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Korg Arp Odyssey

Korg Arp Odyssey

4.75 4.75 out of 5, based on 1 Review

Korg ARP Odyssey analog duophonic synthesizer - Reissue of a classic forty years later - A personal review


21st August 2015

Korg Arp Odyssey by Cope Gutierrez

  • Sound Quality 5 out of 5
  • Ease of use 5 out of 5
  • Features 5 out of 5
  • Bang for buck 4 out of 5
  • Overall: 4.75
Korg Arp Odyssey

I wanted to gather and compile some bits and do my own review for those interested, based on my personal impression of this synth I have for a week; so here you are.
In the shake of sonic-means, as an owner of an original ARP Axxe also made a direct and maybe unfaithful comparison, even though I would have liked to have an original Odyssey around.

Back in the 70's like a lot of other guys, I just felt in love with the ARP sound the first time I heard it on records, no matter who played them; from Zawinul to Hancock to George Duke, from Vangelis to Florian Schneider to Klaus Schulze. By the time I was a kid and free to dream of, but anyhow wasn't able to acquire even the cheapest of the line. Time has passed, and those sounds stood and remain as classics.

I know not everybody long for *that* sound, there are so many and different tastes. Nonetheless I want to thank Korg: we have now the opportunity to play and interact with one of the best-selling models of that era and get it for a fraction of what you probably would have been paid in the 1970s.

Bring back those sliders

The quality issues of the original ARP sliders It's well known. Real dust magnets that lead to worn carbon tracks, noises, crackling and ending falling apart. Today, nearly all of the sliders form all the ARP models including 2600, ProSoloists, Axxes, Omnis and more... (until the metal-ones found on the Quadra and Solus) at some point went through the repair/restoration/rebulilding. And even when cleaned, they never feel right, making difficult to find sweet spots every now and then. A true nightmare, and, if you argument we are talking about vintage oldies, compare them today with a quality-built minimoog metal pot from the same year. Still, in my opinion, sliders provide better visual feedback and a more accurate experience than rotary pots when tweaking a complex modulation machine like the Odyssey.
Some commented the Korg sliders wobble a bit, well, I found them pretty decent and good enough for the job ...and for recreating the actual feel of operating an ARP machine from that era.
Only when comparing to the ARP 70's sliders size, one can not forget the fact that the original travel length gives you easier and finer control - and we are in analog realm. But I'm not complaining (more on dimensions below).

Rear connectors

As on the original model, the CV connections allows you to give the synth wild and different uses. The CV, Trig and Gate in/outs are a welcome if you have more analog gear, but probably a lot of the modular-guys thinking in getting one Korg as a CV controller to drive its rigs are not going to enjoy (letting aside the particular slim keys) the fact that only the keyboard is getting out the CV jack. No transpose and no PPC. But AFAIK that's true for some original models -if someone want confirm that- as it is for the Axxe.

Is also present the original Pedal input for controlling the filter cutoff or the VCO2 (even when syncrhonized) and don't forget that apart from expression pedals, it admits CV signals. Just great.

Midi input only receives note information. And there is bi-directional midi by means of an USB connector and again, only key note is transmitted. The point here is you get a pretty basic MIDI *and* USB to CV converter, which obviously will work with your other analog gear. Nice addition, Korg.

Also not found in the original is the headphones amp output with a trimmer. It's almost like it's begging us to plug it into the EXT audio input for overdrive the filter (and get some trimmer-controlled distortion) not to be confused with the added Drive switch which gets you the option of overdrive the VCA just after the filter stages.

This puppy is a beauty!

Yes, it is. Lets skip the slim keys just for a moment. The look is simply great. I have the unit with the orange/black mkIII look that fits nicely with my Axxe mkII. The texture of the plastic case, the slider coloured caps have a similar look. Korg managed to get it; every detail has been represented along with the layout of controls ...in the same exact position! As if you were in front of an original Odyssey. Bravo, Korg!

Tastes as good as it looks?

