Korg 707 Performing Synthesizer
As synthesizer prices continue to plummet and the number of features increases, Korg introduce a colourful range of low-cost 8-voice, multitimbral, aftertouch and velocity sensitive performance synths. Mark Jenkins straps one on...
With the launch of the Korg 707, there can no longer be doubt in anyone's mind that the merger with the massive forces of Yamaha has had considerable influence on the smaller company's design techniques. This is a really stylish synthesizer, combining the best of the Korg Poly 800 and the Yamaha DX100 and adding multitimbral capabilities and the (perhaps dubious) virtues of round-the-shoulder on-stage performance.
The very fact that the 707 is available in several different colours - black, white, blue, red and pink - says something about Korg's revamped marketing technique and commitment to increased visibility for their products. However, it is to be noted that Roland's flirtation with red and blue metallic-finished SH101s never came to anything much, and that Korg's own portable remote keyboard, the RK100, wasn't a great success.
So we'll be looking at the 707 both from the standpoint of a live 'performance' synth and from the more conventional studio standpoint. The fact of the matter is that the 707 has something to offer in both applications - but does it have enough?
The 707 is essentially a 4-operator FM synthesizer (although this isn't revealed in the handbook) and doesn't sound dissimilar to the Korg DS8 or the Yamaha DX100. It has a full-sized, four-octave, velocity- and pressure-sensitive keyboard, a small green LCD display (with a backlight which can be switched off to conserve battery power - a brilliant stroke!) and an uncluttered front panel. In fact, there are just 14 buttons, four sliders and a keypad to handle all the programming and performance functions, plus pitch bend and modulation wheels cleverly recessed into the top panel of the synth and nicely positioned for ease-of-use when the 707 is played 'over the shoulder'.
As on the DS8, two of the 707's sliders alter the overall timbre and envelope speed of each sound. This makes it extremely simple and quick to make a rough edit of a sound, something which couldn't be said of most of Yamaha's early DX synths.
The 707 comes with 100 onboard programs and 10 combination programs and more sounds can be loaded using a RAM or ROM card inserted into the front panel slot. Although the RAM card in use obviously doesn't project over the keyboard, the RAM card slot itself is sited perilously close to your top octave of keys, which seems an odd move. The 707 is basically an 8-voice synth but can operate in multitimbral mode or in split ('double') or layer modes, as we shall see.
Selecting a new sound is simply a question of hitting two digits on the numeric keypad (which is laid out as two rows of five buttons below the LCD); you can also step up or down through the patches using the familiar Up/Yes and Down/No buttons. The LCD (20-character x 2 rows) indicates the sound name, the sound number, the memory type (internal or card) and the keyboard mode (Single, Double, Layer or Multi).
In Layer mode the 707 is 4-note polyphonic, while in Double mode you can freely set the split point, assign as many voices as you like to the two sounds (up to the maximum of eight voices, that is), and even programme the two sounds to overlap. You can transpose the octave range of each sound to set it to a usable pitch.
"As on the DS8, two of the 707's sliders alter the overall timbre and envelope speed of each sound. This makes it extremely simple and quick to make a rough edit..."
With Multi combinations, all the sounds play over the whole range of the keyboard, but they respond to different MIDI channels. This is ideal for using the 707 with Korg's own SQ8 sequencer or any computer-based system. As on the Yamaha TX81Z, you have to decide in advance how many voices to assign to each MIDI channel, so you don't have the advantage of dynamic voice allocation that you find on the synths like the Ensoniq ESQ-1 or SQ-80.
When set for Multi mode operation, the 707's LCD shows the name of the first sound (the one which plays from the keyboard) and the numbers of the other sounds together with their internal/external status. Two sockets recessed into the rear panel allow you to connect footswitches which will step up and down through the programs, and any program number can use any keyboard mode.
The 707's performance controls are set up to be equally useful under stage or studio conditions. The centre-sprung pitch bend wheel has a variable range of from one to twelve semitones (1 octave), and using the Wheel Rev button as a toggle you can reverse the direction of operation both of the pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel. This is a sensible option: if you do have the 707 slung around your shoulder, you'll probably prefer the pitch to go up as you push the wheel away from you towards the keyboard; if you're playing the synth lying on a table (with the synth lying on the table, stupid!!) you'll probably prefer the opposite arrangement.
In live performance, the other important controls will be the Portamento On/Off button, which can have its function duplicated by a footswitch, and the Timbre, EG1 and EG2 sliders (the last of these doubles as the data entry slider for changing values during the more general sound editing process). The centre position of each slider corresponds to the programmed value; moving up or down will brighten or soften the sound, speed up or slow down the envelope. These 'quick edit' facilities refer to the timbre and amplitude envelope generator, not to pitch.
