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Reviews Digital Synth

Korg Kross Review

Entry-Level Redefined Two years after Kronos, Korg keeps on developing its workstation range ─ this time with its most affordable model yet. read more…

Roland Jupiter-80 Mini-Review

Stage Master In an era where workstations are more powerful and complex every day, Roland has introduced a large stage synth that uses hybrid technology based on PCM, virtual analog technology and modeling of acoustic instrument behavior. Let's have a closer look... read more…

Korg PS60 Review

Plug & Play While the market of low-budget synthesizers has never been so flourishing, Korg launches a performance synth conceived for live applications that require spontaneity and real-time options. Let's step into the details... read more…

User reviews on Digital Synth products

An M1 on steroids (Korg - T2 Ex)

By sbn 31, 07/04/2018
In 1991, Korg debuted the T series with three different versions: the T1 (88 keys), T2 (76 keys) and T3 (61 keys). The Ex versions – "T2ex" and "T3ex" – feature an extra ROM with 512 kb of PCM acoustic piano sounds, the best you could get at the time, which was originally featured on the T1 model.

Introduction

The T series succeeded to Korg’s famous M1, aka the best-selling synth ever and the first general public workstation.
It features an 8-track sequencer, 16 tracks of polyphony and dual multi-effect inside. The T series’ sound engine is the same as the M1’s, and the patches are even compatible with one another. It’s a subtractive synthesis ROMpler, with the sound part taken care of by PCM samples (4MB for 144 samples).
The T, aka the “M1 on steroids”, features a larger screen, a floppy disk drive, two additional 100-patch banks, and 8MB of waveform (instead of 4MB).

With a price of 200 to 250€, its current value-for-money on the used market is very good.
Apart from its manufacturing quality, it features the punchy sound of the synths of its time, such as the D50 or Wavestation. Its dynamics is a pleasant surprise, in particular in the lower register with powerful and precise bass sounds that don’t crumble down. The output provides very little hiss or noise.

Soundwise

Its strength resides in the versatility and variety of its available sounds, with a palette ranging from synth sounds (bass, leads, pads, FX) to “realistic” instrument sounds – though their “realism” now appears quite debatable. In a nutshell, the synth can reproduce every General MIDI instrument (piano, organ, strings, winds etc...) with a quality only slightly better than GM sounds, so as a whole it sounds cheap. However, some patches are worth a listen, plus you’ll easily something fit for you among the numerous (20,000+) sysex patches available on the web.

The user has 2 banks of 100 single patches each, “PROG A” and “PROG B”, plus an extra “Combi” 100-patch bank.

- each Combi is made of 8 single patches or 8 multitimbral parts that can be used at taste (as a separate instrument, keyboard split or layering modes). I personally use layering quite a lot, by mixing 3 or 4 carefully chosen sounds you can easily enrich the basic sounds.

For those into it, it’s an occasion to buy a piece of legend.
The M1’s sound has contributed to write uncountable hits of all kinds in the beginning of the 90s, in styles including pop ballads, synth pop, pop, radio rock, house, new beat, jungle, techno, hip-hop, dance, ambiant, ethnic, TV themes and so on...

In terms of synth sounds, the result is quite basic but it provides generous lows.
- a variety of nice pads
- synth brass
- analog synth-type bass
- convincingly-sounding leads
- son percussive sounds and FX

As to the realistic sounds:
- the typical 80s drum sounds are awesome, full of punch
- the Hammond, Rhodes and church organs are not bad, especially the mythical “M1organ” from Robin S – Show Me Love fame
- beautiful LA piano sounds (piano + strings)
- pianos are little realistic but perfectly suit piano house, italo disco, new beat or old school jungle registers
- cheap sax sounds which still work in an old school house or hip-hop context
- 1 electric guitar patch with an igniting feedback, very nice to play (6-7 minutes into the demo down the page)
- Convincing acoustic guitars
- 2 or 3 convincing slap basses
- Some nice sounding clavinets

