Hands-On Review:Kurzweil PC1 Series

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Kurzweil quality for the gigging musician



Kurzweil PC1 Series

The Kurzweil PC1 Series has gained a reputation as especially juicy gear offering a lot of excellent sounds and professional performance at a good price. It’s not really a surprise considering the PC1X, PC161, and PC1se were all developed from the award-winning PC2 keyboard series. So how do you slim down the fat feature set of a more expensive keyboard without destroying what made musicians love it in the first place? Kurzweil did it by carefully streamlining the PC2 without stripping away valuable sounds or the legendary Kurzweil feel. The result is an affordable stage board that truly rocks.


The PC1 Series is definitely made for gigging, no doubt about it. They’re lighter—and therefore more portable—than the PC2 Series. They also don’t have the extensive programming and editing features of the PC2 ’boards, but when you’re onstage and playing your heart out, you’re not usually going to be doing any deep editing on the sound programs. That’s really the big appeal of the PC1 Series, anyway. When you select a voice it’s already pretty much dialed in to the "sweet spot" so you can just focus on playing. You also get Kurzweil’s always-stellar effects processing with flexible routing that helps you put the effects where you want them.


Voices and sounds


Each of the models in the PC1 Series includes the entire sound set from the PC2 Series ROM and comes with the acclaimed Orchestral ROM as well for a total of 512 top-notch programs. The Orchestral voice ROM comes with strings (including solo strings), woodwinds, brass (jazz and orchestral), ensembles, choir, organ, harp, nylon string guitar, and percussion. You can also expand the sound set by adding the optional Classic Keys Expansion. The Classic Keys ROM is a seriously sweet block of vintage electric piano, organ, and synth sounds based on a list of classics: the Hohner Clavinet and Pianet, ARP Solina String Ensemble, Mellotron, Yamaha CP-80, and RMI Electra-Piano. Classic Keys also makes use of the PC-Series base ROM samples to give you expanded vintage Rhodes and Wurlitzer programs. For PC2 users, four new additional KB3 Organ programs are included as well. (KB3 mode is NOT available in the PC1 Series). All the voices deliver Kurzweil workstation-quality sounds. You also get 128 user program slots to create and save your own customized voices.


The PC1 keyboards have 64-voice polyphony which is dynamically allocated to where and when your playing demands it. The voices are tweaked to take best advantage of the polyphony allocation with randomizer and logarithmic equations that make tons of minute changes with every keystroke. It ensures you’re getting the most accurate portrayal of your expression and getting the most out of each voice.


Kurzweil PC1X and PC161
Kurzweil's PC1X and PC161 performance controllers

Expression and effects


For expression control you get a pitch wheel, modulation wheel, one continuous control pedal input, one dual footswitch input, mono pressure, and an input for Kurzweil’s Super Ribbon, which is a 600mm touch-sensitive, programmable, ribbon-style controller. For voice parameter control you get four front-panel knobs that adjust things like EQ and effects for the voices and four front-panel switches that offer momentary or toggle operation. You get 16 multitimbral parts (one per MIDI channel), 64 factory MIDI setups, and 128 user MIDI setups, each with four independent zones, effects, and arpeggiator settings. The arpeggiator gives you multiple latch modes for triggering as well as control over play order, velocity, duration, tempo, and sync functions.


There are two effects processors inside the PC1 Series that serve up an impressive array of 119 studio-quality digital effects with 44 preconfigured combination effects. These are the same processing circuits and algorithms found in Kurzweil’s highly respected standalone rackmount processors, so the quality is far superior to the effects included in most keyboards in the PC1 models’ price range. The PC1’s flexible effects architecture allows you to send all 16 MIDI channels to both processors as well as route all 16 from one processor into the other for serial effects chaining. On top of all these effects you also get a global three-band EQ.




The top of the PC1 Series is the PC1X. It was the first PC1 keyboard unveiled and is the most direct descendant of the PC2 Series with fully weighted piano action and velocity and pressure sensitivity. Like the other PC1 models, it delivers the quality voices from a professional-level workstation or MIDI sound module but in an extremely playable keyboard format. The PC1X is the piano player’s keyboard with very convincing acoustic piano feel from the nicely weighted 88 hammer-action keys. It delivers phenomenal play and outstanding voices that are ready to perform.




Of course, not everyone wants or needs an 88-key board with full hammer action. For these musicians Kurzweil makes the PC161, its most affordable and lightweight PC1 model. It has all the sounds, effects and controller capabilities of the popular PC1X in a lightweight, stylish, contemporary 61-note enclosure.




The PC1se is the newest addition to the PC1 Series and is made especially for players who want a top-quality keyboard that’s more portable than an 88-key model. It has 76 keys, but is unique because it has the fully weighted piano action of the PC1X, so you get responsive, expressive play in a keyboard that’s also easier to pack up and load out. It includes the standard PC1 set of sounds but also comes with the Classic Keys expansion ROM, including all the special vintage electric piano, organ, and synth sounds compiled for the PC2 series. With these sounds the PC1se is perfect for duty in rock, R & B, funk, jazz, and pop bands, giving the gigging keyboard player all the voices needed while being easy to transport.


Another nice thing about the PC1 Series is that you get a nice, thick manual explaining all the functions in detail that you can immediately throw back in the box and almost never look at again. The PC1 Series is dead easy to use. If you’re coming straight over from acoustic piano, don’t own any other digital gear, or get into the more complex setup options, you might need the manual. But if you’ve got a certain level of familiarity with the way modern electronic devices operate—with menus and screens and buttons and such—or are stepping up to a PC1 from your first keyboard, you will probably find the manual collects dust nicely while you’re out playing gigs.


Series features:

  • Display: 2x20 character LCD with rear panel contrast knob
  • 64-voice polyphony, dynamically allocated
  • 16 multitimbral parts (one per MIDI channel)
  • 128 user program locations
  • 64 factory programmed MIDI setups
  • Standard general MIDI
  • 128 user MIDI setups
  • One ROM expansion slot
  • Dual effects processors (A & B): 58 reverbs, 6 delays, 10 choruses, 6 flangers, 3 phasers, 4 shapers, 2 enhancers, 8 filtered effects, 4 distortions, 1 mono>stereo, 3 wide stereo, 4 compressors, 2 panners, 7 rotaries, stereo tremolo, and 44 combination effects
  • Flexible effects routing
  • Global 3-band EQ
  • MIDI In/Out/Thru
  • Pitch wheel
  • Modulation wheel
  • 4 assignable front panel knobs
  • 4 assignable front panel switches (momentary or toggle, software selectable)
  • Continuous control pedal input
  • Dual footswitch input, mono pressure
  • Super Ribbon input
  • Full-featured MIDI note arpeggiator
  • 2 - 1/4" balanced TRS analog (24-bit DACs) outs
  • 1/4" headphone output
  • Free flash ROM OS updates


  • 61-note synth action
  • 520 programs expandable to 648 via Classic Keys ROM


  • 76-note hammer action
  • 648 programs including Classic Keys ROM


  • 88-note hammer action
  • 520 programs expandable to 660 via Classic Keys ROM