Holy shit! A new hardware FM synthesizer!—and it doesn’t try to copy the DX7! The world’s prayers have been answered.
The Opsix is one of Korg’s latest digital synthesizers. I’m not sure if there’s a specific product line they fall under, but I would call them “revisions” of old digital synthesis technologies that were inaccessible to most people—the Wavestate, for example, is a more accessible, much improved version of the original Wavestation; it has modern creature comforts, much more access to physical controls, and way less menu diving. The Opsix basically follows this same formula—making an arcane synthesis method accessible, including physical controls, etc.—and does so quite well.
An FM synth that doesn’t make me want to gouge my eyes out
I have a confession, I really didn’t like doing stuff with FM synthesis prior to the Opsix. It’s not really the sound of FM—I think it can sound quite nice—but programming. The only way to program most FM synths on hardware is through mind-numbing menu diving. I can handle the Roland D-05/D-50’s menu diving, since pretty much every setting has an immediate payoff, but programming, say, a DX-7 is just the worst.
The Opsix changes all that. It’s by no means knob-per-function—there’s still menu diving—but it’s generally all laid down quite logically. It’s easy to build up muscle memory for the synth—I rarely found myself in a situation where I simply didn’t know what to do. Navigation is pretty simple, just pressing about four buttons, and moving around six endless encoders (yuck!).
But, it doesn’t stop there. You don’t just get an FM synthesizer, you get wavefolders, filters, and ring-modulators—basically the whole nine yards right in in one package. For someone like me, who wants a versatile polysynth for a dorm, it works wonderfully—it can do everything its analog counterparts do and then some. (I still love analog polysynths, but they don’t tend to be efficient on space.)
And it goes even deeper: there’s a virtual patch matrix (just called “v-patch” by the synth), and user made algorithms.
The v-patch system is extremely powerful, being able to make just about any parameter controlled by any number of inputs. Unfortunately, there’s only twelve patch points, and they are strictly one input, one target, one amplitude—there is no choice in how many targets an input controls. It sucks, since a lot of tradeoffs need to be made when making complex patches, but it’s not the end of the world. I can deal with twelve patch points, and I’ll use them to the best of my abilities—that doesn’t mean I have to like having such a limited amount though.
The user-made/custom algorithms are just like how they sound: you can make an FM algorithm that fits your exact needs. This is honestly the highlight of the Opsix for me—you can make massive patches that feed back on themselves like a frequency-modulated ouroboros.
The sequencer makes me rather upset
Korg were quite proud of the polyphonic sequencer in the Opsix. The problem is that they forgot to make it good. You only get sixteen steps—a minuscule amount, even by Hans Zimmer standards—and none of the tracks are individually mutable.
It is hard to overstate just how much potential is lost from this sequencer. You could, in theory, make these huge, complex sequences, modulating parameters, and generally just making some fantastic sounds, only for it to be foiled by Korg’s total oversight of making it usable for more than a demonstration at a music store.
Is it worth $799*?
Absolutely. It is a fantastic synth for what it does. It’s just a shame that certain aspects of it are so limited. I would rate it an 8/10.
*Edit: I originally had it as $600, it's actually $799.
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