Korg Poly-800

Korg Poly-800 Image


At a time when Roland was doing well with their Juno-series, KORG countered with a poly-synth of their own in 1983 with the Poly-800. The Poly-800 was comparable to the Juno-106, at the time, with respect to the fact that musicians now had access to affordable programmable polyphonic analog synthesizers (it listed for under $1,000) with memory storage, stable DCOs (digitally controlled oscillators) and a new state-of-the-art technology called MIDI (although there was no SysEx implementation yet).

The Poly-800 is an eight-voice instrument (two more than the Juno series) with 64 memory patches (half of what the Juno-106 offered) and up to 50 editable parameters! Like the Juno, the Poly-800 had one DCO per voice, although it did feature a Double mode in which the oscillators could be stacked up for a fuller sound and only four voices of polyphony. The analog filter is a 24dB/oct low-pass which is shared by all voices (the Juno has separate filter chips for each voice). There's also a stereo chorus effect, chord memory, a simple built-in sequencer, three digital envelope generators (for the oscillators, the noise generator and the filter), and a funky joystick used to adjust the pitch, modulation and the filter.

Unlike the Juno, which was still a “studio” instrument, the Poly-800 was built for the performer. With a light-weight plastic case (only 10 lb.), a couple low-profile sliders/knobs and only 49 keys, the Poly-800 can run on batteries and has guitar strap pegs so it can be worn like a keytar. A less common reversed color keys model was released for a unique look as well.

Korg EX-800 Image


In 1984, a keyboardless tabletop/rackmount version was released, called The EX-800. In both the Poly and EX models, all sound editing is accomplished by scrolling to a given parameter, described by little more than a two-digit number, and pushing the up or down buttons to adjust it. Fortunately every parameter’s two-digit numeric code and data-range is printed on the faceplate. Obviously, the Juno series has the edge over the Poly-800 when it comes to hands-on editing, however, some sort of external MIDI controller is usually sufficient to get more hands-on and real-time control.

Korg Poly-800mkII Image

Poly-800 mkII

The Poly-800 model was succeeded by the the Poly-800 mkII (pictured above) in 1985. The mkII added digital delay effects, MIDI SysEx functionality and a darker paint job. Note that the Siel DK70 is very similar to the Poly-800. Poly-800s have been used by Orbital, Depeche Mode, Sneaker Pimps, Vangelis, Geoff Downes, Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), Yesterdays and Jimi Tenor.

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172 Visitor comments
August 22, 2010 @ 2:45 pm
With the modifications you find all over the net, this can become a really pleasant instrument. Before i did them, it did more or less what i wanted it to do, within it's limitations, but now it has become a source of inspiration. The moog slayer mod adds an extremely aggressive filter control, which can be very useful when used with caution. The FM-mod can do all kinds of sweet things: it does a good bitcrusher-like distortion, bell like sounds, and it's great for rhythms in combination with the sequencer. Very cool indeed, and not too hard to do.
Gil Sicuro
August 6, 2010 @ 11:31 pm
I had a Poly-800 mkII for a short period of time. It was the worst piece of crap I ever played on. Sounds dull, dirty and cheap, 4-voice polyphony only (you can't do anything fairly usable in single mode), and - only *one* filter for all voices!! ANY old Juno eats this thing alive. In my opinion this was a mistake to be erased from Korg history and in no way it compares to a Juno. The digital delay added a way to make it sound even cheaper. I tried the mkI model and it did sound better, however.
July 26, 2010 @ 7:44 am
Also, the single filter actually allows for some pretty cool effects, i especially like how it bursts open when you play a high note during low chord (or something along the lines)
July 26, 2010 @ 7:40 am
This is a pretty neat synth. It does not do hifi, and it does not have tweaky knobs, but the programming is very easy, and not too slow. I find that the menu and buttons-way makes me think a bit more, which makes me understand the whole machine better.
Soundwise, it is a bit limited but not problematically so: i've been able to program mellotron flutes, pads that go from sweet to rumbling and keep on evolving, booming organs, bass sounds that my speakers can't even produce (i do hear them with headphones), nice strings, faux-echoing detuned kate bush contraptions etc.
This little synth excels at slightly lo-fi yet full 'indie' sounds, it has a proper own sound with character in spades. The only gripe i have with it is the 'breathing' sound of the noise generator, i guess i'll have to look into that. It always sounds like the surf's coming up in the background.
July 24, 2010 @ 10:58 am
The guy who sold me a polysix, told me that I was going
to throw the poly 800 in the bin. well, I didn't.
It is not particularly user friendly (typing in values insted of
turning a pot, the envelopes i are stoneage crap and so on......), but once you get hold of the
overall system, you can get tremendously creative.
There's an interesting modification out there, THE MOOG
SLAYER MOD, which replaces the filter controls with pots.
You get yourself a fantastic sounding 12db/oct live-tweakable filter !It places the synth in a new perspective.
The other reason why I didn't dispose of it are the Juno-
like string sounds you can create and the fat organ
sounds (try pushing them through a tube amp !).
GET YOURSELF A POLY 800 for 2/300 bucks and
DO THE MOD ! (If you lost the power supply, you take
a wall wart 9volts/at least 500mA, but make shure it is stabilized (as for all digital gear)
VSE Rating


User Rating

Rated 4 (1517 Votes)

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  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - 8 voices (4 when doubled)
  • Oscillators - 1 DCO per voice (2 when doubled). 1 Noise generator.
  • LFO - Sine wave only w/ speed & delay and route to osc. or filter
  • Filter - One 24 dB/oct low-pass resonant filter
  • VCA - 3 ADBSSR Digital Envelope Generators: DCO, Noise, VCF
  • Effects - Stereo Chorus, Chord Memory
  • Sequencer - 256-step polyphonic sequencer with MIDI Start, Stop and Clock.
  • Keyboard - 49 keys
  • Memory - 64 patches
  • Control - MIDI IN/OUT/THRU, Cassette tape interface
  • Date Produced - 1983/84
  • Resources & Credits
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    Review updated September 2012.

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