Korg DS-10+ Perfect Guide Review

A back a year ago or so, I tried writing up the last few reviews on the remaining Gakken Otona no Kagaku products that weren’t a part of the regular numbered kits line. This included the stand-alone book for the Korg DS-10 Plus Synthesizer. At the time, I dismissed it out of hand for just being a collection of 100 patch settings.

Then, last Christmas, I returned to the U.S. and picked up a used Gameboy DS Lite and some games (Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Dragon Quest: Celestial Sentinels and Golden Sun: Dark Dawn). After playing all three games, I decided to check out a nearby electronics store in Japan that had set up a used games section on the third floor, with 3 shelves set aside for about 200 DS games. One of the titles that caught my eye (other than a reboot of Chrono Trigger, which I just had to get) was the Korg DS 10+. Because I have a renewed interest in synthesizers from my work on the Java synth, and the DS-10+ was only 3,500 yen used (about $40 USD), I figured that I might as well buy it. Which of course raised the question of whether I should track down the Gakken book to give it a more proper review. After answering “sure, why not”, it started looking like the book had sold out while my back was turned. Kagoshima has 3 big bookstores – Kinokuniya, Junkudo and Maruzen. Maruzen doesn’t have much in the way of old stock, and Kinokuniya’s book search kiosk showed it as out of stock. The Junkudo search kiosk indicated that they still had a copy, but it wasn’t on the shelf indicated by the computer. On a hunch, I checked whether there were any books for the DS-10+ by rival publishers. There were 2, but in a completely different section. I went to that section, and that’s where I found the Gakken book.

(Image taken from amazon.co.jp for review purposes only.)

Korg DS-10+ Synthesizer Ongaku Tsukuri Perfect Guide, 1800 yen. Pub. 2009.
Amazon carries a used copy for 1,500 yen, but the shipping costs would probably make it break even. This is an A4-sized book (8″x12″) at 170 pages. The first 20 pages are a combination of artist profiles and a how-to guide for imitating the sounds used on the song Polyrhythm from the female trio Perfume. The first article is Trio the DS, which brings together Denji Sano (he scored the music for Ridge Racer and Tekken 3), Michio Okamiya (musician for The Black Mages, which did work on the Final Fantasy games) and Yasunori Mitsuda (scored the music on Chrono Trigger). In fact, Sano formed Trio the DS to promote the DS-10+ game.

The Perfume patches were developed by Tomoaki Kanamori (Korg sound designer), and the last article is a Q&A with Polymoog and Jet Daisuke. Polymoog is a frequent contributor to the Otona no Kagaku mooks, and Jet is a gadget hacker and musician.

(Main sound menu screen.)

Pages 27 to 47 are a user guide to the Korg DS-10+ game, which pretty much duplicates the user booklet packaged in the clamshell, but with more illustrations showing how different controls affect the sound envelope. The rest of the book consists of the patches, with screen shots of the synth edit and synth patch screens and text describing which controls to set. Not all patches are for just synth sounds – there are also sequencer sets for reproducing certain song patterns, and drum synth patches.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Korg DS-10+ is an enhanced software emulation of the Korg MS-10, originally released in 1978. It builds on the original DS-10 game, adding a dual synth mode, and individual track mutes. You can play music via a touch screen keyboard layout, or a variation on the Korg Kaoss pad.

(Synth editor screen.)

If you already own a Gameboy DSi or DS Lite, buying a used copy of the DS-10+ is a great, cheap way to get started on synth music. I’m not sure I’d recommend buying a DSi just to play this game, but that depends on your own personal tastes. Interestingly, there is a two-person duet mode that employs the DS’s wireless feature. So, if you wanted to do a solo on stage without having to drag a cord around, you could wire the second DSi into your mixer and play wirelessly with the first one. If you get two copies of the game. And you have a mixer. (I can dream.)

(Synth Patch screen.)

I haven’t really gotten into the guts of the game yet, so I don’t know exactly how many patches you can save (I think 27) or how long a sequence you can have (up to 1 minute(?)). Right now, I’m still just trying to figure out what effects EG Init and Cutoff have on the overall waveform. I’ve only played with the first 5 patches from the book, and I still have a long way to go to understand this thing.

(Drum Sequencer.)

A few of the websites I’ve looked at call the DS-10+ a “game”, which I think is a misnomer. This is a full-blown software synth. However, I don’t know what else to call this application or Gameboy card, so I’m resorting to “game” when I don’t have any other choice. The Gameboy touch screen makes wiring patch cables a very simple matter of touching and dragging. Changing the control dials is a different matter – often the game ignores me when I tap on the screen to grab dial controls like EQ Init or Attack, and it takes me several tries before I can get it to respond. That, plus having to constantly flip screens in order to switch edit modes are the two things I don’t like about this game. Otherwise, I have no complaints.

Overall, I think the Gakken Perfect Guide book is a good resource if you own the DS-10+ game. Otherwise, don’t bother buying it. As for the DS-10+, if you really want to play with a synthesizer and don’t have the $400 or so for something like the Micro Korg or $600 for the new Korg MS-20 Mini, and you do have the Gameboy DSi, then yeah, get this “game” (but since it’s been out since 2009, I expect that you already know much more about it than I do).

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