Today I brought home a used but in excellent condition Korg DS-8 Digital FM Sythesizer. It had been sitting in a used music shop that I for quite some time but I didn’t really have much info about it. After some online research and watching a few Youtube videos, I felt the Korg DS-8 would be a fun synth to have. The Korg DS-8 was released in 1986, about 4 years after the Yamaha DX-7. The Korg DS-8 is a 4 operator FM synthesizer while the Yamaha DX-7 is six. The Korg DS-8 definitely has that digital synth sound popular in the 80’s but it also has some great functionality on board.
Very easily you can layer or split sounds on the DS-8. Timbre, EG1, and EG1 can be tweaked live with sliders. The joystick can be used for pitch bending, vibrato, and working the timbres. You can also adjust the timbre balance and include multiple effects if so desired. There is also aftertouch, velocity, and osc select buttons right on the front panel. It’s a great synth for performance oriented stuff which is one reason why I wanted to get one.
One of the sounds I absolutely love is No. 60 Synth Lead 1 which is very warm and a bit analog sounding. In fact many of the sounds have a bit of warmth that is really nice. Like the Yamaha DX-7 mkI you can get a bit of background noise but that can easily be suppressed. The keybed is pretty sturdy and all the keys are built well. The keys do seem to have stronger springs connected to them though which means you have to press slightly harder on them. I also noticed the black keys are slightly more squarish which can result in slowing you down on runs at times. I like a more rounded feel personally but I know that depends on the player. I also found that when changing patches, the effects seem to have a split second delay before activating. When I switch patches while quickly playing a chord, the effects will kick in with a slight delay. This can be annoying if you depend on switching patches and using the effects during a performance. Otherwise there are no other issues thus far after playing it for most of the day.
All in all, the Korg DS-8 is a very underrated synth capable of some decent to excellent sounds. Of course some sounds are not that great, but all one has to do is tweak them which is quite easy to do unlike with the DX-7 for example. The Korg DS-8 is a very hard synth to find on the used market and for the price of under a hundred bucks I would highly recommend picking one up if you find one. It’s a blast to play and I don’t regret at all buying it. Sure the Yamaha DX-7 might be a bit better sounding with it’s six operators and the Roland D-50 knocks it out of the ballpark, but the Korg DS-8 is really a niche synth that can create some really unique and useable sounds. Those sounds can then be manipulated quite easily in real time with the sliders and joystick on the front. The leads and basses are really cool to my ears as well. The Korg DS-8 is a very fun synth indeed.