The look and feel of the Wavestate echoes Korg's Minilogue series. Most noticeably, it's only as wide as its 37 full-sized keys, so its performance wheels are to be found behind the keyboard rather than next to it. Now, I'm a tolerant chap and I'm comfortable finding lightweight 37-note keyboards on low-cost monosynths. I can even live with a lack of aftertouch on low-cost polysynths. (Actually, that's a lie. I can't.) But on a state–of–the–art synth like the Wavestate? That baffles me. I would have been happier with a 61-note pressure-sensitive keyboard or a module, but not a weeny little instrument on which you can't play a decent chord. I accept that not everyone uses synths in the same way, but I'll hark back to an argument that I've made in the past; a small synth satisfies those who need a small synth but, with a few exceptions, a larger one satisfies everyone. Maybe Korg believe that its customers would prefer something that will fit into unfeasibly small spaces but, whatever the reason for this decision, I think that it's a mistake.
The rest of the physical design is equally curious. I have no problem with plastic cases for modern, low-cost synthesizers because I recognise the benefits in terms of weight and manageability, but this one is odd. For example, the plastic shelf that extends beyond the plate on which the controls are mounted has pyramid-shaped dimples, so it risks being a dust-trap. More to the point, why doesn't the plate cover the whole of the top surface as it does on the Minilogues? And why do Korg's lower-cost synths use protruding Allen bolts to secure their control panels? They may look trendy, but you're going to end up resenting them.
On the bright side, the Wavestate's knobby control panel is a huge step forward from the original Wavestation's programming system, making it possible for players to experiment much more easily and fruitfully. It remains a long way from the 'one function per knob' control surfaces to which virtual analogue synths aspire, and there are still menus to navigate if you want to get the best from the synth but, while the screen is small, the font is large, so I don't envisage any problems. Having said that, a larger screen would have been nice so that you could view the wave sequences as they're depicted in Korg's blurb. Maybe that will eventually appear on a larger model. Until then, deterministic programming will remain a time consuming exercise, albeit a fun one, so I expect that most players will create new sounds by twisting the knobs — especially the extraordinarily white Mod Knobs — and hearing what happens. To be fair, it took me a while to understand the Wavestate fully, so I wouldn't blame anyone for taking this approach. But after a week or three I was whizzing around it with aplomb, programming Wave Sequences that drove sounds ranging from subtly evolving pads to total messes of sonic nonsense. But if you hit a brick wall (not that I would ever admit to that, of course) there's also the prominent Randomise function. To obtain meaningful results from this, you can limit its scope to specific aspects of a sound and choose a maximum amount of randomisation. Having done so, I obtained some rather pleasing results from it that I saved as new Performances. When I didn't like what it generated the original remained unaffected, so no harm was done.
The Wavestate is shipped with a substantial library of permanent sounds, with 240 Performances, 740 Programs and 1000 Wave Sequences. In addition to being able to save individual Programs, Wave Sequences and Lanes, there's also room for tens of thousands of new Performances, each including its own Programs, Wave Sequences and Lanes. This means that the perennial problem of adjusting a patch (or Program, or whatever) for the benefit of one Performance and consequently damaging another no longer exists. (Hurray!) You can also place Performances into Set Lists (four banks of 16) for easier access and, again, there's no practical limit to the number of these lists that you can save.
Unfortunately, finding PCMs and Performances on the Wavestate isn't as simple as it could be, in part because there are so many of them, and in part because the system for finding them is far from the most sophisticated I've seen. Korg are promising a dedicated librarian and this will be a welcome addition because, without it, you'll find yourself doing a lot of scrolling. In principle, you can create User Categories to aid selection, but nowhere could I find a way to do so. Perhaps I was being a numpty, but I prefer to believe that there was still some firmware to be written for the review unit.
Wave Sequencing 2.0 is not as daunting as it seems and once I had gotten to grips with it I was able to create sounds that I couldn't obtain from any other synthesizer.
But what of the sounds themselves? In truth, it would be daft to try to encapsulate them in just a few words. From high-quality workstation-style patches, to evolving pads, to vector synthesis using the original VS waveforms, to emulations of wavetable synthesis, to sounds reminiscent of Roland's LAS synthesis, to emulations of analogue synths, to EDM and hardcore beats, through to wave sequences that are almost auto-accompaniments, it's all in there. Sure, it's sometimes not as deep as the Wavestation, and it lacks its predecessor's oscillator sync (which is inevitable given that there's only one wave per Voice) but it can generate a much wider palette of sounds and, perhaps as a consequence of higher sample rates and greater DSP power, it's brighter and sparklier than the Wavestation. It also offers twice the maximum polyphony of the Wavestation, with up to 64 stereo notes if you confine yourself to using a single Layer in a Performance. Alternatively, you can choose a different MIDI channel for each Layer to make the Performance four-part multitimbral, or trade off the use of multiple Layers per sound against multitimbrality as you choose.