When Korg started to announce the reissue, ARP-guru saintEric pointed to me:
"Only issue is that all will sound exactly the same. I have tested at least 300 Odies and they all were different and had moods depending on the weather, temperature etc.."
Well, yes, as for today, all Korg Odysseys are going to end up sounding pretty much the same, and given the fact that component tolerances are not the same as you would find 40 years ago, we can only suspect that ARP quality control chain probably pretended to achieve the same result when the Odysseys were seeing the light for the first time. Even knowing the synthesizer wasn't the widely extended musical instrument we all know today, probably thanks to those classic designs...

Having in mind that the age of components would render any comparison inaccurate, I started:

an unfaithful comparison

The original ARP unit I have next to the Korg Odyssey is an orange/black Axxe model 2321 from which has been brought back to spec (cleaned, polished key-contacts, sliders and capacitors replaced, audio path upgrade, calibration, etc) and also received a few mods by saintEric. Among those, the 4075 filter module, which originally couldn't exceed 12-14kHz, was modded with the famous Timothy Smith filter upgrade which avoid the ARP's original design miscalculation and, as a result, allows the cutoff frequency to sweep up higher. Supposedly later ARP models corrected this as well.
The ARP 4075 module is represented on the Korg as the filter "Type III" and, as you can read on the review by Gordon Reid (Sound on Sound's April issue) he managed to get from this very filter a maximum cutoff frequency of 16.5kHz using external CV signals. So, we can conclude that apparently, the Korg's "4075" representation has also the famous miscalculation corrected.

I used the Hi output on both and connected it to a pair of Millennia TD-1 D.I. & pre-amps with the same clean settings and started to adjust the gain. I wouldn't say the Korg's output to be weaker than the Axxe's, in fact I found them both pretty similar, and notice that the audio-path of my Axxe has been upgraded. Usually, a lack of a proper gain staging leads to wrong comments like "aha, this waveform is brighter!".

I began with a single-osc saw and start switching among one board and another... and I was impressed. Next, tried the square and with different width settings. Korg really nailed down the ARP oscillators' sound along with the characteristic ARP portamento.

Going back to the filters, on the Korg I couldn't get an exact representation of the Axxe's; the latter sounding slightly brighter. Next I took the Axxe's Hi Output and plugged into the Korg's EXT audio input and then did the opposite. The Korg allowed me more control, having more tonal characters at a my disposal. The three types switch it's such a great idea. Some would call blasphemy, but in my opinion the filter on this particular Axxe, per se, has nothing special to write home about ...except when you set it to auto-oscillation and you have that awesome sine-wave sound, still controllable by the keys CV ...along with the PPC. When I switched to Korg's filter Type III, I managed to get this tone but not quite that easily, having got out of the Axxe the whistle quality straight away. Unfortunately, while I could get bends with the PPC, the Korg wouldn't allow me to add vibrato on this patch. My Axxe does it, but I can't confirm this is common on original Odyssey models. Anyone?

Notice that I had to make little adjustments for the ADSR settings as they didn't exactly matched between models but at the end they responded quite similar.

After tweaking, adding some modulations (only a few to be precise - the Odyssey being a really complex modulation synth) and switching channels, you'll find the two machines quite indistinguishable in more than a few patches. Anyway, I must admit the fact that most of the time the Axxe showed an *easier* tendency to sound fuller and a bit brighter, with maybe a little more presence.
GForce software’s David Spiers have commented subtle harmonic differences on the Korg's Ring Modulator but not having an original Odyssey around I couldn't be able to compare that as the Axxe have none. Ditto for the duophonic and trigger modes from the keys.

So yes, there are sonic differences but they are subtle and in the end you realize that you are hearing two ARP machines. Not to mention that if any, they would be totally irrelevant on a mix. The ARP tonal character is unmistakeably right there on both. Which is saying a lot for the Korg!

Slim Keys

There is the polemic issue of implemented mini-sized or "slim" keys. And its action feel. I'm not going into repeat what is said in various circles and the consideration about if this keybed is more *playable* than the one in the original microKorg...

Well, honestly I'm not particularly fond of different measures of keys - and we are talking here about a *noticeable* difference - at least in recognized popular instruments. My point being, while I love weighted wooden keys on a piano, I expect to play a good tone-wheel console with a standard Hammond action and waterfall keys. Nor I want to play a melodica with a standard-length synth action or have an accordion with wooden keys!

