In this video and post, I explore the rich history and lasting legacy of the Korg M1 Music Workstation. Introduced in 1988, it quickly rose to become one of the best-selling synthesizers of all time. Manufactured from 1988 to 1995, some of its presets, such as the iconic M1 Piano and Organ sounds, became staples of late 80s and early 90s music.

What set the Korg M1 apart from other synthesizers of its time were its PCM sample-based sounds, 8-track sequencer, drum sounds, and built-in effects. This unique combination positioned it as one of the pioneering music workstations. Its 4MB of PCM samples were processed through a familiar amplifier and filter model, making it easy to tweak the sounds. However, it lacked the capability to create custom samples, earning it the designation of one of the first “ROMplers.”

The M1 found its way into the hands of nearly every artist in the early 90s, with notable users including 808 State, Depeche Mode, Fluke, The Cure, The Orb, The KLF, Bomb The Bass, Gary Numan, Robert Miles, Mike Oldfield, Joe Zawinul, Patrick Moraz, Pet Shop Boys, Vangelis, the Cranberries, and countless house music producers.

The synth engine is based on a dual-oscillator program that can be combined into an 8-channel Combi. Each oscillator can utilize one of the PCM samples before passing through a VDF (filter) and VDA (amplifier). Dual LFOs and two insert effects per program enhance the sonic possibilities. The M1 also features an 8-track sequencer capable of holding 10 songs with 100 patterns and 7,700 notes, complete with quantizing and editing options.

While some of the sounds may feel dated, classics like the Piano and Organ remain instantly recognizable, and others are still very usable today. The M1’s legacy includes the M1R, a rack-mount version, and the exM1 expansion kit, which doubled the memory.

In 1988, Korg introduced the T series, building upon the M1’s success. The T3, for instance, added a 3.5-inch floppy drive and doubled the memory for the sequencer and ROM memory for samples.

The M1’s successor, the 01/W, emerged in 1991 with a 16-track sequencer, 32 voices, and an improved voice engine (AI2). Interestingly, its name originated from a marketing team member seeing “M10” upside down and liking it, leading to the choice of “01/W.” The 01/W was later succeeded by the Trinity and Triton range.

The M1 story didn’t end there; in 2004, Korg launched the Legacy Collection (now known as the Korg Collection), featuring a virtual version of the M1 that included all the original sounds and voice cards, including the T1 cards. This virtual version is still supported and available today.

The Korg M1 remains one of the best-selling synths of all time, and its influence is still palpable. Personally, I lean more towards the Wavestation, released by Korg in 1990.

If you own a Korg Modwave, I have some patches from the M1 that recreate many of the classic sounds. The Modwave sound pack is a free download on my site.


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