Review: Korg minilogue

A powerful analog polysynth at an astonishing price
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Last January, in an unprecedented move, Korg announced and shipped its new minilogue, an analog polysynth, the week before NAMM, making their booth one of the most heavily trafficked areas of the show. By now, you’ve read a few reviews and maybe even gotten your hands on one. But with the benefit of extra weeks of testing, I’ve managed to delve deep into the instrument and discover the scope of its synthesis amenities, which frankly is vast. What’s more, I’ve also discovered that if you turn one of the parameter knobs while the minilogue is booting, you’ll be treated to an adorable game of Breakout, courtesy of its clever and useful OLED oscilloscope.

Clean Machine

As a piece of hardware, the minilogue is beautifully constructed, with a panel full of smooth feeling knobs and a plethora of clearly labeled switches. The pitch-lever design breaks with tradition, but it’s spring-loaded and in a great location. So unless you’re a wheel fanatic, you’ll master it easily.

The back panel is surrounded by a beautiful wood bezel (I checked and it’s from a sustainable source, if that’s a concern) and includes 1/4" jacks for mono output, external input, and headphones; Volca sync I/O (it works nicely); and DIN MIDI I/O and USB MIDI. Unfortunately, there’s no sustain pedal input. Note that the traditional MIDI assignment for damper pedal (CC64) is assigned to Oscillator 1 octave control.

Presets and Voice Modes

The minilogue’s preset bank includes 100 factory sounds and 100 empty, initialized slots for your own designs. Frankly, I wish every manufacturer would do this, as a full bank of factory presets always presents a serious conundrum of what to overwrite when creating or modifying patches. And with front panel controls begging to be tweaked, having space to store your experiments is a plus.

While the 100 factory presets cover a lot of sonic territory with a slight emphasis on dance music, the minilogue’s unique voice-mode options greatly expand their versatility. Each option has distinct applications that can be fine-tuned via the voice mode Depth control.

In Poly mode, the knob will automatically invert any held chords, which is a nice shortcut to one of music theory’s handiest tricks. In Duo and Unison modes, the knob adjusts the detuning of the stacked voices. In Mono mode, it adds as many as two sub-oscillators for low-end bombast and massive leads.

Chord mode offers a wide array of voicings, from minor, major and seventh to suspended fourths and flattened fifths. Delay mode conjures up a quirky, vintage MIDI delay effect that uses voices instead of time-domain processing. Rounding out the voice modes, the Arpeggiator includes a solid assortment of both classic and unusual patterns, whereas the Sidechain mode lowers the volume of held notes when new notes are added. While the latter may sound odd at first, it’s useful for subtly adjusting the volume of chords or bass notes while you solo over the top.

In tandem with the presets, these voice modes give the synth an enormous range of textures out of the box, even if you don’t understand synthesis very well. And for those who are versed in analog synthesis, the rest of the engine is impressive indeed—two oscillators and a noise generator feeding a lowpass filter and VCA. On the modulation side, there’s an LFO and two envelopes. At the end of the chain, there’s a clever time-domain delay line for adding polish to the final output. Let’s have a closer look at each.

Oscillators

The minilogue’s dual analog oscillators are extraordinarily flexible—a real achievement for a polysynth at this price point. For starters, all three waveforms—triangle, sawtooth, and square—can be further modified by each oscillator’s shape knob, expanding their harmonic complexity in a dramatic fashion. In the case of the sawtooth, there’s a square-like morph that results in a unique hybrid tone. The triangle shaping tilts the spectrum toward the third harmonic, which is handy for analog organ textures. The square wave delivers classic pulse-width effects. And yes, all three can be modulated by the LFO.

In addition to the waveshaping tools, the oscillators also include variable cross modulation (FM), along with switchable ring mod and hard sync options, and an independent noise generator. Taken as a whole, this gives the minilogue an unusually wide range of spectral possibilities for an analog synth. In my tests, I was able to create everything from hard leads to delicate bells, all while leaving the filter wide open.

