The Kawai K4: A Hidden Gem
Introduction to Kawai K4
The Kawai K4, a 16-bit digital synthesizer, is a marvel of modern music technology. This instrument, which was released following the success of the Kawai K1, has been praised for its advanced features and capabilities. This article will delve into the intricacies of the Kawai K4, exploring its design, sound capabilities, and overall impact on the music industry.
The Evolution of Kawai Synthesizers
The Success of Kawai K1
The Kawai K1 was a groundbreaking instrument that won numerous awards, including Sound On Sound’s prestigious ‘Synth Of The Year’. The K1’s technology involved the use of stored waveforms in ROM, which could be combined and manipulated in various ways to produce complex original sounds. This technology was later upgraded to create the Kawai K4, the company’s new flagship synth.
The Design and Aesthetics of Kawai K4
The Kawai K4 boasts a sleek, two-tone finish, with a black body and white keys and lettering. The front panel is minimalist, featuring two sliders for volume and value, a 16×2 backlit LCD set just left of center, and a collection of 31 switches that allow access to the voices and editing. The two performance wheels are conveniently located to the left of the keyboard.
The Sound Capabilities of Kawai K4
The Variety of Sounds
The Kawai K4 can produce a wide range of sounds, from lush pads to harsh leads, and from analogue-style swept filter brass to timpani. This versatility ensures that the K4 can cater to a broad spectrum of musical styles and preferences.
The Quality of Sounds
The K4 houses 256 high-quality waveforms, including 96 DC (Digital Cyclic) waveforms and 160 PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) waveforms. These waveforms are referred to by number rather than name in the LCD window, so a separate printed Wave List Table may be needed for selection. The sound quality of these PCM ‘samples’ is excellent, thanks to the K4’s internal 16-bit storage.
The Structure of Kawai K4 Sound
The Role of Filters
The Kawai K4 stands out for its use of filters, or DCFs (Digitally Controlled Filters), which allow the tone of the selected waveform(s) to be changed over time, much like on an old analogue synth. The filter even has a Resonance control, which adds to the versatility of the sound shaping capabilities.
The Role of DCFs
The DCFs in the K4 are not the end of this instrument’s sound shaping capabilities. In fact, they’re hardly the beginning. To understand how the K4 works, consider a basic Single Patch in Normal mode. You have two Sources (in the form of a Wave, a DCO, and a DCA). The DCO (Digitally Controlled Oscillator) receives information from the keyboard concerning which key is pressed, and outputs the selected waveform at the appropriate pitch. This pitch can be modified by the Bend wheel, Aftertouch, Vibrato, etc.
The Single and Multi Patches of Kawai K4
The Kawai K4 offers a total of 32 Sources, which means that in the Single play mode on a Normal Patch (two Sources) you can get 16-note polyphony – this is the absolute maximum – and with a Twin or Double Patch (four Sources) you are limited to 8-note polyphony. The 64 Single Patches contained in the Internal Memory of the K4 are selected via four Bank and 16 Patch Select switches when the unit is in Single play mode.
The Drum Section of Kawai K4
The K4 has a Drum Section that includes 61 Drum Patches (mapped to a different note on the keyboard), each of which uses two Sources to create some excellent drum sounds. In this context, ‘Patch’ means a single sound on a single note, and all the Drum Patches are active within the Section at once.
The MIDI and System Functions of Kawai K4
MIDI can be used for a good deal more than simply driving the K4 in multitimbral operation – you can carry out all the usual Patch dump/load, Memory dump/load, Patch edit functions via the mighty five-pin DIN sockets. A very welcome feature, not found on many similar instruments, is the ability to change the Single Patch selected for an individual Multi Section by sending a program change command on the appropriate MIDI channel.
Unique Features of Kawai K4
Split and Tone Layers
One of the standout features of the Kawai K4 is its ability to split up to 8 different sections at once. This, coupled with the ability to have up to 8 different tone layers, makes it a fantastic tool for live performances.
The “Link” Function
The Kawai K4 also boasts a “link” function, which allows you to program a queue and change patches on the fly during a performance. This makes moving from one patch to another seamless.
Another unique feature of the Kawai K4 is velocity switching. This allows different sounds to play depending on how hard or soft you press the keys.
The Kawai K4 and Its Sound
Industrial, Synthpop, DnB, and Hardcore/Breakbeat/Chemical Synth Style Music
The Kawai K4 is often cited as a very good synth for Industrial, Synthpop, DnB, and Hardcore/Breakbeat/Chemical synth style music. Despite being a digital machine, it has a warm sound to it and with some patches, it sounds very analog-ish.
Sure check out this video
and this one
The Kawai K4r
The Kawai K4r is the rack version of the Kawai K4 synthesizer. Like its keyboard counterpart, the K4r is a digital synthesizer that is known for its unique sound and versatility. However, the K4r comes in a more compact and convenient rack-mountable format, making it a great choice for musicians and producers who are short on space or prefer a more streamlined setup.
The K4r shares many of the same features as the K4, including the ability to split up to 8 different sections at once and have up to 8 different tone layers.One of the key differences between the K4 and the K4r is the absence of the effects processor on the K4r. This means that the K4r must be paired up with an external fx device. Especially in the 80s many people had rack full of fx devices, so Kawai decided that they would rather implement multiple outputs that the effects section on the K4. In my opinion the fx section on the keyboard version is one important component that gives the synth its character.
The Kawai K4 is recommended over the K4r for one this simple reason of having the fx unit on board. If you rather prefer to run the synth with your own fx devices you can pick up the rack version and profit from the multiple outputs.
The Bonus: DC-16 Memory Card
The Kawai K4 / K4r had a bonus bonus – a DC-16 Memory Card. With this card you could use more sounds that the 64 default patches. Sometimes you still find these on ebay or reverb.
