Korg DSS-1 Tips and Techniques

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Now that I have had my Korg DSS-1 for some time I have gotten a handle on how the machine works. I would like to share what I have learned so others interested in this synth can know what they are getting into before they buy it, or are staring at this giant keyboard wondering what to do with it.

One major development in my workflow is that I recently sampled some drum sounds from my Korg ESX sample pack into the DSS-1. Let me just say that when you slam the inputs of the DSS-1 really hard, they sound great. The mostly analog drums get some great grit when sampled at 24k, 12 bit. I am assembling a DSS-1 disk right now that will be for sale soon with these samples. Now I can sequence some great beats using my DSS-1. Given that there is only 256k memory, it is surprising that you can load about 25 drums, plus some single cycle synth waveforms at a time into a Program. Most are short, punchy drums. Not any long 808 kicks or 3 second crash cymbals, but what is sampled sounds so good it doesn’t matter. Check out the audio file below.
Now originally I bought the DSS-1 as a type of analog synth with programmable oscillators and used it like that for quite a while. Now that I understand the convoluted structure of the instrument’s sampling section I hope that I can give you some insight. Here are a few tips…

  • Use those Midi Controls!
    I forget sometimes that this keyboard has some basic mid spec’s under it’s hood. It will receive Midi CC messages which can dramatically enhance the expression of the instrument. I don’t typically play with aftertouch live, but I do program it into my midi sequences in order to enhance the DSS-1’s sounds.
    The DSS-1 can respond to:
    Midi CC 1: This controls the OSC Modulation Generator (MG) intensity
    Midi CC 2: This controls the Filter Modulation Generator (MG) intensity
    Midi CC 7: This controls volume and can me changed during sustaining notes.
    Pressure/Afertouch: This can be assigned to OSC or Filter Modulation intensity, Total volume or Filter frequency. I typically set this to be my filter cutoff frequency.
    Pitch Bend: Which I like to set to one octave so I can do octave bends downward, or bend it down before a note starts, then come up to the original pitch. You can use this to do quick bends at the beginnings of some notes in order to give you a psuedo-pitch envelope! Or you can pitch your drum samples up or down.
    Velocity: This can control many aspects of your sound, but cannot be modulated in real time during sustaining notes. It can be nice though to set this to the Auto-Bend intensity so that notes played harder bend more. Then your volume can be accurately controlled/programmed with midi CC7. Velocity can also be set to modulate the Filter and/or Amp Attack, Decay and Slope. It is set up so that softer notes play a longer attack and decay, but this can also be used to your advantage. It is like having a dynamic envelope control!
    Program changes: If you time them right you can do some wicked program changes in order to get nice Complextro style morphing bass patterns. The DSS-1 takes a split second, so program the changes at the end of the previous note.
  • Multisounds and sounds should be kept separate.
    Somewhere in the manual it mentions that you should use separate disks for “Sound”, “Multisounds” and “Systems”. Huh? Well it turns out that Multisounds are like a group of Sounds laid out in a particular way and saved as 1 file which includes the Sounds themselves. Think of it like a zip file. So sounds become re-saved into the Multisound. Hence it is important to do a sampling session and save all the samples as Sounds onto one disk. Then edit them and create Multisounds which you save to another disk. At that point, it is good to then have a “System” disk which uses select Multisounds within it’s programs. The System disk is the disk that you eventually grab when you want to perform certain sounds. I have found it best to use multiple disks because sometimes I want to grab a single Sound or even a Multisound when I create a new System. It is a little difficult and I have even started a spreadsheet to help me remember where my samples are. Without Tom’s upgrade which gives you USB and 16mb of ram, this is the best way to do it.
  • To create Systems from your Multisounds:
    Once you save all your Multisounds you need to load them into a “System”. I usually restart my DSS-1 before creating a new system. Turn it on, and you should by default be in System “A”. With the system light on, press 9 to “Get Multisound”. It loads a list of multisounds on disk for you to choose with Data Entry slider A. Select one and press enter, then confirm. If you want to continue to load up to 16 multisounds press Yes when it asks if you want to continue. This loads your multisounds to System “A”. When you are done you need to save the System by pressing “System” then 2. Now whenever you load Syetem A from your disk you will have that collection of 16 multisounds to choose from within the Program Parameter 12 and 13 (osc multisound) when making new synth presets (aka Programs). Start making up programs (up to 32 per system) and make sure you save them.
  • Work in segments.
    Do your sampling session and save each Sound. Keep all your sounds on one disk. Then go through and edit all the Sounds to adjust any beginning or endpoints and re-save them. Then go through and make your Multisounds and save them to another disk. Lastly you will need to create Systems which need your Multisounds loaded into them. Cumbersome to say the least but not impossible.
  • Saving Programs
    When you have made some new programs in System A, you only need to “Save All Programs” to write the program to disk, you do not need to save the system again. Think of the System as a folder of samples and the programs as “Synth presets” which refer to the samples in your System folder. Once the original system has been created, changing and creating programs only requires that you “Save all programs”, which saves only the program data but does not re-write the Multisound to disk.
  • Use “aftertouch” to control your filter
