Kurzweil PC3 Series
Here's a quick-and-dirty review of the Kurzweil PC361. I've owned my PC361 for a bit over two years now. I'm going to keep this to the point, first what rocks about the PC3:
1.) VAST expanded. The PC3 can do 32 Layers (like the previous K-series instruments), but it now offers "Cascade Mode" or the ability to chain together any number of Layers. Similar to Triple Mode on the K26xx, only without the three-Layer limit. Also, users can design their own Algorithms (the arrangement of blocks and how signals flow between them). These enhancements greatly expand what's possible programming-wise with VAST.
2.) Anti-aliasing DSP oscillators. There are new DSP oscillator blocks (relative to what was available on the K2xxx series instruments) that exhibit little or no aliasing. The new anti-aliasing DSP oscillators include sawtooth (in two and three-waveform variants), square, pulse-width variable square, hard sync sawtooth, and hard sync square.
3.) "Mogue" four-pole lowpass filter with resonance. One of my favorite filters, it also self-oscillates at high resonance values.
4.) Enhanced UI. The new (relative, again, to the K2xxx series instruments) UI layout makes it easier to visualize what you're doing within the confines of a text-based interface. It's familiar enough for those who've programmed prior Kurzweil instruments to pick up easily and includes various useful short-cuts (for instance, to assign a slider, button, or other physical control to a parameter you simply highlight the parameter, hold down the "enter" button, and operate the control).
5.) 16 Unit KDFX effects engine with streamlined layout. You get almost all of the awesome effects from the KSP, Rumor, and Mangler effects processors with full editing capability. These effects are extremely cool and quite a bit of synthesis can be done (along, of course, with adding the usual reverb or chorus or distortion) using them. The streamlined layout consists of one Insert Effect Chain per Program and two Aux Effect Chains (a "Chain" being kurzweilspeak for a set of individual effects that are wired together), complete with FXMODS (up to 15 per chain), FXFUNS, FXLFOs, and a whole host of other goodies.
6.) Sample and Keymap editing. You can perform a number of basic sample editing tasks on the ROM keymaps and samples and save your edits. These are all non-destructive (i.e. there's no resampling, for instance) and what you're really changing is metadata associated with a Keymap and/or various Samples. There are lots of fun things that you can do with this, one in particular is to set the Alt Start point to the end of the Sample, then back up the end of the Sample so that it "ends" before the Alt Start point. Then, when you play back the Sample and kick in the AltStart parameter you can cause the PC3 to play back all of its ROM in sequence. Great fun for pads and other "evolving" sounds.
7.) A built-in tracker. Yes, the PC3 has something that's pretty similar to an old-school tracker in the Song Mode Event Editor. You can build an entire composition using the Event Editor alone. Pair that with the PC3's "Riffs" feature and you can build a song from parts that you create in the Event Editor. Not everyone's preferred way of working (the PC3 also does the usual real-time recording, among other things), but it's there if you're into that sort of thing.
8.) Programming the PC3 is a real joy. I say that as a computer programmer and someone who relates well to simple interfaces, but really the PC3 wins big on this front over everything else out there because a.) it has an astonishing range of synthesis options, including doing stuff that nobody else has done yet, b.) the user interface is consistent across the whole machine (any type of synthesis you can cook up is programmed the same way, no "engines" concept where the user interface changes depending on the type of synthesis you want to use), c.) everything sounds excellent if you want it to, but you can also get nasty if you so desire, and d.) flexibility, flexibility, flexibility.
In short, you can get crazy on the PC3 very easily and often find yourself in unexplored synthesis territory. Once you learn the interface, programming is very straightforward. And all of the ingredients sound good, whether they be the DSP functions, the ROM Keymaps, the effects or anything else that might affect the "sound" of the machine.
O.k. now it's time for what sucks:
1.) The user interface. Not because I don't like it (I actually really enjoy it), but because it is a somewhat dated way of doing things. I think there are better ways to graphically represent what's happening under the hood.
2.) Various oddities with how things work. Every so often you'll want to do something and you figure out that it can't be done. For instance, on the K2xxx keyboards some other envelopes responded to changes made via the EnvCtl parameters. On the PC3 only AMPENV responds to those values, so if you want more than one user-controllable envelope on a Layer then you'll have to cook something up yourself. It's a bit of a moot point with Cascade Mode, but it would be nice if you didn't have to use up an entire Layer simply so you can add a user-controllable envelope to some random parameter (like, say, filter cutoff).
...And really, that's it for me on the "sucks" side of things.
Overall I highly recommend the PC3 for anyone who really wants to dig into synthesis -- it delivers far beyond any other hardware synthesizer on the market. And, you really can't beat the price right now. You can still find the "original" PC3 instruments at some online retailers and through auction sites for as little as $1200 for the PC361. Considering that this thing can run circles around the Kronos, the Jupiter 80, the Solaris, the Accelerator, the Virus, and everything else out there it's a no-brainer purchase for anyone who wants some real firepower in their synth arsenal.