The Effect Processor in Kawai K4
The Difference It Makes
There is an effect processor in the Kawai K4 synth version which is actually quite nice. The effects on the Kawai K4 absolutely make a world of difference to the sound and edginess of the K4.
Why You Should Get a Kawai K4
If you ever find a Kawai K4 sitting on a shelf for a decent price, don’t hesitate one second to pick it up. It’s a synth that will cut through almost any mix and hold the job of “secret weapon” nicely.
The Conclusion: The Impact of Kawai K4
Despite some minor gripes regarding the separate power supply, the inability to change waveform ROMs, and the Drum Section, the Kawai K4 is a remarkable instrument. The factory presets are very usable, including the Pianos, which are rather weak on the K1. Things get better still when you move into the realms of Multi Patches – some of them are quite breathtaking, and will no doubt feature very heavily on numerous records in the near future.
A short Kawai K4 review
The Kawai K4 synthesizer stands out in the digital synthesizer market for its unique features and capabilities. Here are three key positive points that make the K4 a remarkable instrument:
- Resonant Digital Filter: One of the K4’s most impressive features is its resonant digital filter. This filter is capable of self-oscillation, a characteristic usually associated with analog synthesizers. This feature allows the K4 to produce a wide range of sounds, from subtle tonal colorations to intense, sweeping filter effects. The resonant digital filter is a testament to Kawai’s innovative approach to digital synthesis, offering musicians a level of expressiveness that is often lacking in digital instruments.
- Crystal Clear and Noise-Free Synthesizer Sounds: The Kawai K4 is renowned for its crystal clear and noise-free synthesizer sounds. Thanks to its 16-bit samples, the K4 operates nearly noise-free, providing a clean and clear sound that sets it apart from other synthesizers of its time. This clarity allows the K4’s unique sounds to shine through in any mix, making it a valuable tool for musicians and producers.
- Broad Sound Spectrum from D50 to Prophet VS: The Kawai K4 offers a broad sound spectrum, capable of spanning sounds from the Roland D50 to the Sequential Prophet VS. This wide range of possible sounds makes the K4 a versatile instrument, suitable for a variety of musical styles and genres. Whether you’re looking for the lush pads of the D50 or the unique vector synthesis of the Prophet VS, the K4 has you covered. This versatility, combined with its resonant digital filter and clear, noise-free sounds, makes the Kawai K4 a standout choice for any synthesizer enthusiast.
Where can I find the Kawai K4 manual?
The Kawai K4 manual provides comprehensive instructions on how to operate this synthesizer. It covers everything from basic operations, such as turning the device on and off, to more complex procedures like programming and editing sounds. The manual also includes a detailed explanation of the K4’s features, such as its multi-timbral capabilities, MIDI implementation, and built-in effects. You can download the manual here: https://kawaius.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Kawai-K4-Synthesizer-Manual.pdf
Is there a Kawai K4 vst I can download?
Despite the growing demand for vintage synthesizer emulation in the form of Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins, it’s surprising to note that there is no Kawai K4 VST available in the market as of now. The Kawai K4, known for its unique digital synthesis capabilities and distinct sound, remains unrepresented in the realm of VSTs. This is in stark contrast to the Kawai K1, which has been successfully emulated as a VST by Nils Schneider. I’ve also read that Nils was working on a K4 emulation but we didn’t see any new updates in the last couple of years (check out link here)
- What is the Kawai K4?
- The Kawai K4 is a 16-bit digital synthesizer that was released in the late 1980s. It is known for its advanced features and capabilities, including a wide range of sounds and a versatile filter system.
- What types of sounds can the Kawai K4 produce?
- The Kawai K4 can produce a wide range of sounds, from lush pads to harsh leads, and from analogue-style swept filter brass to timpani. It houses 256 high-quality waveforms, including 96 DC (Digital Cyclic) waveforms and 160 PCM (Pulse Code Modulation) waveforms.
- What is unique about the Kawai K4’s sound structure?
- The Kawai K4 stands out for its use of filters, or DCFs (Digitally Controlled Filters), which allow the tone of the selected waveform(s) to be changed over time. It also uses DCOs (Digitally Controlled Oscillators) to output the selected waveform at the appropriate pitch. It sounds rather gritty and dirty while having an analog vibe to it. Check out the youtube videos above to get a feel for it’s sound.
- What is the Kawai K4’s drum section like?
- The K4 has a Drum Section that includes 61 Drum Patches, each of which uses two Sources to create some excellent drum sounds. Each Drum Patch is mapped to a different note on the keyboard.
- What are the MIDI capabilities of the Kawai K4?
- MIDI can be used for a good deal more than simply driving the K4 in multitimbral operation – you can carry out all the usual Patch dump/load, Memory dump/load, Patch edit functions via the mighty five-pin DIN sockets.
- What is the Kawai K4R?
- The Kawai K4R is the rack-mounted version of the Kawai K4 synthesizer. It offers the same sound capabilities as the K4, but in a more compact and portable format.
- What are the differences between the Kawai K4 and the Kawai K4R?
- The main difference between the Kawai K4 and the Kawai K4R is the form factor and the missing effect unit on the K4r. The K4 is a keyboard synthesizer, while the K4R is a rack-mounted unit. While the rack version doesn’t have any effects, it has multiple outs.
- Why is the Kawai K4 considered a gem in the world of synthesizers?
- The Kawai K4 is considered a gem in the world of synthesizers due to its unique blend of versatility, quality, and character. From its sleek design and intuitive user interface to its versatile sound capabilities and durable construction, the K4 is a true testament to the power of innovation and the endless possibilities of music technology.
- Why is the Kawai K4 considered a gem in the world of synthesizers?