Casio SA-46 review
This is what it looks like out of the box with its little manual:
Yes, the entire bottom is bright green just like the button on top and not just a wraparound stripe. I think it looks cool.
As far as how to set this thing up, there is no setup. Either put in batteries or plug in the adapter, turn it on, adjust volume, and that's that. 🙂
There was only one issue with this unit which solved itself very quickly. The volume slider was scratchy. I moved it back and forth a few times and all the scratchiness went away. Other than that, everything is a-okay. All keys are level and work, all buttons work.
If you noticed the manual in the photo above, you may be thinking, "There's an SA-47 model?" Yes. The difference between the SA-46 and SA-47 is that that instead of the green button saying "PIANO - ORGAN", it instead says "PIANO - HARMONIUM/ORGAN":
According to the manual, preset 16 on the SA-46 is "REED ORGAN" while on the SA-47 it's "HARMONIUM". That's the only difference between the two models. Otherwise, they're identical.
And what is a harmonium? It's also a reed organ. In fact, it would not surprise me if preset 16 is exactly the same sound on the SA-47 as it is on the SA-46, with just the name of the preset being different and different lettering printed on the outer casing. The only reason I can think that the SA-47 even exists is for specific markets where a keyboard with a printed "HARMONIUM" on it is some kind of selling point.
I can tell you that the SA-47 is available nowhere, so if you ever come across one, buy it and just keep it in the box as that will be a guaranteed collector's item because it is not on Amazon or even eBay. At some point Casio will stop making the SA-46 and SA-47, which at that point means the 47 model in particular will be sought after by Casio keyboard collectors. If I knew where to buy a 47 now, I'd get it myself just because it's so difficult to locate.
The SA-46 model that I just received is a bit of a rare bird itself because all you see here in America ordinarily is the larger 44-key SA-76 version due to the fact the SA-46 is not technically a US market model, even though as you can see from the photos that everything on the keyboard is in English.
How would this fare out for its intended audience?
Since most people who read this will probably be parents looking to buy this keyboard for their kid, I'll answer that question now before getting into the other stuff.
The SA-46 is a well-constructed unit that will take just about any punishment a kid could throw at it. While not waterproof (it would probably not survive if submerged in water), it could most likely handle juice being spilled on it. Casio designed this thing to be easy-to-clean, so if a kid gets peanut butter or juice or whatever their grubby little fingers put on it, that can be easily cleaned off with paper towels and Windex.
A little keyboard is one of the easiest and cheapest instruments you can buy for a kid, especially if you don't know if the kid will stick with the instrument or not. At the time I write this in October 2013, nobody makes a better little keyboard for kids than Casio. Don't even bother looking for other choices because Casio is the only one making kid-friendly keyboards that are any good right now. If you were looking for someone to say, "Yes, this is the 'first keyboard' you should buy your kid", then I'll say it. Yes, this is the one. Whether the small 32-key SA-46 with green bottom or the 44-key SA-76 with orange bottom, Casio is the only game in town. Remember, no power adapter comes with it (but does run off batteries). If you want to plug it in the wall, you need the ADE95. And no, don't do that "I'll just buy an adapter at Radio Shack if I need it later" thing. Just get the Casio adapter because it is an absolute perfect fit and is designed so that a kid can't just yank it out and bust the thing.
So if you wanted the "Is it good for kids?" question answered, the answer is yes as that's whom it was designed for.
Okay, that being said, moving on...
How does it feel?
Solid. The plastic casing is lightly textured (as in not shiny, which is a good thing to avoid fingerprints) and feels good to the hand. The rubber buttons feel good too.
The keys feel good for their size. Not too springy, not too firm, not too light. They're just about where they're supposed to be.
How does it operate?
Without reading the manual, mostly easy to figure out.
With reading the manual, really easy to figure out.
I say this because there are a few things you need to read the manual for. For example, fine tuning the SA-46 is possible by pressing TONE and PATTERN at the same time. You also need to read the manual to know what all the preset instrument and pattern names are.
How does it sound?
Here's me playing it:
It sounds really good. Yeah, it does have some those cheesy sounds in it as all little Casio keyboards do, but there are a few in particular that are really good.
I bought the SA-46 for two reasons. Strings and a square wave sound. Very retro, very cool. And they are just as good as I thought they'd be. The straight-from-the-80s presets 40 STRING ENSEMBLE and 68 SQUARE LEAD are worth buying this keyboard for alone.
There are several other sounds that surprised me concerning how good they are.
- 03 ELEC. PIANO 2 sounds like it comes straight out of a Yamaha DX7. That's a good thing.
- 06 CELESTA is really nice. Not cheesy at all.
- 07 GLOCKENSPIEL is absolutely amazing. Crisp, clear. Wonderful small bell sound.
- 09 MARIMBA, same thing. Great sound.
- 10 XYLOPHONE, also very good.
- 12 DRAWBAR ORGAN actually sounds like an actual organ. Nice.
- 13 PERC. ORGAN, same thing. Nice organ tone.
- 28 ACOUSTIC BASS is a good one as far as bass tone is concerned.
- 29 FINGERED BASS is also good.
- 33 SYNTH BASS 1 is another straight-from-the-80s sound.
- 39 HARP you could consider a "video game 90s tone". Cool.
- 40 STRING ENSEMBLE is that awesome 80s string sound as noted above. A reason to own this keyboard.
- 41 SLOW STRINGS is the same as 40 but padded, so it's good.
