Review: Casio XW-G1 Synth/Sampler for Musicians and Djs
|Fig. 1. The XW-G1 may look a lot like Casio’s XW-P1, but offers features aimed more toward the groove/DJ/sampling crowd.
Remember the “synth vs. sampler” debate, when
people eventually figured out they were different
animals so they ended up using both? Apparently
Casio came to the same conclusion,
so they introduced the XW-P1 with multiple
synth engines for hardcore synthesizer fans,
and the XW-G1 for the more groove/DJ/sampling
crowd. The surface similarities (see Figure
1) belie the significant internal differences.
I’ve become a major XW-P1 fan because
it goes places other synths don’t. It’s quirky,
brilliant, fun, surprisingly deep, and nothing
else is quite like it . . . or comes in at that price.
You may find the architecture or UI off-putting
at first because it’s unique (a word I don’t use
lightly), but once you wrap your head around
“the Casio way of life,” it’s a blast. The G1
manual (downloadable at casiomusicgear.com)
explains the synth in great detail; this review
will concentrate more on summarizing the G1,
and describing its particular gestalt.
Overview The G1 dispenses with the P1’s
Hex Layer and Drawbar Organ engines,
replacing them with a Sample Looper and a
flash memory-based Sample Player with ten
presets. Sampling/looping RAM allows 19
seconds of a mono signal at a 21kHz sampling
rate; halve that for stereo or when using
the 42kHz sampling rate. Files can then be
transferred over to Flash ROM as user waves
to free up the RAM buffer.
The P1’s assortment of PCM Melody and
PCM Drum Tones, which you can think of as
a sort of super General MIDI module with
sounds ranging from adequate to outstanding,
remains intact but more importantly, so does
the Solo Synth and its “Minimoog thinking on
steroids”—it’s a monster.
The highest level of operation, the
Performance, stacks up to four sound engines
(one Solo Synth, and the rest PCM Tones or
However the G1 isn’t just about sounds
and samples, but control. The Multikey
feature, which allows using an octave of keys
as trigger controllers for various functions,
is quite cool. The 16-step step sequencer is
similar to the P1’s, with a few key differences:
nine tracks instead of 16, four controller
tracks, and a couple additional ways to trigger
it. The G1 also offers a 16-step arpeggiator
and phrase sequencer. Don’t overlook these,
particularly the Phrase Sequencer, which can
serve as a scratchpad recorder of notes and/or
controllers for catching inspirations and riffs,
or on a more formal basis, provide “drop-in”
sequences—for example, I made a cool little
sample-and-hold controller phrase to drive
I also play guitar, and with the external
input, I can use both hands while the phrase
sequencer alters notes and other parameters.
Notes? Yes, this external input (for mic, line,
or instrument) has an oscillator block that
provides realtime pitch transposition while
you play keys. It’s lo-fi for sure, but that’s its
charm, as you can transpose your way to some
really wacky sounds.
Each zone can have its own arpeggiator
and phrase; the step sequencer can be
enabled/disabled for each zone. The
sequencer is great for building up patterns,
and with a little manual-reading time, easy
to use. I can even do an approximation of my
Ableton Live “fader-slamming” act by using
the nine sliders to control mixer levels for the
sequencer tracks, and of course, it’s ace for
Other control options include four
assignable realtime control knobs, and the
usual pitch bend and mod wheels. These
controls take a little getting used to, as they’re
fairly small and close together; but you can
manipulate both simultaneously with ease.
Looping and Sampling The looper does
what you’d expect, but more—like being able
to re-sample sounds from within the G1,
although you can also plug an instrument into
the back and treat the looper like a standalone
effect. It can also work with sampling. (I’ll
describe that later.)
|Fig. 2. The crossplatform editor is an invaluable addition to the keyboard, not just for programming but also for understanding its architecture. This shows a Performance’s parameters.