If you want to get a flavour for some of the more unusual uses to which Wave Sequencing can be put, try presets such as In The Running, which emulates Pink Floyd's track 'On The Run', or Jacinto, which does an even better job of recalling the Secret World Live version of Peter Gabriel's track 'San Jacinto', splitting the keyboard with the sequence in the upper octave and Tony Levin's Chapman Stick in the lower two. Then there's Box Of Chocolates (so named, I assume, because you never know what you're gonna get), which demonstrates how you can create weird velocity switching scenarios within a Performance. Alternatively, try arpeggiating a Wave Sequenced Performance and then tweaking the Mod Knobs as it plays, or creating a sound based upon a single Wave passed through the Multi Filter using one of the configurations that uses both positive and negative polarity, and then sweeping the filter. If you think that Wave Sequencing is just for one-finger backing tracks, think again.
Now we come to a small number of issues that I would like to raise with Korg. The first is the Wavestate's implementation of MIDI Release Velocity. This is transmitted within a range of 1-64 and, while it's received within the full range of 0-127, the incoming value is clipped at 64. I can't imagine what the reason for this might be, but I would like to know. The second is a complaint about the control surface. There are numerous Shift functions that some players will want to adjust while playing live, but which they won't be able to reach with one hand while playing with the other. Thirdly, I was able to make the Wavestate lock up on one occasion, whereupon pulling the plug was the only way to bring it back to life. I was experimenting with the arpeggiator and some Wave Sequences at the time, and I guess that the pre-release firmware just threw its hands up in horror and went on strike. All being well, I doubt that you'll encounter this on a production model.
I'd like to finish with a big thumbs-up for the Wavestate's Smooth Sound Transitions. These mean that any existing held notes continue to sound correctly — including their effects — when you change Performances, which is a huge benefit for gigging musicians. Thank you, Mr Korg.
Whether you're drawn to their pads, their instantly recognisable rhythmic patches, or less widely utilised sounds such as their fabulous lead synths, there remains something a bit special about the Wavestation family, so I've been waiting for a descendent for many years. Sure, the OASYS and Kronos covered some of that ground, and the Legacy soft synth was great, but none of these replace the Wavestation itself. Neither does the Wavestate, either in terms of its synth engine or its performance capabilities. Even ignoring the huge changes in Wave Sequencing 2.0, one would be trying to replace a 61-note parameter-access synth with four oscillators and a single non-resonant low-pass filter per voice with a 37-note knob-infested synth offering just a single oscillator but a selection of over two dozen resonant filter choices per voice. It's therefore clear that, with a respectful nod to the past, the Wavestate should be considered as a new and desirable instrument in its own right rather than a Wavestation MkII.
I'm probably being presumptuous, but what we now need is a Prologue-sized model with a wider keyboard, aftertouch, lots of expression pedal inputs, a larger screen and more facilities exposed on the control panel. A Korg Prostate, perhaps! It would cost more — probably about the same amount as any other serious, professional synth — but I'm sure that there would be a demand for it. Until then, and despite my reservations, I think that the Wavestate could be a huge success. Wave Sequencing 2.0 is not as daunting as it seems and once I had gotten to grips with it I was able to create sounds that I couldn't obtain from any other synthesizer. In this era of endless copies of vintage synths and variations on a theme of years past, that's no minor accolade.
The Wavestate is not blessed with copious I/O options, and the rear panel offers just a single, balanced L–R output pair with an associated headphone socket, an input for a sustain pedal, and MIDI in and out using both 5-pin DIN connectors and class-compliant USB. I was rather surprised by this although, given the Wavestate's limited number of Layers (and, therefore, multitimbral parts) per Performance, I found the lack of additional outputs to be less of a restriction than I had expected. Nonetheless, it deserves more external controller inputs. The lack of these is yet another reason why many users will choose to play it from a better endowed keyboard controller. Finally, there's no audio input, so there will be none of that Wavestation A/D jiggery-pokery m'lad.
You're going to do a lot of menu diving if you want to get the best from the Wavestate. Consequently, a software editor would be very useful, especially for picturing what's going on in complex wave sequences. Unfortunately, it seems that this isn't on the drawing board at the moment. On a brighter note, the Wavestate will be shipped with a huge selection of software packages including Korg's Gadget 2 LE, Module and M1 LE, plus synths from UVI and AAS, and DAW and mastering packages. Depending upon how you create and play music, there's huge value in these.
Perhaps because some of the Kronos's HD1 samples reside in the Wavestate's copious sample library, I've already heard some people suggesting that the new synth comprises little more than chunks of the Kronos shoehorned into a small plastic enclosure. That's nonsense. Yes, the Wavestate and the Kronos share a few samples, and yes, the Kronos offers a limited version of Wave Sequencing, so there's a degree of overlap. But a much more sensible line of reasoning would be to ask whether Wave Sequencing 2.0 might one day appear in the Kronos or its successors.
- It generates sounds that you'll obtain from nothing else.
- Its control panel makes Wave Sequencing much more accessible than ever before.
- At under 3kg, it's exceptionally light for such a powerful synth.
- Its modulation capabilities are mind-boggling.
- It comes with an extensive range of software packages.
- Despite rewritable memory, you can't load your own samples.
- It offers just a single audio output pair and no audio input.
- It has no expression pedal inputs.
- It's another synth with a wall-wart and no stress relief.
- The PSU delivers 2.5A, which may make it difficult to replace at a moment's notice.
The Wavestate is a helluva lot of synthesizer in a surprisingly small instrument. The jury may be out about the form in which Korg have delivered it, but there's no doubt about the breadth, quality and usefulness of its sound. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay is to say that I already expect some of its factory presets to become the new decade's sonic clichés.