Customer Reviews: Korg Monotron Analogue Ribbon Synthesizer
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Style: Monotron Analogue Ribbon Synthesizer|Change
Price:$49.38 - $85.00
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on March 12, 2012
This is a fantastic product, but it all depends on how you look at it. You may either love it and keep it with you wherever you go (just please, not in the shower), or you may toss it aside after a few minutes and dismiss it as nothing more than a toy noise-maker.

Chances are, if you're looking at this, then you're already familiar with Korg's Monotron line. You know (hopefully) what to expect out of this; stay away if you're looking for something which makes sounds that are "precise," "nice," "normal," "approachable." This is not going to be able to take on the duties of a full-on synth or keyboard, but that's really not the point or purpose. That said, if you're in the mood for something that screams and whines, belches and grumbles, or just comes off as some sort of fun STD from space, then you want (and more than likely need) this!

Basically, this is a Monotron with controllable delay built in. Doesn't sound like much, but trust me, it's great. The sounds are quirky lo-fi analog insanity, and with such a simple interface, it begs to be played with, tweaked, and abused. It has its limits, of course, but those limits don't make it feel cheap and useless. The limitations (for lack of a better word) act more as a kind of systematic framework which encourages you to figure out creative ways to make sound; you can, and will, spend hours just fiddling around on it, conjuring up all sorts of sonic surprises. With an external audio input (an eighth-inch jack labeled "aux"), you can process (or mangle) even more sounds with the unit.

Could you use this in a studio or performance setting? Is it functionally musical? Yes... but only if you keep it in the right context. Just know what you're getting with this. It's sort of like Korg have gone and made a little DIY-kit synth, put it in a neat retro-spacey case, packaged it up, and is now selling it to you. Just don't huff and puff and complain that, "this doesn't sound as good as my several-thousand dollar Doepfer analog rack; it's rubbish." It's not supposed to, and you're obviously an idiot. For what you get at this price-point, this thing's golden. Even if it may seem to be on the toy-ish side, it'll provide you with loads of fun and interesting sound.
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on May 14, 2011
My cats take off whenever I turn it on. I can play wiht it for hours. Poor cats.
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on August 28, 2010
This is a great little item.

First of all, it's just a lot of fun to use. It very well might be the funnest and most carefree synth of I've ever used. Second, for the size and features, it's just a great value--the filter is awesome, and the type of sound you can get out of this little thing is very surprising.

Now, the onboard speaker output can be a bit noisy; however, it isn't bad, and it's very easy to get around that and keep a good quality sound by using aux. input and output with an audio interface (I'm using the Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP), just make sure you get the proper cables and adapters and use it as a line input. The aux. input is a great feature, letting you route audio into the unit to make use of the filter--I imagine this is what many people will use this for. Also, the unit is great for circuit bending (see youtube...) and is quite an adaptable machine (and at this price, you can afford to make a mistake during a hack, although with how quickly they sell, it may be a bit before you can get a replacement...).

Now, since it is a ribbon controller, it's best suited for glissandos and fx, not really for melody--however, it can be great for a bass part. Add external fx processing (delay lines, reverb, and granular synthesis are especially fun) and you start to see what a little beast this thing is.

Get one. And then a second.
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on December 13, 2012
I'm absolutely shocked by the incredible amount of different sounds I can get out of this little rock star.. Hol-lee crap.. Drones, washes, dub, FX, metallic, rhythmic, percussive. It's a toy but you put this in to the hands of someone who knows synths and I promise you'll be shocked at what comes out.

I think the issue here is there are a lot of people who have never heard cheap analog equipment and don't appreciate the character it imparts. This thing is noisy as hell, it's always making some sort of hiss or drone, especially when you put the delay on thick. The delay is cheap but in the most amazing way, it just mangles the hell out of everything and it is constantly losing top end so you can keep piling more on. The LFO doesn't act predictably and when its in use you can't always know what kind of pitch it's going to make but it's brilliant!

This is the simplest synth I have ever used. To be honest I thought I'd get bored of it quickly, but I find myself spending hours playing with it. You get 3 things to affect, LFO, Cut off & Delay, I'm shocked just how much I can get just by doing some knob tweaking.

Some things to keep in mind.
- Don't think you're going to play melodies, it's a ribbon controller, they work best for sliding notes and droning sounds (think 50's scifi).
- It's noisy and might not be suited for most musical styles. I can very easily see it being used for industrial, metal, dubstep, techo, electro, psychedelic, experimental & abstract
- The delay is the key part, crank the time and feedback all the way up hit some notes. Now play around with the time and the cutoff knobs.. it gets really crazy.
- If you want to use it in a song you'll want to sample it. My advice hit record in your audio recording program play around with it for 10-15 mins and then chop out the stuff you like for samples.

