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Korg's New ARP 2600

The Return of a Legendary Instrument

Ryan Gaston · 01/09/20

Those of us who have been waiting for a reissue of the ARP 2600 can now breath a sigh of relief: Korg's ARP 2600 is an all-new, full-size, and dare we say affordable rebirth of one of the greatest synthesizers of all time. Complete with road case, tolex suitcase enclosure, updated 3620 keyboard, and enough patch points to keep you exploring for a lifetime, Korg's 2600 is one of the most exciting synth announcements we've seen in a long time.

Of course, for some, this may seem like a natural trajectory—after breaking back into the world of analog synthesis in the 2010s, Korg released a licensed reissue of the ARP Odyssey, adding MIDI functionality, multiple filter options, and more. Given the attention to detail and excellent built quality in the Odyssey reissues, people almost instantly started asking if there were plans for Korg to reissue the 2600 as well...but for several years, there were no developments on that front.

In late December 2019, though, all of that changed...with Jean Michel Jarre leaking Korg's plans to create a new version of one of the best-loved synthesizers of all time. Korg subsequently issued a series of of teaser trailers and as of today, we know it all to be true.

Why Reissue the 2600?

If you're not already familiar with the ARP 2600, check out our recent article about it here. We won't go into a huge amount of detail here, but it's worth hitting on a few major points. Why would someone want to reissue the 2600 in 2019?

I strongly believe the 2600 may have one of the most clever layouts of any synth of all time. It is semi-modular rather than fully modular, and takes advantage of this in intense, fascinating ways. Rather than relying on users to connect modules together with patch cables to create new sounds, the 2600 instead features a huge number of internal signal connections which can be accessed using vertical sliders on each module. Adjusting these sliders allows you to change the amount of modulation or audio from a given source to the destination. Sources and destinations are clearly labeled with large graphics on the panel, so it is always clear what parts of the synth are interacting.

By providing several of these sliders for most important parameters, players can access most of the signal paths they would "typically" use without needing patch cables at all. When the 2600 was introduced, this was revolutionary: it provided the sonic flexibility of a modular system while automatically providing users with easy access to useful, valid signal connections without using a single patch cable. Players could experiment with new timbres more easily than they could on a modular synth, and they could easily get from one sound to another simply by moving a handful of sliders to taste. Many users quickly realized that the 2600 was capable of a far broader range of sounds than its primary (and worthy) commercial competitor: the Minimoog.

Of course, jacks at every modulation input can be used to defeat the normalled signal routings...so when you want to take the 2600 farther away from its default behavior, it is possible to treat it identically to a modular synth—one with a surprising amount of utility given its size.

Utility and technical concerns aside, though, the most important aspect of the 2600 is its sound. With three wide-range oscillators, a huge-sounding -24dB/Oct resonant lowpass filter, and rich stereo spring reverb, the 2600 is capable of a broad range of tones from evolving drones to stacked leads and thumping bass lines. It can be heard across countless records from Stevie Wonder, Edgar Winter, Weather Report, and many others—and even provided the voice of R2-D2 in Star Wars. Whether being used for funk basslines, jazz fusion leads, or sci-fi sound effects, the 2600 has its own rich timbral universe that nothing else quite matches.

Korg's ARP 2600 and 3620

The Korg ARP 2600 is a faithful, full-size recreation of the classic 1970s instrument. Same form factor, same spring reverb, same speakers—this isn't just a clone, it is a 2600. It adds a handful of niceties not present in the original, such as XLR output, MIDI and MIDI over USB, but all of the core sonic components remain as true to the original design as possible. The 3620 has undergone a notable update—it adds an arpeggiator and 101-style sequencer while maintaining all the cool features of the original version: duophonic operation, built-in vibrato LFO, note repeat, and more.

Connectivity updates aside, the 2600 doesn't need many (if any) changes to be relevant in a current production workflow: so many synthesizers have looked to this device for inspiration that it should feel immediately welcoming and understanding to many synthesists, even if they've never seen one before.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of Korg's 2600 is the fact that this powerful instrument now doesn't have to stay in the hands of collectors alone: and while it isn't the least expensive synth on the market, the huge margin between its price and the value of vintage units will no doubt bring its sound and magic into the studios of musicians who previously couldn't justify owning one...and we look forward to hearing what these people will make.