Korg Modwave ► 200+ custom sounds
Compatible with Desktop Module + MK-2 + Native plugin!
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What’s in the bundle?:
You will receive all the sounds from all my demos plus extra. This is 180 “performances” (as Korg calls them) + bonus variations, which means there is over 230 performances in total, which translates into more than 250 unique patches / sounds in total. A “performance” may be just a single sound, or it may contain two sounds which are layered or split into left and right zone of the keyboard. If you dislike a layer, you can deactivate it. If you like a layer, you can extract it from the performance and use it as a single sound or copy & paste it into any other performance. You will also receive separate midi files of the sequences that I play in my demos. You can load the sequences into your DAW and pair them with the corresponding sounds (or any other sounds you choose!).
What format / import method?:
My presets come under the name “WCOG” in a library ready to be imported to your Native plugin or your hardware Korg via your Modwave Editor. My sequences come in “.mid” format (Standard MIDI Format) and can be imported to your DAW (just an option).
What genre / style?:
There is no one style. It’s a wide variety of sounds that are meant to inspire and make you look at the synth in a different light. Some patches are bread & butter, some offbeat – they’re the result of me trying to find the limits of the instrument and give you a great freedom of choice of timbres and dynamics. To keep the patches interesting yet not too complicated, many of them have two layers but none of them uses the mod-sequencer, so you have the freedom to record & add the knob movements into the sequencer as you like. In majority of the patches the red macro knobs control the EQ. Most patches have the kaoss pad assigned, but not each & every one of them.
Any external stuff?:
I did not use any external FX in the demo; all the delays, reverbs, noises and other effects are part of the Modwave engine & mod matrix. I recorded my demo straight through an audio card. Also, you don’t need any custom wavetables or add-ons for my patches to work – just a standard Modwave / Native unit.
Notes on grades lower than 3/3:
[modern]: sound itself is modern, but some modern ideas are missing from the enigne
[organic]: dry, thin & stable, needs a lot of modulation
[engine]: some parameters not modulatable / REV & EQ is master
[ui]: synths gets 0-1 (lots of clicking), editor gets solid 2
[build q]: flimsy & plasticky, may easily break during risky situations
HARDWARE / SOFTWARE / MODWARE?
When Korg announced the Opsix / Wavestate / Modwave trio, I was so curious of the Opsix that I bought it on the first day it arrived to the music stores (and I never do that – I rather prefer to wait for a firmware update & bug fixes). I was somewhat disappointed with the interface yet truly impressed with the engine & flexibility. So I made a demo and I thought I would next move on to the Wavestate. I did buy the Wavestate and… got rid of it after 2 days. The dry “vsti” sound, the convoluted interface creating an “analysis paralysis” plus the fact that it was more like a sampler than a “real synth” sealed its fate (I have nothing against samples, it’s just that synthesis is more exciting for me;)
This is the reason I had been ignoring the Modwave too. I thought to myself “no more tiny synths with cumbersome interfaces”. But when I learned that Korg had made a PC editor for the Modwave, and when an actual Modwave appeared in a local ad for a reasonable price, I decided to give it a try. The box came the next day – I opened it, played the synth and… I was overwhelmed with the same feeling that tortured me when I was sitting in front of the Wavestate. The dry / lifeless init sound, the intensely packed screen with 5 or 6 rows / columns to navigate back and forth, plus tens of shift-features on the panel made me feel nauseous. I quickly installed the Modwave Editor and never touched the physical Modwave again. Well, maybe just for the Kaoss Pad;)
So this is the first insight that I want to share with you. I have a hardware synth but I only use it via software. It sounds kinda crazy, doesn’t it? This software, even if not perfect, allows me to do the job. I feel very weird and awkward about it. You don’t need to tell me that today’s music and all the big hits are made with a midi controller hooked up to a computer running a Native Instruments plugin or something of that sort. This is how it’s actually done, this is the reality and we know it. But I am again missing the point of Korg releasing these synths.
It would make much more sense if the hardware Modwave had 4 octaves with aftertouch plus a truly transparent interface with more knobs and buttons so that there would be less sub-menus. Otherwise it’s the crazy parallel realities that we have to live & work in. I’ll say even more: if the Modwave was dressed in Hydrasynth’s clothes and sported the poly aftertouch, the 4-octave ribbon controller and the genius interface, it could gain the same cult status, because at the end of the day it sounds as interesting. Maybe not as nuanced, because Hydra has more flexible architecture allowing for more finesse and expressiveness, but I’m still tempted to think both synths are in the same league. I’d even say the Korg sounds more “warm” and “organic” than the HS (if you allow me to use these controversial words;)
Alas, it seems like 800 USD is the acceptable threshold for today’s market (the “affordable” segment) and this number dictates the golden mean for Korg. Will the Modwave follow in Opsix’es footsteps and will there be a $300 Modwave blowout sale one day in the future? We’ll see;)
CORE SOUND / DESIGN IDEAS
So let’s start with the sound design aspect. I will describe the starting tone of the Modwave as very thin, static & sterile. It’s so similar to the sound of romplers that it makes me cringe. This mirrors the experience I had with my Opsix. However, Opsix was FM while Modwave is wavetable, which demands a totally different approach & methods to be employed to sculpt that basic sound into something interesting. And there is quite a number of parameters to make that awful startup tone interesting.
