Five years after reissuing the ARP Odyssey, Korg has announced a reissue of the ARP 2600. To learn more about the rebirth of this iconic synth, we reached out to Yoshihito Yamada, Manager of Analog Synthesizer Development at Korg Inc.
The HUB: Why has Korg committed to enshrining the ARP legacy?
Yoshihito Yamada: Many people think synthesizer companies are in competition with each other because that’s the way it might appear in the market, but in fact Korg has huge respect for every major synthesizer company that innovates. ARP is one of the most innovative synthesizer companies in the history of music and sound design, and after the extraordinary success of the MS-20 mini we asked ourselves how ARP could be brought back to an all-new generation of fans. This is why we had so much support from some of the original ARP founders and staff. We have approached their legacy with immense respect.
The HUB: When did Korg decide to make a 2600?
YY: 2600 is the greatest, if not the most popular model of ARP products. It might be obvious that we would work on the reissue of 2600 someday, certainly many fans were asking for this.
We’ve typically considered what the next products should be for several years out. Although there were many reasons why we decided to work on the 2600, one of the biggest was the number of requests from the market following our release of ARP Odyssey. And we are so familiar with the original developers, the design mentality and what customers were after that we felt almost compelled to reproduce it, collaborating with them. But because of the complexity of doing a really authentic reproduction (matching the sound, the cabinet, the leather, etc.) this project couldn’t be rushed. It has been done with love, care and extreme attention to detail. This is why it is a limited edition product. There may be other copies, but none will be as authentic as our ARP 2600. Ours is a synthesizer for the true believers.
The HUB: Take us back to the early days of the project. Do you start with schematics? Vintage units?
YY: Both. We studied and learned from all schematic documents and manuals, and many revisions of vintage 2600s. We wanted to understand every aspect of the 2600 as deeply as possible so we collected existing working models from around the world and spent time with some of the original 2600 engineers to understand every aspect deeply.
The HUB: Were there any learnings from the Odyssey project that informed the 2600?
YY: Absolutely. The Odyssey is essentially the performance-focused version of the 2600. Having reproduced three revisions of Odyssey, it was a great starting point for the 2600 project.
The HUB: What are some of the unique challenges you encounter when re-creating a vintage product?
YY: When reproducing a product that is 40 to 50 years old, customer expectations can be very misleading. They have a clear sound in their head based on a unit that has decades of use. During that time components are going to change and drift in value. This is why it was important for us to get more than one original 2600 as a reference and also to work with many users, both contemporary and original. By closely analyzing several 2600s and talking with a diverse range of 2600 users and programmers, we felt we were able to deliver the most faithful reproduction.
The HUB: What steps did you take to ensure that the re-issue matched the performance of an original unit?
YY: Fortunately, the most important semi-conductor (the opamp) had not been discontinued. That made the synth circuit itself fairly straightforward to reproduce, particularly after our immense experience bringing back multiple versions of the Odyssey. We were also able to easily source the spring reverb, which is just the same as from the original manufacturer, as it is widely used on several tube amplifiers.
So, while this put us in a strong position to get started on the re-issue, we knew finalizing the circuit could be a little tough. All the vintage units we collected have a slightly different sound, whether due to some deterioration of capacitors, incorrect repairs or modifications over the years, or other reasons. To that end, we worked closely with the original ARP team, as well as many musicians, so that we could reach what we believe is the original sound of 2600.
Some of the issues over "vintage sound" were the same as we encountered with MS-20 and other reissued products, so we could sort them out easily based on our experience there. Some vintage owners might say that our units sound a little differently from theirs, but please be sure that what we have made every effort to make this as close to the original 2600 as possible. There are so many reasons why these differences happen, but we put a lot of time into comparing and experimenting to get to the final answer. To be absolutely clear: our ARP 2600 is targeted to be the same as a brand new 2600 from the ‘70s. Only if you have a super good condition vintage unit might you have the same sound as our model.
One other challenge on this project was the quality of the wooden cabinet and the leather surface. Making this huge cabinet and putting it to mass production (relatively speaking) was quite a difficult mission. It might be easier if it was being made in even smaller numbers, but we have to make many of this limited edition ARP 2600 and distribute them all over the world. Our perfect cabinet reissue was only made possible due to our collaboration with Korg's directly managed factory, who also happen to be specialists in making cabinets for Vox amplifiers.
The HUB: Can you tell us a little more about how you worked with members of the original ARP team?
YY: We are collaborating with Mr. David Friend (co-founder of ARP instruments) and Mr. David Mash (product specialist on the ARP products, and the vice president of Berklee College of Music). They are the real originators of the 2600 and we consulted with them many times throughout the development. Actually, we visited them in Boston last year with a prototype to get their feedback on the sound and share our passion for the 2600 with them. They shared a lot of great feedback which enhanced the quality of the final product.
The HUB: Can you speak to the some of the new features and how they’re implemented? Why did you go with the later keyboard design?
YY: While we put great care to matching the core specs of the original units, even during the original production run, the 2600 saw many revisions. Eventually, we completed the product by combining the minor differences of each revision. It is our belief that most 2600 owners/fans would agree with our process.
Speaking to the keyboard, we based it on ARP 3620 units; the most gorgeous model with many controls.
As mentioned, we kept the sound to the original spec, while the new features are really there for practicality. This is the list of new features, but in no particular order since each person will value the additions differently:
- Aftertouch equipped
- Arpeggiator and step sequencer are added on the keyboard units
- MIDI IN/OUT/THRU, and USB-MIDI equipped
- XLR balanced outputs have been added
- PITCH CV 2 (for paraphonic use) is on the synth units, not only on the keyboard units
- More powerful speakers
- A reprint of the original owner's manual of 2600 and 3620
The HUB: You present two different ARP filters here. Can you describe the difference between the two?
YY: The first filter is the famous ladder type, which has some distortion. The second filter has relatively clean sound, and uses the Norton amp. They are basically the same topology as Odysseys' filters, although implemented as discrete circuits on the PCB.
The HUB: Having spent some time with the re-issue, the speakers have a very “pleasing” quality to them. Do the speakers match the original?
YY: The original speakers and the power amplifier circuit didn’t have any particular advantages, so we replaced them with modern components. While they are louder than originals, we carefully adjusted the overall sound so that it sounds good in combination with its cabinet and the spring reverb which is attached on the rear side. It sounds so impressive and we’re really glad to hear that you like it as well! We really hope that every interested musician and sound designer gets to hear it for themselves!
The HUB: In recent years, many of your re-issues have been scaled down slightly in size. Why go full-size on this one?
YY: The 2600 is the most iconic model of ARP products, including its appearance and big silhouette. We’re committed to preserving the ARP history and its place in our minds, so we decided that our ARP 2600 should be released as if it is the first time. in other words, it needed to be a complete and authentic reproduction.
The HUB: Both the Odyssey and 2600 present a very different sonic quality and workflow from a typical Korg product, analog or otherwise. Have these learnings impacted any other Korg products?
YY: Actually, our vintage reissue projects are run by the same team which develops our modern Korg instruments (prologue, minilogue, volca, and so on). You never know at the beginning of a project what the impact will be from this kind of development and collaboration, but as a present-day synthesist I can tell you that we are very proud and lucky to be in touch with these legendary instruments, and especially many of their original developers. Ultimately, this will make the synth culture here at Korg richer and deeper, and this will likely impact our future products as well.