- 43 VOICE DOO sounds absolutely nothing like a doo should sound like, however it has its own quality to it that makes for a nice sound to have.
- 45 ORCHESTRA HIT is frickin' awesome. A 90s sound for sure and sounds like it came straight out of a Sega Genesis. Very cool.
- ALL HORN SOUNDS: Everything from 46 to 67 are tones you would hear in children's television programming. For people that compose for-real children's music, the SA-46 would be a godsend because it absolutely has "that kid's television sound", as in television made for kids 4 through 9. When you hear it, you'll know exactly what I mean. The SA-46 would be unbelievably good for - and I'm not kidding here - composing professional kid-television music with. Yes, the horns have totally got that sound to them.
- 68 SQUARE LEAD is the main reason I bought the SA-46. Yep, it's dry, square and near-perfect. Why near-perfect? Because you can't make it monophonic. But that's a minor complaint.
- 74 SPACE CHOIR is another 90s sound (or late 80s) and I dig that one.
- 78 SOUND TRACK is where we have yet another straight-from-the-80s sound. A bit softer than STRING EMSEMBLE and slightly padded.
- 84 THUMB PIANO is a very cool tone. Kind of a different marimba of sorts, but cool.
- 96 HELICOPTER is exactly what you think it is, a sample of a helicopter rotor. And it sounds pretty good.
- 97 TRAIN is the sound of a train going over tracks. Way better than I expected it to be and very realistic.
- 98 LASER GUN. Holy 1970s, Batman, it's a laser beam sound from 1970s movies! Yes, really! How cool is that?!
In the end what you're getting with the SA-46 is actually a really nice blend of 80s and 90s sounds. I can say with confidence that pro-level synth guys would find this little Casio a charming little guy, even though it has no MIDI.
Side note: If the SA-46 had MIDI and velocity-sensitive keys, I have absolutely no doubt that keyboard players would be buying it left and right like crazy. And yes, the chassis does have enough room in the back for a couple of MIDI ports. If Casio released a special MIDI version of this keyboard with velocity-sensitive keys and called it the SA-46MV, a lot of players would buy it. I'd even bet Casio would totally own the small keyboard market if they produced such a model. One can dream...
But even without MIDI or velocity-sensitive keys, I dare say that this thing is way more usable than I originally thought. Little Casio keyboards have really come a long way.
(Pronunciation note: Polyphony is pronounced "poh-lih-fuh-nee" and not "paw-lee-foh-nee". A lot of people screw that up. However, polyphonic is pronounced correctly as "paw-lee-faw-nick". Yep, weird, I know.)
The SA-46 has 8 note polyphony, and I think all sounds use one note at a time per key played, but I don't know that for a fact because I just got it and haven't experimented with it enough just yet. But like I said, I think all sounds are one-note-per-key-pressed.
How do the internal speakers sound?
Quite good, actually. The project well and have a nice range to them. Not "bongy" or tinny-sounding. I don't know why there's two speakers because the keyboard is 100% monoaural. Then again it's nice to have both left and right because it does make for a keyboard that projects sound better. And yes, you can crank up the volume on this thing to maximum and only hear very little break-up.
Side note: You can use the headphone output jack, split left/right, and just take one side to feed into a mixer and hear everything the keyboard is outputting. No need to use both.
Complaints I have
Before I rattle these off, bear two things in mind.
First, this is a 50-dollar keyboard.
Second, I've played a lot of low-end Casio keyboards over the years and I remember several of them having features the SA-46 does not have, but should.
Complaint #1: No all-keyboard drums.
The drums are purposely set to use 5 dedicated round rubber keys above the keyboard, and the sounds played are all too loud. Also, no access to open hi-hat or crash cymbal. That's crappy.
Casio keyboards of yesteryear used to have a preset that was nothing but individual (meaning separate-sample) drums that used all the keys, and that's what Casio should have done here instead of using the 5 dedicated buttons.
I assume the reason for the decision for the 5-key thing is so kids have a really easy time determining where the drums are when they just want to mash buttons and hear drum sounds.
Complaint #2: No transposing.
Fine tuning yes, transposing no. This should have been the exact opposite where the fine tuning was ditched and replaced with a transpose option instead.
Complaint #3: No power-on light (but compensated for)
The only way to know the unit is turned on is by looking at the LED display as it has no power light whatsoever, however, the unit does auto-power-off after around 5 or 6 minutes if no key is pressed.
Casio was smart to put in the auto-power-off feature because kids have a nasty habit of forgetting to turn things off when they leave them.
Auto-power-off can be disabled by pressing TONE and then powering on the unit.
Complaint #4: Number pad should have been designed differently.
The number pad is designed like a computer numeric keypad with 789 as the top row. Casio should have designed it the other way around with 123 on top. Why? Because that's how a phone keypad is designed.
Kids these days know phones before they know computers. And given that more kids are using phones and tablets exclusively and not even touching PCs, the number pads on the SA-46 should have started with 123 on top and not 789.
I myself expect the numbers to be phone-style and not computer keyboard style just because of their size which is similar to a phone.
Final Verdict: GOOD!
I may have my complaints about it, but they're really minor, especially considering the thing is only 50 bucks.
I'm happy to own one. I bought it for the sounds, but I also got a good dose of "this is the keyboard from my childhood" nostalgia too.
And amazingly, I'll be able to create actual real music on it. The SA-46 is just a cool synth to own, as is the SA-76 which is basically the same thing with more keys.
So yeah, a big thumbs-up from me. Well done, Casio.