The last several years have represented something of a renaissance for Casio, the Tokyo, Japan-based company known both for its expansive product portfolio—ranging from musical instruments to calculators to watches and more—and for its products’ high levels of quality and value. Readers of The Music & Sound Retailer know that this applies particularly to Casio’s MI-centered products; among recent headline-grabbers are the XW-P1 Performance Synthesizer, the Privia PX-5S, and the beautiful Privia and CELVIANO digital pianos. Now, with Summer NAMM upon us, the industry anxiously awaits Casio’s latest showstopper: the Sound EFX Sampler Series.
The series encompasses five models—CTK-2400; LK-175; LK-260; CTK-2090 exclusively available at Target; and LK-170, exclusively available at Costco—that offer a variety of sampling features that can capture audio, which then can be played back from the keyboards. The Retailer spoke to Mike Martin, General Manager of Marketing, Electronic Musical Instruments, to get more details about the series, which is certain to be one of the Nashville show’s most buzzworthy launches.
According to Martin, the Sound EFX Sampler Series drew its inspiration from classic Casio products like, for example, the SK-1 sampling keyboard, which debuted in 1985. “These were really fun, groundbreaking products at the time,” he said. “We wanted to bring the ‘fun’ aspect back into portable keyboards…to really make them exciting again.” Martin elaborated that, although Casio’s keyboards from the last few years have indeed offered sampling, the feature has been in the relative background. “We’ve now brought that feature to the foreground,” he emphasized.
Casio is principally (although not exclusively) targeting the Sound EFX Sampler Series to younger players, and nothing ups the products’ fun factor quite like the sampling function, which enables users to take various bits and pieces of music and create a sample. Long Sampling mode can create one sound up to two seconds and Short Sampling mode can create up to five short sounds and tones; both modes offer 10 different effects from which to choose. A built-in sampling microphone adds to the possibilities.
Martin extolled the cool features the Sound EFX Sampler Series delivers, saying, “The sampler has flash memory, which means that, unlike the keyboards of the past where, if you turned it off, whatever sound you’d recorded would disappear, the product will store the sounds even after it’s been turned off.” He continued, “What’s also unique and fun is the ability to do drum replacement with sounds that you make. If you’ve got a standard rock or pop beat in the keyboard, you can vocalize or make sounds for different drum instruments and it’ll actually replace the existing kick or snare or other percussion instrument with the sounds you’ve created. So, any of the hundreds of different rhythms can actually be changed dramatically.” Users have the option of plugging in an MP3 player, iPod or other device or using the microphone on the front panel. Creative possibilities for fun are limitless!
All the keyboards incorporate Casio’s Step-Up Lesson system and they have built-in songs that teach users phase by phase, thus enabling them to learn at their own individual pace. The LCD display helps beginners learn music notation and correct hand positioning, as well, while Casio’s innovative system, which evaluates performance, allows users to track their progress. In addition, three of the models—LK-170, LK-175 and LK-260—are lighted-key versions that enable users to practice their song-playing skills with the help of the lighted 61-key, piano-style, touch-response keyboard. Other Sound EFX Sampler Series features include 400 built-in tones, 150 built-in rhythms (including 20 for piano play and 55 world rhythms) and 110 songs. Each model comes with a music stand and songbook, too.
Martin hastened to mention that the Sound EFX Sampler Series, like the rest of the Casio line, offers USB connectivity. “And, it’s class compliant,” he added. “That means, whether it’s a Mac or Windows computer, or even an iPad, that we connect with those without the need for drivers. As young players begin to experiment with software, iOS devices and other things, this offers a really accessible way to do that.”
These products, whose price range is between $99 and $149 and which will be in retail stores in mid- to late September, suit a broad universe of players, a fact that makes them all the more attractive for retailers like you to stock. “We’re specifically targeting the younger teen audience with these products,” Martin remarked. “However, although products like our lighted-key keyboards are very well suited to children, you find that age isn’t really a limiting factor. There are senior citizens who are learning to play keyboard for the first time, and the lighted-key system is also a really great way for them to learn.”
Although Casio has gotten some very early feedback—all extremely positive—to the Sound EFX Sampler Series, Summer NAMM this month represents the products’ grand unveiling. “Subsequently,” Martin commented, “actually beginning this month and then through September, we’re planning a series of clinics at our keyboard and piano dealers that carry our portable keyboards. That’s a pretty aggressive movement in the field for us, as far as the number of staff members and moving pieces.” Of course, Casio is involved with training on a regional level, but this initiative brings things up several notches. “We’re targeting, I believe, close to 150 retail locations,” he continued. “Those locations represent about 125 retailers, and we’re going to train them not only on our portable keyboards, but also on our other product lines.”
Sue Vander Schans, Casio’s Senior Director of Public Relations, summed up the value proposition well, telling The Retailer, “We know a lot of young kids gravitate to electronic devices like computers and they don’t pick up some of the things that we—those from our generation—embraced as entertainment devices, which is why emphasizing the sampling and putting it at the forefront helps increase the fun factor. Even the name Sound EFX…part of that was to get kids to use their imaginations as to what sounds they could make that they’d like to integrate into the keyboard.”
It seems abundantly clear that the R&D gurus back in Japan have created something special with the Sound EFX Sampler Series. If you’re at Summer NAMM, be sure to go to Booth #534 to check these out for yourself. I know that I will!