Sep 21

The Korg PS60 Performance Synthesizer Review

The majority of Synthesizers / Workstations today may lean more toward either use in the Studio or playing live but generally speaking they are designed to be used in both situations in order that they can be sold to the largest audience possible. This may then mean that either compromises are made to keep costs down or you pay out greater sums of money for functionality that you seldom or never use.

In the case of playing live there are some fundamental “must haves” that we all need in a Performance Synth so my aim here is see how many of my “must haves” the Korg PS60 provides. Keyboard players tend to have there own preferences on things like keyboard size. Personally I would be happy with  anything from 70 to 76 notes. I find that 61 just is not enough and as much as I love 88, I do not want  to carry this about with me. However, there are keyboard players that are more at home with more than one keyboard in a live setup so the 61 note keyboard is fine for them.

The Korg PS60 looks extremely easy to use and I found all of the controls instantly accessible. As I turned her on I immediately knew what to do because it was there in front of me. You do not need instructions coaching you on how to select sounds and I found even the basics of layering very obvious.

There is a black glossy look to this keyboard that catches your eye from the outset but I found that the lightweight plastic casing does not give you the confidence that this Synth will stand the test of time on the road. Trying to get a good balance between weight for a solid construction, portability and cost is a design issue in the first instance. There seems to be many products available at present tempting people at the lower-end of the market to improve the quality of their sound by purchasing products like the PS60.

The keyboard itself has velocity sensitive keys which are semi-weighted. They felt very similar to Korg’s X50 keys and you can make adjustments to the Velocity Curve to specify the way in which the volume will change in relation to your playing dynamics. My first impressions here were that I did not feel at home with these keys so I immediately went to the manual to find a more suitable Velocity Curve from the nine available to find one that more suited my style of playing.

The PS60, at this price point, has a great sound, taking many of its sounds from the Korg M3 and M50. The 49 MB of samples it uses were sampled at 48 KHz and use Korg’s EDSi sound engine and are arranged in six categories; Acoustic Piano, Electric Piano, Organ, Strings, Brass and Synth. There are 440 sounds that cover all the essential needs for live playing. I worked my way through the lists and found that there are 29 Acoustic Pianos, 48 Electric Pianos, 25 Clav/Harpsichords, 52 Organs, 29 Strings, 30 Vocal and Pads, 31 Brass, 16 Woodwind, 13 Reeds, 19 Motion Synths, 26 Slow Synth, 27 Fast Synths 28 Lead Synths, 14 Bell Mallets, 33 Bass sounds and 20 Guitars.

All of these sounds can be edited by use of the four Filters, five LFO’s, five Amps EG’s and 63 Effects and the PS 60 allows up to eight stereo multi-samples per voice. So what you have here is Digital Sound with hands-on Analog-Style editing. I found I liked the majority of sounds and occasionally some like the heavy guitars sounded a little harsh to me, but these maybe OK cutting through a live mix. Having said that, I could simply adjust the EQ a little. A good addition is the fact that you can audition your tones with the on-board audition riffs and there are 383 of them. This is done in the “Split Setting” area by holding down the “Sub Off/Recall” button and pressing the “Lower” button and both buttons will light.

You certainly do have a variety of Performance Controls. I really love the idea of the joystick with a lock. This memorizes the position of the Joystick even after you release the joystick. This should be adopted on every Synth – what an excellent idea. The Organ Slow/Fast button is also very useful. When you play a sound with a Rotary Speaker, you can change the speed of the Rotary.

For each of the sound categories, in what Korg describe as the “Easy Setup” section there is a Multi-Function knob, Up and Down buttons and an “On” button. To combine sounds you just press two or more of the “On” buttons. To control the volume of each sound you simply turn the corresponding white Multi-Function knob.

I found this all extremely fast and it reminded me of what I had many years ago with Roland’s JX1 Synth. The backlit display section gives you up to 32 characters of information and shows the names of performances or sounds, the single/layer/split status, and the values of parameters.

You can also layer and split sounds by use of the buttons in the “Split Settings” section. If you push the “Lower” button you can select the sound that you wish for the bottom section of the keyboard and similarly with the “Upper” button select the top part of the keyboard. To specify the split point, you press the Lower and Upper buttons together, then press the key on the keyboard as to where you want the split to take place. It is possible to have 12 sounds at once, six in the lower keyboard are and 6 in the upper. The Sub Off / Recall button temporarily cancels the split setting so that only the main sound will sound across the whole keyboard.

