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In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
#3055371 07/23/20 01:04 AM
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Hello everyone. I'd like to thank you all for being so kind to me on my first foray into the GearLab; now it's time to begin a discussion of another synth that has had me seriously intrigued for a long time...

Let's get to know the Korg wavestate, shall we?

First some background to explain where I'm coming from on this review, including some history...

Most people look at wave sequencing as being at the core of the wavestate and its predecessors the Korg Wavestations. However, I go further back than that, to a very powerful concept that we take for granted today but was revolutionary when it came out: the idea of vector control.

Vectors

A vector, of course, is a distance and direction on a plane.[*1] It's an easy way to see in your mind a mixture of two properties, the X and Y of the position. XY controllers are everywhere these days; the Moog One has one, and before that the Moog Voyager had one, and before that the Technics SX-WSA1 had two (God I loved the UI on that synth!), and before that the Korg Z1 had one... and waaaaaay before that, there was a synthesizer called the Sequential Prophet VS.

John Bowen, who currently hand-builds the amazing Solaris synthesizer, was on a team at Sequential working up new ideas for synthesizers that blended analog and digital technology. Years earlier, users had been introduced to the idea of a 2D left-hand controller; the most obvious example at the time was the Roland "paddle", which moved left/right for pitch bend and forward for modulation, and the Korg joystick, which moved left/right for pitch bend and forward/back for VCO and VCF modulation. Bowen went one step further, and wondered if it was possible to use a joystick to directly manipulate the elements of a sound.

The core idea of the Prophet VS[*2] was that its four digital waveform oscillators were arranged on the points of a diamond, and the joystick could be used to mix the four oscillators in real time. Even better, this pattern of movement could be recorded and played back every time a note was triggered, using a vector envelope that worked alongside the traditional filter and amplitude envelopes. All of these envelopes made use of a sustain segment that could be programmed to loop (in one direction or back and forth) until the key was released.[*3]

John Bowen realized that while one could mix all sorts of bizarre waves this way, there was a certain purity of purpose to taking very specific sets of harmonics, assigning them to points on the diamond, and mixing them to produce a sort of PPG-style wavetable movement in ways that were more controllable than what you got on a Wave Computer. That's why the VS had so many collections of specific harmonics as members of its 128-wave selection, each freely assignable to one of the digital oscillators.

Back-seat drivers grumbled that this form of oscillator mixing wasn't a perfect solution, as it was impossible to mix elements in certain specific ways without involving other elements. While it seemed that these mutterings were ignored in the general fanfare over vectors, they weren't, and they'd resurface a few years later.

The Prophet VS was a stunning synthesizer. It was fun to program, intuitive to play, and its sound, the now-common mixing of digital waveform oscillators with an analog signal path for filtering and loudness control, was nearly unique: glassy, full of motion, and easy to fit in a mix. It wasn't actually very good at super-drastic wave mixing craziness, but it was great at sounds that worked with other sounds. That's why it's a modern classic and why companies like Arturia have gone out of their way to model it in software.

The problem was, the hardware was nowhere near up to the promise of the concept. The VS had a number of flaws that ranged from annoying to fatal, many of which weren't discovered until the units were out in the field. My personal favorite was the fact that the pressure sensor under the keyboard was anchored to the chassis of the synth through the structural members attached to the rubber feet, which were bolted into the bottom of the synth rather than stuck on as is common today. This meant that engineers testing the VS on tabletops (with the guts supported by the feet) had no issues at all, but the minute an end user put one on an Ultimate Support stand with the support under the chassis itself and the feet dangling in space, using aftertouch would force the motherboard to flex, a recipe for trouble down the road...

A rack version, much rarer than the keyboard, purported to solve this and other keyboard-related issues, but it had problems of its own: the vector joystick was a pain to use when the unit was racked, and its overstuffed chassis had one of its circuit boards bolted to the hinged access panel on the top of the chassis, with free-floating ribbon cables that had to be gingerly disconnected and reconnected every time the machine was serviced. Heating was an issue, and the custom chips in it tended to die, gradually killing the synth two voices at a time. These maintenance issues were exacerbated by the fact that Sequential went out of business soon after, and it was impossible to get parts...

I had a long and agonizing love/hate relationship with the VS. I owned four of them over the course of about eight years, two racks and two keyboards. I loved its sound, but the many points of failure drove me mad. At the end, by some miracle, I got an amazingly good price for my last rack unit, one that brought my financial investment in them over the years back to just about zero, and I quit while I was ahead, or at least not too far behind.

During this period, I indulged my love of vector control with other synthesizers. Because of the acquisition of Sequential's intellectual property and the movement of its engineers hither and yon after the company folded, two manufacturers (ostensibly competitors but with one actually owning a chunk of the other) ended up with the keys to the vector kingdom.

