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Z1 review, preliminary


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Z1 is mine, and after one evening and a morning with it, I am extremly enthused, even in spite of its painfully obvious shortcomings and limitations, all of which I was aware of before I bought it. On the down side:


1. 12 note polyphony renders it limited for multimbral sequencing use, though I still think you can get some excellent two part stuff going on without over-taxing it.


2. With a bunch of very notable exceptions, a rather uninspired, even lame, collection of presets. I'll get to those subjective exceptions in just a moment. But if you just scroll through the presets tapping a few keys on this thing, you're liable to think you've made a terrible mistake.


3. Program changes take forever, realtively speaking. At home this is an irritation you can get used to. In performance use, I imagine it presents some real problems, but I can't believe anyone would use this board as the centerpiece of a live rig--it's not at all strong on bread and butter. However, as a dedicated lead machine, I think it would rock.


But the joy, the joy, the joy of the expressiveness of this thing. Unlike many of you, I have not spent years with my hands all over the real analogue and VA synths, so I have little to compare to except ROMplers and some store experience with the Nord 3 and the MS2000. But with all of the real time controls, and some pretty damn good modeling, this is by far the most expressive, playable thing I've ever had. X-Y pad implementation is not perfect. YOu can hear the stepping on a lot of filter sweeps, and some of the pitch effects are difficult to get under control, but on some, make that many, of the programs, the X-Y is just fantastic. Sometimes with X-Y hold on, sometimes with it off (obviously for picth-based effects, you leave it off so you snap back in tune). Oh man! Oh man!


Sounds: let's classify them the way the instrument does: VA sounds and modeled acoustic sounds.


VA: Out of the box, the pads sound great, which sucks 'cause I rarely like or use pads. One would be tempted to think of this as yet another Korg boards that does lovely evolving, spacey (sometimes disturbed) pads, and little else. But wait.


Synth leads: Love em! Maybe the single strongest department, imo. The hard lead sounds may not be as "fat" as on other VAs, and I know that's important on the current scene, but the rounder singing leads are wonderful, and those are the kinds of leads I like. They're full and soaring, and with the realtime controls, adding edge and bite and burbling weirdness is totally natural. Great.


The rest of the synth presets are, um, a pretty middling lot. One notable exception: though this synth has no full drum kits, a few of synthy single drums are wonderful. X-Y does mute and pitch slides on them, and it feels great, like playing a spectral tabla--very expressive, dynamic, complex rhythms possible with a hand on the X-Y.


Physical Modeling presets: I know Geoff much prefers this board as an analog modeler, and it is is easy to see why. Out of the box, the "real instrument" models sound like toys. Tonally, they can't measure up to good samples, and while in some cases the controllers are very cool, in others they too are kind of gimmicky, one trick pony expressive devices that are cool exactly three time. Then you realize only a block-headed trumpeter would do one of those crazy falls more than once a night.


That said, I see real potential with the mphysical modeling section. For me, the key is going to be to program them to make them less like an instrument emulation, more like a synth sound but with the expresslelements of the modeled instrument. I've already had some luck transorming the very playable solo violin patch with some resonance parameters. I want it to sound violin-ish but not "like a violin" if that makes any sesne. Why have a lead sound judges by proximity to another instrument when instead you can just make a cool lead sound?


There are lots of organs and EPs and Clavs, and they are a mixed lot, but nothing jumps out at you. I'm really hoping to be able to tweak some of these for more grit.


Modeled brass is actually pretty good. Plucked string is bad. Saxes are pretty funny. Bowed strong has some potential, as described above.


Some other observations:


Programming: I'd heard horror stories about its complexity and difficulty of programming, and frankly I don't see. I have never learned so quickly the basic layout of interface features (of course, that's really more an indication of an improvement in my general understanding of synth architecture). But really. it's pretty easy to get around. Maybe not a Nord 3, but I find it more transparent than my QS 8.


Effects: well you know Korg. You get plenty of opportnities to hear the effects prominently on almost every preset. They sound good. For live use, I would expect to use some outboard effects to beef things up. Sometimes I'm afraid to remove the effects and hear what homely truths might lie beneath. Since I have yet mixed it with my other instruments, I don't yet know how well its effected sounds will sit.


Keyboard. Suits me great. I think the Motif has my favorite synth action. Z1 is a little softer but feels good to me. Swiveling over from the QS 8, and back, is a disorienting experience but I forsee no problems with the action.


Overall impressions: remember, not only am I a kind of neophyte, but I've had less than 24 hours with it. I *don't* think it's this killer, best of breed tone maker. But call me a happy camper. This thing really makes me want to play and has already brought out things that surprise me.



Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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Glad you're enjoying you're Z1. Thing to remember about those singing tones is that they were the true mainstay of the Moog and Arp's of the past. They can come in handy. Enjoy the polyphony also; it used to be with that affordable machines that could play chords were really lousy with leads.

Have fun! :cool:


Q:What do you call a truck with nothing in the bed,nothing on the hitch, and room for more than three people in the cab? A:"A car"....
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I just re-read my initial post, and it is darn near illiterate. There is a word in there--expressellments or something like that. I have no idea what I meant by that. Keep in mind I have a Masters in English and taught writing at a college for ten years, make my living writing proposals, articles, multimedia scripts and such even today. This is how much I like my Z1. "Korg Z1: makes you sputter like a fool."
Check out the Sweet Clementines CD at bandcamp
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John, I'm glad you're enjoying your Z1. It's always been ironic to me that a synth with so many mediocre factory sounds is so easy to tweak into something very satisfying! I, too, love the expressiveness of it and I rarely use mine in a static way.


I like your idea of making the physical modeling patches sound surreal rather than as the cheap imitations they often are. Also, check out the synth bass patches, with a few knob twists, they can be very satisfying as well.


Finally, I agree with Markyboard. Get the six-voice expansion card. You'll get a lot more multitimbral use out of this board if you do.


Have fun,



Enthusiasm powers the world.


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