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Korg is a Japanese brand which received lots of positive reviews among electronic musicians thanks to featuring great sets of unique sound effects as well as unlimited sound transformation possibilities.

The story of the company started in 1962 after Tsutomu Katoh, an owner of a nightclub, and Tadashi Osanai, a noted Japanese accordionist, who used to frequent this place as a performer, decided to join their forces in order to create an elaborate rhythm machine version. Together they launched a successful drum machine unit called Donca matic DA-20 and got down to some serious work on Prototype I electric organ which marked the release of the first synthesizers – actual basics of further Korg products, those flagship products we know today because they keep on conquering the music market.

In 1973 the first synthesizer was presented – mini Korg 700 with such specs as 2 oscillators and 3 modulators for new sound effects creation or throwing in some extraordinary noise; low pass and high pass filter.

Staggering success came to Korg in 1978 and it was brought by MS monophonic synthesizers. The series included MS-10, its improved version MS-20, MS-50 and as an addition to them a vocoder VC-10 and a sequencer SQ-10. The second version of MS-10 offered extended functions (you could increase the number of keys up to 37) and two envelope generators: AHDSR and ADR which allowed to track sound and make some interesting results of it creating effects. There were also low pass and high pass resonant filters. Expansion module MS-50 was meant to serve MS-20 synthesizer. It doesn’t have a keyboard and features ADSR, AHDR envelope generators as well as an LFO. Module MS-50 combined with MS-20 gives an impressive bass sound.

Analog synthesizer Korg Poly 800 and its elaborate version Poly 800-II appeared to be the first fully programmable synthesizers costing less than $1000. The synthesizers are equipped with digital oscillators, 3 envelope generators. The units are monotimbral and feature special fastenings which allow them to be used as a guitar instruments during live performances. Anyway these synths had quite limited MIDI support.

The series M1 launched the production of the workstations becoming the greatest series in the Korg history together with Korg Triton which was put into production in 1999. Rompler M1 with the sound generator based on PCM with recorded realistic timbres occupying 4 Mb of memory, offered 61 keys, comprised a built-in sequencer and MIDI implementation. The technologies which proved to be worthy and efficient passed to such brand series as T, 0, X. Each series got their polyphony increased, sound library memory enlarged, got some additional input/output options (floppy disk drive) – so to say the interface optimization and logical functionality.

The famous Trinity series was launched by Korg in 1995. The peculiar feature of Trinity is that the synth had a touch screen TouchView which made the work with the instrument much easier. Its interface offered ADAT I/O, SCSI and S/PDIF. Trinity models included flash memory for storing new sounds. Triton series became the most commercially successful and was based on Trinity workstation capabilities. Triton featured the new sound synthesis system HI (Hyper-Integrated), expansion cards and two arpeggiators. In 2002 Korg released new improved Triton models filling them with a powerful processor, open sampling system which allowed creating unique sounds and effects and a hard disk drive (Triton Extreme and a more affordable TR version based on Triton Pro). Triton series technologies turned to be fundamental for X50 and microX stage synthesizers. In 2000 Hyper-Integrated sound synthesis system from Triton workstations began to be used in Pa arrangers.

The beginning of the 21st century was marked with MS2000, MS2000R, MS2000B, MS2000BR synthesizers release and one of their key features became vocoder function which used a human voice as a modulating signal. In 2002 analog modeling mini synthesizers microKORG and a bit later - microKORG XL+ were produced; the synths were based on MS2000 sound engine.

Karma series workstations launched in 2001 comprised a unique arpeggio system called Algorithmic Realtime Music Architecture developed by Stephen Kay – it allowed creating compound musical and timbral sound textures.

Mega workstation Korg Oasys (Open Architecture Synthesis Studio workstation) was released in 2005 with OS based on Linux which simplified software updating and functionality improvement. The workstation had various sound synthesis engines, audio recorder for sound and instruments recording, 1 Gb of RAM, MIDI, a comprehensive sound and effect library. The instrument offered a touch screen TouchView. But it’s worth mentioning that these Oasys workstations with loads of functions onboard were too heavy and just too big to carry them with you if you needed to go on tour. So these stations inhabited only music studios of rich and famous musicians which is no surprise considering the price – it was beyond the mid-range limits.

