Sonic LAB: Korg Wavestate Review

US Wave Sequencing 2.0      20/02/20

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I learned what a snowclone is today - a phrase along the lines of: “X is the new Y” I was looking it up to find out how to express the phrase: ”Digital is the New Analog”, something (I think) that applies to the current wave of digital instruments.

Wavestate is certainly digital, featuring Wave Sequencing 2.0, based on the original 1990’s WaveStation technology but evolved considerably.

The Wavestate is a small (think Minilogue sized) digital wave sequencer synth with up to 64 stereo voices split  across four separate synth layers, with built in FX and a deep modulation system.

Now the case itself it certainly lightweight plastic with a partial metal top panel. But yes it is plastic and it is light. Keys are full size three octave with velocity (Wavestate responds to after touch and poly AT)

It is full digital, with 2GB of sample ROM (no user samples at present) digital modeled filters (Polysix, MS20 and others), 4 envelopes and 4 LFOs per voice - plus 7 wavesquencer channels per voice.

What is Wave Sequencing 2.0?
Each part has a Sample lane in which you can sequence up to 64 of the on board sample waves, or load pre-built wave sequences to get you started. Each step has a number of parameters sample,  Oct, semitone, fine tune, level trim and probability. 

So already there’s plenty to work with, but additionally there are other tracks in the wave sequencer which govern timing, step duration, probability and such, plus a pitch sequence lane, gate and shape - things get pretty complex pretty fast.

Whats Familiar?
Each of the four layers can have either a wave sequence or a single multi-sample at the sound source. So effectively it's all sample based, there is no VA stuff in there for oscillators, though there are a LOT of sampled synth waves.

Ok, let’s talk about filters - it's a digital filter with:  2-pole LPF, 2-pole HPF, 2-pole BPF,2-pole Band Reject, 4-pole LPF, 4-pole HPF, 4-pole BPF, 4-pole Band Reject, Multi Filter, MS-20 LPF, MS-20 HPF, Polysix models.

Enough? They sound OK and are pure DSP as is the entire instrument.

Envelopes - four ADSR envelopes with routings for Filter, Pitch, Amplitude and Vector - for the vector synth stuff. You can adjust the curves and trigger each from an incoming source such as mod wheel with a threshold level - not seen that before

LFO X4: Filter, AMP, Pitch, Pan - have multiple complex waves and fade in times, but don’t go all that high up into audio rates.

FX - three per layer: 

  • Pre FX: EQ/compression - various types/guitar amp, ring modulator, tremolo, waveshaper
  • Mod: Chorus/Flanger/Phaser/Ensemble/Wah - all with some sub modes
  • Delay: LCR/Multiband Mod/Reverse/Stereo/Tape Echo
  • Master FX (common)
  • Reverb: Overb - lush longer verbs and Early Reflections - for small ambiences
  • EQ - final master EQ 

There’s a good selection of algorithms in this lot, though I would like to have seen a way to exclude a layer from the master FX.

If like me, your mind was already beginning to smoke at the sheer amount of variants available you you with the wave sequencing parameters, prepare yourself for more. The Mod Section allows you to not only modulate many (but not all) synthesis and FX parameters, but also single parameters on single steps in the wave sequencer. So you could modulate the Octave of a sample step with an LFO or maybe the probability with poly aftertouch.... Ka-boom!!

There are limitations, not it seems in the number of routes you can setup, but in the type of modulation sources to destinations. For instance routing an LFO to FX parameters is a no-no because the LFO is polyphonic (1 per voice) and the FX is a mono destination (ditto Envelopes) - this seems a shame as you can note sync the LFO so effectively make it a single source, maybe in a firmware update.. (we’re only at V1.0)

You need to mentally get in shape for programming sounds on the WaveState, although there is a RANDOM patch button for generating er, random patches. Its unlikely you’d know what is going on in the results of it.

Bottom line is that this is one complex synthesizer, capable of some incredibly deep and varied sounds. With excellent four part multi-timbral possibilities  you could use this with an external sequencer and/or keyboards for plenty of sound. Though it excels at ethereal movement and rhythmic complexity, it's not perhaps best suited for classy, hefty mono sounds, or thick, authentic sample based realism.

I guarantee that it does things that no other synth you own can do.

I felt that I had a more cerebral relationship with this rather than an organic, visceral one. Or to put it more crudely - we had some fascinating conversations, but we never kissed.

Perhaps though, it IS me and not you. The Wavestate may well be just the creative companion you’ve been looking for. It certainly has the capacity.

Priced at £699/$799 it's not especially cheap, but neither is it expensive for the sheer amount of instrument you get.

Available April 2020

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