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Eight Questions for Casio



A look at the “iconic” synth company’s technology, plans, and mission.

Casio has a long history of releasing instruments that make you look twice. They could have a new synthesis method, maybe their combination of features is interesting, other times it’s simply the value. But they’re not known as a “we can do that too” company.

It was our pleasure to meet Taiki Fukuhara, who leads Casio’s planning in the Synth and Software areas of interest, at the NAMM Show this January. We arranged to follow up on the discussion after that busy convention when we were able to format our questions and answers in more detail.

And voilà.

Mr. Taiki Fukuhara’s official title is Manager of the Strategic Planning Section, Global Strategic Planning Department, Sound Business Unit.

Mr. Taiki Fukuhara

1. Going back to the early digital days, Casio has had a reputation for putting sophisticated technology in very affordable packages. Two examples would be the ‘80s CZ-101 synth and DH-series MIDI wind controllers (or wind synths, since they had built-in sounds).

There have certainly been exceptions, such as the rack mount VZ-1, but certainly, the recent CT-S1 and CT-S1000V would seem to carry on that tradition. They’re both “this is all you need to bring to a gig” instruments, complete with their own built-in speakers.

Is that a trend we can expect to see continuing?

While not designed specifically for gigging musicians, the CT-S1 and CT-S1000V reflect Casio’s overarching business ethos, encapsulated by the Casiotone brand mantra, “Make Music, Anytime, Anywhere,” highlighting inclusivity and pleasure for everyone. This ethos is ingrained in Casio’s core values, stemming from its mission to democratize cutting-edge digital technology for all.

As technology progresses and preferences shift, Casio steadfastly upholds the principle of accessibility, continuously innovating to ensure music remains enjoyable and attainable for people from diverse backgrounds and tastes.

2. Speaking of the CZ-101, its classic phase distortion synthesis can be found in some of your recent instruments (again, the CT-S1 and CT-S1000V). The CZ-101 was very popular when it came out, in no small part because it was multitimbral. You’re still using that same synthesis method in current instruments. Is that something you’re planning on developing further (beyond having added velocity sensitivity), or are you leaving it as is to preserve its authenticity?

We have indeed incorporated some of the classic synth sounds, including the ones from the CZ-101, into our current models. However, it’s important to note that the method of creating these sounds has evolved over time. When the CZ-101 was introduced, its unique phase distortion synthesis technology was ground-breaking, especially considering that PCM synthesis technology wasn’t widely available then. Many synthesizer companies were focused on creating unique new sounds to stand out in the market.

Since then, PCM synthesis technology has become the mainstream, allowing for the realistic recreation of versatile instrument sounds. We can now easily recreate sounds that were previously achieved through phase distortion synthesis using PCM technology. This aligns with our business philosophy of making cutting-edge technologies accessible to everyone.

At the same time, we are continuously innovating and exploring new synthesis methods to address areas where PCM synthesis may not excel. For example, with the CT-S1000V, we’ve introduced Vocal Synthesis, aiming to make vocal sounds more accessible. Our goal is to strike a balance between honoring our legacy and pushing the boundaries of innovation to create new and exciting products that everyone can enjoy.

3. About Vocal Synthesis – you mentioned that it’s using AI machine learning for inflections and formants. If you could, please explain what’s going on.

Vocal Synthesis functions like a “preset vocoder.” It features onboard synth tones known as “Vocalists,” which serve as carrier sounds. Instead of using real-time vocal input as the modulator, we employ an onboard pronunciation model created through machine learning. We can emulate vocal pronunciation in the synthesized sound by multiplying the carrier and modulator. This smooth pronunciation flow is achieved through real-time processing based on modeling created from actual singing data, which is difficult to achieve with conventional PCM technology.

4. You’ve also come out with a line of digital pianos (the Privia series, which incidentally are higher-end instruments). One feature you brought up is the ability to tune its speakers to the room – something we see in a lot of studio monitors today. Could you say something about that technology?

The technology on the Privia model is based on our unique acoustic system called the “Spatial Sound System.” This method and resulting sound experience, which delivers the natural sound field of a grand piano, is impossible to achieve with conventional stereo systems. By utilizing four channels, we can individually adjust sound elements such as frequency, volume, and localization and then blend them in the air. This enables us to achieve an unprecedentedly natural and expansive sound even from our digital pianos’ slim and sleek body.

Furthermore, we can offer optional acoustic characteristics to suit different placement preferences by varying the balance of each sound element from each speaker. We’ve recently introduced three new Celviano models, with the uppermost model, the AP-750, featuring a similar sound system incorporating technologies derived from this innovation.

5. Do you treat digital pianos as an entire product category from synths, or how much if any overlap is there between them?

We clearly distinguish between digital pianos and keyboards, which include synthesizers. A digital piano is essentially a digitized grand piano designed to replicate a grand piano’s playability, key touch, tones, and acoustics.

On the other hand, keyboards fall into the broader category of keyboard instruments, primarily portable and used to produce sounds ranging from other musical instruments to unique electronic tones. The main value proposition of digital pianos lies in their ability to closely replicate the experience of playing a grand piano. However, specific features may vary depending on the product in the case of keyboards.

6. Another trend from Casio (and other companies) is that you support Android and iOS, as well as Bluetooth. Have you found that your audience demands that, or is it something you’re advancing for other reasons?

Supporting mobile smart devices has become widespread across many industries. Our target users include not only full-blown experts with high-end computers and professional software, but also young users who primarily use smart devices. Therefore, we need to provide support for the most common platforms based on our business philosophy.

7. Your mobile device support includes play-along songs and patterns. Is that a feature your audience demands, or are you trying to stay at the forefront of music education?

Having play-along songs and rhythm patterns has been very common for quite a while, and it’s a feature that digital instruments uniquely offer. While these functionalities have been widely used in music education, we focus on personal satisfaction in self-training and having fun.

We hope these features encourage people to start or continue playing instruments, especially beginners who may find practicing alone boring.

8. When we met at NAMM, you mentioned the importance of the interface – making all the advanced technology very accessible.

As I’ve emphasized throughout this interview, our approach is grounded in our business philosophy of making music more accessible and enjoyable for all.

While our products boast excellent fundamental qualities as musical instruments, they mustn’t be overly complicated to use, especially for entry-level users. In pursuit of our goal to bring the joy of making music to as many people as possible, I believe that designing simple and intuitive user interfaces is indispensable.

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