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 Additionally, the functionality of the DS-10, at least for this electronic musician has generally been superseded by the Korg iMS-20 app for the iPad.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.
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.