MusicZone Keyboard (toy keyboard with squarewave accompaniment & nice demo melodies)

At the first look this pink plastic tablehooter appears to be yet another of the many My Music Center successors. Possibly it is even older because in detail it behaves and sounds quite different.

The instrument has 16 semi- OBS preset sounds and rhythms, but the most interesting features are the cheesy single finger accompaniment, the drum kit mode and the sustain and vibrato buttons. Unlike My Music Center most preset sounds employ no chorus effect, and the the few ones with chorus can be only played monophonic. Also the primitive sequencer here does not loose its data when anything else is selected, and the instrument even often holds its data when switched off. Unfortunately at least in unmodified state a keyboard matrix flaw prevents to play certain notes simultaneously despite it is 2 note polyphonic, and another flaw often makes the 2 polyphony voices cancel out each other during fast play.

main features:



The case design of  this instrument was obviously inspired by the Casio SA-6 mini- keyboard, although the MusicZone keyboard it is about twice as large. There are also some Engrish misspellings on it. The most bizarre one is that the voltage of the AC adapter jack is labelled "DC 1.5V X 5" (because the battery compartment contains 5 batteries with each 1.5V); apparently the case designer was to stupid to do maths and calculate that it would be "DC 7.5V". Also on the bottom is the AC- adapter described as "ADAPTER INPUT: AC117/220V 50/60V, OUTPUT:DC1.5Vx5 800MA". (The adapter input voltage would have been completely irrelevant here since the instrument gets only the output voltage.) Despite the user interface and sound has most elements common with the My Music Center hardware family, there are many subtle differences. E.g. panel button presses play no noises, and the well hated wannabe- sequencer here does not lose its data by switching back to normal mode. Also the single finger chord, the keyboard drum kit mode and the sustain and vibrato buttons are unusual for My Music Center hardware. A noticeable difference is also that the percussion channel seems to play only monophonic (also in drum kit mode) while My Music Center variants normally dynamically assign percussion sounds when drumpads are played. Also 3 of the preset sounds can be played only monophonic because they employ a chorus effect that occupies both sound channels. Possibly this instrument is technically  more similar with the Sunlight - Music Playkeys (which has no digital volume control and also battery backed-up memory) or even was a predecessor of the strange K-Mark keyboard (which has single finger chord and similar percussion). The instrument seems to be mono, although it contains a stereo amplifier for its 2 speakers.

Despite the hardware is 2 note polyphonic, in unmodified state some key combinations don't work due to a keyboard matrix flaw. The matrix consists of 3 output and 14 input lines (quite odd combination); to fix the flaw, solder a diode into each of the 3 output lines. (To prevent crosstalk problems I also soldered an 18 kOhm pull-up resistor from each input line against the +5V line at the zener diode that supplies the CPU. With this fix all key combinations work, but there is still a design flaw that makes notes cancel each other during fast play. The keys also respond a bit slow. I haven't fully analyzed the keyboard matrix yet, but there seem to be no higher note keys addable because function buttons share the same row with the highest keys.

The preset sounds are quite bright and some even really harsh (which partly may be a loudspeaker problem). They are made from static waveforms with volume envelope. Like with My Music Center they include quite strong and creaky digital distortion. The "piano" resembles a harpsichord; the "clavi" is a bit duller. Also the "guitar" sounds similar and has a bit more sustain. The "harp" is too harsh (rather an e-guitar) and the note with held keys is shorter than without. The "e.piano" has a harsh distorted metal organ pipe timbre and resembles more a vibraphone. The "banjo" is short and harsh (like expected), but note is shorter with held key. The "trumpet" is rather a harsh reed organ or accordion (with a dose of oboe?). The "organ" fades louder and a bit quieter again and also is rather a harsh reed organ. The "violin 2" sounds almost the same but an octave higher. The "violin 1" sounds like a very harsh oboe (or bagpipes?) The "ban pipe" is a bright metal pipe organ timbre (same waveform like "e.piano") which especially in the bass range has a strong purring aliasing(?) distortion. The "saxophone" timbre is fairly realistic. The "clarinet" sounds rather like a dull saxophone. The "reed organ" has the same timbre with chorus effect. Also "brass" has chorus and resembles more a harsh accordion or reed organ. Also "string" has chorus; it fades louder at the beginning and sounds too bright and glassy and resembles more an accordion (or the My Music Center "violin"). All sounds with chorus play only monophonic. The "sustain" button adds a longer release phase to the sounds (like intended), while the "vibrato" button adds a quite strong and fast (square?) vibrato that has about 6Hz and gives the sounds a similar appearance like the famous "fantasy" preset sound of Casio VL-Tone 1. The vibrato button works also with held notes and thus works also well as a realtime sound control. The semi- OBS preset sound buttons don't change held notes but only affect new ones.

