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KORG DS-10 Synthesizer Plus Review

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You may be familiar with the name “KORG.” Those of you with a musical background should recognize it from its series of keyboards, drum pads and music editing software. But while they remain a reliable property in the music field, it’s unexpected to see the brand put onto a piece of interactive entertainment. Yet, in 2008, the company released KORG DS-10 for the Nintendo DS. However, this was no musical adventure or Rock Band wannabe; this was full-blown music software. This was during a time when Ninendo was really pushing for their portable to be more than just about games and the eventual positive feedback from the experiment lead to an upgraded version to be released shortly after to take what was already great and improve it in just about every way. So came KORG DS-10 Plus.

An expansion so improved it makes the original obsolete, KORG DS-10 Plus brings the technicality of studio music editing software and shrinks it down into the portable DS for optimal creation ready whenever inspiration strikes. The “game,”  so to speak, contains everything necessary for laying down synthesized loops and stringing together transferable songs even going as far as allowing you to daisy chain another DS to collaborate with someone else, or add offbeat  notes to your composition. The game makes sure that if you can figure out your way around a mixer, you’ll be able to take advantage of the plethora of instruments at your disposal.

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The most general and first step in song creating is the keyboard synthesizer. Simply enough, it is akin to having a keyboard built into your DS. You’re given the freedom to play any note and increase or decrease octives on 6 different scales. At the top of the screen are helpful buttons that allow you to loop your current composition to play along with or record directly over it with what you’re currently playing. You are also given the option to change the tone of your synth from a library of preloaded sounds. While the library is admittedly quite small, the game promotes customization by allowing you to edit each one in the Synth Patch which allows you to tweak everything from pitch, peak, decay, eg, porta, release and even the sound wave itself. You can also save created sounds into the library with up to twenty four storage slots to play on your syth or drum kit.

Your next step is to head over to the Drum Sequencer. There are two distinct different ways to create a drum track. One of which is your basic sequencer in which you take your drum tones  and line up how they will play by checking off boxes in the sequence. But if you’re here to have fun, then you should head over to the drum pads. The drum pads are the beat’s answer to a keyboard and this section really lets you pound out any muscial aggression you may have pent up inside. Equipped with four pads, you can drum to your heart’s content, record your track to play under your music or, using the same library as the keyboard, edit each drum. But with the same library comes the same level of customization. Each beat can be fine tuned with all the options mentioned prior, usually leading to some insane sound you’d never think to use as a beat.

Now that you’ve finished a loop containing two synth tracks and a sweet drum beat, you’re ready to create a song. In the song creator you are given the similar checkbox style of the drum sequencer. But here, instead of adding drum tones, you are arranging full loops that you’ve created and saved. You’re given the ability to add up to one hundred loops per song from anything you’ve made in the past. When it’s all done and saved, you can further mix it’s levels, pan, wave legnths and add effects like flanger and chorus.

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Once you’ve finished your entire song the real fun begins to start. The meat of this game’s entertainment really shines through with the last featured software known as the KAOS Pad. This beautifully merges the DS’ touch screen capabilities with KORG synthesizing know how. As your new composition plays, by simply sliding your stylus across the KAOS Pad, you can alter the entire song’s settings in a split second. Manipulating pitch, gate, pan, volume, cutoff or even the notes playing all in real time to amazing effect. This gives your creations a whole new personality and gives you an accomplished feeling of a live performance. You can also, like the other tools, record as you play.

The cartridge is hard to find in stores, but can easily be scooped up online, although prices vary from thirty to forty dollars. There are some areas where the features lack some intuition, (sampling notes before placing them in sequence, no warning about saving before exiting, small library of tones) however the tools themselves are a blast to use. I’d recommend either a prior knowledge of how to mix and how sound works or a lot of patience to learn before diving in. Once you pass those hurdles, however, there are hours of replayability and endless options of creativity. With so much customization to every detail, innovative technology mixed with portability and limitless fun with the KAOS Pad, KORG DS-10+ is a must have for musicians on the go. Now go make some music and upload it to the Nintendo online network (or go grab yourself a double male 3.5mm and record it to your computer) and let the world hear you jam!

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[Written by contributor Alex Cabral]

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Alex Cabral
I'm the host Master Co-Daddy of the Random Assault Podcast.