Thursday, April 8, 2010

ign review of korg ds 10+

April 7, 2010 - This review has been reposted from IGN's original Korg DS-10 review. The software is largely the same, with one particularly meaningful new feature added for DSiWare owners. Read about the added functionality towards the bottom.

One of the most significant developments in modern music is the proliferation of low-cost, high-quality music making apps for portable devices like the Nintendo DS and iPhone. In 2008 the DS got the Korg DS-10, a mobile synthesizer and sequencer that, while limited, did sound great and provided some very basic song-building abilities. Now the Korg DS-10 Plus is here, which greatly increases the sonic possibilities for DSi owners. Modeled after Korg's classic MS-10 synth, this is a cool piece of software that musicians will have fun playing around with. The layman who isn't familiar with the way synthesizers work or hasn't used other music software will be pretty lost, though. If you already own the Korg DS-10, note there isn't a reason to upgrade unless you've also upgraded to a DSi.

There are three instruments available in the DS-10: two monophonic synths and a four-part drum machine. Each instrument has many tweakable parameters and it is possible to come up with a wide variety of bass, lead, and percussion sounds. Several useful presets have been included but it is also possible to create your own sounds, save your patches, and recall them quickly. Developer AQ Interactive has admirably and lovingly recreated the MS-10 here, and it really sounds great. The touch screen also makes editing your synths a breeze.

Left: play synth parts in real time with the onscreen keyboard. Right: build songs by dropping your patterns into the song sequencer.
Unfortunately, each synth is monophonic, meaning they can only generate one note at a time. The fact that you can't program chords severely limits the use of this software. You could patch each synth the same way so that they produce the same sound and then program them together, but then it's still only playing two notes at once.

Songs are put together with patterns that the user programs one at a time. Each pattern can be up to 16 steps long, which usually works out to be one measure. That's a pretty small slice of a song to work with, which is another reason why this isn't the most friendly compositional tool.

You have a few options for inputting note data. Each instrument has its own step sequencer where notes can be "tapped" into the timeline with the stylus. There's also a virtual keyboard you can use to play and record notes in real time (your performance will be locked in tempo with the song). Finally, Korg's popular KAOSS Pad is included here on the touch screen for drawing note and effect patterns. Inputting data and maneuvering menus with the stylus all works really well and it's fun adjusting your sounds on the fly.

Once you've got a few patterns up and running you can string them together on the song screen to create a composition. The problem is you can't tweak any parameters or work with the mixer while the song is playing. Another option is to manually play your patterns from the pattern list. You can lock them to the song's tempo so that when you tap a new pattern it won't begin until the current one ends. Here you can mute or solo instruments, but you still can't play with effects or use the KAOSS Pad while the song is playing.

Expanding the DS-10's sonic possibilities is the ability to synch wirelessly with other DS users who own the software. The host sets the tempo and up to eight systems can jam together, each playing their independent drums and synths. In this way you can produce much more interesting compositions.

At first glance it is hard to discern what has been added for this Plus version. The interface and menus are all identical and you still program the sequencers and lay out songs in the same way. You won't get the upgrade unless you're using the software on a DSi, where you can play in Dual mode and load two sessions at once. This is pretty significant, because now you have four synth lines and two drum kits available to you. All of a sudden your creative possibilities are dramatically expanded from the first Korg's meager two synths and one drum kit.

Closing Comments
Only DSi owners should consider upgrading to Korg DS-10 Plus. That said, for that crowd this is definitely a superior product to the original DS-10. Dual Mode instantly doubles your sonic possibilities. There are still the same interface issues, though, like the inability to work with more than 16 sequences, create sequences longer than a measure, or play chords. Korg DS-10 is great for making repetitive electronica. If that's what you're looking to do, you won't be disappointed.