    The aftertouch on my DSS-1 has very little in-between. Instead, I am able to control it from another keyboard and/or from software vid Midi “Channel Pressure” messages. This offers me much more of a variance and it can be assigned to alter the filter cutoff, filter modulation intensity, oscillator modulation intensity or level. This means I can do filter sweeps (without having to set the pitch bend data to VCF sweep), and/or pitch mod and/or volume with a separate midi message.
  • Get a visual editor
    If you are a Logic Pro user, there is an Environment which you can get which makes it visually easy to edit patches. Send me a message if you need the environment. This Made editing patches so much easier. There is also Ctrlr which is an awesome plugin/ standalone program which can make custom GUI editors to control midi hardware. Check Here
  • Load up to 30 sounds into one Program by using 2 Multisounds, each with 15 Sounds
    This is explained in the many page manual, but even having read it a few times I didn’t get it. Basically, create a very short silent sample and call it silence. Then on your first Multisound assign 15 Sounds to the lower half of the keyboard. For the 16th sound use your silence sample and assign it to the top half of the keyboard. Now create your second Multisound and for Sound 1 choose the silence sample to span the lower half of the keyboard. Then 2-16 assign to the top half of the keyboard. Now when you create Programs you can choose 1 Multisound as OSC1 and the other as OSC2. They will overlap technically, but the overlapping sample is silence, which is unheard.
  • Determine your sample lengths of single cycle waveforms with a calculator
    Take your sample rate and divide it by the frequency of the note sampled and you will get a sample length for a single cycle waveform. On the DSS-1 you can edit the sample and get a readout of the verical sample position of each sample step. Truncate everything to the 0 which is immediately followed by positive values. Then set the length to whatever number you calculated. Bammo! Done. If you don’t like math, grab my cheat sheet here
  • Go Old School and calculate your delay times yourself
    HERE is a calculator which can help you determine musical timing in milliseconds. Before using this I was setting my delay time by ear, but no more. Also, check out my cheat sheet here
  • Use Bit reduction
    The DSS-1 has the ability to change its Resolution (on the Sync page). This never really had an effect on the internally created waveforms, so I just didn’t play with it. Once I sampled my drums into it, I could hear some cool Old School 6 bit drums. Very cool way to add variety to sound because this keyboard just sounds funky, noisy and weird in a good way. Way better than a digital plugin.
  • Use the auto truncate when editing samples
    The DSS-1 has a very cool auto-truncate feature. When editing samples like drum hits, you often get an extra bit of silence sampled at the end which you should trim out to save RAM. In the Edit Sample menu #3 is Truncate Start/Length. Once you begin altering the beginning or end, you will notice that the screen says “Press ENT to Auto”. This can automatically find the end of a drum sample for you. I often trim them with my ears, but this is super fast. It appears to search for “zero crossings” so it minimizes clicks. This also works with sustaining tones. It will search for loop points. Once it finds one, pressing Enter again will make it skip to the next shorter loop point, and you can cycle through possible loops very quickly.
  • Use regular old floppies
    The DSS-1 uses 720k floppies. What? Just use regular old floppy disks, but tape over one of the holes. If you are looking at the top of the disk and have the metal part down, tape over the hole on the top left. Buy cheap disks anywhere and save!
  • Crossfade Oscillators
    I like the DSS-1 for pads, but sometimes having a static oscillator bugs me. What I do is dial up two drastically different oscillators/samples for OSC1 and OSC2, then in realtime I alter the mix parameter as I capture the audio. Like a poor mans Wavestation.
  • Looping portions of a sample
    I may be a dunce, but I just discovered how to loop a section of a sample. Normally when creating Multisounds the first thing the keyboard asks is “loop on?”. I always took this to mean looping the whole sample, like in the case of a sampled oscillator. Well, in the Multisound mode is where to can set loop points of each sample in the Multisound. So if you have a nice 808 kick attack and one cycle of sustain you can loop that sustain and have a 30 second long 808 kick. I read a tip elsewhere about this too. Because it loops all samples in the Multisound you need to set loop points on other samples which loop a silent portion of sound.
  • Make “Perfect” Square and Pulse waves
    This is a simple way for you to make mathematically perfect single cycle waves to use as oscillators for your DSS-1. I start by hand drawing a shape similar to a square wave. (Set data entry A to top for half of the draw time, then move it to the bottom for the second half of the duration.) Then “edit” the sample, but choose sample #7 which is 8 samples long. Now choose option 7 “view/edit sample data”. This allows you to “see” the sample’s velocity value at each sample step. Check that the first 4 steps have a value of 2047 and the last 4 have a value of -2048. Save this. You now have a mathematically perfect square wave. Create a Multisound and load this sample. Make sure to set the original note at B7, and tune it up 18 cents. You can do the same for other Pulse waves. For a 12.5% Pulse, make sure the value of the first 7 steps is at 2047 and the last step is at -2048. For 25%, the first 6 steps should be at max and the last 2 at minimum, and for 37.5% the first 5 steps should be at max and the last 3 at minimum.
    This works because there is no gradation in a perfect square wave. It is in essence 1-bit. So there is no need to have higher resolution (sampling rates) for square waves. As long as the wave is maximum value half the time and minimum value the the other half, it does not matter how many samples you capture, except to change the pitch of the sample. Best of all is that these Multisounds are only 8 samples long and they are more “perfect” than any sample of a square wave you could get.
  • Create Glitch Mob-esque re-triggered sounds
    This one came about after listening to Glitch Mob’s song “Palace of the Innocents”. The DSS-1 can do a good approximation of the intro synth/plucked string part. Here’s how I programmed it:

