Rooting the KORG Kronos

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Montag, 23. Mai 2016

A short look into the past: OASYS

The Kronos' history actually began more than ten years ago with the OASYS. Back then, when the OASYS was released, I really wanted to have one, but I also really could not afford it. So I decided to hack other stuff and kind of forgot about the OASYS.

Now, ten years later, I got the chance to look into the architecture and the software of the OASYS and the similarities to the Kronos are astonishing. The architecture is almost the same and I would be tempted to say that the Kronos is in fact a "OASYS Lite V2".

Why "Lite"? Because the Kronos misses many expensive parts (LEDs around knobs/sliders, trigger buttons, large screen, CD drive, ...). It looks like the goal set for the Kronos product engineering was to build a more affordable version of the OASYS (which makes perfect sence, if you look at the price tag of the OASYS).

Why "V2"? Because the Kronos has some features (more engines, sample streaming) that the OASYS lacks. I am wondering why Korg did not upgrade the OASYS software to include those features. Maybe hardware limitations were the reason. The OASYS has no SSD, so disk access latency might be the reason there is no sample streaming. Also, the OASYS has a single core CPU (Pentium 4) while the Kronos has a dual core (Atom). It would be interesting to benchmark the single core P4 against the dual core Atom... (Update: Comparison between OASYS and Kronos CPUs. Looks like the P4 is faster in single core workloads, but the Atom is faster in multi core workloads. A synthesizer is almost a perfect multi core workload, so the Kronos is in fact more powerful than the OASYS).

However, the software and hardware architecture between OASYS and Kronos are so similar that most articles in this blog are - to a certain degree - also valid for the OASYS.

Here are - in no particular order - some things I noticed while comparing OASYS and Kronos:

  • Both use Linux with RTAI realtime extensions. However, OASYS uses Linux 2.4, Kronos uses Linux 2.6
  • Security stuff (filesystem integrity check, security ic, authorization file) is almost identical
  • The OASYS uses the VGA output of the mainboard for it's display while the Kronos uses a display connected to the OMAP. This means that the Kronos has to transfer all display data over USB. I am unsure why they did this - the Kronos mainboard also has a VGA connector, but it is unused.
  • In the OASYS the whole control surface (including the keybed) is connected via USB. On the Kronos, the keybed is connected to the mainboard via RS232 - the rest of the controls are still connected via USB. Maybe latency reduction?
  • The OASYS uses a custom PCI sound card while the Kronos uses a custom USB sound card for Audio/Midi I/O
Looking at all this, I am wondering why Korg sticks to meaningless upgrades like different colors or different end-plates for it's new/special editions. How about a bigger screen, LEDs for knobs and sliders and some pressure sensitive drum pads? Add a decent mainboard for increased polyphony and call it "platinum edition". KORG, are you listening???

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