How do you go about creating new sounds and new combinations of sounds? Just press the Voice Parameter button and you can advance to any one of nine short menus for altering voice values or seven for performance parameters. Similarly, the Combination Parameter mode has seven short menus (Korg call them 'jobs') for creating new program combinations.
"...you have to decide in advance how many voices to assign to each MIDI channel, so you don't have the advantage of dynamic voice allocation..."
Let's have a look at some example 'jobs' for sound editing. The first short menu looks like this:
"The keyboard velocity can be assigned to the timbre and amplitude EGs, while the pressure sensitivity (aftertouch) can be routed to control the overall timbre, modulation generator level, 0SC1 amplitude and 0SC2 amplitude."
Because the Korg 707 has a Timbre Envelope you can create some very analogue-like sounds on it, although a chorus would have been useful for that purpose as well. The keyboard velocity can be assigned to the timbre and amplitude EGs, while the pressure sensitivity (aftertouch) can be routed to control the overall timbre, modulation generator level, OSC1 amplitude and OSC2 amplitude Since OSC1 and OSC2 can have differing envelopes, it is possible to achieve some quite complex effects with lots of internal movement - and that's even before you have considered layered sounds and detuning.
You can use the detuning function in Unison mode, giving a powerful stack of eight voices which can be assigned single or multiple triggering capability. You can also transpose the pitch of an entire program, from Low to Middle to High. This is partly to make up for the 707's short keyboard span.
If you intend using the 707 with a sequencer, the Combination Parameter mode is where you want to be. It's possible to select the Pitch Bend, Mod Wheel, Aftertouch and Footswitch parameters of any one program to control a whole Combination; so if you want to play live over a sequencer part, you can make sure that sequenced voices aren't affected by your pitch bend and modulation techniques.
Each voice group in a Combination (whether you've assigned it one, two or more voices) can be panned left, right or central on the 707's stereo outputs. Volume levels for each voice group can also be set independently, as can detune and octave shift amounts.
The 707 also has several Function settings which are global - they apply to all patches. These include Master Tune, Master Transpose, Footswitch assignments, and Save/Load functions.
MIDI functions are quite advanced on the 707, as you'd expect. Active Sensing is included so that an 'All Notes Off' MIDI command is transmitted automatically in order to mute your synth should your MIDI lead get pulled out on-stage; reception of all MIDI data, patch change data or controller data such as pitch bends can be switched off if desired.
"Local Control can also be defeated, which means you can play another sound module from the 707's keyboard while the 707's own internal voices are being played from an external sequencer or another keyboard."
Local Control can also be defeated, which means you can play another sound module from the 707's keyboard while the 707's own internal voices are being played from an external sequencer or another keyboard. Although the performance wheels are not freely assignable, the modulation wheel can be re-assigned to control volume instead, which may be convenient in the over-the-shoulder configuration.
The 707's comprehensive handbook includes a refreshingly complete list of MIDI parameters and even gives a few examples of use with various synth and sequencer set-ups. It doesn't have a picture of someone posing like an idiot with a 707 slung round his neck, but you can't expect everything!
As mentioned at the start of this review, the 707 needs to be assessed from two points of view - studio use, and stage use. Let's look at its strong and weak features in each case...
On-stage, the 707 should look good - you have a choice of colours and sleek styling; Single, Split and Layered patches can be selected quickly, the LCD is backlit for easy visibility and the performance controls are well-designed. The Timbre and Envelope sliders are invaluable for quick on-stage tweaking of sounds.
As an over-the-shoulder keyboard the 707 fares less well. Despite the provision of guitar strap locks, the instrument is really too large and heavy for such an application; it's not even vaguely guitar-shaped, and the design cries out for a Patch Up button under your left thumb which just isn't there. In fact, none of the controls apart from pitch bend and modulation are instantly accessible to your left hand, which means you just have to stop playing to change anything. A Contrast rotary control (recessed into the rear panel) does its best to make the LCD visible from any angle, but the whole LCD would have to swivel forward for it to be visible in the over-the-shoulder position.
In the studio, the 707 fares just as well as the DS8, Yamaha FB01/TX81Z or Roland MT32. Its multitimbral capabilities are invaluable to MIDI composers, but the lack of individual voice outputs reduces its usefulness in the studio (no individual processing of different voices is possible). The 707's sounds are decent enough but nothing new, although velocity and pressure sensitivity on an instrument of this price is pleasing.
Easy programmability and relatively large onboard memory (Korg, for the first time, dispensing with their 8 x 8 = 64 memory assignment method) make the 707 a pretty good voice bank sort of instrument for the starter. It has little new to offer the established MIDIphile, but as an all-round starter's instrument for both studio and stage applications it seems a very safe investment.
Price £599 inc VAT.
Contact Korg UK, (Contact Details).