Yamaha went downmarket with it. The Yamaha SY22 keyboard, followed by the TG33 tabletop synth and the higher-sound-quality SY35, were all very simple synthesizers using a joystick to mix two sample-playback oscillators with two FM oscillators. This arrangement worked very well, and the Yamahas actually appeared on a number of my mid-career releases. While I don't use it much these days, I have a TG33 in my studio and still fish it out once in a while to do this and that. They were fun to play, but not very compelling to most folks, and the product line didn't last very long, allowing Yamaha's hold on vectors to slip into obscurity.

Korg, on the other hand, went seriously upmarket, creating a synthesizer that was iconic in its own way: the Wavestation, an all-digital synth with the same joystick-based vector control that the VS had. There were several varieties of Wavestation: the original, the improved EX model, the rackmount A/D with mixable external audio inputs, and the less expensive SR rack. It had its own issues with popularity at first ("Wait, where's the piano patch?" "Uh, there isn't one. That's not the point of--" "Okaybye."), but became a classic on its own, modeled in software by Korg years later (and still available on Mac, PC, and iOS).

The Achilles' Heel of the Wavestation was its complexity. With only a small graphic LCD and some basic menu and parameter controls to cover its very extensive UI, it was a nightmare to get into. End users either gave up and focused entirely on the huge library of presets available for it, or went hard hard HARDcore into programming it. The really good programmers had people's jaws on the floor; they weren't doing anything the machine wasn't capable of doing on its own, but the vast majority of players had no idea the WS could even do a lot of those things!

The core of this power and complexity, of course, wasn't the use of vector control (which remains a passion of mine, as you'll see over and over again in the days to come)[*4]... it was wave sequencing, a subject I'll get into next time.

As always, watch this space, look for forthcoming videos, and feel free to ask questions and share reminiscences here!

Until next time, stay safe, stay well, and stay connected!

mike



*What would one of my threads be without random sidebars and off-topic tangents?

1. Vectors

Everyone thinks of vectors as "arrows" pointing somewhere in space. However, a line only defines the plane it's on; without a 3D plane of reference, 2D is all you get, which is fortunately fine for us. The first time someone tried to create a 3D frame of reference for synthesis, it produced a very cool synth (the E-mu Morpheus) that didn't really do what was claimed... souring people on the idea until Dave Rossum updated it for Eurorack a few years ago.

2. "VS"

VS stood for Vector Synthesis, of course, and it was a great buzzword to attract attention. At its heart, though, it was just a fancy way to mix waveforms, so I have opted for the term "vector control" instead. Nyah.

3. Looping envelope segments

I think that the Prophet VS actually introduced this idea in a commercial synth, and it was quickly adopted by other companies, but I'm not sure about that claim. Must research... later.

4. Vectors and I

It should be clear by now that I was an absolute freak for vectors. Any synth that had a joystick, I had to own one of! I was so into vector control during this period that I launched a print newsletter covering it. Called Vectory!, it was a sequel to my well-regarded Xpansions! newsletter for the Oberheim Xpander/Matrix family, and covered all three companies' products. I actually had a full stack of vector machines that was used on a couple of my best albums: a Yamaha SY35 controlling a Prophet VS rack and a Wavestation A/D. As various machines drove me mad with reliability and complexity issues, my interest in vectors was beaten to death, awaiting a day when someone would come along with a vector synth that was affordable, powerful, great-sounding, and easy to program...

(cue ominous music)


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055419 07/23/20 02:18 PM
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"Let's get to know the Korg wavestate, shall we?"

Hi Mike, excellent historical background on VS. and what Yamaha, Prophet and Korg did with it thru the iconic Korg WaveStation.

To be picky, I don't see much detail on today's Korg Wavestate. Your post is on the lineage.

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055436 07/23/20 03:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
The Achilles' Heel of the Wavestation was its complexity. With only a small graphic LCD and some basic menu and parameter controls to cover its very extensive UI, it was a nightmare to get into. End users either gave up and focused entirely on the huge library of presets available for it, or went hard hard HARDcore into programming it. The really good programmers had people's jaws on the floor; they weren't doing anything the machine wasn't capable of doing on its own, but the vast majority of players had no idea the WS could even do a lot of those things!

I suppose I was one of the people who went HARDcore with the Wavestation. I created six free banks for it -- if I may brag just a little bit -- got a one-sentence mention (very bottom of page) in Sound On Sound magazine. I always thought that people gave the Wavestation a really bad rap unfairly. It wasn't that difficult to program once you understood how the Peformances, Patches and Wavesequences were organized. What it lacked was enough storage for wavesequences, patches and performances. We had really good user groups online in the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s to share tips and banks. I would not call it a nightmare. It was far easier to program a Wavestation than to program an E-mu Morpheus, which I also still own. And we did have third-party created editors for the Wavestation. I never used them, as I got quite used to programming from the keyboard. Lots of menu diving on the synth, but we were used to that in the early 90s. The SR was released for primarily preset players, and it did have a smaller screen similar to that on the Korg M1 and a much greater storage capacity.

