Casio VL1/5/10

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Casio VL1

The VL1 is a novelty and historic marker - possibly the smallest and cheapest electronic organ/drum machine combination that appeared in the market enabling all those home musicians who thought they'd never own a synthesizer to actually have an instrument after saving up pocket money.

There are only 6 different sounds on this item,but the 6th one is a programmable one,allowing ADSR envelopes and the choice of vibrato speed and tone type selection by storing a code to the calculator memory. There are thus more tones than given entirely by the presets which are Piano,Fantasy,Violin,Flute and Guitar,all except the latter being passable versions of the instrument. Octave can be set to low,middle or high,and the balance set between the melody and rhythm.
I believe this tiny unit has been used in several commercial recordings including DA-DA-DA which became an Ariston commercial and the Human League have also used it on DARE,so don't turn your nose up all at once.

The melody can be stored by switching to REC mode and all the notes appear in the LCD display once recorded,the timing of the notes can be correct with the one-key-play feature,before using the AUTOplay key to play it back.You can even edit the memory if you get a note wrong by using the DEL key.

The tiny keyboard doubles as the rhythm selector as well as the numeric/symbol keys for the calculator. There are 10 rhythms which are the usual rock/samba/bossa suspects,and sound tinny and 'toy' - so don't expect to compete with that car outside with its radio on full tilt.

The rear panel has power jack and 3.5jack socket for headphones/line. The tuning is done from underneath the unit with a screwdriver,and there is also a RESET switch indented in case the VL gets its VLSI knickers in a twist. The battery pack is there too,space for 4 AA batteries,which last a sight longer than you might imagine.

Good points: The one key play feature makes putting melodies into time with the rhythm easier - one of Casio's smarter inventions. The tiny - carry-anywhere size means you can make melodies on the go - and with memory storage you won't forget how that tune went! Add to that the ability to use as a calculator and you have two devices in one.

Niggles: Of course the keyboard made of tiny buttons means a hamster would struggle to play this,but how else to put a keyboard on such a tiny machine? Monophonic playback is limiting but still allows melody making on the hoof - not too much to niggle about here - tiny,fun,and still going strong after so long!

Size and weight: Small enough to put in your pocket and lighter than a bag of sugar.

Expect to pay: Can be as low as £3 but the historic nature of the VLSI technology gives the VLs kudos and sometimes sellers exploit this to push the price into the £10s of pounds.For a good example £20-25 isn't unseemly.

The VL5 and 10 are bigger cousins - the VL5 has a plug in light wand similar to the MT70. It is missing the synth of the VL1 in favour of 10 presets.

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