Welcome to Synderella Stories, a new blog about synthesizers that were (A) not very popular when they were new, and/or (B) not especially in demand on the used market today. However, (C) they were and are much more powerful, useful, or interesting than they got credit for.
First up is the first actual synth I ever owned, the Korg Poly-800 I purchased during the summer of 1984 (note: photo above depicts a different unit). Money from a lot of teenage odd jobs, combined with a "matching grant" from my grandparents to reward my diligence in saving, allowed me to buy the first programmable polyphonic synth priced under $1000 ($795 list). As I recall I was able to get it for around $700 out the door.
Critics blast the Poly-800 for having cheap plastic construction (true) a basic, limited signal path (also true), and sparse "data entry" driven user interface (yup). However, every synth player remembers that when an instrument is your first and only and you poured what then seemed like all the money in the world into it, you programmed the heck out of it to squeeze out every last drop of tonal flexibility (I did).
On the Poly-800, you got eight notes of polyphony with a single oscillator per voice, or four notes with two oscillators per voice. There were 64 memory locations. The oscillators were ... weird. You had a choice of sawtooth or square waves, but the machine pretty much built the sawtooth by stacking up squares. Then, the DCOs had four square-wave harmonics labeled like organ footages: 16, 8, 4, and 2. You could turn these on and off separately for each DCO, and in combination with DCO 2's interval parameter, thereby create interesting stacks of tonics with, say, thirds or fifths.
While this may have been a design workaround to make the 800 sound like more of a synth than it really was, it worked, and I was able to use it to great effect. It was great for nailing Prince-like pads and comping sounds, and turned my bandmates' heads when I played it on covers of "1999" and "Let's Go Crazy." I have to say as well: the resonant VCF sounded great.
The ultra-simple step sequencer could hold one pattern at a time, and achieved a shockingly realistic signature arpeggio for The Who's "Baba O'Reilly." In fact, when the Korg Radias virtual analog synth came out in 2006, it featured a custom patch for this called "Hooz Next," and I marveled at how close my old Poly-800 got.
Last but not least, it had MIDI, stereo outputs, and strap pins so you could sling it like a keytar. It fell to such a low price in the 1990s ($200 or less) that it became popular with modders and circuit-benders. If you see a unit with non-original knobs above the joystick, like this ...
... it's been hacked to provide real-time control over the filter cutoff and resonance. Later, the EX-800 keyboardless module would come out, then the Poly-800 Mk. II., which added effects. But for me, there's never been anything quite as wonderfully odd and surprisingly useful as the original.
Synderella needs her glass slipper of course, and today that comes in the form of rising prices on the used market. US $349 seems about the median, but I've seen the limited-edition model with reverse-color keys go for over $600.