September 2002

Korg Triton Studio 88 Workstation/Sampler

Lyle Mays once told me, “I don’t consider each individual synthesizer an instrument. I consider the sonic capabilities of my whole bank of sounds and my sequencer as the instrument. I’ve come to the conclusion that synths are like potatoes: they’re no good raw—you’ve got to cook ’em.” Well then, allow me to introduce you to Iron Chef Korg, because this most modern and fully featured of digital workstation/samplers has the potential to function as an inspirational tool for dedicated (and open-minded) improvisers, because seemingly every multitiered combination patch, individual program voice and fulminating drum groove one alights upon is an expressive paradigm that suggests original ideas for charts and songs.

Over the past year—through a series of long-term loaners and visits to retailers—I’ve explored the vast sonic terrain of the popular Korg Triton series as it has evolved since 1999 (beginning with the classic 61 and 76-key Korg Triton and TritonPro as well as the 88-weighted key TritonProX), culminating in the spring of 2002 with the release of what is essentially a thoughtful consensus of the best features, refinements, improvements and expandability options that would constitute the ultimate idealization of Korg’s initial vision—the Korg Triton Studio 88 Key Workstation/Sampler ($4,200).

At that time Korg also introduced 61-key and 76-key configurations of the Triton Studio (priced at $3,400 and $3,800, respectively), as well as more scaled-down versions (the 61-key Triton LE for $1,600 and the Triton LE76 for $1,800), which are seemingly intended to appeal to first-time buyers or act as sonic adjuncts to existing keyboard arrays by trickling down the engine and sequencing power of their big brothers (save that the sampling option is an after-purchase upgrade, there is no touch screen and the floppy drive is replaced with a Smart Media slot). But given that JazzTimes’ primary readership is composed of jazz musicians and educators, with a devout fealty to the acoustic piano, I’ve concentrated on the Triton Studio 88.

Straightaway, I was captivated by the manner in which the Triton Studio 88 speaks to the heart of those who cherish true synthesis. The Triton Studio 88 features 838 PCM sounds, with 48 MB PCM ROM containing 429 multisamples, plus 417 drum samples and 256 General MIDI Level 2-compatible programs. When you boil all that down, what you encounter upon first powering up the Triton Studio 88 are 512 combinations: four databanks containing 128 complex, evocative voicings and keyboard splits (with optional polyphonic arpeggiation patterns and drum grooves)—rich orchestral layerings of up to eight individual programs out of a grand total of 512. The manner in which these preprogrammed templates combine samples with electronic sounds is endlessly fascinating. Sure, there are plenty of realistic piano and instrumental sounds and all the most beloved vintage keyboards, but what with multiple filter types for each oscillator, 16-track sequencing, 48kHz stereo/mono sampling with 16MB RAM (now expandable to 96MB in the Studio 88 and throughout the Triton series), plus all manner of programmable effects and modulation via the TouchView GUI display (for data entry and editing), the potential for shuffling the deck and creating all manner of new voices and grooves is unlimited.

Better yet, the Triton Studio 88 really shines as a performance tool. Korg’s ribbon controller and its famous joystick offer real-time, intuitive expressive control of vibrato, pitch bend and modulation. More significantly, as firm and dynamic as the weighted touch and velocity sensitive keyboard is on the classic ProX, it is that much better on the Triton Studio 88, with a real weighted hammer action that mirrors the manner in which the keys on a piano decrease in weight as you ascend into higher frequencies, for a much more realistic, nuanced response.

To further enhance the Studio 88’s appeal to pianists, a 16 MB library of voices drawn from a stereo-sampled Bösendorfer is standard issue (otherwise available to long-time Korg Triton or Karma users as the optional PCM08 sound card), as well as a complete new set of dedicated databanks (offering up to 1,536 user-writable memory locations), allowing users to install up to seven of Korg’s provocative EXB-PCM expansion boards without having to overwrite existing programs. As if that weren’t enough, the Triton Studio 88 now offers an optional CD-R/RW drive, an optional ADAT optical output and word clock in; a digital S/P DIF coaxial I/O and a 5 gigabyte internal hard drive; plus resampling in every mode (including sequencer), 120 notes of polyphony, an improved touch-screen and a CPU that runs a full six times faster than that of the classic Tritons.

All in all, this is as compelling and original an expression of cutting edge technology and musical humanity as I’ve ever encountered in the digital domain—which is why the Korg Triton Studio 88 is likely both the first and last electronic keyboard many of you will ever have to buy.

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