Of the big three synth makers, Korg seems to be the most fond of
taking chances and delivering exotic products that surprise and delight.
Their Kaoss Pad and Kaossilator virtually created a new category of
realtime effects for DJs and producers, while their Nano series showed
that tiny MIDI controllers could be serious musical tools. When they
announced a true analog synth that fits in your pocket, with a real
MS-20 filter that accepts external signals, for well under $100, we just
The first thing that grabbed us about the Monotron is how freakin’
tiny it is—not much bigger than a large smartphone. Instead of keys,
there’s a ribbon with an 18-note keyboard printed on it. Think “21st century
Stylophone” and you’ve got the idea. Playing the keyboard with your
fingers is possible, but since the entire surface is a ribbon, this can be a
trifle awkward for the thicker-fingered. The best bet for accuracy is to
use a stylus (got an old Palm Pilot or Treo handy?), which isn’t included
with the Monotron.
Watch YouTube sensation Brett Domino cover Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" on a Monotron and Kassoilator.
The bottom line here is obviously the sound, and the Monotron does
not disappoint. Its voice architecture is simplicity itself: a sawtooth oscillator,
a resonant lowpass filter, and a straight-up gate VCA envelope. An
LFO can be routed to either pitch or filter cutoff. Interestingly, the LFO
wave is a sawtooth, not a standard-issue triangle or sine, which leads to
some cool results that help define the Monotron’s sonic character. For
example, when applied to pitch, the LFO delivers vintage Steve Miller
swoops that will have you reaching for your dad’s vinyl collection. On the
other hand, when applied to filter cutoff, especially with a dollop of juicy
resonance, the results veer into Roland TB-303 territory. This should keep
electronica fans happy for days. That alone would be cool enough, but
the LFO rate also extends well into the audio frequency range, allowing
for FM insanity that you’d never expect from a package this size.
The pitch knob has a massive range, from subsonic sawtooth clicks
all the way up to cochlea-shredding highs. Throttle down the filter cutoff
and lower the pitch and you can whip up wobbly tech and electro bass
lines. Raise the cutoff all the way and increase the pitch to the upper
octaves, and you’ve got that “crazy bees” sound that keeps Benny Benassi
fans coming back for more.
Then there’s the external input jack. This is a 1/8" affair, so you may
need an adapter. The fact that Korg managed to cram real analog outboard
filtering into a box this size and price is nothing short of astonishing.
Just to be ironic, I ran my vintage Casio VL-Tone into the Monotron
and had a grand old time turning the two into my very own nano-modular
coffee table synth.
Again, Korg delivers a must-have gadget with true musical usefulness—
at a price that makes it the perfect stocking stuffer, not to mention
a Key Buy.
PROS Analog. Same filter as vintage Korg MS-10 and MS-20 synths. Audio
input for processing other instruments and semi-modular applications.
Audio-range modulation of filter and oscillator.
CONS Thicker fingers may have a hard time playing the ribbon
PRICE List: $90.00
Approx. street: $60.00