As the 20th century drew to a close, Korg entered into computer-based music production in a big way by introducing the Oasys PCI. Oasys is an audio interface and DSP expansion card that was bundled with dozens of high-quality synthesis and effects algorithms. Fewer than five years later, Korg has reentered the virtual-studio arena in an even bigger way. Korg Legacy Collection is a software and hardware bundle that features detailed emulations of three vintage Korg synths, a virtual effects processor, and a fourth synth that serves as a framework for combining one or two synths and effects into a single virtual instrument. Legacy Collection also includes a device called the MS-20 Controller (or MS-20iC), which combines a USB keyboard with a control surface, offering all of the functionality of a synthesizer''s front panel.
In all, Legacy Collection has four standalone synth programs as well as VST and Audio Units (AU) versions of all four synths and two effects plug-ins. MS-20 is a software emulation of Korg''s original MS-20, a flexible monosynth introduced more than 25 years ago, whose popularity has never completely waned. Polysix replicates a pioneering 6-voice polysynth that Korg first produced in 1981. Legacy Cell lets you load one or two MS-20s, one or two Polysixes, or one MS-20 and one Polysix into a soft synth that is greater than the sum of its parts. Wavestation resurrects Korg''s original Wavestation family of wave-sequencing synths. As if those four synths aren''t enough, MDE-X is a versatile effects plug-in that you can use with any VST or AU host. In addition, the MS-20FX plug-in lets you process any audio source through MS-20''s virtual electronics.
Turn On, Tune In
For this review, I used a dual-processor Power Mac G4/1 GHz with 1.5 GB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.3.4. My audio interface was a MOTU 2408mkII with a PCI-424 card. I ran the AU plug-ins in MOTU Digital Performer 4.1.2 (DP4). The software I reviewed was version 1.0. Installation and authorization were quick and painless. After I ran the installer and restarted my computer, running any Legacy Collection application opened a License Authorization window, which provided a locking code and linked to Korg''s Web site in my Internet browser. I typed in my personal data along with an authorization code printed on the CD-ROM package, and the site displayed my license code, which I typed into the Authorizer. Once authorization was complete, setup required specifying an audio output and MIDI input for each software module individually.
Two of Korg''s first big successes in the portable-keyboard market came in 1978 with the release of the MS-10 and MS-20 synthesizers. Both models were monophonic and, much like the ARP 2600 a few years earlier, were hard-wired but featured a patch bay for reconfiguring their signal pathways. The MS-20, the more sophisticated and more expensive model, offered sample and hold, a ring modulator, and a few other goodies that many of its competitors lacked. A few years ago, Korg paid homage to the MS-20 with the introduction of the MS2000, a virtual analog synth that built upon its predecessor''s capabilities. By realizing the MS-20 as software in Legacy Collection, Korg has again updated a classic to fit modern needs and expectations.
Unlike its hardware-based forerunner, MS-20 is 32-note polyphonic. The standalone and plug-in versions of MS-20 are identical, as they are for all the Legacy Collection synths. At the bottom of the user interface are buttons for scrolling though a list of Programs, for selecting from four views, and for writing your program changes to disk. In the Main view, a 3-D diagram of the entire instrument furnishes access to all the controls and the keyboard (see Fig. 1). The function and value of every knob and jack is displayed when you hold the cursor over it, and the value readout changes when you turn a knob. As with other virtual patch panels, you make a patch-cord connection by clicking and dragging from one jack to another, and you break the connection by clicking and dragging away from either jack.
The Edit view fills MS-20''s user interface with only the control panel. Using a scroll bar or by clicking and dragging, you can slide the window''s contents from right to left, revealing additional controls that determine polyphony, pitch-bend range, and other parameters that the original MS-20 lacked. You can specify how many voices will play in unison and their relative detuning and stereo spread. Two strips in this section, labeled External Modulation, allow you to select from eight sources (such as Velocity and Modulation) to control any or all of five sources (such as filter cutoff, pulse width, or pitch). Sliding the scroll bar or clicking and dragging in the opposite direction lets you access the patch bay. By enlarging the control panel without enlarging the window, Korg offers an elegant solution to mass-parameter access that other software developers would do well to adopt.
Clicking on the Config button reveals the Configuration view, in which you can specify four external modulation sources (such as Modulation Wheel or footpedal) and their polarities, filter certain MIDI data, and create up to 13 user scales. The fourth and final View button reveals MS-20''s list of 32 Programs—not a lot when you consider MS-20''s capabilities, but I trust that more will be available soon. You can also load and save individual Programs and banks of 32 Programs. The included Programs are evenly divided between monophonic and polyphonic sounds. Eleven are basses, and the rest are a mix of leads, pads, and electronic effects (see Web Clip 1).