The screen was huge at the time -- compare it to any non-Korg synth released in 1990 -- but the backlit LCD screen's quality itself, and the non-switching power supplies were the biggest sources of failures. I have three Wavestations (2 EXs and 1 A/D), and I've replaced the screens on all of them twice, and I have to replace them again now. The power supplies, when they failed, would cause severe clicks and pops that could damage your monitors or band's PA system. Looking at the Wavestate's screen -- it's a lot smaller than Wavestation's. I think the knobs on the Wavestate make up for the lack of screen real estate, possibly. But this trend of going going back to tiny screens is annoying. (For example, I love my Hydrasynth, but I can't read a darn thing on its screens without reading glasses -- oh the joys of getting old.) It doesn't need to be as big as a Kronos's screen, but you know, somewhere in the 3 x 4" range would good for these old eyes.

I do want a Wavestate, but not its current format. 37 keys with no aftertouch, frankly, is asinine for keyboardists who can actually play. Judging by the huge number of comments on various synth forums that agree with me on this, Korg would be remiss if they fail to create a desktop or five-octave keyboard versions. Preferably, Korg should make both versions, and as quickly as possible. They would literally clean up if they did, as honestly, price would not be much of a consideration for me and others.

Last edited by AquilaRift; 07/23/20 03:33 PM.
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
AquilaRift #3055438 07/23/20 04:03 PM
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Originally Posted by AquilaRift
I do want a Wavestate, but not its current format. 37 keys with no aftertouch, frankly, is asinine for keyboardists who can actually play. Judging by the huge number of comments on various synth forums that agree with me on this, Korg would be remiss if they fail to create a desktop or five-octave keyboard versions. Preferably, Korg should make both versions, and as quickly as possible. They would literally clean up if they did, as honestly, price would not be much of a consideration for me and others.


my gripe with Korg, and I wrote to them-- Kronos should have more wave sequence slots and wave sequence programming.

and I have near zero interest in Wave state with 37 keys and other missing features.

I know Korg has commented on the key size decision but that doesn't square up for my use.

has anyone composed a song using wave sequences ? here is a recent song I recorded [ The Runner ]:

https://soundcloud.com/user-898236994/the-runnerwav

Last edited by GregC; 07/24/20 02:42 AM.
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055525 07/24/20 03:36 AM
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I've leaned towards Korg a lot over the years, so of course I'm drawn to the Wavestate. I can live with the legacy material and 3 octaves because I heart release velocity & random patch generators in a big way. Its also 4 synths in a box, never a bad thing.

However, the mob cries "Software editor!!" I don't think I have the fortitude to marry another (internally) massive hardware synth without one. I also lack the remaining visual acuity to roll with even an OLED that small. Seriously, one more inch-point-five on both axes would be a major help. The existing squint factor is too high. It also needs another octave and a few more crucial knobs. Me too, TBH.

Not to merely grumble, either, because its has far more pluses than negatives. I simply think that if it was just a bit larger, the increased appeal would draw plenty of buyers @ $1000-1100 retail. It seems semi-clear that Korg was largely aiming at tabletoppers/DJs here, not we manly two-handed players. Modal made a larger Argon8. Maybe we'll see a beefier player's Wavestate at some point.


Synth-love is a phase-locked loop of OCDs.

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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055539 07/24/20 05:07 AM
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Not a keyboard player and I get the desire for a larger, more responsive keybed.
Curiousity drove me to look up a Korg Wavetable - lo and behold - it has MIDI in and MIDI out ports on the back.

Can a velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard be used to play it?


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
KuruPrionz #3055605 07/24/20 06:43 PM
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Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Can a velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard be used to play it?

Yes


that was then and this is now
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Doerfler #3055611 07/24/20 06:57 PM
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Originally Posted by davedoerfler
Originally Posted by KuruPrionz
Can a velocity and pressure sensitive keyboard be used to play it?

Yes


Thanks, just curiosity for me but there's an option...


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055623 07/24/20 08:21 PM
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Not sure if it responds to aftertouch. I guess that's what you are referring to as pressure sensitive. Either way, you can use a keyboard with aftertouch to play it, but if it is not programmed to respond to that command, it just won't. My IK Multimedia Uno synth is an example of this


that was then and this is now
Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Doerfler #3055631 07/24/20 09:27 PM
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Originally Posted by davedoerfler
Not sure if it responds to aftertouch. I guess that's what you are referring to as pressure sensitive. Either way, you can use a keyboard with aftertouch to play it, but if it is not programmed to respond to that command, it just won't. My IK Multimedia Uno synth is an example of this


Got it, was wondering about that. Yes - pressure sensitive would be aftertouch. Aftertouch is a better description, saves typing a word!
I have an XKey 25 with polyphonic aftertouch but it doesn't always work with all plugins either.


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
GregC #3055844 07/26/20 08:46 PM
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Originally Posted by GregC
"Let's get to know the Korg wavestate, shall we?"

Hi Mike, excellent historical background on VS. and what Yamaha, Prophet and Korg did with it thru the iconic Korg WaveStation.