The synth boasts wavetables with classic shapes, wavetables with fancy shapes, samples, plus a multitude of fine-tuing options that let you control the timbre to the finest detail. All these goodies make the synth so diverse that at the beginning I didn’t know which direction to take it. Sitting for the first time in front of the Modwave is like finding yourself in an open landscape with tens of villages scattered around the horizon, and being equally excited (or scared) to start walking towards any of them to see who lives there.
The filter section, even if not going beyond the usual LPF / BPF / HPF boundaries into the land of Comb & Formant filters, is still wealthy. The oscillators have offline modifiers (Odd Only / Even Only / Soft Clip / Hard Clip, etc) and online modifiers called “morphs” (Sync / Stretch / Flip, etc). There can be as many as 24 parameters for a simple delay…
I got a bit paralyzed with all that choice so I wanted to start with some basic / classic sounds. I was using just the standard oscillator wavetable because it had sawtooth, square, triangle and sine waves. After some time I thought I had covered the “classic” territory this way. But then I discovered the same oscillator waveshapes coming as different wavetables with different new timbres in them. I’ll say this in different words: playing a triangle wave from the “basic wavetable” and playing a triangle wave from the “trisync wavetable” can be interpreted as playing / imitating the same sound but on two different synths. It won’t sound totally different, because Prophets / Moogs / Rolands have different filters, whereas the Modwave has just “Korg” filters, but you get the idea.
Next example: let’s assume you’re playing around with a sine wave. You’re morphing it left and right but it just keeps sounding boring or ugly. Now try choosing one of the modifiers like “even only” and voila – the crappy & boring sine wave starts to sound cool & bouncy! Next: do your wavetables sound too clean and polite? Try adding some texture from samples through Amplitude or Ring modulation.
Now you know what I mean when I say that you need a different approach / methods with the Modwave. To make it sound good and unique, and to make the most of it, you need to concentrate on things like: harmonic content of the sound, wise use of the FX and EQ, experimentation with the waveshaping, and so forth. Then you add motion to it all by using LFOs, kaoss pad, macro knobs or motion sequencing. It requires a considerable amount of work and / or learning to be done, but when you get there, the synth becomes a very usable tool for music of all kind due to its “lean” (the opposite of “tight”) sound and the timbral variety. The OB-6 sounds warm & fizzy, the UDO Super-6 sounds smooth & lush, but sometimes their “goodness” can get too samey and overwhelming. Modwave’s core sound is not as organic or lively, but at the end of the day it seems more sublime (or “reserved”, in a good way), it wins the contest of versatility and becomes a workhorse for many more genres of music.
What’s more, many times I have a Hydrasynth moment when I’m sitting in front of the Korg: “come on Jexus, stop fiddling with those knobs – you have to imagine a new sound and then meticulously translate it into the synth’s langauge”. What I’m trying to say is that tweaking the Modwave in search for a sweet spot is unproductive, because this is not a “sweet spot” type of synth (or synthesis). You cannot just continue to be a watercolor painter or a charcoal drawing artist like you’ve always been – your work with the Modwave will rather resemble a “mixed media” form of art. You have to use a combination of various materials to create something sweet & original. And the sweetness may come not necessarily from the timbre area, but from the area of dynamics: morphs between layers, envelopes triggered by LFOs, motion generated by the randomized Kaoss Pad physics, etc. This is where your “juice” dwells.
So this is the first part of the story: with Modwave it’s not that much the familiar game of filtering and detuning the oscillators and coming up with something cool. It’s more like a conscious effort to build a structure by way of rearranging lego blocks in a “mad-scientist” laboratory. You spend quite a lot of time building this tower of blocks, but once you finish, the tower looks very solid and makes a very good impression. The other half of the story is that a big part of the features I’ve mentioned above needs to be controlled & animated in the editor to bring it all to life. Which takes us to…
USER INTERFACE / ARCHITECTURE LIMITS
The editor seems to be a necessary (or reasonable) part of the package that will make your work comfortable. You might be thinking there’s a lot of knobs on the front panel so you’ll manage without it. However, be advised that oftentimes Modwave does not operate on an easy-to-grasp scale going from 0 to 100 (or 128). Firstly, you need to arrive at the desired parameter (which often means that you have to use the shift button or change the menu pages). Then you have to use the endless rotary encoder which goes in miniscule increments (100.01, 100.02, 100.03), unless you hold down the Enter button.
That’s why for the first time in my life I’m inclined to say that using software is easier than using hardware. Of course the editor is not flawless either. Unless you have a really big computer monitor, some of the icons will look irritatingly small and hard to dial with the mouse cursor. You can use the “zoom in” feature, but the lower part of the editor’s interface may drift out of your screen range.
