The ARP 2600, Octave’s The Cat, the Synthi VCS3, Korg MS-20, the Wasp, the 909, the 808, and more… it seems Behringer are going to make cheap versions of just about everything.
In placeholder product pages on their site, you’ll see a whole bunch of remakes of historic classics, from synths to drum machines, Synthi to Roland. Product images aren’t there yet, but a lot of these will ship as keyboard instruments.
Also, in what could disrupt the boutique-heavy modular market, Eurorack versions appear to be planned for many or all of these.
Pricing and availability aren’t there, either, but the timing now suggests that NAMM is coming – and Behringer seem to be in the habit now of pre-empting rivals by teasing stuff before they announce it. (Whether that’s meant to take the wind out of the sails of rival press events, or spook competitors, or amp up would-be customers, or a combination, tough to know.)
Some of the product names get slightly scrambled, but others don’t.
Of course, this also means Behringer are now getting into remakes of products whose creators and original brands still exist – KORG, Roland, Roger Linn, Tom Oberheim, and so on. It’s not unexpected – they’ve got access to inexpensive analog filters and oscillators that exactly replicate the originals.
But it does suggest a shakeout is about to happen in the business, especially if these prices are disruptive. Will customers still be willing to pay more for independent makers (let alone other big brands)? Will the availability of cheap remakes make it tough to bring out new designs – or, alternatively, will it effectively mandate coming out with something new to compete?
For now, we’re in the position we so often are with Behringer: speculating, as the brand gets way ahead of everyone else with a teaser, long before the specifics of price and design emerge. And that seems to be part of the design.
But this story may not end here. It’s possible giants like Roland and KORG could find legal reason to go after Behringer, depending on how the products are presented. They might also find other mechanisms in marketing and sales to take action.
You’ll find specs on Behringer’s site. Let us know what you think.
There are apps, and then there are apps with a studio soul. Modstep feels like it uniquely qualifies as the latter. If you’ve just got your iPad, it’s built with lots of interoperability with other apps in mind. And then combine it with hardware, and out of the box, it makes all that outboard gear more useful.
What does it do, and what it’s about? I could try to explain, but really six-year-old Maja does a much better job. (That’s how she won the Modstep video production contest.) She loves her 909 and her 303 and enjoys this more than playing games. The stickers thing is really smart, too – top tip. Digital native for the win.
So Modstep 1.2 is a point release for this US$19.99 app, but what it adds is a lot more of what was there.
When it comes to software interoperability, you get support for presets in Audio Unit v3 — letting you save presets for software instruments and the like, with supported apps. There’s also Audiobus 3 compatibility.
You also get a whole bunch of new Sample Kits. They’re a beautiful way to get started, and they’re also a reminder of how useful sampling is in Modstep. These cover not only the expected drum kit territory, but also a mess of “tonal” kits based on synth samples. Since you can mangle and modify these and put them in loads of different contexts, that naturally could lead to a lot of new musical ideas. The developers provided CDM with a list:
Okay, so that covers your soundware. But what if you like hardware? Well, there are a bunch of new hardware templates baked into the app, too – on top of the generous selection already included.
What this means is, without digging out a MIDI spec somewhere, you can pull up a preset by name and instantly automate it – no futzing with MIDI CC numbers required. And our very own MeeBlip is included, meaning now every generation of MeeBlip has full support. (Just sayin’ – yeah, I’m a bit biased!)
Elektron Analog Heat
There are loads of fixes and workflow improvements, too, in particular improving Auto Save functionality. The only bad news (for some of you with older iPads, anyway): you now need iOS 8 or later.
Launch video, in case you liked what I just said and sort of what the important bits of it flying at your screen:
A gallery, showing instrument integration and saves:
It’s not an exaggeration to say that Tatsuya Takahasi has changed the face of the modern synth industry.
And I can even say that literally. “Tats” has become a household name in the international synth community in a way no other Japanese engineer, designer, or leader has. (Compare, for instance, Hiroaki Nishijima, creator of the MS-20 – a name people rarely know as readily as they do the synth.) Korg products are still the work of big teams, like any large maker, but Tatsuya has been a public figure, outspoken and eloquent in the description of the instruments he’s created and the philosophy behind them. (Perhaps his Western upbringing has mattered, too – Tatsuya spent a lot of his formative years in London and speaks English as if it’s a first language.)
That in itself is important, but even more so is the direction Tatsuya and KORG have taken with making synths more accessible, popular, and influential.
Ask a few years ago what would have the biggest impact on synthesis reaching new audiences, and I’ll bet a lot of people would have pointed to mobile apps. Instead, in his role leading design and engineering for analog synths, Tats made synth hardware the democratizing force. I think you could even go as far as saying that hardware, more than apps, has been what has most impacted the culture of music making in recent years and inspired the greatest passion in the present generation of electronic musicians.
Tatsuya visiting my studio last year with his (then-new) Minilogue, which I think is one of the best synths in recent years.
The long string of synth gear launches Tats has overseen has some clear themes. These are instruments that are fun to play with, offer lots of hands-on control, and typically feature battery power and portability. And what a roll he’s been on: the monotron (monosyth), monotribe (drum machine), volca series (synthesizers and drum machines), and most recently minilogue polysynth and its follow-up the monophonic monologue were all projects he led. He’s also been behind the analog reissues of the MS-20 and ARP Odyssey ad the SQ-1 sequencer. And he did the littleBits synth kit in collaboration with littleBits.