Up to Your Old Polysix
Before Korg released the Polysix, polyphonic synthesizers were considerably more expensive. When it was launched, the Polysix was the first true polysynth that had a street price of less than $1,000. Each voice had its own voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO), suboscillator, lowpass voltage-controlled filter (VCF), voltage-controlled amplifier (VCA), and ADSR generator. The Polysix stored 32 Programs and had a reasonably flexible arpeggiator and an onboard effects processor—very hip features in 1981.
The software version of Polysix replicates its namesake in fine detail, expanding polyphony to a maximum of 32 notes. It supplies the same corresponding views as MS-20—Main, Edit, Config, and Prog List—in a window the same size as the one in which MS-20 appears. In Edit view, however, the controls are rearranged so that they fit more compactly in the window, without the need for scrolling (see Fig. 2). One knob that''s unique to the virtual Polysix is labeled Analog; increasing its value introduces slight random variations in pitch and filter cutoff to simulate the parameter drift of analog circuitry.
Like MS-20, Polysix has a Unison mode that the hardware version didn''t have; that''s a great help for thickening up its single-oscillator voices, which were a bit thin on the hardware-based Polysix. Polysix''s Modulation Generator (another name for a sine-wave LFO) and arpeggiator sync to your sequencer''s tempo, something else the original could not do. Like MS-20, Polysix has two user-programmable modulation routings.
Also like MS-20, Polysix includes only one bank of 32 Programs. I assumed that they would be the same sounds that shipped with the original Polysix, but they''re a new collection that includes basses, leads, pads, chords, arpeggios, and synthy emulations of a Clavinet and a Wurlitzer electric piano.
Unless you''re a previous Polysix owner who fell in love with your synth, you''ll probably find Polysix the least exciting software module in Legacy Collection, as I did. Its real value is as a component of Legacy Cell, in which you can add effects that bring it up to modern standards.
When I first heard about Legacy Collection, I was most excited about Wavestation. I''ve owned a Wavestation SR longer than any rackmount synth in my studio, and I couldn''t wait to see if a software version could effectively replace it. The Wavestation''s forte has always been purely electronic timbres rather than more traditional instrumental sounds.
Every Wavestation is a direct descendent of the Sequential Prophet VS, an instrument that pioneered the concept of vector synthesis. On the Wavestation, vector synthesis lets you smoothly shift among four sound sources in real time using a joystick controller. The technique is useful for adding dynamic motion to synthesized sounds. The Wavestation family lasted for four generations: the original Wavestation, the Wavestation EX, the Wavestation A/D, and the Wavestation SR. The software version encompasses the capabilities and sounds of all four models, except that it doesn''t process external audio as the Wavestation A/D does.
Wavestation has the same 11 banks found in the Wavestation SR, each containing 50 Performances. It also provides the same 11 banks of 35 Patches, 10 banks of 32 Wave Sequences, and 515 individual waves. The SR stores 32 16-channel Multis, whereas Wavestation has none. The most significant difference between Wavestation and a Wavestation SR is that Wavestation is not multitimbral.
Wavestation''s user interface is a tremendous improvement over the single-rackspace SR''s. Although it''s more akin to working in a good synth-editing program, it''s better than any software I''ve seen for editing the Wavestation. The main display is the Performance Select page, which shows the keyboard, the pitch-bend and mod wheels, the Vector Position control, a list of 50 Performances in the currently selected bank, and buttons for maneuvering to other banks and pages. The File button summons more buttons for loading, saving, and importing programs, and the Preview button plays one of five phrases so that you can hear changes without touching the keyboard. Because you can import files from the original Wavestation, you can keep using all those Performances you''ve so meticulously handcrafted over the years. The Vector Position control is a small ball you click-and-drag within a circle to change the balance of four oscillators—hence the term vector synthesis. Double-clicking between two corners places the vector halfway between two oscillators. Assigning MIDI Control Changes (CCs) to control the vector''s x and y axes allows you to change the oscillator balance with a real joystick, a touchpad, or a pair of knobs or sliders.
The Edit button takes you to a page that displays details of the current Performance, including its constituent Patches, transpositions, effects-bus routings, and so on. On the same page, you can edit Key Zones and Velocity Zones graphically. Pressing the Patch button opens a page in which you can edit the selected Patch''s programming details (see Fig. 3). If a Patch contains a wave sequence, you can go to a page in which you can edit its waveforms and crossfades.