Meet the New Filter

The filter is fully resonant and can function in either 2-or 4-pole mode, with switches for keyboard tracking and velocity sensitivity. The filter circuit is an entirely fresh design for Korg, and it is unlike those found in either the MS-20 Mini or Odyssey reissue.

While I’ve seen a bit of grumbling online about the way the resonance circuit is implemented (it thins out the sound at extreme settings), this is offset by the fact that the filter is capable of self-oscillation in both 12dB and 24dB modes, which sounds glorious in conjunction with the noise generator for “sonar pings.” What’s more, the minilogue’s audio input allows you to process external signals through the entire signal chain, including the filter and delay. So if you’re an analog connoisseur looking to add more filtering options to your rig, the minilogue’s circuit will definitely expand your tonal palette.

EGs and Modulation

The minilogue sports two ADSR envelopes. One is dedicated to the amplifier, while the other can modulate the cutoff and/or the pitch of oscillator 2—perfect for animating the sync, ring mod and cross mod features.

The LFOs are extremely flexible, with sawtooth, square, and triangle options. Sample-and-hold would have been nice addition, especially when applied to oscillator waveshape, but you can do similar things using the step sequencer. In addition to waveshape, the LFO destinations include pitch and cutoff. Since the destination selector is a switch, you can only route the LFO to one of those options.

Another interesting wrinkle in the LFO implementation is that the waveforms are apparently bi-polar. While this works in a fairly obvious manner with pitch and cutoff, with waveshaping there are some idiosyncrasies, especially when using the sawtooth LFO wave. For example, when the oscillator waveshape value is set to zero and LFO is applied, the sawtooth translates to a triangle because the LFO folds back the negative travel of the sawtooth into the positive region. The result is that some types of sawtooth-waveshape modulation appear simply as slower variations on the triangle waveform.

That said, the LFO can also be modulated by the second envelope, with either rate or depth available as destinations. This is useful for both delayed LFO effects and adding intense bursts of modulation at the beginning of each note.

Sequencer and Delay

Korg’s years of experience with the Volca series has given the company deep insights into how modern musicians use sequencers, and the minilogue’s step sequencer is a testament to that expertise. Each sequence is tied to its preset (another great use for all of those blank memory slots) and can consist of up to 16 polyphonic steps recorded in real-time or entered step-by-step.

In addition to note sequencing, it can also store up to four layers of motion sequences (Korg’s term for parameter automation). As the factory presets ably demonstrate, these sequences can deliver clever parameter sweeps and/or pitch swoops and burbles that are tailor-made for both dance music and more experimental genres. Moreover, editing these sequences is a straightforward affair, thanks to the OLED display and voice-mode switches, which also double as step selectors.

Last but not least, there’s an analog-inspired delay with an integrated highpass filter. A pre/post switch allows the filter to be used as either part of the delay’s feedback loop for old-school effects or as an additional stage of filtering at the end of the synth’s chain before it hits the delay. This is a subtle routing touch that adds little to the manufacturing cost of the synth, while increasing its versatility immensely.

A Synth for All Seasons

Considering all of these features, the minilogue is such a capable analog polysynth that it would still be a bargain at $1,000. So the fact that Korg is somehow able to sell it for a street price of five hundred bucks is an absolute sea change for the analog synth industry. It’s perfect for newcomers, dance music producers, professional educators and synth collectors looking to add another unique sound to their palette.

Make no mistake, within a few years the minilogue will be staple in studios of all kinds and appearing on countless tracks, perhaps even more so than the legendary MicroKorg. This synth is an absolute must-have.

Snap Judgment

Pros All-analog signal path. Powerful oscillators offer waveshaping, ring mod, and cross-mod (FM). Eight voice modes include arpeggiator and chord options. Built-in polyphonic step-sequencer supports four layers of knob automation. Unique lowpass filter circuit. Integrated delay includes pre-or posthighpass filter that can also shape the final sound.

Cons No sample-and-hold waveform for LFO. CC64 (damper pedal) is assigned to Oscillator 1 octave.

Bottom Line

A powerful analog polysynth at an astonishing price.

$499 street
korg.com