Tats talks about his populist philosophy in his public letter on Facebook (below, in case you haven’t read it already). But it’s worth noting just how far this realm has come.
Serial number 101 = the first serial number for volca, ever. No, we don’t get to keep it. This is the unit Tatsuya himself was carrying around.
Making synths in this way really has transformed music. When a synth costs under $200 (like the volca series) or even under $100 (like the monotron), there’s a vastly larger segment of the population that can afford it. This isn’t a question of quality; there are some people who simply don’t have the disposable income to invest in a pricier instrument.
Reducing the price also telegraphs that this is something you can play with, something open to experimentation. It begs you to relate to the object differently on an emotional level. And actually, I think music benefits when you imagine a toy and all the freedom that implies, rather than a tool. An inexpensive synth is something you can try without saying something like, “hey Mom, hey Dad, I’m enrolling in ten years at the music academy, will you buy me a ‘cello?”
Singing has that kind of accessibility. Folk instruments can be handed down, like a mandolin, and have a similar emotional relationship. But synthesizers risk becoming the domain of people with extra cash and with an already established love of the field. When we say “too snobby,” we mean literally that an instrument becomes an expression of class. And I don’t think that’s something this world needs more of at the moment.
I have a personal connection to that saga, because it’s a story that has followed CDM, too. And that message came from people who read this site. Before KORG released the monotron, readers were already devising cheap DIY solutions to produce their own portable, cheap synths. Readers were telling me how important these values were to them, before KORG responded with a product with those values. Then Canadian engineer James Grahame started talking to me about the inexpensive, portable digital monosynth he wanted to produce. We had already started on schematics when the first monotron arrived on the scene – and instantly recognized that it embodied a lot of the philosophy we had talked about.
But that was really an important moment. Big companies – any big companies, even in electronic music – don’t tend to move quickly. So to see an individual bring this kind of new philosophy to one of the so-called Japanese “big three” was a revelation. Here was someone who “gets” it. And Tats and his team have continued to deliver hit after hit after hit. This has benefited our community twice over. One, KORG have a scale, technical competence, and distribution and marketing apparatus that smaller makers can never match, which means these products can reach a wider array of people worldwide. Two, there’s been the significance of having that resonance in a larger maker – it validates this populist agenda and even sets a standard for those of us who don’t have our own factories at our disposal.
Moreover, Tatsuya has helped lead the resurgent interest in analog synthesis, much in the way that Lomography has rejuvenated film photography.
It’s also redefined what’s important about analog and hardware, which is not so much the analog circuitry itself as hands-on control and simplicity – stuff that’s fun to play. So you can see KORG’s mark not only on new analog stuff from some of its competitors, but also on the (digital) AIRA and Boutique series reissues from Roland, and Yamaha’s Reface keyboards.
And I think KORG’s leadership has also helped all the other synth boats rise, too. Tats’ commitment to openness – releasing filter schematics and hackable boards, and working on the littleBits as an educational tool – has aided other boutique DIY makers (like us, for sure). KORG were the first major maker to embrace open source hardware licensing for one of their products, after some of us did it in much smaller enterprises.
For KORG’s part, it’s clear that this spirit won’t depart alongside Tatsuya. He promises in his letter to remain in an advisory role. And I think he’s taught the whole organization a lesson in what’s possible and commercially viable – indeed, all of us. You can also bet that some less publicly-visible people at KORG will carry on his new spirit and dream up some new ideas. Tatsuya mentions “Tada” in the Facebook post, for instance. He confirmed with me that that’s a reference to Tadahiko Sakamaki, product planning. Figuring out who will carry the torch – if perhaps a bit more quietly or less publicly – will be something I’m sure we’ll all be trying to suss out. But it is important to note that these are team efforts. That’s not to take away from Tatsuya’s talents – far from it; I think it’s harder to drive clear product focus with big teams and large scale.
Looking beyond KORG, though, I think it’s inspiring to read Tats’ email partly because there’s a lot more to do. If we really want to make synthesizers more accessible, if we want to make them work in education, if we want them to reach more people including those who lack the financial resources of our main market, if we want to be socially responsible instrument makers and musicians, we’re only getting started. And I think there’s a role not just for big players like KORG, but also all of you one-person and two-person shops making modules and kits and weird inventions. All of you CDMers, that is.
Tatsuya is moving to my country of residence Germany. I have no idea what he’s working on next when he says he will “explore new areas where sound and technology can have positive social implications.” He does assure us that’s not in this industry. But I wish him the best – and hope we all meet in Köln or Berlin soon, as this country is home to ever more inventors. I can’t wait to see what the next chapter will be.
Korg’s Tatsuya Takahashi stops by our studio, playing his volcas (and a bit of MeeBlip with us, too!)
Here’s his parting letter:
It’s been a good ten years at Korg!
