« Synthesizer Library Podcast

Episode 006 - Korg microKORG

Published: Oct 06, 2015 by Adam Anderson

The microKORG is a virtual-analog synthesizer and vocoder. It has 37 mini keys, several control knobs, an on-board arpeggiator, a complete MIDI implementation, and a PC/Mac patch editor. This episode takes a different approach from past episodes by playing LOTS of sounds from the instrument.
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Show Notes

Overview

The microKORG is a virtual-analog synthesizer and vocoder. It has 37mini keys, several control knobs, an on-board arpeggiator, a complete MIDI implementation, a PC/Mac patch editor.

It may just be synth with the longest production record. The Korg website still shows it as a current product, and it looks like it had its 10th anniversary a few years ago.

There have been several versions of the microKORG: the XL version, the red and black version, the gold version. I have the original version here, so that’s my reference in the episode.

How does it perform?

There seem to be a lot of opinions out there about this one. Some say there are better alternatives out there. That may or may not be the case for you. Here’s some of the good and bad…

The Good Stuff

  • Wide array of factory presets show off its ability
  • Live performance knobs along the top give you access to tweak the filter cutoff, resonance, envelope attack and release, and tempo (for arpeggios.)
  • Highly capable engine (see explanation of “virtual analog” below)
  • Arpeggiator is quick to access and easy to use. It opens up some dull sounds to being more interesting.
  • I saw Nick Rhodes use it on stage once, so…
  • Compact, portable, can run on batteries
  • Affordable
  • Wood sides!

The Less Good Stuff

  • Mini keys can be hard to play, but look at how many more notes your hand spans!
  • Preset editing could be better.
  • The front panel grid makes it easy to find the setting you want to edit, but cryptic display values make it hard to interpret.
  • The wonderfully expressive live-mode knobs don’t align with their corresponding values in edit mode.
  • Vocoder microphone isn’t great, but you can use another microphone or an external audio input instead.
  • Shift functions (MIDI functions, preset initialization, etc.) are only detailed in the manual. Screening those on the front would’ve been handy.

Virtual Analog

What is meant by Virtual Analog? It sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, but it actually means something.

Virtual Analog is also known as “Analog Modeling” which might be a more accurate description. It is a method of attempting to re-create the sound of analog synthesizers with digital signal processing. Instead of simply sampling analog waveforms, virtual analog (VA) synths are designed to “model” the analog signal path traditionally made up of discrete electronic components. The emulation is primarily done code that is processed by digital microprocessors.

Does it work? Well, that’s a hot topic I’m not going to answer. You’ll have to be the judge. You’ll hear plenty of clips from the instrument on the podcast, so have a listen.

Beyond Virtual Analog

In addition to the analog-modeled waveforms, oscillator 1 offers a set of digital waves. While working with the classic waves (saw, square, etc.) gives you an instant vintage feel, the digital waves are more
modern-sounding.

Make It Modular

Each preset has 4 virtual patch cables. When the microKORG was first released, modular synthesis wasn’t as popular as it is today. The manual positions this feature as being similar to connecting patch cables on their MS-20 semi-modular synth. So, that’s an interesting idea considering the release in the early 2000s.

The idea is, you can virtually patch a cable from several sources to modulate several destinations. This is pretty standard practice—offering modulation sources, but I think their approach was
pretty forward-thinking at the time.

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