Synth Odyssey Part 4-reFX PlastiCZurgery

Released in 1984, Casio’s CZ101 was meant to be an affordable alternative to Yamaha’s all conquering DX7. Both were based on Phase Distortion synthesis and both were a pain in the buttockal region to program, but the tiny plasticky (geddit?) CZ was a much cheaper way to ‘go digital’. It was punk, man!

Released in 2003, REFX’s PlastiCZ took the Casio concept and made it beautiful. In other words, you no longer needed an advanced degree in Physics to figure out how to make a bass patch. While PlastiCZ has one less envelope than the ‘legendary’ CZ, the ability to whip up new and exciting patches in moments makes Uncle CZ look a bit silly.

Excelling at basses (the super snappy envelopes make it a natural choice for moody synth pop shenanigans), leads, keyboard and organ sounds, the now forgotten PlastiCZ gets its much deserved time in the spotlight.

Digitally Controlled Waveshaping (DCW) is the heart of PlastiCZ. The concept is that the harmonic content of your chosen waveform is changed by modulating it with a sine wave. It’s essentially Phase Distortion: the DCW envelope controls the amount of morphing that takes place between the two waveforms, creating all manners of sonic yummies.

Each oscillator section consists of two waveforms with eight selectable wave-shapes per oscillator. These range from sweet sounding saw/square/pulse variations to more exotic, evil offerings like double saw (squelch), resonant square and double cosine (get away from me, maths). Thus each oscillator can spit out 64 different waveforms in combination!

While marketed as a ‘shrill’ digital synth, it’s actually perfectly capable of cranking out some dark and dirty analogue style sounds with real presence. Of course if you are looking for DX7 sounds in a hurry, go PlastiCZ.

Ring modulation beefs things up, and I love the simple vibrato setup. The harmonic detune is excellent at producing musically complex layered sounds with very little effort: electro bass/leads are a doddle.

The versatile F/X unit includes not just bread and butter offerings like reverb, chorus, distortion/bit crusher etc, but a superb ‘trance gate’ (useful for more than just trance), highly musical delay, talkbox (a crazy vowel filter effect), and even a Leslie emulation. Speaking of which, this thing also does some authentic organ sounds. All of a sudden, this billy bargain synth is starting to look like a bit of a monster!

Weaknesses? While it does some nice warm pads, longer sustained chords are a bit unpredictable due to the phase morphing nature of the instrument. Other than that, you get sounds that throb, spit, fizzle and growl (remind you of anyone?)!

At a mere $55, this is a bit of a steal. But what’s interesting to me is the sheer ease with which you can get a great variety of sounds, especially when you consider the type of synthesis we are dealing with here. While it’s not quite Synplant, it’s definitely one of the most rewarding soft synths I have used, and remains as innovative today as it was more than seven years ago! A sonic blessing that I am glad to have at my disposal!

And now for some PlastiCZurgery! 100% PlastiCZ with no external FX. Drums courtesy of Sonic Charge Microtonic.

Yes! PlastiCZ tastes good!

Next: A little poly-ana!

And for the story so far:

What is the point of this ‘Synth Odyssey’?

Novation BassStation

Fabfilter One

Muon Tau

Thanks for reading!

(c) All sounds lazy-programmed and sequenced by P Brown.



  1. good and versatile synth,I use to make trance and happy hardcore with this baby some years back! but its good for any style,

  2. I discovered it after the recent Plughugger soundset was released and now I really want it. It does make surprisingly good analog-ish bass & lead sounds. Plus I like it’s playful interface. I should let my son (7) play with it and see what he thinks – he loves messing with Synplant.

  3. btw Robin S wants her bassline back.

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