This page is a tribute to the KORG OASYS project — a truly revolutionary synthesizer concept which due to a lot of sad coincidences never saw the light of day (at least in the originally developed version. I’m very well aware that there is a KORG OASYS since 2005). The “Blue Bomber” hardware prototype can be seen in the picture below:
A Summary of OASYS features — based on a KORG press release from 1994
Custom, high-performance Digital Signal Processor (DSP) system
High-performance custom DSPs, designed specifically for OASYS(R) deliver an unprecedented amount of synthesis power and flexibility. This power and flexibility frees synthesis algorithms from their traditional hardware-based limitations, and makes open-architecture, software-based synthesis possible.
OASYS(R) creates its synthesis and effects in software, not in hardware. This is the basic concept behind all of the OASYS(R) features.
Supports many different types of synthesis
OASYS(R) supports all available synthesis technologies, currently including physical modeling, additive synthesis, FM, true analog simulations, stereo sample playback, vector synthesis, and wave sequencing. New synthesis techniques will be created in the future; sound designers will be able to build algorithms which use these techniques, and OASYS(R) will be able to play those sounds.
Advanced, polyphonic physical modeling
OASYS(R) includes advanced, polyphonic physical modeling synthesis algorithms. Instead of relying on a single, generic “physical modeling” algorithm, OASYS(R) makes it possible to use many different algorithms, each designed for a specific acoustic or electro-mechanical instrument.
Disk loaded, RAM-based algorithms
Synthesis and effects algorithms are loaded from disk, so that as sound designers create new algorithms, they can be distributed quickly and cost-effectively. There is no fixed set of ROM algorithms; all algorithms are stored in RAM. New algorithms don’t require upgrades to the operating system, even if they use completely new synthesis techniques. Sounds and effects load their own algorithms automatically, for instant, transparent upgrades.
Uncompromised, fully professional sound
OASYS(R) is simply the most flexible synthesis platform ever developed. Sound designers can custom-build completely different algorithms for each sound, free from the constraints of preset architectures. This unprecedented flexibility allows sound designers to choose-and create the best possible method for making a particular sound, and fine-tune its timbre and response to the player to degrees impossible on any other instrument. 20-bit 48kHz, 128-times oversampling D/A converters on all 8 outputs deliver the OASYS(R) sound with total clarity. Professional musicians will appreciate the unparalleled quality of OASYS(R)
Touch-screen and graphical interface
OASYS(R) features Korg’s new, intuitive TouchView(TM) graphical user interface.
In addition to its 76-key, after/ouch-sensitive keyboard, OASYS(R) provides sophisticated controllers for unprecedented expressiveness, including a pressure-sensitive ribbon controller, breath controller input, modulation joystick with both normal and vector modes, and more.
The OASYS(R) system
The OASYS(R) system is a patented (U.S. patent number 5,376,752), multiple digital signal processor (DSP) architecture, with the entire system clocking in at over 900 million instructions per second. This incredible processing power makes possible the revolutionary breakthrough of OASYS(R) open architecture, software-based synthesis. Instead of using dedicated hardware to produce oscillators, filters, and other synthesis elements, OASYS(R) uses software to construct them out of DSP resources. You can think of these DSP resources as tiny building blocks, like the components which make up electronic circuits; put together one way, they create an LFO; put together another way, and they make an EQ an oscillator, a reverb, or an envelope. Other instruments have been partially based on software technology, but they’ve always been constrained by more or less fixed architectures: a fixed number of voices of polyphony, limited amounts of power for filters or other processing, predetermined basic signal paths, and most importantly, a fixed number of synthesis algorithms (usually, only one). This is where the OASYS(R) open architecture comes in. OASYS(R) has no pre-defined oscillators, filters, envelopes, LFO’s, or other synthesis elements; no fixed signal paths; and no preset number of voices. Instead, each voice or effect uses DSP building blocks to create all the elements that it needs, and then connects them together, with complete freedom, to form an algorithm (just like making patches on old-fashioned modular synthesizers-except that OASYS(R) has a lot more blocks to work with). This means that each different program or effect can have its own algorithm, if necessary, specifically tailored to its needs. Since each voice can build its own algorithm, OASYS(R) creates sound using any synthesis technology available, including physical modeling, additive synthesis, FM, analog simulations, stereo sample playback, vector synthesis, wave sequencing, and more. Different synthesis techniques can be used alone or in combination with each other; for instance, you can layer a physically modeled guitar with FM bells and an analog pad. Synthesis and effects algorithms are loaded into RAM from floppy disks or SCSI, just like program data and samples; there is no fixed set of ROM algorithms. New algorithms don’t require upgrades to the operating system, even if they use completely new synthesis techniques. Instead, each program and effect carries with it the algorithms that it requires, so that OASYS(R) instantly, automatically upgrades itself every time a new sound is loaded!
