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
October 1, 2012 @ 10:44 am
I purchased one of these back in the mid 80's as an addition to my Juno 106 / Casio CZ-3000 setup. Never even recorded with it, sold it a week later. I thought the CZ-101 sounded weak until I got the Poly 800. I've read a lot of comments about programming it to get decent sounds; but if you have to work hard just to get a few good sounds out of a synth, it might not be a good synth to begin with. But in this world of "Virtual Instruments" it probably sounds good to the uninitiated.
August 31, 2012 @ 4:12 am
Is it just my ears or does the filter sound a bit stepped/quantized? I have a MKI 800 and when I set up a patch with a long filter attack and decay, it sounds like the filter (with a fair bit of resonance) is stepped. Shorter attacks/decays sound like they should. Can anyone out there verify this?

Shame really, 'cause the short filter attacks are really great for brass sounds but I like long, evolving filter-opening pads with huge resonance and to me it just sounds choppy.
August 31, 2012 @ 1:16 am
Matt & Kim used to use this instrument until they found that during shows it was breaking and getting burnt out from spilled drinks way too often so they switched to a more modern synth (Roland Juno-G)
June 5, 2012 @ 6:27 pm
The Poly 800 has got some limitations, yes, but it's a still a competent analog polysynth. The oscillators are an unusual design - they are square wave additive, don't think that anything else has these. The typically excellent Korg VCF rocks, but you do need to adjust your playing technique to accommodate the fact that all voices share that one filter. Back in the day, I used to run this through a few foot pedals - a compressor, a phaser, overdrive and a rack delay, and the extra sweetening makes a huge difference (like any synth of this era). A huge plus is the mods that are available.
May 24, 2012 @ 5:21 am
Just bought an NOS ex800 today. Comes with box manual, a cassette, rack mount kits, in fresh plastic bags. I'd prefer the look of the rack version than the key ver, although they sound obviously the same. Ive done the AB test on ex800 with matrix1000 & m1000 came out deeper, punchier, more in dimensional. I know these 2 ain't from the similar catagories but comparing the audio things with your true ears can be excitingly fun.
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Rated 4 (1514 Votes)

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  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • 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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