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Korg OASys

A multi-algorithm, digital synth and workstation produced by Korg from 2005 to 2009. The OASYS was the culmination of research done by Korg over nearly two decades. The name is an acronym standing for "Open Architecture Synthesis System"; the synth is essentially a combination package of a personal computer, running the Linux operating system, and a set of DSPs that perform signal processing under the man processor's direction. It was Korg's intent that the system would be open for third-party developers, who would then develop additional synthesis algorithms for it, but this level of support never materialized.

The OASYS concept began as a large workstation known as the "Blue Bomber" that was exhibited at trade shows in the mid-1990s. Along with the synth itself, Korg developed a software development kit called the "Synth Kit" which it intended to release to the public so that third-party developers could develop for the system, adding to the level of support that Korg itself would provide. However, Korg ultimately concluded that a synth with the desired features based on the Blue Bomber could not be produced at an affordable price using the processing technology available at that time, and it chose to wait.

In 1999, Korg introduced a synth-on-a-sound-card known as the OASYS PCI. This was the next iteration of the concept; it was implemented as a card that would plug into a personal computer using the then-standard PCI bus. The idea was that the computer would provide all of the control, management, and interface functions, leaving the OASYS PCI to focus on signal processing and number crunching. For several reasons, the concept didn't sell; in 1999 the idea of using a personal computer as a synth was still a strange idea to many musicians. The PCI card used DSP flex to provide variable levels of processing required for different patches; unfortunately, the amount of DSP power available on the card was not quite sufficient, resulting in polyphony being reduced to 2-3 voices on more complex patches. And finally, Korg was very late in releasing Synth KIt to the public; by the time it did, third party developers had lost interest.

Korg tried again in 2005, going back to the original concept of an integrated workstation. The panel was noted for its swing-up touch screen by which most of the patch editing was performed, and its array of assignable knobs and sliders with LED collars to indicate current values. This version of the OASYS had all of the usual workstation features of other workstations in KORG's line; audio and MIDI recording, arrangement, mixdown, and post processing. It featured a multi-algorithm synth that allowed several synthesis methods to execute at the same time, up to the limit of the unit's polyphony using the DSP flex. Korg eventually released six packages of software to implement different synthesis methods:

HD-1: A conventional workstation synthesis method, using sample playback in a subtractive-synthesis algorithm. The synth also had the ability to perform sampling and to load sample libraries in a number of other manufacturers' formats. This package came with the synth.

AL-1: A virtual analog package, featuring two VCO emulations per voice, AM and FM capabilities, and a large number of patching and routing options. This package came with the synth.

CX-3: A Hammond organ emulator. Noted for using the front panel sliders as drawbars. This package came with the synth.

STR-1: A physical model algorithm that modeled strings excited by various means, including plucking, striking, and bowing. This was first made available in 2007, with an OS update providing it for existing units.

LAC-1: A $249 extra that provided physical models of two legacy Korg analog synths, the MS-20 and the Polysix.

MOD-7: Another $249 extra, this was probably the most interesting and "out there" of the software packages developed. It provided six oscillators per voice with FM, PM, ring modulation, and waveshaping capabilities.

The OASYS was offered in two packages, one with at 76-key synth weighted keyboard, and one with an 88-key piano weighted keyboard. (No rack mount version was ever offered.) As was the case with the OASYS PCI card, the Synth Kit for the OASYS came out late, and third party developers never got involved very much, limiting the amount of support available. Korg issued the last OS update for the synth in 2009 and discontinued production shortly thereafter. The lack of support and bugs in the early OS versions, combined with the $8000 US price tag, probably limited sales. However, per Wikipedia, about 3000 OASYS units were sold, which is not bad for a high-end synth.

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