The button to the left of the Multi-Function white knobs, control the function that the knobs perform. By default this is set to adjust Volume. You can change this so that the knobs can be used to change Octave, Modulation or how much Reverb and Delay is applied. In the Performance Section you can save 20 Performances for the Sound, Effects and Split-Settings you have made. You can save 5 Performances in each of the 4 banks. I would like to have seen more than 20 for a Live Set. With Storage getting so much larger today, I am very surprised, even from a cost point of view that we are looking at such a low amount here. Conveniently placed are also the Octave and transpose controls for you to make very quick changes up or down 3 octaves or transpose 12 semitones either way.

Finally you have an Effects Section to the far right. I have reviewed a few Synths of late and in terms of Hands-On adjustment, I really think that the Roland GAIA has the best effects layout I have seen on a Synth. The PS60’s layout for effects is also very good but in terms of use, I did not always find a smooth sound transition as you moved the effects controls; perhaps this is something I would get better at with constant use. The controls are in three sections; MODULATION (to cover Chorus, Flanger, Vintage Chorus/Flanger, Phaser and Effect off), REVERB/DELAY (Plate, Hall, Room and Delay) and 3-BAND EQ. For the Modulation Section you have a Rate, Depth and Feedback knob and the Reverb/Delay section there is a Time, Level and Feedback knob. I found it very easy therefore to change the reverb length in real time. I particularly liked the use of the Phaser or Reverb on some of the electric pianos. At times it sounded very much like their SV-1 Piano. The EQ allows any keyboard player to blend in well with their own band’s mix and this can be done simply and quickly whilst playing. I have been in many situations where I set up a brand new sound, which I think sounds awesome but as soon as I use it in context with the band, I find that it is not cutting through as I envisaged. Having EQ controls right there with you is an absolute must for live playing.

I am very used to the Combi setups on a Korg Triton which are also on other Korg Synths like the M3 and M50. For a live playing situation, I think the Korg PS60 wins in its fast setup and adjustment on the fly. With the M3 for example you need to have all of your Combis already set up in advance with your splits and layers, EQ and effects etc which at times can feel like quite a bit of preparation. This could be OK if you are in one band and play the same set all the time but this is not so for many musicians. The basic setups are OK like the usual piano and strings combination but where you want to make the instant decision of saying “I want to do this here” you realise that you do not have a pre-prepared Combi for this purpose.

There is a good assortment of connections and amongst them are two pedal inputs which are assignable. In input 1 you can connect a damper pedal a foot switch or a foot pedal. The default setting is a damper pedal. In input 2 you can connect a Foot Switch or a foot pedal and foot switch is the default. With the foot switch you can control the sound or effect modulation, switch on or off portamento or switch performances. With a foot pedal you can control settings like volume, modulation, portamento time, pan or effect send.

You also have the usual MIDI I/O, stereo outputs and a USB port. The fact that this Synth has some analog-style knob-twiddling available opens up some interesting possibilities to connect up to a laptop live with a VST / Sample package. Also with a PC you may find it a lot easier to do some fine editing of your sounds using its editor or to more comprehensively edit them. You could edit your sounds from the front panel to some lesser extent but rather than search through many parameters, only a selection is available like filter cutoff, resonance and envelope settings. The editor can also be used as a plug-in inside your favourite DAW and be used as a useful controller keyboard. The headphone socket is exactly where it should be at the front of the keyboard. Again I wish other manufactures would take this on board.

Apart from the AC adaptor, you get a printed PS60 Easy Start Guide and a CD-ROM containing the Owner’s Manual, Voice Name List, Parameter Guide, USB-MIDI Setup Guide and Editor/Plug-In Editor User’s Guide – all of which are in pdf format. You can purchase Korg’s optional accessories – the XVP-10 Expression/Volume Pedal, EXP-2 Foot Controller, DS-1H Damper Pedal and PS-1 Pedal Switch.

The Korg PS60 Performance Synth has been designed to be easy to use and as soon as you go for its controls you know that this is the case. It has a professional sound and enough editable sounds to meet all your needs. Splits, layers, transpose and octaves can all be set up in seconds making this ideal for live playing.  The keyboard itself does not have the feel that I would prefer for playing live but if you look at the many You Tube clips on this Synth you will see enough people playing Jordan Rudess solo’s or classical piano pieces to prove its capabilities. The price for this level of sound and performance at just under the £600 mark takes a lot of beating and I am sure it will not be too long before you will be able to pick it up for nearer £500. It is very lightweight at just over 10 lbs  has 120 note polyphony and an analog-style control for you to have the best of both analog and digital worlds. I think it is fair to say that this Synth is ideal for the professional player on a budget.

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