Patchable monophonic single oscillator synth
Though the MS10 has been on the market for some time, it's always important to keep the tools of synthesiser sound in perspective and to keep re-evaluating them. That's why it's worth looking at this particular Korg again.
As far as most people are concerned, the synthesiser has always been the domain of the keyboard player and I suppose since the Minimoog arrived this has largely been true. Other than purely modular synthesisers, the number of synths with the capability of a keyboard instrument and a useful tool for purely synthetic sound generation are few and far between. The ARP 2600, this MS10 and its big brother the MS20 seem to be the only ones that really fit the bill: a real keyboard instrument on one hand, and the sound flexibility of say, the trusty VCS3 and Synthi A on the other.
This keyboard is very much an instrument that should be investigated by not only keyboard players but also any musician interested in synthesiser sound. I've never really had much contact with Korg equipment other than the odd visit to a shop and it was good to have this synth at home and try it through my own keyboard amplification — and an enjoyable week it was too.
The MS 10 is monophonic and can be divided into three sections: first, the keyboard with performance wheel; second the front panel (left) containing all the knobs and third, the front panel (right) which is a patch bay.
The keyboard is a two-and-a-half octave one, and I felt this was a little short for my needs. However many players find this size adequate (the Roland SH09 is the same size), and certainly given the range of sounds available through the patching bay, this is not a serious flaw by any means. The performance wheel has to be patched up to work and can usefully be plugged in to control pitch, the filter cut off frequency and to manually modulate the pulse width; each area having knobs to adjust the range and amount.
Now the left hand front panel. This is a one oscillator instrument, with 4, 8, 16 and 32 footages and it's pitch adjustable for tuning. There is a choice of triangle, sawtooth, square waveforms plus white noise and a knob which alters the pulse width and also doubles as a pulse width modulation amount control when patched to receive modulation.
The filter is a low pass variety with cut-off frequency adjustment and peak control (or resonance as other manufacturers call it). There's only one envelope generator having attack, decay, sustain and release adjustments in the normal way, plus a hold time control which increases the sustain beyond the time you hold down a key on the keyboard.
The modulation section of the synth coupled with the patching is the real heart of this instrument and it's these six controls and the wheel that make for a wealth of sound possibilities. There is a low frequency oscillator called a "modulation generator" — frequency controllable and without patching, the output is adjustable from sawtooth steep ramp, through triangular to sawtooth shallow ramp.
With patching, not only is this waveform usable but there's also a square wave and the same knob controls the pulse width. Therefore both waveforms can be patched up independently for modulation purposes.
The frequency may be modulated by the modulation generator (adjustable) and the envelope generator or, if patched up, by an external source (also adjustable). The scheme is identical for modulating the filter cut-off frequency. There are two other controls on the left hand side of the panel — portamento (glide) time for the keyboard and external signal level.
The patch bay on the right hand side has a full diagram and explanations of the inputs and outputs and is very easy to follow. The outputs are: wheel control, white noise, reverse of the envelope generator controls, modulation generator, sawtooth/triangle and modulation generator square wave. The inputs are: external signal for receiving the pink and white noise outputs, frequency control of the oscillator, pulse width control of the oscillator, filter frequency cut-off and also amplifier gain.
All these inputs and outputs are cross patchable and their effects are controlled by the six knobs I mentioned earlier in the modulation section on the left hand side of the control panel. All that remain are the volume control/on off switch and signal output jack socket, and sockets marked for the control voltage and trigger in/out.
The question always comes up with single oscillator instruments; can you get rich sounds without an extra VCO?
It depends on the filter and the circuitry of the keyboard, coupled with your own ability as a programmer. The MS10 can produce rich tones and also hard and brittle sounds, and with all the different modulation possibilities I found that it could create a lot of life and interest.
I don't think this instrument follows the most common one volt per octave standard and as such the control voltage and trigger connections can only link easily to other Korg synths.