Korg Volca Review – Bass, Beats, Keys Target Roland Modules Of Yesteryear For Cheap

Korg’s new Volca series is simply befuddling. On the one hand you have three different modules, Keys, Bass, Beats (Drums), that are basically throwbacks to the Roland SH-202, TB-303 and TR-606 respectively, at insanely cheap prices. On the other hand, if you’re going to do reissues of these famed modules, what’s up with the half-baked feature decisions, which simply make you shake your head in bewilderment.
(Reviewers comments in quotes below)


korg volca Review

To make matters worse, if you were actually not in the womb, or diapers for that matter, when electronic musicians where begging, begging Roland to simply reissue the originals (with MIDI) during the early 90’s, you have to be asking yourself. Why now? And why Korg??

Wha?

The head scratching didn’t stop when we got our grubby hands on the Volca’s. Korg made the decision to house a crappy speaker on the bottom, but only have a 1/8″ (3.5mm) headphone jack / output on the top (really??). The units have MIDI, but only MIDI inputs and not out or thru, and use a Clock Pulse, via 1/8″ mono jacks, to sync all three modules together. The Volca’s can run on battery power, but don’t include 9v power adapters (sold separately). The 3-voice Bass can feature three different sequenced loops, which is very cool, but all must run through the same filter eliminating the individual flavor. Some of the knobs are big and fat, but others are the size of sewing needles. And so on…

Features & Specifications:
» SYNC jack and MIDI IN connector allow synchronized performance with multiple units or with your DAW
By using the sync jack you can enjoy synchronized playback with multiple Volcas or with a Monotribe. You can also use the “SyncKontrol” iPhone app to wirelessly control tap tempo, swing settings, and synchronized playback with iOS music apps via WIST.
» The MIDI IN connector lets you synchronize with other devices, as well as play the Volca from any MIDI keyboard. You can also send note messages from your DAW and use the Volca as an analog sound module.
» Self-tuning function (Volca Bass and Keys only)
Until now, the problem with analog synthesizers has been that the pitch would drift over time, or because of changes in temperature. Volca solves this by providing a Self-tuning function that constantly tunes the oscillators.
» Compact size, battery-powered operation, and built-in speaker


korg volca keys Review

Volca Keys
» Multi-touch Keyboard
» Analog synthesis
» Maximum Polyphony: 3 voices
» Structure: 3VCO, 1VCF, 1VCA, 1LFO, 1EG
» VCO: Octave, Ring Modulation, Detune, Portamento, EG Intensity
» VCO Waves: Sawtooth, Square
» VCF: Cutoff, Peak, EG Intensity
» VCF Type: Low Pass Filter, 12 dB/oct
» LFO: Rate, Pitch Int, Cutoff Int, Wave (Sawtooth, Triangle, Square)
» EG: Attack, Decay/Release, Sustain
» Effects – Delay: Time, Feedback, Temp Sync
» Sequencer: One parts; 16 steps
» Number of Recording Patterns: 8
» Audio Output: Headphones (1/8″ stereo mini jack)
» Sync In: (1/8” monaural mini jack, Maximum input level: 20V)
» Sync Out (1/8” monaural mini jack, Maximum Output level: 5V)
» MIDI: In
» Power: 6 AA alkaline or AA nickel-metal hydride batteries (KA-350 AC adapter NOT included)
» Battery Life: Claimed 10 hours (May want to stock up on rechargables)
» Dimensions (W x D x H) 7.61 x 4.54 x 1.81 inches
» Weight: 0.83 lbs (Excluding batteries)


korg volca Bass Review

Volca Bass
» Multi touch Keyboard / step key
» Analog synthesis
» Structure: 3VCO, 1VCF, 1VCA, 1LFO, 1EG
» VCO Waves: Saw, Square
» VCF: Cutoff, Peak, EG Intensity
» VCF Type: Low Pass Filter, 12 dB/oct
» VCA: EG on/of, Sustain on/off
» LFO: Rate, Intensity, Target (Amp, Pitch, Cutoff), Wave (Triangle, Square)
» EG: Attack, Decay/Release, Sustain
» Sequencer – Parts: 3; Steps: 16; Recording Patterns: 8
» Audio Output: Headphones (1/8″ stereo mini jack)
» Sync In (1/8” monaural mini jack, Maximum input level: 20V)
» Sync Out (1/8” monaural mini jack, Maximum Output level: 5V)
» MIDI: In
» Power: 6 AA alkaline or AA nickel-metal hydride batteries (KA-350 AC adapter NOT included)
» Battery Life: Claimed 10 hours
» Dimensions (W x D x H) 7.61 x 4.54 x 1.82 inches
» Weight: 0.82 lbs (Excluding batteries)


