Back in 1988, digital synthesis, digital effects, and MIDI sequencing had all been around for a few years; it was just that short of mortgaging your house for a Synclavier, you couldn't buy them in a single box. But then Korg, a company that for five years had no answer to the dominance of the Yamaha DX7 and Roland D50, released their M1 keyboard. In doing so, they created the 'workstation' concept and leapt to the top of the keyboard premier league. You could argue that they've stayed there ever since. Modules notwithstanding, the M1 was followed by the T3, T2, and T1, which themselves begat the 01/W, 01/W Pro and 01/W Pro X. The other manufacturers strove mightily to catch up with Korg, and sometimes came up with excellent keyboard workstations, such as the Roland JV1000. Korg responded by moving... backwards. The 'X' series has been commercially successful, but no one can pretend that it represents the Next Big Thing.
Well, maybe Korg's engineers were just waiting for the next leap forward in cheap digital signal processing. Whatever the reason, the company has now defined the next generation of the workstation concept -- and despite the price, I think you're going to love it. The Trinity range will comprise four keyboards: the basic Trinity, the Trinity Plus, the Trinity Pro, and the top-of-the-range Trinity ProX. There are no fewer than four ways in which the Trinity series leaps way beyond anything else on the market: its user interface, effects, hard disk recording option, and Prophecy expansion board. So, let's look at what makes it so special...
In terms of both its physical and conceptual layouts, the Trinity closely echoes the 'T' and '01' series. There are Programs, Combis and a sequencer, plus the usual global and disk options. Indeed, if you've used one of Korg's earlier workstations, and you're happy to stick with Korg's tried and trusted methods of parameter selection and editing, you're going to be up and running on a Trinity within minutes.
One of the real breakthroughs is the large, touch-sensitive screen. Simply touch a parameter name or the icons for a fader or knob, and then edit using the data entry fader, the up/down buttons, the 10-key keypad, or the spinwheel. Alternatively (and this is the really cool way to go about matters) leave your finger resting on the screen for a few moments, and a large-scale representation of the control appears. This can then be moved up and down or rotated by just dragging your finger lightly across the screen. You can even re-size windows and slide things around to see what's underneath. And voice selection by touch is absolutely brilliant.
You won't believe the difference that this makes... it's so intuitive and straightforward that it rapidly feels as if you've owned the Trinity for years. Indeed, having played with the Trinity for just a few hours, I now get frustrated with every other synth I touch, because I poke my finger at the screen and nothing happens!
Although the touch screen is innovative and useful, it is also, in the final analysis, a luxury. On the other hand, the new effects section is what every workstation has been crying out for. The structure is quite unlike anything Korg have ever produced before, and it finally makes true multitimbrality a reality.
"Hold on," I hear you say, "haven't we had multitimbral synths for nearly a decade?" Well, no -- and the limitation has always been in the effects section. There was no instrument prior to the Trinity on which you could combine a flanged and chorused guitar patch with an overdriven, Leslie'd organ, a heavily gated snare drum, a piano with concert hall reverb, and a phased string ensemble. Whilst each sound was possible in isolation, a Combi (or Performance, or whatever the manufacturer called it) was limited to just two effects, and patches could only be directed to the effects busses. The Trinity changes all that. There are eight 'Insert' effects which can be included within any program and, entirely independent of these, there are two 'Master' effects busses for the grouped outputs.
You can assign the number of Insert effects you apply to each Program, as long as you don't exceed four per program or eight in total. There are 28 mono (size 1) effects, 51 stereo (size 2) effects, and 18 of the more complex size 4s, for a remarkable total of 97. And first impressions suggest that they're going to be great. For example, there's no obvious granularity as the reverbs decay, the choruses are deep and swirly, the EQs are powerful and flexible, and the remarkably realistic Leslie is as convincing as the one on Korg's excellent G4 rotary speaker module (reviewed in September 1994's SOS).
Then there are the Master effects, grouped into two sections: one with seven reverbs and delay effects, the other a modulation section with flanger, phaser, multi-tap, ensemble, and chorus. If you include the master EQs, that's a final total of 110 effects. What's more, in Combi and sequencer modes, you can group the audio channels onto eight effects busses, wringing the greatest flexibility and power from the available facilities. While some of this is complex, nothing is actually difficult, although there's certainly a lot of it. And, while the Trinity is not perfect (in the sense that it has two effects for each of the 16 channels) it's a huge step forward. Long live DSP!
Much has been made of the flexibility of the latest integrated sequencing/hard disk recording packages, not least within these pages. While the power of such systems cannot be denied, there is also no avoiding the fact that you require a lot of equipment -- sound sources, effects units, the recording package, a well-specified hard disk and expensive input/output hardware.
