Have you heard? There’s a new
keyboard. It specializes in great vintage
sounds. It’s red. The name of the company
has four letters in it, with an “or” in the middle.
That’s right, it’s from Korg. Bet you
didn’t see that one coming. But chances
are you will be seeing and hearing the striking
and stylish SV-1 on a stage near you.
Korg has made bold claims to have the
most faithful reproductions of the most
classic vintage keyboard instruments in the
SV-1. Does it have what it takes to excite
the most discerning vintage keys fans, and
the mojo to find its way into your heart and
onto your stage? Let’s find out. [Scroll to the bottom of this page for Korg's promo video featuring Eldar and Neil Evans of Soulive.]
1. A 12AX7 tube is always backlit, but only used when
one of several amp modeling effects is active.
2. Gorgeous front panel has a wealth of knobs
(many of which are also buttons which can be
pressed to return levels to their original values).
3. Eight Favorites buttons provide quick access to a
customizable set of sound programs. Tweaked up
a cool custom setting? Save it immediately by
holding a favorites button and clicking when the
number light blinks. Reminiscent of a car radio.
4. Korg’s RH3 weighted action is found on both the
73- and 88-key models.
5. Balanced left and right XLR outputs and unbalanced
1/4" outputs can be used simultaneously.
For mono use, go with the left 1/4" output.
6. USB port connects the SV-1 with a PC or Mac as
both a MIDI interface and to talk with the
included editor software.
7. Need a music stand? It’s included, and it
8. Six categories of six sounds each are here. Using
the editor software, you can save new sound programs
to any location.
9. The finishing “vintage” touch: an old-school toggle
power switch!Click image for larger version with numbers.
The most important aspect of the SV-1 is
the sound. Korg calls the overall technology
“Enhanced Definition Synthesis”
(EDS). Each sound has two aspects: the
multisample, and a “Real Experience” component.
The Real Experience elements are
extra artifacts that you’d find in a vintage
keyboard: key click, release sounds, pedal
noises, and the like. You can adjust the
level of these for each sound that employs
it, from none at all up to comically clunky.
There’s a sweet spot between reality and
practicality that is easy to attain.
The first category, “E. Piano 1,” is a
series of presets that employs an astounding
multisample of a vintage Rhodes electric
piano. It sounds like a Mark 1 Stage
model, and oozes vibe, with lots of dynamic
variation. The voicing of the Rhodes used in
the sampling session is one that brings out
plenty of “bell” in the tone. While you can’t
“voice” the sound per se, I was able to
tweak the EQ, velocity curves, and built-in
effects to get a variety of Rhodes flavors,
from the schmoozy ’70s ballad, to the nastier,
aggressive, more “Herbie-esque” tones.
They also nailed the Wurlitzer 200A
Electric Piano, which, like the original, has
even more dynamic variation in the tone
depending on how you play (and which
velocity curve you choose). While playing the
Wurly presets, I discovered that the SV-1
has a way of not just sounding but behaving
like many of the instruments it emulates,
thanks in part to Korg implementing
release velocity. This is employed very
tastefully and subtly, and there are sounds
that will behave differently depending on
how quickly you release the keys. This
translates to a more realistic experience, as
many of the real instruments recreated here
do in fact respond differently to how you
release the keys.
The SV-1 is also replete with acoustic
piano sounds. There’s a Yamaha concert
grand, a Steinway concert grand, and an
upright. More than an afterthought, these
can stand up against most hardware digital
pianos, provided you run them in stereo.
There’s also a specific mono version of the
Steinway grand, intended for those gigs
where you’re forced to run in mono.
For those who wonder why a dedicated
monaural piano is best in such situations,
piano samples often “thin out” when using
a single mono output. To add even more
substance to the sound, the envelopes are
set to a long sustain and slow decay. This
does expose a noticeable loop point in the
sample that detracts from the realism,
though it likely won’t be detectable in the
context of a loud band onstage.
Living up to the “vintage” in its name, the
SV-1 includes Hohner Pianet, RMI Electra-
Piano, Roland RD-1000, Korg’s own SG-1D
sampled grand, and a really warm-sounding
Yamaha CP-70 electric grand.