korg volca Beats Review

Volca Beats
» Multi touch trigger pad / step key
» Analog synthesis (Kick, Snare, Hi Tom, Lo Tom, Closed Hi Hat/Open Hi Hat)
» PCM synthesis (Clap, Claves, Agogo, Crash)
» Kick: Click, Pitch, Decay, Part Level
» Snare: Snappy, Pitch, Decay, Part Level
» Tom: Hi Pitch, Lo Pitch, Decay, Part Level
» Hi Hat: Closed Decay, Open Decay, Grain, Part Level
» PCM: PCM Speed, Part Level
» Sequencer – Number of Parts: 10; Number of Steps: 16; Recording Patterns: 8
» Audio Output: Headphones (3.5mm stereo mini jack)
» Sync In (1/8″ monaural mini jack, Maximum input level: 20V)
» Sync Out (1/8″ monaural mini jack, Maximum Output level: 5V)
» MIDI: In
» Power: 6 AA alkaline (KA-350 AC adapter NOT included)
» Battery Life: Claimed 10 hours
» Dimensions (W x D x H) 7.61 x 4.54 x 1.78 inches
» Weight: 0.82lbs (Excluding batteries)

Easy Does It

The sequencer, common to all three modules, is derivative of the Electribe with 16 steps and 8 memory locations. They work just fine in this application and are dead simple to use. The multitouch, ribbon keyboard also works quite well for a unit of this size and our reviewers encountered “no problems programming.” LED lights ignite the clear, pencil-thin acrylic knobs from below, for a slightly modern twist, and the black plastic chassis is actually translucent allowing the pulsating lights to “say hello” and “to showcase the unit’s brains.”



While the evaluators had a hard time getting their arms around the architecture and ergonomic choices, “making tracks was a no brainer.” The Bass has the “strongest presence” of the three, with the Beats coming in second thanks to the analog synthesis action. While the Bass doesn’t have the silky tone of the original 303, it does have it’s own distinctive, if “biting,” tonality, which pleads for distortion and delay. Our reviewers found that its sonic signature fits in nicely with “today’s overdriven and full-dynamic range sound” and could “usher in a resurgence of the acid sound.”

Korg Volca Bass Schematics
The Korg Volca Bass schematics

Bang For The Buck

The sampled clave and agogo percussion sounds from the Beats unit are “pure crap,” but the 808ish Kick can “get low” and “subby.” Korg went to far as to “bite the Snappy knob from the original 808,” but it serves the unit well and helps to shape the snare sound, allowing it to “poke its head out of the mix.” Although we tried to coax some big lead riffs from the Keys, the module was “much better off adding accents and texture to the Bass,” which you’ll want to start tweaking the moment you fire it up with its 12 dB/oct low pass filter.

The Volca Keys and Bass contain an auto tune feature which keeps the tones true no matter how hot the unit gets or how long its plugged in, a savvy and modern addition.

You have to wonder what’s going through the minds of the executive branch over at Roland… After years of futile attempts at rekindling the glory of past, by over promising and under delivering on the synth side (Jupiter 80Hello?!), they have to be pondering out loud if they missed the boat…again.

Each Volca model retails for $189 (streeting for $149). However, good luck finding a Volca Bass before the Holidays. The Volca’s received a lot of love for their very economical price points, but bizarro feature choices and sonic drawbacks took some of the shine away.

The Future

You know Korg just can’t wait to duct tape a couple of those “tubes” onto the units for “Valve Force” status. However, we’d like to see them forgo that urge and provide a quality 1/4” output, maybe even throw caution to the wind and furnish a stereo out for the Keys. Lose the speaker and include a power supply. And give us MIDI Thru for a more sophisticated sync option.

                                                                           FutureMusic Rating: Bass: 80%; Beats: 75%; Keys: 70%


Cheers:

+ Value

+ Sound Of Volca Bass

+ Sequencer

+ Ease Of Use

+ Quality Of Results Volca Bass

Jeers:

– ONLY Minijack out

– Sampled Percussion Sounds

– Power Adapters NOT Included

Off The Record:

“Good thing Mr. K isn’t around to see this…”   —Garth Fields

“I think Tatsuya Takahashi (Volca’s hardware designer and chief engineer) went to one too many Dead shows.”   —Greg Geller

“Should be a huge hit with the circuit bending crowd.”   —Bruce Dealer

“You have to give it up to Korg for having the gonads to drop these Roland reissues.”   —Dan Brotman



Korg’s Volca modules are available for pre-order – $189 each.

Korg

Author: FutureMusic

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