Kawai K5

Kawai K5 Image

The K5 is a digital synthesizer that employs additive synthesis harmonic-building as its method of sound creation. Basically, you can vary up to 126 harmonic levels generated by a sine wave via a bar-graph type graphic display to create, shape and change your sound. De-tuning can also be used to thicken or augment sounds too. In addition, each harmonic has an independent choice of four 6-stage envelopes for further tweaking and shaping. The K5 is also 15-part multi-timbral. Sounds can be split, layered, overlapped and de-tuned for creating thicker sounds or ensembles of instruments and sounds. It has 48 internal patches for memory storage as well as a 48 patch external memory card. There are also 48 patches for the multi-mode settings as well.

The K5 is very digital in its synthesis approach and its overall sound quality. However it has some surprisingly analog-like parameters. Its filter is a Dynamic Digital Filter that has familiar slope, cutoff, envelope amount, keyboard tracking and independent 6-stage envelope controls. The Digital Dynamic Amplifier is set up like a 6-stage envelope for overall sound shaping. The LFO has about six waveform shapes, speed, delay and a new Trend setting which is related to the delay parameter of the LFO. But programming Multi-Mode sounds is a bit more modern in its approach to synthesis than analogs and requires a bit of planning and experimenting.

It should be noted that the user interface makes it particularly difficult to program the K5 well. It's especially hard to tell the envelope-to-harmonic routings, and the various bits of nomenclature used by Kawai to indicate what does what can be a bit misleading. Nonetheless, the K5 is a very powerful instrument for creating digital sounds unlike any other. It works great in any MIDI studio or live situation due mostly in part to its multitimbral abilities, unique sounds and its approach to synthesis. It has been used by Jean Michel Jarre.

Kawai K5m Image

The K5m rack-module version is basically the same as the K5 except that it has 126 adjustable harmonics and 4 assignable audio outputs and a stereo mix output. If you plan to use the K5 strictly as a sound source in an established MIDI studio, the K5M desktop module version is more compact and practical than the keyboard version. The K5m has been used by Jan Hammer.

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15 Visitor comments
January 4, 2012 @ 12:59 pm
Don't forget the Korg DS-8, the 'sensible' FM synthesizer. I would rather keep my DS-8 even if someone offered me one each of every Yamaha DX synthesizer. The same goes for my K5m. There's something really wild about additive synthesis. I have a K150 and I'm waiting for the last couple of components for an Apple IIgs system to program it properly. Every serious sound sculpting artist needs a synth like this in her stable. The pop stars can keep their Motifs and Fantoms. This is where the real sound is found.
Others to note: Casio FZ-1, Korg DSS-1, NI Razor, Hartmann Neuron, Technics SX-WSA1.
January 16, 2009 @ 12:26 am
This does have dedicated top artist presence. In my opinion, these sounds better than the original DX-7. I love the DX-7 and Yamaha FM. I have played them more hours than the K5, K5000 additives, but you could say that I have more appreciation and experience with the sound results on the K series additives as far as my personal programming. Plus for something this complex, it starts quickly after power on, never had a crash except once and had to power off reset. This is from many many many many hours of use. These are solid and the OS is great. I love this machine. It is fast running and faster to use than old 8" floppy computer systems. Good work.
January 16, 2009 @ 12:24 am
I love the keyboard and its looks. I like the K5 look better than the K5000, but I like the K5000R look better than the K5R. I remember it has release velocity which is rare. I love the keyboard K5 version becuase it is hard to do the rack esp if it is mounted on a rack. K5000R is a little easier because of macros, but there are more parameters. So computer is easier. I only seen one in my life and is a rare find. To me and many others, these machines are examples of a god step forward and to forget where the others had to drop off. It seemed that these dropped off too. I think it's lack of understanding and the analogue band wagon.
January 16, 2009 @ 12:21 am
Yes, it's like I mentioned for K5000. The K5 loks very Euro clean. The system is complex and surpisingly at a low cost. I did find one for sale in late 1990's but decided not to buy because of an upcoming car repair. If it wasn't for that I would buy my own K5. This is a great machine in looks and sound. THE K5 does need external digital FX to polish off when doing live work and sometimes recording. The Kawais were offering more LFO waveshapes close to almost everyone. In same price range and some more expensive. I don't remember if the software allows you to create your own LFO shape, but everthing else is nice with software.
September 25, 2008 @ 1:00 pm
Underrated. Undreprogrammed. Yes, it is digital. Yes, it is a little tinny, but you can beef it up with external filtering or FX processing. You can get some truly bizarre and interesting noises out of this thing. It's dirt cheap. It's a pain in the neck to edit without software. Without knowledge of how this thing works, it can be hard to know what to do even if you had software. I know this thing is known for the Jan Hammer sound (Miami Vice Theme), but it can do a lot more. I love the strings on this thing. Even not knowing what you're doing and blindly grabbing harmonic structures and ripping them to pieces accordingly, can produce a few interesting things. Be sure to listen closely when playing/editing this machine. Some of the sounds are really incredibly complicated, despite their individual details being a subtlety.
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  • The link above will take you to an eBay 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
  • Oscillators - Digital Harmonic Generator (DHG)
  • LFO - 6 waveforms, speed, delay, trend
  • Filter - Digital Dynamic Filter (DDF) with cutoff, slope, envelope amount, keyboard, velocity, aftertouch, independent 6-stage envelope; Digital Formant Filter (DFT) 11-band graphic eq
  • VCA - Dynamic Digital Amplifier (DDA) with independent 6-stage envelopes
  • Keyboard - 61 keys with "release velocity" and aftertouch
  • Memory - 48 patches internal, 48 patches external memory card, 48 multi-mode memories
  • Control - MIDI
  • Date Produced - 1987
  • Resources & Credits
  • Images from Synthony and

    Additional information provided by DAC Crowell.

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