The Korg Modwave is the next step in the evolution of Korg’s legendary DW-8000 (1985). It’s a modern 37-key wavetable workhorse that goes deep into sound design.
Our verdict on the Korg Modwave
It’s outstanding. We rarely talk about a midrange (price) synth being so flexible and immersive for sound design. It might be overwhelming to have so many modulation options, but it also highlights what is possible.
It’s not for beginners; it has a reasonably steep learning curve, but the potential is incredible.
Korg is on a roll with wavetable synths, and the Modwave is the best yet.
This synth has so much going on; we’ll never get through it all. So, here are some of the key features of the Modwave.
Modifier and morph features
One thing that makes the Modwave so interesting is the sheer number of wavetables at your disposal. By default, there are 200 wavetables with up to 64 individual waveshapes each.
You can then do things like blend waveforms together with 13 morphing types, creating entirely new variations. The Morph functions process the wave in real-time, mangling it in crazy ways.
On the other hand, modifiers are an offline process applied to waves, like removing odd or even harmonics, etc.
Without getting into the maths, Korg states that a staggering 230 million variations are available.
If you run out of options, you have far too much time on your hands. But, if you want to try a different approach, you can also import wavetables from the popular soft synth, Serum (Xfer Records).
The Modwave has two oscillators with 2-part multi-timbrality and 32-note polyphony. Both oscillators have controls for Position, A/B Blend, Morph, and Level, with Oscillator One having an additional Sub-Oscillator/Noise.
Each oscillator has a dedicated envelope and LFO, which can save some manual work with the Morph knob.
By default, the LFO’s are dedicated to the Morph function and the envelopes to the Position setting, although these are fully assignable.
Increasing the LFO modulation depth would give the same motion that you’d get from manually fluctuating the Morph knob.
Another cool feature is that each oscillator can be panned separately. The Sub/Noise is pretty straightforward and offers multiple types.
The Modwave pays tribute to two more past classics by including filters modeled on those of the legendary MS-20 and Polysix synths.
The MS-20-style filters (lowpass/highpass) are a bit harsher than the Polysix-style lowpass filter. Both are very nice; the Polysix-style filter is just a bit smoother.
Many other filter types are available, including 2/4-pole lowpass, highpass, bandpass, and band-reject filters.
Korg’s Multimode Filter allows you to blend between various filter types.
One of the things we like about the filter setup, beyond the number of options, is that you have access to trim and gain settings that determine how the oscillators are fed into the filter.
There are four ADSR Envelopes, one per oscillator, one filter envelope, and one amp envelope.
The Envelopes have a couple of pretty cool features, like the Sustain can go below zero, and you can adjust the curve for each parameter.
The coolest thing about the Envelopes is that you can trigger them via a wide range of sources, including steps in the sequencer.
There are four FX engines in the Korg Modwave: Pre-FX, Mod-FX, Delay (per layer), and a Master EQ/Reverb section.
You can choose from many FX types, including amp and pedal modeling, flangers, compression, phasers, and even the Overb module from the Korg Oasys and Kronos.
As well as selecting the type of effect, there are also presets that help you get to the desired sound quickly.
Motion Sequencing 2.0
Korg has taken the Wavestate’s Wave Sequencing 2.0 and expanding upon it to add more life to your sequences.
With the Modwave’s Motion Sequencing 2.0, you can independently manipulate various aspects of a sequence, like time and pitch.
Each parameter has its own Lane, and each Lane can have a different number of steps. Manipulating these parameters is similar to recording automation in your DAW.
For example, if you select one of the sequencing lanes and hit record, you can now adjust the filter cutoff (or another parameter) in real-time, recording your automation.
The Shape Lane is very interesting as it lets you set a different envelope shape per step. The process of doing this is a little more tedious than it needs to be, but that could change with firmware updates.
What you end up with are seemingly limitless options for adding movement, texture, and expression to your sequence.
You can see a lot of this info play out on the Modwave’s screen, but the included software will give you a more detailed view.
The Kaoss Pad will almost certainly receive a mixed reception, with some users loving it and others seeing it as a gimmick.
The truth is, it does have its uses in a performance setting. The pad does nothing until the X/Y axis is assigned to a parameter.
Using the Mod Matrix to do this is easier than you might expect. Once the Mod button is pressed and you select to add a new modulation, everything has on-screen instructions.
It’s as simple as moving the knob for the desired parameter the running your finger on the desired axis of the Kaoss Pad.
Now, you can shape your sound in real-time in a very intuitive way.
We have left out many features to keep our review at a reasonable length, which speaks to the depth of sound design capabilities available. It’s modulation, upon modulation, upon modulation.
The downside is that so many options can become overwhelming or make you think you have to use everything in one go. Once you get past that phase, there’s no denying it’s a monster.
The keywords are motion and evolution. If you want static, lifeless patches, you won’t find them here. It makes you want to re-watch your favorite movies and write your own soundtrack.
The Modwave has so much to offer that it outperforms its price tag by a long way. In the studio, it’s an absolute beast because you will never stop finding new sounds. Whether you are a media composer, producer, or beatmaker, you’ll find something unique every time.
On stage, it’s also a powerhouse, but it will take some planning. Being a digital synth meant there would always be some menu-diving, and the Modwave being so extensive means you might not want to deal with that live on stage.
However, setting up your Mod Matrix, sequences, and saving patches beforehand, leaves you ready to blow people away.
Don’t be disheartened if you feel like you are reaching the Modwave’s full potential straight away; there is a clear learning curve.
Despite the learning curve, Korg has done well to make most of the important parameters easily accessible on the top panel.
Things like the four red, assignable Modulation knobs make it easy to maintain a hands-on approach during performance without being overwhelming.
There is some compromise in the build quality, which isn’t surprising given the relatively low price.
The top panel is metal, and it’s entirely enclosed by plastic. To be fair, it’s a pretty rugged plastic, and overall, it’s much like the quality of Korg’s Arp Odyssey.
All of the buttons and knobs feel sturdy enough with a smooth action.
The velocity-sensitive keyboard is pretty light, and that’s OK, but perhaps a slight touch more weight would make it feel better.
The keyboard doesn’t offer aftertouch, which is a little disappointing, but we are spoiled in so many other areas, it’s hard to complain.
Compared to other synthesizers
Korg’s Modwave is something quite different in its class, but there are some great synths at a similar price. Here are a few that we think you should check out.
Korg Modwave vs. Korg Wavestate
The Korg Wavestate came before the Modwave, and it has some different features that may interest certain users more.
In our opinion, the Modwave marks significant progress and outperforms the Wavestate.
Korg Modwave vs. Modal Argon8X
If you want to stick with a wavetable synth, few do it as well as the Argon8X at this price. It also has 61-keys, which may be attractive to stage performers.
Korg Modwave vs. Modal Cobalt8X
Sticking with Modal, but this time it’s the virtual analog Cobalt8X. It’s also 61-keys, and has some of the best pads you will hear.
Who is the Korg Modwave best suited for?
Serious sound designers, composers, and performers. It’s ideal for game/film soundtracks.
- Extremely vast wavetable synthesis.
- Endless modulation options.
- Fantastic sequencing.
- Kaoss Pad.
- Clever filter functions.
- Value for money.
- Sound designers dream.
- No Aftertouch.
- Learning curve.