An analog monosynth with a sound all its own
Earlier this year, Korg upended the synthesizer market with the release of a four-voice polysynth, the minilogue. While some keyboardists have complained about the instrument's filter response and miniature keys, it’s still the world’s first knob-per-function, analog polyphonic synthesizer for under $500. And it sounds amazing, which is why it remains back ordered at many retail outlets.
It was only a matter of time before Korg came out with a monophonic version: On November 1st, it unveiled the monologue, an analog monosynth that, similarly, includes velocity-sensitive minikeys and controls for nearly every synthesis parameter, but with an interesting twist: It has a 2-octave keyboard with an unconventional E-to-E range, reflecting the lowest note on guitars and bass instruments. Clearly this little monosynth is designed for basses and leads.
Like its polyphonic sibling, the monologue has an OLED screen that shows parameters as you're editing but functions as an oscilloscope while you play. However, the monologue is available in five metallic colors—silver, blue, red, gold and black—each with a wood-trimmed rear panel for vintage flair. Around back you'll also find a USB port, standard MIDI I/O, sync I/O (for connecting other Korg products, such as the volca synths), a 1/4" headphone jack, and an audio output.
The monologue also includes an audio input for processing external signals through its filter, amp and distortion sections (including any modulation you've applied). This enhances the unit’s versatility in both studio and live contexts. For those who haven’t already experimented with routing your band’s guitarist into a synth, I highly recommend it with this keyboard.
Moreover, the monologue is portable: It can be powered from 6 AA batteries or the optional AC adapter.
The monologue's synth voice is based around two oscillators, a 12dB/oct (2-pole) lowpass filter, and an analog distortion stage at the end of the signal path (rather than the filtered delay of the minilogue). Oscillator 1 is locked to the keyboard’s global octave selector, while oscillator 2 offers a discrete four-octave switch and its own pitch knob with a range of ±1,200 cents, useful for both subtle detuning and interval transposition. With such a wide range, I was worried that dialing in precise intervals, such as perfect fifths, might be a hassle, but in practice it was a smooth process thanks to the unit’s software.
Oscillator 1 offers sawtooth, triangle and square/pulse waveforms, whereas oscillator 2 swaps the square wave for noise, which is useful for percussion. Best of all, both oscillators include the innovative waveshaping parameter found on the minilogue, allowing for precise control of pulse-width and unusual saw-square and triangle morphing for the other waves. Hard sync and ring modulation round out the section.
Taken as a whole, the oscillators are capable of an astonishing range of textures, especially when pitch and/or waveshape are modulated. Moreover, you can create your own custom scales and tunings (with 12 slots to save them), and there are presets with exotic options such as Werckmeister and Kirnberger temperaments and Pythagorean tuning. The oscillators are tuned and scaled every time the instrument is powered up.
The 2-Pole LPF
I was a little shocked to discover that the monologue's lowpass filter was a 2-pole design, because it is super beefy, displaying none of the thinness that some circuits exhibit. This was especially pronounced when the resonance was maxed out, verging on self-oscillation while retaining ample low-end bombast. The instrument offers keyboard tracking for the filter (although it is switched off in the initialized factory slots) and the ability to control frequency cutoff with velocity.
Overall, this filter sounds very different from the minilogue's, giving the monologue extra depth and presence, evidenced by its ability to generate massive bass lines.
The monologue's modulation tools are also quite different, with a quirky two-stage envelope that operates in one of three modes. The first functions as an attack-plus-decay/release amp envelope for plucked and bell-like contours. The second mode offers attack and release with full sustain—perfect for leads. The third is a simple amplifier gate that allows the attack and decay settings to function as modulation for other parameters.
In addition to amplifier modulation, the envelopes can modulate one of three destinations—filter cutoff, pitch, or the pitch of oscillator 2 for hard sync and ring-mod effects. While the intensity of this modulation is adjustable, the depth is unipolar, so you can’t invert it; certainly a missed opportunity.
The LFO is surprisingly flexible and, in another departure from the minilogue, it includes a high-frequency mode. As a result, the LFO can be used for FM effects, such as modulating filter cutoff with an audio rate square wave, simulating bit-crushing in the analog domain.
The LFO also includes a 1-shot mode, allowing its sawtooth, triangle and square waves options to function like an additional envelope, with the LFO rate controlling the overall speed. This is a subtle, but very useful detail that really squeezes every last bit of functionality from a simple and streamlined modulation section.
The monologue's sequencing tools are deep, yet approachable, and easy to learn after a quick trip to the manual. There are three elements to each sequence—notes, slides (e.g., ties-plus-glide for 303-like effects), and motion (parameter automation). The motion options are noteworthy, because you can sequence up to four parameters in either smooth or stepped modes, with all four sequence curves displayed on the OLED display for reference. Key-triggered transposition is also available.
Smooth mode is great for either wobbles or morphing patterns, whereas stepped mode is useful for rhythmic effects and it offsets the LFO’s lack of a random waveform. Each sequence is stored as part of the preset data, so if there is a patch you like but you want to use your own sequence, just copy it to one of the empty slots and create a new sequence. (The monologue stores 100 presets, 20 of which are empty.)
The New Voice
After spending time with the monologue, it quickly became apparent that it’s a very different synth than the minilogue, emphasizing basses and leads, thanks to the instrument's fat filters and a deceptively capable modulation section, which also provides FM options. As a result, the monologue has its own identity, as opposed to being simply a one-voice minilogue.
With so many great features, the biggest shock may be the price—$299 street. That makes the monologue both the perfect entry-level analog synth and a must-have for pros looking for an affordable way to expand their tonal palette.
Pros: Dual-oscillator architecture. Adjustable waveshaping. Fat resonant filter with beefy low-end. Integrated sequencer with four-track parameter automation. Audio input.
Cons: Mini keys may be a turn-off for some keyboardists.
Bottom Line: Powerhouse analog monosynth for under $300.