Make Yourself a Virtual Korg DS-8

...and how to do so...
Watchful
KVRist
211 posts since 9 Jan, 2018

Post Fri Apr 19, 2019 6:05 pm

Back in the days when Korg was (briefly) owned by Yamaha, they introduced a weird synthesizer named the DS-8. Even a lot of us around in the 1980s don't remember it, because--while it was really nice for its time--it landed in stores a little before the M1 was introduced. Well, you know, everyone wanted the M1, and the DS-8 quietly and quickly disappeared from Korg's catalogs.

But the DS-8 was a lot of fun to play and was something of a mystery. Usually, Korg was happy to tell you how their sound synthesis engines worked in their keyboards (and still are happy to do so). The DS-8 arrived with little fanfare and no real explanation of how it generated its sounds. The front of the keyboard only featured cryptic theories like TIMBRE and OSC and XMOD, but not much else. The manual avoided real discussion of it.

Here's the secret: it was a 4-operator FM synth. In fact, it had the same chipset at the Yamaha DX100 or the DX21...but FM was considered a dying technology by 1986, so Korg concealed that fact for the most part. Ingeniously, Korg took the whole FM concept and, instead of algorithms and carriers and modulators and ratios, they developed a subtractive-style front end to make it seem like it was just like their DW-8000 or DW-6000. People who loathed FM were happily programming their DS-8s (well, the few who bought one, anyway) without any idea what was lurking under the hood.

As such, the DS-8 was blown into the winds by the arrival of the M1. Some of us tried the DS-8 and thought it did some pretty nice things. Frankly, I've always had a soft spot for one and I confess I've looked a little too long at websites selling used ones. I just could never convince myself that its strange little FM sounds were worth it.

But then! I discovered you can build your own virtual DS-8 for nearly nothing. All you need is a couple of utilities and a hardware or software synth capable of importing DX7 sysex files. I tried this tonight, and it worked. Amazingly well, in fact.

1. Get the Original DS-8 Presets

In today's day and age, there are a ton of 4-operator synths you can use to program new sounds, so with that in mind, you're probably after the preset sounds.

These are available. In fact, look here: http://www.sysexdb.com/synth_detail.aspx?dv=65 and download STOCK.syx. These are the original 100 presets from the DS-8.

2. Get this tremendous Python script

Martin Arenskeen, out of the Netherlands, has written this truly incredible Python script that converts pretty much every Yamaha-style 4-operator synth patch or sysex file to the DX7's 6-operator format.

Here's the script. It's a Zip file.

To run this, you'll need a Python run time engine for your computer. This is free and I used this one (version 2.7).

If you need to, install the Python engine and just go along with its prompts.

3. Run the script!

Double-click the file named dxconvert-gui.py and a dialog box should appear.

Under Input File, browse and find where you saved the STOCK.syx file.

Under Output files, select your place you want the converted file to land.

Give it a name and be sure to append ".syx" after it! For example, KorgDS8.syx

Click the green DX CONVERT! button.

The script identifies the original sysex file as a DS8 bank, breaks it into 32-piece banks, and creates four files with the converted patches, in the original order, and with the original patch names. What results are four Yamaha DX7 systex files.

4. Import these into your software FM synth

If you're unfamiliar with FM synthesis, you might not have one of these. I strongly recommend Dexed, available for free here at KVR.

Dexed reads DX7 sysex files transparently. Load up one of the four banks and you have your Korg DS-8.

5. Or, import these into your hardware synth!

Korg Kronos users can use MOD-7 to reconstruct these sounds. Put the files onto a USB drive and connect it to your Kronos. Press DISK, select the Load page, the USB drive and the files, and press LOAD. Select the destination where you want these banks to land, and press OK.

Yamaha Montage and MODX users need to convert these to the FM-X format first. I use the butt-simple Yamaha FM Converter site. Drag the four files onto the left-hand box and click Convert. The utility will merge the four files into one X7L file. Copy this file to a USB drive, and use the UTILITY button, Library Import button to pull them in.

6. Play your virtual DS-8!

Are they perfect? Pretty much. Because the DX7 lacked on-board effects, the sounds are dry. As a result, the original "Don't Hold" patch sounds weird. But put a 630ms delay on it, either via software or hardware, and you've pretty much recreated the original sound.

Frankly, the original DS-8 sounds were limited by the on-board digital delay system, so you're going to want to improve the hell out of them anyway. But some of the original DS-8 sounds were exceptionally good and atmospheric for their time, and I've spent a couple hours going down memory lane with them.

And yes, the script converts all those old DX11 and DX100 and FB01 sounds, so go ahead and convert those, too!

I said this would cost nearly nothing. If you want, send Martin a token donation for writing a truly brilliant and useful script. That's all it costs.

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