The rhythms employ quite a lot of different low- res percussion samples and sound rather thin. The single finger accompaniment sounds cute and cheesy and can be switched on and off with its OBS button without stopping the rhythm (no matter of course with such keyboards). The accompaniment is made from 2 note polyphonic squarewave(?) organ tones and resembles much the ones on Elite MC2200. It knows only 4 different standard chords and there is no manual organ chord mode (without rhythm).

With the "percu" button the keyboard can be switched into drum kit mode, in which the left keyboard section stays mute (or plays single finger accompaniment when enabled). Very bizarre is that also in the right half as well some of the black as of the white keys are mute (play no percussion samples). Also the demo melodies are selected through keyboard keys with the same inactive keys in between. Apparently the CPU was originally designed to have a keyboard beginning on the "F" key instead of "C", and the here inactive keys were intended to be only black ones. Remarkable is that the misalligned note letter strip above the keys of my Jin Xin Toys JX-20165 also begins with an "F" instead of "C". Thus perhaps the MusicZone keyboard also sounds too thin (most noticeable with percussion) because its pitch was tuned up by half an octave using a wrong CPU clock resistor to make the pitch match a given keyboard assembly. It would be mechanically quite easy to modify the keyboard back like the CPU designer intended it.

Unlike with other similar keyboards,  the primitive sequencer here does not loose its data when anything else is selected, and the instrument even often holds its data when switched off. When you start a rhythm or demo music and power the instrument off, you can hear its pitch falling down, and when you switch it on again, the instrument normally continues where it was switched off. But often it also crashes (especially when buttons were pressed with power off) when powered on again, which was likely a known bug, since it has a dedicated "reset" button on its control panel. (Also my Chicco - Sing 'n' Dance Orchestra has such a button, despite it anyway resets when powered on.)

The 22 demo melodies are nicely arranged, although many of them are very short. Unlike other such keyboards there is no "one key play" mode, but the keys always (re-) start their corresponding demo melodies. Many of the tunes are classical musics those English names I don't know.

The 22 demo melodies of this instrument are:

  1. Ein Männlein steht im Walde
  2. ("Utopia" theme, Brahms?)
  3. Kleine Rose, Wie Blühst Du Einsam
  4. Ode to Joy
  5. "Mr.Do!" bonus tune
  6. Minuet (J. S. Bach)
  7. ? (Latin)
  8. (slow oriental tune)
  9. ? (Mozart?)
  10. Nutcracker theme
  11. (waltz)
  12. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (Mozart)
  13. Swan Lake (waltz)
  14. ?
  15. ? (movie theme?)
  16. waltz from C64 "Tales of Arabian Nights"
  17. Copacabana
  18. Ten Little Indians
  19. (waltz)
  20. Eine Kleine Liebesweise
  21. London Bridge Is Falling Down
  22. Flower Waltz
I remember that around 1996(?) I saw in a Turkish shop a yellow and green toy keyboard with similar keys and drum kit mode (also 16 preset sounds/ rhythms?), although this one had a smaller (and higher?) case. The vendor wanted 50DM (about 25€) for it, which I considered too high to buy it. Likely it was the MusicStudio keyboard (later seen on eBay in yellow/ red, box showed yellow/ blue version), which has a similar (yellow) control panel but only 32 keys, and its keyboard indeed begins with an "F" key, which corresponds to the odd demo/ drum kit mode behaviour of the MusicZone keyboard.
 removal of these screws voids warranty...    
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