Pros

+ overall sound quality, punch with little background noise, lush bass sounds typical of Korg’s old synths
+ many patches available on the internet, and various sounds
+ easy to program, good ergonomics (except for the sequencer)
+ a good, minimalistic design, sturdy with its metal frame
+ 4 separate jack outputs
+ 4 MIDI outs + MIDI in and Thru
+ pleasant keyboard with aftertouch and joystick

Cons

- no arpeggiator
- non-resoning filter
- the sequencer part (its ergonomics and editing features lack something)
- among all available patches, many sound poor and General Midi-like
- quite a big keyboard
- when aging, the backlight tends to diminish and disappear. When it happens, it can come with a trebly noise coming from the synth’s frame (and not the audio outs), which comes from the voltage inverter which supplies the backlight with 12V. It’s a well-known problem on synth with an electroluminescent leaf-type (“EL”) backlight (such as the Wavestation, Kawai K5000, Yamaha SY and TG, K2000, Korg 01W...). The backlight and inverter can be changed, or the entire screen changed for a LED model.
- sometimes, disconnecting the backlight’s supply (CN6 connector with two wires, plugged on the KMI-077 supply board) stops the said noise
- with time, the switches tend to do what they like (but they can be changed)

In the end…

If you listen to the demo, you’ll get an idea of the patches on the KORG Legacy VST which features the M1 and T series models’ patches as well as those of the Korg expansion cards. I compared using an RME interface, while the sound timbres ate faithful to the original the plug-in lacks depth and dynamics compares with the synth.

Sound samples

These are raw stereo recordings of a T2ex, recorded using an RME FF800 with no processing. Or, listen to the demo.

»

Great Value / almost perfect (Alesis - QS8)

By Dynamic Sloth, 17/02/2018
I have been looking for a decent stage piano that can fill my needs for Rhodes, Wurly, Clavinet, and acoustic piano sounds. Being able to do some decent B-3 tones was not necessary but definitely a plus, as I have another keyboard that fills my needs for that. I did not want to spend over $500 for a used board, as I had my eyes on the Casio Privia PX 5S. In short, I was getting this as a stage piano. I don't perform a lot, but I do intend to gig with it some and use it for recording. I am not a professional musician. I am an intermediate level player, and I create my own jazz, blues, pop, rock, and R&B music. I do consider myself to be fairly picky when it comes to overall feel and sound quality. That being said, I have not played on an actual wurlitzer or Rhodes, and I am not trying to say that this feels or sounds exactly the same.

First impressions: The sounds were pretty good. The Wurly and rhodes tones were usable, as was the acoustic piano. I have played better ones, but they are not bad. I was pretty underwhelmed and a little disappointed with the clavinet sounds, however. The action wasn't bad, but it was not as good as some of the Korgs, Yamaha's, and others that I have tried out. Definitely not a deal breaker though...

I did a little looking around for available sound cards, to see if I could get a little closer to the sounds I was craving. I noticed that Q cards were available on Ebay, and I decided to order a vintage keys card and a jazz piano card. The reviews of the jazz piano card were overall favorable, and I am pleased with it. It is certainly an upgrade. I was skeptically hopeful of the sounds that I would get from the vintage keys card, as the reviews were a little more mixed.

I have to say, after playing it with the vintage keys sounds, I am in electric piano heaven. I love the vintage keys card. Plenty of Rhodes and Wurlitzers that sound great to my ear, and finally I found several fat and funky clavinet sounds. This is perfect for me. I paid a little over $200 for both the jazz piano card and the vintage keys card, so I am in this now for a total of a little over $400. I would rate the overall package a solid five star value, but since I had to pick up 2 sound cards to get to get it done, I dropped one star (or half a star if I could).

