The year was 1983. The competition: Roland’s Juno. And KORG would introduce an instrument that … actually … would never really be as legendary as other 80s synthesizers. But it’s excellent, and you want it anyway – especially for free.
I love the Poly-800. It actually remains one of the best buys on used 80s synths if you want some retro hardware. (Wait. Forget I said that. In fact, tell everyone you know to buy something else. It’s terrible. Don’t drive up its price because – it’s worthless. Whew! Dodged a bullet there.)
And it’s actually a very sensible, balanced polysynth. There’s one digital oscillator per voice, but 8 of them (to Roland’s 6). Each has additive harmonics (16′, 8 ‘, 4′, 2’). And the eight-voice configuration allows a 4-voice Double mode, with two oscillators per voice for a fatter sound. There’s still a 24 dB filter, three envelope generators, and a simple pseudo-stereo chorusing effect, plus a built-in sequencer. (That chorusing is necessary to the sound.)
It was cheap when new, it’s cheap used – perhaps the earliest iconic affordable poly. And now it’s free, in a plug-in emulation.
That’s good, because you really wouldn’t pay for an emulation of a Poly-800. But its simple, friendly sound is perfect for a little 80s synth vibe in a track.
Also, since I’ve been recommending a lot of wonderful but CPU-heavy stuff – like Arturia’s – here’s a break for your CPU with something far lighter.
Full Bucket Music does a bang-up job with the emulation here, with even a “Cairo” version that will work on slightly older Macs, and VST + AU (macOS) and VST (Windows, both 32- and 64-bit).
You get MIDI learn, plus up to 64 voices polyphony with velocity, which of course the original has. In fact, this is eminently playable in a way that would require a lot of work with an actual Poly-800.
Plus – badass name. Fury-800.
There’s more great KORG goodness. The Trident mk II:
The Mono/Poly. (Mono/Fury!)
The VC-10 vocoder! (now I want to see if I can run this in WINE on Linux and get a low-latency hardware rendition with RasPi – who’s with me?)
And then it gets really obscure in KORG’s back catalog, with the Delta DL-50 string synth, the late 70s PS series.
There’s even an original polysynth called the KERN which sadly has nothing to do with me. And there’s a lot of other stuff.
It’s all free/donationware. And that’s wonderful, so let’s donationware it, please.
Thanks to Björn Arlt of Hanau – great work!
And Synthanatomy gets the scoop on this one: