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ARP 2600 FS

Semi-modular Synthesizer
By Gordon Reid

ARP 2600 FS

Korg's painstaking recreation of the legendary ARP 2600 may be even better than the original...

Rumours regarding Korg's plans to resurrect the ARP 2600 started circulating at the NAMM exhibition in January 2015, a unit of Planck time (the delay between a New York traffic light turning green and the cabbie behind you sounding his horn) after Korg announced their recreation of the ARP Odyssey. This wasn't altogether surprising; despite being disfigured by Emperor Zorg's fiendish Shrink-o-matic ray, the miniature Odyssey caused an immediate stir and it wasn't long before people were wandering around the show trying to sound knowledgeable by muttering names such as 2600, ProSoloist and Quadra. The baby Odyssey sold well, as did the desktop module that followed in 2016, while a limited number of full-sized units were snapped up in 2017 before the Odyssey FS went into full production in 2018, so it's no surprise that the rumours of Korg's interest in resurrecting other ARP synthesizers refused to go away.

In the summer of 2019, I received a call from Korg UK inviting me to help evaluate a working prototype of their new 2600. So I loaded my vintage 2600P (built in late '71 or thereabouts) together with the 3620 duophonic keyboard with which I use it and headed off to Korg's top-secret underground laboratory. Once there, I tested the sound-generating and sound-shaping modules of the prototype and attempted to duplicate patches on both synthesizers to try to quantify the differences between them. I then had to try to judge whether these differences were consequences of the huge age gap between the two, of differences in calibration, or of underlying differences introduced when recreating a 1971 design using 2019 technology. At the end of the exercise I made a video to discuss what I had found, and my first-born was taken hostage to ensure my silence in the ensuing months.

Shortly before Jean Michel Jarre inexplicably blurted out the news that Korg were indeed on the cusp of announcing a 'KARP' 2600, the first production 2600 FS in the UK together with its 3620 keyboard was delivered to me for testing. Carrying these to the studio, I was taken by how heavy they seemed. Yes, I know that I'm getting older, but both the keyboard and main unit seemed to be heavier than I remembered the originals to be, and so it proved, with the main cabinet weighing 2kg more than my 2600P and the keyboard proving to be 1kg chunkier than the original 3620. Nonetheless, the cosmetic accuracy of the recreations is remarkable, and very much to Korg's credit. There are small differences in the hardware — handles, clips and so on — but none of this matters; notwithstanding the extra weight, the 2600 FS and its 3620 look and feel just like their inspirations. This was a very good start.

The 2600 Main Cabinet

Setting up the 2600 FS was a joy, not least because the lid now contains two boxes that hold the mains cable, the keyboard cable (which isn't compatible with vintage units), a large number of 3.5mm patch leads, and whatever else you might need. This may sound like a trivial improvement, but it's not. If you've ever gigged with a 2600 you'll know that you need to take an accessory case (or, more likely, a carrier bag) full of the bits'n'bobs you need in order to use it. With Korg's design you're much less likely to arrive at the venue without your cables!

Having placed the clone and the original synth next to one another, it was immediately apparent that — notwithstanding some extra features that I'll discuss shortly — Korg's main cabinet is an incredibly accurate recreation of the original. The chaps at the company also assure me that the electronics that lie behind the panel are accurate recreations of the original circuits, not using original components but modern equivalents that respond in the same way as those available nearly five decades ago. Consequently, the three oscillators offer the same range of waveforms and audio/LFO frequency options as before, as well as the same CV inputs. The same waveforms are pre-patched to the five-channel mixer that lies before the low-pass filter and these can (again as before) be overridden by patching. The same AC/DC-coupled ring...

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Published March 2020