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Powerhouse virtual vintage polysynth and production suite for iPad

By Phil O'Keefe

 

The original Korg Polysix was first released back in 1981. This six voice poly synth was one of the first affordable programmable polyphonic synthesizers with the ability to store patches to onboard memory locations - there were 32 patch memory slots in total. Although the Polysix was a single oscillator design and maybe not quite as fat sounding as some dual oscillator synths, it still provided a beefy sound courtesy of its analog voltage controlled oscillator and 4-pole voltage controlled filter. All six voices could be stacked in unison mode for extra thickening, and onboard chorus, ensemble and phaser effects allowed you to enhance the sound even further. It really was a breakthrough synth in its day, and it still remains popular on the vintage market.

The iPolysix is a virtual recreation of the vintage Polysix synth. The voice architecture is the same, and users who are familiar with the original synth will quickly feel at home with iPolysix. The iPolysix runs on iOS; specifically, on iPads (iPad 2 or later). It also works fine on the iPad mini. I tested version 1.1.2 of iPolysix on a 16GB iPad mini. I had no problems with the interface, even with the mini's smaller screen. However, it is not supported on the iPad or iPhone.

 

 

What You Need To Know

  • The iPolysix is a virtual recreation of the Korg Polysix analog synth from the early 80s. Like the original, it is a six note polyphonic, single oscillator, subtractive polysynth, with a fat and chewy sound that has lots of character.

 

  • iPolysix is more than just a virtual synth - it's a powerhouse production suite that includes two virtual iPolysix synths, two sequencers, a six-part drum machine, and an eight channel mixer.

 

  • The physical layout of the knobs is a bit different due to the format of the keyboard compared to  the size of the iPad screen, but the vibe is remarkably similar to working on the original synth, and those experienced with the original hardware will quickly acclimate to the virtual version. Even if you're new to the Polysix, the well-written online manual will get you up to speed quickly.

iPolysix.PNG

 

  • The drum machine uses the Polysix's sounds, and you can edit sounds in the same way as editing synth patches. The drum machine supports up to six simultaneous parts (separate drum "sounds"), and has its own 64 step sequencer. There are 50 onboard drum sound presets, and you can also edit and store your own sounds.  

iPolysix Drums.PNG

 

  • Audiobus is supported, which means you can use iPolysix along with other apps on your iPad, such as Garageband; streaming audio from the iPolysix app into Garageband for recording.

 

  • Using iPolysix with an external MIDI keyboard or controller is easy as long as the controller has a USB MIDI port, but you'll need the Apple Lightning to USB Camera Adapter ($29 MSRP from Apple) or a similar cable to connect them together.

 

  • There are 28 different effects types built-in, including recreations of the original Polysix Chorus, Phase and Ensemble effects, but you also get distortions, ring mod, various delays, reverbs and other effects that were not included on the original hardware synth.

iPolysix Effects.PNG

 

 

Limitations

  • Like the original Polysix, the synths are polyphonic, but mono-timbrel, and can only play one patch at a time - you can't split the six note polyphony of each synth between a bass patch and a separate pad sound, although with two virtual synths, you can have two separate sounds going at once - one per each virtual synth.

 

  • Since the Polysix is the sound generator for the drum sounds, don't expect "real" sounding drums - they're all synthetic in nature. There's no way to "sample" your own drum sounds, and the onboard drums aren't samples of acoustic drum sounds.

 

  • It's only available on the iPad at this time. Hopefully Korg will consider porting it over to Android devices, and also to various plugin formats so you can use it in your computer DAW as a VST / AU / AAX plugin.

 

  • You might be able to get away with bus powering an external controller if it has low power draw, but don't count on it - I had to use a powered USB hub, or provide external power to my M-Audio Oxygen 8 V2 in order for it to work with iPolysix. However, once I did, it worked fine. To be fair, this is an Apple / hardware related limitation, and there's really nothing Korg can do about it.

 

Conclusions

By "app" standards, iPolysix isn't exactly cheap. The iPolysix is more expensive than a lot of "music making" apps - many of which are kind of toy-like. Make no mistake - this app is far from a toy. While I did not have an original Polysix available for direct, side-by-side comparisons, I've spent enough time with the hardware version to be able to say that Korg did a very good job at emulating the vibe and sound of the original synth. Some of the added features in the software version were unexpected, but welcome - while I prefer a keyboard interface, I have to admit I had a lot of fun playing around with the Kaoss pads too. And let's face it - two Polysix synths is better than one - and when you add in the drums, and the mixer, and the greatly enhanced collection of effects, and the Audiobus support… there is a lot of music-making power available here. Not just as something to have fun with when you're on the go, but good enough that I could easily see it being used for keyboard parts on pro quality recordings. It's easy to use, sounds great, and best of all, I had a lot of fun with it. It's a must-have app for any musician who owns an iPad.  

 

 

Resources

MSRP $29.99 - available from the Apple App / iTunes Store


Korg's iPolysix web page

http://www.korg.com/iPolysix

 

Apple Lightning to USB "Camera" adapter for use with external USB MIDI controllers
http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD821ZM/A/lightning-to-usb-camera-adapter

 

Korg iPolysix demo video

 

 

 

Phil\_OKeefe HC Bio Image.jpgPhil O'Keefe is a multi-instrumentalist, recording engineer / producer and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has engineered, produced and performed on countless recording sessions in a diverse range of styles, with artists such as Alien Ant Farm, Jules Day, Voodoo Glow Skulls, John McGill, Michael Knott and Alexa's Wish. He is a former featured monthly columnist for EQ magazine, and his articles and product reviews have also appeared in Keyboard, Electronic Musician and Guitar Player magazines. 

 

 

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