Monday, February 17, 2014

Korg announces ARP Odyssey Remake

Yup, I can hardly believe I wrote that title.  Korg has announced a new remake, but not from their own line-- they've dipped into ARP's synths, and are releasing a remake of the ARP Odyssey, one of the best synthesizers in history.

The ARP Odyssey is considered one of the best mono synths of all time, and the prices that are floating around eBay for one second hand demonstrate the demand for such a warm beast.  Korg has taken on Mr. David Friend, one of the original founders of ARP, to be the chief advisor for the recreation.

Not much information is known now-- only a picture of the prototype exists.  It's not clear whether the synth is full size, or with mini keys.  Expected release date is September 2014.  Stay tuned for more news until then!

Full press release:
"Tokyo, Japan - February 17, 2014 - KORG INC. is proud to announce that a faithful recreation of the legendary 1970s analog synthesiser, the ARP Odyssey, is being developed by Korg for release later in 2014. 

The ARP Odyssey was released in 1972 by ARP Instruments, Inc. and quickly became famous for its unique rich sound and innovative performance controls. It was a staple for many recording and performing musicians worldwide and was used on countless hit records over many years. The Odyssey was one of the highlights of the ARP company and became a long selling product. With slight updates and improvements it was sold through to 1981. 

Korg is also proud to welcome Mr David Friend as our chief advisor on the Odyssey. David Friend established ARP Instruments, Inc. along with Alan Robert Pearlman and is a past president of ARP Instruments, Inc. He was also the lead designer of the original Odyssey in addition to designing or co-designing many other products. 

After ARP, Mr Friend became a successful technology entrepreneur. In 2010, he was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in the Emerging Technology category for the New England Region, he has been a lecturer at MIT's Sloan School of Management and is now Chairman & CEO of Carbonite, Inc. He has been a trustee of the New England Conservatory and Berklee College of Music. 

In the last few years, KORG INC. has released several top selling analog synthesizers such as the monotrons series, the monotribe, the volca series and the hugely successful MS-20 mini, a faithful fully analog recreation of the 1978 MS-20. With Korg's technology capabilities and planning ability for analog synthesizers, and in collaboration with David Friend, we believe the legendary ARP Odyssey will become a "must have" for an all new generation of music makers. 

The ARP Odyssey is scheduled for release in September 2014. - 

See more at:"

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Going forward to go backward: Will Roland's AIRA series be a major hit or total miss?

The AIRA series, over-exposed to show detail

Rumors have been bouncing around on what Roland's new AIRA series could be, but I've been staying off the topic since Roland's mysterious unveils have not been what the synth community wants.  Furthermore, the initial news that the AIRAs would be digital quickly crushed the hopes that the line would be analog recreations of their popular 80s analog drum machines and synths, a la the Korg MS-20 Mini.

The most recent pictures unveil the true nature of each of the AIRAs, however-- a synthesizer called the System-1, a 303-like synth called the TB-3 Touch Bass, a vocal effect called the VT-3 Vocal Transformer, and a drum machine called the TR-8 Rhythm Performer.  The System-1 seems to be knob encrusted, with every standard synth knob accounted for, albeit with a 25 key keyboard.  The TB-3 appears to be light-up with a 16 step sequencer and some form of memory (I actually think the look of the keys is pretty cool-- see the picture below).  The VT-3 is the most mysterious, with some faders and a large knob with settings like "Vocoder", "Lead", "Bass", and "Auto Pitch'.  Finally, the TR-8 looks like a drum machine with volume-per-part faders, parameters for each sound, but also with a large knob that looks like it changes sound banks.  It's also worth noting it's called the "Rhythm Performer", not "Rhythm Composer" like the traditional 808 and 909, so perhaps it's hiding some nifty performance secrets.

So why does all of this matter to me, as a pretty analog-biased blogger?  Well, the AIRAs are a new technology for Roland, called Analog Circuit Behavior, or ACB.  ACB is not the standard "sample the instrument!" technology we're used to.  ACB works by modeling each component of the source of the sound-- so if Roland wanted to do a new 808 kick drum, they wouldn't sample the kick drum at different levels and settings and extrapolate in between those settings-- they would write equations for each resistor, capacitor, and transistor that goes into making the sound on that drum.  This same sort of technology was used for U-HE's Diva, which was heavily praised for its ability to capture analog-type sounds all within a plugin.  The AIRA series might just have a shot at doing the same, but instead of having this all in your computer, it's locked in the box of each of these new sound modules, with no ties to CPU, and portability, and immediacy for use live.

The most troubling question I find myself asking through all of this is, can Roland really do it at a good enough price?  Analog has become a huge standard in the past couple of years, and so many other synth companies have jumped on the bandwagon, so to speak-- Novation has the Bass Station II, Korg has the Volca line, Arturia jumped from pure digital lineage to the analog world.  The people crave the sound of analog, whether they think they know that it is or not.  So how can digital Rolands, which seem to be marketed at the same consumer base, make a splash?

My hope is that the fact that Roland is a big enough company with good enough R&D to find a good enough way to code all of this rich analog lineage into a chip inexpensive enough to shell out the AIRAs at a bargain.  The knobs and case are pretty much what you'd expect from a Korg or Arturia, so Roland is fighting on the inside, and it seems like a really tight race, considering there is a $300 MicroBrute out there.

Roland is trying to outsmart the industry with the AIRAs-- they've always said that they refuse to go backward, and always want to look forward to new technology.  The AIRAs are in some way a contradiction of that, but in the true spirit of looking forward.  Can the coded version of analog circuits beat out true analog competition?

What would you pay for an AIRA?  I can only think these stand a change if they're at the $300 level.  But I am hoping for the best-- the AIRAs look like a great design from the outside, and if they sound good and are fun to play, they might just restore some faith in the former synth giant.

Be sure to check out some videos below on the AIRAs and ACB.

(Pictures via CreateDigitalMusic)