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King Korg: The Rise and Rise of Korg Synths

Published: Mon May 11, 2015  News Feed
It seems Korg is more popular than ever. From humble beginnings in the early seventies, when the brand made some well-loved synths but couldn't really compete with the synth giants of the time, to the present success with its varied range of synthesizers, here's a look at all the best Korg synths, and how to choose the perfect one for you!

 KING KORG: The Rise and Rise of Korg Synths

Founded in 1962 in Japan by Tsutomu Katoh and Tadashi Osanai, Korg started out building drum-machines, and in 1972 made its first commercial keyboard - the Korgue Organ. It was available only in very-limited numbers, and eventually the company decided to dedicate its efforts in the then-nascent synthesizer market, since it'd be too difficult to compete with other big organ brands of the time.

KORG SYNTHS - THE FIRST DECADES

They released their first monophonic analogue synth in 1973, the Mini Korg 700. It was very simple and limited but still ended up being used by many top acts such as The Cure, Vangelis, The Cars, Stevie Wonder and Human League.



Eventually it gained some upgrades: the Mini Korg 700s was dual oscillator version and in 1975 Korg made its first bona fide classic synth, the Maxi Korg 800DV, which was pretty much like having two Mini Korg in one box, with a sound that could rival big name competitors.

Korg Maxi Korg 800DV
As the decade reached its final half, Korg released three synths that would definitely establish Korg as a top brand of desirable synthesizers: the Korg PS3300 was a true monster of a semi-modular synth, released in '77 and one of the first polyphonic analogue synths from the era. It was huge, packed with features, and sounded huge, besides being very expensive. People such as Vangelis, Jean-Michel Jarre and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were all users of this highly-desirable synthesizer.

Korg PS3300

In 1978, however, Korg released the most legendary and well-loved of their synths, the MS-20, a bigger brother to the smaller MS-10 released that same year. Here was a synth that was affordable yet had a sound to compete with any of the great synths of the time, such as the ARP 2600 or the Minimoog.

Original Korg MS20

It was simply a very convenient, portable and tweakable synth with a big fat sound, and over the years it became the most desirable synth in Korg's history, being used by many popular acts such as William Orbit, Aphex Twin, Stereolab, The Prodigy, OMD, Daft Punk, Soulwax, Portishead and many, many others.

On this video, top electronic band Ladytron talk about analogue synthesis and showcase the sounds of a vintage MS-20 (hooked to some Boss FX pedals!)



Today - almost 40 years on! - the MS-20 is still highly regarded and has been resurrected by Korg in three different versions: the Korg MS-20 Mini, Korg MS-20 Kit and Korg MS-20M desktop synth (which is said to be even better than the original!)

Ten years after the MS-20, in 1988, Korg found its biggest commercial success to date, with the M1 Synthesizer, which became the world's best selling synthesizer and defined a new category of musical instruments: the music workstation.

Korg M1

It was unique in its combination of a keyboard, realistic PCM-ROM-based sounds, drum machine, sequencer and digital multi-effects in a single compact unit.

2000- PRESENT: THE NEW KORG REVOLUTION

MicroKorg

By the nineties, synths were not exactly un-popular, but perhaps more "niche" than they are now. Mostly used by synth enthusiasts making electronic music, synths were definitely seen as a specialist interest, while Grunge and then Britpop were putting the focus on guitar music once again. But Korg changed it all in 2002, when they released the MicroKorg, which is still available today. It was an analog modelling synth, packed with great sounds, great features, an affordable price and a "vintage" kinda vibe.

Crystal Castles and Korg MicroKorg

Soon enough, it was used by many popular acts such as Beck, Kings of Leon, The Killers, Air, Little Boots, Pet Shop Boys, Crystal Castles and many more. By 2009, it was so ubiquitous that The Guardian wrote an article about it, and an upgraded version was released, the MicroKorg XL. Synths were cool again!

But that's only
half the story. The Korg Monotron, released in 2010, started the trend of small, affordable and, most important, fully-analogue synths. Since then, the trend of analogue synths has become ever more popular, with a greater variety of gear today than at any other time since the seventies. And Korg's current range includes several synths such as the popular new Korg Volca synthesizers and the reissue of the ARP Odyssey.

Korg ARP Odyssey

Today, synths are a must-have instrument on anyone's arsenal, since pretty much anyone can afford a small Volca or Monotron just to try them out, and expand the musician's sonic palette. We have a lot to thank Korg for!

