The Kurzweil K2000 Synthesizer – An Underrated Classic?

In the latest Doctor Mix video, host Claudio Passavanti shares the story of re-purchasing a vintage Kurzweil K2000 and rediscovering his love for the classic keyboard.

“This time I go on a van trip through the city in search of a very special synthesizer, the revered Kurzweil K2000, which I used to own many years ago,” he explains. “When I finally get it in my studio I give it a proper demo.”

The K2000 is a digital synth workstation from 1991. While it has humble specs by today’s standards, it was a top-of-the-line instrument in its day, still sounds great and features the deep V.A.S.T. synth engine.

Are the K2000 and its K2x00 brethren underated? Check out the video and share your thoughts in the comments!

23 thoughts on “The Kurzweil K2000 Synthesizer – An Underrated Classic?

  1. don’t need a video, have a K2500R with sampling and KDFX. great sounds, slow as molasses. never use it anymore – way too slow for the complexity you can achieve. still have a pair of KSP8’s/RSP8, brilliant effects.

    1. Do you mean slow to edit?

      I find it comparable to my Analog Four. Both synths have tons of flexibility, but all those options make it slower to edit patches.

      My Prologue is really fast to dial in patches, but I often find myself wishing that it had some of the features that my Kurzweil K2500 for two decades ago has.

      1. yes. it’s painfully slow to work with. I generally used to most with a sample libraries. agreed about Prologue; I can mash those engine parameters and other menu item’s in my sleep now. love noodling with oscillator code to make new sounds. I love my Prologue!!! going to work on porting the waveterrain model soon as the source comes out too.

  2. They sound great and the VAST is an extremely powerful synthesis engine. However, working with the user interface is a pain that has kept me from continuing to create patches on my K2000.

  3. I’m really happy to see that Claudio did this K2000 video. It’s about time that these things started to garner a little more respect. The synth is generally ignored in history, and dismissed as one of the early digital synths that are obsolete. Applying Rothwell’s Law (para.. A fully working synth you sell today does exactly the same thing it did when you purchased it) to the K2000 in 2023 leads to an interesting observation. First, very little about the K2000 is obsolete. Outside of some of the factory ROM sounds that scream 1990s, the antiquated (but sweet-sounding) Digitech effects processor, and SCSI-based OS the K2000 can still sound “new and fresh” today. To this day, nothing available in a synthesizer control topology comes close to Kurzweil’s Variable Architecture Synthesis Technology (VAST) from 1991. Even in it’s latest incarnation in the K2700 (which, when you really look deep into its implementation) it doesn’t differ much from the original K2000 implementation, except for using modern semiconductors, ASICs, and processors (to achieve speed in intense calculations), and incorporating a complete 6-voice FM synth that integrates with the standard K2xxx sound generators. In fact, I’ve found that the K2700 will accept all of my old K2000 presets, and in fact, everything in the 80GB sample/preset archive I’ve ammassed over the past 30 years. In terms of backward compatibility, I don’t think you can say that about any other digital synthesizer. In the hands of somebody who understands the instrument, it can sound like anything it needs to.

    My wife claims that I’m obsessed with Kurzweil synths and maybe I am. My studio master controller is a K2700, also hardwired in my studio are a K2261 and a K2600RS. I keep a K2000S that has been upgraded to a K2vx in easy reach (but which needs to be patched in). Additionally, I have another K2661 and two K2500RSs in my studio closet, along with an additional K2000 and another K2vx. There’s even a K2000 with a noise problem in my garage. The shell of my original K2000S (one from Sweetwater’s first lot with the factory sample card early 1992) sits against a bookcase in my university office (I gutted it there). One cool thing about Sweetwater Sound is that you can review your complete purchase history with them (considering that mine is over 30 years, now, is pretty remarkable). My original order was for a K2000S (with PRAM), 16MB sample RAM, fan option, 200MB HDD with mounting hardware, and a couple Sweetwater sound preset/sample packs came to $3064. They weren’t the cost of Synclaviers, but the weren’t exactly cheap, either.

    Over the past two years, I’ve bought and sold eight K2000s after refurbishing and updating them with LED-backed displays, max memory, PRAM, full ROM blocks, internal SCSI2SD internal HDD emulators and the 2vx OS ROMs. The market was pretty depressed and the average price I sold them for was $725 (the average acquisition price was $460, and a couple of them were pretty beat up). After cleaning them up, though, the only common problems were low output current from the power supplies and aftertouch issues with the keybeds. The power supplies are transformer-based, so the only things that really needed to be replaced were the main capacitors in the main power circuit. Anyway, I wasn’t really out to make a fortune, and after all of the parts costs, I did just a little over breaking even.

