Korg VOLCABASS Analog Bass Machine
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- Three analogue oscillators for thick, huge bass lines
- Low-pass filter with resonance specially tuned for classic squelches and screams
- Electribe-style 16-step sequencer with eight memory patches
- Sync In and Out allows clock sync of multiple instruments from the Volca series
- Play anywhere with the built-in speaker and optional battery power
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From the manufacturer
KORG Volca Bass Analog Bass Machine
From subtly detuned warmth to aggressive acid, the volca Bass takes true analogue bass sequencing to a new level. Instant editing via the intuitive user interface lets you cut/mix/slice your loops on the fly to create powerful build-ups that will transform your dance track.
The volca Bass is equipped with three analogue oscillators to create thick, huge bass lines and a low-pass filter with resonance that's specially tuned for classic squelches and screams. Sync In and Out allows clock sync of multiple instruments from the volca Series as well as Korg's Monotribe.
Convenient functions for greater ease of use
Bright, crisp sound from Korg's legendary analog filter
The analog filter has been fine-tuned specifically for the volca bass. Turning the Cutoff knob to open the filter will make the sound brighter and more expansive; closing the filter produces a rounder and milder sound.
Three oscillators generate a variety of bass sounds
Generating the thick and modulated sounds that you expect from an analog synthesizer, the three oscillators can be used in a variety of ways from one-part unison to three-part chords, giving you an incredible diversity of bass sounds.
SYNC jack and MIDI IN connector
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 Electribe's step sequencer
This step sequencer is designed to make editing easy and to let you add or remove parts in an improvisational way. You can use the 16 step keys to intuitively enter notes while visually monitoring the timing of the notes within the measure.
KORG Volca Bass
Aggressive sounds that stand up to the drums; fat sounds that support the rhythm; funky sounds that generate a groove - the volca bass is an analog bassline groove box that has what you need for a wide range of bass lines.
Volca bass is an analog bass synthesizer that provides carefully selected parameters that allow the user to create a diverse array of fat sounds that can be obt. Portable 303-style analog bass synthesizer. Three analog oscillators self-tune for constant, stable pitch.
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So, what is the next obvious choice in line? Another drum synth, of course!
Yep, 8th up in the Volca synth line (9th if you count the non-instrument Volca Mix) is the Volca Drum. With a retro style nixie - like display and a digital approach to drums, this model follows the previous (Modular) trend of odd design choices (as opposed to the bread-and butter choices made at least up until the FM) and quirky synthesis methods culminating in a real missed opportunity.
Synthesis on the baby is all about modeling. Analog modeling and physical modeling, to be precise. Why Korg chose to include these two VERY good ideas for TRADITIONAL synths into yet another drum synth, though boggles the mind... Especially when the total is less than the sum of its parts.
See, the analog modeling engine is what gives you the basic timbre for each of the 6 parts that can be sequenced on the Drum, but then (via a send function), the sounds can be modified via a physical modeling resonator of sorts (either using a Karplus - Strong - like string delay method or one of the drum resonator PM algorithmic decay methods).
The result is kind of like a non-chromatic Alesis Fusion with analog modeling and physical modeling built in with multiple parts of sequencing, but none it the chromatic polyphony, DSP fillers, samples, effects, or any of the joy that even came with that buggy workstation.
Had this just been a traditional polyphonic 2 oscillator analog modeling synth with decent fillers, a supersaw-esque waveform option, some nice delay and reverb effects with good modulation options, this would have been an absolute win, I'm certain.
Had this been a Karplus-Strong string and tube physical modeling synth for wind and brass timbres capable of going head to head with the likes of the Waldorf Streichfett as a Volca "PM" or something, it would have been one of the first truly physical modeling synths out there and in a Volca form factor it would have been a breakthrough and likely a huge hit for Korg.
Instead, what we get is some hobbled together combo of the two where (and this is the REAL tragedy) the sounds ultimately are neither novel nor inspiring nor, frankly, useful...either as percussion parts or "paint outside of the lines" chromatic parts.
So, for now the 3rd time in a row (at least - we'll give Korg the benefit of the doubt by not including the Mix in the, erm, mix) Korg gives us something that we neither want, nor can really use, nor really asked for, nor were particularly inspired new ideas that when put in front of us we saw the genius in and praised the innovation of.
No. Instead we got the Kick, the Modular, and the Drum.
Now, compare these to the deep Sample, the analog synth warmth of the Bass and Keys, the TR-x0x analog simplicity of the Beats, and the ambitious DX7-shrunk-to-smaller-than-a-paperback FM.
No comparison, Korg. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
I get the feeling that Korg's product people aren't even really trying at this point.
That's too bad, because they are missing a huge opportunity here.
That being said, I think this is a 5-star product...provided that you educate yourself in advance of what it does and doesn't do. It's an extremely small plastic box that runs on 6 AA batteries and features no slot for external media (USB, SD card, etc.). I don't know how you reasonably look at those specs and expect this to be a $150 mini-MPC. But if that were your expectation, yes, you'd be a little disappointed.
