There’s a drool-worthy new keyboard synth this week bearing the name KORG. The surprise: it comes one day after a widely-anticipated product announcement, and it comes from a single hacker, not KORG. One $25 embedded computer plus one controller equals one hackable, lovely instrument – with knobs and patch cords, no less.

So, it’s hard not to compare this to the announcement yesterday.

KORG makes some wonderful products, and it’s safe to say that a lot of electronic musicians view them as a company that uniquely “gets” it. From the monotron line to releasing analog filter circuit designs, the ongoing endurance of the KAOSS to the success of microKORG to savvy about new platforms (iPad and even Nintendo DS), they’ve found a unique place in the hearts of synth enthusiasts.

Perhaps that means the bar is set higher for KORG – and yesterday, that produced some serious disappointment. Teasing new product announcements is a potentially-dangerous business, and the rumor mill’s imagination (new monotron keyboards) exceeded the reality. Workstations, color schemes, and tuners will likely do well in stores, but they aren’t going to set the online synth enthusiast community aflame. (Whether what that community wants is something that makes business sense is another matter entirely, but it’s at least a cautionary tale in marketing.)

What’s better than waiting for someone to make something, though? Making it yourself. Friend of the site Marc Resibois hooks up the KORG-manufactured MS-20 Legacy Collection USB Controller, a short-lived but fantastic hardware accessory for the company’s plug-ins, to the US$25 Raspberry Pi. The result is a workable, self-contained, digital synth. (This has all-new synth code, so think of it more as a new synth than an MS-20 clone.)

And it’s a reminder that KORG could learn something from its users about the legacy we love so dearly.

Technical details:

Goofing around with a direct port of my synth architecture on a raspberry pi. Starting with the default sound and tweaking parameters. All done on a stock RPi. Audio recorded through the HDMI out.

Note that I am NOT trying to do a MS-20 clone, I just like the interface and the basic 2 OSC/2 Filter architecture. The Filters are slighly stripped version of the Tony Hardie Bick’s Most Excellent DFM.

Now, perhaps for all KORG has done, it’s worth letting hackers try to make creations themselves. My one plea to KORG, then, would be this:

Re-release the MS-20 USB controller. The thing now works with an iPad with your own app – making it a thousand times cooler than the dozens of look-alike iOS docks out there. And as this example suggests, other people could make new applications for it.

And do pay attention to your legacy. It’s about more than just the sounds of these instruments; it’s the whole experience. Apart from Dave Smith and Moog, the makers of yore seem to neglect that.

But don’t listen to us punters – and yes, I’ll include myself in the punter category, because I didn’t play in Depeche Mode and I was born the same year the MS-20 was.

Listen to Vince Clarke (via Synthtopia).

The Analogue Monologues is a series of mini video-documentaries made by Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode/Yazoo/Erasure). In each webisode Vince talks about one of his analogue synths and explains where the on/off switch is. This series proves, once and for all, that he really doesn’t know much about anything (a must see!).

Don’t believe that last sentence, either.

That’s my message to KORG.

But my message to the rest of this is a bit different. We can make things that don’t have to sell. We can just make ourselves happy. Clearly, you’re not going to make everything in your studio yourself. But the beauty of Marc’s work is, you don’t have to complain online. You can actually go out and make the things you dream of.

In the end, I think we’ll be lucky to have both KORG … and Marc. (And you.)

Follow the process of this Raspberry Pi project and other geeky synth hardware hacking at:

  • papernoise

    Great post Peter! not much to say about it else than: thank you! I totally agree, acting is much better than just complaining!

  • Graham Comerford

    Very inspiring post. Look forward to playing with the Pi even more now!

  • holmes

    Some pretty big assumptions here – that everyone was disappointed with the announcement. And the way you automatically brush over Krome as if it’s not even worth considering. I actually think the Krome looks quite good, even though it’s essentially an improved m50. It’s a bit amusing how the nerdy synth crowds express disdain with these type of boards and yet they’ll use digital modelling synths or software plugins, because after all, the digital modelling programs emulate and harken back to the old subtractive model, starting from oscillators etc.. but it’s still a digital program. Of course all these different synth engines have different sonic qualities, but do they necessarily sound ‘better’ than the workstation sounds? Have you played them back to back? Same with the drums – you load up soft-samplers with samples, and the workstation is loaded with samples. Are they really that bad? The good thing is, you can turn them on instantly and start playing, independent of the computer, and the sounds respond tightly without any of the subtle lag that plagues all of the software plugins, which is good if you’re musician and are more interested in actual playing, jamming, coming up with music, rather than staring at a computer screen sound designing. And of course the price for these boards are a deterrent which is an issue, but I think to absolutely disregard them as irrelevant is a bit harsh and is based upon rather superficial ideas.

    • Peter Kirn

      Now, I didn’t say that about the Krome. I simply said that the crowd expecting a monotron keyboard or who was a fan of the MS-20 might not find the Krome relevant.

      And I don’t think that’s a radical assumption at all.

      I also never said “everyone” was disappointed with the announcement. I thought the implication of me suggesting lots of people will buy the tuners, the new microKORGs (which we covered yesterday), and the Krome is that someone was not disappointed at all.

      Different strokes…

      But this a danger of teasing. It created anticipation in a group of people who were not the target market for the announcement.

    • Peter Kirn

      Anyway, the bottom line is what I say – if you want something, build it. Then everyone’s happy.

  • Peter

    I finally have a use for that controller. It’s been gathering dust in my closet for years now.

  • Guest

    This is brilliant! All the time

  • Sasa Rasa

    On the subject of re-releasing the MS-20 USB controller, I have the original and I find the keyboard itself to be of really bad quality. If Korg ever considers a re-release, I would prefer it to have a keyboard like the microSampler, which is made substantially better.

    • Peter Kirn

      Yeah, absolutely! Different keybed there. I mean – the thing was a one-off bundle. It’s wishful thinking. But… hey these guys should know what we all dream of; why not?

  • Jonah

    Details on how the ms20 controller itself works? I’d love to DIY a physical patch matrix for any number of soft synths and it’d even for hardware! (via MIDI or CV conversion with Silent Way)

  • Jonah

    Related to Korg and their “legacy”, I think with the monotron line and sharing the schematics they’re doing a nice job. Combine all of them together with patch points (it could happen!) 😉 and that’s a real Korg legacy product!

    A lot of people complaining about Krome seemed to have wanted an analog synth that Korg never even made. Where are the renowned polyphonic MIDI equipped Korg synths? :)

    I can’t say I’m interested in Krome as it’s the “restaurant” side of Kronos. (PCM samples) I do want the home cooked raw ingredient side! (synth engines)

    Let’s appreciate the difficult position Korg is in though with competition like NI and Komplete. Krome with a ton of high quality ready to use, stable, no install sounds, all in a playable interface is a lot easier sell than deep time consuming synths that have more brain power than processing power behind them.

    Easy and cheap is what punters asked for, and they got easy and cheap, now they say want analog. But it’s gotta have MIDI and polyphony and presets, and sound like the 80s and still be dirt cheap to boot!

  • ushaped

    I had hoped with the passing of Mr. Katoh that Korg would consider reissuing at least the MS20 and MS50 as a way to celebrate the continuing love for these instruments. Virtual just doesn’t cut it. Not because as an older synthesist I’m against virtual/digital. Real patching can be approached in many interesting ways to create very odd signal and control flow.

  • Marc Resibois

    I’ve added more information on the background of the story. Peter, I’d be interested to know if you had any more questions… see