Korg 01/W Pro and Pro X Workstations
The latest keyboards in the Korg dynasty offer a little more than remade and remodelled technology. Julian Colbeck experiences Korg's sonic edge.
I've lost count of how many instruments based upon the M1's AI technology Korg have pushed out in the wake of their 1988-launched world-beating workstation. When you start totting up the likes of the M1R, EXs, T Series, and the new-look 01/W, it almost makes Yamaha's indulgence in FM look tame. Messrs Y and C must live in mortal dread that one day Korg will wake up and realise how much money they could be making out of home keyboards. But for now, sleep easy, guys: Korg is still very much locked into the pro musician market.
Essentially the 01/W Pro and the 01/W Pro-X (pictured here) are 76-note synth action and 88-note weighted action versions of 1991's 01/W (FD) — that is to say, they use the same technology and terminology. Where 1992's models improve upon their predecessors, however, is in terms of some of the samples, some of the presets, and of course the physical length and weight of their keyboards.
The 01/W (FD) was reviewed in SOS by David Mellor back in October 1991, so I don't propose, in my meagre allotted space, to traipse through the fundamentals once again. Let me just say "M1 theory, with a bigger screen, more samples, double polyphony, and a new 'crazy factor' parameter called Waveshaping," and you should get the basic picture.
If this was an ideal world musicians would buy synths in order to create new sounds. Only it isn't, and they don't. People buy synths in order to play sounds they haven't heard before, and when they get fed up with them, they simply buy another bunch of sounds on disk or card — yes, even pro musos. Correction: especially pro musos.
The M1 wasn't too difficult to program, in spite of its very small screen. With its considerably larger screen, you'd expect the 01/W Pro to be even easier to program than the M1, but I'm afraid this isn't the case. So I'm going to spend a couple of paras talking about the sounds you'll find 'out of the box' because, like it or not, these are what most people will end up using.
Korg have added a new acoustic piano sample to those found on the 01/W. I'll presume, since the last 01 Pro Multisound is 'Piano 2' and the first Program is 'A. Piano 2', that these/this is it. Perhaps I'm going a bit deaf but I found absolutely nothing to get excited about in either the Multisound or the Program. To me it just sounds like a rather dull and indifferent, bog-standard grand piano. Give me the chunky old M1 piano any day.
But what's this? Waggle one of those cunning 'performance parameters' that Korg have employed on all AI keyboards post-M1 — in this instance F, for filter cutoff — and the beast springs (well, lumbers) into life. Other parameters in this invaluable main-page aid to instant editing are Octave (in place of Oscillator Balance on M1), Waveshaping Intensity, Filter EG Intensity, VDA Level (though why, I can't imagine), Attack, Release, and Effect Level. Meanwhile back to the presets. There are 200 Programs and 200 Combis (combinations of up to eight Programs, if you're not a Korgy) for a start. That's a lot of listening, I can tell you. There are some real crackers — but there's plenty of padding too.
By padding, I mean endless oboe and acoustic guitar types. 'Been there, done that', I thought, as will any pro musician contemplating buying this instrument. What we really want are more inspirational tones and textures. OK, now we're talking: how about 'Residrops', a snarling, velocity-dependent resonant patch (though resonance still isn't offered in its normal fashion); or 'Total Kit', some hugely gutsy, modern, 'angry' (as my old ex-Sounds mate, Jon Newey, delights in saying) drum and percussion sounds. If you can't come up with a killer drum track here, or with one of the other drum patches — like the bona fide hitmaking 'Dance Kit' — then you're a lost cause. (I curse having to write this review as 12 monster dance grooves simultaneously claw their way into my aged brain.) The samples here are just brilliant: gongs, burbling synth runs, applause, orch hits, stabs, scratches, acid fliks, pings, pongs, Madison Square Garden kick drums, whipcrack snares...
Other programs to dial up if you're reading this while loitering about in your neighbourhood music store would be A40 'FreeFlight', A44 'Strategy' (guitary, I know, but easily on a par with the JD800 on this one), A88 'Nuclear Sun', A89 '50's SciFi', A96 'BowBowBass', and what I can only describe as electric Elgar, the splendid B18 'Tona Pad'.
As is to be expected there are enough misty morning, hobgobliny, ethereal Combis to knock Jon Anderson off his toadstool; but one Combi you won't have expected but must try out is A69, 'Fife & Drum'. Now personally, if I never heard another bagpipe it would be too soon, but this multi patch, featuring not only the best drone this side of John Major but marching bass drum, pipe, whistles, and a superb snare roll (that is set permanently to Hold, on top B, and to be cut off with a nice, firm crack via the C above), is just wonderful fun. So too is playing about with the 01 Series' new programming gadget, Waveshaping.
Sometimes you read about these parameters or techniques in end-of-the-world, glowing terms only to find that they're totally irrelevant or unfathomable in practice. Not here. Waveshaping is both relatively easy to use, and fiercely powerful. If you've kind of burnt yourself out on an M1 and didn't jump into 01-land last year, this is just the technique to revive your flagging fingers.
Which brings me onto my final thought: how relevant is a 76-note keyboard? I mean you're paying for it, but will you use it? On some patches, the pianos for instance, yes, you probably will. But for a whole host of regular synth sounds, to stray into territory beyond, say, two octaves above Middle C, is to stray into screech territory. The other factor is whether 76 notes is now quite intimidating for many of today's players, weaned on the standard 61-key style.
Like the 01/W, the Pro and Pro X have 48,000 note, 8-track sequencers. There are some operational improvements (track muting/soloing) and the sequencer can both read and write in Standard MIDI File format. I tried downloading a brief opus from an Atari disk, and it worked, notionally, although of course all the tracks and sounds were up the shoot. This is not GM, after all.
More to the point, would I ever use this sequencer at all? Personally, no; I simply fail to see why anyone at this price level would want such a thing. Again, in an ideal world you'd use this as a scratchpad, or on tour or something. But, well, I don't live in an ideal world. Do you? Sound and sequence data can be loaded in and out from card, and there's a PCM data slot for new basic samples. No MIDI sample dump input though.
However you look at it, the sounds in the 01/W Pro still keep it head and shoulders above the competition. I interviewed the new Korg president, Seiki Kato, at Frankfurt this year and he said that one of the problems facing the industry was that there was so little to choose from between most of the top manufacturers' pro synths. Okay, he said, maybe we have the edge in voicings... Yeah, but some edge!
Korg 01/W Pro £1,795 inc VAT.
Korg 01/W Pro X £2,999 inc VAT.
Korg UK, (Contact Details).
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Review by Julian Colbeck
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