by David C. Lovelace
Someday, fully produced, iTunes-ready tracks will be written and
recorded in the back of a limo on the way to the gig, or on a bus on the way
to junior high school. Someday is today. This is the youthfully intrepid
spirit that orbits Korg’s domination (if not creation) of an ultra-portable
synth genre. Combine this with the fact that back in 1988, Korg’s M1 defined
the keyboard workstation as we know it, and the MicroStation seems
inevitable. Packing a full 16-part synth and sequencer into a form factor
just a bit bigger than a MicroKorg XL, it’s a universe in a sardine can.
I’ll contradict the naysayers here: Korg’s “Natural Touch” mini-keyboard
is, in my opinion, the best of its kind. It responded swimmingly to the
fastest monophonic legato cheats I could hammer out. Sure, if you’re not
used to octave spans that measure just over five inches wide, you’ll slip
into an odd ninth here and tritone there, but I’ve had a MicroKorg in my
studio for several years, and have gotten accustomed to it with no more
difficulty than a guitarist gets used to a ukulele. In other words, it’s not a
deficiency if you simply think of it as a rather different instrument. Plus,
the MicroStation has a full 61-key range, a welcome change in a world of
three- or four-octave portables.
<--The rear panel offers USB MIDI and an SD/HC card slot for backing up sounds and songs. The pedal input supports switch or continuous pedals, and with the proper pedal, half-damper sustain for piano sounds.
Compact size aside, the MicroStation is a straight-ahead five-octave
workstation. The upper left of the front panel houses a great-feeling, fullsize
joystick that kicks pitch and modulation wheels in the pants for
expressiveness. (I realize this is a matter of preference, but that’s mine.)
Heading east from there, you’ll see the same performance controls found
in Korg’s TR models: four knobs for a total of 12 parameters, switchable
in groups via an A/B/C select button. Below that, the “External” button
offers preset selection of MIDI control maps for plug-ins, DAWs, and
hardware, meaning the MicroStation also amounts to a micro control
In the middle is a two-line LCD yanked right out of the ’80s—the
limits within which you work to create on a workstation this tiny and
affordable. Printed in a small font to its left, alongside corresponding
LEDs, are nine categories (All, Keyboard, Strings/Brass/Woodwind, Guitar,
Bass & Bass Split, Synth, Lead & Solo Split, Drum/Mallet/Kits, and a
User bank), switchable with the Category up/down buttons directly below.
Rubbery, large sequencer transport buttons, a cursor diamond, and Write
and Compare buttons complete this middle section. To the right of the
display are 16 selection/numeric buttons with a few important functions
accessible only by using a “Num Lock” button. This took some getting
used to, but what keyboard doesn’t?
You’ll find a conveniently located headphone mini-jack on the left
front edge. It’s a bit unfortunate that the included AC adapter is your
only power option, since true play-anywhere status could’ve been had
by using batteries.
This is mid-grade hardware all around, but it perfectly utilizes every
lesson that dozens of other workstations have taught us about form and
function. After owning so many Korg workstations over the years, including
the M1, O1/W, Trinity, Triton, and TR, helming the MicroStation felt
like sleepwalking around a dollhouse version of my own domicile.
Korg’s EDS-i (Enhanced Definition Synthesis—integrated) sound engine
was previously available only in more expensive models such as the M50.
Now, manufacturing advances have made this trusted engine available in
a fun travel size. Essentially, it’s like Korg pointed a shrink ray at an M50.
Under the hood, we’re talking good ol’ PCM sample playback with subtractive
staples like filters and envelopes, but with undeniable niceties
such as one or two oscillators per voice, each of which can velocity-switch
between four multisamples as its “waveform.” (Note that using both oscillators
halves the polyphony to 60 voices.) Multitimbral capacity is the full
16-part rack o’ ribs.
<--Korg’s software editors are stable and quick, and the MicroStation’s is no exception. It even lets you control the synth as a plug-in in your DAW.
The range of available sound genres and flavors is nothing short of
stunning, with everything from credible retro electric pianos and Clavs
to orchestral strings and brass to heart-pumping dancefloor synths in this
Since the 14-year-old kid in me never quite went away, whenever I try
out a new synth, the first sounds I fire up are the leads. Within seconds
of jamming out with “OperatorLd,” I’d created a fun chorus melody, and
soon, seconds became hours with this punchy little pulse wave. “BalladLead”
is a soaring sine-and-sawtooth understatement that makes excellent
and subtle use of the powerful effects engine. If these descriptions
read more like a wine review than one of a keyboard, that’s because some
experiences are meant to be savored equally. There’s definitely something
for everyone in the MicroStation, no matter what your sound needs are,
and no other company has yet packed it all into a keyboard this portable.
