gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Korg MicroKORG Synthesizer

The Korg MicroKORG is an impressive, ultra-portable and robust
synthesizer which makes up for its diminuiative size and somewhat
controversial half-sized keyboard in droves with powerful synthesizing
features including a vocoder, arpeggiator, effects and 128 genre-grouped
pre-programmed patches to get you inspired and playing music out of the box.

Korg have chosen a distinctly retro styling for the MicroKORG which is somewhat of a love it/hate it appeal. I started out more on the hate it side when viewing product photography and demonstration videos but after getting my hands on the real deal the styling quickly grew on me. Everything is well finished, from the neutral colour scheme penetrated by the brightly coloured indicator lights down to the stylish wooden ends, beautifully tactile control knobs and solid “clicky” buttons that all have a distinct feel of quality. This all adds up to make the MicroKORG feel like it’s worth every penny of its £265 price tag and is sure to give it a unique stage presence and make it a point of conversation between gear-junkies.

The control knobs include the patch group knob which audibly clicks between one of the 8 available patch groups, Trance, Techno/House, Electronica, D’n’B Breaks, Hiphop/Vintage, Retro, S.E./Hit and vocoder. Within each patch group are 16 pre-set patches selectable via the 8 light-up patch select buttons below and the “Side” button to the right which acts as a shift between one set of 8 patches and another. Once a patch is selected two options knobs with a similar click action allow you to select between several groups of programming parameters which are then adjustable with 5 knobs along the top which default to Cutoff, Resonance, Attack, Release and Tempo – the standard parameters used to modify sounds live.

This all boils down to a very fluid process of selecting and modifying patches that somehow still manages to be intuitive and incredibly simple despite the very limited 3 character LCD display. In fact the lack of a crowded LCD display and the use of lights and knob positions to indicate what’s being edited is much easier to understand at a glance. Under each control knob and alongside the requisite parameter selection knob is a list of parameters for both synth and vocoder modes that the above knob will adjust. Simply twist the parameter select knob to the desired set of parameters, look up the function of each knob in the onboard guide and twist it to activate. A short amount of time is given for you to zero the knob or turn it approximately to its current setting when you first move it, from there you can twist to your hearts content and dramatically alter every one of the MicroKORGs pre-set patches be they synth or vocoder. The beauty of this set-up is that you never have to reach for a manual to find out what anything does, you also never have to rely on an oft-confusing LCD display and navigate your way through menus to edit any parameters. Everything you can change on the MicroKORG is right at your finger-tips and although it doesn’t have the array of dedicated control knobs you might find on a Virus or the Roland SH-201 you will likely find it easier, if you’re new to sound design, to focus on a particular group of parameters at a time.

The 8-band vocoder in the MicroKORG isn’t ground breaking, but considering the size of the unit and the price tag it’s a very entertaining and even sometimes useful feature to have around. A bundled microphone means you can get started straight away, but if you use the vocoder at all frequently (you probably wont) you will soon find the difficulty of positioning the odd, flexible stem microphone quite frustrating and will no doubt opt for a separate boom-mounted microphone or headset. Continuing with the Retro feel of the MicroKORG but perhaps not very effectively the included Microphone looks like a cheap, early 90s desktop mic for a PC most probably due to the beige colouring. On the back of the MicroKORG you’ll also find two external audio line-in jacks that allow you to feed other instruments, music, samples and more through the MicroKORGs vocoder, filters and effects letting you get truly creative.

The benefit of the small key-bed in the MicroKORG for those of use who appreciate more than two or three octaves is that Korg has managed to squeeze 37 velocity-sensitive notes into the unit. Smaller keys take a little getting used to, but once your fingers have adjusted there will be times when you appreciate a wider range of easily accessible notes over larger keys. If you enjoy the odd over-the-top synth lead solo now and then for example. The MicroKORG boasts extremely easy to access and intuitive octave up/down keys which light up in a range of colours to indicate just how far up or down the scale you’re currently playing, it’s possible to do octave adjustments in realtime to achieve some nifty effects.

The most appealing feature and namesake of the MicroKORG on the whole, to anyone remotely interested in creating electronic music, is that it is compact and portable enough to be used as a MIDI control surface but still packs enough sonic punch and flexibility to be an almost indispensable addition to a soft-synth collection. Combine it with Reason, your multi-track audio software of choice, a midi/audio interface and a laptop and the result is a highly portable music production solution that excels where space is at a premium. I’ve typically hooked my DAW up to my Fantom or Juno to use as control surfaces but the MicroKORG has opened up a whole new world of lounging around the house producing music. The 5 realtime control knobs, pitch bend, modulation and velocity sensitivity on the MicroKORG all play nice with MIDI; in testing them with Reason 4 everything “just worked”, it’s quite refreshing to break out of the studio and lounge about on a bed with a laptop and a MicroKORG just casually producing music- although the same could be accomplished with a simple MIDI controller why spend £50 to £100 on just a set of keys when you can put that towards the MicroKORG and get so much more in the package.

Overall the MicroKORG itself offers an impressive feature-set packed into a compact, lightweight, retro-styled body that delivers a range of bread-and-butter synth sounds that can be modified as quickly as they can be accessed. The synth is beautifully styled and made with pots that have an exceptionally high quality tactile feel and buttons that are refreshingly “clicky.” Combine this little box of sonic possibility with a range of software synths to fill out the essential acoustic sounds it can’t produce and the MicroKORG might prove itself to be the only set of keys you’ll ever have to buy, and at just £265 it wont break the bank when you do. Finally, if you don’t go red in the face when sticky fingers come into contact with your beloved synth collection the MicroKORGs small form factor and small key-bed plus the novelty value of the vocoder make it an exceptional musically educational and entertainment toy for children. It even fascinated my 6 month old daughter for about as long as anything could hold the attention of a child that age.

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2008, Featured, Professional Audio.