    Maybe, Claudio’s remark about “his video increasing their value” will turn out to be correct. However, I have been seeing an up-trend in K2000 prices on Reverb for the past couple months. Maybe they will be discovered again. Seriously, I can’t think of any synth, anywhere near its price range, that can do more or that has more potential than a <$700 K2000!

  4. I had a Kurzweil K2000s in the early ‘90’s and it’s really not an underrated classic. It wasn’t a bad synth, but it doesn’t have any particularly great character.

  5. They’re certainly very good synths for sonic experimentation and general weirdness; there are K2000 sounds all over Hallucinogen/Shpongle tracks that rocked deep underground rave dancefloors through the 1990s. When I got a K2000, I was surprised to discover that some of those monster leads were actually factory patches.

    Sampling is a slow and miserable experience by current standards and the button-driven user interface doesn’t help, though someone recently made a MIDI remote control software for it (featured here on Synthtopia). But the stock ROM sounds are so good and the engine is so flexible that you don’t need to use it as a sampler. The great thing about the VAST engine are the FUNs, which are mathematical functions that in practice behave as waveshapers and can be freely combined with the output of LFOs or envelopes in the K2000s ultra-flexible modulation matrix.

    I don’t know why the raw oscillators and filters sound so beefy compared to, say, a Nord Modular; I think there was some undocumented EQ and compression just in front of the DACs. Emu gear from the same period also had a really in-your-face quality (and a similarly versatile sound engine trapped behind an unfriendly interface).

  6. This thing’s not underated by folks who know what the f¿©k’s up only by people who don’t. It’s the mockingBird of the synth world it may not have a ‘character of it’s own but it can take on the characteristics of any available synth ever¡! When this thing came out it there was something that was stated tooo the effect that Ii would take a multitude of people hundreds of year’s tooo fully exhaust the sonic possibilities of IT & that it was a ‘history of synthesis’ in one unit. They’re bold statements that might be self aggrandizing bias but for all intents & purpose’s it’s primarily true. This thing has features &: stuff that have left the big three still scrambling tooo catch up. That being said some people get hung up by certain things like self modulating or oscillating LFO’s, UI, speedlow processing or unsnappy envelopes as such, those are just excuses for laziness & auspicious instant gratification but in the end: to quote the Kurzweil folk’s slogan ‘It’s the Sound’ that matters and that’s what makes the K2k still viable even in this day&age kids thanx folks[P.S..now with ZuluSCSI, SMP-K(which IMHO is best sampling hrdwr available STILL IS) has become damn near non-volatile -bcos it’s boots so quickly, has made hrdwr samplers now evermore powerful piece’s of kit today combined with 0rig V.A.S.T. sky & space limit’s=infinite reality & not just for Kurz but for all that have an epithelial, if u may one of those unriquated thing’s they call a SCSI port nuff said]

  7. I was fortunate enough to have a K2KVP right around the time that I was in college. I remember being interested in the K2000 series due to Trent Reznor and the late Rick Wright. It was an amazing synth that was way ahead of its time and still holds up today.

  8. There is a lot going on with them. I have nearly pulled the trigger many times over the years. Why didn’t I? You end up preset editing if you want to get on with things because of the interface and complexity. It isn’t complexity you cant understand, its complexity I couldn’t be bothered with. I am happy to dig into my Waldorf MW11 or Korg Prophecy so i dont mind programming. But for that programming I want results. The K2K didn’t always give me that. The build quality etc is great, perhaps I should get one at some stage- but I am sure the size wouldn’t work for me. Excuses excuses.

  9. You either have a “Kurzweil head” or you don’t. Most Ks pull you real hard towards pro-level use, because they are more modular inside than Keith’s Moog. That’s why the bigger K-series synths are regular members of pro stacks and somewhat less so elsewhere. The backwards compatibility in the sound library is insanely thorough, too.

    If you’re even playing “just” a K2000, much less a 2700, you’re wearing serious big boy pants. I’ve never taken the leap, ’cause I can’t get past cargo shorts. I’m wide open with Logic and a Triton. Awww!

