SU wonders how many elephants you can get in Cheetah's new MIDI.
Cheetah busted a few price barriers with the SpecDrum and marginally missed the boat with its sampler (because of the Ram Music Machine).
Now here's the MK5 music keyboard which puts them right back on top of the price-busting music technology ladder.
A point to stress, the keyboard has been developed for Boots and if this review inspires you it's there that you should run, Cheetah itself doesn't sell them.
Why is the MK5 one of the best value electro-musical tools ever? On its own it does nothing except wink a few lights and sit there stupidly. It has no sound creation facility whatsoever. You can press its keys as much as you like but it won't make a single noise (other than a vague click).
In that sense it isn't for absolute beginners - you need to couple it with something else first. Either a 128K or 128K+2 Spectrum and Cheetah's own Midi interface.
This useful little device used the Midi Out socket on the back of the keyboard to connect to your 128K Spectrum. You load some driving software and voila - you can play three-channel sound using the Spectrum sound chip on the MK5.
The software also allows you to edit your own sounds but mostly they are going to sound like bleep, blop, nahp beeeeeeeep. Nevertheless, being able to play the sounds on a full (five-octave) keyboard is a revelation.
Even better is the Pitch Bend wheel - you can connect this device up to the Spectrum and, gasp, bend them weeowwwwwwww (become a sincere Jan Hammer/Stevie Wonder type Jazz musician and do great solos).
The Midi interface has some other nice features: mixing tones and noise and dividing two sounds over two halves of the keyboard.
It could have more features than it does - sequencing, screen composing and so on - but that's really to criticise it for what it isn't and Cheetah is promising to produce all those sorts of music composing tools as add-on software for the system.
Using the MK5 with a Spectrum and Midi is really only the thin end of the wedge as far as what it can do is concerned. As a five-octave Midi compatible keyboard with large keys it's ideal for being connected to other synthesisers and computers.
For £99.95 (that's a hundred quid in real money) it's just about the cheapest 'slave' keyboard around. You could, for example, hook it up to a wonderful Casio CZ101 synthesiser which has very small keys to get a powerful synthesiser with big keys and five octaves.
The keyboard also has a program function. This enables you to change the octave range and to send instructions to other music instruments. For example you can, from the MK5 keyboard, send messages to your Casio CZ101 to change the current sound selected. Having this sort of Midi-based control from a dummy keyboard is a sophisticated feature usually associated with keyboards costing £400 or more.
Ultimately you could end up with a system consisting of the MK5, Casio CZ101, Spectrum, Cheetah Midi interface or Ram Music Machine and maybe some Cheetah driving system software like an on-screen composing program.
In fact, Ram Music Machine, MK5 and Spectrum would give you a sampling keyboard, with some music editing facilities as well as a drum machine. That's serious musical power.
The keyboard itself? it's nicely made of plastic and metal, with a playing action about as good as you'd expect below £500. The Pitch Wheel is located oddly at the back of the keyboard, around one octave up. In fact this proves to be quite a sensible playing position but posing-wise isn't as good as the 'I'm deeply emotional' far left alongside the keyboard, usual position.
The program select feature is economically done, where a single button moves into programming mode and the top few keys then act as switches. A large LED shows the current state of Midi channels or program locations. There are 128 programs which is enough for most Midi keyboards.
In short it's a very appealing package. If you are just getting into mixing computers and synthesisers then the MK5 and Midi interface is a good first step (especially with a Ram Music Machine). A winner.
Fairly basic software. But straight- forward to use. Put the MK5 with Ram's Musk Machine and maybe a CZ101 and you're talking serious sounds.