Also, bear in mind that Modwave has no real mod matrix like in the Opsix. It’s rather a “reversed mod matrix”, or a “destination-based modulation”. It means that you have to click a destination first, and only then will a list of available mod sources appear. This results in a situation where it’s impossible to see all the routings in one place – you rather have to look around for animations wobbling left and right (or up and down) on the screen. This way you will know that a parameter is being modulated by a source. You can click it and see what the source is. Doable, but pretty distracting & a needless headache. You can also click the “mod button” on the hardware Modwave and scroll to see the matrix assignments. Also doable, but it means you have to go back and forth between the software and the hardware. Kinda bipolar / schizophrenic.
Thank God (thank Korg?;) the editor has some significant advantages. For example, it allows the user to perform tricks like copying module settings (for example entire envelopes or LFOs) from one patch and pasting it to another (with just 2 clicks!), or entering data from the computer keyboard (you can double-click a knob and enter a precise value by typing a number on your keyboard).
One more word about the depth of the synth. Some modulations are surprisingly missing from the engine. For example, you cannot assign an envelope or an LFO to the FX (you can only emulate that via the Kaoss Pad) and you cannot change the FX routing order. Also, the FX effects deactivate panning in the chain. In other words: if you have a panning modulation set up and then you turn on some of the FX, the panning effect gets centered / flat.
All of these may be small things, but if compared with the Hydrasynth and its interface, Hydra seems to be a better choice for this kind of stuff. However, Hydrasynth does not have motion sequencing, samples, the ability to import user wavetables. And it sports only half of Modwave’s polyphony. Last but not least, it does not have the kaoss physics. And to be honest, for me the Kaoss Pad is a big part of Modwave’s appeal and usability. I think a pad of this kind should be a standard feature of many more modern-day synths. It can work like a touch strip (ribbon controller), it can work like a traditional LFO, but it can also work like a custom-shape LFO. In Arturia’s ARP 2600 VSTi you can manually draw your LFO shapes in the voltage tracking generator. In Modwave you can sort of do the same, but you do it by providing an input (a set of numbers) so that the kaoss “ball” knows what the laws of physics are.
The Modwave is a strange species of animal. It’s neither a Hydra type of synth where you intentionally design a sound from scratch in a multi-directional system with no limits, nor a Peak / Summit type of system with pre-mapped functions where happy accidents happen, and some of the sounds get made as if with a little help from God.
It has nothing in common with the classic DW-8000, apart from the fact that it uses “digital waveforms as the basic building block of sound synthesis”. Korg calling it a modern-day DW is just a marketing gimmick.
It sounds “weak” to your ears (as somebody said in a comment under my video) or it sounds like sh*t if you come from the vintage / analogue synth background and expect it to sound fizzy / analogue / warm / etc, but it sounds gorgeous if you just take a step back and appreciate it for what it is – a modern digital synth with quality FX. The end result is even greater if it’s “concealed” in a track – because in a context nobody should care how it compares to other synths, and nobody will probably know it’s a Modwave (and I love it when synths have that elusive quality). The “weakness”, or lack of a “strong sonic signature” in the vein of OB-6 for example, becomes a positive thing.
So in one sense it’s worse than the the DW-8000, the Super-6, the Take-5 or the Argon-8, because these synths sound good relatively fast (and it’s enough to know the basics of subtractive synthesis to make them shine). But in other sense the Modwave is better, much better than all the above synths.
One: the patches that it can produce reach a level of intricacy rarely seen in other instruments. Two: the wide range of patches it can produce makes it one of the most versatile synths within its price range. Three: it has a sound of its own – a sound that is lucid, easily digestible, intriguing – despite being digital (a bad word for some). While other synths sound “synthetic”, this one has a perfect soundtrack-y / radio-production feel to it. Modwave, just like Virus TI, belongs to the group of synths that seem to sound vapid at the beginning, but the more I listen to their sound, the more that sound grows on me.
The analogue Take-5 has a “deep” bass / low end that could get 3/3 points, but many times I find Modwave’s un-synthetic basses more useful, even if the low end is only one-and-a-half point out of 3. The Modwave lets me adjust the envelope curves; it lets me adjust the harmonic content to the finest degree; I can drown the pad in a reverb, I can degrade the lead in a retro-sounding chorus. This world of possibilities leads me to the realization that oftentimes I find this “digital” sound more agreeable, more refined and less mainstream than the “classic synth” sound.
However, we should really refrain from thinking about the Modwave as “having a sound”. This synth belongs to the “chameleon club” (just like the Hydrasynth and DX-7). Chameleons have always brought with them a big potential for original sounds, big excitement and pride for the fact that you’ve come up with these sounds yourself, and big reward for the time you spend with them. Also, bear in mind that I am not using any motion-sequencing in my demos / patches and in my work in general – what you’re hearing is just mod matrix modulations. But if you’re one of the people who do use motion-sequencing, you have yet another reason to love the Modwave and choose it over any other synth that does not have this feature – and not many synths do!
KORG just announced at the NAMM show that they’re making Modwave into a rack / desktop version. We’re going in the right direction:)
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