Meet the Son of Kronos. No, not Zeus—there’d be a bit of a
conflict with his Roman equivalent if Korg had gone there. Krome is a
Greek root meaning “color,” and Korg’s new affordable do-it-all synth
certainly serves up a wide sonic spectrum of great sounds for live
performance, with new acoustic pianos, electric pianos, and drums
raising the bar compared to other ROM-based synths at this price point.
Korg has also built in most of the Kronos’ sequencing, resulting in
bang-for-buck that’s pretty heroic. Hmm, “Perseus” might have been a
nice name, too. . . .
The Krome is hardly the most expensive synth of the four
reviewed in this issue, yet it’s the only one with a color touchscreen.
This is the resistive kind that can be worked with a stylus, and often
it’s so packed with touchable graphics and parameters that using one
really does make things easier. Where on most other Korg touchscreens,
you tap a parameter and then adjust it with the data dial, the Krome
lets you touch-drag knobs, sliders, and data value boxes right onscreen.
It’s very responsive, and there’s a nifty twist: Hold on anything for a
second and then lift off, and you’ll get a larger pop-up box with two
options: a horizontal slider, or a “flywheel” that has a bit of momentum
when you “flick” it. Both are useful for making finer adjustments.
There are also controller info pop-ups that appear
whenever you grab one of the knobs, but I found these more distracting
than helpful. Unlike on the Kurzweil PC3LE, they appear
over existing information rather than next to it. You may feel
differently, but if not, they can be turned off in the global settings.
Like many keyboards today, the Krome uses categories
within categories to help you find desired sounds quickly. The Krome has
a “Jump to Sub” onscreen button for this, and the organization is
logical. For example, if you’re in Keyboards (acoustic and electric
piano), this button filters them into acoustic, synth EP (think DX7),
real EP, and Clav/harpsichord. Strings? Ensemble and solo. Comp/lead
split bank in Combi mode? “Natural” sounds versus synth leads up top.
Performance control revolves around four knobs with three
rows of functions. Cutoff, resonance, filter envelope intensity, and amp
envelope release are on top (good choices—these are arguably the most
useful when the program you found is almost perfect), the middle
row is assignable, and arpeggiator (really a sophisticated musical
phrase player) settings are on the bottom. Often, envelope attack is
mapped to Knob 1, second row.
Two assignable buttons sit above the joystick, with the
second sometimes holding the stick’s vertical position once you let go.
This lets you imitate a non-springy wheel—or rather two of them, as the
up and down directions can be assigned and held independently. Other
times, they switch articulations on orchestral, guitar, and acoustic
sounds. Often, they handle octave shifts, though I’d be much happier
with dedicated buttons for this.
The Krome runs entirely on PCM samples, so you won’t find
analog modeling or dedicated drawbar organ modes like in the Kronos.
However, its sound engine, which Korg calls EDSx (Enhanced Definition
Synthesis, Extended), does a lot with those samples.
A basic sound program has one or two “oscillators,” each
of which can contain up to eight velocity-switched multisamples with
independent control over crossfades for each switch point. An intuitive
graphic shows ranges for all velocity layers in use, and next to it, a
meter shows the velocity of your key strikes. This gives you a means to
get very precise about how different programs respond to your playing.
(There are also nine velocity curves at the global level.)
Each oscillator can also have one or two multimode
filters, in series or parallel, each with its own envelope and a host of
modulation possibilities we could spend the whole review discussing.
Same for the amp envelopes and the dual LFOs per oscillator.
Essentially, a single program is really two independent synths, but keep
in mind that if you’re using both of them, you’re getting 60 voices of
polyphony, not the maximum spec of 120.
Speaking of effects, you get five inserts, two send-based
“master” effects, and a final “total” effect at once. Multiple parts in a
Combi can use the same insert effect, so while you can’t quite put a
different effect on each part of a 16-way Combi, you’ve got a lot of
flexibility here. It helps that Korg’s graphical depiction of effects
routing makes it very easy to understand—and to change—what’s going
I’ll reiterate one gripe I had about the Kronos: It’s
still too easy to change sounds and lose your edits. Since the Krome’s
screen does pop-ups for other things, let’s have one that prompts you to
save your work.
Fig. 1. The software editor runs standalone or as a
plug-in, letting you automate the Krome as though it were a soft synth.
In our tests, communication with the hardware was two-way, instant, and
What did the factory programmers do with all that sound
engine depth? For space reasons, we’ll focus on standouts that weren’t
found in Korg instruments prior to the Kronos.
Acoustic piano. “Krome Grand Piano” and a few
variations form the star piano sound, which is derived from the “German”
piano in the Kronos’ SGX-1 mode. It features unlooped samples for every
note, something you can hear from the second you start playing it. It
uses all eight velocity layers of one oscillator (and devotes the second
to sustain resonance), and I couldn’t hear any switches. Having spent a
day with the Krome 88 at Korg’s offices, I can say that the weighted
action does this sound much more justice. Coming home to my 61-key unit,
I had to set to the global velocity curve to 2 (lower is heavier) to
start appreciating it again. Once I did, it had a wonderful dynamic
range, and let me cover a timbral spectrum for which I might otherwise
use three different piano patches. It’s gorgeous.
Electric piano and Clav. The EPs also borrow from
the Kronos, and are second only to the acoustic pianos in sample
footprint. There’s plenty of bark, and if you want, plenty of sparkle.