A few years after starting at the office, Tada and I, over a cigarette break, started shooting ideas around for a battery powered pocket analog synth. The monotron was the humble beginnings of what became a mission to make synthesizers fun, exciting and accessible again. To give synthesizers back to the people. To make synthesizers less snobby. To open up creative opportunities. To get people interested in electronic sound and see some kind of light in creating their own sound using technology amidst a world that is inundated with it.
monotrons, monotribe, volcas, minilogue, monologue, some reissues, SQ-1, littleBits synth kit – we put out a lot of gear.
After a blur of 21 products we released over seven years, I look at the world of synthesizers and it’s a pretty cool place. I see kids getting their first taste of synths with the volcas. I meet people who have their dormant synth passion rekindled by the minilogue. And it’s not just Korg. The whole industry has set out to achieve this common goal.
The name volca comes from the German word Volk: “the people” or “crowd”. Like Volkswagen “the people’s car”, the volcas are “the people’s synth”. I have fond memories of meeting Mike Banks and being told how the volcas reached poverty-stricken youths in Detroit. That manufacturers have to take responsibility for the social implications of putting out gear.
On the 17th of February I will be leaving my full time position at Korg and will sidestep to advisor. I will also be moving out of Tokyo to Cologne to explore new areas where sound and technology can have positive social implications. I won’t be going to any of the competition, but rather will be shifting direction of my main line of work while at the same time guiding the now super team at Korg venture into the future.
I am hugely indebted to everyone in engineering (my super duper team will keep designing the best of the best), production (love you all in Vietnam we did this together!), sales (job well done), marketing (fun times making those movies), distribution / dealers (essential work the world over), media (you guys got the word out) and most of all the musicians out there who are creating music with our synths – without you our work is meaningless.
Spaceship Delay is a free modeling plug-in for Mac and Windows with some wild effects. And it’s made possible partly thanks to the openness of hardware from KORG (and us). The plug-in itself you shouldn’t miss, and if you’re interested in how it’s made, there’s a story there, too.
First, the plug-in — it’s really cool, and really out there, not so much a tame modeling effect as a crazy bundle of extreme sonic possibilities. In fact, it’s as much a multi-effects processor as it is a delay.
Here it is in action, just quickly applying some of the sounds to a drum loop (and making use of its “German/Canadian” MeeBlip filter model):
There are tons of extras packed in there, and the unruly quality of it to me is part of the appeal. (I’m planning on making something with this one, absolutely.)
You get three delay modes: single, ping pong, and dual/stereo, plus:
Delay time, time subdivisions, tap tempo, sync
Attack control for triggering via dynamic
Modeled “spring” tape reverb based on the Dynacord Echocord Super 76
Modeled synth filters from the KORG MS-20 and MeeBlip anode/triode
Monotron delay-inspired delay
Freeze switch (opening up use as a looper)
Loads of presets
Plus there’s extensive online help to assist you in navigating all these choices. And I totally read it. Really. No, okay, I didn’t, I just played with the knobs. But I did have a look, and it looks nice.
VST, AU, AAX formats
There are a lot of possibilities here, from subtle to experimental, useful for pretty much anything from drums to vocals to synth to guitar.
But the story behind the modeling is also fascinating. Creator Dr. Ivan Cohen has delved deep into the theory of modeling, and has been writing about the process on his blog. It’s definitely of interest to developers, but makes a good read for anyone curious about vintage and new hardware and different designs of filters and the like. (No doctorate in DSP required.)
Open designs have long been a part of the history of electronic music technology. In the analog days, it was fairly typical to publish circuit designs. These were ostensibly for purposes of repair, but naturally people read and learned from them and produce modified versions of their own. Then along came digital tech, and much of the creativity of the business disappeared into the black boxes of chips – not only to protect intellectual property, but because of the nature of the chips themselves.
Now, we’ve come full circle. Researchers discuss design and modeling in academic circles. And fueled by online communities interested in hacking and the open source movement, hardware makers increasingly share their designs. That’s included KORG publishing MS-20 filter circuits and encouraging modifications, and of course our own MeeBlip project.
What’s cool is that Ivan has used that openness to learn from these designs and try his own implementations, all in a context we never envisioned. So you can apply something inspired by the MeeBlip and Korg filters in a new digital environment.
The vintage Super 76 inspired the tape delay model – and is reason alone to take a look at this plug-in.
Not all of the modeling is perfect yet. But that’s fun, too, as you get some weird and unexpected effects.
Just in under the wire before Roland hosts their own product shindig next week, Korg are here with a new volca to announce. The latest handheld instrument in that blockbuster line is something of an outlier: called “kick,” it’s more specialized than the rest. But it does look like more than just a box for making bass drum sounds (though it’ll do that if that’s what you’re after).
Now, in my view, the best feature of the original volca drum machine, volca beats, was its enormous analog kick. But Korg is betting they can win us over with something still better. The volca kick uses the self-oscillating resonance of the classic MS-20 filter as its sound source.
That should give you plenty of bass drum variety, extending some of the possibilities to other drums (toms) and melodic lines (using it more as a sound source / synth generally rather than a “kick” maker in particular). And it can indeed be fun playing with melodic basslines that provide the function a kick drum normally does.
What might make you want to buy this, though, is that it’s a volca. So, you have battery power, loads of hands-on control, and a versatile step sequencer with touch control. That step sequencer now extends to a new effects feature which Korg don’t entirely explain but which sounds cool. Check out the rolls, though – while a “roll” doesn’t really make sense for a bass drum which you play with a pedal, the rhythms are set up to conveniently let you access basic polyrhythms and syncopation. (Sorry, if you want 1/32-note bass drum trills, you’ll have to resort to MIDI.)
This isn’t the first product of its kind. The Jomox MBase01 and MBase11 had more or less the same idea — make a small module that specializes in kicks. And as I’m imagining you might do with the volca kick, you can use the MBase as a melodic synth module, too. The Jomox has nothing like the Korg’s step sequencer, though, or the excellent volca hands-on controls – MBase users are either dialing up presets or controlling parameters via MIDI. But this might still be a horse rase: the Jomox sounds amazing, it might better emulate the 808/909 sound than the volca does, and it has a dedicated trigger input if you’re using it with something other than MIDI.
Given that Roland are dubbing their event next week “909,” I’m guessing there could be some connection to a drum machine there. Just a hunch. On the other hand, you wouldn’t expect anything remotely like the volca kick from any major manufacturer but Korg.
That said, I think the volca kick is an interesting entry and worth a look. And it was probably a better idea than the volca clap or volca cowbell, but… the night is young.
It costs just a hundred bucks. It’s tiny, in a metal case with ultra-compact knobs and light-up buttons for hands-on control. And with MIDI, USB, CV, and even dedicated littleBits ins and outs, there’s a reason I described the announcement of KORG’s new SQ-1 sequencer as a sequencer that does everything.
But doing everything in such a little box is a tall order. And the SQ-1 packs in so much, it’s not obvious what its capabilities can be. One one hand, there are some powerful features that you might completely miss (like MIDI-to-CV capabilities). On the other, it has some limitations you should know about, as well. In trying to be all things to all gear in the smallest package possible, it has to make some sacrifices – so it’s better at some jobs than others.
I’ve gotten my hands on one and begun to use it (thanks to a studio neighbor who brought one back from Japan). And I’ve been in touch with KORG’s engineers in Japan to clarify its capabilities. So, let’s take a detailed look.
The SQ-1 is available both on its own and in a bundle with the new MS-20 module – though I’m guessing it’s mainly of interest as a compact, affordable standalone sequencer. Its name is a nod to the vintage SQ-10, but it’s only loosely based on that.
What you get:
A small, metal box with little plastic knobs (as found on the volca series), red light-up buttons
93 x 84 x 63 mm/7.60″ x 3.31″ × 2.48″
641 g/1.41 lbs.
Runs on AA batteries or USB power (USB power adapter will work, that is, if you’ve got one)
CV out: pitch (Linear, Minor, Major, Chromatic)
CV out: voltage (1V, 2V, 5V (Oct) 8V (Hz/V))
Gate out (positive or negative polarity – that is, rise and fall)
littleBits OUT jack
MIDI out (via an included Mini plug – DIN cable for MIDI)
USB jack (for USB MIDI)
Sync in and out jacks (just like on the volca, monoTribe, etc.)
How it operates:
Sequencer modes: alternate, order, parallel turn, parallel order, CV/DUTY, CV/SLIDE, CV/DUTY RANDOM, random
Steps can be gate on/off, active step, slide, or step jump
Resolution of step can be quarter notes, eighth notes, sixteenth notes
Spoilers! Let’s go ahead and look at what MIDI the SQ-1 can receive and transmit, because – well, it’s otherwise kind of a guessing game. (CV is more straightforward.)
As per usual, KORG have uploaded the MIDI Implementation Chart, in English, on the Japanese site … but you won’t find it on the international sites.
I went through and verified this with my own testing, and Korg engineering in Japan. So, I’ll repeat a bit what was said before, but with some commentary and doubly-sure what I’m saying is correct.
1. There’s no hardware MIDI input. MIDI input and output is available via USB, but there’s only the single MIDI output minijack (which you can attach to gear with MIDI DIN input ports via the included cable). So input can only come from a computer. That means, in effect, that the SQ-1 has to be a clock source when you’re using it standalone.
2. You can receive MIDI clock over USB, but it’s limited. If the SQ-1 has an external MIDI clock source, it will slave to that source. The only way to do that is over USB (since there’s no other input). However, and this is where things get a bit weird, you can’t then transmit that same clock signal to the SQ-1′s MIDI out.
At least if you make the SQ-1 a clock source – or use its analog sync input – it’s more useful, as it then transmits MIDI clock to its output normally.
3. You can chain SQ-1s. If you chain SQ-1s via the SYNC in and out ports, you can get two or more running in sync. But that SYNC connection in general is limited: it uses clock, but not start/stop.
4. There’s no “linear” mode in scale selection when using MIDI. MIDI can adjust scales, though you’re limited to chromatic, major, and minor. Here, analog gear has an advantage: it’s only via the CV output that Linear behaves as described. Now, KORG could have gotten fancy and implemented linear operation with pitch bend messages, but they described that was overly complicated – and transmitted too much data.
The same is true of “slide” functions – they work via CV, but not MIDI (by design). For slide between notes on outboard MIDI gear, you just need gear with a portamento/glide function.
