Fresh from recreating the CS80, Black Corporation set their sights on another classic polysynth...
There's a bit of a hierarchy for vintage polysynth fanatics. After the low-cost instruments such as the Polysix and Juno 60 you move on to moderately accessible stuff such as the Jupiter 6 and the Prophet 5, then upward through increasingly rare and expensive instruments such as the Synthex and the CS80 until you reach the unobtainium that is the Korg PS3300 and the Yamaha GX1. But there's another, less well-known but equally unobtainable, instrument at the top end of this scale, not least because only 30 or so were built and anybody who has a working one is more likely to bequeath it than sell it. It's the RSF Polykobol II, the inspiration behind the Black Corporation Kijimi.
Before going further, it's important to debunk statements made elsewhere that the Kijimi is a 'Replica of the RSF Polykobol II'. To their credit, the chaps at Black Corporation are not claiming this. While I was writing this review, the company's Business Manager wrote to me, "Kijimi, unlike Deckard's Dream, is not really a full-on remake and shouldn't be expected to sound like anything it was inspired by. With Kijimi, we started with a little inspirational help, but then put our own spin on everything else." Ignoring the fact that the Polykobol II is a huge keyboard whereas the Kijimi is a 4U rackmount, even a brief glance at the two synths' control panels confirms this. The Kijimi boasts a second LFO, offers different modulation options, loses the Polykobol II's arpeggiator and sequencer and, significantly, loses its bi-timbral architecture. Consequently, there's no point in writing this review with more than a passing nod to the Polykobol II. Instead, let's look at it with fresh eyes and see what it offers.
The Kijimi is an 8-voice polysynth comprising an analogue signal path controlled by digital contours and LFOs. There are two oscillators per voice, each based upon the recent AS3340 chips that recreate the CEM3340 used in vintage polysynths such as the Memorymoog and many Prophets. Since the Polykobol II's oscillators were based upon the µa726 used in the last revision of the original Minimoog it's unlikely that the underlying sounds of the Kijimi and the Polykobol II will be identical. But how would you confirm or disprove this? More to the point, does it matter? I would suggest that it doesn't.
Each oscillator offers a tuning range of ±24 semitones, while VCO2 has a fine-tuning range of ±1 semitone to allow you to create the usual detuned sounds. In addition, there's a button called Key Off that allows you to disconnect either VCO1 or VCO2 or both from the keyboard. Disconnecting one is useful — the same feature was offered as far back as the Prophet 5 — but I'm not sure what value the second and third options offer.
The facility that most sets the Kijimi apart from other polysynths is its waveform selection. The panel shows seven waves, and you can morph between these using either the front panel knob or by applying modulation. Confining the movement to the first six waves produces a rich timbral modulation that can't be obtained on synths that offer discrete waveforms. The seventh wave is a dedicated PWM option and, although you can sweep from the narrow pulse to this (and back again) you may obtain a slight audio bump as you do so, so it's best to treat this as a separate facility.
VCO1 has just four volume levels — off, 1/3, 2/3 and 1 — whereas VCO2 has a more usual volume control. Strange though this arrangement is, it allows you to mix the oscillators freely. A sub-oscillator is also provided and, even though this sits in the VCO1 section, it generates a signal one oscillator down from the outputs of both VCO1 and VCO2, which means that it generates nothing if the...