Hands-On Review:Kurzweil PC3x 88-Key Performance Controller

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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.


Totally PC


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.


Kurzweil PC3X 88-Key Performance Controller
Kurzweil PC3X 88-Key Performance Controller

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.


Definitely WORTHWEIL!


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
  • USB
  • Flash memory port