I also appreciated the fact that the MicroStation remembered the most
recently chosen sound for a given category if I switched to another. For example,
after trying out some patches in the Strings and Bass categories, “BalladLead”
was still waiting for me when I cycled back to the Lead category.
04-2011 Korg MicroStation by KeyboardMag
Fighting the urge to complete a song in my kitchen just because I could,
I proceeded to squander the portability of the MicroStation by exploring
it in the studio. I first wanted to amp up one of the lead sounds, and found
editing programs to be relatively painless despite the small LCD screen.
What this interface lacks in sophistication, it makes up for in simplicity.
How so? For starters, there’s no Edit button. Imagine that every sound is
a tree with sets of parameters as branches. At the tree trunk—the preset—
you hit the right arrow button to start climbing. Just keep hitting it to get higher up the tree of selections, then hit the up and down arrows
to change the value of the branch you’re currently on. If a branch has sub parameters,
hit right again to explore those smaller branches. With very
little effort, I was able to scroll through functions and make basic adjustments
Korg seems to recognize which settings people edit most frequently,
too, because the very first OSC parameter, Voice Mode (Poly/Mono), just
happens to be the first thing I usually tweak when creating a sound. What’s
more, you can use not one but two arpeggiators simultaneously in Program
mode, controlling them on the fly with page “C” of the four knobs
(Gate, Velocity, Swing, and Tempo). There’s no tap tempo button for the
Once I’d memorized the ripping lead for my future dance hit, it was
time to sequence a song. After years of using a Korg O1/W for my scratch
recording, I found the MicroStation’s sequencer to be a familiar playground.
In addition to the 16 tracks, you get a master track that handles
tempo and time signature changes. Sounds for a selected track are chosen
using the numeric buttons on the right. You can audition different
sounds for a track during playback, and loop sections of a track with the
dedicated Loop button. Within a short time I had the makings of a great
little groove going, and 127 song locations left to fill up. Maybe I should
take it back into the kitchen after all; I might get hungry.
You can sequence on the MicroStation in linear, “multitrack tape”
fashion, or press the Grid Seq button to take a more drum machine-like
approach. In this mode, the 16 numeric buttons act as pads or triggers
with corresponding LEDs. You can work this way with drum parts or
pitched material—bass lines, dancey synth hooks, you name it. The vibe
is not unlike Korg’s Electribe machines. This is a great feature if your
compositional brain thinks in step-based patterns, and makes creating
loops a lot of fun.
Using the MicroStation in the heat of live gigs exposed a few hurdles
that don’t get in the way of a solid onstage performance—so long as you
know about them. For example, to access presets above number 16 (in
any sound category) you can scroll up either numerically or by groups,
or use the Num Lock button to turn buttons 01–10 into a keypad. In this
mode, hitting buttons 07 then 09, for example, would select the sound in
location 79. I recommend pre-arranging sounds in the User category
according to your set list. This kind of preparation is a good idea on any
keyboard, and on the MicroStation, made easy by the fact that Korg offers
free editor/librarian software for Mac and PC.
As workstations go, the MicroStation is a capable workstation at an
unbeatable price. It’s portable enough for any musician on the go, and
has more than enough sounds, sequencing, arpeggiation, drum kits,
and general insta-production potential to please anyone. The Micro-
Station is great fun for composing, and even for live performance given
some practice at getting around the interface. Add that expressive joystick
and a full five octaves of playable little keys, and it gets two (tiny)
PROS Perfect workstation for portable scratch composing. Lightweight. Full
M50-like sound engine at a budget price. Generous effects and
CONS Some strengths (i.e., the small size) can be weaknesses for the
untrained. Preset patch entry onstage can be challenging. No
battery power option.
CONCEPT An all-in-one, fully integrated musical workstation in a package
small enough to use anywhere there’s AC power.
POLYPHONY 120 voices in single mode; 60 voices in double mode.
SIMULTANEOUS EFFECTS 5 inserts, 2 master effects, and 1 global effect;
134 types available.
W x D x H 30.63" x 8.27" x 3.23".
WEIGHT 5.73 lbs.
PRICE List: $850
Approx. street: $600
**Check out this video of sequencing and jamming on the MicroStation.