Review – Korg ARP Odyssey

Korg ARP Odyssey

I just picked up the Korg recreation of the classic analog synthesizer, the ARP Odyssey.  I first started playing with the instrument on Friday and it is Monday morning, so this is more of a “first impression” than an actual review.  Before that first impression, I should talk about the instrument a little.

A Brief History of the Odyssey

Back in the early 1970s ARP released the Odyssey as a direct competitor for the Mini Moog.  The Mini had the famous big, phat sound, but the Odyssey, besides being less expensive, had a lot going for it.  It was duophonic (you could play two notes as opposed to the Mini’s one), it had a ring modulator (creates complex harmonics), you could synch the oscillators (forces them in tune with each other, even when you try to force them out of tune), you can put an envelope on pitch, there was sample and hold (S&H), there was a simple high pass filter, and you could do some more complex modulation routings.

There was one place that some felt that the Mini outshone the original Odyssey and that was the lowpass filter.  The Mini used Moog’s famous 24 db filter while the first Odyssey had a 12 db filter.  In simple terms, this made the Moog smoother and the ARP brighter.  ARP introduced a second version of the Odyssey with a filter similar to the Moog’s filter.  Some thought that it was too similar and Moog threatened a law suit.  ARP created a new 24 db filter and so came out with a third version of the Odyssey.  The third version was a little duller sounding than the second, but people seemed to like it – this instrument became the best selling analog synthesizer of the era, selling more than the venerable Mini Moog.  Funny thing, though, people considered the first version with the 12 db filter as the “classic” ARP sound.  Listen to Herbie Hancock’s famous solo (and bass line) on Chameleon.  That is the classic ARP sound.  You can make it scream.

Part of the world half forgot the ARP and concentrated on the Mini.  People tried to recreate that Moog sound and format but not the ARP.

But that ended in 2015.

The company Korg said it had joined forces with one of ARP’s founders and lead engineers, David Friend, and was going to issue a remake of the Odyssey.  Long story short, they did just that.  The new instrument had a few changes, such as offering all three of the filters mentioned above and giving two ways to add “drive” (distortion), which is one thing the Moog had.  The instrument looks the same (with three different panel looks to match the three models) but is about 87% the size.  This means mini-keys.  On the plus side, it takes up about half the volume, so is easier to move around and store.  They also added MIDI in, so you can play it from a modern keyboard or computer.

The Review

I just picked up a refurbished one.  It looks and sounds new but was less costly.  Not that these are expensive instruments – Korg recently released a full-sized version which is over twice as expensive.

Looking at it, it looks like an Odyssey.  That is, until you go to play it.  Then it looks like a toy.  It just seems so small!  Like something you’d see in a doll house.  Small, but exact in every detail.  It doesn’t even say “Korg” anyplace on the instrument. It gives me an odd feeling.  Maybe because I once had an ARP ProSoloist from the same era and am used to the look and feel of ARP (the name badge is identical), and so seeing the small is a little spatially disorientating.

It didn’t take me long to get used to the small keys.  I used mini keys for quite a few years, so I got right into them, and was quickly able to solo like there was no tomorrow.  I also used a normal sized keyboard with it using MIDI.

Korg ARP Odyssey with Hand

My hand on the mini-keyboard of the Korg ARP Odyssey – not Alice in Wonderland small, but not full sized either…

The first thing I noticed is that it is very responsive.  Snappy.  It seems quicker.  At first I attributed it to the small keyboard with it’s very small travel (barely touch the key and it plays), but I found it felt more responsive even when I played it remotely over MIDI.  I love that immediate feel.

It didn’t take me long to get some classic ARP sounds out of it.  Put it on the MK1 filter (the 12 db) and you can’t help but get that classic Odyssey sound.  Funny, but I was also able to get some pretty Moog-like sounds using the other filters.  In fact, it is easier to mimic the Moog with the ARP than the ARP with a Moog.

I experimented quite a bit, playing with everything I could and enjoyed it.  I really love having an instrument laid out so that is right there in the open so you can see and understand how it is set up.  I hate hidden functions.  My first instrument had sliders, so I also felt at home with the sliders (I had a Moog from the early 1980s that had he sliders, the S&H, the Ring Modulator, the ability to play more than one note, etc. making it very similar to the ARP).  This instrument felt natural to me, even with the small keys.

OK, the performance controllers are a pain.  I won’t go into much detail on them.  I’m not sure if Moog had the wheels for controllers patented at the time, but they are so much easier.  The push buttons, which were from the last model of the Odyssey, are a pain to use.  Also, it only does pitch and gate over MIDI, so no using the modern keyboard’s pitch or modulation wheels.

After a few hours of just coming up with random sounds, I decided to do a quick recording.  I didn’t spend as much time as I had originally planned.  I do have some of the classic ARP sounds, but other just “generic” synth sounds.  I did use some of the ARP features like S&H, but in a subtle way.  I also used the duophonic capability for one sound, the “horns”.  For the most part, this was a down and dirty recording.  Still, I hope you enjoy!

(Click here if you don’t see the video below)

Quick note – I accidentally got a little of the Cubase metronome in there, which you can hear at the beginning.  Besides that, all sounds are the Odyssey.

The instrument comes with a nice carrying case.  I am going to transport this back and forth between my NH house and cottage on Cpae Cod, so this is a plus.

Overall, I think this is a great synthesizer.  There are now a lot of options for true analog synthesizers in the under a grand range these days, more than ever, even in the hey-day of analog.  That being said, I would think this should top anyone who is looking for a real analog synth in this price range.  It can recreate some very classic sounds, but you can also create some more “modern” analog sounds if you push it.

9 thoughts on “Review – Korg ARP Odyssey

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  4. Marilyn Armstrong

    I remember when these were first invented. One of my teachers (I was a music student) was one of the inventors. It was a huge deal. In the past 55 years, a lot of stuff has moved on and synthesizers are definitely one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. trentpmcd Post author

      A lot of universities created synthesizers before they became a commercial product. Was your teacher one of the people with a university system or are you saying he was one of the people who founded ARP (which was a New England based company)? A lot has changed over the years, but today the sound of the old 60s and 70s analog synthesizers are back in style. I understand it. You can do anything with digital, but somehow it lost the personality of the old analog machines. I have pretty much given up my digital instruments and have moved to all old-school synths.

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