5. Scales are limited to C Major and C minor; you can’t change root or transpose. Chris correctly points out that this is fairly limiting. You can’t change the root note. The KORG engineer who designed the SQ-1′s functionality here told us somewhat apologetically that he had only two buttons for selection, though, so he didn’t have much choice. This sounds like a deal killer, maybe, but it isn’t – provided your outboard gear has a transposition function. If it does, you can transpose on the synth rather than the SQ-1. And if you want more scales, you may want to consider a more advanced sequencer – or software.
6. Pitch range is the same on CV and MIDI. Pitch begins with C and covers a range of 1, 2, 3, or 5 octaves.
7. You only get pitch and gate length – nothing else / no CC’s. You can’t transmit Control Change messages on the SQ-1. The SQ-1 recognizes just one Control Change message – CC 120, for all notes off. (Yeah, you want that one!)
8. You can’t define the MIDI channel of row B. It’s always just one channel higher than the main channel.
The above writer Chris helped explain sequence modes that the SQ-1 manual does not.
Looking at the modes clockwise from left on the SEQUENCER MODE selector knob, where the top row of steps is row A and the bottom row B:
Modes 1 and 2 (alternating A/B, A->B): 16-step sequencer (by linking A and B). Step knobs change pitch. Gate length (duty cycle) is controlled by the duty knob.
Modes 3 and 4 (parallel reversing direction, parallel): 2 x 8-step sequencer. The top row step knobs work as pitch, the second-row step knobs work as pitch on a MIDI channel one channel number higher. Gate length is controlled by the duty knob.
Modes 5 and 7 (CV DUTY and CV DUTY RANDOM): 1 x 8-step sequencer. The top row is pitch, the bottom row is gate length. The duty knob is inactive.
Mode 6 (CV SLIDE): 1 x 8-step sequencer. The top row is pitch. The bottom row is unassigned (confirmed by KORG, wasn’t in the post above). The buttons below those unassigned knobs function for activating slide – just as the buttons do on the top row. So, the knobs are unassigned; the buttons are assigned but redundant.
The above tester also looked at how the sequencer step resolution behaves when you change the global parameter settings.
A/B, A->B, parallel reversing direction (1-3). The SQ-1 responds to external clock. But its sync out will change as you change modes – 4x, 2x, 1x – so it acts as a clock divider.
Parallel, CV DUTY, CV DUTY RANDOM, CV DUTY RANDOM, CV SLIDE (4-8). In these modes, the SQ-1 clocks at half tempo to an external source. Here again, sync out from the SQ-1 changes at 4x, 2x, 1x.
In modes 7 or 8, there’s another twist. As KORG tells us: “When you save the Global parameter, SEQUENCER MODE should be set to Mode 7 or 8 If you don’t want to change the STEP resolution.” (Chris had assumed modes 7 or 8 didn’t work.)
What’s it Like in Use?
I quickly got the SQ-1 running with KORG’s volca sample – and our own MeeBlip anode hardware synth. The result is an impossibly small, all-in-one, live hardware rig. The trick is to send MIDI to the MeeBlip and send sync signal to the volca sample. You can then use the volca’s perfectly capable internal sequencer.
The SQ-1′s selection as a pack-in with the MS-20 makes a lot of sense. As a little monophonic analog sequencer, it’s just about perfect.
I think the trick is, at first glance it also seems like a do-everything MIDI sequencer. It’s just too limited to cover all your sequencing needs. I’m a bit disappointed with Korg for some missed opportunities to make it more flexible.
1. MIDI in: If it only had MIDI DIN input, it would be easy to stick this at the end of a chain with other gear.
2. Send and receive clock: Two, if it could transmit and receive MIDI clock at the same time, obviously, it’d be hugely easier to put in a bigger rig.
3. Use CCs to add depth: while I understand that they ran out of room on the front panel for features and didn’t want to overcomplicate things, I wish it could use MIDI CCs to receive additional controls – like transpose, for instance.
In the end, cute as this thing is, you have to decide whether you really need a box with tiny knobs to sequence in C – at least if MIDI is your main (or only) target).
The other frustration for me is, the moment you turn the SEQUENCE MODE dial, the sequence retriggers instantly. It’d be great to change sequence order as you play to make variations, but since there’s no why to turn the dial precisely on a beat. Some step sequencers are able to operate this way: they simply quantize the next step to the active beat grid, so that when you make a global parameter change, it doesn’t throw off all of your timing.
With that big knob and the different sequence directions being one of the most compelling features of the sequencer, this winds up being a significant deal in coming up with creative sequence applications.
As with Arturia’s BeatStep (see my previous review), which did eventually spawn the BeatStep Pro, I guess using the SQ-1 I sort of immediately want, well, an SQ-1 Pro. (SQ-10 mini?) Of course, the BeatStep Pro is still coming, so it may turn out that that’s exactly what we get.
In the meantime, for a hundred bucks the SQ-1 still makes a whole mess of sense in many instances. If you’ve got some analog gear around to control and want a little gadget to make some sequences, it’s an obvious purchase. And because I like twisting dials, it’s still fun with MIDI – I’m just not sure I’d get it if MIDI were all I was using.
