Radial PZ-Pre

The PZ-Pre and the Voco-Loco
are unique problem-solvers that are built
into heavy-duty pedals for use on stage.
The Key-Largo follows in this tradition.

Keith Emerson

Rick Wakeman

Key-Largo™ Development

Radial is best known for its DI boxes. There are literally hundreds of thousands of these on stages around the globe. And with such a huge range of users, we often get requests for new products from happy customers wanting more from the Radial family. Several requests came from folks asking Radial to build a super rugged interface for keyboards. So when our tech team got together to discuss, we came up with the idea of developing a pedal instead of a typical mixer.

This of course led to several challenges. First off, a pedal must be sufficiently compact to comfortably fit on the floor, yet for it to be functional, it has to be feature-laden. Anyone familiar with electronics knows that the closer you bring components together, the more likely you are to encounter noise. The second challenge was selecting the features and functions. The Key-Largo must adapt to a variety of setups both on a live stage and also in the studio. This means that it has to be flexible. The third challenge is that it must be durable enough to handle road travel. The good news here is that Radial is well versed at building products to handle the rigours of the road. And fourth; it has to be able to interface with today’s computer based world. Virtual keyboards are gaining popularity due to their unlimited sounds and affordability.

The following looks at the details that went into the Key-Largo development.

Why a pedal instead of a mixer?

Keyboard players are already well served with hundreds of mixers already on the market. So adding one more did not seem like a great idea. Instead we thought of making a pedal that would follow the footsteps of the popular Tonebone PZ-Pre, a preamp which is made for acoustic guitars, and the Voco-Loco, a preamp for horn players that lets them incorporate pedals into their setups. The more we thought about it, the more the concept of a pedal seemed to make sense.

Today, so many artists travel as lightly as possible in order to avoid the high cost of freight or the huge costs that airlines impose on baggage. This meant the Key-Largo had to be as small as possible. But small also means less room for features and a greater chance for noise. So we had to really work through the feature set to distill it down to a manageable list.

The input channels

We felt that with today’s wide use of virtual synthesizers, the Key-Largo had to have both MIDI and USB connectivity. This would enable a player to use a keyboard as a master controller to play the sounds in a laptop or module.

We then thought about how many real synths or keyboards would be used in a typical setup. Back in the early days, players like Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman surrounded themselves with keyboards on all sides. Today’s synthesizers are so much more powerful and for the most part offer programmability. This meant that we could reduce this down to a reasonable number... and we chose three. One for the digital piano, one for the main synth and one for the old Minimoog! Each channel would be full stereo and feature a switching jack that would sum the stereo inputs to mono when only one input is in use.

Foot-switching for performance

Having the pedal sit on the floor meant that we could incorporate a couple of footswitches to enhance the stage performance. To this end, we added an effects on-off footswitch that would let the artist turn on-or off an effect like a delay when soloing. This of course then required an effects loop for each of the channels with an adjustable wet-dry control. We decided to keep the effects loop full stereo while providing the user with a mono switch when interfacing with mono devices.

A second footswitch was incorporated that would replace a sustain pedal. This features a simple momentary (non-latching) footswitch that can be set in various ways to add sustain to a piano patch using a simple guitar cable. This eliminates the need to carry a separate footswitch.

Compact and ruggedly built, the Key-Largo saves space by replacing
not just your mixer,but also your sustain pedal!

The output channels

As the Key-Largo will play a central role in a keyboard setup, we wanted it to be able to manage both the sound on stage and the sound going to the PA system. To this end, the Key-Largo was outfitted with two sets of outputs: one main – the other monitor. The main out is a stereo set of balanced XLR outputs that are designed to feed the PA system. These outputs are transformer isolated to eliminate hum and buzz caused by ground loops. The signal is able to feed a balanced line input or it can be turned down to run through a typical audio snake to feed a mic input. The monitor outs are balanced TRS outputs and intended to feed a pair of powered speakers on stage for local monitoring.

Key-Largo with three keyboards feeding stage monitors and PA system

The Key-Largo has exceptional signal handling to manage your most demanding keyboard and plenty of output. Be careful! In fact, there is so much available gain that you can easily overload the inputs on a lesser audio device as you completely dominate the stage!

Digital i/o for today’s connected world

The Key-Largo’s powerful USB interface can be used to playback soft synths or backing tracks from your laptop, and it can also be used as an analog to digital converter for recording your tracks when on the road! High quality 24bit/192kHz converters ensure audio is recorded and played back without any loss in fidelity, giving you the ability to use the Key-Largo as a standalone recording interface.

MIDI in and out connections are also provided to send and receive MIDI over USB. This allows the use of a MIDI controller to affect a soft synth on your laptop, or to play back recorded MIDI files and have them control a MIDI-enabled keyboard or instrument.

Close up of Key-Largo USB & MIDI connectors

The Key-Largo is small, has all of the right connections and the type of features that get a keyboard player excited! Since showing off prototypes to a number of very high profile artists, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.