The SV-1 also gets some serious Clav
on — all four pickup settings found in the
original Hohner D6 and E7 Clavinets are on
hand, and the Real Experience artifacts truly
capture the release effects, even the reverberation
if you “slap” the low end. If you
play staccato funk, or if you engage the Vox
wah emulation (which is addictive, especially
when run through one of the amp
model effects), you might think you’re listening
to the real deal. On two of the Clav
sounds, I did notice that when holding sustained
notes, the looped phase of the sample
kicks in fairly quickly, but you’re unlikely
to hear this in the context of live playing.
Pleasantly surprising were the high-quality
Hammond-style organ sounds. They’re
sample-based, and don’t have realtime
drawbar control like a dedicated
clonewheel organ, so I was getting ready to
dismiss them. I’m glad I didn’t, because
they performed admirably. There’s even a
scanner vibrato/chorus with all six of the
settings (three depths each for vibrato and
chorus) found on a B-3. The Leslie simulator
is decent, though not the most authentic
available when compared to clonewheels
such as Korg’s own CX-3. It’s no surprise
that cool Vox and Farfisa patches let you
cover everything from “Break On Through”
to “Rock Lobster.” What is a surprise is that
Korg sampled the Lowrey organ belonging
to Garth Hudson of The Band. The result
sounds halfway between a B-3 and a pipe
organ — and all the way huge.
Last but not least is a “miscellaneous”
bank, in which my favorite are the orchestral
strings. Mellotron strings are on hand, as
are phasey ARP ones for that Jean Michel
Jarre sound, a stabby choir (think Depeche
Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence”), and synth
brass stacked in Minneapolis-funk octaves.
Speaking of the real tube, we’ve seen
one grace the front panel of Korg’s Triton
Extreme series, and the SV-1 sports one
as well. The similarities end there, however.
Unlike Korg’s previous “Valve
Force” technology, which had the tube
acting more or less as a preamp you
could drive hard, the 12AX7 tube in the
SV-1 works as part of what Korg calls
“Valve Reactor” technology. The difference?
Here, the tube is exclusively
employed by the various (and very
detailed) amp simulations, and works
towards emulating the actual power
stage of each amp, rather than merely
providing “tube overdrive.” The amp simulations
are punchy, provide a lot of
sonic variety, and can be tweaked more
extensively through the editor software.
Both SV-1 models use Korg’s RH3
weighted action. The feel is substantial,
with a nice amount of resistance, and
provides a decent dynamic response
(each preset can have one of seven
velocity curves, plus there’s a fixed
velocity setting well-suited to organs).
It’s graded, which means that lower
notes have more resistance than the
higher notes. It feels great, but didn’t
quite ace my “Billy Joel test,” in which
fast sixteenth-notes are played machinegun
style on the same key, the way Billy
does in “Angry Young Man” and “Scenes
From an Italian Restaurant.” The keys
didn’t quite yield the rapid-fire repetition
that can be achieved on a real grand or
high-end digital piano.
The front panel is one of the sweetest
dashboards to come along in some time.
Aside from the conversation piece that is
the backlit tube, there is a very logical
and elegant arrangement of knobs for
controlling the various aspects of a preset.
The knobs feel great, and many of
them are also buttons; pushing them
returns the corresponding value to its
original setting. There are eight Favorites
buttons, which are clear and convenient.
Have more than eight favorites? Not to
worry — you can save any sound to any
preset location using the editor software.
With a groovy array of buttons and
knobs so close to the keys, it’s easy to
accidentally hit one when playing your
heart out, like when I inadvertently engaged
wah-wah on a piano sound and later unwillingly
changed from a piano to an organ.
Fortunately, Korg says they’re working on a
panel lock function for a future OS update.
All in all, I found the realtime controls
and their layout very useful and fun
onstage. The effects are very strong, and
they beg to be tweaked. There’s even a
tap-tempo button for the delay, though I
wish it worked with the “tape echo”
effect as well.
