ARP 2600 M review: Our first impressions of Korg’s semi-modular synth

Korg

Few hardware synths have defined entire generations of sound design like the original ARP 2600. Originally released in 1970 at the Audio Engineering Society convention, this synth took the music world by storm over the next decade.

But that was many years ago, and this specific timeless classic will cost you a small house down payment to buy. But lucky for you, Korg’s ARP 2600 M offers all of the original synth (with some added quality-of-life features).

We had the chance to play with one for a few days, and here are our first impressions of this powerful remake.

Learn more about this synth while supporting the Magnetic Team through our partnership with Sweetwater here


What is the ARP 2600 MA semi-modular analog synth?

Korg

Korg

The ARP 2600 M is a faithful recreation of the original ARP 2600; full stop. No, I’m not saying this is a consumer version of the original synth – I’m saying nearly identical, but in a smaller, more affordable package.

Overall, the ARP 2600 M is more than just a hardware synthesizer; it’s a full arsenal of sound design weapons.

Its digital/analog hybrid nature allows you to get the best of both worlds; grainy analog warmth and pristine digital clarity. If Ben Burtt, the sound designer of the original star wars trilogy, could use the ARP 2600 to create the voice of R2-D2, imagine what you could do with its modern rendering? !

It comes with faithful replicas of the best bells and whistles from the original. The iconic timbres of spring reverb, the same modulation flexibility, and endless customization thanks to its intricate patch bay are all there for you to use it however you see fit in your productions.

Three oscillators, made more stable than the oscillating setting of the original, can produce multiple waves simultaneously – pulse, song, triangle, square or sawtooth. There is even an option for pulse width modulation on the second OSC. It’s cool !

And the customization doesn’t stop there, as the legendary 4-pole filter lets you sculpt and carve sounds to your liking. In addition to that, it also allows you to select the exact filter type based on the response characteristics of the filter (4012 type or 4072 type).

While remaining faithful to the original model, it also charts its course by offering a few additional footprints to adapt the synth to the modern world. Most notable would be the addition of standard 5-pin MIDI chords so you can route external hardware and software into the device and even accept MIDI CC messages which allow you to control pitch, modulation and portamento via MIDDAY.

Who used the original ARP 2600?

Please don’t take our word for it; this synth lets you tap into the sonic palettes of some of history’s most prominent artists.

Edgar Winter often used this synth in his performances, as did Stevie Wonder (rumoured that his synth’s control panel was relabeled in brail).

Then there was Ben Burtt, the legendary sound designer who worked on the star wars movies, The Raiders of the Lost Ark, and many other timeless films.

My favorite features of the ARP 2600 M

Korg

Korg

Here are some of the best features we liked about this synth. As with any synth as complex as this, it would be nearly impossible to name everything we love, or you’ll be playing this track for a year or more.

Let’s dive into our favorite qualities.

Her size

The original synth is larger than life, or maybe that’s how I remember when I saw it in a synth museum as a kid.

As such, it was nearly impossible to tour or perform live with. Not only was it bulky, but it was also damn too expensive to risk damaging it on the road.

But the size and weight of the ARP 2600 M make it perfect for travelling. Of course, you won’t throw it in a backpack like a mini MIDI keyboard. But it’s portable enough to take on the road for live shows.

It is less than two feet wide, just over a foot tall, and weighs only about 14 pounds (13.23 pounds). This is a great improvement on the overall concept and makes it much more accessible to the average synth enthusiast and touring musician.

Its modulation potential

You can tell by looking at this thing it’s a creative gold mine. The amount of patching, processing and modulation you can do with just a few patch cables is insane!

And you can get super excited and usable patches pretty quickly. My problem with many semi-modular synths is that while they have a ton of patching options, it takes a fair amount of skill to sculpt and create sounds that you actually want to use.

But that’s not the case with this synth, and designing beautiful sounds that stand out from the crowd is a piece of cake.

It’s music

I talked about it in the bucket above, but this synth sounds great whenever you need it. Even without any modulation, the oscillator gels well and sounds amazing.

Once you enjoy a riff, start introducing modulation for truly jaw-dropping effects.

This synth is just begging to be recorded because even the slightest bump in faders, dials and parameters can create the happiest of incidents.

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What I wasn’t crazy about

korg arp 2600m review

Korg

Most of the gripes I have about this synth are pretty easy to tell by the cover. The amount of patch cable entries and the intimidating look (at least for novices) of the thing is exactly where I’m coming from.

So approaching this thing with these expectations, here is my biggest gripe about the ARP 2600 M

There’s a learning curve

This thing is not for the faint of heart, even by semi-modular standards.

Years ago, I chose the Korg MS-20 as a way to start learning modular synthesis, and I was intimidated by its complexity (at least at the time). It was an uphill battle learning how patchbays work and everything on this synth, and I’m that much more of a producer for this hill that I struggled to get to the top.

But this synth takes that to the nth degree.

So if you know nothing about modular synthesis or designing and shaping sounds like this, prepare for an uphill battle.

That being said, if you already have a solid understanding of the modular synthesizer and sound design, you’ll likely find this synth flow quite intuitive and should conquer its learning curve in just a few sessions, like I did.

Learn more about this synth while supporting the Magnetic Team through our partnership with Sweetwater here


Specifications on the ARP 2600 M

Type: Semi-modular desktop synthesizer

Analog/Digital: Analog

Polyphony: Monophonic, duophonic mode

Oscillators: 3 x analog VCOs (original ARP 2600 circuits)

Waveforms: sawtooth, square, pulse, triangle, sine

Noise generator: pink, white

Envelope generator: 1 x ADSR, 1 x AR

VCA: Yes

Filter: Early model 4012: 24 dB/oct low pass, late model 4072: 24 dB/oct low pass

Sample and Hold: Yes

Effect types: reverb, ring modulation

Analog outputs: 2 x 1/4″ (L, R)

Headset: 1 x 1/4″

MIDI I/O: Input/USB

USB: 1 x Type A (controller), 1 x Type B (computer)

Features: Black Road case included, built-in stereo speakers with individual volume controls.

Software: KORG Software Bundle

Power supply: 12V DC power supply (included)

Height: 12.24″

Width: 20.47″

Depth: 5.08″

Weight: 13.23 lbs.

Manufacturer Part Number: ARP2600M

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