Software-based synthesis evolution follows revolution
The difference between traditional, fixed-architecture synthesizers and OASYS(R) software-based synthesis is like the difference between a typewriter and a computer. A typewriter can do only the one, simple task that its hardware was designed to do: putting letters onto paper. A computer, on the other hand, can simultaneously run word processing, spreadsheet, graphics, and MIDI programs; and since those functions rely primarily on software, and not on hardware, completely new functionality can be added just by popping in a new disk. Similarly, OASYS(R) comes out of the box with capabilities far beyond those of a traditional synthesizer-but that’s just the beginning. Because its synthesis is based on software, and not on hardware, OASYS(R) can grow along with the state of the art. Since getting new algorithms is as simple as loading a new disk of sounds-in fact, it happens almost every time an OASYS(R) sound is loaded-OASYS(R) can and will feature new types of synthesis as they are discovered. OASYS(R) provides sound developers with the ultimate synthesis platform, for which they can design new algorithms to the precise requirements of a particular sound. Everyone knows that certain sounds are best suited to their own synthesis methods (analog synth bass, for instance, or FM electric pianos); whatever that best way of making the sound is, OASYS(R) will use it. Because OASYS(R) allows this no-compromise approach to sound development, Korg is able to provide musicians with the ultimate in sonic performance.
OASYS(R) the state of the art In physical modeling
Due to the OASYS(R) Open Architecture Synthesis System and enormous digital signal processing power, OASYS(R) is the world’s first polyphonic, multi-timbral physical modeling synthesizer with dynamic voice assignment. What is physical modeling synthesis? Physical modeling is a new synthesis technique, which creates sound using complex mathematical models of actual musical instruments. The prime advantage of physical modeling is its greatly enhanced expressiveness, especially when compared to sample playback. For instance, to capture the sound of an instrument with samples, one records static “snapshots” of the instrument played with different performance techniques-struck softly or loudly, played with full or muted tone, etc. Expressiveness is limited to switching or fading between these snapshots; smooth transitions between different states, such as a single note starting softly and building to overblowing, are difficult or impossible. With physical modeling, one begins by building a model of the instrument’s physical characteristics: whether it is a horn, a plucked string, a woodwind, a bowed string, etc.; the size of the instrument, the material that its strings are made of, the resonance of its soundboard, what sort of reed it uses, the shape of its bore, and so on. This model can then be played in a manner very similar to a real instrument, with smooth transitions in tone and character controlled by the subtlest gestures of the performer. When pitch bending on a guitar model, the bend resonates in the guitar’s soundboard; when doing an octave rip on a trumpet, the pitch settles naturally at the harmonics; when playing an electric piano, the timbre continuously varies from a soft, bell-like tone with a light touch to a hard, nasty growl when you dig into the keys. In addition to physical models of acoustic musical instruments, OASYS(R) features physical models of classic electronic and electro- mechanical musical instruments, such as analog synthesizers, Hammond(TM) organs, and tine and reed electric pianos. OASYS(R) analog synth models set new standards for a digital synthesizer; its DSP power generates incredibly punchy envelopes, oscillators with true pulse width modulation, multimode resonant filters, and modulation routings at audio rates. Last, but certainly not least, is perhaps the most exciting aspect of physical modeling: the creation of instruments that do not-or cannot-exist in the real world, and yet feel and play as if they were natural, genuine, and musical. This area leaves OASYS(R) plenty of room to grow into, and define, the future of synthesis.