This does mean that you might tuck away that hundred bucks toward the purchase of advanced sequenced hardware – or software. Given that some of the SQ-1′s MIDI functionality requires it to be tethered via USB anyway, you should consider tools like the amazing modular Numerology Pro – or just mapping an onboard sequencer to a controller. It’s also why I’m looking forward to ModStep – the iPad mini is equally compact, too, and then you have layers, MIDI CCs, any scale you want, none of these quantization problems, and so on.
Don’t get me wrong: I like the SQ-1. Once you’re aware of what it can and can’t do, it may well find a nice place in your rig for analog and digital gear. But you can’t blame us for dreaming of something that, in hardware, does a little more, without turning to enormous or expensive hardware sequencers. Stay tuned – we’ll see if that dream gets fulfilled.
In the meantime, I think the SQ-1 is a winner if you want something extra that’s portable to make sequences, if you have some analog gear to drive in combination with digital, or both.
SQ-1 in videos
Let’s watch some of the best demonstrations of the SQ-1 in use – partly because, at the end of the day, it’s what you do with this hardware that matters.
It’s great to see the new SQ-1 unite with vintage MS-20 and MS-10 synths. And it’s clearly well-matched to monosynths, generally.
For more vintage loveliness, there’s my favorite retro KORG, the Mono/Poly, plus a Prophecy:
It’s nice to see paraphonic use, with transposing, as here. And again, your best bet is to transpose on the outboard gear since you can’t on the SQ-1:
The French-language La Boite Noire du Musicien has shot some gorgeous films of the SQ-1 as part of the MS-20 kit. They’re nice to just watch:
But my favorite SQ-1 jam so far, musically speaking, is this transporting journey, which adds not only the volca sample, as I did, but an Elektron Analog Four and the Czech-built microGranny granular sampler. The microGranny is really a perfect addition to these rigs. Don’t forget to support independent hardware.
And finally, for a novelty, here’s a project that uses a physical metronome as a clock source. No, really. The trick is to apply a mic to the metronome. The actual sound of that metronome drives the clock – it’s the magic of analog. Nice one, karenevil, whoever you are:
Analog or digital, clock or notes, it appears Korg’s new SQ-1 will do anything. It loves your MS-20, but also your volca series and your monotribe and your MIDI gear and your computer. In fact, with audio clock, it’ll support a product even Korg probably only heard about yesterday – those cute Teenage Engineering machines.
The SQ-1 is the new compact step sequencer hardware from Korg. Way back when Korg first unveiled the MS-20 mini, I hoped for a remake of the SQ-10 to go with it. Now, instead of that lumbering behemoth, we got something much more practical. The SQ-1 is a spiritual successor to the SQ-10, but it’s almost volca-sized in dimensions — a small rectangular device that can control anything.
Basically, the SQ-1 is the little box that will suddenly make all those other boxes you started collecting more useful. Want to keep some synths and drum machines in sync, by sending clock? Want to make some rhythmic or melodic patterns? The SQ-1 could be the one you want, simply because it crams a lot of useful creative controls onto the front panel, and then connects to anything. What initially looked like just control voltage for the MS-20 in the bits that leaked yesterday now covers all the bases:
Analog: you get dual CV (Hz/V and V/Oct) trigger and gate
Analog sync: (clock volca series, electribes, or monotribe – or the Teenage Engineering gadgets)
Analog for littleBits: In an unexpected twist, there’s even an explicit jack for Korg’s collaboration with the snap-together littleBits hardware system.
Digital hardware: Three-pin MIDI connection to your computer (via stereo minijack breakout – we didn’t seen that DIN icon yesterday)
Digital/USB: there’s a USB port for MIDI connection to your computer.
None of that would be terribly interesting if not for some sequencing options. But what makes me really keen to review the SQ-1 is how much they’ve managed to squeeze in small space. You get different sequence modes (parallel, alternate) and step modes (active step, slide, jump) that look great for performance. See the full specs below.
In other words, what the sequencer here does is what the volcas have done. You can “play” those steps directly, or jam with the sequence modes. You can skip steps while the sequence plays, jump to a particular step, or go acid bass with the slide function.
To select pitches, you turn the knobs – as you would on a classic analog sequencer. (There’s the SQ-10 lineage, if much shrunken down. It’s not quite an SQ-10 mini so much as an SQ volca, but you get the idea.) Now, the problem with finding pitches with knobs is, you can easily get lost. Here, though, you can either get nicely-detuned pitches by turning knobs to pitch directly, or quantize to major / minor / chromatic scales.
In fact, the only really bad news here is that Korg didn’t put a display on, so like many step sequencers, you’re left guessing. But… I have a feeling this isn’t even the last step sequencer news from NAMM, let alone this year, so, uh, stick around.
All of that said, Korg… sure, a module version of the MS-20 is cool, but … okay, now a real SQ-10 sequencer remake, as a limited edition kit, seems not out of the question. Think about it, won’t you?
No pricing or availability yet – follow us on Facebook (Like, then choose Get Notifications on the Like button) or Twitter and we’ll have the news there.
Full specs (this all runs on a couple of AA batteries):
Australia’s Turra Music have leaked a new analog Korg synth product. But it’s the product that goes with it that has us excited.
