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Korg Wavestation SR

Synth Module

Synth Revival, Sounds Realistic, er... Stop Rashes

With their new budget rackmount version of the Wavestation, Korg are actually offering musicians more for less. Launched onto stormy economic seas, the SR looks buoyant - not drowning but waving...

In a synth world dominated by sample-based instruments, the Wavestation has been the proverbial breath of fresh air. By placing the emphasis on abstract waveforms and wave sequences as opposed to imitative samples, it has opened up a different sound world for adventurous musicians to explore.

Even the addition of sampled sounds to the waveforms -which occurred with the introduction of the Wavestation A/D module and the EX expansion for the keyboard Wavestation - only served to enhance the instrument's sonic versatility. For one thing, imitative samples can be turned into more abstract sound material by assigning them to wave sequences (see 'Wave Sequencing' box) and using the 'obscuring' capabilities of sequence step durations and crossfades.

Korg have been a little slow in providing a budget version of the Wavestation for those musicians who can't afford the asking price of an EX or A/D, but at last here it is: the 111 19" Wavestation SR. At £997 the SR may not be everyone's idea of a budget instrument, but on past form it's the nearest Korg are going to get to producing one.

The good news is that, while it's significantly cheaper than the EX and A/D, the Wavestation SR forgoes relatively little in the way of features - and in some respects actually offers more than its more expensive companions. The most notable economies come with the dimensions of the SR. Being a 1U-high instrument, its user interface is necessarily constricted, with, for instance, a 2 x 16-character backlit LCD replacing the much larger and more informative screen of the EX and A/D. Gone also is the 'soft key' approach of the more expensive instruments which allows you to zip around their software pages, and the joystick which allows the sound balance within multioscillator Patches to be altered so readily. However, if you have a keyboard instrument which allows assignable MIDI controllers to be transmitted, you can get round the latter shortcoming (see 'Vector Synthesis' box).

The other good news is that the SR retains the stereo and two individual audio outs of its more expensive brethren -though, perhaps not surprisingly, it doesn't implement the audio inputs of the A/D. Also retained are the PCM and Prog data card slots of the EX and A/D, though there is one important difference on the SR: the new module isn't able to read their PCM cards, because it adopts the higher-density card format which Korg introduced with the 01/W synths. This shouldn't be much of a problem, however, because there aren't many early format Wavestation PCM cards around, and anyway they were mostly made redundant when samples were added to the Wavestation's wave ROM. Of more significance is the SR's ability to read 01/W PCM cards - a facility which gives it the edge over the EX and A/D. In fact, Korg will be pairing up 01/W PCM cards with SR Prog cards programmed specifically to take advantage of the 01/W samples.

It's perhaps wave sequencing more than any other feature which gives the Wavestation its own special sonic character. A wave sequence is, literally, a sequence of » Wavestation waveforms and samples which can be assigned to one or more oscillators within a Patch.

Each sequence step can be assigned one of the Wavestation's Waves and given duration, crossfade and course/fine tuning values. The crossfade parameter is the key to whether a wave sequence produces an 'evolving' sound or a rhythmic sequence.

The Wavestation can play once through a wave sequence, or else can loop round any section of a sequence for a set number of times or continuously. You can also dynamically modulate the start point of a wave sequence using, say, velocity, or trigger individual steps within a wave sequence using, for instance, the mod wheel.

A global parameter lets you set whether wave sequences will sync to the Wavestation's internal clock (each unit of duration is equal to about 24 milliseconds) or to incoming MIDI clocks (a unit of duration equals one MIDI clock). Where you're triggering rhythmic wave sequences on the Wavestation as part of a MIDI sequence, being able to sync to a MIDI clock source is of course invaluable.

Realising that what most musicians want are large numbers of preset sounds, and that the SR's constricted user interface is effectively a discouragement to programming anyway, Korg have considerably upped the number of onboard Performances (from 200 to 550), Patches (from 140 to 385), Wave Sequences (from 128 to 352) and Wave Sequence steps (from 2000 to 5500).

These additions come in the form of seven extra ROM Banks, meaning that if you want to edit any of the new Performances, Patches or Wave Sequences you'll have to copy them into one of the three RAM Banks first. Korg have also taken the opportunity to double the number of Multisets to 32 on the new instrument, and to provide MIDI channel-specific panning of Performances within Multisets.

All in all, beyond the aforementioned limitations imposed by the SR's physical dimensions, it's hard to see where any economies have been made. The SR has the same wave ROM as the other two Wavestations, the same polyphony, the same collection of digital effects, the same set of Performance, Patch and Wave Sequence parameters... and it sounds just as good.

For Wavestation EX and A/D owners, the SR could be a cheap(er) way of more than doubling the capabilities of their instrument. What's more, because Program data and cards are compatible across all the Wavestations, you could program on the more accessible instrument, then save the results to a card and load them into the SR's RAM Banks.

The SR may have been a long time coming, but the wait at least means that programmers have had plenty of time to get to grips with the Wavestation and really get the most out of it. This becomes apparent once you start playing through the SR's large number of Performances, which really show off the sonic diversity and quality of the Wavestation to good effect.