TouchView(TM) Graphical User Interface
OASYS(R) uses Korg’s new TouchView(TM) graphical user interface system. TouchView(TM) uses a large LCD and touch-screen to present the user with an easy to use, intuitive graphical user interface. Instead of pressing an endless series of cursor keys to select a parameter, for instance, you just touch it on the screen. TouchView(TM) allows the user to easily navigate the exceptionally flexible sound and effects structures of OASYS(R) and allows easy upgrading as the OASYS(R) system evolves.
OASYS(R) Open Architecture Synthesis System, allowing a virtually unlimited number of synthesis and effects algorithms. Supports physical modeling, additive synthesis, FM, analog simulations, stereo sample playback, vector synthesis, wave sequencing, and new technologies as they are discovered. TouchView(TM) graphical user interface. Built-in 1.44 Mb floppy disk and internal hard disk for storage of the operating system, synthesis algorithms, effects and samples. Built-in SCSI port for use with external hard drives, magneto-optical drives, and CD-ROM drives. 32 track multi-timbral with polyphonic dynamic voice allocation. Up to 112 voices of polyphony or 112 simultaneous effects (voices and effects share DSP resources; polyphony and number of effects will vary depending on the algorithms used). Up to 32 megabytes of sample RAM, using standard SIMMs. Custom-designed database for managing files on disk and in memory. Extensive MIDI master controller functions. 76 note keyboard with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity. Pressure-sensitive ribbon controller, modulation joystick (with normal and vector modes), an assignable slider, and 2 assignable buttons. Breath controller input, 2 continuous pedal inputs, 2 footswitch inputs. 24 bit internal processing. 20 bit, 128 times oversampling D/A converters at a 48kHz sample rate. 8 polyphonic analog outputs; balanced XLR main stereo outputs. 8 channel ADAT(TM) compatible digital optical output. OASYS and TouchView(TM) trademark of Korg Inc. and Korg U.S.A. ADAT(TM) a trademark of Alesis corporation. Hammond(TM) a trademark Hamond Suzuki Ltd.
A Comment from Dan Williams at Korg R&D — one of the OASYS(R) creators
Analog simulations is the closest match to emulations, so I’ll address that briefly. In this context, simulations means that the OASYS can discretely model analog synthesis methods, instead of merely running a sampled waveform through a filter. This allows real-time control of oscillator sync and pulse-width modulation, and audio-rate modulation (for incredibly punchy envelopes and fast lfo’s). The Nord Lead and the Korg Prophecy are other examples of dsp-based, analog-type synthesis. Since the OASYS features the unique ability to load new algorithms from disk, it will also be able to provide different envelope, oscillator, and filter types (such as minimoog envelopes, or SEM filters).
Remember that the OASYS will have no fixed set of algorithms, for either programs or effects. New algorithms are loaded every time that you load a sound. OASYS supports synthesis methods and effects algorithms by supporting over 70 atomic-level blocks, such as oscillators, filters, delays, envelopes, mixers, math functions, and so on. As long as an algorithm can be created by hooking those blocks together (using our Macintosh-based algorithm development tool, SynthKit), the OASYS will play it.
My personal disclaimer follows: Please note that the OASYS is *not* shipping yet. That means that you have to take everything that I say with a grain of salt. It also means that I’m *not* telling you to hold your breath and save your pennies. As with computers, the ultimate synth is always the *next* one, and you can’t make music with just a spec sheet in your hands.
1996/3: Time passes by
The KORG OASYS was first introduced at the winter NAMM 1994, then at the Musikmesse Frankfurt 1995, several months later at the winter NAMM 1995 and again at the Musikmesse Frankfurt 1996. I heard that it is now scheduled to ship last quarter 1996, not for less than USD 10000. Well, let’s see…
Anyway, this architecture seems to be much more powerful than what the current Yamaha VP-1 can offer for a price, approximately 3 times higher. (Nearby: The Yamaha VP-1 shared the fate of the OASYS. There was no successor but partial concepts were used in later models like the AN1x and the FS1R).
