« Synthesizer Library Podcast

Episode 007 - Korg Poly 800

Published: Nov 05, 2015 by Adam Anderson

The Korg Poly 800 analog synthesizer is a favorite among tinkerers for its ease of modification. But how does the stock instrument stack up?
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Show Notes

Overview

The Korg Poly 800 features two Digitally Controlled Oscillators (DCO) each with a dedicated Envelope Generator (EG). These can be mixed with its noise generator and passed through its 24db/octave low-pass filter. The noise and filter can be controlled by a third EG. The pitch of the DCOs and cutoff frequency of the filter can be modulated with a triangle-wave LFO in the “MG” section. Onboard chorus fattens up the sound nicely.

That’s a lot of synth considering the prices in 2015. So what are the drawbacks?

Frustrations

Editing sounds on the Poly 800 is easy, but not as quick as synths with more controls. The entire set of parameters along with their range of values are printed on the top of the instrument. It is almost like having the manual with you at all times. However, to edit any of those parameters, the user must type in the parameter id, then use the up/down buttons to reach the desired value. Again, not difficult, but not quick either.

Some of the modifications available add quicker, knob-per-function access to key functions like filter cutoff.

Mods are also available to improve the dismal MIDI implementation of the stock Poly 800. The stock instrument does not implement MIDI system exclusive (ie, for patch storage).

One drawback that hasn’t been solved by any mods I’ve seen is the non-velocity sensitive keyboard. It can be frustrating trying to perform with dynamics while having the instrument respond with the same volume always.

Why You’ll Love It

With all of that said, there may be a place for the Poly 800 in your collection. When prices are low enough, grab a Poly 800 if you enjoy drilling holes to add more pots. You’ll be glad it isn’t a more expensive synth if things don’t go quite right. But when it does go well, you’ll have a nice-sounding analog synthesizer to call your own.