Sorry, I don't love to play an Odyssey with this "slim" keys. They are tiny and wobble and you get almost the feeling you're playing a toy. And they look cheap. Sorry, Korg. It gets worse for duophonic use, but at least I haven't to use this keyboard to play chords.

If this is a reissue of a legendary classic for which they provided the sound, layout, three makeover designs to choose, even three filter-types represented... why taking out the keys-part of the "classic"?

I can understand the reasons of minimal and cramped space in actual home-studios (impossible to think of back in the 70's) and the original Odyssey is deep enough.
In comparison, while my ARP Axxe is twice the weight than the Korg Odyssey, is still pretty compact, which leads to some thoughts about compromises. To make room for putting my Axxe's keybed onto the Korg case you would require a greater length of about 0.4 inches more and you have to sum the sides to that. For the depth, the fact is the original keys are about 1 inch longer without summing the additional room needed for the keybed.
My point: The Korg team successfully miniaturized all the electronics and put all of them in a compact body. Frankly, I wouldn't mind to have those big orange (in my unit) labels shortened to help reducing the overall depth, if any, and have a good standard synth action to play the classic sound instead.

PPC

Where Korg probably can do it better also is on the Proportional Pitch Control recreation. PPC isn't everybody's cup, but I just love the original one on my Axxe. It doesn't respond like a ribbon and neither a wheel. You can get nuances and get things impossible to obtain with wheels. But I just can't go even near on the Korg thing. Sadly the Korg's PPC is not a serious representation of the original pressure-sensitive controller. I just can't help but figuring out those players who never met an original ARP, literally banging on the pads to get less than accurate pitch sweeps and difficult to apply vibrato and after such these fruitless attempts, just getting the wrong overall impression that the idea of the PPC was a bad one from the start. Not at all.

Maybe the major problem lies on its dimensions which render the pads as inoperable. Sadly enough, they lack a generous size for precise jobs - and we are talking about pitch control. In the first place, they aren't sized as 85% of the originals. Nor they got right the overall proportions and the ones between the ridge and the valley. The pads on my Axxe are bigger enough to let my fingers (and even my thumb - and I don't have exactly small hands) explore the surface to get different musical intervals and bend curves. All the three new ones take the space of only *two* of the original pads so the playable zone has been notoriously reduced, when the case should make room for this feature - that has been object of revisions in the original Odyssey history - as far as vibrato & pitch bend are to be considered an important feature at all.


Faithful recreation ... with some new additions

Korg preserved the limitations of the original which could be a creative bump.
But like any amendment, some features are pretty new, such as:

Auto-power feature
All three filter types available
Portamento while transposing
Drive switch
Headphone amp with trimmer
Bi-directional USB
Built basic Midi-&-USB to CV converter

We can discuss if any of these contributions are worth or not in their own sense, but In the end they can be handy, better to have them than not.
So there's room to start thinking about:

A few more additions I wish to see implemented (kindly hope that Korg designers were listening to)

LFO trig off switch - so it can be run freely - a must!
A full size keys model (near to what they did with the Ms20)
A full size PPC with the right behavior
A fast (1/10) envelope switch (maybe short of controversial but frequently required among originals' owners)

[ - - - - - - Put yours here - - - - - - ]


..a few last thoughts

I'd better have switches to flick on the fly but:
If you connect CV out to CV in you'll get the purpose of the monophonic mode VCO2 priority switch mod.
Gate out to Trig in gives you legato mode (Single/Multiple Trigger switch mod).

Honestly I don't care about memory patches, it totally defeats the purpose of Korg recreating the structure of the original Odyssey. All the slider values would need to be digitized and then D/A converted into corresponding control voltages, so you will end up with a completely different *analog* synth design.

Conclusion

Despite quirks and subtle tonal differences I've put 5 stars in sound and features and of course 5 on Ease of use for the authentic interaction experience. The Korg team has done an excellent job for reissuing such a milestone in the history of synthesizers. I put 4 stars on Bang for buck for the cheap keybed and poor implemented PPC you won't expect on a near 1k synth.

Korg demonstrated how a genuine analog synth can be built imitating the behavior and the -now classic- design of the 1970's.

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