Saisho Music Maker MK 500

Also known as the VTech Rhythmic 6

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Saisho Music Maker MK 500 Keyboard


For those who don't know, "Saisho" was an own-brand of the Dixons chain of electronics/photography shops, once a common sight on high streets all over the UK, but now relegated to the Web and some small outlets at airports and similar locations. The brand was usually used on budget, low-quality consumer electronics gear, such as radio/cassette players, VCRs, TVs and stereo systems.

The Music Maker MK 500 is one of only three keyboards I know of that were sold under the Saisho brand - the others being the MK 800 and the "PRO.SYNTH". Outside the UK, these keyboards were sold under the "Video Technology" brand (now better known as VTech) as the Rhythmic 6, Rhythmic 8 and Rhythmic 10 respectively (thanks to Johanes Emmanuelli for this information). This range also apparently included Rhythmic 2 and Rhythmic 12 models for which I know of no "Saisho" equivalent.

This is actually one of my favourite sounding keyboards, and feels surprisingly solidly-constructed for a budget brand item. The built-in speakers go quite loud, but sound rather thin and tinny with nasty resonances. Fortunately, there is both  a headphone output and an auxiliary output on the back panel.

A choice of 10 voices is available, together with 10 selectable rhythms, each with auto bass chords and a switchable auto arpeggio effect by way of accompaniment. A single fill-in pattern (rhythm only) is available for each rhythm. Rhythm and Chord volumes are independently adjustable using analogue sliders, and the Master Volume control is also an analogue slider. The Tempo adjustment, however, is operated by a pair of up/down buttons, and adjustment is extremely coarse. There is also a Transposer function (only available when auto accompaniment is enabled), and user-selectable Sustain and Vibrato effects.

When switched to Mono mode, the voices sound almost identical to those of the Yamaha PSS-160, suggesting that this keyboard is based around Yamaha sound generation hardware. However, the rhythm and accompaniment sounds very different from any Yamaha keyboard I know of, and give a lovely rich, deep bass.

Chords are selected using the left-hand part of the keyboard as normal, and single-finger and fingered modes are available. In single-finger mode, seventh and minor chords are selected using the opposite method to Yamaha keyboards, i.e. white key above for seventh, and black key above for minor. One slightly unfortunate drawback is that, when a minor chord is selected, the auto arpeggio function continues to play the notes of the major chord, so it sounds dischordant. You can hear several examples of this in the Demo, below.

In Mono mode, polyphony is 8-note, dropping to 5-note when the auto accompaniment is enabled. But it's when switched to Stereo mode that this keyboard really becomes interesting.

Stereo mode invokes a very powerful stereo effect, and makes the voices sound really rich and full. Rhythm sounds have a defined stereo "position", while the auto accompaniment sounds appear to be skewed towards the left channel (right channel on headphones - see below), for some reason.

Exactly how the stereo effect is achieved I do not know, but in Stereo mode, the polyphony drops to just 4-note, and when the auto accompaniment is enabled, the keyboard becomes monophonic. Also, the Vibrato effect cannot be enabled when in Stereo mode.

Bizarrely, the headphone output reverses the stereo effect with respect to the built-in speakers, but the auxiliary output does not. This seems to be the only difference between the output sockets.

This is a very nice sounding instrument, and seems to be quite unique, albeit apparently based around Yamaha sound generation hardware.

Audio Samples

Saisho Music Maker MK 500 Demo (medley of classical pieces, played in Stereo mode, of course!)

Instruction Manual

I do not have an instruction manual for the Saisho Music Maker MK 500, but I would be very interested to see one! Can you help?