1996/9: No OASYS
Several sources confirmed that Korg will NOT produce OASYS in its announced form. In the meantime, Korg has released portions of the OASYS concept in several products (Wavedrum, Prophecy, Trinity) and there are rumours that the DSP and algorithm portion of OASYS will be released as a software synthesizer PCI-card.
Korg has used part of the OASYS technologies in the mono synthesizer Prophecy (for instance some oscillator models including resonant filters - the first time in a KORG digital synthesizer since the analog DW series)
Several OASYS features (not including the oscillator side, but at least some resonant filters) were introduced with the Trinity Workstation … also known as M1 Version 3.0. For instance, the new user interface featuring the Touch Screen Display.On the german music fair 1997, Korg showed a prototype of their upcoming virtual synthesizer Z1, which is supposed to be released this year. It will include some of the algorithms which debuted in OASYS, but won’t allow you to create new algorithms.
1998: The Road goes on
Well, after all… the Z1 is shipping for quite a while now - but it does not really fulfill the promises that the OASYS has made 1994. It seems that the time for the OASYS concept has not come yet… be it due to the lack of good algorithms or the lack of processing power.
In the meantime, two outstanding products are shipping, which come closer to the OASYS synthesizer (albeit from different sides) than the current KORG synthesizers. The first one is the Clavia Nord Modular, the first virtual modular synthesizer. It is a great one. Be sure to check it out.
The second one is created by Creamware, which debuted with the TripleDat HD recording system. They have released the SCOPE audio card, which is a PCI card with 14 AnalogDevices SHARC DSPs and the PULSAR, a PCI card with 6 AnalogDevices SHARC DSPs. SCOPE and PULSAR are modular DSP workstations. While the SCOPE environment allows you to create complete new algorithm parts (for instance, new filters or new oscillators), the PULSAR only allows you to use these components in a modular way. But nevertheless, there’s a lot to play with.
As far as I can see now, the purpose of this page has become a bit obsolete since there is no sign of an OASYS concept successor manufactured by KORG. Therefore, it is most likely that I won’t update this page anymore. Maybe there will be a new page dealing with the components of the studio of the future… we’ll see…
And just when you think a file is closed, there are new rumours floating around… rumours that KORG will introduce a new synthesizer on the Frankfurt Musikmesse 1999 in March. A successor to the OASYS… that is… a synth which comes a bit nearer to the OASYS than all the derivates before. I heard someone dropping the name “Odysseus”. Sounds interesting, but — of course — no specs or pictures, just speculations based on rumours by someone who has a friend who heard something.
1999/3: No, Triton
KORG introduced the new TRITON on the Musikmesse 1999. An updated Trinity V3 with better sampling capabilities. IMHO just another boring variation on the subject workstation… ahh… I begin to hate this term. While it was fun to play with these things (I was really happy when I produced the first track with my M1… ages ago), nowadays, I don’t think there’s a feasible alternative to working with computer based sequencers.
1999/6: OASYS PCI Card
Did you read the 1996 part of this website ? It says: “Several sources confirmed that Korg will NOT produce OASYS in its announced form. In the meantime, Korg has released portions of the OASYS concept in several products like the Wavedrum, the Prophecy, the Trinity, and there are rumours that the DSP and algorithm portion of OASYS will be released as a software synthesizer PCI-card.
Yes indeed, it seems that my “good informed” sources either were fortune-tellers or insiders. Anyway, it has happened: On the Summer NAMM 1999 — five years after the initial press release of the KORG OASYS keyboard — three years after my insider-information about the PCI card — KORG announced the OASYS PCI card, a PCI 2.1 compliant tone generation card. Not that I’m excited though…
2004/3: Ten years after
It’s been five years since the last news on this page. The OASYS PCI card has not been a success in the market. In the meantime, KORG released yet another interesting byproduct of the OASYS concept — the KORG KARMA.
Suddenly, after all this quietness, the codename OASYS starts floating around again… there is something in the pipeline!
2005: Congratulations, it’s a workstation
The KORG OASYS has been presented on NAMM 2005. Yes, it’s kind of cool. No, it’s not what we were waiting for since 1994. The third product with the name OASYS is a fully featured production studio… and it runs Linux!
[to be continued]