Two years ago, Korg made its first foray into the competitive landscape of virtual instruments with the Legacy Collection. Assembling three of Korg's most famous synth designs, the package delivered spot-on emulations of the much sought-after MS-20 and Polysix analog classics, as well as a rendition of the revolutionary Wavestation that was sonically superior to the original. Remix's review celebrated the Legacy Collection for its highly convincing sound and contemporary interface and for bringing together three historically poignant examples that nicely span the company's timeline of contributions to electronic music. However, many people thought the collection could never be truly representative of the awesome Korg legacy without the inclusion of its best-selling keyboard of all time — the M1.
Korg Legacy Collection Digital Edition (KLCDE) picks up where the Legacy Collection left off by featuring a definitive software incarnation of the legendary M1 (the focus of this review), along with an enhanced version of Legacy Wavestation. Additionally, Korg includes its MDE-X multi-effects plug-in, which picks up on Triton technologies. This all-digital package is available for Legacy Collection owners who want to upgrade or as a stand-alone product with two of the PCM world's most revered instruments.
Introduced in 1988, the M1 amalgamated realistic-sounding, 16-bit PCM waveform elements, a user-friendly voice-editing structure, the ability to create stacked combinations of sounds for lush performance timbres and a stereo multi-effects processor that rivaled those in the racks of major studios of the time. The inclusion of an 8-track sequencer essentially tied the knot, making the M1 the world's first commercially successful workstation keyboard. With a user base exceeding 100,000 units sold, it's still the most successful keyboard of all time.
Along with its innovative workstation concept, the M1's Advanced Integrated (AI) synthesis system pioneered the PCM market with a waveform library that was so cutting-edge (for its time) that it influenced products from other manufacturers for years to come. The M1 sound became a staple in nearly every form of music production, but none more prevalent than the pop and dance recordings of the late '80s and early '90s. The distinctive tonal character ranged from the M1 Organ and M1 Piano — venerable house classics — to the slapped basses, punchy drum kits, unique percussion and dreamy, multilayered synth and choral pads that dominated radio and TV airwaves.
While the M1's voice architecture may be rudimentary by current standards, it set much of the synth-speak vernacular we still use today. Programs could be either single or double PCM oscillator-based, each with their own filter, modulation, amplifier and effects block fixed in a chain; Drum Programs used a single special kit-mapped oscillator instead; Combis consisted of as many as eight Programs split, layered, grouped and Velocity-mapped across the keyboard any way you wanted; and a maximum of eight Programs could be arranged into Multis, each assigned to its own MIDI channel for sequencing.
Legacy M1 has no sequencer, but it stays true to the original where it counts and also offers several excellent surprises along the way. To fully enjoy those surprises, check for the latest version of KLCDE on the Korg support Website. The latest version available for this review was Digital Edition 1.1 (now updated to 1.2). The synths can be installed as stand-alone units or as plug-ins (VST, Audio Units and RTAS). Unlike the original Legacy Collection, KLCDE is now copy-protected by a Syncrosoft USB dongle key, requiring a free USB port or USB hub. As is typical of many manufacturers, the minimum system requirements listed appear to be a bit conservative. I tested it on Mac G5 dual-1.8GHz and Pentium 4 2GHz machines, each with 1 GB of RAM.
Taking advantage of a computer's display, Legacy M1 provides a luxurious (but not overzealously sized) window into its layered inner workings, with many parameters now viewable simultaneously. Though still constructed around an 8-part multitimbral design, Legacy M1 bids farewell to the original's 16-note limit, welcoming a user-selectable polyphony of as many as 256 notes (dependent on CPU power). Numerous functions that were requested for the original M1 have been added, including a rich-sounding resonant filter, dual-LFO modulation generator and a much-needed compressor in the effects section — bringing the total effects algorithms to 34. While the original M1 had only two effects processors that were shared across all programs in Combi and Multi modes, the software incarnation boasts two insert-effects processors for each of the eight multitimbral parts, as well as two dedicated master effects.
Program editing is a matter of toggling page tabs located across the top of the Edit window, selecting among OSC, VDF, VDA and Insert Effects blocks; there is also a Control tab that launches a MIDI-controller mapping page. The Easy page has become a ubiquitous feature in many current soft synths, and Legacy M1's version is one of the best. Providing smart choices and more than enough leverage to really dig into a sound, it includes an oscillator select area; a filter and amp envelope generator for each oscillator; adjustable graphic filter-response curves; an insert effect selector; several performance controls; and level, pan and output adjustment.
