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Korg M1

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The Korg M1
PriceUS$2,166 est. street (1988)/$2,749 MSRP (1990)
Technical specifications
Polyphony16 voices, 16 oscillators
Timbrality8 part
Oscillator16 oscillators, 16-bit 2 Mword (4 MB) PCM waveform ROM (100 multisounds + 44 drum sounds)[1]
Synthesis typeDigital sample-based subtractive
FilterVDF (variable digital filter), low-pass velocity-sensitive (non-resonant)
Attenuator3 independent AADBSSRR[2] envelope generators
Aftertouch expressionYes
Velocity expressionYes
Storage memory100 programs / 100 combinations / 4400 sequencer notes or 50 programs / 50 combinations / 7700 sequencer notes depending on global settings, and 10 songs + 100 patterns[3]
EffectsReverb, delay, phaser, tremolo, exciter, ensemble, overdrive, EQ, chorus, flanger, rotary speaker
Keyboard61 keys (Yamaha FS keybed)
Left-hand controlSpring-return joystick (pitch and modulation)
External controlMIDI IN/OUT/THRU

The Korg M1 is a synthesizer and music workstation manufactured by Korg from 1988 to 1995. The M1 was advertised as a 'workstation' rather than a synthesizer, integrating composition and performance features into a single device. It features 16-voice polyphony, high-quality digital samples (including drum sounds), an integrated 8-track sequencer and digital effects processing.

The M1 is one of the bestselling synthesizers in history, selling an estimated 250,000 units.[4][5]


Korg's chief engineer, Junichi Ikeuchi, led the hardware engineering design of the M1.[6] Whereas previous synthesizers had shipped with sounds chosen for different markets, the Korg chairman, Tsutomu Kato, and his son Seiki decided that their synthesizers should use the same sounds internationally. Korg assembled an international team to develop the sounds for the M1. To create a deep blown bottle sound, the team played a pan flute over a large sake bottle.[7]


The M1 features a 61-note velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive keyboard, 16-note polyphony, a joystick for pitch-bend and modulation control, an eight-track MIDI sequencer, separate LFOs for vibrato and filter modulation, and ADSR envelopes. Data can be stored on RAM and PCM cards.[7]

The M1 has a ROM with four megabytes of 16-bit PCM tones — a large amount at the time — including instruments that had not been used extensively in mainstream music. The sounds include sampled attack transients, loops, sustained waveforms and percussive samples. The timbres include piano, strings, acoustic guitar, woodwinds, sitar, kalimba, wind chimes and drums. Fact described the sounds as "wonderfully, endearingly wonky ... each one managed to sound simultaneously realistic and synthetic all at once".[7][8]

The M1 also features effects, including reverb, delay, chorus, tremolo, EQ, distortion, and Leslie simulation, an innovative inclusion at the time. According to Sound on Sound, none of the M1's features were unique, but were implemented and combined in a new way.[7]


The M1 was released in 1988 and was manufactured until 1995, selling an estimated 250,000 units.[7] Reviewing it for Sound on Sound in 1988, Tony Hastings wrote that it was "destined to be big, very big", with "sensational" sounds and extensive features that outperformed its competitors.[9] It was widely used in popular music and stock music in the late 80s and early 90s.[8] The piano and organ presets were used in 1990s house music, beginning with Madonna's 1990 single "Vogue".[8]

In 2002, the Sound on Sound journalist Mark Vail wrote that the M1 was the bestselling synthesizer in history, though he noted that Korg had not verified the sales figures.[7] Both Sound and Sound and Fact described it as the most popular synthesizer of all time.[7][8] Fact attributed the success to its sampling and sequencer features, which allowed musicians to produce entire tracks without a studio before the rise of digital audio workstations.[8]


Korg M1R rack mounted module.

Following the success of the M1, Korg expanded its lineup with several series of new workstations, including the T-series in 1989, the 01-series in 1991, the X-series in 1993, and the N-series in 1996. The 01/W built upon the M1’s AI synthesis with the enhanced AI2 system, which introduced additional effects and digital waveshaping. Rack-mountable versions of the M1 include the M1R and the more affordable M3R. Additionally, Korg released the M1EX and the M1REX rackmount, both featuring sounds from the T-series.[4][10]

Korg released a software version of the M1 in 2006 as part of the Korg Legacy Collection. This digital version features 8-part multitimbrality, 256-note polyphony and presets from all 19 optional ROM cards.[11] A free update added the entire preset collection from the T-series workstations to the M1 plugin.[12]


  1. ^ Korg M1 Super Guide, The Next Generation in Sound Synthesis – The AI Synthesis System, p. 13, Multisound List, Korg Inc. Japan.
  2. ^ Korg M1 Super Guide, The Next Generation in Sound Synthesis – The AI Synthesis System, p. 14, VDF EG, Korg Inc. Japan.
  3. ^ Korg M1 Super Guide, The Next Generation in Sound Synthesis – The AI Synthesis System, p. 44, Specifications, Korg Inc. Japan.
  4. ^ a b Bjørn, Kim (2022-01-01). Patch & Tweak with KORG. Bjooks. p. 180. ISBN 978-8799999552.
  5. ^ Mellor, David (Mar 1992). "Hands On: Korg M1". Sound On Sound. United Kingdom: SOS Publications Ltd. pp. 74–80. Retrieved 2024-04-09.
  6. ^ Colbeck, Julian (June 2001). "Korg M1". Electronic Musician. Archived from the original on 23 Sep 2004.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Vail, Mark (February 2002). "Korg M1 (Retrozone)". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 6 November 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e Twells, John (2016-09-15). "The 14 most important synths in electronic music history – and the musicians who use them". Fact. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  9. ^ Hastings, Tony (August 1988). "Life In The Fast Lane". Sound on Sound. pp. 40–46. ISSN 0951-6816. OCLC 925234032.
  10. ^ Douglas, Adam (2024-02-09). "Classic Gear: Korg M1 - The final nail in the analogue coffin?". Gearnews. Retrieved 2024-04-09.
  11. ^ Walker, Martin (February 2006). "Korg Legacy Digital Edition". Sound On Sound. Retrieved 2024-04-04.
  12. ^ "Korg Offers Free Legacy Collection Update – Synthtopia". 2006-01-27. Retrieved 2024-04-04.

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