Korg Triton Taktile reviewed

January 30, 2015

It can be hard to get excited about another MIDI controller keyboard. Some combination of trigger pads, knobs, sliders, and (oh yeah) keys has become a known quantity, and there are so many options out there. However, if the way you play is keyboard-centric and your sounds come out of a computer, you need one. That’s doubly so if the desk space between your speakers is tight and you need your note-entry device to double as a control surface for your DAW software. With the Triton Taktile, Korg aims to sweeten the pot by offering something we haven’t seen in a MIDI controller in some years: built-in sounds.


Internal Sounds

The sounds in question are the 512 programs from the original factory bank of Korg’s “classic” Triton synth workstation, first introduced in 1999. You could argue that they’re a bit dated, but there’s a reason they held sway over pop, hip-hop, R&B, and dance music production for pretty much the first decade of the new millennium, and they still hold up quite well. Strings in particular are lush and rich. The main acoustic piano sound is a bit bright and one-dimensional compared to even a basic stage piano made within the past five years, but I’d still use it for a solo or chunky chords in a rock or pop song where the whole point is to cut through the mix. The basic Rhodes electric piano sound (“Stage EP 1”) is surprisingly better than I remembered from the original Triton. Tons of EP variations are very useful musically, but the single Clav sound I could find is on the nasal side—more “Superstition” and less “Use Me.” Synths cover both analog subtractive-style sounds and more proudly digital timbres with lots of motion and sparkle. Acoustic and electric guitars are another pleasant surprise in the realism department, and drums offer plenty of punch.

When stepping through the internal sounds, it was initially confusing that I couldn’t find “+/-” increment buttons on the Triton Taktile. Then I discovered that the ribbon controller directly below the X/Y touchpad does double duty for this, with a tap on either end stepping you up or down a program. Sliding your finger along it will change sounds willy-nilly, so mind the mode it’s in. I also really appreciated the dedicated Sound button by the upper left corner of the touchpad. It turns the internal sounds on or off with one tap, saving you the trouble of jockeying a volume knob or slider that you might prefer to map to something in software.

There doesn’t seem to be a way to set up splits, layers, or multis of the internal sounds from the Triton Taktile’s front panel (though some sounds are themselves layers, such as piano with strings or a synth pad). That feels acceptable in the context of these sounds being supplemental on a machine that’s mainly intended as a controller for software-based music production.


Hardware and Controls

In addition to the expected gamut of assignable MIDI messages, the knobs and sliders are pre-mapped to a basic but useful complement of parameters for the internal sounds: volume; filter cutoff and resonance; amplitude envelope attack, decay, and release; and sends for two multi-effects (MFX). 

Located centrally, the versatile X/Y touchpad can be used for two-axis effects (on internal sounds it defaults to filter cutoff and resonance), to play an internal or external sound in Kaossilator fashion using any of 35 programmable scales, or even as a trackpad that replaces your computer mouse.  

Sixteen pads is certainly a nice number to have; for space reasons this drops to eight on the 25-key model. They can function as simple note or drum triggers, clip launchers (via DAW control in programs such as Ableton Live), or programmable chord generators—a feature familiar from such high-end Korg workstations as the OASYS and M3. The pads are velocity-sensitive, but have shallower travel and “squish factor” than the MPC-derived pads on Akai control keyboards. 

The keyboard itself is fast, reasonably quiet, and for all intents unweighted, though you can feel the small metal weights on the undersides of the keys. It does everything you’d need a synth-action keybed to do, with the exception that if you pay $500 for a 49-key controller, it should sense aftertouch. 

Kudos to Korg for including a five-pin MIDI output. That, USB, 1/4" pedal inputs (one switch, one continuous), and the 1/8" stereo audio output (which drives headphones, so turn it down if feeding a line-level input on an amp or audio interface) comprise all the physical I/O on the machine. I have mixed feelings about all of this being on the right-side end cheek of the housing. If you’re right-handed, cords would be sitting on your desk where you might want to put your mouse and computer keyboard. Also, the USB port is the only power option, though I tried playing the Taktile stand-alone off an iPad charging brick and things worked. The version 2 firmware update adds iOS compatibility and a power-saving mode for running the Taktile from the iPad on which you’re using it to play virtual instrument apps.



DAW Control and Arpeggiator

One of the Triton Taktile’s strongest suits is its comprehensive and virtually plug-and-play control over most popular DAWs. It comes pre-loaded with preset templates for Cubase, Logic Pro, GarageBand, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and Sonar, in addition to a generic MIDI control template you can customize. In fact, you can customize any of the templates, saving the results as a “Scene.” You might even wish to have more than one Scene for the same program, say, one for studio recording and another for clip-based electronic music performance in Ableton Live.

I say “virtually” plug-and play because for GarageBand and Logic, I had to install a plug-in from Korg’s website, and in some of the supported DAWs you’ll need to make Preferences settings, but the PDF manual is crystal clear about what to do in all cases. Once you’re up and running, the transport controls, sliders, knobs, and buttons all behave as expected (sliders doing volume and knobs doing pan, et cetera). I won’t say there’s no learning curve at all, but the hunt-and-peck approach got me pretty far in Logic, pretty quickly.

Last but not least, the onboard arpeggiator is an instant fun machine. The pattern selection is fairly 1980s-era (up, down, a couple of up-down options, random, and a chord mode), but the full range of parameters regarding swing, gate time, key sync, octave range, and latch are on hand. 

Downloadable Software

The Triton Taktile comes with a serial number for download of quite the bundle of music software from the Korg License Center. Korg soft synths include the Polysix (shown), MS-20, Mono/Poly, M1Le, and Wavestation, as well as the MDE-X multi-effect plug-in. UVI Digital Synsations; Applied Acoustics Lounge Lizard Session, Ultra Analog Session, and Strum Acoustic Session; Propellerhead Reason Limited; and Toontrack’s EzDrummer Lite are included as well. Finally, you get a $50 discount off any version of Ableton Live.

 

 

 

Conclusions

As a MIDI controller the Triton Taktile is pretty deep, and its built-in sounds do more to recommend it than we expected. It’s not without competition. For example, Novation’s “budget” Impulse keyboard offers aftertouch and a similar complement of physical controls (though with half the drum pads and no internal sounds) as well as the mature Automap ecosystem of DAW and plug-in control, all for less money. The Triton Taktile also doesn’t currently come in a 61-key version. That said, it does quite a lot, everything on it works really darned well, and the downloadable software bundle is really a cornucopia. In the event of a computer mishap, there’s also a lot to be said for hitting the Sound button, grabbing an internal synth, and ripping. If you’re shopping for a USB MIDI controller, you’d be doing yourself a disservice not to take your laptop to the music store, plug into a Triton Taktile, and see what it can do for your music-making workflow.


PROS

Classic Triton sounds still hold up surprisingly well. Smooth DAW integration via lots of included presets. X/Y touchpad has a Kaossilator-like note-playing mode. Weighs just over eight pounds.

CONS

USB is only power option. Stereo 1/8" mini headphone jack is only audio output. Some musicians won’t like all the jacks being on the right side. No aftertouch.


Bottom Line

Built-in sounds give the Triton Taktile the edge for quick inspiration and live performance; easy and thorough DAW control makes it a workhorse in the studio.

$670 list | $499 street | korg.com

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