music workstation module
For every keyboard synth there must a rackmount version. The X3 is no exception.
Just as B follows A in the alphabet, and 'Go Go' follows 'Wake Me Up Before You' in the popular Wham! hit, it's a foregone conclusion that as soon as a new synth is produced, a companion rackmount version will be released hot on its heels. Ian Masterson tracks it down...
Manufacturers long ago realised that one of the easiest ways to recoup heavy R&D costs is to spread the resultant technology across as many units as possible in their range. Taking the guts of a synth, lopping off the keyboard and performance controls, and packaging the circuitry left in a 19" rackmount casing is just one of the more popular ways of doing this. For those consumers who merely want access to the sounds and facilities of the new technology - without having to shell out on another unnecessary synth controller - such modules also make sense.
Korg's X3 workstation has been around for some time now, and the arrival of the X3R module is really no surprise. Some might say that the technology used in the X3 is not much of a surprise either; employing the tried-and-trusted AI synthesis system which made their O-series range of synths so popular, Korg produced a new keyboard intended to take over from the massively-successful M1 workstation. However, since the sounds produced by AI2 have been around for a number of years now, the X3 lacked the initial 'wow' factor of the M1 - although it does offer certain requisite features for the 1990s, including General MIDI voicings, 32-voice polyphony, 16-track, 32,000 event sequencer, and a larger LCD screen.
The X3R, just like the M1/R, is virtually identical to its larger keyboard-based brother. Some of the controls have been rearranged to suit the slightly more cramped environment of a 19", 2U front panel, and four audio outputs are provided on the rear panel in place of the X3's simple stereo pair, but the general feeling is definitely one of deja vu. I will therefore offer only a brief outline of what the X3 system has to offer, and recommend you read Andrew Jones' much more thorough evaluation in the September '93 issue of MT.
Apart from the features mentioned briefly above, the X3R also carries 340 multisampled PCM sounds, 200 internal Programs, 200 Combinations, two digital effects processors, RAM card, ROM card and disk drive for data storage and a 10-song/100 pattern sequencer. It's the inclusion of the last of these which I feel rather sceptical about; does anyone out there really use a hardware sequencer such as this when it's buried inside a 19" rackmounting synth? Good as Korg's internal sequencers may be - and they're a damn sight easier to use than most - they're still awkward to program and simply don't have the flexibility of software or dedicated hardware sequencers. I'm pretty sure that anyone buying the module version of the X3 will already have a standalone sequencer - although for gigging musicians in need of a reliable hardware device to replace their battered Atari ST on stage may disagree.
To anyone used to working with Korg's M and O series machines, there should be a certain familiarity about the X3R. Korg have sensibly retained the internal architecture and editing structure of their earlier machines. Multisounds are the basic sound elements, generally composed from PCM samples of real instruments. These are assigned into Programs for performance, which contain one or two oscillators with all the associated editable parameters - such as Variable Digital Amplifiers and Filters. The factory presets in the X-series are extremely polished, and include a whole range which should start cropping up on TV jingles and 7" mixes very soon. Programs can be played singly, or grouped into Combinations of eight (why not 16?) for multitimbral operation. Eight ROM and four user drum kits are also supplied, with a total of 164 separate sounds - highly respectable. Both Programs and Combinations can be further enhanced through either one or both of the two multi-effect processors via four internal busses, and then despatched to the four audio outputs as required.
Although there is a slight sense of disappointment that the X3 and X3R don't really mark any new dawn in synthesis technology, it would be unfair to blame this entirely on Korg. What the company have done is to refine an existing technology still further - and those refinements are very welcome indeed. The sounds onboard the X3R are subjectively excellent, from the rich pianos and strings through to some seriously thundering pseudo-analogue basses and kick drums, and the whole thing is packaged in a much more user-friendly, easy-to-understand system than either the M or O series. And, come to that, it almost seems unfair that Korg's products should constantly be compared to a single synth first produced some six years ago. I suspect it will take some time for the success of the M1 range to sink into history - or at least until something particularly fantastic comes along to grab the attention of the fickle music technology market. The X3R is definitely a worthwhile piece of kit, if only because it represents Korg's continued concern with producing higher-quality, better-featured products at lower prices - and their quest to satisfy consumer demand. It's also one of the most professional, well-finished synth modules on the market - whether it fills a need in you is entirely up to personal choice.
All in all, dealing with the X3R is rather like dealing with an old friend who's had a particularly expensive facelift; they're still the same person, they look slightly more attractive and rejuvenated, but some of the wrinkles are still there. And that's not always such a bad thing.
|Ease of use||Don't lose the manual.|
|Originality||Not its strongest point.|
|Value for money||About average for a synth module.|
|Star Quality||Everything you'd expect from Korg.|
|More from||Korg (UK) Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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