“E. Piano Mark I R&B” is among the most versatile, with one of the
assignable buttons muting (or maybe turning way down) a more bell-like
tine layer, and Knob 3 dialing in the requisite Steely McDonald phaser.
Rhodes sounds cover Mark I, II, and V models, while the single Wurly
200A’s variants are effects-based (tremolo, phaser, touch wah, etc.).
That said, the Wurly is nice and meaty. Clavs, which are carefully
programmed if not as exhaustively sampled, will get you through cover
tunes sounding like you came to the gig from downtown, not the suburbs.
Drums. The “Jazz Ambience Kit”—which has come over
from the Kronos in its entirety—takes center stage here. There’s also a
dry version of the same, which I preferred when I wanted a tighter kick
sound. This is supplemented by one of the larger varieties of acoustic,
electronic, and genre-centric kits that I’ve seen in a hardware
keyboard’s ROM. Sure, some of this is legacy material, but it’s largely
very good. A big part of the Krome’s mission is to let you create tracks
quickly if you’re away from your studio computer, and its drum sounds
won’t let you down. To that same end, a drum track offers a host of
accompaniment grooves, each of which—along with the kit played—can be
saved per program or Combi.
Synths. Now we’re getting into territory that
Triton and M-series users will find familiar. The key word is variety:
If you have a sound in your brain due to anything from a remembered tune
to a chemical imbalance, chances are the Krome has a factory program
that’s spot on or darned close. Big Matrix brass, creamy Mini leads,
squelchy sync sounds, evolving pads with lots of tempo-synced internal
motion . . . it’s all here. I did uncover two warts: First, there’s
little stair-stepping on filter sweeps on some synth sounds, but more
often than not, I had to cranking the resonance fairly high to hear it.
Second, grabbing a knob can audibly jump the assigned parameter to the
knob’s physical position, and I couldn’t find a setting to change this
Organs. As ROMpler organs go, these are really
quite good. There’s a lot of body and grit, and some programs assign a
knob to bring in higher harmonics for pseudo-drawbar moves. The rotary
effect is also one of the better I’ve heard in a PCM-based keyboard in
Orchestral instruments. Strings and brass have a
shiny, hi-fi quality that’s most quickly experienced in Combi presets
such as “Dyno Orchestra” and “Rhythm and Bows.” Strings in particular
have a good selection of articulations, both from one program to another
and via the assignable buttons within a program.
This is one of the deepest and most feature-rich
sequencers ever packed into a hardware synth. Unlike the Kronos, it
doesn’t do audio recording, but it has a couple of tricks up its sleeve
that even its big brother would envy. Notable among these is track
editing that’s more visual, including a “tools”-based approach that
makes working with one or several measures at a time even more DAW-like
than on the Kronos (see Figure 2).
Fig. 2. Track Edit view in the sequencer. The square icons
to the right of the tracks are editing tools that let you move, copy,
paste and delete a range of measures you specify.
Going a level deeper, there’s now a piano roll editor with
separate horizontal and vertical zooms, letting you make things big
enough to poke away at individual notes onscreen; pencil, move, erase,
and note length tools; and a controller lane at the bottom (see Figure 3
). Though this displays one controller at a time, it remembers the
edits you’ve made to everything. You could smooth out that filter sweep
where you turned the knob too quickly, then change controllers and draw
in, let’s say, some aftertouch you’ve assigned to do some clever
modulation. (The Krome’s keys may not transmit aftertouch, but the
engine still interprets it.)
As you’d expect from being familiar with Korg or with
modern workstation synths in general, things you do in the sequencer can
migrate elsewhere, and vice versa. A “multi record” mode lets you
capture the results of Combis—many of which include drum tracks,
arpeggiation, and riffs generated by Korg’s well RPPR (realtime pattern
play/record) feature—into a song track for later editing. Or, a pattern
you record could become an arpeggio, RPPR lick, or groove used by the
Drum Track function.
Further touches include a master track to handle meter
changes within a song (the selection of time signatures is Brubeckian), a
draggable onscreen transport bar in addition to hardware buttons, a cue
list that lets you chain-play songs, event list editing, and my
favorite: The “safety pin” menu gives you a touchable and contextual
list of all possible functions. Much of what’s here can also be done
graphically, but as I was learning how to edit tracks, this menu felt
like home base.
Fig. 3. The piano roll view can display and edit controller data as well as notes.
The Krome makes for an ideal main keyboard for live gigs.
It’s highly portable, with the 88-key model weighing in at only 32
pounds. The pianos and EPs are in the league of all but the highest-end
dedicated stage pianos, and the variety of expressive sounds in all
other categories feels bottomless. With a Krome and maybe a dedicated
clonewheel if your music spotlights organ, you could do any gig and
sound fabulous. Then, the sequencer’s serious compositional power is
made all the more obvious by the best use of touch and visuals on any
Korg yet. The Krome is the new entry-level workstation to beat—so much
so that it makes “entry-level” something said only for lack of a better
Acoustic piano sounds are worthy of a keyboard three times
the price. Authentic EPs with lots of attitude. Huge variety of
everything else, and it’s all solid. Deep and flexible architecture.
DAW-like MIDI editing on color touchscreen, including piano roll.
No dedicated octave shift buttons. Keys don’t sense aftertouch. Boot-up time of about one minute.
The Krome sets a new price-performance standard in affordable workstations and is a killer gig machine as well.
61 keys: $1,499 list | $999 street
73 keys: $1,799 list | $1,199 street
88 keys: $1,999 list | $1,599 streetkorg.com