Following the first part of my History of Casio Keyboards, this is the story of the years 1984 to 1988, when Casio unsuccessfully tried breaking into the professional music market, unfortunately neglecting the home user business. While Casio’s first years are marked by constant innovation, this innovation started becoming rarer in the mid-1980s.
While their first attempt to build a professional instrument (the Casiotone 1000P in 1982) didn’t meet with success, Casio tried again when they released the CZ line of synths, their first fully digital machines that emulated Yamaha’s FM synthesis with Casio’s house-brewerd PD (Phase Distortion) synthesis. The CZ quickly were a big success. Unfortunately, all attempts to repeat this success flopped — either due to bad marketing, or to overcomplex user interface; additionally, Casio still suffered from their “pocket calculator company” image reinforced by its first great success, the VL-Tone 1. Even such sophisticated instruments like the FZ-1 sampler didn’t gain recognition.
While, as I said, Casio neglected the home user, they released at least one groundbreaking instrument which is as famous as the VL-1: Released in 1986, the Casio SK-1 is often claimed to be the first low-budget, lo-fi sampler. Also interesting were the “Super Drums” keyboards, where you could switch between different rhythm variations. But Casio’s masterpiece of this years appeared in 1984: The MT-400V, and its fullsize brother CT-410V, combined the flexible accompaniment variations of the D930/D931 hardware family with an analog resonance filter that could even be applied to rhythm and accompaniment — no other keyboard of the 1980s has this mighty feature, making it, in my eyes, the single most fascinating and powerful home keyboard of the 1980s. Unfortunately, instruments like these increasingly became the exception. Most keyboards were just clones of earlier hardware, mostly with stripped-down features.
Another trend among Casio’s keyboards of these years was the digital revolution. While Yamaha had completely switched to digital in 1983, Casio still used semi-analog hardware, that slowly began to be replaced by digital technologies. From 1985 on, the percussions became digital; finally, in 1988, Casio exclusively started using wavetable synthesis for their keyboards. This, however, was pretty much the end of Casio as producer of wonderfully weird keyboards. The new instruments completely lacked effects and rhythm or accompaniment variations. Even worse, Casio started literally flooding the market with even more, and even more identical, clones. From 1988 on, you have to look hard for innovations in Casio keyboards.
Finally, not only did the features of Casio keyboards get more boring, but also their designs. While many of the earlier keyboards are really beautiful, Casio now put less emphasis on design, most of the keyboards are boring black or grey boxes. Well, it’s a matter of taste, I know, but still.
But let’s start in 1984, and see what wonderful instruments Casio built in the year of Big Brother…