Korg ARP Odyssey review
Released in the early 1970s, the ARP Odyssey was an answer to the widely successful Minimoog. The Odyssey became known for its beautifully dynamic sounds and versatility, successfully blending into soft string-like pads or screaming above rocking guitar solos.
The Odyssey became a favorite among funk musicians, notably Herbie Hancock. Both the Minimoog and the Odyssey helped define a decade of musicians and paved the way for future synthesizers.
Because of its iconic history, there existed a demand to revisit the classic synthesizer. What consumers have received is a synthesizer that truly captures the vintage sound, feel, and versatility of the original Odyssey. Although the replication of the vintage synthesizer is quite accurate in all areas (other than key size), the original Odyssey wasn’t perfect in every way, and the Korg model perfectly replicates many shortcomings of the original.
In this article, we’re going to examine all of the good and the bad when it comes to the Korg ARP Odyssey in this review review. But before we do that, please use our interactive table below to compare the Korg ARP Odyssey to a number of notable synthesizers on the market.
|Roland JUNO DS61|
|Roland JUNO DS88|
|Korg Kross 2|
|Novation Impulse 61|
The main difference between the Korg ARP Odyssey, which I will call the KARPO from here on out, and the original is the size of the synth and keys.
The KARPO is 86% the size of the original, which would be a great change if it wasn’t for the sacrifice that is made. In order to reduce the size of the keyboard, Korg had to shorten the width of the keys, making them not quite as small as the mini-keys seen on many modern synthesizers, but still not as big as the original.
For many players accustomed to the original ARP Odyssey, the reduced key size will take some getting used to. It doesn’t significantly lessen the quality of the synthesizer, but it would have been nice to keep the original-sized keys. I’m not sure if that 24% reduction in size is worth the shortening of the keys.
The feel of the keys (short width aside) is very satisfying, and they dampen when pressed so you don’t get loud key-clicking noises while playing. I often play with headphones in because my wife is in the room, and I know she appreciates it when my synthesizer keys don’t constantly click.
In contrast to every modern synthesizer on the market, the KARPO doesn’t contain any knobs. Instead, it utilizes sliders and switches to manipulate your oscillators. My main problem with these sliders is that they don’t feel solid. The cap on the sliders are quite wobbly, which is a characteristic of the original Odyssey.
Instead of focusing on reproducing the feel of the original in this regard, it would have been a welcome change to replace the slider caps with something that feels more sturdy and modern. I think this is the returning motif in my impressions of the KARPO—replicating the original Odyssey is the goal, but it is achieved to an extent that may be detrimental to synth’s overall quality.
And below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling synthesizers currently on sale:
|1) Yamaha MX88|
|2) Korg Minilogue XD|
|3) Roland JUNO-DS88|
The sound of the original ARP Odyssey is a classic to every musician growing up in the 70s and every synthesizer aficionado. The main appeal of the KARPO is its ability to replicate the vintage sounds of the original. The KARPO does this incredibly well, and in all cases, the KARPO’s basic sound waves sound identical to the original ARP Odyssey’s. If you hook up an oscilloscope to both the original ARP Odyssey and the KARPO, I am confident that you will find the waves to look nearly identical.
Of course, since the KARPO is a modern instrument, some modern technologies, such as MIDI and USB, have been added to give the user more capabilities in the current decade. The MIDI, however, utilizes only the most basic operations—fixed channel and fixed velocity. The MIDI is a nice feature, but it doesn’t give you any real control over MIDI parameters.
The KARPO also includes a “Drive” switch, which basically adds post-filter drive to make your sounds heavier and fatter. This effect is another attempt to bring the ARP Odyssey to the modern market, for aggressive, weighty, distorted harmonics are “in” nowadays (this is demonstrated with the success of the Moog Sub Phatty). Of course, modern synth sounds aren’t what the KARPO is about—it’s about bringing the iconic, vintage sound to the modern market.
