The Casio VL-Tone VL-1 – Da, Da, Da

Despite profound limitations, the Casio VL-Tone VL-1 has become, at least for some, a desired vintage synth.

The Casio VL-1 VL-Tone, released in 1982, combines a calculator, synthesizer, and sequencer. The synthesizer is monophonic, lofi, and has pretty cheesy presets.

Even the lack of MIDI, the horrible sequencer and terrible preset rhythms, though, did not keep the VL-Tone from finding its place in songs like Trio’s Da, Da, Da.

Today, it’s desirable as a portable instant 80’s soundbox.

Demo video by RetroSound.

14 thoughts on “The Casio VL-Tone VL-1 – Da, Da, Da

  1. It's not true that the VL-1 is limited to it's presets. There's a very useful feature, described at page 22 of the user's manual, called ADSR Function. Among the 6 VL-1's presets there is one called ADSR. When selected, this preset plays an original and unique sound, synthetized by the user. All you had to do was save an eight digit number on VL-1's calculator memory. Each digit corresponds to a part of the sound. The first digit means the waveform (0-9, each number providing a different waveform), the next five digits are the ADRS envelope (with sustain level and time) and the last two digits were the vibrato and tremolo values. I still remember the sound I used the most: 70099924.

  2. I have a VL-1 and you can get some interesting tones out of it if you create your own sounds and it's fairly simple to do. It also has a line out so that it can go straight to my DAW. It's just as useful as say that Montron or the Stylophone (I have those too).

  3. Funny you mention the Monotron – I've been wanting to get one of these again and play it through the Monotron's filter.

  4. You are 100% correct.

    I was thinking of this as a preset synth, since you don't shape the sound with filters or other tools that you'd use most synths. But the envelope does allow for useful manipulation of the sound.

  5. I remember buying one of those when it was new… I remember thinking how cool it was that I could use it to make beats and do my engineering homework too.

  6. Also worth mentioning, vibrato and tremolo follow the internal clock, so you could create sounds that sync to the rhythms.

  7. Anyone fans of The Casio PT-50 ? it was mono w/mini keys. It had Chord button s that were Black &White for Major /minor with some rhythem presets. It also had a Song Cartridge that popped into the unit. One was Ram/ Rom. Stevie Wonder tune on the play along with enclosed booklet. Christmas 1984, $300. It had to be backordered. Still have it. Never heard of the VL but becoming a fan.

  8. Heheh, it is a rather sad/cool little device…. but, I swear it’s also one of the first synths (“synths?”) I ever programmed (“programmed?”) because of its advanced (?) ADSR capability.

    The built-in calculator feature increases the awesomeness though. “But Mom, it’s not just a toy – I can learn music, and do math on it!”

    However, Casio’s true brilliance didn’t shine until the much-maligned (and wrongfully so!) CZ series! Thankfully, Reason’s mighty Thor module has a Casio-style phase distortion oscillator, although sadly I don’t think Thor has the nice 7-stage variable-slope envelopes of the CZ series (sforzandi! fake delays! crazy pitch envelopes! etc.)

    Though I do admit Thor brings other mad possibilities: huge stacks of phase distortion oscillators frequency-modulated against each other and passed through a comb filter, etc., etc.. But I treasure my old CZ. 😉

    1. I've still got a Casio CZ-1 – which is like a mega CZ-101 – and actually a pretty decent synth! Built like a tank, too.

  9. The "fantasy" sound (as heard on "Get Carter" by the Human League) is super useful! It cuts through a mix very nicely when a sweet, spacey, slightly twee string sound is required.

  10. As a classical singer i found/find the record feature very useful as you only have to record the notes in the right sequence and then tap back using the correct note values.

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