A Review of the Korg DS-10 for the Nintendo DS

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A version of this article used to appear at another website where I had a writing and editing gig. I’ve cleaned up the article a bit. Additionally, the functionality of the DS-10, at least for this electronic musician has generally been superseded by the Korg iMS-20 app for the iPad. The DS-10 is still perfect for Nintendo DS owners looking to explore creating their own electronica, and parents should definitely consider getting this app for their kids!

So here’s my review:

The Korg DS-10 by XSEED is arguably the most innovative “game” in the Nintendo DS library. A fully functional analog modeled synthesizer with a virtual keyboard, sequencer, and other sound shaping tools, it makes a perfect introduction to the world of electronic music for both kids and their parents.

Korg DS-10 Features

  • Analog Modeled Synthesizer including a patch panel
  • Virtual Keyboard playable with the Nintendo DS stylus
  • 16-step sequencer allowing for both real-time and step-based composition
  • 2 separate synth channels along with one drum channel
  • Virtual KAOSS pad for sound manipulation and melodic entry
  • Real-time audio effects and mixer
  • Song mode that allows sequencer patterns to be assembled into songs

A Powerful Synthesizer Engine

The core of DS-10 is its synthesizer engine which is essentially a descendant of Korg’s classic 70’s synth, the MS20. It features a standard subtractive synthesis engine with an oscillator, resonant filter, and amplifier controlled by an envelope generator. If this all seems a bit confusing, the DS-10 software makes it a breeze to jump right in and start tweaking the preset synth sounds that come with the “game”. It truly is the perfect way to learn Synthesizer Programming 101.

Korg DS-10

Compose a beat with the Korg DS-10. Copyright Korg and XSEED.

The synth screen features controllable knobs and switches for all major synthesizer functions, including filter resonance (labeled “Peak” on the DS-10) and cutoff frequency enabling one to be able to create the same filter sweeps that are a hallmark of 90s Electronica. This is an area where the DS-10 shines, as newcomers to synthesizer programming can really get a feel for how sound synthesis works.

A virtual patch bay, conjuring up visions of Keith Emerson’s massive modular Moog synthesizer from the early 70s, allows for an incredible level of sound sculpting power – especially for a video game. The patch bay really provides some powerful and interesting sound tweaking functionality and it’s well worth the extra exploration.

“I wake up in the morning and compose a beat…”

Though one can use the Korg DS-10 as a real-time performance synth, it is really is designed as a tool for composing electronic music patterns and assembling those beats into songs. The DS-10 provides a separate sequencer for both synth channels along with one sequencer for drum beats. A beat’s melodies can be composed both in real-time using the virtual keyboard or the KAOSS pad with the Nintendo DS stylus, or in step mode by entering the individual notes into a matrix-like screen. A similar interface is used for the drum beats, including a virtual drum set screen with four pads.

Fans of progressive music will be happy to know that the sequencer supports any number of steps from 1 to 16 for a pattern, which allows for all sorts of odd meters to frighten one’s friends and neighbors. Since a DS-10 song is comprised of up to 16 different patterns, this means a song can have 16 different time-signatures – an effective compositional technique when used wisely.

Song Mode and its Limitations

The DS-10’s song mode allows for 16 different patterns to be arranged in a song. It uses a similar matrix-like screen as the sequencers where one can use the DS’s stylus to select different patterns to play over a song’s 100 measures.

Song Mode, unfortunately, is also where the DS-10’s limitations are revealed. With all the powerful tools for real-time sound sculpting, like the KAOSS pad, synthesizer knobs, mixer and real-time effects – none of these features are available in song mode. All of the sonic manipulation for a song needs to happen in the individual patterns themselves and can not be tweaked globally within the song. This is a frustrating limitation, but it is completely understandable considering this is a video game system and not a high end professional synthesizer.

The song together with its patterns is saved as a Session; the DS-10’s memory allows for up to 21 sessions to be stored on a game card. The DS-10 also supports the saving of synth and drum patches so a cool user-programmed synth sound can be used on more than one song.

The Perfect Introduction to the World of Electronic Music

Simply put, the Korg DS-10 is the perfect introduction to the fascinating and rich world of electronic music and analog synthesis – on a Nintendo DS. One can usually find the DS-10 available for around $20, so it is arguably the best value in a synthesizer as well. XSEED also released the DS-10 Plus, an updated version with additional features, but I never purchased it, and can’t speak it its functionality.

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