General MIDI module
Less knobs, more sound
When he flies, Ian Masterson likes to sit near the black box, because it always survives. But will this black box from Korg survive Ian Masterson?
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Synthesiser manufacturers seem to have recently adopted the Stock, Aitken and Waterman philosophy of refusing to change an apparently successful formula; if the same combination of ingredients seems to consistently win favour with Joe Public, then why waste time and money finding an alternative? All very well if the recipe really is strong enough to ensure continued attraction, but not so hot when fashions, as they are inclined to do, change overnight. And what about innovation, progress, discovery and development? Sticking to your guns come what may doesn't exactly open up new horizons.
This multiplicity of metaphors is intended to convey my frustration with the major synth manufacturers releasing hordes of units all based around the same synthesis technology - and, even worse, preset sounds. Until recently, General MIDI (a supposedly refreshing set of industry 'standards') has seemed like a convenient excuse for the heavyweights to clone sounds from their existing models - and even each other's - and release them in assorted, but essentially similar, packages. Same sounds, different boxes.
Korg have taken a while to enter the GM fray, and the 05R/W module, on first inspection, appears to be a tentative rearrangement of the technology employed in the rest of their successful 0-series synths. Add a dedicated internal Mac/PC interface (so you don't have to splash out on a MIDI box for your computer should you want to get into desktop synthesis), and bundle the whole lot in a half-rack module with stereo outputs, and you pretty much have it. Or do you? After spending a while with this particularly cute Korg, it seems my initial scathing comments about the cloning of GM are a little hasty. The 05R/W proves that GM modules can have truly creative possibilities - provided they are designed with a little imagination.
I won't bore you with yet another account of Korg's AI2 synthesis system - if you desire further information on the delights of having twice the synthesis power of an M1 in each individual program, refer back to MT's reviews of the 01/W, 03R/W et al. Suffice to say that the 05R/W features the full welly of its bigger brothers; the only 'cutbacks' concern the lack of individual outputs. Some may feel that routing all eight parts of the multitimbral section through a pair of stereo outputs is limiting; it depends on how much external control you demand in a mix. However, you can at least assign effects to certain programs in a combination and not to others - so not all your instruments are swamped with the gated reverb you use on your drum kit.
The 05 features 100 Combinations and 236 individual Programs, the first 100 being allocated to Bank A for a more traditional arrangement of sounds, and then 136 to Bank G for the General MIDI protocol. The factory presets supplied in both banks are extremely impressive; if you are familiar with Korg's AI2 system, then you'll immediately notice that nothing has been spared here. Of course, as with all modern digital synths, the Bank A sounds tend to carry quite a few of the 'look what I can do with all these waveforms' type of sounds (particularly all those huge, sweeping D50-style evolving washes that are absolutely useless in a mix because they take up so much space!), but the box above lists only a few of the real gems that make me unreservedly recommend the 05R/W. Mind you, the presets tend to lose their importance when you consider what you yourself could program using this mode of synthesis...
However, I will confess to being truly surprised that the GM set of sounds amounted to much more than an afterthought. These presets are equally excellent, and some (such as the pianos) outperform their equivalents in Bank A. Korg really have paid a great deal of attention to making the GM side of things shine; and their efforts more than pay off.
At the end of the day, if you buy an 05R/W, you're getting the full processing power of the 0-series instruments, a built-in computer interface, a bonus set of GM-configured sounds and a half-rack unit with one hell of a lot of charisma, not to mention potential. This is no token, or even 'toy', GM unit; for one thing, it has given this reviewer faith in a manufacturer's ability to do something different, even when presented with roughly the same ingredients. The 05R/W isn't particularly new or exciting, but it is an excitingly new way of looking at an existing formula.
|Ease of use||Ergonomically sound|
|Originality||Concept 0 Sounds 7|
|Value for money||Fair to middling|
|Star Quality||It's a box|
|Price||£599.00 inc VAT|
|More from||Korg UK, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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