Kurzweil Music Systems is an American company that produces electronic musical instruments for professionals and home users. Founded in 1982 by Stevie Wonder, Raymond Kurzweil, a developer of reading machines for the blind, and Bruce Cichowlas, a software developer, the company made use of many of the technologies originally designed for reading machines and adapted them to musical purposes. They released their first instrument, the K250 in 1983, and have continued producing new instruments ever since.
The company was acquired by Young Chang in 1990. Hyundai acquired Young Chang in 2006 and in January 2007 appointed Raymond Kurzweil as Chief Strategy Officer of Kurzweil Music Systems.
The company launched the K250 synthesizer/sampler in 1984: while limited by today's standards and quite expensive, it was considered to be the first really successful attempt to emulate the complex sound of a grand piano. This instrument was inspired by a bet between Ray Kurzweil and musician Stevie Wonder over whether a synthesizer could sound like a real piano. First issued as a very large and heavy keyboard, the electronics were also issued in a very large and heavy rackmount version, as the 250RMX (Rack Mount "Expander"—the presumed intention being that one could drive via MIDI and sequencers one or more "expanders"). Additional sample ROMs were developed and issued for both models.
As opposed to using 'sample-based' or 'subtractive' synthesis, the K150 (a rack-mount unit) uses additive synthesis. Hal Chamberlin (mentioned below) developed software to run on Apple II class computers, which would allow extensive control of the very rich possibilities of the K150. This synthesizer was never a commercial music success, but was very popular in academic and research facilities.
The K1000 and K1200 (and their rack-mounted variants) were designed to deliver the sample libraries developed originally for the K250 to a wider audience in less expensive and physically more manageable forms. Unlike the K250, these instruments could not sample new sounds directly; but their programming architecture and operating system were evolutionary steps that would culminate in the K2xxx series. There were several keyboard versions issued, and the 1000 modules were originally issued in PX (pianos and mixed bag), SX (strings), HX (horns and winds), and GX (guitars and basses) versions, each with differing sample-ROMs. As computing and electronics technologies changed rapidly during the period, larger sample bases could be combined. The later 1200 module versions contained these larger sample bases (i.e., PX+SX; SX+HX; HX+GX).
The company's flagship line of synthesizer workstations, the K2xxx series, began to make real headway with the K2000, which introduced the company's acclaimed Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology (V.A.S.T.) engine. Throughout the 1990s, updates and upgrades to the K2000 (and eventually its successors, the K2500 and K2600) ensured that the K2x series was regarded as one of the most powerful and best-sounding synthesizers/samplers available. Although initially very expensive, Kurzweil instruments were popular in top recording studios and for use with music production for film because of their high-quality sounds.
The K2000 was released in 1990 and was initially available in four versions, the K2000, K2000S, K2000R, and K2000RS. The S versions contain the hardware required for sampling, while the R versions are rack-mountable; the versions without an R feature 61 pressure-sensitive keys. The K2000 is capable of 24 voice polyphony, which is somewhat limited, although up to 3 oscillators per voice can be used and an intelligent voice stealing algorithm retires the playing notes which are estimated to be least audible rather than simply the oldest. Each voice of the K2000 is able to play a separate program, allowing for smooth transitions during live performance - this simple feature took Kurzweil's competitors more than a decade to match. The keyboard came with 2MB RAM but could be equipped with up to 64 megabytes of RAM for user loaded samples. Later models included the K2000VP (keyboard), K2000VPR (rack), K2VX (keyboard w/ optional ROMs), and K2VXS (keyboard w/ optional ROMs + sampling), which were based on the same hardware as the K2000 series but had the K2500 sound set loaded.
The K2500, released in 1996, was a substantial improvement to the K2000, increasing polyphony to 48 voices and onboard RAM capacity to 128MB. The K2500 and later K2600 models can have a single patch running 192 virtual oscillators. There were also a number of other minor improvements as well as sound expansion options (daughterboard + 8mb piano expansion, 8MB orchestral expansion ROM, 8MB contemporary instruments ROM). K2500 photograph
The K2500 was available in 7 versions:
- K2500 - 76 note semi-weighted keyboard;
- K2500X - 88 note weighted action keyboard;
- K2500S - 76 note semi-weighted keyboard with sampling;
- K2500XS - 88 note weighted action keyboard with sampling;
- K2500AES - Audio Elite System, Limited Release (6 Units) 88 note weighted action keyboard with sampling, KDFX effects engine, all available upgrade options, and an extensive sample library (retail cost, $20,000.00).
- K2500R - rack-mounted version (no keyboard);
- K2500RS - rack-mounted version with sampling.
The keyboard models included a ribbon controller and an input for a breath controller, making them the most expressive electronic instruments available at the time. Additionally one could add digital input/output (I/O) to connect S/PDIF or ADAT inputs and a PRAM expansion for loading larger soundsets or MIDI songs into memory. If one had purchased a model without onboard sampling, one could add the sampling option, PRAM, and reinstall their operating system to have the upgraded model.