Following up on the MS-20 kit – the build-it-yourself limited-run full-sized MS-20 remake Korg did – the company now has a module. That’s brilliant: the full-sized MS-20 sounds amazing (with both MS-20 filter models) and feels and looks beautifully authentic, but it isn’t the easiest thing to tote.
But packed in the kit is a new SQ-1 Step Sequencer.
That’s pre-assembled, which makes me think we’ll see this as a separate product. This is obviously a no-brainer for existing MS-20 owners, and the sync outputs could also work with stuff like the volca series. Welcome back to analog folks.
Also interesting: it appears there’s a connection for littleBits gear – presumably simply providing the correct analog output for that hardware.
It appears there’s no MIDI on the step sequencer; having both would be nice. CDM will attempt to get more details from Korg. In the meantime, check the video.
The MS-20M Kit lets you create a real, full-sized MS-20M monophonic synthesizer module.
Desktop module version of Korg’s MS-20 Mini, but this time in build it yourself kit form and with a few new bells and whistles including the new SQ-1 Step Sequencer (included pre-assembled in box).
Desktop modular version of the MS-20 Mini
2VCO / 2VCA / 2VCF / 2EG / 1LFO structure
Self-oscillating high-pass/low-pass filters with distinctive distortion
Toggle switches for VCO 1 to 2 sync / VCO 1 to 2 FM /
Toggle to switch between rev 1 and rev 2 filter designs
Adds junction patching bay for integration with SQ-1 Step Sequencer (included)
External signal processor (ESP)
Extremely flexible patching system
MIDI IN and USB connector
A year after remaking their classic 1978 MS-20 synthesizer in a hugely-popular “mini” version, KORG surprised everyone by unveiling a second reissue this year, the limited-edition MS-20 Kit. Its innards are entirely identical to the MS-20 mini; component-by-component, the sound circuitry is the same. And since the MS-20 was a fairly convincing replica of the original, inaccurate mostly in that it can’t reproduce the aged components we’re now used to, that’s a good start.
Now I’ve had the experience of assembling and playing the kit, following up our debut with the mini last year, and can share what I’ve learned.
The differences in the special edition this year are mostly to do with size. Instead of the miniaturized keybed, enclosure, and jacks on the mini, you get an MS-20 that is physically indistinguishable from the original – full-sized keyboard, full-sized audio jacks. (Oddly, I read people complaining about the plastic sides. Sorry, everything old did not use Moog-style wooden endcaps; that is authentic.) There are only two things that are a giveaway this isn’t a vintage MS: one is the USB and MIDI port conspicuously added to the back, and the other, more telling sign, is that the thing is physically so darned clean, as it is a 2014 creation rather than late 70s / early 80s. Just as before, though, you even get a copy of the vintage manual and patching examples.
There was also one subtle change: you can switch between two analog filter circuits, choosing either the more unruly original MS-20 filter, or the cleaner, revised design included on later units. You select the different filters using a DIP switch inside the hardware. That means unscrewing the back panel – easily done, but still necessitating a screwdriver. Fortunately, KORG has also enabled a three-key startup sequence: depress those keys on the keyboard as you power on, and you can swap filter models on the fly. This appears not to be possible on the mini – certainly not without voiding the warranty.
Also changed is how the MS-20 Kit is delivered: as the name implies, you assemble it yourself. In fact, fully-assembled, it doesn’t quite fit in the box in which it’s packed.
In exchange for these differences, KORG significantly up-sized the price along with the physical hardware. The kit is going for a street of around 1300€ / US$1400. That’s roughly double what the mini costs. Think of this as a collector’s edition for die-hard enthusiasts. Given used MS-20 prices have climbed sky-high, it means you can still save a bit of money, and get a new unit that will function more reliably and hold its tune than the sometimes-unpredictable vintage hardware.
This is also why I expect the ARP Odyssey remake to carry a premium price. The MS-20 mini seems to be the one mass-market play.
In pieces… the Kit, as shipped. All of this arrives in little boxed compartments. You’ll notice most of the analog-ness of the MS-20 is already in place, though: you’re mostly assembling the enclosure and keybed, connecting ribbon cables, and attaching pots and jacks.
You’ll get up and close with the keybed. This one feels substantially different than the mini; size matters. (The cat joins for a bit of a paws-on review.)
For the extra collectors’ feeling, you get a note from the engineers.
IKEA Meets KORG: Grab the Hex Key, Synth Lovers
KORG delivered a kit to CDM to try out. To be honest, giddy a I was to get the box in hand, I was skeptical about the experience of using this MS-20. I was already pleased with the mini, meaning I would still tend to recommend that to most musicians wanting to add an MS to their rig.
But, now that I’ve spent time with it, I have begun to appreciate the logic of KORG adding this follow-up to last year’s mass-market mini. The size really does make a big difference. It’s hard to describe. You have the feeling of owning and playing the original, and yet … everything works perfectly. The instrument stays exactly in tune, combining the sound of the original MS-20 with the reliable performance of well-built modern hardware. And, oh yeah, it’s almost unnervingly clean, as in the level of grime on the outside. (Berlin air will probably solve that problem quickly, but still.) I expect purists will still be dissatisfied, but oddly, pragmatic purists may have finally found their match.
