Korg Opsix | 250 custom sounds
(patches compatible with Native plugin)
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How many patches?:
You will receive all the sounds from my Youtube & Soundcloud demos plus extra sounds (250 original presets + their variations = 276 presets in total).
What format / import method?:
My patches come under the name “WCOG” in a soundbank saved in “op6lib” format – a library that can be imported into your Opsix via the Korg Opsix Librarian (standard procedure from the user’s manual).
What genre / style?:
There is no one style, because it is you who decides what style these patches will be played in. It’s a wide variety of sounds that are meant to inspire, make you look at the synth in a different light and give you a great choice of directions. Some patches are bread & butter, some offbeat; they’re the result of me trying to find the limits of the instrument. The patches are ready-to-use in music or can serve as starting points; you can find the textures or the dynamics that you like and tweak them to suit your exact taste or purpose. I tried not to include patches that would overlap with any other soundsets out there, so 90% of my patches should be original-sounding to you.
Any external stuff?:
I did not use any external FX in the demo; all the delays, reverbs, sound deformations & noises come from the Opsix engine / mod matrix. I recorded my demo straight through an audio card.
Notes on grades lower than 3/3:
vintage: possible with some tricks, but not a wise choice for vintage tones
low end: ok, but not as much as the majority of synths
high end: some people may find it “mid-rangey” or “nasaly” sounding
timbre plasticity: amazing but often retains the “dry” or “digital” aura
build quality: flimsy & plasticky, may easily break during risky situations
ui & ease of use: clever & ergonomic, but still requires menu-diving
I saw the prototype over the Internet and I thought: COOL! I saw the actual model released to shops and I thought: OK… I finally bought one myself and took it out of the box and I thought: OH CRAP!… 777 Euro for this? Korg has sucked me dry. I’m scratching my head and thinking: is this some new type of synthesis that Korg invested 5 years of research & development into? Is it some space technology, analog circuitry? Is the synth big, with lots of knobs, and is it made of metal or wood? If the answer to all these questions is “no”, then another one immediately pops up: where is this price coming from? Maybe we have reached a time when it is simply enough to make a new toy and all the lonely nerds and quarantined covidians will throw their cash at it…
Let me start with the exterior. The Opsix does not make a good initial impression – it looks and feels like something coming out of a 1980 Casio shop. It’s the most plastic synth I’ve held in my skinny hands. I don’t think there is even one metal element in it, apart from the 1-milimeter thick surface panel plate. The keybed is as bad. I won’t say horrible, because that word is reserved for Soviet-era synths from Russia, but it’s… plasticky. Kind of like a toy. OK, it’s not like a toy, but it would be – had Korg gone one notch lower. I know this is not a guitar so the shapes and materials don’t matter that much. Also, one can live with that kind of quality in a home studio setting where the synth is safe. But bring me all the people who complained that the € 600 Modal Argon8 was of low quality. I want to hear what they have to say about the Opsix.
Here things look much better, however, I have a number of complaints. The Opsix was supposed to be the synth which made FM synthesis easy – I’m not really sure if it does. It definitely tricks you into thinking it’s easy, because it has several knobs (while the DX-7 had none), and it has a 2-inch-wide display (while the DX-7 had a one-inch-wide display). Of course once you get used to the interface and remember all the pathways, there is less ground for criticism and the workflow is acceptable. But to tell you the truth, I am confused. Why doesn’t this synth have more knobs and buttons? The Wavestate / Minilogue were cheaper yet they had more of everything on the panel (the Minilogue XD had it all: high-quality knobs & switches, metal chassis and a wood piece). I understand that an FM engine with six operators and all the gadgets would entail a massive amount of real-time controls, but I’m not asking for that.
Let me start with the observation that there are no individual buttons for the six operators. Each operator should have a [ON / OFF] button or a [MUTE] button. It is crucial to be able to hear the presence or absence of individual operators in FM without changing their volume. Korg decided to bury this feature in a menu… Also, there should be an additional row of buttons underneath the existing one for SEQ, VOICE, MOD MATRIX and other features currently accessible only via SHIFT button. And tell me – where the heck is the “key hold” button? In my view there are too many things that are missing / buried that could have been brought up to the surface. Analog subtractive synths which are easy to understand have much more generous panels. It’s a really important issue, because if you don’t know what you’re doing in the FM dominion, or you do not take full control over it, you can forget about getting tolerable sounds from it. Your FM synth is going to sound like a broken radio (or a cheesy 1980 Casio / stock-preset Whitney Houston’s DX-7).