Now consider a single instrument that integrates all of these functions. If you can get non-sequenced sounds such as guitars and vocals onto the instrument's hard disk, you have the basis of a complete recording system. If your effects and signal routing are flexible enough, CD pre-mastering will need little more than a DAT machine and some talent.
Yep, quelle surprise -- we're talking about the Trinity again. The hard disk option (expected early in 1996) will offer four tracks of hard disk recording and editing, analogue and S/PDIF digital inputs and outputs, electrical and optical ADAT interfaces, and a SCSI expansion port. Right now, nobody appears to be sure whether the basic SCSI drive, offering 4 x 30 minutes of recording, will reside inside the Trinity, but it seems likely. Either way, the editor (being written by the guys who developed the £23,000 Korg SoundLink hard disk recording system) will be fully integrated with and synchronised to the 60,000 event, 16-part, 192 ppqn sequencer. Tracks on disk will be treated as MIDI sequences, and will have access to all the Trinity's insert effects, master effects, and groups.
Although I wrote this preview after playing with an unfinished Trinity for a few hours, the new tone generator chip was carved in stone (literally, I suppose) and the PCM data was already finalised. Surprisingly, the PCMs are completely new 16-bit, 48kHz samples occupying 24Mb of ROM. However, since 2:1 data compression has been used, these are equivalent to 48Mb of samples held in conventional RAM.
The PCM data includes well over 1,000 individual samples comprising 374 multisamples. Consequently, there's not enough room in the 256-program RAM to utilise all the samples. Indeed, more than 100 PCMs are lying unloved in the recesses of the Trinity's memory, just waiting to be discovered. Although a detailed review of the sound generation and editing will have to wait, I'm already satisfied that this is Korg's best-sounding PCM synth yet -- which is hardly surprising, as it also features both of the Prophecy's 24dB/octave resonant filters. Even without the 01/W's waveshaping, it's clear, bright, and snappy, and in the sonic department, it certainly provides long-awaited competition for Roland's sparkling 'JV' series.
That's still not all. There's bags of expansion potential: a 8Mb flash RAM will load Akai samples as well as Korg PCMs, and offers an extra 256 program locations. Obviously, the number of additional samples will depend upon the length of the sounds being loaded, but all such sounds will be treated as internal PCMs to which filtering, insert effects and master effects can be applied.
There's also a massive internal library of 258 drum PCMs. These can be inserted into 12 programmable 'kits', each of which can have up to four effects applied to it. Each drum has its own panning and send to the filter, plus a velocity switch that allows you to switch between two percussion sounds on the same note. Roland R8 users have been reaping the benefits of this idea for years -- it's good to see a workstation taking it on.
The first shipment of Trinities (Trinitys?) is due at the end of October, and at £2,395 for the basic model, and a projected £2,700 for the Trinity Plus, they're not going to hang around for long. Naturally, SOS will bring you a full review as soon as a Trinity finds its way into our hands. Until then, keep salivating!
Several of the Trinity models will include the sound generator board from a Korg Prophecy -- the mind-bogglingly powerful physical modelling monosynth (see review in last month's SOS) that offers nine distinct methods of synthesis. Supplied with the Trinity Plus, Pro Plus, and Pro X, the Prophecy board will produce sounds that you'll be able to include within Combis, and which will have access to all the effects busses. Using the expansion will differ from the original keyboard in only three areas. Firstly, the dedicated Prophecy effects will be lost, although whether this will prove to be a limitation or an enhancement remains to be seen. Secondly, the Trinity lacks the 'log' controller and programmable knobs of the Prophecy synth. And, finally, there's the price. Hardly expensive in the first place, the Prophecy retails for £995. Included within a Trinity, the price will be a mere £300...
Of course, nothing in life is perfect, not even a Trinity. The choice of 48kHz sampling for the disk editor seems a tad daft, particularly since most users will be working towards CD pre-mastering rather than audio post. And the analogue inputs don't act like a Wavestation's, so you can't access the effects directly (although you might be able to monitor the hard disk 'record' inputs and spin those through the effects -- stay tuned). Furthermore, there are only four outputs. Korg could correct the software problems because the operating system is held in flash RAM, which can be re-loaded at any time. The hardware limitations are another matter, and we'll investigate them more fully next time.
Trinity Plus £2,700
Trinity Pro TBA
Trinity Pro X TBA
Prophecy 'Plus' upgrade TBA
HD/Editor upgrade TBA
Prices include VAT.
£ For Trinity prices, see the box below.
A Korg UK, 9 Newmarket Court, Kingston, Milton Keynes MK10 0AU.
T 01908 857100.
F 01908 857199.