A feature of the KARPO that may be a turn-off to some is the requirement to finely tune the oscillators. There are two sliders to adjust the frequency of each oscillator: one for coarse tuning and one for fine tuning. When laying the two oscillators together, perhaps an octave apart, there isn’t a LCD screen that will tell you when they’re perfectly in tune. Instead you will have to rely on your ear above all else.
This is an imperfect system, especially for those that are sonic perfectionists. Without an internal system to give objective feedback on the frequency of each oscillator, it will increase the potential for error. This is the same system the original Odyssey models used, but it would have been nice to update it for greater precision.
The filter options of the KARPO are some of the simplest, yet most rewarding features of the synthesizer as a whole. It comes loaded with three different VCF types, all of which reference the filter revisions of the original ARP Odyssey models. Each filter sounds very satisfying, and utilizing the sliders to manipulate your filter placement feels quite nice (despite the wobbly cap on the slider.)
Right next to your filter slider is your resonance slider. These two editing parameters work together very nicely and are intuitive—they sit right next to each other so you can clearly see their individual levels. Just messing around with these editing parameters on a sawtooth wave will guarantee satisfying, harmonically-complex ARP effects that continue to hold up forty years later.
One of my favorite features of the KARPO is achieving that special character through the use of the synth’s pitch control options to the left side. A simple press of that middle white button can bring a static sound to a dynamic, personality-infused voice that is beautifully electronic. The way it can transform a melody on sustained notes is moving, and I love it. It was that moments while I played that I really felt connected to the synth’s unique character.
All in all, this synthesizer does a near-perfect job of simulating the classic sounds of the early ARP Odyssey models. Whether you want to mimic Herbie Hancock’s solos on Head Hunters or reproduce Elton John’s Odyssey string pads from “Rocket Man,” you can achieve it on the KARPO.
Playing the KARPO is a complete throwback to the original ARP Odyssey’s and it does a fantastic job at imitating the personality of the originals. Just looking at the instrument, you cannot mistake it for anything other than the Odyssey. Although I believe that vintage doesn’t make something better, there is a certain character to the KARPO that is undeniable, and that character makes it a joy to play.
I want to simply lay out some of the changes to the KARPO has made from the original Odyssey models for those who are familiar with the originals.
- Size reduction (body and keys)
- Sturdier sliders (though maybe not sturdy enough)
- MIDI and USB inclusion
- Post-filter drive switch
- Added transposition option
What I think is important to understand from the changes the KARPO has made to the originals is that, other than size, nothing has been subtracted from the original ARP Odyssey. The main changes are new additions to the instrument intended to improve it. What this means is that, when you purchase a KARPO, you will be getting the features and sounds of the original ARP Odyssey, plus more. You won’t miss out on anything, which is wonderful.
The Korg Arp Odyssey accomplishes with great success what it set out to do. It is a synthesizer meant to capture the vintage sounds and features of a forty-year-old synthesizer. Every noise you can make with the KARPO is a callback to the original. They are unmistakably close relatives, and because of that, the KARPO is a great success and a wonderfully crafted instrument that captures the magic of the original Odyssey models.
The problem with the KARPO is that, while it successfully recaptures the sounds of the original ARP Odyssey, some features of the original were imperfect to begin with. I think some changes from the original models would have been wise, such as a more reliable oscillator-tuning system and a sturdier slider construction.
The target consumer for the KARPO is someone with a great interest in the history and sound of older synthesizer models. This is not an instrument meant for the newcomer because they may not appreciate what the KARPO offers in terms of vintage replication. It is the perfect instrument for someone that has an ear for the vintage synthesizer and wants a brand new ARP Odyssey instead of picking one up at a second-hand digital piano store.
Those who have no interest in the vintage sound of the ARP Odyssey may find the KARPO underwhelming, for it lacks many features that modern synthesizers have. It’s important to understand that the KARPO isn’t attempting to be a modern synthesizer—it is meant to be callback to one of the pioneer synths of the 1970s, and it succeeds in that regard.
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