You can create wave sequences by chaining waveforms to play in succession, one step after another. Each wave sequence can contain as many as 255 steps and repeat as many as 126 times. Using the Vector Position control, you can dynamically crossfade among four wave sequences (see Web Clip 2). The WaveSeq Edit page lets you specify a sequence''s beginning and ending steps, loop direction, modulation parameters, and so on, as well as edit each step by selecting its waveform, duration, level, tuning, and crossfade time. You can also set the duration, level, and crossfade parameters graphically using Wavestation''s Step Display, which is convenient for visualizing the entire step sequence. The WaveSeq Edit page makes editing wave sequences much easier than with previous Wavestations.
The Effects button takes you to a display that shows all the parameters for either one or two insert effects. Clicking on an effect''s name summons a pop-up menu showing 55 Wavestation effects, which are identical to those on the hardware version. They range from stereo harmonic chorus to stereo vocoder and delay. As you edit, a handy Back button toggles between the two most recent pages.
As Good as It Gets
When I compared Performances played on Wavestation with those played on the Wavestation SR, I was surprised to discover practically no audible differences. After all, I''ve grown accustomed to playing soft synths that sound almost like the instruments they emulate. It certainly helps that both hardware and software are digital synths that use the same sampled waveforms, but I expected to hear at least some difference in the D/A conversion. But as I switched back and forth in my sequencer between playing hardware and software, I quickly lost track of which Wavestation was which (see Web Clip 3). After spending some time searching for a Performance that was noticeably different, I found only a few in which the modulation parameters varied slightly, but the sounds themselves were indistinguishable. Now that Korg has successfully emulated Wavestation in Legacy Collection 1.0, I hope to see its capabilities go beyond the original''s in future versions. For instance, I''d love for Korg to include all the sounds available on Wavestation expansion cards, in addition to those in the SR''s RAM and ROM banks. I also want to be able to load user waveforms into its oscillators, and I''d like a larger selection of filter types than those that the original offered. For that matter, I wouldn''t mind seeing expanded oscillators and filters in all of Legacy Collection''s synths.
Because Legacy Collection''s effects are available as plug-ins, you can use them in any VST or AU host. MS-20FX allows you to route audio tracks and inputs through its audio pathway as if they were MS-20 voices. MS-20FX includes 31 Programs such as 2Band AutoWah, LPF Sweep, and S&H Filter, which do a good job of demonstrating the kinds of effects you can achieve by processing audio through a synthesizer.
MDE-X, on the other hand, is a dedicated effects plug-in in the traditional sense. In addition to a nice variety of meat-and-potatoes effects such as reverb, compression, and 4-band EQ, MDE-X has algorithms such as Multitap Chorus/Delay, Talking Modulator, and Polysix Ensemble. You can select an algorithm from a pop-up menu on the left side of the plug-in window. In the same section, you can set input and output levels with sliders, set the dry/wet mix with a knob, and enable bypass with a button.
The name of the selected effects preset appears above the name of the current algorithm. When I clicked on it, I expected to see a pop-up menu for selecting additional presets, but none appeared. I consulted the manual and learned that in order to choose from the list of 127 presets, I needed to Control-click (or right-click in Windows). It would be more intuitive if clicking on the preset''s name produced the preset list without the need for a modifier such as the Control key or the right mouse button.
MDE-X''s parameter controls, which appear on the right side of the plug-in''s window, are fairly extensive and easy to access. The choice of controls depends on the currently selected algorithm. For example, the 4-band EQ operates much like a dedicated EQ plug-in; in addition to toggling between peak and shelf types, it has four graphic breakpoints that you can click-and-drag to define your equalization curve. The compressor offers look-ahead and trigger monitor functions, four sidechain types, a choice of RMS or peak detection, and other useful features.
Automation and external MIDI control are handled differently in MDE-X than in Legacy Collection''s synths. Only certain parameters, indicated visually by a ring around the corresponding knob, respond to MIDI control. Instead of clicking on the knob to reveal a pop-up menu, you assign MIDI CCs by double-clicking on the knob. That opens a small Dynamic Modulation window that offers a choice of control sources, including Note On and Off events, Note Number, Velocity, Aftertouch, Pitch Bend, and any of four MIDI CCs you specify in global settings. I''m glad that Dynamic Modulation allows automation for certain parameters, but I wish that more simultaneous parameters were available to control. Some algorithms, particularly reverb, don''t offer any real-time parameters at all. I realize that editing reverb parameters in real time consumes CPU cycles, but a user with a powerful computer might want that option.
Nonetheless, I was impressed by MDE-X. Every effect sounded superb, equaling or exceeding the performance of Korg''s Oasys PCI card—which is quite an accomplishment for software that runs native. Although I wish that MDE-X''s user interface offered a larger view, I have to give Korg two thumbs-up for creating such an excellent effects plug-in.
