Look at those specs: 16-bit sampling with sampling rates up to 50kHz; a 12-track sequencer with up to 40 songs; velocity crossfading of samples; a pair of LFOs per voice; and a killer collection of multi-sampled instruments stored internally. Add to that FM synthesis, Mac-based editing and built-in effects and you’d be forgiven for thinking we were talking about a recent entry into the sampler stakes. And yet this machine was released in 1984.
Needless to say, such niceties didn’t come cheap back then, and the Kurzweil K250 broke the bank, coming in at over £10,000. Gulp. Still, if you bought the thing when it was released, chances are that you may not have felt the need to replace it for very many years. It sat front ‘n centre in Paul Schaffer’s rig on the Letterman show for decades. Pretty cool for futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil’s first attempt at designing a musical instrument!
A peek beneath the hood reveals that things weren’t always as they were presented. For example, you couldn’t actually sample on the machine without the aforementioned Sound Modelling software, which wasn’t available until some time after the instrument’s release. And that meant that user sampling required that Mac.
And is that 16-bit really 16-bit, or is it 10-bits with some hocus-pocus going on under the hood? It never really mattered, ‘cos the K250 sounded fantastic and, with its 88 weighted keys, felt great to play. It was the instrument that heralded Kurzweil’s entry into the market and influences its product line even to the present day. You’ve probably heard the thing dozens of times and never even realised it. You probably thought you were hearing, say, an acoustic piano or a Steinberger bass. By whatever thaumaturgy Kurzweil’s boffins had at their disposal, they managed to make a superior-sounding instrument at a time when it simply shouldn’t have been possible.