If you’re on a strict budget, it’s hard to find too many attractive options in the world of vintage synths. There are still plenty of cheap synths, but price alone isn’t enough to justify a purchase. Even our old favourites like the Roland JX-3P and Alpha Juno are no longer the bargains they were just a couple of years ago when we listed them in our run-down of the most underrated synths.
But there’s still one option that has somehow avoided most of the analogue synth hype and remained an attractive, affordable choice for newcomers to analogue synths. The Korg Poly800 is a slightly limited synth – it suffers from the same button-and-slider editing system that makes the JX and the Alpha Juno less immediate than they could be – but it’s still got a lot going for it.
Technically speaking, the Poly800 is a ‘paraphonic’ analogue synth rather than a proper polyphonic model. That means it can play up to eight notes simultaneously, but there’s only one filter shared between all the voices. As such it’s best for simple chords and pads rather than more complex melodic parts. It’s also got an interesting built-in sequencer, analogue chorus and a chord memory option which can create effects similar to the classic sampled chord technique. The mkII model with built-in digital delay and improved MIDI support is the one to go for if you have the choice, but the mkI is still worth checking out. Don’t be tempted to pay more for a reverse key model unless you really value looks over sound.
The Poly800, despite its minor flaws, remains something of a cult favourite. It’s cropped up in a surprising number of Attack studio interviews, with artists including Huxley, Neville Watson and Juju & Jordash singing its praises as a cheap, cheerful and reliable mainstay of their studio and live setups.