To be picky, I don't see much detail on today's Korg Wavestate. Your post is on the lineage.
We'll get there, Greg. Honest! smile A lot of folks don't have this background, and I think it's important to have it in mind going forward.


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055848 07/26/20 09:00 PM
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BTW, I should mention if I didn't before that I was on the beta team for the Wavestate. Its papa, Dan Phillips, is a dear old friend of mine and brought me in early; I don't have any presets on it because I found working with the virtualized machine very awkward and uninspiring, especially in comparison to the real deal.

A few answers to questions:

Aftertouch: the Wavestate will not only respond to channel pressure but key pressure (i.e. monophonic AND polyphonic aftertouch). I am hoping for MPE support somewhere down the line.
When I got brought onto the beta team (which is when I learned of its existence, months before it was announced), Dan and I had a slightly stiff conversation about the choice to leave it off; like the decision to leave a sustain pedal off the Polysix, this was basically Korg HQ in Japan seeing how many features they could get onto it at a fixed price point.

Side note on release velocity: it is actually comparatively expensive and difficult to build a keyboard that can't send release velocity information that is just as accurate as the attack velocity information. Most keyboards measure velocity by the delay between the key's contact brushing past two sensors on its way down; measuring them in the other direction would work just as well. The decision to leave relvel out is usually done in software, even though it has to be sent as part of a legit MIDI Note message. Korg deserves kudos for enabling it in software, but the keyboard doing it is a "water is wet" thing...

Keyboard size: I predicted a huge backlash and I've been proven correct; if they're not considering a module version at the very least, I would be quite surprised.
However, while I do think a module will be forthcoming, a larger version with a better keyboard will probably be a non-starter. Why not? Because people like us already know what we want in a keyboard action and probably have one or two or five already. A module is one MIDI cable away from being as playable as you need it to be in the ways you need it to be. That's my take, anyhow.

Display size: it's very bright and legible to me, but yeah, it's cramped. A significantly bigger display was probably one of the things that got axed for a given price point. And by the way, if you think the displays on the Wavestate and the Hydrasynth are small, try working with an Arturia MicroFreak. It has an OLED screen, a graphical one, that is literally smaller than a postage stamp.


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055850 07/26/20 09:03 PM
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BTW, for my second big post on the Wavestate (with my first video forthcoming), I was going to complete my historical rundown by talking about wave sequencing and how it fit into the context of other wavescanning technologies of the day like PPG wavetables and Ensoniq's transwaves, but I think I will pass.

Two reasons: first, AquilaRift will probably correct every other line of what I write, because she has forgotten more about the WS than I ever knew in years of owning them, and second, I don't want to waste people's time on another history lesson when I can be moving forward. So.


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
AquilaRift #3055854 07/26/20 09:10 PM
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Originally Posted by AquilaRift
I always thought that people gave the Wavestation a really bad rap unfairly. It wasn't that difficult to program once you understood how the Peformances, Patches and Wavesequences were organized. What it lacked was enough storage for wavesequences, patches and performances. We had really good user groups online in the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s to share tips and banks. I would not call it a nightmare. It was far easier to program a Wavestation than to program an E-mu Morpheus, which I also still own. And we did have third-party created editors for the Wavestation. I never used them, as I got quite used to programming from the keyboard. Lots of menu diving on the synth, but we were used to that in the early 90s. The SR was released for primarily preset players, and it did have a smaller screen similar to that on the Korg M1 and a much greater storage capacity.

This is all true, and a good context for the time. However, while a hangnail is less of a pain than having a finger slammed in a car door, it still hurts, and I never liked menu diving in any form. I regarded rack synths like the Morpheus and the SR to be ship-in-bottle designs, and back in the day, MIDI editing software was unbearably clunky and unreliable, and most of the really good programs died for stupid reasons - everyone mourned Vision when Opcode died, but I mourned Galaxy. My experience was a bit more savvy than that of a lot of punters who just wanted to call up presets and play them; to them, wave sequencing was "How does Ski Jam do that? Well, let's dive in and... uh... okay, never mind, back to playing Pharaoh's Jig...."

By the way, Aquila, you do realize you've just volunteered yourself as a resource on the Wavestation in a historical context? wave


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055877 07/26/20 10:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
My experience was a bit more savvy than that of a lot of punters who just wanted to call up presets and play them; to them, wave sequencing was "How does Ski Jam do that? Well, let's dive in and... uh... okay, never mind, back to playing Pharaoh's Jig...."

The Wavestate will be this times three. Or is it four? Of course there’ll be the exceptions as always but I don't believe it’s just menu diving that turns most people off; it’s the “work” and thinking involved. Most people would rather just play.

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3055967 07/27/20 12:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
BTW, for my second big post on the Wavestate (with my first video forthcoming), I was going to complete my historical rundown by talking about wave sequencing and how it fit into the context of other wavescanning technologies of the day like PPG wavetables and Ensoniq's transwaves, but I think I will pass.

Two reasons: first, AquilaRift will probably correct every other line of what I write, because she has forgotten more about the WS than I ever knew in years of owning them, and second, I don't want to waste people's time on another history lesson when I can be moving forward. So.

