Korg iM1 Review

The release of Korg’s classic 1980s digital synth for iOS has Andy Jones re-opening a three-decade old wound. Can he gain ‘closure’ and actually tell us if it’s any good? We doubt it…


Manufacturer Korg Price £14.99
Distributor Korg UK/App store
Contact Tel: +44-190-8304600
Web www.korg.co.uk/iTunes
Requires iOS 8 or later

Korg Button

I’m actually shaking a little bit while writing this. Just a tiny bit. I’m reviewing Korg’s iM1 – the ‘M1 synth for the iPad’ – and have hit ‘that’ Universe preset. Suddenly, I’m instantly transported back to my music technology college 25 years ago, to the midst of a ‘frankly rather ridiculous, but still bugs me more than I care to admit’ argument over which company made the first synth workstation.

Was it Roland, with the D-20 – the synth I owned? Or was it Korg’s M1 – my friend Jon’s keyboard? Whoever won that particular geek-ument is lost in the mists of time (it was me) – but it’s now largely immaterial. One of said keyboards went on to sell gazillions, becoming the synth of the late 80s and early 90s, appearing in the TOTP rig every week and basically soundtracking an entire generation.

The other ended up in the second-hand pages of a magazine. (I got £150 for it, if you must ask – just over a tenth of the student grant I spent on it).

The ‘Bloody M1’
No, even I can’t deny the impact that the Korg M1 synth (‘workstation’ if I must) had on, well, everything. Alongside the Roland D-50 and Yamaha DX7, it bolstered its Japanese makers’ coffers during the transition from analogue to digital synthesis and it certainly defined an era in music, although I actually happen to think that the era in question wasn’t all that good. Dreadful even.


From about 1984 to 1989 the world of pop music went, for want of a better expression, ‘totally tits up’, and the M1 and its ilk were largely responsible (alongside Stock Aitken And Waterman).

Luckily, then, Korg’s designers – and let’s give them a bloody big pat on the back, as they’re on a bit of a roll at the moment – have opted to produce the M1 in all of its glory (and inglory, if that is a word), plus a lot more besides.

Load it up and you get six sound packs included, plus options to increase these (just like adding cards to the original); and a very neat touch is that when I booted up Korg’s excellent Gadget, it gave me the option to load in iM1 to join the brilliant range of synths and drum machines in that app. Great stuff so far…

The Universe and Everything
So, to the presets, and I have to say that they easily transformed me into my 21-year old, rather stupid self. They are there, although the rather bland original front panel of the synth is not (thankfully) as present as you’ll find on Korg’s ‘analogue’ iOS ports. Instead, you get parameters to play with and instant hands-on control, something the original never had – unless you squinted through menu after menu.

You get 100 sounds in each of the first three ‘banks’ (M1, M1EX and Memory), plus 50 each in Synth1, Drums1 and Orchestra1. Optional expansion cards available include M1 Card Pack (16 titles) and T1 Card Pack (11 titles), each just £3.99, which I’ll be reviewing next month in MusicTech.

Of the ones supplied, for anyone who is in any way ‘M1-orientated’, it’s the wondrous and aggravating journey you will have expected. On one hand, you get those amazing Combinations (great walls of sound or Splits to play entire keyboard parts) and presets like the aforementioned Universe (so good it appeared on every Gary Numan album during his ‘fallow’ period). But then, in what seems like random preset ordering, you end up with a corny sax preset straight out of a low-rent 1980s porn film…

This means you get, then, what you damn well should: an M1 – pianos aplenty; loads of digital; loads of big (shoulder) pads; loads of fake acoustics; loads of ‘LA’; loads of old brass; loads of big, in your face unsubtle late 80s sh*t; loads of money!

So, if you want ethereal walls of atmosphere that launched a thousand Enyas you’ve come to the right place [mmm, a thousand Enyas – Ed]. But this is the M1, so you’ve also come to the right place for a big dollop of Black Forest Gateaux. But you knew that. That’s why you’ve read this far.

As I said, the M1 was infuriating. It was second to none when it came to creating atmosphere, but it was also the synth that overdid the digital thing so much that it arguably (and I am stretching history just a little here) ended up kick-starting dance music as people rebelled against it. (I’m not still thinking about that three-decade argument at all, you understand).

A real Korg M1 and a couple of Kaoss pads. Oh and some expansion cards. Or get yourself a Roland D-20. I know someone who can do you a really good deal…

And… calm
Well that review was ‘a journey’ if ever there was one. And a very bitter version of me would conclude that the M1 wasn’t as good as everyone said, and that this app deserves to go the way of the D-20. But with the extras Korg has added, I simply can’t make that argument.

There’s the fact that you can effectively use it as a multitimbral sound module in your studio set-up; the fact that you get the Kaoss pads to give you extra control; the fact that you get true control over the sounds and extra parameters that we all wanted at the time; and finally the fact that you can expand its palette by thousands of sounds that came out long after the original.

In fact, all I can say is top marks Korg, it’s a souped up M1 even I can’t argue with. And all I can now say to Roland is ‘Your turn?’

Key Features
● Runs on: iPad Gen3/4, Air 1/2, mini 1/2/3
● Polyphony: 2 to 64 notes, depending on iPad (Air 2 = 64)
● Modes: Combo plus 8-part multi
● Sounds: up to 3,300 with expansion cards (450 without)
● Performance: via MIDI keyboard, touch Kaoss and keyboard