Korg Polysix - Introduction
We're spoiled in today's synth world with a plethora of hardware and software synthesizers that definitely fit the "affordable" mold. However, it wasn't always this way, and when thinking about polysynths, 1981 was certainly a year that exhumed this. Between the major offerings from Roland (Jupiter 8), Oberheim (OBX), and Sequential Circuits (Prophet 5), there was plenty of choice but the price bracket was staggeringly expensive. In 1981, it would cost you roughly 13,000 US Dollars of today's value (2014) to purchase a Jupiter 8. That's quite a hefty sum that really illustrates the kind of world 1981 was for synth lovers. Korg definitely took note, and springing on the heels of their successful and affordable MS range, they gave the synth world the Polysix, a true polyphonic synth at a cost cutting price. A poly for the masses.
Korg Polysix - Basic Specs
The Polysix is a no frills, simple, six voice analog synth consisting of a single oscillator with sub oscillator. The VCO is a true analog Korg design and can do pulse width modulation as well as a standard square and saw wave. Interestingly, there is a dedicated low frequency oscillator within the oscillator section for modulating the pulse width. The sub oscillator is a simple square wave affair with two octaves of operation (one or two octaves in pitch below the main tuning).
Moving to the filter, Korg based the Polysix design around an SSM chip. The SSM family of chips root from E-Mu Systems and were the first "synth modules on an integrated circuit". The world got to know this sound most famously in the first and second revision of the Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, which was almost entirely based around the SSM chipset.
You'll be pleased to know that the Polysix has all the characteristics of the now legendary SSM: full resonation yielding a kind of watery filtering effect, a wide filtering range, and warmth by the bucket! Beyond the standard controls for cutoff and resonance, the filter section also contains keyboard tracking for the cutoff frequency, and this, coupled with a fully resonating filter, gives a ghostly, tuned sine wave sound!
There is a single, analog, fully featured envelope with controls for Attack, Decay, Sustain, and Release times. This envelope controls the main voltage controlled amp, but it can also modulate the filter cutoff frequency. The VCA also has an initial volume control that is stepped, which essentially sets the amount of VCA modulation from the envelope. You can also opt to modulate the VCA with a simple, organ style on/off shape instead of using the envelope.
The Polysix also features a dedicated (i.e. separate from the pulse width modulation) low frequency oscillator that, while offering a single triangular waveform, does give plenty of control over its routing, speed, and delay of onset. This LFO is what is routed to the mod wheel, but, using a discrete level control, can also be "hardwired" to another destination independent of the mod wheel.
Lastly, there are two important sections that round off the Polysix and take it from vanilla to signature: the arpeggiator and the effects section.
Korg Polysix - Feature Details / Architecture
The arpeggiator, while a simple design offering only up, down, or up/down modes can be latched and triggered via an external input (negative type triggers as with most Korg analog synths) which allows for a plethora of interesting rhythms when driven from a drum machine. This section also houses a keyboard mode selection which includes buttons for the keyboard hold (stack up to six notes and the Polysix will hold them indefinitely), unison (all six voices stacked for one monster mono voice), poly (the standard polyphonic operation), and chord memory. The chord memory is of particular interest when combined with the arpeggiator because you can effectively trigger a six voice chord at a regularly repeating interval and do complex transpositions at the mere press of a single key on the keyboard!
Giving the overall sound palette a boost is the effects section. This is a genuine, true to form, analog bucket brigade chip equipped fx processor providing chorus, phasing, or the inimitable ensemble chorus! There is a single knob to regulate the speed or intensity of the effect, depending on which effect is selected. This section is really what makes the Polysix sound unlike any other synth in its class. Warm, interesting, and an ensemble chorus that makes string sounds so sweet, grown men will weep.
Korg Polysix - Sound
The Polysix, in short, sounds fantastic. There was a term going around the early Internet calling the Polysix the "Poor Man's Prophet 5" and in many regards, this is true. Baring of course the strange "Poly Mod" Prophet 5 sounds, the Polysix can do some of the basic patches you could expect from a P5. Strings and bass are of particular excellence bearing this comparison in mind.
Because the FX section is so fully featured and musical, you can make really ethereal sounds that just slide in to a mix almost effortlessly, just like on a Prophet 5. You won't get the edge and overall "niceness" of the Prophet, but you will get something that gets closer than any software emulation could hope to do.
Unison mode is of particular use when working on bass lines. Because the SSM filter has such a pleasant resonant peak, you can almost do convincing Moog style impersonations, albeit with six oscillators behind a single note. However, if this is too much VCO for your taste, simply put the synth into the hold mode, choose how many VCO's you want and in which octave (hit only the C keys so that the transposition makes chromatic sense), and then hit chord memory. What you will effectively have is a "build your own VCO count unison mode". If you want a true mono, just use one VCO for chord memory and presto!
Korg Polysix - Applications in todays world / How it fits in hybrid modern set up
In today's world of patch memory and MIDI, you'll be happy to know that the Polysix offers 32 recallable memories, and recently, an aftermarket and very comprehensive MIDI retrofit.
The Polysix also was notoriously known for a battery leak problem that effectively killed the processor (like putting a bullet in the brain) but rest assured as there are plenty of solutions to this problem. Firstly, this was a well publicized problem since the beginnings of the "SynthWeb" so most people have replaced those old, leaky batteries with new ones. Secondly, a company has recently come out with a replacement board, that effectively allows you to fix a completely screwy processor section with a simple transplant operation. After which, your Polysix is good to go for the decades ahead.
Korg Polysix - Conclusion
Since there is such support and love for the Polysix, if you seek THAT vintage analog polyphonic sound at a cost cutting rate, then the Polysix is your best buy!
Review by Matia of INHALT