Gosh, I ... Well... erm... I dunno if "correct" is the word I would choose... LOL. I never owned a PPG (who did? They were super expensive) but I did own two Ensoniq VFXs (one original, one SD II) and I never really moved past assigning the mod wheel to modulate the transwaves... Definitely not an expert on either of those two synths. I did love the design structure and simplicity of layering patches on the VFX, the 24-track sequencer, the 24-bit FX, and the poly AT. Although the latter was very firm and unreliable. Truly a brilliant synth. Fell in love with it and the Wavestation at the same time, as both were in a music store side by side when I first encountered them.

Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
By the way, Aquila, you do realize you've just volunteered yourself as a resource on the Wavestation in a historical context? wave

I did not realize that. Happy to answer any questions about it, of course.

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3056011 07/27/20 04:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
Originally Posted by GregC
"Let's get to know the Korg wavestate, shall we?"

Hi Mike, excellent historical background on VS. and what Yamaha, Prophet and Korg did with it thru the iconic Korg WaveStation.

To be picky, I don't see much detail on today's Korg Wavestate. Your post is on the lineage.
We'll get there, Greg. Honest! smile A lot of folks don't have this background, and I think it's important to have it in mind going forward.

Fair enough, Mike ! Impatience is my friend wink

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
GregC #3056172 07/28/20 05:38 PM
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Originally Posted by GregC
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
We'll get there, Greg. Honest! smile A lot of folks don't have this background, and I think it's important to have it in mind going forward.
Fair enough, Mike ! Impatience is my friend wink
And it is my harsh taskmistress.

bang


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3056185 07/28/20 07:06 PM
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This is great, Mike. I've always been a fan of wave sequencing, the point of using delays on amplitude envelopes with different voices to semi-morph among waveforms. Wavestate looks good...

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Anderton #3056354 07/29/20 10:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Anderton
This is great, Mike. I've always been a fan of wave sequencing, the point of using delays on amplitude envelopes with different voices to semi-morph among waveforms. Wavestate looks good...
It's a blast. I am turning my initial impressions into my first Wavestate video and should hopefully have it up on YouTube before the November elections.....


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3057567 08/08/20 01:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
Originally Posted by Anderton
This is great, Mike. I've always been a fan of wave sequencing, the point of using delays on amplitude envelopes with different voices to semi-morph among waveforms. Wavestate looks good...
It's a blast. I am turning my initial impressions into my first Wavestate video and should hopefully have it up on YouTube before the November elections.....


Hi Mike, so ,per your post, we can expect a Wavestate video or info update prior to Nov 3 ?

can you give an ETA ? thanks

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
GregC #3058752 08/18/20 05:02 AM
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Originally Posted by GregC
Originally Posted by Dr Mike Metlay
Originally Posted by Anderton
This is great, Mike. I've always been a fan of wave sequencing, the point of using delays on amplitude envelopes with different voices to semi-morph among waveforms. Wavestate looks good...
It's a blast. I am turning my initial impressions into my first Wavestate video and should hopefully have it up on YouTube before the November elections.....


Hi Mike, so ,per your post, we can expect a Wavestate video or info update prior to Nov 3 ?

can you give an ETA ? thanks
I'm way late on this, I know. I had a fairly stiff job from a big client come in, and video slipped down my list, but I want to get shooting asap! Thanks for your patience, all.

mike


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The Wavestate: Voice Architecture
Dr Mike Metlay #3060528 08/31/20 10:40 PM
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OK, finally!

We'll start with a rundown of the Wavestate[1] from an architectural point of view.

Voice

At the core of the WS is the individual Voice. This contains the standard architecture of a subtractive synth: a Wave Sequence oscillator (the core of what makes the WS a WS) through a multimode Filter and then an Amp section.

Included at the Voice level are the lion's share of the modulation sources: three ADSR envelopes, four LFOs, two Mod Processors with a mess of options, pitch modulations like Portamento, a per-Voice Vector envelope, and stuff like key tracking. This is all fed into the Mod Matrix, of which we'll get into the details later on.

Program and Layer

A Program contains all the data for a Voice, plus the settings for the Voice-level effects: Pre FX, Mod FX, and Delay. This is where the Mod Knobs (see below) have their effect on the Mod Matrix. A Program is the lowest level of the architecture that is stored on its own and accessible as a unit.

When you add in more generalized control settings, like volume, key and velocity zones, MIDI control, and Arpeggiator settings (yes, each Program has its own Arpeggiator, which makes things get very weird at higher levels), that's a Layer. At the highest level of use, Layers are what you access directly, and choice of Program is part of that.

Performance and Set List

Above that, we have the Performance. It contains the four Layers (A B C D), which have overarching settings like Scale and Tempo that you wouldn't want to be different for every Layer. This is where the vector stuff comes in (mostly): live control of the Layer mix with the joystick, and a global Performance Vector envelope. There are also Performance Mod Knobs that can affect all four Layers at once if desired. Oh, and in terms of audio, all four Layers are mixed and sent through two final effect modules, the Reverb and EQ.