So be warned: editing the Opsix to its fullest potential equals constant clicking between pages of the modules. It is okay if you want to make some traditional sounds, because Opsix can work as a traditional synth with its sawtooths and filters, plus the quality FX unit is a quick gateway to make something nice (I think Opsix has the most interesting setup of reverbs). But it is not a good way to make FM easy. Of course it’s much easier than DX-7, but is this the best we can get? I personally hoped for more. It’s nowhere near the Minilogue in terms of clarity and ease of use, and there seem to be better hardware interfaces if you want to learn FM.
But overall – and objectively – it’s fine. Comfy & ergonomic. The tweaking process is not that much different than the Hydrasynth’s (step1: click a button -> step 2: twist a knob assigned to a display slot). It’s a bit more cumbersome due to the small size of the Opsix, its screen and shared (shift) buttons, but if you want me to compare it to yet another synth, I’ll say the screen design and the editing process is much better than, for example, Behringer Deepmind’s. You might be surprised with this opinion, because the Deepmind has waaaay more knobs (or sliders) and a larger screen. But the Deepmind screen has lags, and there’s so much things packed into it that navigating becomes tedious. Opsix on the other hand seems to have a very fast processor and a nice, symmetrical screen-to-knob cross-reference, which makes its menu-diving experience much better. To tell you the truth, I even prefer to dive into the Opsix menu to reach the third LFO than to play this stupid game of latching and un-latching the LFO3 button in the Modal Cobalt 8.
Korg has managed to squeeze the most out of this limited layout and maybe this is what we’re paying for – their brains (and their asses, sitting in an R&D office on an expensive piece of real estate in California – too bad they couldn’t for all that money build a normal librarian software and we have to go through 11 steps to install it. Here’s a passage from the installation manual: “The Sound Librarian communicates with the opsix using networking over USB (as opposed to MIDI). Networking uses the RNDIS protocol, which is included with Microsoft Windows, but not included with MacOS. The installation includes not only the Sound Librarian itself, but also HoRNDIS (an implementation of RNDIS) on MacOS, and Bonjour on Windows” – yeah, ok, thanks Korg, everything’s clear. Back in the day I would just click a button and send a sysex library to my computer. Now I have to deal with “progress”).
THE SOUND (or rather THE SOUNDS)
I think this is the strongest area of this synth and the trump card that makes you turn a blind eye to its imperfections. The starting tone is very thin, static & barren and makes you wanna cry, like in the Korg Radias or Roland SH-01 / SH-201. After a while it leans toward something I’d call a fusion of vintage Korgs – MS-20 & Polysix (with some Oberheim) and something more modern / creative / whacky, like a Virus TI or an Ensoniq Fizmo – this is where excitement kicks in. Then it becomes an alpha-male chameleon, and the ensuing bewilderment and joy are hard to control, and I’m not sure if I’m listening to my Opsix or some E-MU module / NI Komplete plugin. This course of action is again similar to the Hydrasynth’s. It may be the source of controversy and the reason for love / hate camps – just as the Hydra was being described as “harsh-sounding”, for some people the Opsix may sound more like a PCM workstation than a traditional Prophet / Nord / Waldorf synth. Well, chameleons have their downsides too – they don’t sound like a million bucks right out of the box.
But in my opinion this route is the good news, for at least two reasons. One – it’s something different; it’s not an obvious, hackneyed sound. Two – it’s “laid back” yet “present” (a pleasing quality for the ear) and amazingly versatile in its shapeshifting ability. Opsix’s six operators with detailed settings, various filters, various waveforms, user-defined algorithms, lots of FX and a mod matrix that can modulate practically all of it make up a force to be reckoned with, and enable the synth to create a remarkable, practically speaking neverending supply of original patches. I think this is the kind of synth that will yield a huge collection of customs sounds over the coming years because each person tweaking it will approach it somewhat differently. The generous engine gives tons of possibilities for every synthesis school out there. The only proviso is that you have to modulate quite a number of parameters to bring it all to life.
Two words for those of you who wonder how it compares against the DX-7 – here I don’t have good news for you. Opsix loses the old warmth and organicness of DX-7 somewhere along the way. When I had both the DX-7 and the Casio CZ-5000, I thought that the CZ sounded like crap. But compared with Opsix, even the CZ sounds better in some respect. The CZ lacks the aforementioned depth and organicness of the DX-7, but at least it has this nice grunge lo-fi sound to it. The Opsix fails even at that. It does have a “lo-fi” effect and 8 / 12-bit waves that you can activate, but come on – it’s like putting lipstick on a corpse. OK, maybe I’m being too brutal. I’ll say this: it’s not that authentic. It’s just noise. Or maybe the noise loses its appeal because the basic waves / sound generators are too “precise”. I’m not sure which way it goes. So if you’re a DX-7 nerd, be warned: the Opsix has a lot of stuff to degrade the sound and make it more dusty / lo-fi, but it is not a DX-7 kind of lo-finess (or it’s not an “innate” lo-finess – again, you have to modulate it to make it sound convincing.)