I can't wait to pull this thing open and see what I can hook some pan pots (knobs) to. This thing is just begging to be modded.
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on January 10, 2011
First off let me say that Korg always makes good products and cool innovations. That said, the monotron definitely lives up to the Korg reputation, albeit a few minor flaws.

The best feature about this, I would say, would be the ability to channel in audio via a 3.5mm jack and assign modulation and a filter. Its really cool to sequence something on a DAW or keyboard/synth, and then push it thru the monotron and experiment with the settings. Surprisingly, there are quite a number of effects you can get from the mere 5 knobs on the device. This leads me to my main point: The Monotron is an absolutely fantastic device, used in conjunction with other instruments/effects. As a standalone instrument, however, it does suffer from a few minor issues:
-limited range of keys (16) and of which are slightly off tune (though you can adjust this manually with a screwdriver...also, apparently ribbon synths are subject to change with temperature)
-output is unbalanced, so expect noise
-the input and outputs are positioned almost too close together, to the point where you really can't plug in two cables with adaptors on them.

But, when it comes down to it, is it worth the price? Definitely. Its well worth having if you're looking for an effect that can be precisely and manually controlled. If you're creative, you can most certainly come up with some very creative applications for this device. It has a real lot of potential, and it makes me feel like Korg would do well to create a slightly more upscale version.
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on April 24, 2011
Listening to albums from the 70s and early 80s, I used to hear analog synths by Korg and Moog on albums. By the time the 90s came around, I gained a new awareness of these beautiful dinosaurs, through ambient records, and taking another listen to old Pink Floyd albums.

Of course, when I decided, "I'd like to have this sound", I would price these synthesizers. They were used and WAY too expensive! Through digital modeling technology, new models sporting similar tone and control to analog synths was available, but STILL not the same.

Which brings me to the KORG MONOTRON! What you have seen is what you get! A true analog synthesizer for around 50 bucks!

I got my MONOTRON in the mail, and opened the package. I dug through the box, and though, "were is it?!" I found it, and my first impression was "THIS IS small!". It fits in the palm of my hand. Yeah, I have big hands, sort of. But, it is about 1/3 smaller than the STYLOPHONE.

(As you can tell, I am getting the negative out of the way first), the volume is much lower than a STYLOPHONE too. The battery cover is feeble, and it sports 2 AAA batteries. The housing is a thin plastic. The ribbon keyboard is not too hard to control, however it could be easier. it is sort of inconsistent. Hold one finger down on a note, then press another note. Now, use one finger on the same note, then use that same finger and press the same note as before, you will hear DIFFERENT notes. Of course, some see/hear imperfections as endearing qualities! The input and output 1/4" jacks are too close together, which makes it hard to use both at the same time, especially if you have to adapt a guitar cable down.

(Now the GOOD STUFF!) What you have in the MONOTRON is the 3 basic building blocks of a synth. A VCO (voltage controlled oscillator), a VCF (lowpass voltarve controlled filter) and an LFO (low frequency oscillator) to modulate the VCF. The LFO modulates either the pitch or the cutoff of the filter.

Those classic synthtones....BABY! The pitch control covers a wide spectrum of tones. Those down and dirty lows to the higher lead synth tones, you have them all at your fingertips!

Using the Cutoff of the VCF and the rate of the LFO, you can create a pulsating, beat, or a synth drum sound! Set the cutoff at 10:00 and the peak (resonance) all the way up, the pitch and rate low, and you will have that BZZZZZ sound similar to what is hear in the beginning of Rush's Tom Sawyer! ;-)

Plug any instument, a guitar, a stylophone, a drum machine into the VCF and filtar anything but the kitchen sink!

So,the proverbial bottom line is, you can now get a REAL ANALOG synth at an affordable price!