    First I created two multisounds. One was a single high pitched autoharp string pluck (which then played all the way down the keyboard), and a second short (about 25ms) single sample multisound which has the one sample set to NT (non-transposing) and is set to loop.

    Load the short multisound into oscillator 1 and the autoharp multisound into oscillator 2. Set the second oscillator to SYNC to oscillator 1. Turn the volume to 100% Oscillator 2, 0% on Oscillator 1. Now, when you play notes, the autoharp sample will re-trigger every 25 ms regardless of the note that you play. (If you had just made the autoharp multisound loop, it would only loop once the sample has played all the way through and the result would be slower loops on low notes and faster loops on high notes.)

    Now, you can have fun with setting the octave of Oscillator 1. Set it down one octave and it will retrigger Oscillator 2 every 50ms. I put some downward pitch bend on Oscillator 1 which makes the re-triggering of Oscillator 2 begin quickly but become more spaced out as time goes by. I also played with some oscillator modulation and the delay to get some interesting results.

    check them out here:

Well, I hope to share more insight if it arises. Hopefully if you are a prospective DSS-1 buyer this will give you some insight.

A few videos I made which might help you…

Recently it seems that Tom Virostek has begun manufacturing DSS-1 upgrades again, which gives the DSS-1 some impressive features. This is copied from the Yahoo group for the DSS-1 and is just pasted, so don’t hold me liable for typos.
-16M X 12-bit (24MB) of memory (64 banks)

-max length for one sample remains 256k

-up to 64 multisounds at once (instead of 16)

-ability to have all 4 systems from floppy (A-D) in memory at once
Hence 128 programs at once (instead of 32)

-ability to assign sliders to program parameters (resonance, cutoff,…)

-Auto Portamento has been implemented

-a default system (of your choice) will load from the USB drive on power up.
Just copy any system file to ‘DEFAULT.DS1’.

-USB file storage with subdirectories (FAT file system for easy PC transfer)

-samples stored on USB drive are in .WAV format (The only restrictions is that
they must be mono and be one of the four sample rates that the DSS-1 supports)

-ability to use a regular HD floppy driver

-OS Update from USB drive has been implemented

-more comprehensive diagnostics

A little demo of the drum samples I put into my DSS-1