A Set List is a user-customizable set of up to 16 Performances for fast selection in a live setting. These can be given distinctive names and stored in an alphabetical list for later recall, just like Programs and Performances can.

If this all seems very familiar, it should. I don't know if the Korg M1 was the first synth to be set up this way, but it's been common on digital workstations since that timeframe. (We'll save the story of the Roland D-70, which tried to use RAM efficiently and ended up screwing up this architecture in a truly disastrous way, for another post in another thread in another forum, possibly on another website.)

I'm leaving this short post here as a reference for future posts: we will use terms like Voice-level and Performance-level as appropriate.

TL;DR -- Voices are synth voices, Programs add FX, Layers add Zones and MIDI, and four Layers with Vector control and some added bits make Performances, which can be laid out in Set Lists.

FOOTNOTES (because footnotes):

1. Korg insists on calling it the 'wavestate' in print. I will be inconsistent with this, because me. Most of the time I'll just say WS, which will give me a twinge every time because it makes me think of the original Wavestation, but that's my problem, not yours.

Last edited by Dr Mike Metlay; 09/17/20 02:36 AM.

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The Wavestate: Physical details
Dr Mike Metlay #3060533 08/31/20 11:20 PM
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While we're all the way out of the depths of the wavestate's architecture, let's take a walk around the board itself.

The WS is a pretty remarkable device for those of use who remember developing hernias carrying DX7s around and who considered the very heavy Wavestation to be a nice change. It's built into a molded plastic case with all controls mounted on a screwed-on metal front panel, and the whole assembly weighs practically nothing.

Top panel

There's a 37-note velocity-sensitive keyboard with Pitch and Mod wheels above it and to the left. Above that is the joystick, marked with A B C D at the compass points. The rest of the panel is organized in functional blocks, so it's pretty straightforward to find relevant controls once you learn your way around. These blocks include Layer selection, Wave Sequence Lanes (more about these later), Mod Knobs, Filter, Envelopes, Set List/Wave Sequence Steps, Program and Master Effects, LFOs, and a set of general navigation buttons near the small graphic OLED display. When I say "small" I don't mean "ridiculous" like the MicroFreak's display, which is smaller than a postage stamp (literally), but it's not a big color screen like you'd get on an M3.

Rear panel

This is a pretty simple layout with no frills. There are 1/4" outputs for headphones and Left/Right, ditto a Damper pedal input, then USB-B, 5-pin MIDI In/Out, power switch, and an input for the wall wart. BTW, said wall wart is 12VDC, center tap positive, 2.5A. Don't lose it, getting a replacement will be a pain in the ass.

Keeping these deliberately short... next up, player accessibility. This is where my few genuine beefs with the WS will show up, and I'd like to get them out of the way now. In a sense of performance use (as opposed to depth of programming or sound quality), I will be effectively jumping to the punchline, and I hope I don't lose a lot of readers in the process.

Last edited by Dr Mike Metlay; 09/17/20 02:36 AM.

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The Wavestate: the live UI experience
Dr Mike Metlay #3060553 09/01/20 01:27 AM
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I realize that this is going a bit out of logical order, but I wanted to get this out for the record because so many readers are Keyboard Corner folks with a primary interest in the playing experience of the wavestate. So...

As I said earlier, this is where I have to deal with a couple of decisions Korg made that I take pretty strong issue with... and it's not because I'm not in their likely target audience, it's because they've failed that audience in one or two fairly important places.

High priorities

When looking at the WS, it becomes pretty obvious that a very clear line of demarcation has been made between programming it and playing it. Nearly all of the front panel controls have been heavily -- even obsessively -- optimized for fast and intuitive access in the middle of performing.

Changing to a new Performance in a Set List? One button, lights up, bam. (And in any order you want, too, not just sequentially.)

Mod Knobs? Eight of them, bright white, bam. Performance Mod Knobs? Press the appropriate button, it lights up, bam.

Envelopes? The right five knobs, press a button to pick the envelope, bam. LFOs, ditto, frequency and intensity knobs, bam.

Effects? A little more fiddly, but two programmable Edit knobs usually programmed for the obviously important parameters. Just as importantly, you can not only select which effect you want to edit with one button, but there's a row of tiny LEDs showing which ones are active at any time.

Ditto Layers -- dedicated buttons to bring one forward for editing, and lights to indicate which ones are on.

For programming, some functions are made very easy to get at. Hit a button, the display shows the relevant information. The many subpages for the Lanes of the Wave Sequences are one-button accessed. LEDs are bright and you pretty much always know where you are, and one or two presses of the Home/Perform button always get you back to the top of the menu so you don't get lost. There's even a Randomize button that will mess up the patch for you, as much or as little as you want, to help you find new ideas.

All good stuff...

