Hands-On Review:Kurzweil PC3x 88-Key Performance Controller
A-VAST mateys, Kurzweil sets sail with a new flagship synth
By Darius Van Rhuehl
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
Actually, I’ve never been approached by a pirate who’s requested that I avast, nor could I, not knowing what avasting is. However, there is a vast that I am qualified to talk about: it’s the new Dynamic VAST sound engine in the top-of-the-line Kurzweil PC3x Performance Controller. So avast mateys (if you know how), there be a sonic storm a-brewin’ that’ll shiver yer timbres.
The PC3x is an 88-key, 128-voice workstation-performance instrument-MIDI controller with a synthesis engine beyond the dreams of sound designers. Of course, creating sounds is one thing, performing them effectively is another. Playing different instrument sounds on a synth requires different techniques and feel, so Kurzweil designed a quick-release spring that goes from a pianistic feel to synth/organ techniques without missing a beat (literally). Though Kurzweil keybeds have always had the best feel, you can further adjust the response to suit your touch.
The PC3x provides a number of other options for controlling sound including the usual pitch and mod wheels, two continuous control pedal inputs, mono pressure, ribbon and breath controller inputs, arpeggiator button, and much more. It has nine sliders/drawbars to give you realtime control over its incredible KB3 tonewheel organ simulator. I’ve played old B-3s, and the PC3x is like having the real thing in a sleek package. You can also control rotary speaker effects from the mod wheel.
A VAST improvement
Users of Kurzweil’s older VAST sound engine have spent years delving into its depths and still haven’t exhausted its possibilities. With the new features of Dynamic VAST, endless options are multiplied by infinite possibilities. Most synths have a fixed amount of DSP tools you can process waveforms through. Dynamic VAST allows you to choose from a long list of DSP functions and combine them in any order you like. VAST’s Cascade mode routes any layer of a program into the DSP of any other layer, meaning that any of 32 layers with its own DSP architecture can go into any other layer—and all can move independently in real time. You can even create and save your own DSP algorithms!
Kurzweil has also included the VA-1 virtual analog synthesis engine, which can be combined with the VAST engine to deliver incredibly complex new sounds, as well as authentic analog emulations.
Another improvement is its onboard effects processor based on the acclaimed KSP8 hardware processor, but with twice the power. You get 16 effects inserts with 12 buses, two aux sends, and hundreds of award-winning effects. There’s also a mastering EQ that’s independent of the inserts.
So little time, so much to know
With so many features, it’s impossible to do justice to the PC3x in this space, so I’ll just mention three. Easy Audition makes finding the right sound a breeze. Each preset accesses prerecorded sequences that play each sound in an appropriate context.
Next up is the PC3x’s 16-channel multitimbral sequencer. It offers unlimited tracks and almost twice the PPQ resolution of most sequencing software, which enables more precise control over groove and feel. Plus, you can create loops within a track that can be stretched, compressed, copied, repeated, and transposed.
Putting it through its paces, I took a problematic song that I had been working on in my DAW. The virtual drum instrument I’d been using sounded great, but the drums seemed loose and out of time no matter what I did. Instead of using the PC3x as an external MIDI sound source, I tried doing drum tracks in the PC3x’s sequencer. Using its drum track mode, which supports unlimited tracks, I was able to complete the part and fly it into my DAW via the digital outputs, set at 24-bit/96kHz (it goes to 192kHz) to match the DAW recording, and used the external clock feature to avoid clicks and pops. The drum track mode doesn’t respond to the transpose function, so if you want to change your song’s key, the drums stay intact. I found myself able to do everything I would do in my DAW, plus insert high-quality effects and never see an error message. Ultimately, I wound up using the PC3x for all the keyboard parts. It was nice to be able to finish a song without turning on the computer, and still have record-quality sound. There’s also great potential for performing live with stellar backing tracks.
The third feature that caught my ear was the arpeggiator. You’ve heard of “flagship” synths touting dual arpeggiators? The PC3x has 16 independent arpeggiators that can be manipulated in a number of ways including play order, tempo, sync, duration, velocity, as well as play prerecorded beats and phrases. Plus, you have realtime control over several parameters. I nearly broke my brain (in a good way) playing with these, and when you consider the options offered by VAST engine, KSP8 effects, and various modulators, exploring its potential could be endless.
It’s difficult to express just how much bang-for-the-buck you’re getting with the PC3x. It more than earns its keep in any one of its functional arenas—live performance, MIDI control, sound design, song creation, and serious record production. The sounds are everything you’d expect from the top name in synthesis and more. And there’s nothing like being able to scroll instantly through 1,000 top-notch sounds—from spot-on vintage emulations to unique soundscapes—for hours of instant gratification and inspiration. This is an instrument you could spend a lifetime getting to know.
Features & Specs
- 88-note, fully weighted hammer-action keys with quick-release spring
- 128-voice polyphony
- 16-part multitimbral
- 240 x 64 angled, backlit LCD display
- New Dynamic VAST synthesis engine
- VA-1 virtual analog synth
- KB3 tonewheel organ simulator
- Cascade mode allows up to 32 program layers through the DSP of any other layer
- Over 850 stunning new factory presets
- 64 new KB3 programs
- Over 300 effects from the acclaimed KSP8 FX processor
- Software editor for PC/Mac
- 96 factory-programmed MIDI setups
- 2 sound ROM expansion slots
- Unlimited sequencer tracks; 1,536 PPQ resolution
- 16 insert effects, 12 buses, 2 aux sends
- Master FX section
- Pitch and mod wheels
- 9 front-panel slider/drawbar controllers
- 2 front-panel switches
- 3 switch pedal inputs
- 2 continuous control pedal inputs
- Mono pressure
- Super Ribbon input
- Breath controller input
- 16 full-featured independent arpeggiators
- 4 - 1/4" balanced TRS analog outputs (24-bit DACs)
- 1/4" headphone output
- 24-bit, stereo S/PDIF output 44.1 - 192kHz (externally clockable)
- MIDI In, Out, Thru
- Flash memory port