To my mind the Wavestation SR has no competition when it comes to atmospheric pad sounds, from the celestial to the industrial. It can also produce the most wonderfully emotive, silky-smooth, rich strings pads you could possibly wish for, and excels at both breathy, tinkly and harsh, cutting digital sounds. The SR has its fair share of punchy, upfront basses and stabbing synth brass patches, some great 'rhythm loops' in the form of rhythmic wave sequences, and some wonderfully spiky, aggressive effected 'drum kits'.

The Wavestation SR takes you beyond the sound world of many other synths, and - as the most affordable version of the Wavestation - makes the ideal companion for a more conventional sample-based instrument.

Price: £997 including VAT

More from: Korg (UK) Ltd (Contact Details)

Program structure

The Performance is the 'highest level' in the Wavestation's program hierarchy. Each Performance can consist of up to eight Parts, while each Part can be assigned a single Patch. Note and velocity zoning parameters for each Part let you create a wide variety of split and layer textures.

A Patch can be assigned one, two or four oscillators, while each oscillator has its own filter, amplitude and pan sections together with a dedicated amplitude envelope, an assignable envelope and two assignable LFOs. In addition, a Mix Envelope definable per Patch lets you create real-time timbral changes (see 'Vector Synthesis' box). Digital effects are programmable per Performance, with each Part being independently routable.

Each oscillator within a Patch can be assigned either a Wave ie. a single waveform or sample, or a wave sequence ie. many waveforms/samples chained together (see 'Wave Sequencing' box).

For multitimbral reception via MIDI, the SR has 32 Multisets (twice the number provided on the Wavestation EX and A/D). Multisets allow you to assign a Performance to each MIDI channel. Each Multiset can be given its own effects settings; these apply to all Performances in the Multiset, overriding the effects settings of individual Patches.


The Wavestation's origins go back to 1986 and the first - and last - digital synth produced by American company Sequential Circuits, the Prophet VS.

With Sequential's demise the following year, some members of the company's R&D team went to work for Yamaha. Subsequently they moved to Korg, becoming an autonomous R&D department within the company. While Korg R&D Japan concentrated on developing the sample-based workstation approach of the company's M and T Series synths, the American team returned to the design concepts of the Prophet VS and produced... the Wavestation.

Not only did the Wavestation implement vector synthesis, the joystick-based method of waveform mixing first introduced on the Prophet VS, but when it first came out in the Autumn of 1990 it was, like the VS before it, purely waveform-based. In a world full of sample-based synths, this in itself was enough to set the Wavestation apart from the pack.

However, by the time the rackmount version - the Wavestation A/D - came out a year later Korg had relented and added sampled instrumental sounds. Other additions included eight more digital effects and a pair of analogue audio inputs. At the same time Korg brought out an upgrade for the Wavestation - turning it into the Wavestation EX - which gave it all the new features of the A/D with the exception of audio inputs.

Now, with the release of the Wavestation SR Korg have produced the M3R and 03R/W of the Wavestation range ie. a sub-£1000 rackmount version which makes some compromises in the name of economy - but not as many as you might think.

Vector Synthesis

This is the process whereby you can create 'evolving' sounds by defining a Mix Envelope. The envelope determines how the balance between different oscillators within a Patch evolves over time. Mix envelopes can be looped, so that for sustaining sounds you can create repeating mix sequences. Alternatively, if you want to make spontaneous adjustments to the oscillator mix you can assign a couple of MIDI controllers to the Mix Envelope's 'x' and 'y' axes. The effect of moving your chosen controllers is the same as moving the joystick controller on the Wavestation EX and A/D. Being able to use MIDI controllers to adjust the waveform mix means that you can record mixes into a MIDI sequencer; in this way you can create more varied mixes than the onboard Mix Envelope allows, and experiment with 'superimposing' a mix recorded for one Patch onto another Patch.

The Spec

Sound Generation: Advanced Vector Synthesis, 24-bit digital processing, 19-bit DAC. 32 voices with oscillator, filter, amplifier, amplitude envelope, assignable envelope, LFO x 2 per voice
Wave Memory: 484 samples and single-cycle waveforms
Program Memory: 8 ROM Banks, 3 RAM Banks, 1 Card Bank
Macros: templates for pitch, filter, amplitude, pan and assignable envelopes and keyboard/velocity zoning
Effects Processing: 55 effects programs; up to six simultaneous effects, with dynamic modulation of selected effect parameters
Performances: 550 internal, 50 per card
Patches: 385 internal, 35 per card
Wave Sequences: 352 internal, 32 per card
Wave Sequence Steps: 5500 internal, 500 per card
Multisets: 32
Display: 2 x 16-character backlit LCD
Audio outputs: 1/L, 2/R, 3, 4, headphones
MIDI connections: In, Out, Thru
Card Slots: PCM x 1, Prog x 1
Dimensions: 435mm (W) x 45mm (H) x 262mm (D)
Weight: 3.6kg
Optional extras: RAM card (MCR-03), ROM card (WPC-xx), PCM card set (PSC-xxS)

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Previous Article in this issue

20th Century Americans - Philip Glass

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Interfacing The Past

Music Technology - Copyright: Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.


Music Technology - Jan 1993

Review by Simon Trask

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> 20th Century Americans - Phi...

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