Clicking on the handy Browser buttons beneath each oscillator selector pulls up a large, searchable table of all available waveforms. That is not to be confused with the main Browser mode button located at the top of the interface, which allows you to quickly search Programs, Combis and Multis based on instrument type (piano, organ, synth lead, bass, drums and so on) and any combination of tonal character (bright/dark, fast/slow, fat/soft, acoustic/synthesized, etc.) or to see contents of the “soundcards” in their entirety.
In addition to receiving all the PCM, Program and Combination data found in the original M1 and M1EX internal PCM expansion banks, you also get the data from all 19 optional PCM/ROM soundcard sets that Korg released for the M1. Not only that, but Korg also provides an entirely new soundcard bank called KLC, containing fresh PCM, Program and Combination data ideal for contemporary music production, including 15 new drum kits with ethnic, orchestral, soul/funk, hip-hop, drum 'n' bass, trippy-jazz, house, techno, trance and several catalog producer kits. As if that weren't enough, the free KLCDE 1.1 upgrade brings Legacy M1 to version 1.5, which encompasses the entire PCM and factory presets library of Korg's T-series, including the classic piano PCM from the flagship T1 model and the five T-series synth, drum and combination expansion disks. This is craziness! Some of those libraries were rare to begin with, and the overall cost of such a collection would dwarf the cost of this software. Forming a grand total of nearly 3,000 preset sounds, this is unequivocally the ultimate M1 library. In addition, original M1 and T-series data can be imported as SysEx (.syx) files, which opens a vault of sounds that can be found on the Web.
Combi sounds are now completely independent of Programs, meaning they no longer simply point to Program locations; rather, they incorporate all parameter data within, thereby relieving the age-old headache of tracking down Programs from deleted banks and making sure they don't contain previous edits that could adversely affect a particular Combi's performance. As mentioned earlier, you can import as many as eight Programs into a Combi from the Browser and assign each its own level, panning and output channel pairing back to the host. These controls show up in a pane to the left that provides soloing and muting for individual programs, as well as bypassing of insert effects.
A well-implemented page for Combi Performance Parameters has been designed whereby you can quickly edit oscillator balance; filter cutoff, resonance and envelope intensity; filter/amplifier envelope attack, decay and release times; and insert effects balance. Using an 8-by-8 matrix (eight rows of Combi Programs across eight columns of edit parameters), you can tweak those values individually or link Program rows together for uniform group edits; that is fantastic for quickly adjusting filter cutoffs on all Combi parts simultaneously during a live performance. The Combi MIDI page is a huge improvement over the original M1 interface for assigning MIDI channel, detune, transpose, key zones, Velocity zones and various MIDI filters to each of the Programs within a Combi. In fact, it's an inspiring work environment in which to create complex and deeply interactive Combis that would have been a bear to navigate on the original hardware M1. Finally, a Master FX page lets you apply two stereo multi-effects processors — in series or in parallel — on top of the eight individual insert effects assigned to each Combi Program.
Multi mode looks almost identical to Combi mode, with the major difference being that MIDI inputs for each of the parts are set to channels 1 through 8 by default, and eight pairs of stereo outs are assigned to the host program. It was obviously a processing-power limitation in the original M1 to have a maximum of eight Multi parts, so it's odd that there isn't a full 16 parts in this software rendition. Of course, it's doubtful that a modern composition would ever need more than eight M1 parts.
MDE-X V. 1.2
The MDE-X suite of effects plug-ins from the original Legacy Collection has been updated to version 1.2, adding RTAS support for use within Pro Tools systems and VST and Audio Units formats. Delivering 19 multi-effect types derived from Korg's effects processors, synthesizers (including the Triton family) and digital recorder lines, the MDE-X plug-ins have been fine-tuned to perform with very low CPU drain and extremely low latency, making them suitable for live processing. Showcasing the best of Korg's programs from over the years, there are 128 factory presets to choose from, including mastering-quality 4-band EQ, stereo multiband limiters and compressors, exciters/enhancers, overdrive/distortion, decimators, chorus/flangers/phasers, stereo/cross/multitap delays and various sizes of reverb.