R3 and Radias were based on Multi Modeling technology (MMT) and incorporated vocoder function and analog synthesis. Radias offered an independent drum part function which gave more creative space to musicians.

Extended Definition Synthesis (EDS) sound engine formed the basis of the new M3 series which was developed by engineers keeping Karma series technologies in mind. M3 has Korg Komponent modular system which besides M3 module itself welcomes Radias synth module as well - or both simultaneously. M50 differed from its predecessor thanks to being more compact and featuring a new Natural Touch keyboard. The series included Drum Track function which enriched significantly music arsenal of the synths. You could find M3 functions in its successor called M3 XPanded.

Kronos top workstations appeared on the shelves in 2011. The synthesizers embraced the features of Oasys and Karma. Kronos 61 model was quite portable and had a 5-octave synth keyboard, Kronos 73 offered a fully weighted 6-octave keyboard, Kronos 88 – fully weighted 7.5-octave one which of course affected the overall weight and dimensions. As for everything else – the models are identical: 9 sound engines, 1Gb of RAM. The second generation of Kronos workstations – Kronos X – has a distinctive feature which allows to enlarge RAM up to 2Gb and storage - up to 30Gb.

Kronos 2 was first announced in 2014. The workstation was given a new display and an ability to connect a computer keyboard; it also got its sound library updated. The new version includes Set List function making it easier to work with the instrument in real time.

It’s been a long time since such iconic analog modeling (virtual analog) synthesizers as MS2000 and Radias were released and in 2013 KingKORG hit the market. This time Korg didn’t worry about the cost at all – yet it was assembled in China. Great classic interface, endless encoders, a few 80s-like screens, presets recreating sounds of all the famous analog synthesizers of the past, a 5-octave keyboard, USB/ MIDI/ CV/ Gate, ability to increase the number of presets, vocoder function, arpeggiator, champagne colored aluminum panel and a vacuum tube driver circuit… Yes, a real vacuum tube at the amp output in order to add rich overtones and give to the sound that voltage touch. KingKORG is the only right name for the creature – no exaggeration. It was tested by professionals who compared it to whatever they wanted; KingKORG left them happy with the result and with positive reviews on YouTube.

In 2014 Krome series came out (Krome 61, Krome 73, Krome 88) – less expensive workstations but equipped with all the needed functions allowing you to create multilayered compositions – 3.8Gb of sound samples onboard, 120-voice polyphony, hundreds of programs including multitimbral and drum presets, built-in sequencer, double arpeggiator and many many other details to enjoy. What is really great – a big colored touch sensitive screen to operate easier; bright sound. What is bad – keyboard without aftertouch and no assigned octave shift/transpose buttons.

Korg Havian digital piano went on sale in 2015. Architecture of Havian is based on some experience the engineers got working on its predecessors – SP series (which became famous in 1999 as the first digital piano with auto accompaniment) using Graded Hammer Action RH3 technology. The technology helped to emulate finest grand piano sound. Timbres and styles were taken from Korg PA3x arranger. As a result we’ve got a perfect multifunctional instrument – more or less affordable – quite good for home studio as well as for live performance.

We should note volca series - volca Bass, volca Beats, volca Keys, volca Sample and the new one – volca FM. The instruments are compact and reasonably priced while many specialists highlight great sound and a vast number of connectivity options – you can integrate volca with other synths via MIDI and CV/Gate.

Korg also made happy every fan of classic synthesizers when the company resurrected the legendary ARP Odyssey. And it was not about rebadging or some limited series release – it was the actual revival of the instrument, the engineers strictly followed the circuit principles of the original Odyssey. The developers paid due respect to the roots creating Minilogue – a 4-voice analog mini synth with digital control and built-in step sequencer. Besides the fact that Minilogue sounds great and is good in operation with electronic music as it can be easily integrated with other instruments – it also looks so nice and features a very attractive price.

Korg company lures customers offering them all they ever wanted – respectable brand name, quality and friendly interface. We touched upon some flagship Korg instruments but haven’t mentioned the company’s software solutions. We’ll surely talk about amazing micro devices for DJs next time.