  10. A k2000 was my first workstation that I bought with a whole box full of floppies off ebay. Eventually found someone selling a 2600xs locally and picked that up, not realizing how bad the keybed was, having sat in someones living room for 20 years. Since I replaced the floppy drive on my k2000 with a usb emulator I knew I could probably open up the 2600 to fix the keys without too much hassle. Redid all the hammer felt in my friends garage one afternoon. Still use the 2600xs as my master controller, feel deeply connected to it after putting in tons of work to get it in shape. Sold the k2000 to save space. I always think of it fondly. These synths aren’t perfect but they are dang special! The VAST architecture is so unique, and these things are designed so logically inside and out. <3

  11. To this day I don’t think there is any other instrument, software or hardware, that is really capable of what the Kurzweils can do with the versatility of VAST combined with the quality of its samples. Editing is really not much more painful than editing virtual modular synths or other equally complex hardware made today.

  12. My synth journey started with a Kawai K1, followed by an unreliable Ensoniq EPS, then EPS16+ then finally, I bought a K2000 in 1991. 12 years later it was crushed by Fedex on its way to repair.

    Bought a K2500RS in 2004, installed KDFX, still have it. Bought a K2661 a couple years after that. A few years ago I bought a PC3K.

    The K2000 was a blast to use, and I used to make so much fun original music just using the built-in sequencer. I also used it with this very creative band I play in (even still).

    Now, I mainly use my K2661 as a sampler, and synth second. Sometimes I play keys & gtr in a band that plays beatles covers, and the K2661 does everything I need– and I throw so many things at it.

    They are super versatile, if there’s a thing you need to do sonically, there are often two or three different ways to accomplish it, each with some advantage. I won’t list all the unique features here, but nothing even in current software comes close.

    Yes, the K2000 series has it’s limitations. Slow mod scan rates, aliasing, and severely limited sample RAM.

    Other weaknesses like scsi, or learning curves, or editing being slow, or storage gestures being slow are either just limitation of the available tech and/or just personal preferences. I got REALLY fast at editing on the K2000, K2500 and K2661, and I understand those rigs more than any other gear I own.

    @John Rossi, hit me up over on Mastering VAST. I think we’d be good pals.

  13. I bought a K2000S new back in the day. It was an amazing synth, and I had it until a few years ago. Yeah, it’s still powerful, but quality of life issues led me to sell it. Just no fun to program on that screen anymore, slow and clunky to load samples, not much memory, etc. Also, the key bed always SUCKED big time. Really loose and floppy. I loved the synth engine and sampling capabilities, but playing it was a drag. If anyone decides to get one today you will have fun with it, but I recommend using a better keyboard controller. Maybe get a rack unit instead of a keys.

    The onboard sequencer seemed great, but I tried it three times live in front of crowds and it crashed every time. Never trusted it again.

    1. I never found that 64MB was very much of a limitation when sampling. Sure, but today’s standards it doesn’t sound like much. However, I think the community has been spoiled by GBs of sampling RAM in modern instruments. 64MB is still a pretty large sampling space (about 85 sec at 48kHz 16-bit). You can do a lot with that. Also, consiuder, that is twice the space as in the 32MB ROM on board, and ther Kurzweil piano fit well into that. Also, loading times weren’t too bad when you used a SCSI HDD, in fact, they were a lot faster than many premium synths today (and are even faster using Zulu SCSI emulators today. Finally, I understand that some people just don’t like the feel of Fatar TP-9 keybeds. However, they are pretty much still the standard for many premium mooo-aftertouch synths manufactured today. They were the same in 1992 as they are now. Personally, the TP-9 remains my second pick in a mono-aftertouch keyboard, second only to the TP-8.

  14. I bought a k2500xs in 1999. it is maxed out and i installed a scsi2sd. I haven’t found a synthesizer since 1982 that has so many connections and possibilities. just sampling the insert (!) single out connections and converting them digitally to aes-ebu at the same time is unbelievable, considering the year of manufacture. Select midi controller number via keyboard ? no problem and the values are given in Hz 🙂 the arpeggiator is very musically crazy. you can midi control, freeze and feedback-delay the kdfx. can also be easily repaired. Incidentally, stockhausen later also had a k2000. i now use a pc3le7 in my daily work. I installed a fatar tp40. I think it sounds more modern than the k2500 with kdfx and the vast engine is also more flexible. Yes, it’s also faster than the k2500 😀 but unfortunately it doesn’t have any samples. (pc3k has) pc3 can be adapted as a midi controller to almost any wild impossible studio and stage situation. vast is definitely something for the lonely island. It has a good portion of buchla genes in the algorithms and it happens to me that even after 20 years of intensive use I discover something new. these things are cheap, sound good and are incredibly flexible.
    when the good fairy comes around the corner: vast with additional analogue vcos, trigger/v out. (and comb filters, please!)
    cheers from hamburg

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