Lower priorities

When we get into programming and performance ergonomics, things start to suffer a bit in places. For one thing, the OLED display is razor-sharp, bright, and easy to read... if you have decent near-distance vision. So much information is crammed onto that display in the Home mode that you really have to squint. Fortunately, there's a lot less info to process on most of the other menu pages...

...of which there are dozens. And dozens. Maybe but probably not hundreds. All of which are navigated by one encoder (without a button), Left/Right buttons, and a Shift key.

Ah, that Shift key. It's used for everything, and I mean everything, in the WS programming interface. There is virtually no button or knob that doesn't have a white silkscreened name above it and a blue silkscreened name below it for what it does while you hold down Shift. You can't even jump between pages without it (Shift-Left and Shift-Right). You're on that Shift key all. the. damn. time. So why did they put it in the middle of a grid of other buttons that are usually less important and almost always less used, with no differentiator to the eye other than a silkscreened blue frame and the word SHIFT (which, like the other blue markings, is hard to see on a darkened stage)?

They did make a concession to allow a doubleclick to 'hold' the Shift key so you don't have to keep it pressed down, which helps sometimes but not others.

EDIT: It took me a while to figure this out, but this doubleclick behavior actually LOCKS Shift in place, so you can do repeated actions that all require the Shift Key until you disable it. It's still not ideal for live playing, but helps a lot when programming.

I mean, the Randomize button is out there on its own in an easy-to-spot unadorned chunk of the front panel... WHY? Do they really think that people are going to want to randomize patches more often than they hit Shift?

That positioning is problematic in other ways, too. It's way up in the top-right of the front panel, which means you can't hit it and something else with two fingers on one hand. Normally not an issue, but the damn Arpeggiator Latch button needs it! Because of the logic built into that button, the entire process of using the Arpeggiator -- probably the single most important live-play function for the non-keyboardist -- is awkward and prone to failure. You can't latch an arpeggio without taking both hands off the keyboard, unless you're prepared to hold down keys in the bottom octave with some of your fingers, while reaching for the Latch button with a spare finger, while holding Shift with your right hand. You can't turn off Latch without the Shift key, either... if you forget, you kill the Arpeggiator entirely. The only real alternative to this is to doubleclick the Shift key and leave it waiting for when you need it, and hope you don't have to turn another knob while you do. A two-stage process that should be one easy stage.

The damper pedal doesn't hold latched notes, and speaking of which, there's no way to hold the keyboard for drones from the front panel. You have to scroll over five pages from the Home page (while holding Shift for every click), then click down to the bottom of the parameter list, then turn the knob to select On/Off. This can then be saved as part of a Program, but not turned on/off any other way.

Which, by the way, is just an initial glimpse of what programming the WS is like. Good thing it has a free software... er... patch librarian? Sigh.

Oh, and the keyboard has velocity and release velocity but no pressure, and the joystick feels flimsy to me in comparison to, oh, the one on every other vector synth ever. Or any other synth ever that used a joystick for ANYTHING. Well, except maybe some of the other little Korg synths.

My thoughts

Folks who live and die in the Keyboard Corner aren't the target audience for this machine. This machine is designed for players with relatively simple needs from a hands-on-keys standpoint, who will be using the WS as a supplement to a live DJ/EDM rig or for beatmaking in a small (probably bedroom) studio. They need something powerful, light, and with easy-to-grab generalized controls, leaving the deep stuff safely hidden away where they don't have to look at it unless they're feeling brave.

Did they succeed? Mostly but not entirely. I played the WS for a while from the deliberate standpoint of such a user, trying to blend the usual hands-in-the-air beat stuff with a touch of Stranger Things Berlin School interactivity, and while most controls where right where I wanted them to be and did what I wanted them to do, those one or two choices were incomprehensibly awkward to me. Seriously.

The two most common use cases for a machine that does wave sequencing? Hold down a note and make it sustain, or hit an arpeggio and latch it! Both difficult to impossible.

Maybe programmable from an external MIDI device? Yes and no. MIDI Learn only works for parameters you can physically touch on the front panel, with or without the Shift key... so setting an external controller to turn Latch on and off is feasible, but the only way to do Hold would be to program an external on/off switch to send MIDI CC64 and fake out the damper pedal, which of course means you can't drone one Layer while playing another because every note will drone. Rumph!

Everyone is talking about how they wished Korg would have given the WS a bigger better keyboard with aftertouch. Phooey. Phooey AND nuts. You people are so picky about keyboard actions that you'd only just hook it up to one you have already anyway.

People also have talked about putting in a larger display, preferably color and/or touchscreen. I am only guessing but I am pretty sure I understand the logic behind why they didn't.

Korg does not make its own displays. I am not aware of any synth maker that does. They have to find OEM displays from other industries that they can buy and program to their needs. (At least one synth on the market today uses the same color touchscreen that is found in BMW dashboards.) These displays can be quite expensive to buy, even in bulk, and they are often a major cost driver in hardware synths. Korg probably could have put a larger display on the WS, but not at this price point.

