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Korgs I’ve Owned Part 8 — Opsix: A New Approach to FM

  • Music
  1. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 1 — DS-8 and SQD-8
  2. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 2 — X2
  3. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 3 — X50
  4. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 4 — PS60
  5. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 5 — Kross 2
  6. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 6 — Kronos 2
  7. Kronos’ Public Debut
  8. Necessity’s Child
  9. Korg KRONOS 2 Discontinued!
  10. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 7 — Wavestate: A Most Versatile Sound Creation Tool
  11. Korgs I’ve Owned Part 8 — Opsix: A New Approach to FM
  12. The State of Wave[state]
  13. Watchin’ Your [op]six…
  14. Status of Korg Kronos DVD-ROM Images, System Updates, and Manauls

I accidentally bought another synthesizer. I say this because I really had no intention to buy anything right now, and the Korg opsix was really not even on my radar; the next thing with a keyboard was supposed to be an ASM Hyrdasynth Deluxe. However, Korg has something up their sleeve, and dropped the opsix price by 57%. I somehow missed the memo, and when I jokingly made a comment about it to my Sweetwater rep, I suddenly had an order in their system. Oops.

Despite the fact that my first real synth was FM, I’ve never really been an “FM synth guy.” Sure, I hacked around with it and was able to make some okay sounds, but I primarily bought it because it sounded good out of the box, and came at a decent price. I later bought a Yamaha TX81z, which was basically the rack-mount version of the DX11. But, except at a theoretical level, I’ve never been able to really wrap my head around FM sound design.

For those who want a rundown on how FM synthesis works, I’m not the guy to explain it to you at this point. Instead, watch Anderw Huang‘s “FM Synths in under 4 minutes” video below for a high-level introduction.

Of course, Andrew’s video just scratches the surface of FM synthesis, and really doesn’t go into detail on how, using FM synthesis, one can make a collection of a half-dozen sine waves sound like a piano or a violin or a trumpet or a tympani or, well, whatever. And it’s in that mess of algorithms and ratios that make that possible that my head (along with the heads of many, many others) turns to mush.

Ben Jordan also has a good video on the basics of FM synthesis (all of Ben’s videos are good) that gets into a bit more detail, which you can watch here:

But, even that only provides a basic understanding. Programming sounds is where the rubber meets the road on this, and frankly, most FM synths are just plain difficult to navigate, with the vast majority of the parameters hidden neatly behind a front panel that provides little in the way of feedback about what’s going on — except maybe for the horrific sound that comes out when you attempt to play a note.

The opsix aims to change not only the interface shortcomings of most FM synthesizers, but also enhance the sound design capabilities by moving beyond the use of simple sine waves and also by adding the ability to use filters and other modulation sources/effects — something Korg calls “altered FM”. Additionally, Korg have wrapped all this up in a package that adds arpeggiation, sequencing, effects, and more.

So, what does it sound like? That is, of course, the most important question, right? As with the Wavestate, I’ve prepared a batch of samples using factory presets. To get a good idea of how the two compare, I’ve used the same sequence as I did with the Wavestate. The first sample is an “Init” patch, and the second is the opsix playing the “original” DX7 FM piano. The rest are a random sampling of sounds from the opsix version 2 sound set. CAUTION: Some are a little intense …

Like the Wavestate, a software version of the opsix and a patch librarian is available that is a virtual duplicate of the opsix, and as with the Wavestate, sounds created in software can also be loaded to the opsix and vice versa. Yamaha DX7 patches load using the librarian as well, but because there are necessarily differences between the two synths, some patches may not sound exactly the same.

As with the other Korgs in this series, I am compiling a YouTube playlist of reviews, demos, and tutorials about the Wavestate, which you can view below. I’ll also continue to add move videos to the playlist as a come across those that are of particular interest.

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