Korg SQ-1 reviewed: Affordable and fun analog step sequencing for the masses

Korg’s latest entry into their affordable analog line is a powerful little box that serves double duty as both a highly compatible step sequencer and a CV/gate converter that allows you to directly control a wide variety of vintage and modular gear via USB. And it’s only 100 bucks.
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
Korg’s latest entry into their affordable analog line is a powerful little box that serves double duty as both a highly compatible step sequencer and a CV/gate converter that allows you to directly control a wide variety of vintage and modular gear via USB. And it’s only 100 bucks.
Image placeholder title

Korg’s latest addition to their growing catalog of modern analog gear isn’t a synth or a drum machine. Instead, it’s a powerful little box that serves double duty as both a highly compatible step sequencer and a CV/gate converter that allows you to directly control a wide variety of vintage and modular gear via USB. Oh, and did I mention that it’s only a hundred bucks?


Overview

Cosmetically, the all-metal SQ-1 looks like cross between an MS-20 and a Volca, which makes sense considering it works equally well with both of Korg’s runaway analog hits. Its top mounted 1/8" jacks include connections for two CV/gate pairs, Volca sync in and out, MIDI out (via an included conversion cable), and a dedicated output for the Lego-like LittleBits Synth Kit. On the back is a USB connection for integrating it with your computer rig – and also supplying power, though the unit will happily run on a pair of AA batteries for about 6-8 hours, depending on your usage.

Image placeholder title

A huge plus for the CV and gate options is the SQ-1’s compatibility with all of the voltage standards in the analog synth world, including the obscure (and slightly annoying) Hertz-per-volt implementation. This is configurable separately for each of the CV/gate pairs, allowing you to control two different synths simultaneously even if their standards don’t match. It’s also handy for changing the range of the knobs when applying the voltages to control synth parameters on your modular gear.

Sequencing

The SQ-1 can function as either a single 16-step sequencer or dual parallel eight-step sequencers, with each sequence routed to a different output. An MS-20 style rotary selector dials in the various modes, which also include options for back-and-forth, alternating, random, and a “slide” mode for TB-303-inspired patterns.

Unlike most vintage step sequencers, the SQ-1’s outputs can also be quantized to specific scales, making it easy to achieve musically pleasant results with a minimum of fuss. Major, minor, and chromatic modes are all present, or you can switch to linear mode for continuous control of voltages when working with filters and such.

In a nod to the Volca series, the SQ-1 also offers a lot of real-time playability, thanks to the inclusion of “step jump” and “active step” features. Like its name, “step jump” allows you to jump immediately to any step in the sequence and play from there. The “active step” option enables switching individual steps on or off while the sequence cycles. Both of these features give the SQ-1 a modern, performance-oriented vibe that puts it way ahead of most vintage sequencers. The only notable omission in the package is the lack of swing at the hardware level—though you can get swing via Korg’sSyncKontrol app. Of course, the absence of shuffled beats hasn’t impacted the success of the Volcas either, so for many artists it probably won’t be an issue.

In Use

Working with the SQ-1 is an absolute blast, provided you have a compatible synth or two in your rig. On my MS-20 alone, I was able to quickly create duophonic sequences by having the SQ-1 control each oscillator discretely. In addition, routing one output to pitch and the other to filter cutoff was great fun too. What really blew me away was finally being able to sequence the monophonic synth section of my beloved vintage Yamaha SK-50D, which operates on the aforementioned Hertz-per-volt standard. Once I realized that the SQ-1 could also empower me to sequence the SK-50D directly from my DAW (thanks to its MIDI conversion feature when not being used as a sequencer), I was in heaven.

Conclusions

As a step sequencer, the SQ-1 is a wonderful resource for inspiration, especially if your synths also include CV inputs for controlling additional parameters. Its compatibility with pretty much every standard makes the SQ-1 a team player with pretty anything you may have in your rig. That said, the clincher for me was the ability to sequence a piece of vintage gear, which in this case had eluded me for years. Worth $100? You betcha, and an obvious Key Buy winner to boot.

PROS

Can be used as two parallel eight-step sequencers or one 16-step sequencer. DAW sync via USB.Compatible with 1-, 2-, and 5-volt per octave standards, as well as Hz-per-volt. Doubles as MIDI to CV/gate converter via USB. Dedicated control output for LittleBits Synth Kit. Rock-solid construction.

CONS

No swing or shuffle except via SyncKontrol app. Changing batteries requires a screwdriver.

Bottom Line

Affordable and fun analog step sequencing for the masses.

$150 list | $99.99 street | korg.com