Legacy Cell Block
Legacy Cell is a framework that combines a maximum of two synthesizers with effects processing, resulting in a new software instrument with plenty of new sounds. Because it''s a 21st-century synthesizer rather than a direct emulation of a vintage instrument, Legacy Cell is almost as flexible as Wavestation.
A Legacy Cell patch is a Performance, and each Performance contains its component synths, effects, and associated parameters. Legacy Cell is organized into four pages, each accessed by clicking on a button in the window''s top bar. In the Performance page''s top-right section is the Program Display, which shows a list of 32 Performances. You can see the three other groups of 32 Performances by clicking on numbered buttons below the list. When you select a Performance by clicking on its name, its category is displayed above the list. A pop-up menu contains 16 categories such as SynthHard, Motion, Key/Pluck, and Hit/Chord. An Info button opens a display that contains the author''s name, most recent modification date, and other text pertaining to the selected Performance. A block diagram of the Performance''s components appears in the Connection area to the right of the list (see Fig. 4).
Two master effects appear below the Program display and the Connection area. Both virtual processors are identical to the MDE-X plug-in and offer the same selection of algorithms and parameters. If Legacy Cell contains only one synth rather than two, you can access every preset on both processors.
Below the effects, Legacy Cell''s control panel contains eight strips—each with a knob and a slider—and closely resembles the layout of the MicroKorg controller. In fact, Legacy Cell has a native mode that lets you use the MicroKorg to control its functions. You can also use the MS-20iC''s knobs to control Legacy Cell''s knobs and sliders, but I had an even more convenient control surface sitting in front of my computer display. By clicking and holding the cursor over the onscreen controls, choosing Learn from each control''s pop-up menu, and turning a knob on my Evolution UC-16, I very quickly assigned Legacy Cell''s eight knobs to the UC-16''s top eight knobs and the eight sliders to its lower eight knobs—very convenient.
Next to the MIDI controls is a mixer for two synths, two master effects, and the master output. It lets you specify synth and effects levels, panning, and whether effects sends are pre- or postfader. Each strip also has a Mute button and a stereo level meter. A keyboard, complete with Modulation Wheels and Pitch Bend, is located below the strips.
At the top of the window are two buttons for selecting the synths used by the current Performance. When you click on either button, it displays a Synth page. Click on the MS-20 button, for example, and you''ll see the same MS-20 window you saw in the MS-20 application, complete with a choice of four views. Two insert effects appear at the bottom of the Synth page. Both are functionally identical to MDE-X, but they''re a little larger and black rather than silver.
Clicking on the Combination button opens an edit page in which you can graphically set Key Zones and Velocity Zones, as well as independently transpose the two synths and specify different MIDI controller responses. A graphic Velocity curve lets you add and edit breakpoints that affect each synth''s Velocity response.
It''s obvious that a lot of programming effort went into Legacy Cell''s Performances. Two banks feature 127 Performances each—many more new programs than Legacy Collection''s other synths. Because Legacy Cell holds only one bank at a time, you must load the other bank from disk. Overall, the Performances are excellent, providing electronic timbres of every description (see Web Clip 4). Most of them sound modern, even cutting-edge. I''ve always felt that Korg hires some of the best synth-programming talent in the world, and Legacy Collection demonstrates that quite effectively.
Set the Controls
Software is only part of the Legacy Collection. The MS-20iC looks exactly like the original MS-20 but slightly smaller (see Fig. 5). It is a USB-powered keyboard controller that furnishes every knob and patch jack found on its namesake. The keyboard has the same 37 Velocity-sensitive minikeys found on Korg''s MicroKontrol. To its left are a control wheel and a momentary switch, both of which you can assign to control various functions. All that''s on the rear panel is a USB port for connecting the controller to your computer, which supplies its electrical power. The device showed up in my MIDI software like any other controller and added a 3-octave minikeyboard to my studio setup.
MS-20iC is the perfect controller for MS-20. Everything that appears in the software''s Main view appears on the controller''s front panel. As on the original MS-20, controls are divided into sections for two VCOs, two VCFs, two envelope generators (EGs), and so on. The upper-right section contains a patch panel populated with 35 minijacks. Korg includes ten patch cords, each almost 14-inches long, to connect these patch points. When you make a hardware connection to reroute control and audio signals, that connection instantly appears onscreen. Such modular-synth-like flexibility was one feature that made the original so popular for so long.