I don’t doubt that the price will – and should – limit the audience. But it’s best to think of the MS-20 Kit as a limited edition for enthusiasts, and the MS-20 mini as the model for the mass market. That would also explain the difference in price: it’s presumably down to a smaller production run, combined with the added costs of using full-sized parts. (Parts like pots can make a difference: I’ve had that experience as a manufacturer, and in the process of building the MS-20 Kit, you really notice how many bits and bobs go into this thing.)
Since the mini was extensively documented, I’ll focus here on the physical feeling of assembling the unit, which is the main change.
“Kit” to many synth enthusiasts means breaking out a soldering iron, so that audience may actually be a bit disappointed here. All you need is a couple of screwdrivers and the included hex key. Accordingly, the assembly process feels nothing if not like making something from IKEA – down to the printed instructions with graphic explanations.
It is fun to assemble the unit, no question; you get a feeling of being a bit more intimate with the synth. But most of the time in assembly is spent on the myriad knobs and patch points; there’s a whole lot of nuts-and-bolts assembly, literally. You can see some of that process in the images.
Analog though it may be, the real magic of the MS-20 is inside circuits that are already pre-manufactured on circuit boards. There just isn’t a lot for you to do apart from the mechanical assembly of those boards, the keyboard manual, and lots of physical controls and jacks. I think if you wanted to get closer to synthesizers as a DIYer, you’d probably want a bit of whiff of soldering. Of course, at the same time, you’d want to do that with a simple instrument, not an MS-20 that cost you well over a grand. And you won’t get anything that sounds like this once you’re done, either. So, the decision makes sense, even if it means you’re assembling the hardware from a much higher level.
Gear pr0n time, regardless:
Note the DIP switch for the different filter models. And, if you did want to do a hardware hack, clearly-labeled contact points.
On balance, the novelty of putting the thing together added to the fun, and gives you a feeling of being closer to the instrument once built than if you pulled it directly from the box. But the real investment in an MS-20 Kit won’t be motivated so much by that as the resulting synth. And there, this is something special.
Of course, KORG can’t keep going on with reissues forever. It’ll be equally nice to see new instruments, analog or otherwise, in the works. And that’s a challenge for our whole industry: we have to keep making history. Hopefully, the availability of this piece of history in more convenient form will inspire people to that challenge, perhaps looking back will drive some to look forward, as well.
But in the meantime, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the MS-20 mini as one of the better deals in synths right now, even with some tough (and more modern) competition, and the MS-20 Kit really is a gem for collectors willing to make a larger investment.
Gone in 60 Seconds… or, Patching in 60 Seconds
As for sounds, we’re working on some music and a sound library with the MS, so stay tuned – hopefully we make a drum kit that has a fresh take on some of the noises this beast can make, which we can share with you. And that’ll be free, in case your budget for synths at the moment is zero. (I know the feeling.)
While we work on that…
KORG USA’s Richard Formidoni, the talented and inventive product specialist, just sent me an examples of how weird and wild you can get with patching. (This is a mini, too, but as I said, the sounds and routings are identical.)
He calls it “hot-wiring” aka “Grand Theft Auto.” You’ll hear why. The MS-20 is really more semi-modular than modular, but it has just enough patch points for a vast array of what you would normally want to do.
If you want to try this yourself:
Pink noise – ESP Signal In
ESP Band Pass Filter Out – Ext. Signal In
Mod. generator saw/tri out – VCA In
VCA out – Total in
VCA Control Input – Button
VCO 1+2 CV in – Mod wheel
Trig. In and Trig. Out are the hot wires
And here’s “Hugo,” the track Benjamin Weiss and I produced as NERKKIRN with the original MS-20 mini – providing here, of course, all the synth sounds (not the percussion). Whether or not the mini sounded exactly like a particular vintage MS-20 to me isn’t even exactly the right question. Hardware quality tolerances aren’t the same in 2014 as when the MS-20 was made, hardware varies from unit to unit, and you can’t actually emulate the effects of age. (You also wouldn’t especially want to.) What we have found in producing with the MS-20 is that this is an instrument with real character, one we can push to find undiscovered sounds. It’s a pleasure to do it with one that has the feeling of the original, even if some of those effects are psychological. Psychology is really what instruments are about; they’re expressive devices, not scientific instruments. And the MS holds up, in a way that should indeed challenge creators of new electronic instruments, software or hardware, analog or digital, today.
Eine der grössten Neuerungen von Lemur 5 ist die Canvas-Unterstützung, die auf dem HTML5 Canvas-Objekt beruhen mit dem sich eigene Grafikelemente in die Multitouch-Oberfläche integrieren lassen. Irgendwie klar, dass da jemand auf diese Idee kommt und Flappy Bird in Lemur nachbastelt:
Lemur-Billard geht natürlich auch:
Und hier noch ein Video in dem der neue Template-Stepsequenzer zusammen mit dem MS-20 Kit zum Einsatz kommt, was zwar nichts mit Canvas zu tun hat, aber die neuen Sequenzerobjekte in Aktion zeigt:
Um den Einstieg in Canvas zu erleichtern haben die Liines mit dem Canvas Learning Pack ein paar Beispiel-Patches mit Tutorials zusammengestellt.