So in the end I’m a little bit in two minds trying to judge it all in an objective fashion. On the one hand I’ve learned & accepted the interface, and even though I don’t always enjoy the Opsix’s often-surfacing Radias-like dehydrated tone, I do love the original sounds that I’ve managed to achieve on it and they inspire me to play some music. At the end of the day it’s all that matters. To say that it’s a great synth for modern leads, acoustic plucks, industrial / techno sequences and ambient pads / soundscapes is a criminal understatement. Leaving the staple aside, to me the Opsix has become the first go-to choice for some never-heard-before novelty sounds & textures, and to my ears each and every one of these sounds has its appeal. Dirty, clean, metallic, woody, robotic, aggressive, silky-smooth, retro, decayed, bizarre, evolving – there is no end of adjectives that could be used to describe the results. If there is anything that Opsix and DX-7 have 100% in common, it’s the “multi-personality and inspiring ambiguity” that defies categorization. It can imitate or emulate various instruments, phenomena and technniques of sound production, be it cello, mellotron / optigan, or bugs in a meadow. And this is wonderful and amazing to an extent that is rarely seen in the synth world. I mean it. I think it’s one of the most interesting and capable synths to be released in recent years. I made around 200 varied sounds in the first couple of weeks but I only scratched the surface and I’ll never uncover the rest due to the limitations of my imagination. I really missed the Opsix when my friend borrowed it for 3 weeks – I felt deprived of adventure. In your traditional analog synth it has become hard to find an untraveled path. After all, what can you do with “two oscillators and a filter”. With Opsix, all the details like volume levels, key tracking and osc feedbacks make a difference and create a web of never-seen-before intersections and interactions. Maybe this is the future of digital synths – quality DSP with a modular system underneath.
On the other hand, I’m wondering about the difference between these “cut-corners” modern synths like Opsix and a high-quality VST plugin with a midi controller attached to it. If this is the future of synths, then I guess we’ve all lived through it already. Also, my memories of and longing for the DX-7 and my too high expectations for the interface do not allow me to fully appreciate this synth (I wrongly anticipated a knobby DX-7 on steroids). And even if the UI is better than the Elektron Digitone, the current shape of this machine is still leaving me wanting. The Opsix should have the interface of the Matrixbrute, and a 4-or-5 octave keyboard with aftertouch. A three octave keyboard makes it really difficult to create, polish and eventually play your pad or lead sounds. Again, I have to repeat: this is an FM synth, not a mono bass synth! Look at that unused space below the shift buttons and above the 16 sequencer buttons: it’s 1 x 10 inches of free space and it just begs to be filled with some knobs, preferably for the envelope(s) or user / macro assignments. And why oh why didn’t we get a joystick like in the Wavestate? I see a considerable amount of wasted potential for a truly great instrument. The question is how much more above the €777 (or the current €580) price tag we would have to pay for all these goodies. I myself would like to pay a bit more, but instead have a product that makes more sense, like the Hydrasynth. If Opsix looked more like the Hydrasynth on the outside (poly aftertouch, more generous UI), and gained some minor improvements of the firmware (panning control, more precise envelope settings) I dare say it would enter the same league. Hydra is a different kettle of fish for sure; it leans more towards the classic analogue sound and has things that the Opsix does not have (wavetables, formant filters), but it applies the other way round too (Opsix’s 6 op FM, motion sequencing) so at the end of the day both synths prove to be a sound explorer’s playground.
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This Post Has 6 Comments
Ciekawe. A gdybym miał (bo mam) do wyboru: Mininova albo Opsix Native? Który instrument daje większe możliwości rozwoju? Z jednej strony świetny silnik Novation, przyzwoite filtry, niepotrzebny wokoder, a z drugiej – “coś niespotykanego”, czyli ten Korg.
Any chance you will get a Wavestate for exploring? Of these 3 Korg releases, that one seems like an adventure beyond…curious on your thoughts, if you get to it!
I did have the Wavestate but I got rid of it after 2 days. Maybe I was too impatient, maybe I should give it another try now that there is an editor and so many people mention it… thanks for writing:) ps/ I’ll be releasing a Modwave demo in a couple of momnths.
Really looking forward that review and thoses demos. Even got a sweet deal offer for it. Didn´t buy, yet. The demos out there are a bit samey, comparing it often to the Wavestate instead of comparing it…maybe to the Waldorf M( that would be another great review/demo- hint)
You cite the Deepmind. Did you test it? Is it so crappy you didn’t mind writing about it?
I read your work for years. I will be please to read a “retrospective” about the oldies you still love and /use/ ?
I had the Deepmind for a couple of days. That was too short to test its every aspect but I did test the interface, and I remember having the feelings mentioned above;)