Robert L's Analog Synths

            Kawai SX-210 Exhibited at
Robert L's Analog Synths

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Kawai SX-210 is one among a few excellent analog synthesizers that lived its life quietly, and stayed quite unknown to wider public till the present days. It happened so partly because it was shadowed by the highly popular competitors like Juno 60 and Polysix, which ruled the scene of popular synthesizers in the early 80s. The other reason was that at that time Kawai had a bad habit of either failing at some aspects of their products like design or quality of hardware, like in some of their early synths, or just forgetting to promote them properly, like in this case. Thus, many of the Kawai synthesizers, sold also by the name of Teisco, stayed far behind the products of the leading brands, although their sound and overall performance were up to their more famous competitors.
   SX-210 and its bigger and more elaborate brother SX-240 are true examples of this. The SX-210 is a great sounding DCO based synth, with 8 voices (1 DCO and 1 sub oscillator per voice), analog filters and envelopes (1 of each per voice).
   To compare its architecture to other better known analog synthesizers, let's say one may say that SX-210 is "somewhere in between" Juno 60 (106) and Polysix.
It has digitally controlled oscillators (DCOs) like Junos, and the same excellent SSM 2044 filter chips like Polysix (see also Trident, early Prophet 5s, PPG Wave, etc...). Although some of the analog character is lost by the the introduction of the DCOs, the sound is warm and appealing, quite alike to the Juno 60. On a blind comparison, you could easily get deceived that this waveforms are generated by the VCOs.
   The modulation part is also well designed. There are two full ADSR envelopes, both for the VCA and VCF, a feature not found on either the Junos or Polysix. The LFO can modulate everything you could think of, and excellent ensemble effect can compare with the best analog choruses on similar synths. Having stated this, it comes as no surprise that the classic analog synthesizer sounds will sound as you expect them: rich, warm, vivid and inspiring!  Additionally, as is the rule on the analog instruments, all these classic sounds have a pinch of original Kawai character. Just a little bit different from that of the other renowned brands, and yet close to the mainstream sound if you want it. A new fresh palette of sounds for
variety of uses.

Quite a novelty for the synth produced back than in 1980, was a new editing scheme. There is an alpha dial and a digital display instead of a vast number of potentiometers -- but don't get scared! Nothing like the notoriously unpopular menu concept, known to be the enemy #1 of sound editing. Every single parameter has its own dedicated button (as can be seen on the series of nice photos presented by PME records). After it is pressed, the display will show the precise parameter value and make the parameter controllable by the alpha dial. So, to change a parameter there are just two steps: first to choose it by a dedicated knob and the second to tweak it by the high quality pot of the alpha dial. Also, a great number of on/off parameters are directly switchable.
   The drawback of not having dedicated sliders is remedied by the ability of the full precision over the parameter value directly visible on the display, which was not possible for the programmable synthesizers in that time. Shortly stated, although without the knobs and sliders that we all like so much, you will get used to the sound editing on the SX-210 before you know it, finding it all quite logical, quick and practical.
   And regarding the alpha dial, may it be that this is the first alpha dial ever used on an electronic musical instrument, back than in 1980?  It seems so, at least among the commonly known synth with the popular price tags.
 And since produced that early, MIDI could not be implemented, as it was not on Juno 60, nor on Polysix. MIDI appeared later, on the younger brother SX-240, making this keyboard interesting to mostly those who can really play it with their fingers on!
   To continue with our comparison of SX-210 to its better known rivals of the time, there's one more advantage on SX-210: it has three polyphonic modes: 8 voice, 4 voice and mono mode. No polyphonic modes were found on Juno 60! On Polysix they could be emulated by the use of chord memory. Also, there are two slide effects: portamento and glissando. None of these were found on either Polysix or Juno 60 (implemented only later on Juno 106).
   Our policy and mission of emphasizing and appreciating originality and character of each synthesizer we present, required that we properly depict this quite underrated synthesizer. Comments on the Internet, though scarce, will provide the similar estimates. Kawai SX-210 is an excellent analog synthesizer that will contribute to the sound palette of every fan of true analog sound. And the fact that it was produced in a small quantity will make it even worthier in the eye of a serious collector. (The picture is of the actual item on sale.)

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