CHOOSING YOUR KORG SYNTH

With so many Korg synths out there, it may hard for some to decide what to buy... though to be fair, true synth fanatics would say they want to buy them all, it's just a matter of choosing what to buy next! But here's a few pointers to help you make up your mind.

Are you... a guitarist who've never used synths before?

Monotrons

Get a Korg Monotron, Monotron Duo or Monotron Delay. They're cheaper than most guitar fx pedals, and very easy to use. You can plug your guitar straight into them to use the synths like a guitar FX, or, you can connect these mini-synths to your guitar pedals and experiment with the noises!

Are you... first-time user of synths / Just want one synth / Or want to make electronic & dance music?


Get the MicroKorg or the MicroKorg XL. Despite having been released 13 years ago, the MicroKorg is still going strong. It's a timeless classic, because it's affordable, versatile and easy to use. Perfect for beginners who just want to plug and play, and experiment with very usable sounds straight away. It's packed with great features too, so if you'll only ever want one synth, this is a good choice. And it has some great preset sounds for electronica.

Do you want to learn more about analogue synthesis?

Get the MS-20 Mini, a great introduction to analogue synthesizers, with many patching options and sonic possibilities. You'll have hours of fun... and as it is semi-modular, you'll be able to hook it up with other analogue gear when you decide to expand your setup.

Are you... a synth fanatic who want analogue gear to mod, experiment or expand your current setup cheaply?

Korg Volca Range

Get the Volca range synths! These little boxes are good for beginners, too, but we found that the more experienced synth users seem to be the ones having the most fun with them. It's just hard to resist the temptation of buying such affordable and versatile analogue gear to hook up with your setup and experiment with the sounds!

Are you... a performing musician who want something versatile and powerful?

Korg King Korg

Get the King Korg! This is not for synth fanatics who want something "authentic" and analogue. The King Korg sounds amazing, and is perfect for live performers who may love the sound of the MS-20 but may also need other sounds such as strings, piano and other classic synth sounds, besides drum-machine. The King Korg does it all - very well indeed, and with the added warmth of real tubes!

Are you... looking for authentic, vintage analogue synth vibes?

Get the MS20 Kit which, unlike the MS20 Mini, is a full-size replica of the original MS20. Or, one of the new the ARP Odyssey synths, which faithfully reproduces the looks and sounds of one of the most popular synths from the seventies.

Do you... want the best possible analogue sound / go modular?

MS20M

The Korg MS-20 M is the top-of-the-range Korg synth right now, and those who've tried it swear it sounds even better than the original MS-20 from the seventies! It's ideal for those who are planning going modular.

What's the difference between Korg MS-20M kit module vs. MS-20 Mini?

Korg MS20M vs. MS-20 Mini

The MS-20M Kit has more features than the MS20 mini: sync, FM, and both filter revisions built in, making it more sonically versatile than the MS20 mini. It has less noise, smoother sound and a beefier High-Pass Filter resonance, besides having the proper 1/4-inch ins & outs like the original, rather than mini-jacks. Plus, you can more easily mod it should you wish.

Do you... love the eighties / are you a show off / want to stand out onstage?

Korg RK100S keytar

Some people don't care about analogue... The Korg RK-100S keytar is possibly the most fun and striking ofr Korg synths! With a range of new features including an arpeggiator, vocoder and synth engine the RK-100S builds on the original Korg keytar in every way. One big part of the appeal of keytars is that special look and feel of finished wood that you get with a guitar.

VIEW ALL KORG SYNTHS AT DOLPHIN MUSIC

PLUS... IT'S COMPETITION TIME!

Enter Cats On Synthesizers In Space Competition + Dolphin COSIS giveaway

Our friends at Cats On Synthesizers In Space (COSIS) have teamed up with us and Korg for two amazing competitions!

First: Go to the COSIS Facebook Page and "like" and share their Korg competition post, to enter for a chance to win one of two Korg Volca synths! They got a Volca Bass and a Volca Keys to give away.

Second: simply subscribe to our newsletter, to enter for a chance to win some awesome COSIS merchandise! We got T-shirts, tote bags and prints to give away to some lucky synth (and cats!) enthusiasts!
*

*if you're already a newsletter subscriber, please enter your details as well, to enter competition. Your email won't be duplicated.


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