Anaheim’s NAMM show is packed with new gear, but I’ve already got a top pick for the one I want to steal and bring home with me.

Korg’s new RADIAS synth/vocoder instrument is striking from the moment you see it. The synth module folds upwards to face you, so you don’t have to bend over the instrument while you’re adjusting your sound — a design reminiscent of the legendary Minimoog. There’s a twist, though: the synth module not only folds up and down, but can be detached and stuck in a rack (perfect if you’re trimming your road setup — or, just because you can). You can also buy just the module, but pricing is only slightly less; Korg quoted US$1799 for the keyboard, $1699 for the module alone.

So there’s the novelty factor: this instrument just looks damn cool, folded up Minimoog-style or not. But having played it and chatted with some of Korg USA’s talented patch programmers, there are other reasons, too. And, most importantly, this isn’t just an analog-style synth, despite appearances.

Let’s go Socratic here and answer some questions I already here hitting the blogosphere:

Why should I care? Well, aside from the fact that it looks freaking cool, this is a really fun synth to play and edit. Everything is accessible and workable. It’s a really deep, powerful synth engine. And it’s quite cheap for the feature set. (“Why should I care” is the first question I ask at this show, so worth offering the instrument’s answer!)

What’s the deal with this module thingy? That’s the fun part: the synth module is on retractable legs that let it fold up to face you, as shown. You can even choose whether it’s on the left, right, or centered relative to the keys. If it’s on the left or right, there’s a metal plate that fills the remaining space, on which you could prop a Kaoss Pad or other controller. And you can pull the whole thing off and stick it in a rack if you like. Essential? Of course not. Fun? Absolutely. And a lot cooler than the more conventional design of most of the other keyboards at the show (including some of those from Korg).

It’s an analog synth, right? Wrong: Despite appearances, there are several synthesis methods at work. There are modeled analog, formant waveforms, and digital waveforms for various sound types. There’s a great-sounding ring modulation feature, too. And what’s especially nice is that a lot of the sound programming is readily available on the knobs and buttons on the sound module, laid out in a clear, logical way. The presets are nicely done, but the outside immediately calls out for sound designers.

What happens when you plug in an audio input? Ah, here’s the fun part. Not only can you use audio inputs for vocoder patches, but you can capture formants, sample a few seconds of audio, and route audio as an oscillator. There’s some serious modulation power, too.

So, it’s like an MS2000? Skip this question if you’re not familiar with that synth, but — yes and no. If you loved the MS2000, you’ll love this: lots of the same Korg design, editing layout, sounds, and features (like the vocoder). That said, Korg has gone wild with multiple synthesis methods, modulation, and other details. It’s more like the OASYS and the MS2000 had a love child. Even if the hardware weren’t so sexy, the brains here are worth noting. (Enough so that I’d love a software version.)

How does it sound? Terrific. It’s borrowing some of the clean, anti-aliased sound of the OASYS. I’m already thinking about how to dirty it up a bit, of course. (Korg has a “Drive” feature for just this purpose, but I’ll probably do even worse if I get my hands on it.)

What the heck does this have to do with the OASYS? Hmmm, OASYS, a huge $8,000 synth, and the RADIAS, an inexpensive keyboard with analog sounds a la Korg’s MS2000B . . . what’s the connection? Well, Korg promised its high-end OASYS would pay dividends in the rest of the line, and this is one of the first examples of that. I’m looking into exactly what that means (this gets into some fairly technical points), but the key seems to be that the analog-modeled oscillators are borrowed from the OASYS, and other subtletites that were possible without sacrificing economics.

When is it shipping? March-ish at last count; I’ll get official word on availability and pricing.

Can we have one more picture?

Can we see more specs?

Contributing Editor Lee Sherman sums it all up: 24-voice, 4-part multi-timbral synth offers a variety of synthesis types derived from earlier Korg products, most notably the MS200, including modeled analog, formant and PCM playback. It also includes multiple effects, new comb-filter and wave-shaping features, mod sequencing, and new formant-motion vocoding.

The voice architecture provides dual multimode filters, three envelopes, two LFOs, three mod sequencers, six virtual patches, two-band EQ, drive, and 11 types of waveshaping.

Two insert effects are available for each timbre, plus a program-wide master effect.

That’s all impressive enough. But it’s the gorgeous yet practical design that really sets the RADIAS apart.