We should mention the schlep factor,
which is favorable. Any player eyeing a
live performance keyboard will be paying
attention to portability. The SV-1 73-key
model weighs 38.5 pounds, while the 88-
key model sneaks in at 45.3 pounds. Korg
has struck a nice balance between portability
and ruggedness, as the build of the
instrument is roadworthy and inspires
confidence. Korg will be unveiling rolling
soft cases for both models, which will
help keep transport a one-person job.
THE SV-1 EDITOR
The SV-1 ships with included editor software (Mac/PC - click image at left) that looks and behaves like a part of the
instrument itself. When connected via USB, anything you change on the SV-1 is immediately
reflected in the editor, and vice versa. In the editor, you can tweak effects parameters (such as
deeper stuff about the modeled amps) that aren’t available on the front panel. You can also save
and load new preset programs. Korg says you can “load new sounds” to the SV-1 via the editor, but
let’s be clear: You can load new program data based on the existing internal waveforms, but not
sounds based on new or imported samples. Unlike Korg synths such as the MicroX and R3, whose
editors can run as a plug-in so you can automate them from your DAW, the SV-1 editor is a standalone
affair, which is an understandable choice given the SV-1’s focus on live gigging.
The SV-1 strongly appeals to musicians
who don’t want to get bogged down in
complexity, but rather just get playing. This
is truly a player’s instrument, but isn’t short
on features either. Most of the sounds are
home runs, and the effects are very musical
and rich. It’s a heavy-duty, pro ’board but
still reasonably portable, and it makes a
bold visual statement. For the cash, we
lament the lack of aftertouch and split/layer
ability, but applaud the high level of sound
and build. It can be your only keyboard for
band gigs that call for piano, electric piano,
and Clav, and the organ sounds are good
enough to get you through your R&B covers,
if not a full night of organ-centric
music. For gigs that require multiple
sounds at once, it’s a stellar “bottom keyboard”
— add a 61-key synth or workstation
on your upper tier (and maybe a
dedicated clonewheel if your music is B-3-
intensive), and you have an enviable dream
rig. More importantly though, how different
and how detail-oriented the SV-1 is will
inspire you to play in a way that a more doit-
all instrument may not — and turn more
than a few heads in the process.
Top-shelf emulations of many vintage
sounds. Adjustable Real Experience
technology adds realism. Lots of front
panel control. Excellent effects with
realtime control. XLR outputs in addition
to 1/4" jacks. Reasonably portable,
yet rugged. Smooth integration with
editor software for deeper programming.
Release velocity used effectively.
Looks really cool.
No aftertouch. Keyboard action doesn’t
return quickly enough for rapid-fire repetition.
Headphone jack placement
leaves connectors vulnerable to breakage
73 keys: $2,700 list/approx. $2,000
street; 88 keys: $3,000 list/approx.
NEED TO KNOW
What are the best vintage sounds
in it? The Rhodes, Wurlitzer, and Yamaha
CP-70 electric grand are standouts.
Special bonus points for the orchestral
strings, which are very inspiring.
Why would I gig with this instead of
keyboard? For starters,
most workstations with weighted
keys weigh considerably more than
either flavor of SV-1. With the frontpanel
controls, ease of use, attention
to sonic detail, balanced XLR
outputs, and yes, the cool look, you
may be swayed.
Can I play multiple sounds at
once? The SV-1 is a one-patch-at-atime
keyboard, so don’t expect key
splits or layers in the usual sense.
However, individual sounds do have
separate elements (e.g. the piano/pad
layers) you can blend using the frontpanel
What’s the real polyphony? Stated
polyphony is 80 notes. Some sounds
yield less depending on how many
elements they have. I never encountered
any note-robbing or awkward
cutoffs, even if playing rambunctious
piano with lots of sustain pedal.
Is it worth the money? With the 73-
key model hitting the stores at around
$2,000, this is a premium instrument,
with heavy-duty design and pro vibe
through and through. It’s neither the
cheapest nor the most expensive
stage piano out there, so it’s a question
of whether or not you fall in love
with it when you play it.
Online Bonus: Korg SV-1 Promo Video
Don't see it? Click here.