Short Synth History Lesson: The Korg M1

Korg M1 synthesizer


The Korg M1 is a synthesizer and music workstation manufactured by Korg from 1988 to 1995[6]. It is one of the best-selling synthesizers in history, with an estimated 250,000 units sold[6]. The M1 introduced a new synthesis method called AI (Advanced Integrated) Synthesis, which combined PCM waveforms and subtractive synthesis[1]. Its unique sound and innovative synthesis method have left a lasting impression on the music industry, and the M1 continues to be a sought-after instrument among musicians, producers, and sound designers[5].


The Korg M1 was designed by a team of engineers and sound designers at Korg, led by chief engineer Junichi Ikeuchi[3]. Korg assembled an international team to develop the sounds for the M1, including sound designers Tomoko Itoh and Junichi Ikeuchi[3]. The team worked together to create a wide range of unique and high-quality sounds that would be used internationally, rather than tailoring the sounds to specific markets[6].

Impact and Popularity

The Korg M1 quickly gained popularity due to its innovative synthesis method and unique sounds. Its impact on popular music in the late 80s and early 90s was significant, with artists such as The Cure, Joe Zawinul (Weather Report), Calvin Harris, Justin Vernon, Brian Eno, Rivers Cuomo, A.R. Rahman, and DJ Premier using the M1 in their work[15]. The M1’s popularity was also due to its user-friendly interface and powerful features, making it an attractive option for musicians and producers[4].

Technical Specifications and Features

The Korg M1 featured a 61-key keyboard with velocity and aftertouch sensitivity, 16-voice polyphony, and used AI Synthesis as its tone generator[10]. It also included on-board effects, a joystick for data manipulation, and an analog synthesis-styled layout design[10]. The M1 had a somewhat sophisticated 8-track sequencer, capable of holding 10 songs, 100 patterns, and up to 7,700 notes, with full quantizing and editing capabilities[1]. It also offered full MIDI implementation, making it ideal for studio production and MIDI system use[1]. The M1 was multitimbral, allowing up to 8 parts to be used simultaneously with the 8-track sequencer, making it a powerful machine[1].

Influence on Music Production

The Korg M1’s unique sounds and capabilities influenced music production in various ways. Its innovative synthesis method allowed for a wide range of unique and complex sounds, which helped shape the music of its time[6]. The M1’s iconic sounds can still be heard in contemporary music, and its influence on the development of digital synthesis remains evident in many modern instruments[5]. The synthesizer’s synthesis engine was used in other Korg instruments, such as the T-series, and its legacy continues to inspire musicians and producers today[8].

In summary, the Korg M1 synthesizer had a significant impact on the music industry with its introduction of AI Synthesis, unique sounds, and innovative design. Its influence on music production can still be felt today, and the synthesizer remains a sought-after instrument among musicians, producers, and sound designers.


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