I had wanted a Korg Polysix for the longest time – around 10 years, I think. I mistakenly thought that some of the Luomo basslines were created on it (they had not been) and it had become a bit of a halo item for me. Luckily my mistake lead me down a path to discover this lovely old instrument.
The PolySix has a real electric sound to it. A thick and wonderful, grungy sound, full of character and colour. This makes it quite easy to spot in the mix, it’s not a subtle instrument by any means (especially when used in unison mode).
The sound is very musical, and personally I use it only really for chords and basslines. It’s never used for effects or non-tonal applications. If you’re reading this, you know well all the features (6 note polyphony, arpeggiator etc.), I see no need to detail the functions of the standard instrument. However, if that’s what you’re looking for go here.
What I will tell you though, is that it’s a noisy bugger. There’s lots of hiss and high pitched noise, likely due to aging capacitors. For my applications (horrible noisy techno stuff), it really makes no difference. However, if you’re looking to use a PolySix in a more standard recording, you may need to look into gating and heavy EQ in order to resolve some of this.
The front panel is excellent, everything has an individual control, and the layout is extremely intuitive. It’s an instrument, it’s designed to be played. Build quality, inside and out, is also of the highest standard. Mine is a 1981 model (37 fucking years old!) and is holding up very well. Presets are super easy to save and load. It’s a joy to create sounds on, and can be done on the fly, without digging through endless menus or messing with delicate controls. Certainly in my mind, this is what a synthesizer should be.
As for the Tubbutec midi mods, yeah they seem to work as expected. The add midi in and out, as well as a few other basic features. I don’t really have any issues with it at all, although it is something you’ll need to read the manual for before installing and using. It adds a few milliseconds of delay between receiving the midi message and spitting out noise, but this is consistent so is easily compensated for in your chosen DAW. Otherwise, I’d consider this an essential mod for the old Poly for anyone looking to integrate it to a modern studio.
I tend not to use the built in apeggiator as it feels like it’s not correctly synced to the midi clock, there’s a delay there that I find very distracting. I can simulate a apeggiator from the DAW, but to be honest apeggiators are not really my thing so it’s a feature I don’t use much.
I also added audio in/out for the effect unit inside the PolySix. This allows me to run mono audio through the on-board phaser/chorus/ensemble effects. Again, this is very noisy, but wonderfully thick and interesting sound that can only come from analogue effects.
Being a vintage synth, there is a reasonable amount of maintenance required. I have pretty tight control of humidity and temperature in the studio, but even then it requires tuning before each session. It has never drifted off tune during use, but it’s always best to key in before starting. I cleaned all the pots and audio connection with the wonderful (but painfully expensive) Deoxit. I really can’t recommend this stuff enough – it’s fully repaired things that I thought were beyond saving. Anyway, after cleaning the pots, I’ve had exactly zero issues in two years of use.
There’s also the issue of the leaking internal battery damaging control boards internally. This type of thing is well documented and there are plenty of solutions available – as well as re-manufactured control boards if the one in the synth is beyond saving. What I would say however, is that if you are not comfortable opening and repairing something like this (even if you’re just following a guide on the internet), a vintage synth may not be for you. They all require some maintenance and if you ship it to a third party, the bills will become unmanageable pretty quickly (synth repair around these parts cost ~£75 per hour).
PolySixes are becoming very expensive now, I think you’re looking upwards of £1000 for a good one. However, they have a very unique sound, are well built and easy to maintain. Prices for this sort of thing are only going one way unfortunately, so if you’re interested in one please be quick.
That being said, I think it’s worth every penny. There’s very few instruments that do not depreciate over the course of almost four decades. Nothing else sounds like a PolySix, and it’s unlikely anything every will. There are of course various VSTi emulations of the Polysix but the don’t even come close to capturing the character of the machine, never mind the work flow.
Below you will find some audio files recorded directly from the PolySix. There is no additional processing or external effects used. I am sick of hearing demos of synth with the filter complete removed – to me most oscillators sound the same. I modify the filters and envelopes during play. One file is a monophonic bassline, the other is a chord progression, both looped ad nauseam. I’m hoping to use the same patterns to show the rest of the gear too, so we have a 1:1 comparison.