The idea of an acoustic synthesizer might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s exactly the sort of unexpected concepts that Korg Berlin was created to pursue. This independent, R&D-focused division was cofounded in 2020 by Maximilian Rest and Tatsuya Takahashi, the man behind the Volcas, Minilogue and countless other modern classics. But it has remained pretty quiet since its inception. That changed this week at Superbooth where the team showed off its first prototype the Acoustic Synthesis_phase5.
Unlike a traditional synth that uses oscillators, the phase5 uses tuned metal forks. Those forks are specially designed to produce specific fundamental notes and overtones. And since the core sound generation here is an acoustic resonator, it has certain qualities a normal synth does not. For instance it will feedback like a guitar when held near an amp and ring when struck on its side. Takahashi told Fess Grandiose of Reverb, “we’re trying to kind of capture this rawness of instruments, while being at the same time, controllable like a synthesizer.”
So that’s the “acoustic” part: metal tines that ring, resonate and decay, almost like a Fender Rhodes. The synth part comes from the magnets inside the phase5 that allow it to sustain just the fundamental note, or the fundamental and the overtones, or just the overtones. The overtones can also be modulated with an LFO creating a sound that can only be described as a sea sick bell.
In general the sound it generates in the short demo video above is quite unique. It does have a ringing, vaguely Rhodes-like quality to it. But it also kind of sounds like what you might expect of a singing bowl patch on a ’90s sample-based synth. It’s a touch otherworldly.
Right now the phase5 is just a prototype and it’s likely to stay that way. Right now Korg Berlin is simply gauging interest in the technology. And if it seems like there’s a market for this sort of strange hybrid acoustic synth, then it will explore ways to develop it further into a finished product.