Tuesday, February 6, 2018

New Equipment: Korg DW-8000

From 1985, yo!
Waaaaay back when I was first on the lookout for a synthesizer ('95?), and all I had at my disposal was a cheap-and-cheerful 'Realistic' brand PCM keyboard, I spotted what I'm pretty sure was one of these (or perhaps the 6-voice model, the DW-6000) in a pawn shop. Fate conspired to not let me have it, and in all honesty it's probably just as well: I wouldn't have known what the hell to do with it at the time.

Lately this synth has been in my consciousness, thanks to various demonstration videos and online discussions that have come my way. Then, lo and behold, the very synth pictured above (including the funky-looking road case) came up for sale a few hundred kilometers away. So I made an offer and it was put on the bus. This post is not so much a review as some observations, my first impressions of the machine, and how it compares to some similar synths I already own.

I own two synths that share a similar architecture and vintage to this: the Roland HS-60/Juno-106, and Roland Alpha Juno-1. So I was expecting something of a mish-mash of these with some characteristics of its own, and so far that is my impression. Let me expand on that.

The DW-8000 is damn near the same size and weight of the HS-60 (ie. it weighs as much as a small planet), and the plastic upper casing reminds me so much of the Juno-1. The Junos mentioned both have DCOs (Digitally Controlled Oscillators) paired with analog signal-paths (amp, filter, etc...). Thanks to some kind of Voodoo, the DW-8000 has sixteen digital waveforms to serve as sound sources, along with an analog amp and filter.

The HS-60 has a marvelous resonant filter with self-oscillation; that is, if you turn the resonance up you get a piercing sine-wave added into the mix. The Juno-1 did away with this feature, which made things just a little bit lacklustre for me. I'm happy to say the DW-8000's filter does self-oscillate, and that's another mark in its favour.

There's not much point in comparing the controls of the DW-8000 to those on the HS-60, but there are similarities to the Juno-1: a series of buttons for choosing parameters paired with one master control for affecting changes to these parameters: a weighted dial (the 'Alpha Dial') on the Juno-1, and a slider on the DW. I have to say that I prefer the slider, and have not found my initial foray into programming the DW-8000 as tedious as expected.

If I have something negative to say about the DW-8000 it's about the keys. They are overly noisy (mechanically), and the spring action (though quick) is like you might find on a cheap organ. Perhaps I'll get used to it.

My particular DW-8000 still has the original (30 year-old) lithium battery for keeping the patch storage alive. One of my first priorities is to fit a new one. It also has a cigarette burn in the upper two keys that dates back to pre-1988 (when the previous owner bought it). I'm going to assume it also came from a smoker's studio, because it was covered in a film of brown tar when I acquired it (the innards are similarly stricken).

Innards. Also note the rust spots.
With my HS-60 in need of new voice chips, the DW-8000 has taken its place in the studio for now. I look forward to getting to know its sound and character through future projects.

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