Taking onboard the "Vector" synthesis of the Prophet VS, Korg's latest synth offers a fresh approach to modern synthesis. Simon Trask previews Korg's latest synth.
THESE DAYS MANUFACTURERS are practically falling over themselves to avoid using the term "workstation", if not the concept it signifies. But while Korg endorsed the workstation concept wholeheartedly with their M1 and the T-series synths, with their new synth they've done away with the workstation staples of onboard sequencer and dedicated drumkit section. They've also avoided a sample-centred approach to synthesis, instead returning to the more traditional idea of using waveforms as the basis of synthesis - while taking advantage of the fact that digitally-stored waveforms needn't be limited to the sawtooth, triangle and square waves of analogue oscillators. And so it is that Korg bring us not the workstation, but the Wavestation.
At the heart of the new Wavestation lies an internal Wave List of 253 waveforms and 112 samples, expandable courtesy of plug-in PCM ROM cards. One Wave can be assigned to an oscillator and routed through a filter and amplifier configuration, and further modified by a dedicated amplitude envelope, one assignable envelope and two assignable LFOs. A matrix modulation-type setup allows any of 13 sources (including two assignable MIDI controllers) to modulate any of five destinations.
You can use up to four oscillators in a Patch (which would still give you eight-note polyphony, as the Wavestation has 32 voices), and one Patch can be assigned to each of the eight Parts of a Performance. However, a Performance isn't a MIDI multitimbral setup but a sophisticated keyboard configuration in which each Part can be assigned its own note and velocity zones. What's more, each Part can be assigned its own MIDI transmit channel, which means that (a) you can "double" your keyboard texture on external MIDI instruments, and (b) the Wavestation should make a good MIDI controller keyboard - though the keyboard itself is a standard 61-note synth-style affair, responsive to attack velocity and channel aftertouch.
For multitimbral MIDI performance on the Wavestation from a sequencer you can create 16 Multimode setups, which allow you to assign a Performance to each of the 16 MIDI channels - so, while a Performance can transmit on multiple MIDI channels, it can only respond to one MIDI channel, which does have the advantage that you can sequence quite sophisticated textures on the WS via a single MIDI channel.
As an alternative to a single Wave, a Wavestation oscillator can be assigned a Wave Sequence. There are 96 of these internally (32 preset and 64 programmable) and a further 32 accessible off RAM card. Essentially a Wave Sequence allows you to chain together the Wavestation's waveforms and samples, up to a maximum of 256 steps per Sequence (within an overall maximum of 517 per Bank of 32 Sequences). Each step in a Sequence can be assigned a Wave from the synth's ROM, RAM or card Banks, together with coarse and fine tuning, level, duration, and crossfade parameter values, and you can loop any series of steps and control the start point of the Sequence from velocity. It's worth noting that Wave Sequences can be slaved to MIDI sync, in which case the duration of each step is measured in MIDI clocks - a definite brownie-point earner.
There's no one way to use the Wave Sequences: they can be treated as wavetables in the PPG sense, or used to create rhythms and melodies (within a single oscillator, remember). Because the Wavestation is 32-voice polyphonic, you can have up to 32 Wave Sequences playing at the same time - the creative possibilities are intriguing, to say the least.
Another feature of the Wavestation is vector synthesis, which has its origins in Sequential's Prophet VS synth. Using the front-panel Vector Position joystick you can dynamically control the amplitude mix of the four oscillators within a Wavestation Patch, or alternatively program a four-stage Mix Envelope per Patch which can be looped forward or bi-directionally prior to key release.
Roland's D50 may have introduced the concept of digital effects processing on a synth, but Korg's M1 undoubtedly set the standard for others to follow. The Wavestation keeps up that high standard with 46 effects and multi-fx, and introduces dynamic real-time modulation of selected effect parameters - a feature also to be found on Ensoniq's VFX. As on the M1, the Wavestation's Multi Digital Effector has four inputs arranged as two busses which can be given parallel or serial routing, and the output from these busses can be sent via L/R stereo outs and two individual outs.
All in all, it would seem that the Wavestation has plenty of enticing possibilities to offer the creative programmer. To judge from what I heard of it at the Frankfurt show, it's capable of producing the sort of sounds which have become (over)familiar on post-D50 digital synths. But a new synth should justify itself through offering new sonic possibilities, and the Wavestation looks as if it could do just that.
Price £1575 including VAT.
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Review by Simon Trask