What I'd like to see is:

- extend the idea of doubleclick and long-press recognition on some buttons so they don't need the Shift key. For example: Doubleclick Arpeggiator to turn latch on and off, or press and hold Tap Tempo to drone the current Layer.

- a diamond array of parameter up/down and page left/right buttons surrounding the encoder for parameter selection, with the Enter and Shift buttons right next to it so you can hit them with another finger while holding the knob... and the Shift button should be lit all the time so it's easy to see. (And bigger. Use the same molded button for it (and Enter?) as is used for the Set List/WSEQ Steps buttons.)

The diamond array would require a small redesign of the front panel, which means new control layout, which means new circuit boards, which means it ain't gonna happen. But doubleclick and long-press recognition? And the ability to program any parameter to MIDI control rather than functions exposed on the front panel? Having the Shift button dimly lit all the time (brighter when it's been doubleclicked)? That's software stuff. Time and effort, yes, but no new hardware at all. So we can hope.

I don't know anything about Korg's plans for what comes after the wavestate... whether it's going to have another model at all. But if I had to make a guess, my money wouldn't be on any "pro" version that cost more to make and constituted a bigger financial risk, not with those other prototype keyboards that they showed behind glass at the last NAMM Show on the way. No, I'm betting that they go the route of the minilogue xd and put one out with no keyboard at all, maybe even with Bluetooth so you can play it from a microKEY Air. I'd buy one of those for sure.

Okay, enough gritching about the few things that irritated me. The rest of the synth is actually pretty damn cool, and it's time for me to focus on that. See you all soon!

mike

Last edited by Dr Mike Metlay; 09/17/20 02:39 AM.

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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3060712 09/01/20 09:09 PM
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Regarding double-click: When I first joined Korg (in 1996) I brought over my Ensoniq TS-10 to show them some interface ideas that I really wanted to adopt. Over 15 years later I had not been able to convince them to adopt double-click functionality!! So I'm glad to see that they finally dipped a toe into those waters. It can be such a helpful and intuitive way to add functionality to an interface. Baby steps, huh?

Jerry

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
jerrythek #3060728 09/01/20 10:14 PM
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Originally Posted by jerrythek
Regarding double-click: When I first joined Korg (in 1996) I brought over my Ensoniq TS-10 to show them some interface ideas that I really wanted to adopt. Over 15 years later I had not been able to convince them to adopt double-click functionality!! So I'm glad to see that they finally dipped a toe into those waters. It can be such a helpful and intuitive way to add functionality to an interface. Baby steps, huh?

Jerry
Baby steps indeed, but potentially so useful. I am trying hard not to become obsessed with these few little easily-fixed things... the rest of the synth really is pretty remarkable, as I hope to show.


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Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3060745 09/01/20 11:44 PM
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At the 2020 NAMM show the product designer said that his original concept was a full blown synth with tons of knobs, a large display, a 5 octave keyboard with velocity and AT and some other details I don’t recall. He also said when he presented it to Korg they immediately responded with that’s great, now give us the same functionality but in a package that’s extremely affordable.

Im paraphrasing but that was the gist of the conversation. I too would be surprised if we ever see a more upscale version.

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Markyboard #3060905 09/02/20 07:51 PM
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Originally Posted by Markyboard
At the 2020 NAMM show the product designer said that his original concept was a full blown synth with tons of knobs, a large display, a 5 octave keyboard with velocity and AT and some other details I don’t recall. He also said when he presented it to Korg they immediately responded with that’s great, now give us the same functionality but in a package that’s extremely affordable.

Im paraphrasing but that was the gist of the conversation. I too would be surprised if we ever see a more upscale version.

I believe it happened very, very close to that, absolutely -- if not just like that, which I base on my own experience in design engineering and dealing with marketing. It also fits with Korg's current business model. Now, if Korg had made a much cheaper version of the Kronos, for example, at the same price point as the Wavestate to go along with the high-end workstation models, I'd have truly considered it, crappy keys or module version, no sequencer, or what not. I just could never afford the Kronos, even their somewhat scaled down models. I've got a weighted 88-key Korg workstation, and several semi-weighted 61-key synths. And really, the only thing that has kept me from buying the Wavestate right now is that I don't want nor do I need and have the space for a 37-key synth. I'd buy a module/desktop version, with or without most of the knobs, in a heartbeat.

I wish I had the skills to chop up the Wavestate and make a completely custom module out of it -- I'm thinking purple and silver for colors will do nicely! I'm pretty sure a bigger screen could be added, possibly with some sort of additional software added. But I don't have those skills. So I'll be one of the first hundred or so people to pre-order a desktop/module Wavestate if it is ever announced. Meanwhile, maybe Korg would consider returning to their concept of Korg Komponents, and develop a five-octave synth chassis that you could use with multiple synths... just swap out a board, and off you go. That would be heavenly...

Re: In the Lab: Meet the Korg wavestate!
Dr Mike Metlay #3062601 09/15/20 04:44 PM
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At least one person has posted a picture of a Wavestate with a chopped keyboard and custom knobs.


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