Simon Trask gets a sneak preview of this German organ manufacturer's first venture into the pro-synth market.
Nowadays, the technology used in synthesisers and home keyboards is frequently one and the same. So it's perhaps not surprising that companies such as Wersi, Hammond and Hohner - well known in the organ and home keyboard markets - are trying their hand at producing pro synths, too.
Wersi's offering, the MK1, is aimed uncompromisingly at the upper end of the synth market. This preview is by way of an introduction to the instrument, with a full review to follow in due course.
The MK1 can be up to 20-note polyphonic, and is capable of layering up to four sounds, each with their own volume level. The 61-note touch-sensitive plastic keyboard can be split at any point, with dynamic allocation of notes to each side of the split.
For sound-generation, Wersi have opted for a combination of additive synthesis and analogue filtering, with effects such as flanging and chorus thrown in for good measure. Four sounds can be spread over the keyboard in preset ranges (the bottom two octaves and the remaining three octaves above), the principle being much the same as that behind multisampling. The lower two sounds can have up to 32 harmonics each, and the upper two 16 harmonics, with 12-bit resolution for the amplitude of each harmonic.
When creating or editing sounds, you can set the level of each harmonic using a combination of front-panel sliders and increment/decrement buttons (values are given in an LED display), and any adjustments made are immediately available on the keyboard.
The MK1 comes with 20 ROM sounds (referred to as DMS Instruments), 20 CV Instruments and 16 Total Instruments, more familiarly known as performance memories. ROM cartridges provide a further 20 DMS sounds, and RAM packs a further 10 CV Instruments and eight Total Instruments.
DMS Instruments can each consist of up to four layered sounds/voices. CV Instruments (which are variously called Computer Voices and Combined Voices in the manual) are the same as DMS Instruments, except that they're in RAM and therefore replaceable. But unlike the latter, each CV patch can only hold a maximum of two sounds; to layer four sounds, you have to link two CV patches together.
In addition to calling up CV patches, the Total Instrument memories store information on split-point, instrumentation, volume balance of voices, touch-sensitivity settings, footswitch and wheel settings and MIDI channel selections.
Among the sounds that come with the MK1 are strings, piano, bass, organ, vibes, guitar, bells and brass - a reasonable variety, but maybe Wersi should provide a bigger collection of sounds for people to start with. It's much easier to make adjustments to existing sounds than it is to start from scratch with the MK1's adopted system of synthesis, so programmers are going to need a fair range of voices to act as a foundation for further work.
Subjectively, the sounds fall somewhere between digital and analogue in quality, and are effective if not earth-shattering. The ability to layer several sounds greatly adds to the MK1's power, whether you're layering the same texture or mixing different sounds. What is slightly alarming, though, is that some of the sounds on the review model exhibited a surprising degree of noise.
Wersi have adopted a matrix selection system for parameter access (as used to good effect by Sequential and Korg on some of their instruments), but the MK1 has so many parameters that they've been organised on six 'levels', all of which are superimposed on the same front-panel matrix display. Straightforward it isn't.
But so that you don't get totally lost, Wersi have provided a six-page spiral-bound 'overlay' pad which slots over the matrix selectors. It's a clumsy and irritating device, bound (if you'll excuse the pun) to come to grief at the first rehearsal/gig/recording session you bring the MK1 along to.
The small 16-character LED display is generally uninformative, proffering little feedback to let you know what's going on inside the machine. Wersi would have been better advised to provide the sort of informative display found on the likes of Roland's JX10 polysynth reviewed last month.
Initial impressions, then, are of an instrument sophisticated in capability, but not quite so clever in the way it presents that capability to the user. Put simply, it comes across as a powerful but confusing instrument which requires some effort to uncover the full extent of its potential. We shall see what we shall see.
Prices MK1 8-voice £1653, 12-voice £1850, 20-voice £2337; ROM cartridge £49; RAM cartridge £45.50; all prices include VAT
More from Wersi Organs and Pianos, (Contact Details)
Review by Simon Trask