The Volca Sample is special from the other Volca machines in just how flexible it can be towards a variety of needs. You could load it up with acoustic or drum machine samples and have up 10 instruments loaded with 8-instrument/note polyphony. You could load up a series of tuned notes and generate a walking bass line using either motion sequencing/automation, or by setting the same sample to different pitches. Pitch control is handled very well on the Volca Sample, in my opinion. You can change pitch with a numerical up/down value, or by semitones (2 octaves down all the way to two octaves up). This is done by the speed knob, and while lower pitched notes are basically the same sample played back more slowly, you can edit sample length, decay, and other features to balance things out. In fact, the 4x4 matrix with mini knobs in the gray section are 16 step programmable sampling parameters for you to adjust. Not only can these be adjusted for each sample, but you can live record automation or program the changes to occur at different steps. Is it a professional caliber sampler? No. Is it accessible to all levels of users and deceptively powerful for a battery powered, affordable device? Absolutely.
SAMPLE EDITING & iOS INTEGRATION - Some of the biggest complaints about the Sample are that the device was marketed as requiring an iOS device to change and edit samples. However, I view that as one of the device's selling points, and an excellent 3rd-party app from the Caustic developer quickly emerged to allow even more power over sample creation and uploading (I believe this is also available for Android and PC). iOS integration is a strength of the Sample, in my opinion, because there is such an insane wealth of affordable music content in the iOS app store. The Caustic Volca Editor easily links up with an app called AudioShare to import samples stored on your device, or imported from a cloud service like DropBox. Aside from uploading obvious samples (like .wav files of 808/909 sounds available all over the web), you can create your own without leaving your iPhone or iPad and store them in AudioShare. For example, I recorded a simple C2 note in a great app called iFretless Bass, sent it to the Caustic Volca Editor via AudioShare, and had a pitch tuned electric bass sound available on my Sample, and the whole process took maybe a couple of minutes.
Some tips/caveats: Some people have complained about the 4MB storage limit on the Volca, which is admittedly quite small. The best way to deal with this is to use the Caustic or AudioPocket editor and identify some of the longer factory samples (1 second or longer) and target those to be replaced. There are 100 sample slots for storage, but whatever you upload needs to be in place of something else, so you can free up more storage that way. Generally speaking, the Volca Sample is better suited for "one-hit" brief samples like a drum, brass hit, or clap. Sampling can also involve longer clips like 5-second guitar riffs, but the Volca Sample really isn't suited to handle that.
The fact that patterns are limited to 16-step single bars is another oft-cited problem with the entire Volca series, but there are workarounds. You can set different patterns and chain them with Song mode, or trigger them with the ribbon keys. Part of the fun of the entire Volca series, however, is taking a very brief and straightforward musical idea and then mutating with filter sweeps, modulation, and effects. The Sample excels at that, and the sound quality is great (through headphones or monitors though, just skip the built-in mini speaker). I like the "Analogue Isolator", which is basically an fancied-up name for a 2-band EQ, but which allows for some additional tone shaping and automation possibilities.
MIDI ISSUES - Unfortunately, the Sample isn't controlled via MIDI the way you might expect it to be. My understanding is that the 10 different samples respond to different MIDI Channels (1-10), as opposed being triggered by separate pads/keys on a single MIDI channel. That's a bit of bummer, but less than the other Volcas, since Live Play actually responds quite well with the touch keys (and quantizes to nearest 16th note), and you'll spend most of your time programming grooves with the step sequencer anyway. It does not respond to velocity control, though you can set the "Level" for each sample.
One final note - I think some of the negativity for the Volca Sample comes from the fact that what it offers isn't as "rare" as the Keys, Bass, and Beats. There are desktop and even mobile sampling apps that do much of what the Volca Sample does, and perhaps even more cheaply. In that sense, it isn't the same "freak of nature" that my little Volca Bass is, belting out warm, analog tones from an inexpensive, battery-powered box. But that doesn't make the usefulness of the Sample any less impressive - this little box really can do a ton. While the other Volca devices surprise you with quality of their sounds, the possibilities with the Sample are limited by only your imagination and willingness to experiment.
UPDATE (06/28/2016): Just a quick update on my review to attach a picture showing how much of a giant nerd I am, as well as the versatility of the Sample. I created a micro-sized table showing all the instruments uploaded to the device, as well as a table showing how many semitones away different notes are (since I am pretty bad at music theory). All of my pitched samples are tuned to a "C" note, so it becomes pretty easy to generate basslines and simple melodies using these charts for quick reference. The Sample allows you to load the same sample in multiple instruments slots, and since you have 8-note polyphony, you could program chords or even set up a custom keyboard where each note is within the scale/mode of your song. Again, this more of a hobby/amusement for me than serious music production, but I love exploring what this little device can do and even pushing it do things musically that it wasn't necessarily "intended" to do.