Pros: This is a very high quality keyboard. It is built like a tank. The action is decent and it does have some pretty good sounds. Along with the sounds that I mentioned above, it has some really nice pads, vintage synths, funky spacey sounds, and decent tone wheel organ sounds. The pitch and modulation wheels are awesome (probably the smoothest action that I have ever felt). It also has 4 performance sliders that can be programmed to desired effects on the tone. Overall, in spite of being over 20 years old, this is a versatile instrument that would perform well in a variety of settings. Having the sound cards still available on Ebay is a plus too. I do not see myself upgrading, as this fills all of my needs very well. If you can find one for $300 or less, I wouldn't hesitate. I was happy with both sound cards, and even though they are expensive, it was worth it to me, as I was able to really dial in the tones that I was looking for. I cannot imagine a better deal for under $500 (of course, including the price of the sound cards).

Cons: With it being built like a tank, keep in mind, it is HEAVY. The frame is all metal, and it has solid oak side pieces... very nice looking BTW. The biggest con is probably the size of the screen. It is small, and in order to navigate through the parameters, it gets to be a bit of a process... not a huge deal to me, as I am mostly finding the sounds and parameters from the cards to be fine without tweaking. I don't consider the internal sounds to be bad (in fact, many are downright amazing), but I guess that I could say that a slight con would be that until I got the external sound cards, it was not perfect. Now it is close to perfect. I suppose that if I was being really picky, I could say that the hammer action, as I mentioned before is not on par with the very best stage pianos, but that is really nit picking.

Keep in mind, if you do get one and decide to get a Q card or 2, if you have the QS8, as I do, you will need to get the 2 more expensive cards. The guy who makes them makes 3 different card configurations, and the $115 card will work in either slot on the original QS8. The $99 card is configured to work in just one of the slots (I think it is the lower one).
»

A terrible disappointment (Yamaha - Montage 6)

By Djpug, 25/09/2017
After 3 months spent watching videos and dreaming to lay my hands on this new synth, the day has finally come.
As an owner of an MO6 and Motif XS, I really believed the Montage would be Yamaha’s most elaborate synth, but in the end the longer the wait, the cruellest the disillusion.

The mere unboxing step already reveals a rushed product: the machine lays in a hastily rolled plastic cover with four old-looking yellowish tapes on the corners, a power cord and a hastily written manual with blurry pics and little explanation at all…

Quickly plugged on, but a sturdy stand is necessary as the keayboard is particularly heavy.
Manufacturing quality is good, it gets turned on in no time and everything works so no problem so far.

This is the moment you’ll want to listen to its sounds.
Here comes the first surprise: everything is messy, hard to find anything and the so-called “performances” include complex sounds featuring arpeggios, motion control and other basic –effectless– sounds…
And there are many crappy sounds that’ll never get used… HEY, YAMAHA, you DO know that not everyone buying this kind of keyboards is a programmer, don’t you? There are also musicians who don’t want to wait for two years before being able to play something interesting!

This is a bitter disappointment, as except for perhaps ten sounds nothing is even just playable, let alone the rhythms that were forgotten on most sounds – the same goes with the arpeggiator.
While we’re at the arpeggiator, it’s way too complicated – so much as it’s almost unusable, plus too many steps are necessary to just insert one.

The designers of this pretty toy wanted to please themselves, but in the end this synth is like a cake with so much flavor that it just ends up being plain disgusting – and there we are, you can’t find anything intuitively and making the best out of the Montage requires spending thousands of hours.

So you spend your time toying around with ordinary Voices – the same you find on a Motif, except that the Motif’s performances actually do the job.

I’m sorry to only be able to give a musician’s advice, in contrast with what an electronic genius’s might be so perhaps this device wasn’t designed for me but they really could have included great sounds – especially considering the many blank memory banks.

In the end, the Montage is a last-generation war machine without an ammo, and Yamaha provides a half-empty box. Now I understand why all the demos and videos feature the same PEARLS, DJ and piano sounds – as usual.

I feel like I’ve thrown 3000 euro away, and all I can do now is cry over it while trying to sell it.
»

News Digital Synth

[MUSIKMESSE] Sledge is the new black?

Published on 04/08/16
At the Musikmesse, Studiologic presents a Black Edition of its Sledge 2 synthesizer.

[NAMM] [VIDEO] Yamaha Montage

Published on 01/22/16

Roland's Boutique Series available

Published on 10/16/15

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