Korg DW-8000 by Rayek
Perhaps the single most under-appreciated, undervalued synth I have had the pleasure to use and own. In an era where manufacturers were trying to catch up with Yamaha's digital technology, this synth with its analog VCAs, envelopes, and filters missed the mark - today's obsession with fully analog signal paths glazes over this synth as some kind of bastard hybrid. I can't speak much to the synth buying population of the mid to late 80s, but I can address those who want a polysynth now, and let me tell you... You really can't do better with $400.
The architecture of the DW is essentially analog signal capped by digital waveforms on one end and digital effects on the other.
The oscillators (2 per voice) are digital waveforms which allow this synth to start with timbrally rich sounds that can be filtered into smooth sheets or driven into intense lead sounds. If you prefer traditional shapes, the saw and square waveforms (waves 1 and 2 respectively) bite harder than 80s DCO synths I've owned. Ultimately, the waveform selection is a plus and gives the synth a really unique characteristic that is just simply not available on any synths other than its little brother, the DW-6000.
The filter is incredibly rich and unique, and as far as I know, this specific filter architecture hasn't been used in non-DW synthesizers. The resonance screams and peaks very nicely; the filter is incredibly musical in certain sweet spots, and it helps the synth stand apart from Junos due to its aggressive nature. The single deal-breaker for those who love to sweep the filter by hand is that the cutoff parameter is incredibly steppy and very noticeable if the resonance is cranked. In order to get a smooth sweep, you'll have to use an envelope generator or LFO to get it. Not really a deal breaker for me since it adds character, and I normally create my own presets and generally leave things alone when recording, but it's definitely worth noting.
The DW can quickly emulate a lot of Juno-type sounds, and can be smooth and bassy like a Juno, but it goes far beyond with it's more aggressive filter, complex envelope shapes, 8 voices, and digital waveforms. It is incredibly versatile and very good at many different things.
One tip: The synth is "stereo" but only if ran through the onboard effects, in fact I'd urge anyone who uses the DW to only connect one output jack and treat it as a mono out, as they "achieved" stereo by phase-reversing the outputs, which can lead to phase cancellation and ultimately a really weak/thin sound.
Overall the synth has a very characteristic sound that is just simply not available on other synths. It's virtually unused in popular music, thus far nobody is wondering "what was THAT sound from this track?" and the day will come very soon where someone will utilize the characteristics of the DW in an amazing track. Until then, I would enjoy the low price point and the virtually unused sound palette to inject good, unusual, original, vintage poly sounds into your tracks. Think of it this way... the Poly 61 was even cheaper and "worse" than the DW in 2010, and now the 61M routinely lists for near a thousand USD. The difference? A Legowelt Studio tour, perhaps?
Envelopes. Yeah. This synth has some of the most complex analog envelopes of a vintage synth, and they're actually closer to the DX7's operator envelopes than anything else. (A)ttack, (D)ecay, (B)reak point, (S)lope, (S)ustain, (R)elease envelopes are available for the VCAs and the VCFs.
Aftertouch. Not really a big point for me, personally, but it can be routed to the LFO speed, filter cutoff, and the VCAs.
Arpeggiator. People love the DW's arp. It's pretty good. Some folks report having a tough time getting it to sync with external MIDI clock, but I never had a problem.
Auto Bend: This helps edge the DW a little closer into Jupiter 8 territory, you can easily create Jupiter-type brass sounds using this feature.
Yup, no knobs. If you started buying synths when I did (late 2000s), you'll have gotten used to scraping the floor of the vintage synth market for mid-late 80s synths with membrane button interfaces that sound good but are cheap for no other reason than they had bad programming. This one's a little different since it's a breeze to program, but it lacks the availability of a dedicated programmer like the JX3p or the Alpha Juno. Overall, programming is very quick and doesn't present a problem, but there are aftermarket SYSEX options if you prefer having some knobs.
My first DW came to me broken and was in and out of the shop until the power supply just ended up needing a recap. I ditched it for an EX-8000 (rack version) which has suited me particularly well. Most of these show up on eBay broken or in need of some kind of repair. I don't think this synth was built to last, but in my opinion with a little bit of attention paid to the power supply, the DW should survive for a very long time.
One word: Stupid. This is an 8-voice, 2 oscillator/voice, polyphonic vintage synthesizer with a very unique characteristic and a majority of the voice architecture (including the amazing filter) are analog. And as I mentioned before, it is only a matter of time before somebody uses it in a great track and it becomes a hit. The JX-10 was largely ignored until a genius decided to program a great operating system for it and now the prices reflect the higher demand. At this moment, nothing like that has happened for the DW unfortunately, but again, it's a matter of time before the price reflects what this synth can do.
The DW seems to get a lot of attention from GS users in particular, and people seem to love it. It has its problems (reliability, lackluster MIDI implementation, and steppy filter cutoff being pretty big ones) but this synth is easily a classic, is an individual among more expensive and slightly iterative Juno 60/6/106/alpha 1/alpha 2/JX series options, and was Korg's flagship in an era where Korg was making other classics like the SDD-3000 and the now-sought-after Poly-61. The DW is different, capable, unique, and just.. great. If you find one that's been recently recapped and serviced, snatch it up. Chances are you'll find it filling a lot of voids left by other 80s polys.