Korg Volca series reviewed
By Francis preve
Tue, 25 Feb 2014
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Korg has been aggressively expanding their offerings in affordable true analog synths. First there were the Monotrons, then the Monotribe, then the MS-20 Mini. Now come the Volcas, which are an order of magnitude more sophisticated than the Monotribe and feature real analog sound engines that deliver tangible depth and warmth. There are three flavors: Beats, Keys, and Bass. Beats is a vintage-inspired drum machine, Bass evokes Roland’s classic TB-303, and Keys lives somewhere between a straight-up synth and Korg’s original Electribe. Each Volca costs only $150, which means that anyone with $450 can have a completely analog microstudio that fits in a backpack.


VOLCA BEATS

VOLCA KEYS

VOLCA BASS

IN COMMON

PROS

Rich and meaty drum sounds, both analog and sample-based. Integrated stutter effect. Sample pitch and delay parameters can be automated.


Very warm, punchy synth sounds. Tons of knobs for realtime tweaking. Three-note polyphony in certain modes. Integrated delay and ring mod.

Brings the vibe of the coveted TB-303 into the 21st century. Three simultaneous note patterns in each groove. Oscillators can be stacked for triad riffs.


Real analog synth engine. Multiple Volcas can sync via Monotribe-compatible voltage clock. Battery power option. Huge bang for buck.

CONS

Some of the sampled drums could stand to be louder.

Playing polyphonic riffs on the touch-panel keys is a bit tricky.

No parameter automation. Steeper learning curve than the other two Volcas.

No MIDI output. No shuffle/swing. Headphone jack is the only audio out.


Bottom Line: Korg resurrects the groovebox three ways, each with the biggest bang for buck we’ve ever seen in real analog synthesizers.

$182.99 list | $149.99 street (each) | korg.com 

 

Common Features

All Volcas share the same exterior design, but with different panels. Each has a touch panel for entering notes or drum hits; it’s a little wider on the Volca Keys to allow for a chromatic keyboard. All three include the same connectors at the top of the faceplate: power supply jack, MIDI in, voltage clock in and out, and a 1/8” headphone jack. This serves double duty as the main output (monaural, though the jack is TRS stereo). 

You get eight memory slots for storing your sequences and each sequence can be one measure in length. There’s no pattern chaining for song creation, and given the lack of MIDI output, no ability to export sequences to another medium—to capture your explorations, you record audio into your DAW. In practice, I didn’t find this to be a problem.

My only real gripe is that no Volca has any sort of swing or shuffle. A workaround for iOS users is to use Korg’s free app, SyncKontrol. In addition to turning your iPhone or iPad into a master clock—with adjustable swing—by connecting its headphone out to any Volca’s sync input, it also provides WIST integration between the Volcas and Korg’s iPad synths. Let’s look at each Volca in more detail.

Next: Volca Beats
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