By Craig Anderton
When the original Legacy Collection appeared, with a virtualized MS-20, Polysix, and Wavestation—along with the MDE-X suite of effects and the "Legacy Cell" option (think of it as an environment for the MS-20/Polysix engines and effects) —I was delighted. I never had an MS-20 but always coveted one, my PolySix is getting long in the tooth, and I always figured I'd buy a Wavestation used...until I found out that most owners were of the "I'll get rid of my Wavestation when they pry it from my cold, dead hands" mindset. But thanks to the Legacy Collection, I had all three sitting right there in my computer—along with a hardware, hands-on programmer for the MS-20. Nice.
So when Korg came out with the Korg Legacy Collection—Digital Edition (KLCDE for short), hey, I had to check it out. Basically, it has a "modernized" M1 with all the expansion cards that were offered for it (that's a lot of sounds), an updated version of the virtual Wavestation with a lot more sounds and a much-requested resonant filter, and the MDE-X suite of effects. Granted, there's overlap with the original Legacy Collection. But apparently Korg felt the KLCDE needed to be a complete, useful set of plug-ins in its own right. Pricing details, including upgrade options, are available from Korg's online store. [Note: Since this review was written, each instrument is available individually, and as a collection of all six programs called the KORG Legacy Collection - Special Bundle; it sells for $199.99.]
The M1 was introduced in 1988, and popularized the ROMpler/workstation concept. Its sequencer timing was a bit shaky, but hey, the price was right and the sounds were solid. It went on to sell hundreds of thousands of units, making it one of the most popular synths of all time, and spawned a series of "M1-killer" keyboards from competitors that, well, got pretty much killed by the M1 instead. The M1's sounds live on, especially in house music, where the piano remains a staple decades after the instrument first appeared.
It was kind of a bear to program, as buttons and switches were kept to a minimum, which was the vogue back then ("just give me something affordable, I'm not into programming"). But in some ways it turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because Korg kept up a steady flow of expansion sounds—and they're all in the Digital Edition.
And there's another treat: A revamped interface that makes the M1 much easier to program, so let's get into that.
Before we get to dessert, we have to eat our vegetables and that's called copy protection. The KLCDE uses the Syncrosoft dongle, and my installation started with the manual's instructions to "Make sure that your computer is connected to the internet." Oooops...like many musicians, I won't let the internet get within 10 feet of my music computer. Unfortunately, there was no section on "Authorization using another computer," as is included in some other Syncrosoft-based programs. But I've been through this dance enough that I knew what to do—authorize the dongle using my laptop, then take the dongle over to my music computer and install the programs there.
Bottom line: You can authorize the dongle on a different computer with no worries, and if for some reason you're asked to install the Japanese language pack, you can just cancel out of that with no worries. But really, it's time for Syncrosoft to write a definitive, clear manual on how to use their copy protection, and provide it free of charge as boilerplate to all companies using this protocol. Individual companies could then modify the documentation for their own programs as needed.
Okay, now to dessert!
I really like the way Korg didn't just virtualize the M1, but re-invented it. Big-time. The programming interface for individual programs is broken down into multiple, tabbed pages: Easy (sort of a greatest hits page where you can adjust filter, envelope, pan, etc.), Oscillator, VDF (with resonant filter), VDA (amp), Control (for modulation generators, pitch bend, aftertouch, etc.), and Insert FX for the two effects (these are separate from the MDE-X effects, and different from the original M1). Click on an effect, and it shows not only the parameters, but a block diagram/routing chart.
There's also a browser, which takes on added significance given that you can choose programs from 21 of Korg's original M1 expansion cards (each with 50 programs and 50 combis), one new "KLC" card with new programs and combis specifically for the KLCDE, and four user cards where you can stuff your own programs and combis. Not only that, there's a search function that's like a cut-down version of Native Instruments' Kore, as you can show search results for 16 instrument families and 16 sonic characteristics. Selecting multiple characteristics narrows the search (e.g., a brass sound that's Fat, Acoustic, and intended for Dance/Techno yielded 8 results).
Also note that version 1.5 of the M1 (a free upgrade to registered users) adds T-Series compatibility and five extra T-series cards, which increases the sound arsenal by 200 programs, 209 Combis ,and 61 PCM waveforms.
Another helpful touch: The Preview button, which plays any one of six riffs so you can tweak without even having to play on the virtual keyboard (or a real one, for that matter).
There are also pages for managing Combis (multiple programs layered and zoned for frequency and velocity), Multis (eight channels of multi-timbral operation), and a Global page that includes alternate tunings, number of outputs, global MIDI filtering, and more. It's also worth noting that programs can be tweaked while in a Combi without affecting the original source program. Hey, why don't all synths do this?
The Big News here is the M1; the Wavestation is an updated version of the one in the original Legacy Collection (and the latest user-downloadable update adds a resonant filter), and ditto the MDE-X. Not to give them short shrift—they're great—but I've already covered the original versions in Keyboard magazine (August 2004 issue), so there's no need to re-invent the wheel.
And don't forget to check the link mentioned at the top of this article to find out the full story on the additional PCM data, patches, and performances contained in the six original optional ROM cards.
Well, I must say this collection is way more than I expected. I was never a huge M1 fan, but it's a whole different animal in the virtual world—it's easy to program (I love the MIDI learn function, too!) and has bucketloads of outstanding sounds. I'd also say the sound quality is better. I'm assuming the digital data is the same, but I think today's D/A converters are light years ahead of the 1988 M1 converters, and that probably accounts for the difference. I've never heard a "real" M1 with such an open, defined, spacious sound.
The vibe I get is that a group of M1 freaks got together in a vacation resort with an unlimited budget and were given carte blanche to do whatever they wanted. Now, I'm sure it didn't actually go down that way—but if it had, I doubt the results would be much different. Including all the card sounds is the topping on the ice cream; no "optional at extra cost" here. Couple that with the outstanding interface, throw in the superlative Wavestation, some overachieving effects, and what appears to be an ongoing commitment to adding updated features (make sure you check KorgUser.net for updates)—there's no question that Korg Legacy Collection Digital Edition is more than worth every penny.
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.