed. Thumping bass-lines and sweeping pads are its strongest points but it is also very capable of analog-ish brass and strings.

Casio VZ-10M Image

The Casio VZ-10M rack mount

The voice architecture is similar to the Yamaha DX synthesizers in that you have several oscillators that link together to generate extra harmonics via some form of algorithm. Where the DX7 has six oscillators to choose from, the VZ has eight. Each oscillator is part of a "module" and each module has a long list of functions independent of the other modules: Waveform, detune, envelope, envelope depth (that also functions as oscillator volume), envelope velocity sensitivity, envelope key follow and amplifier sensitivity. Each module is then arranged in 4 pairs: A, B, C and D. The first module in a pair then has the option to mix with the second module (similar to a dual oscillator synthesizer), ring modulate the second module or phase modulate the second module. The output from this can then be sent to the main output, or used to modulate the second module of the following pair (for example: the output from Pair A modulates the second module in Pair B which is also being ring modulated with the first module in Pair B). This freedom to pick and choose your own voice combinations allows for some very wild and complex sounds.

Aftertouch was also rather generous for the time too, allowing modulation of vibrato depth and rate, tremolo depth and rate, portamento time, pitch modulation and envelope bias.

The VZ-1 also features a combination mode that lets you stack up to 4 patches on top of each other giving a total of 32 oscillators per voice. Working in combination mode does lower polyphony, however, with 4 patches only allowing monophonic operation. Each patch in a combination could then be velocity switched, velocity triggered, crossfaded, have their tremolo and vibrato inverted, detuned, transposed and split across the keyboard. Even today, this is an impressive list of features for a non-workstation synthesizer. The keyboard also has two outputs that come in great use when controlling over MIDI or when playing split. Some careful trickery with Tremolo in combination mode with these two outputs can also give you a stereo panning effect.

There are some drawbacks, however. Where other synthesizers of the time could store up to 128 patches in memory, the VZ only has 64 (8 banks of 8 slots) and the ROM cards were limited to a max of 64 patches due to the way the front panel was laid out. The synthesizer does not contain any onboard effects or a sequencer and the presets are of the typical cheap Japanese keyboard affair - with the only usable patches out the box being the DX7-ish slap bass guitar and e-piano.

Although easy to program, especially when compared to a D-50 or a DX7, the long list of parameters that need to be edited for each individual module make this synthesizer very tedious to program larger sounds and textures. Add on the complexity of its sound engine and how twitchy it can be and it may end up frustrating to those not well versed in synthesizer technology.

Despite these failings, the synthesizer is still bewilderingly powerful and versatile if you spend time to become better aquaintted with it and it can easily become the focal point of any track with its uniquely warm yet cutting tonality. They do often spring up at low prices but have been increasing in popularity recently; some units in good condition can fetch up to £400, more-so if an RC-100 ROM Card is included.

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48 Visitor comments
Savo Jr
May 15, 2009 @ 6:12 am
To readers of Jonathans comment and potential buyers: this is definitely much much MUCH more difficult to program compared to FM synthesis. It's hard to prove it as this are just words in the forum but of course you can buy both and see it for yourself.
Another thing with J:s comment -it's not thinner than DX/TX synths its just different if not "fatter".
It depends programmiing skills and effort. Envelopes are in big role with this machines and because those are 8-stage it asks time.. especially with VZ8M version which has no any data slider and everything is edited through button presses.
I also had Hohner HS2 for a while so i know what difference it makes. HS2 is VZ1 with different name and look BTW. I wish that someone somewhere would make hardware controller for this iPD synths.. :P
Supervillain
December 26, 2008 @ 5:13 pm
I used to own one back in the early 90's and I really like it. It's quite simple to create weird metallic sounds and bass sounds that you will never be able to make from other synths. But I agree with most of the others commenting on the VZ-1 - It is a pain in the [beep] to program. But once you get the hang of it you can do amazing stuff!
Jonathan
December 1, 2008 @ 7:18 am
Well, this is never going to be you're main synth and in many ways it's a slightly thinner sound to the Yamaha DX range but it does have a different character to FM and is interesting for that. Yes, it's a pain to program, although probably easier than FM and there are loads of presets on the web. The manual is crap and it took me ages to "get my head' around it but I use it, not on everything but enough to keep it.
Savo Jr
September 28, 2008 @ 4:31 am
This are eazy to program after trying VZ8M -1U version of this.. you can imagine that it has less buttons and smaller display. :D

If you have one of this iPD synths and are unable to program it find a manual.
It's freely available as PDF.

Anyhow this iPD is possibly the most difficult synthesis to learn. :)
Frayo
September 25, 2008 @ 1:25 pm
Ebay, $100. Updated CZ ("CheeZee" as some people put it)synthesis. Still different from HT synthesis (HT is not PD, and is an actual synth (Think Poly-800), despite the series having speakers). Weak presets. Weird programming. The programming hierarchy confuses me, despite the fact that I program my DX-7 with no trouble. The module is heavy and solid metal. When I was lugging it, I felt confident I punch a hole in the wall with it. I'd say go for it. It's amusing. It's got this module thing happening. basic tweaking of these can change harmonic content without need for actual programming.
 
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  • Check Prices on eBay
  • The link above will take you to a search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 16 voices
  • Multitimbral - 8 parts duo-phonic
  • Oscillators - 8 iPD Modules across 4 Pairs
  • Waveforms - 1 sine, 5 saw, 1 noise, 1 noise + sine
  • LFO - 2 LFO generators for Tremelo and Pitch
  • Filter - No Filter
  • Envelope - 9x 8-stage envelopes (8 amp, 1 global pitch)
  • Arpeg/Seq - None
  • Keyboard - 61 keys with velocity and aftertouch, 3 wheels
  • Memory - 64 preset patches, 64 user patches, 64 patch external cartridge (via RC-100 ROM card)
  • Control - MIDI In, Out and Thru
  • Date Produced - 1988 - 1991

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