Korg Wavestation SR
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)
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Review by Simon Trask
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