Are you in the mood for a classic, self-contained semi-modular synthesizer with reconfigurable, patchable signal path, three oscillators, noise generator, two flavours of low-pass filter, dual envelope generators, spring reverb and ring modulator, built-in speakers, Tolex-covered cabinet, detachable keyboard with arpeggiator and an additional LFO. MIDI note-on/off and pitch-bend transmittable and receivable over MIDI and USB? Well, here's some good news for you…
Right out of the (massive) box, it’s apparent that this is no cheap imitation. The original ARP 2600 came built into a Tolex-covered cabinet. So, too, does this version. However, that – and its similarly-housed companion keyboard – are tucked into a rugged flight case. Be warned: it is extremely heavy. Happily, casters are included, packed into the 2600’s lid.
Once removed from its protective shell, this new ARP is revealed to be almost the spitting image of the original, having only the slightest differences. There are minor changes to the hardware – sturdier handles, for example – adding to the impression that this is an improved edition, rather than a knock-off. For the most part, it looks as if fifty years of technological advancement have all but been ignored, save for the presence of MIDI and USB connections on the left side of the case. Closer inspection reveals that the Cinch-Jones connectors used to connect the original main unit to the 3620 keyboard have been replaced by 8-pin DIN jobs. Likewise, the power connector on the right side has been swapped out for a familiar IEC connector. A pair of XLR outputs are also included in addition to the 3.5mm outputs on the front-panel. The only 1/4" output is reserved for headphones.
Korg’s ARP 2600 FS retains the entirety of the original’s signal path as well as its crucial flexibility. There’s a preamplifier, envelope follower, and ring modulator in the upper-left. By default, the ring mod is fed by oscillators 1 and 2, but they can be defeated by plugging anything into either channel. To the ring mod’s right are three oscillators with adjustable frequency and fine tune.
All three can produce sawtooth waves, with VCO-1 offering square, and VCOs 2 and 3 providing adjustable pulse waves. Because it’s meant to double as an LFO, VCO-2 adds sinusoidal and triangle waves. However, all three oscillators can be detached from the keyboard and shoved down into LFO range. Individual outputs for all oscillator waveforms are provided.
More crucial facts…
FM is, by default, provided by the ADSR and Sample & Hold. The frequencies of oscillators 1 and 3 can be modulated by VCO-2’s sine, while VCO-2 receives VCO1’s square. PWM is only possible with VCO-2, with noise as the default modulator. All mod sources are accompanied by vertical amount sliders and can be rerouted by plugging in one of the included 3.5mm cables. This flexibility recurs throughout the system.
The filter is a self-oscillating, 24dB low-pass affair. A switch toggles between the earlier Moog copy and ARP’s later variant. There are sliders for Frequency, Fine Tune and Resonance.
Select waves from the oscillators, ring modulator, and noise generator are pre-wired into the filter mixer. As ever, these inputs can be overridden with a patch cable. Filter modulation is pre-patched to ADSR and VCO-2.
In addition to the single ADSR, there’s an AR envelope. Both can be triggered from the keyboard, the Sample/Hold gate, internal or external gate/trigger sources. A VCA section can be set to drone on indefinitely, or modulated by either envelope. The VCA’s input can be fed by any source, but is hardwired from VCF and ring mod.
The Mixer section allows (modulatable) panning, and offers four inputs, with sliders for two of them. A pair of sliders is also provided for feeding in the built-in spring reverb.
The synth’s bottom section is flanked by a pair of speakers, between which resides a noise generator with white, pink, and low frequency options. There’s also a ‘voltage processor’ section that allows you to do things like invert voltages or add a bit of lag to the signal.
By default, the Sample & Hold section is fed by noise, and has its own (replaceable) clock. A handy three-point electronic switch is also synchronized to the Sample & Hold’s clock (the manual suggests using it for auto-panning). Finally, there’s a set of four multiple jacks for combining signals, as well as a pair of KBD CV jacks for tapping into a connected 3620.
The 3620 keyboard
One of the best things about Korg’s ARP 2600 re-issue is the re-imagined duophonic 3620 keyboard. Everything that made the original a must-have is here, but some rather tasty new features have been added.
As with the original 3620, this one offers 49 full-sized keys in a Tolexed sized case. Like many keyboards of its era, the old version’s keys were little more than switches that could send gate signals. However, Korg has added aftertouch – but no velocity. Aftertouch seems to be a mechanical function, as the black keys require a bit more pressure to set it into motion.
Also new? The latching arpeggiator. A simple thing with the usual directions, plus a 128-note sequencer. Alas, sequencer memory is volatile.
The LFO has been retained. You get three waveshapes and sliders for speed, depth, and delay. Aftertouch can be used to introduce the vibrato.
True to the old 3620, pitch bend is provided by a knob. There’s also an octave selector, and you can switch in portamento or use a momentary button to manually activate it.
Patch points are provided for aftertouch, portamento foot switch, interval latch, LFO waveforms, and upper voice (corresponding to the highest note when two keys are played at once).
ARP’s 2600 was not cheap in its day, and neither is this, yet the price is reflected in the astonishing quality on display. In an industry flooded with cheap, plastic toys, the 2600 is a reminder that synthesizers can be lovingly crafted to offer not moments of distraction, but decades of enjoyment and inspiration. You know, like the ones ARP used to build.
A note-for-note recreation with a superb sound that easily matches that of the original. From the heavy-duty flight case to the tiniest chrome-plated embellishment, the build quality is nothing short of stunning. Very little has been changed, but the arpeggiator and aftertouch are more than welcome!
MIDI implementation is a little too basic. We can’t help wishing the keyboard was velocity-sensitive. The price will put it out of reach for some .