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Karen Bespalov
Karen Bespalov


I was concerned on first looking at the Microkorg that I was in for hard time programming the machine, given its relative paucity of controls (see the 'User Interface' box later on). To a great extent, I'm afraid my fears were realised. If you are heavily into sound programming, I'd strongly suggest you find a suitable computer editor, or get used to 'ship-in-a-bottle'-style twiddling. Also, thanks to the absence of any other form of screen, Korg have had to resort to cryptic LED messages to display some of the parameter values, and it will take time to become familiar with these.


At best, the Microkorg is four-voice polyphonic, and the voices are allocated depending on the voice assignment set for each of the two Timbres. If both Timbres are layered together in Poly mode, the synth will become two-note polyphonic. Mono mode is provided to emulate a true monophonic synth, whilst Unison mode layers all four Voices together with a variable degree of Unison Detune to create a richer, fatter sound.

The Microkorg's two LFOs are near-identical, with the exception that LFO2 offers an triangle wave rather than LFO1's sine wave, and also contains an unusual 'positive-only' square wave in place of LFO1's more usual positive/negative square wave. A positive-only wave can be useful, for example, where you might want a pitch warble to flip between the played pitch and a higher interval, whereas the more usual positive and negative wave would warble the pitch at above and below the played pitch. There's no positive-only equivalent for the sine or triangle wave, though, which could have been useful in simulating guitar vibrato. Key sync of the LFO is possible, as is tempo sync, so modulation can be synchronised to either the internal arpeggiator tempo, or an external MIDI Clock source at a variety of cycle values, from four beats per one cycle to one beat per two cycles.

As mentioned earlier, four so-called virtual patch routings are available, and it is here where much of the Microkorg's strength lies. Each Patch allows the selection of a modulation source and its application to a modulation destination, with a variable positive/negative intensity. Modulation sources include both LFOs, both envelope generators, velocity, keyboard tracking, and the mod and pitch wheels. Destinations include pitch, Osc2 tuning, noise level, filter cutoff, amplitude, pan and LFO2 frequency. As you might well imagine, this gives you scope for a whole world of modulatory mayhem, and some of the factory presets show what can be achieved with a little thought and application.

The Microkorg is supplied with its own mic for vocoding purposes, and although it's a little physically flimsy, it makes a fine job of it.Photo: Mark EwingThe cutoff points of the filters can be shifted up or down to raise or lower the overall frequency response of the vocoder effect (carefully set, this could allow you to simulate a male vocal from a female voice, or vice versa), and resonance may be added to colour the sound. The current vocoder frequency response can be 'frozen' at any time by pressing the Formant Hold button. For editing purposes, the filters are arranged as eight pairs, or 'channels' and, at the output of the carrier signal, each channel has an individual level and pan control. The Envelope follower sensitivity is adjustable, as are gate threshold and gate attack time. Controls are provided to determine how the modulator signal's high-frequency content will be treated, either passing through unhindered, or being heard only when a note is being keyed. The volume of the passed high frequencies can be altered for subtlety or overly sibilant effects, and experimenting with this can aid intelligibility if the modulator is a voice.

The Microkorg has are two onboard effects types: modulation and delay. Modulation effects are confined to three basic types: a flanger/chorus, ensemble effect and phaser, and the only controls provided are speed and depth. The Delay effects also come in three flavours: stereo delay, cross delay (where feedback is interchanged between left and right) and left/right delay (ie. stereo ping-pong). Despite their simplicity, the effects are of good quality. I particularly liked the phaser: it seemed capable of bringing out a certain 'graininess' in the synth's sound that reminded me of an old MXR stompbox.

While we're on the subject, the Microkorg's MIDI capabilities are not to be scoffed at either. Local control can be switched on or off, and the synth will respond and transmit on any of the 16 channels, although there doesn't seem to be an Omni option. The Microkorg will also send or receive MIDI Clock messages. In addition to the usual discussion of note, control and SysEx implementation, Korg have included a very comprehensive section in the manual detailing the Microkorg's many MIDI NRPN messages. These allow the user an exacting degree of control over the arpeggiator (even allowing it to be switched on or off over MIDI) and the vocoder, to name just two parts of the synth. If you're not afraid of using controllers, there's a great deal of power to be tapped here. I tried a few examples using a combination of controllers sent from Cubase and my old Kawai MM16 fader bank, and can happily report that everything worked fine.

Then there's the price... if the Microkorg had cost three hundred quid instead of four hundred, I could have forgiven it a lot, but as it is, there are other synths within reach that are also worthy of a close look, such as Novation's A-Station. The second-hand market is also beginning to pass down machines such as Roland's JP8080 (which also contains a very capable vocoder), and even Korg's own MS2000 and MS2000R are also available at a not-too-dissimilar price. 041b061a72


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