The circuit benders and hardware hackers will love voiding their warranties, since the circuit board is actually labeled! And the schematic drawing is available to the public! How will I hack mine? Well, eventually, I plan to build mine in to a bigger box, spread the controls apart into a comfortable layout, and hook up a REAL keyboard with fullsize keys! And, create a patchbay for the VCF and LFO out and replace the tiny jacks with more practical 1/4" jacks!
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on February 11, 2013
I have all three Monotrons, and I think the Duo is the easiest one to play in a traditional "musical" way - but it is also the most predictable & polite (dare I say, boring) of all the 'trons. This one has a tuning circuit that divides the ribbon into discrete note sections - a nice feature from the Monotribe. A tiny button on the back clicks through keyboard modes in this order: Chromatic (default power-on mode), Major (diatonic, white-keys-only), Minor, and Continuous (original Monotron ribbon mode). I wish it defaulted to Continuous mode, but that's just me. My fingers are slightly thicker than a single key section, so in chromatic mode I have to use a stylus (and instead of a vibrato, you get an odd baroque-style trill...) Bear in mind that your tuning is entirely based on the oscillator Pitch setting, so unless you actually tune it to concert pitch, a C on the Duo's printed "keyboard" will not be a C. Nice for transposing; not so nice for spontaneously recording ideas and then trying to figure out what key you were in.

The oscillator sounds like it's a square wave, which gives it an entirely different character from the original Monotron. The Duo comes with a 2nd oscillator, also square wave, with separately adjustable pitch. Between the two Voltage Control Oscillator pitch knobs is something labeled "X-MOD" which uses VCO2 to modulate the pitch of VCO1 (similar to Pitch mode on the original Monotron.) The panel switch lets you select whether the audio output consists of VCO1 alone, or both oscillators together. X-MOD is applied to VCO1 in both modes. You can get some nifty chorus/detune and pseudo-ring-mod effects, as well as tuning the oscillators to various harmonic intervals for those Happy House unison rhythm parts.

On the far right is the filter section, with cutoff and resonance controls.

And that's it! Very clean, simple, easiest Monotron to control & play, and for me the least interesting to listen to - though undoubtedly it will prove to be the most useful of the three.
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on February 11, 2013
I am a sucker: I got the Monotron when it came out, liked it, got the Monotribe, loved it, bought the other two 'trons last week and spent hours twiddling with them. Each one does something slightly different.

The Delay is probably the least "musical" of the trio. Its ribbon controller range is permanently set to "wide" which is something like 4 or maybe 6 octaves, so the keyboard printed on the ribbon is meaningless except as a sort of visual landmark. You can play theremin-like glides on it with ease. The oscillator puts out a sawtooth wave just like the original Monotron, and the LFO modulates the pitch, just like in PITCH mode on the original Monotron. The switch on this unit toggles the LFO between triangle and square waves, and the trim screw in the back adjusts the "duty" of the wave form, which seems to move the wave peak back and forth in relation to its trough (think pulse wave modulation for square wave). The LFO does not trigger with note-on, so if you are using any modulation, it means you will never hit the same note twice.

The oscillator section is not the important part of this unit. The wide ribbon range and wacky pitch modulation make it extremely difficult to play as a standard synth. I also noticed that this unit is far noisier than the other Monotrons ... however, its significant circuit hiss is vital. The oscillator and the noise are there to provide raw material for the filter & delay.

Continuing across the panel to the right, we have another iteration of the MS-20 filter (this one without a resonance control however; just cutoff), and then a Delay section with controls for Time and Feedback. Time, obviously, controls the delay rate. Turning this knob will warp & pitch-shift sounds currently looping in the delay circuit. Feedback controls the amount of the delay signal that is returned to the delay input. Turn this up, and the sound gradually multiplies & morphs into thunderous static and howls, akin to the "controlled feedback" of an overdriven guitar amp. The circuit noise coming from the oscillator will cause the delay to self-oscillate at high feedback settings. Then you can adjust the Time and Cutoff knobs to vary the pitch, producing unworldly electronic hoots & growls that build and then fade.

The results are not very "musical" as I said, but these barely-controllable sounds are fascinating to listen to. I spent more time playing with this unit than with any of the others.
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on July 31, 2015
You have to know what you are getting before purchasing this synthesizer. It is not meant to be played like a piano. The ribbon 'keyboard' works better for random strikes and swipes. What makes this fun is the effects. The delay is gritty, noisy in a good way and analog (so some variance is expected). If you have a Teenage Engineering Pocket Operator this will definitely be a great companion.
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on January 3, 2011
If you don't yet own an analog synth but have always wanted one, this is a fun and relatively cheap way to get started. But be forewarned: you'll have trouble letting go of it once you start.
My only (trivial) quibble with the Monotron is that the "keys" are smaller than the width of my finger, which makes playing melodies or bass lines a bit challenging. Granted, the keyboard markings are only meant as a general guide, but with or without the markings it's just a very small playing space to try and play an octave's range of notes. But it still definitely gets the job done.
I love this thing. I will be recording with it every chance I get.
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