Korg calls the patch panel the External Signal Processor (ESP), so I assumed it would accept external audio signals for processing. In fact, one jack is labeled Signal In. However, the manual warns, “Never input an external signal . . . to the patch panel jacks. Doing so will cause a malfunction.” Apparently the ESP is intended only for its own patch cords. When you''re controlling MS-20 with its controller, turning the power off and then back on sends all of the controller''s settings to the software, so that the real knobs and patch cords determine the current sound. Consequently, MS-20 can operate exactly like a real MS-20, with all the same tactile and visual feedback. Unlike using a real MS-20, you can save any Programs you create. Better still, because the software reflects the hardware''s settings, you can automate your changes in a sequencer. For anyone who prefers to control a synth manually rather than relying on presets, using MS-20 with its controller is ideal. Because all the knobs send MIDI CC data, you can use them to control any software or device that responds to CCs. That means the MS-20iC''s 32 knobs and four 4-position rotary switches are available not only to control Korg''s software, but also to control whatever else you need. Best of all, because they''re labeled by section, it''s convenient to use the VCO knobs to control any soft synth''s oscillators, the VCF knobs to control its filters, and the EG knobs to control its EGs. (Okay, one EG has three knobs and the other has five, but it''s easy enough to assign the eight knobs to control two ADSR generators.) As I was writing this review, I assigned all the controls in Arturia Minimoog V to respond to the MS-20iC''s knobs.
The Sum of Its Parts
Legacy Collection''s CPU demands are rather hefty, as you can see by its minimum system requirements. With all four synth plug-ins open, DP4''s Performance window indicated that I was using more than half of my computer''s processing power, even when nothing was playing. When I tried to play tracks using the four synths simultaneously, my processor immediately overloaded. Therefore, unless you have a very fast, late-model computer, you''ll need to avoid playing more than two or three synths at a time. Running the standalone versions is much less demanding, of course, because you can play only one synth at a time. The manual also mentions that some Legacy Cell programs can''t run with less than a Mac G4/1.25 MHz.
Over the course of about five weeks, I experienced no crashes or other malfunctions that I could attribute to Korg''s software; that''s quite an accomplishment for version 1.0 of any software that is as complex as Legacy Collection. On several occasions, though, an instrument lost its Preferences, and I had to reenter the MIDI settings as soon as I ran it. When that happened with Legacy Cell, I also had to redefine the MIDI CCs to get it to work with my control surface.
None of Legacy Collection''s programs have an Edit menu, so I assumed there were no Undo, Cut, Copy, or Paste commands. On consulting the manual, I discovered that MS-20, Polysix, and MDE-X allow you to copy and paste programs using a pop-up menu that appears when you click on the Korg logo—not exactly intuitive, but it worked just fine. Still, I missed Undo most of all. I also found it unsettling that quitting a program didn''t prompt you to save your changes.
Legacy Collection ships with four printed manuals: one each for installation, MS-20iC, Wavestation, and everything else. They are well written and relatively complete, though it would be helpful if the printed manuals were indexed or if PDF versions were included so that you could search the text when you had a question. (According to Korg, PDF manuals should be available on www.korguser.net by the time you read this.) PDF manuals for the original vintage synthesizers are also included. That''s a nice touch, but because the documents are scans, you can''t search the text for a particular word or phrase. Then again, the only way to search the original manuals was manually.
Back to the Future
I love virtual instruments, especially when they sound good and they''re as intuitive to use as the synths and effects in Legacy Collection. Using MS-20 in combination with the MS-20iC feels like using a classic MS-20, except that the software is polyphonic and it responds to Velocity and other additional modulation sources. Anyone who knows how to use almost any soft synth will quickly learn his or her way around Polysix. Unless you have experience with the original, plumbing the depths of Wavestation might take a bit more time, but the results should be worth the effort.
I''m extremely impressed with Legacy Collection. I expect to keep using it for as long as my computer will run it, and I hope that''s a long time. One of the greatest differences between software- and hardware-based synths is that when computers and their operating systems are updated, old software can get left behind. In contrast, hardware lasts until it breaks down and replacement parts are no longer available.
I predict that Korg will have a hit on its hands, and Legacy Collection could be around for decades. Where else can you get four brilliant soft synths, two excellent effects plug-ins, and a minikeyboard combined with a versatile control surface for much less than what any of the original synths cost when they were new?
Legacy Collection gets my highest recommendation. I hope that Korg continues its development and, in time, introduces new software instruments. Korg has a rich history of making great synthesizers. I applaud the company''s first native software product, and I can''t wait to see what Korg comes up with next.
Associate Editor Geary Yelton has been reviewing synthesizers for EM since its first issue in 1985.