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That being said, here are some of my *favourite* things about the Sample:
- only enough memory for 4MB of samples
- only 10 sample slots per pattern
- only 10 slots to store patterns
- only 6 slots to store sequences of patterns (songs)
- only 16 patterns per song
- only available effect is reverb
As Brian Eno once said: "Regard your limitations as secret strengths. Or as constraints that you can make use of."
For me, the Sample exemplifies this sentiment. It's not perfect. I hit walls when using it. I'll want to do a Thing and it laughs at me, for I cannot do the Thing. It forces me to be creative to get the best out of it, and I really like that.
My other favourite thing is that it's quick - REALLY quick. I can fire this thing up and within a minute or two be bobbing my head to some banging techno, losing myself in floaty ambient, or hating myself for bringing more jazzy lofi hiphop into the world. It lends itself really well to getting jams going fast, which not only encourages experimentation but is extremely satisfying for someone who's spent years in the realm of DAWs.
There are other features I dig but the last one I'll mention (because hardly anyone does) is that you can set different time signatures, using the Active Step feature to trigger anything from 1 to 16 notes per pattern. Any of the 16 available notes can be added or removed from this pattern, which can also emulate an arpeggiator!
For for some (two) criticisms.
1. There's no way to record samples directly to the device (no mic or line in), and importing samples is a little convoluted. Korg only make an official importer for iOS, but also provide tools for third parties to cater for Windows, Linux and Android. Vosyr in particular is a good solution for Windows, and many community sample packs are distributed in their format. There's also the Volca Freesound tool which converts random samples from the Freesound archives, which is great if you're in a creative rut. Top marks to Korg for making the SDK available to the community.
2. The import process itself can be temperamental. Imports are sent to the Sample via an audio signal - straight from your audio out or headphone port. This means that things like notification sounds, inappropriate volume or even EQ settings can interrupt the signal. Solutions to these issues are easy to find but it can still be a frustration.
Despite falling afoul of #2 myself, I'm giving this 5 stars. It's a superb little box for the price and does exactly what I bought it for. I fully intend to get another Volca in the near future.
What stands out for me on the Volca Bass is the ease by which you can make some great basslines in a matter of minutes. The 3 VCO setup is extremely clever. If you use the built in sequencer you can either create monophonic sequences using all three VCOs in unison (and detune them separately up to one octave up or down), or you can use two in unison and one as a separate voice or indeed programme 3 tone polyphonic sequences using each VCO for a separate part. By using the mute function you can then quickly switch parts on or off creating a lot of effect with just the one sequence in your performance. I also really like the way how you can set the destination of both the envelope generator and LFOs to control volume, filter cutoff and in case of the LFO also the pitch (of all three VCOs). The LED readout is extremely handy when you need to tune your VCOs, set the tempo or octave.
Only thing you need to keep in mind, you do need to know a bit about synthesizers before you can really get the best out of these Volca's but it should not take a beginner long to understand how everything works. The instructions are limited, but there is plenty of information and videos on the internet to get you going.
Couple of things. It's not a sampler. You have to load up using the sync cable. Officially this is via an iPhone app but since Korg have released the developer kit there should be some interesting 3rd party options. Caustic/Single Cell software have a free sample editor and loader that is MULTI PLATFORM (I.e windows, mac os and android compatible)
MIDI implementation is fiddly. It uses individual channels per part and will only play the sample selected on the unit. You can alter pitch and other parameters using CC messages though. If you have a programmable MIDI controller that works standalone, (eg Pad Kontrol) this can be set up to provide more control live. Other downside is that can't mute parts in and out via MIDI at the mo, which limits how you can use live. I'm using a Kaoss Pad which allows for reasonable workaround though to build up complexity
Also the sync rate is 24 pulses per second if you're using an external unit like one of the Kenton converter boxes. Altering rate allows to potentially run at double or half speed. Is really useful way to hook up, particularly as no midi through on the volca. Allows me to run tb303, volca and midi clock sync all at same time.
EDIT: In response to the comment below, it was totally unfair to compare the volcas to Elektron, because of the huge price difference. Although I was disappointed by the Volca Bass that I received, I do really like Korg products in general and I would wholeheartedly recommend the Korg Gadget iOS application as one of the very best music making applications available on an iPad or iPhone. It's like having a whole suite of Volcas in your iPad, only better because there are several devices that have not been made into volcano...yet?
I had read that FM synthesis was complex and difficult and some have noted that working through the various parameters on the box itself is difficult. However I must say that I have found it to be incredibly intuitive and is an absolute joy to dial up different parameters and just play with them and discover the infinite possibilities that come out of it. In addition, I’m looking forward to getting a MIDI cable so that I can upload even more sounds via the PatchBase app on my iPad - opening up a vast array of DX7 sounds.
I’m now getting started on hooking it up to GarageBand on my iPad so I can save my loops and sequence them. Just wish my budget could stretch to some of the other Volcas to add beats/ samples but looks like I can do this using my iPad and other apps till then!