REKINDLED LOVE AFFAIR
There's no question that Korg has bundled one hell of a collection of synth sounds between the M1 and Wavestation components of the Digital Edition. Korg has also done a fantastic job in making the interfaces as user-friendly and fun to work with as anyone could expect from porting 20-year-old architectures for tiny LCDs over to today's graphics-rich computers. Colleagues, however, usually want to know why anyone would actually want the sound of the M1 again.
Although most everyone respects and appreciates the Wavestation's inherent sonic specialties and mystique, the M1's significant contribution to dance and pop music's development over the years has faded somewhat from memory. Granted, many people probably haven't been in this business long enough to have ever worked with one in the first place, while others simply don't understand the love affair we had with the M1 when it first dropped.
Well, dig this: The M1 is back, baby! Legacy M1 stands proud with its warm resonant filters, instantly expanding on the M1's sound-design flexibility as duly showcased in the bonus KLC library. Likewise, the new amplifier-modulation section allows you to create the kind of key and tempo-synched animation between dual-oscillator programs that was much needed back in the M1's days. The speed and depth at which the new Combi and Multi mode setups allow you to work is well worth the effort for any original M1 owner to stick the hardware unit on eBay and buy this software instead. For currently registered owners of the original Legacy Collection, Korg is offering an unbeatable upgrade path to the Digital Edition for $99 (a steal if only for the extra Wavestation sounds). Both synths performed with low- to moderate-CPU drain — around 10 percent on both platforms running maxed-out 8-part Multis in stand-alone mode — and didn't crash. And the sound quality is markedly better than the originals — not too bright or clear, maintaining the original character.
With so much emphasis being placed on analog this and virtual-analog that, the time spent with this collection invigorated and inspired me to create fresh and completely modern sounds, while giving each a distinctive vibe from the past. Legacy Digital Edition is not merely a nostalgia lover's dream; it's a serious production tool for 2006 and beyond.
DIGITAL EDITION > $199.99
Pros: Spot-on emulation of the Korg M1 and Wavestation. Brilliant sound quality. A real facelift for the original hardware versions. Exhaustive Korg soundcard libraries for both instrument series. Each synth sports 256-note polyphony. Low- to moderate-CPU consumption. Stand-alone and RTAS, VST and Audio Units plug-in formats.
Cons: A couple of minor feature omissions.
Mac: G4/500 MHz; 256 MB RAM; OS X 10.2.8 or later
PC: Pentium III/1 GHz; 256 MB RAM; Windows XP; ASIO/DirectSound/MME-compatible hardware
RIDING THE WAVE
The Korg Wavestation appeared in 1990 and featured the new Advanced Vector Synthesis system, which allowed combining and shifting between multiple complex waveforms using a joystick. It also introduced the process of wave sequencing, placing waves into specific orders to create highly evolving rhythmic or melodic patterns. The hardware Wavestation went through several upgrades over a few years, adding PCM wave memory, A/D input converters and more factory program banks along the way. The first version of Legacy Wavestation (which shipped with the original Legacy Collection) software encompassed all 484 waveforms, 55 effects, 550 performances and 385 patches of the original series, including the 32 digital oscillators, 32 digital filters, 64 envelope generators and 64 LFOs that handle all the grunt work.
Version 1.5, bundled with the Digital Edition, adds everything contained in the six original ROM cards that were once sold separately, including WSC-1S Piano, WSC-2S Drums & Percussion, WSC-3S Synth & Time Slice, PSC-1S Dance, PSC-2S Synth Design and PSC-3S Ethnic. This haul represents more than 250 Performances, 250 Patches, 250 PCM waveforms and 150 Wave Sequences, bringing the overall count to 1,400 preset sounds (14 ROM banks and three RAM banks) and more than 700 PCM waveforms. The software is also able to import original Wavestation series data via SysEx (.syx) files.
Fortunately, the brand new KLCDE 1.2 upgrade adds resonant filters to the Wavestation instrument. Lack of Wavestation resonant filters was the biggest gripe I had in the original review regarding the original software, so this is a relief. Though never present in the hardware itself, original Wavestation owners begged for resonant filters. Unfortunately, as previously mentioned, I was unable to test this upgrade. One thing I wanted to see that hasn't been added yet is the ability to import user samples. Implementing this in the software would be a killer feature.