Sampling does some things well, some
things superbly, and some things . . . not
so well. Transposing a sample across the
keyboard works great—transposition quality
is good, and the G1 recognizes a sample’s loop.
If you try to transpose way out of range, it
will just repeat the top octave of the range so
there’s no dead space on the keyboard.
Multisampling is non-standard; a G1 user
wave tone has only one sample, so there are
no conventional multisampling split points.
Instead, you assemble up to five samples
consecutively, one after another. Each “split”
then specifies the start and end of each section
within the sample; in other words, each split
plays back a different portion of the sample.
Each split can loop from an arbitrary point
in the middle to the end, but for instrument
sounds, you can’t specify the loop points with
sufficient accuracy to do short (e.g., only a
few cycles) loops. No sample editor that I’ve
used can generate multiple loop points within
a single sample that the G1 will recognize. If
you want a multi-sampled cello, this is not the
droid you’re looking for.
However if you have a sampled phrase
like a piece of music, it’s a very different
story. Defining different sections, mapping
them to keys, and being able to loop them
makes for some great breaks, DJ-style loop
mashing, sound effects, stutters, and more.
What’s more, the looper fits resampling like
a glove—for example, it’s easy to record five
consecutive step sequencer sequences, shuttle
the wave into a tone, and the G1 automatically
sets the split points and you can start playing
immediately. The integration among all the
G1 elements—looper, step sequencer, sampler,
arpeggiator, etc.—is a major strength.
Computer Connection Casio’s G1 Editor/
Librarian (see Figure 2) is a stellar addition to
the package. It’s well-crafted, and doesn’t have
that tentative feel some custom editors do.
It needs better documentation for sampling
and user waves, but overall, does the job. It’s
also the quickest way to understand the G1’s
architecture and capabilities. The manual will
fill you in on the details, but spend 30 minutes
with the editor and you’ll have the big picture.
The G1 communicates MIDI (but not
audio) over USB, but also has 5-pin DIN
MIDI jacks so you can drive it with, for
example, a controller with aftertouch
(which the Casio synths lack, but
recognize) or use the G1 as a four-zone
DSP Yes, you have effects—46 total for any
of the tones, including the basics as well as
combinations (compressor + wah, distortion
+ flanger, etc.). The Solo Synth only offers six
effects, although Casio gets extra credit for
making one of them a ring modulator. They’re
reasonably good, but I suspect in the studio,
most people will run the synth dry and use
their favorite plug-ins.
Extras As mentioned earlier, this product
is deep, and it has lots of extras. The Solo
Synth can blend two oscillators, two PCM
waveforms, the external input, and a noise
generator; it also has 8x8 matrix modulation,
and an overall filter to complement the
ones for individual voices. The G1 can
run off batteries, and the sliders provide
a control surface for three banks of Solo
Synth parameters. And the Step Sequencer
is wonderful—there isn’t space to tell its full
story, but it’s an important part of the synth.
Oh, and the G1 is really light and easy to
carry around. No, the case isn’t all-metal, but
Casio has some kind of mojo that makes these
keyboards more rugged than they would
seem at first.
Conclusions The G1 is just as much fun
as the P1, and for groove fans, perhaps
even more so. Stepping back, the thing that
distinguishes Casio’s new synths is the
fact that they are new synths. I know some
keyboardists who have Rigs of the Gods but
got themselves one of these puppies because,
to quote one, “this is the most fun I’ve had
with a synth in a long time.” Just remember
to approach these synths the way they want
to be approached; appreciate them for their
unique characteristics, and you’ll have a blast.
I sure am.
Brings something new to the party. Costeffective.
Solo Synth engine is extremely
flexible. User sampling and looping.
Excellent companion software, although
front-panel editing is pretty transparent.
Cool step sequencer. Solid realtime
LIMITATIONS: Sampling process
is convoluted. Sample memory not
expandable. Lacks the XW-P1’s Hex Layer
and Drawbar Organ engines.
$799.99 MSRP, $599.99 street