The release of the original ARP Odyssey came at a time when portable synths were just entering the market. Two years earlier, Moog had condensed the functionality of their modular systems into the Minimoog, and the Odyssey was ARP's contribution. Descended from the semi-modular ARP 2600, with completely hard-wired circuitry rather than patch points, it was the direct counterpart to the Minimoog throughout the '70s. Production ceased in 1981 when ARP folded, but the second-hand market remained vibrant. Several decades later, in 2014, Korg announced they were going to recreate the Odyssey. This was met with both excitement and speculation over what the reborn product might be like, with the key question being whether they would manage to recreate the original's sound.
Korg have made a few changes. Many of the components had been discontinued (the filter components are a notable exception), so circuit redesign was necessary, with surface mount components used in place of through-hole ones. The most immediately obvious change they've made, though, is to reduce the size to 86% of the original. While this doesn't sound like much, it does make a significant difference, making it much easier to fit on your desk and transport to gigs (it ships with a decent carry case). The downside is the reduced key size, and whether you can accept the trade-off is down to personal preference, with a separate MIDI keyboard being an unwieldy option for those who find their playing style disrupted by the change.
There were, in fact, three revisions of the original ARP, which varied in a few ways. In some areas, Korg have dealt with this by cherry-picking. For example, they've taken the proportional pitch control pads from Mk II and III, rather than the rotary knob on the Mk I, as the solution for pitch control. I found that these pads require quite a lot of pressure, and being accurate with the amount of pitch bend was difficult. (I'm guessing this improves with practice.) The filter was the major sonic difference between the three versions, with the first being a fairly brittle-sounding two-pole design, the second a four-pole design that was thicker and more Moog-like, and the third being again four-pole and similar to the second but with a much higher resonance possible. They've included all three, with a switch to flick between them. This feature alone adds a great deal of value. They've also added a drive control that imparts a nicely thick saturation on the sound, USB transfer of MIDI note data and various other minor tweaks.
Korg's mission statement, though, was to recreate the original, so they haven't changed much. The two oscillators play either monophonically or duophonically—one oscillator per note—if two notes are held down. The oscillators can each be square or sawtooth, with pitch sliders, so it needs to be tuned before use. There's also a white or pink noise generator, ring modulation and sync. The signal then passes through the usual low-pass filter and an amplifier, each of which can be modulated with envelopes and LFOs in the usual ways. The modulation options are many and varied, something the Odyssey had over the Minimoog. There are two envelope generators, two LFOs (running at the same frequency) and a versatile sample-and-hold section, which can all be routed to areas such as pulse width, oscillator frequency, filter cutoff and amp level. Modulating frequency and pulse width of the oscillators allows for complex timbral changes when using ring modulation or sync, and the envelopes can even be triggered from the LFO rather than the keyboard, allowing for evolving modular-style sequences. The synth's design heritage is most apparent in the flexibility and options you have here.
But it's also a natural performance instrument. It feels like the sliders invite you to change the sound dynamically during a performance more than rotary pots do. There are two pedal sources, one that turns portamento on and off and one that can act as a modulation source. You can also pass an external instrument through the filter and amp, and the use of the synth as a wah-wah pedal is just the start of what you can do with this feature. You'll want to play it using a lot more than just the keys.
So the functionality is recreated, but what about the sound? The consensus is that Korg have done a very good job matching the original Odyssey. It has a lot of edge, with sync, ring modulation and white noise being crisp and cutting, but with a more closed filter or lower down on the keyboard it has plenty of earthy weight, too. It does staple sounds like searing leads, aggressive bass patches and tonal percussion adeptly, but it's at its most exciting with odd sounds like wonky ring modulation sequences. In terms of the confidence with which it handles a wide range of sounds it could be called a workhorse, but this downplays its more subtle charms.
The Odyssey has clearly been revived with an appropriate amount of reverence for the original, but it would have been nice to get some more extra features. A few more options for VCO waveform would have been great, as would fuller MIDI integration, or a way to make it easier to tune, or even a redesign of the faders, which feel quite flimsy. The size reduction will be divisive as well, but everywhere else they've done a very solid job at their chosen task, with the Odyssey remaining a very musician-friendly instrument and a joy to use.
Ease of use: 4.7