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Technics SX-KN6500 Synthesizer/Workstation

The myriad joys of the Technics SX-KN6500 synthesizer/workstation are not exactly obvious. As its long and inscrutable name suggests, this is a complex instrument that requires a lot of study to make the most of it. A more inviting name like the New Millennium One-Man Band Box would have been well-deserved and might have helped to convey the fun and inspiration that this instrument is capable of producing.

Weighing in at 34 pounds, this rather boxy fellow is equipped with good-sounding built-in speakers, a large display panel (with adjustable angle and contrast) and a 3.5-inch disk drive that makes loading and saving your inspirations a snap. The 61-note touch-sensitive keyboard is nonweighted, but does have aftertouch for adding modulation and other effects without losing a hand to the mod wheel. Another nice touch for real-time tone variation is a small and somewhat overly sensitive “Sound Controller” trackball that can be assigned to modify filter settings, panning and other effects. Global effects such as reverb and chorus are easily switched on and off via the front panel.

The SX-KN6500 is loaded with quite a kaleidoscope of sounds, rhythms and musical styles from around the world. Most unexpectedly, my favorite sound turned out to be the accordion! I’ve never before come across a synthesizer that gives such loving attention to the venerable squeezebox, and the result is truly ear-opening. Select “accordion register” and you are given a choice of “Italian” or “German” instruments, each of which has 10 easily selected choices of tone (displayed on screen looking just like the real thing!). Select “Bavarian Polka” from among the on-board rhythms, start the water boiling for spaetzle and sausage-you won’t be able to keep from smiling!

Organs are also given special attention, with a set of nine digital drawbars that slide up and down at the touch of a button, and a realistic Leslie speaker simulation that speeds up and slows down gradually as you play. The only shortcoming here is an annoying waver in the sound when drawbars are moved rapidly.

Other sounds of note are the nicely articulated brasses, the uncanny human voices and the basses, which are quite musically useful (after one has removed the reverb that Technics has them swimming in).

A cool feature is the ability to plug a microphone into the back of the keyboard, allowing you to add the keyboard’s effects to your voice-and even harmonize with yourself. It’s a blast to hold down a chord, sing a note and hear an instant chorus made up of your own voice! The brass simulator for voice is much less successful, producing quite an unpleasant tone.

It’s a bit hard to determine the niche that Technics is aiming for with this instrument. As a performance keyboard, it falls short by today’s standards in terms of real-time tone control. As an entry-level workstation, it’s a bit too complicated. However, for someone who is willing to ride out the learning curve, it does provide a full-featured canvas and colorful palette for musical creation and discovery. And that accordion is the bomb!

Originally Published