Korg Module app reviewed

February 20, 2015

As more and more performers integrate iPads into their live rigs, it was inevitable that a company would attempt to create an app that would deliver the Holy Grail of a replacement for gargantuan workstations for casual gigs. The fact that this replacement comes from a company that’s made a huge mark in that very market comes as an even bigger surprise.

For a mere 40 bucks, Korg’s new Module iPad app marks a sea change in what’s possible for live keyboardists, whether they’re performing in traditional rock bands, jazz ensembles, or cocktail lounges. Its collection of instruments is straightforward, specializing in piano and vintage electro-mechanical keys like electric piano, clavinet and Hammond-style organs. There are also a few essential synth elements too, notably strings and brass (both ROMpler and analog versions), along with a few classic pads and standard ’80s sawtooth comping patches.

When I first fired up the app, I was expecting strong material – after all, this is Korg we’re talking about – but after a few minutes, I was absolutely thunderstruck by the overall quality of these instruments. Each acoustic piano preset is derived from the same set of grand piano samples, with slightly different processing and EQ, but the source recordings are absolutely stellar and in the context of a live set they really cut through without that “flat” sound that I’ve heard in lesser iPad apps.

Same goes for the electric pianos and Clavinets, which are absolutely gorgeous. While the electric pianos are predominantly Rhodes-centric, the included presets cover all of the essentials, including a stellar phased version that’s straight out of the Steely Dan catalog. The Clavinets are equally impressive, with a touch wah clav that absolutely nails the Stevie Wonder “Higher Ground” sound.

The organs are also impressive, however they lack any sort of drawbar control, which means you’re stuck with a mere nineteen presets. Granted, they’re terrific and cover essential jazz, rock and gospel basics, but user customization is limited to Leslie, vibrato, and overdrive parameters, which may not be enough for some players.

The strings, brass and synth patches cover the bread-and-butter basics, with filter and envelope parameters, but that’s about it. Even so, for this type of context (which is essentially cover bands and lounge artists) there’s more than enough for playing the standards.

For adding final polish to Module’s array of keyboards, there are two processors – modulation effects and delay/reverb. Since they’re all based on Korg’s collection of workstation effects, these effects all quite capable. I was especially pleased to see the Korg Polysix ensemble and chorus in the list of options, as the Polysix ensemble is among my all-time favorites thanks to its rich liquid character.

In addition to basic audio recording tools, Module also includes two features that really set it apart. The first is a “Set List” function that allows you to reorganize your presets into various collections for live performance. This alone would be a nice touch, but the function also allows you to import sheet music into the list, so players who depend on notation will have everything they need within a single app. You can even import songs from your iTunes library here, so if you have backing tracks to coordinate as well, the Set List solves that problem too.

The second standout feature targets electronic music producers who rely on Korg’s impressive Gadget sequencer. With just a few clicks, all of Module’s instruments are imported into Gadget’s library of synth options. Granted, doing this will eat up an additional gigabyte of RAM on your iPad, so that’s a consideration. On the other hand, I did a little experiment once the Module instruments were imported into Gadget. Sure enough, you can delete Module from your iPad afterward and Gadget will retain those instruments in its library, so if you just want to add a bunch of top-notch vintage gear to your Gadget productions and skip the live performance angle, you’re covered here too.

At this time, Module doesn’t seem to offer any way to play two or more sounds at once via a split or layer on your MIDI controller, so that may inhibit it from being your sole sound source for cover gigs. The Gadget importing feature implies multitimbral capability, so we’re hoping Korg can add this in a future update.

Korg’s list of achievements in the iPad market is nothing short of record-breaking. With module, these achievements expand from the electronic music production and vintage analog synth emulation realms into that of keyboard replacement. Splits and layers you could quickly set up using the iPad’s touch screen would drive that all the way home. As its name implies, however, Module does indeed replace the idea of the hardware sound module from which you might draw the main sound in your setup at any given time. And the sounds it offers for this purpose are so excellent and diverse that it merits a Key Buy.

Pros: Extremely high-quality versions of acoustic and electro-mechanical keyboards like piano, organ, electric piano and clavinet.  “Multi” instrument also includes essential gig instruments like strings, brass, pads and other classic workstation sounds. User-adjustable velocity scaling. Module instruments also work in Korg’s Gadget sequencing app. Integrated effects.

Cons: Requires iOS 8 compatible iPad. Touchscreen keyboard is extremely tiny. No drawbar control over Hammond-based instruments. No splits or layers.

Bottom Line: Better than a hardware sound module. Lives in your iPad. Forty bucks. ’Nuff said. 

$39.99 | korg.com

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