Korg PE-2000 Polyphonic Ensemble


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1977 analogue string ensemble keyboard

[ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard instrument select buttons ]

[ Jean-Michel Jarre surrounded by synths in his 1978 studio - Korgs above RMI ] [ Jean-Michel Jarre 1981 Concerts In China poster with Korg PE-2000 ]I fell in love with this keyboard for its splendid choir sounds, as made famous by Jean-Michel Jarre on Equinoxe (V & VIII, I think) alongside the lush Solina string sounds built into his Eminent 310U organ. And it appeared on this poster promoting his 1981 Chinese concerts.

This one is an early model, with REED and WIND sounds instead of PIPE ORGAN 1 and 2 on later models which were called Poly Ensemble S. Being built into its own flightcase has kept it in great shape over its forty year history, and everything still works fine, except the instrument select switches crackle and sometimes don't engage properly first time round (I will attempt to clean the switches and pots). By pressing in multiple instrument switches at once, you can (sometimes, after a few tries) conjure up mega-combination patches, my favourite being CHORUS 2 + BRASS 2 + STRING 2 (pictured). It also has a brilliant phaser! Turning the PHASE SHIFTER rate knob fully counter-clockwise switches it off with a satisfying click.

Instead of using a BBD chorus-ensemble to fatten up a single oscillator voice like many stringers, this machine has three juicy oscillators per voice (!) for each key in the top octave, and uses a divide-down architecture for unlimited "paraphonic" polyphony. The single envelope is shared and therefore cuts off and retriggers on playing new notes, but this is only noticeable with the longest ATTACK and SUSTAIN (which, unlike a Solina, are very short anyway); you can work around this with your playing technique, and IMHO this is part of the charm of these vintage instruments.

[ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard from above ] [ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard from above ]There is a handy front panel headphone socket with its own PHONE LEVEL control which is independent from the main output VOLUME, so you can audition your playing before letting the audience hear it. Hmmm, an external input mod pre-phaser would be very cool... I'm no electrical engineer but surely it is just a case of finding the right place in the circuit? Then you could use it as a headphone amp with a built-in analogue phaser...!

On the back, as well as the funky sculpted Korg logo, are three mono unbalanced jack outputs: dry, phased and an extra phased output for guitar amps, which is dying for some pedals as company... The EXPRESSION PEDAL input is a 5-pin DIN which I'd like to get going - here's how.

On mine the PHASE SHIFTER, BASS & TREBLE knobs are not original, having been replaced by some guitar knobs. These tone controls add a nice bite and animation where needed, but can distort if playing massive chords. This is a known problem with this synth: the old diode switching networks have a very limited headroom and need upgrading to integrated FET switches (one day when I can afford to get it serviced).

[ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard from above ] [ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard from above ]As you can see, this early prototype has a funny spelling mistake on the TUNING section :-) The "CALIBLATION" knobs allow relative fine tuning of the three oscillators. The first two REED + WIND (PIPE ORGAN on later models) sounds also allow you to pull the knob to switch out/in Osc A (an octave down) and Osc B (an octave up), whereas Osc C is fixed at normal pitch and always on, So you can just have a single osc, two or all three. Sadly only the REED + WIND sounds allow this oscillator muting - I wonder if this is moddable? Other sounds have all three octaves in unison, so perhaps this is something to do with it. But on all the sounds, subtle tuning changes can create nice phasey unison effects even without using the phaser.

It may not be particularly versatile but the sounds are so thick and organic, rather than thin and shimmering like Solina, Godwin and Yamaha SS-30 (my other favourite stringers), and the CHORUS sounds have some positively chewy filtering going on (possibly like this awesome Oakley Human Voice Module?) which makes it unique and therefore a keeper.

The splendid polished wooden cabinet has elegant grain and really lends a touch of class. For years I had avoided wooden synths - many synth fans will be crying sacrilege at such a statement! But growing up in the 1980's, wooden synths were so out of fashion and harked back to the naff world of cheesy preset organs. And many synths had tacky MDF end cheeks with ugly fake veneer, making them look right out of place in my space age studio*. In the early days of the internet, images were tiny and poor quality, and all we synth freaks had to go on were magazine articles with equally small photos. As music shops dwindled, seeing synths in the flesh was a special occasion, especially esoteric/vintage ones. It wasn't until recent years when hi-res photos of synths became available online that you could see these rare beasts close-up enough to tell apart the gross lemons from the stylish real wood cases which are actually works of art when you see them in the flesh. So I have fallen more in love with some classic vintage synths.

* There is still a "No wood" policy in effect in The Control Room. This includes guitars of any colour (they are of course permitted in other rooms), chiefly because of:

  1. their ubiquity (there are so many wonderful instruments out there, but why do so many people pick the git?),
  2. their overused tedious playing techniques,
  3. their bland basic sound.

Meanwhile, a new wooden synth setup is expanding downstairs in The Piano Room, revelling in the new freedom surrounded by fellow wooden brethren of African drums, antique piano and harmonium.

[ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble keyboard from above ]I love big vintage gear with space to stack things on top! While a PS-3100 or 770 would look stunning, I initiallly had just a small zither and a pair of speakers on it, as pictured here, patiently craving a tape echo or monosynth. I later moved some effects from The Control Room so I could add reverb locally; this 5U of gear fits perfectly on top between my Fostex mini monitors as if Korg designed it this size on purpose:

Needless to say, running anything through the Wersivoice makes a fabulous sound, especially something glorious like this Korg...!

UPDATE 2018-08-13: Since writing this, I've joined a friend's band, so my keyboard rig has been moved around again, and effects have been drafted for live use; as a result, my Godwin now sits atop the Korg beside my new EKO Stradivarius for three-way vintage stringer action!

[ Korg Polyphonic Ensemble front panel close left view | Korg Polyphonic Ensemble front panel close middle view | Korg Polyphonic Ensemble front panel close right view ]


© copyright Malcolm Smith 2016-05-30 - last updated 2018-08-13 - links verified 2016-05-30