Sonic LAB: Korg Volca Beats

Budget Analogue Drum Machine   04-Sep-13

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10:47 mins    

Once in a while, there's a product or range that comes along and gets everyone fired up. The new Korg Volcas are exactly that, ever since they were shown at MESSE 2013, people have been gagging for more information, demos, shipping dates.

We have all three here and our first look is at Volca Beats - an analogue drum machine with 6 analogue voices and four PCM, plus a 16 step pattern sequencer.


Think Monotron, then think higher quality, it shares the same knobs, but the case is of a better build and the touch pads (16 of them) have LED status lights and are much easier to hit.


Power 9v center positive power required - not included. You do get 6 AA batteries to get you started.

MIDI input on din plug for receiving MIDI data - note and Controller.

Sync In and Out - comes with a short mini-jack to hook up to other Volcas/Monotribe or other sync enable gear - the pulse can be set to +/- polarity for other options - say a drum machine or somesuch.

Mini-jack stereo headphone output - with volume - seems quiet enough not as noisy as the Monotron.


Kick - a plump, 808 ish sound with adjustable click, pitch and decay, has a LOT of bottom end - it shook the room.

Snare - Snappy - noise burst element and pitched element controls, plus decay, would have like it to go a little lower in pitch.

Toms - think analogue bibble bobble with adjustable global  decay and pitch for Hi and Lo.

Hats - a syn ring mod metallic sound with decay for Open and Closed separate and a global pitch (Grain). A little quiet to my ears.

PCM Voices -  Clap (classic analog style), Clave, Agogo and Cymbal - can adjust the playback pitch (speed) over a wide range. Cymbal is rather low quality and the levels could be higher on some of them.


Note triggers the sounds, there is no velocity response all sounds are just on or off. Controllers are fixed assignment:

40-49 each part level,

50-53 - PCM playback speed

54 - Stutter Time

55 - Stutter Depth

56- Tom Decay

57 - Clsd Hat Decay

58 - Opn Hat Decay

59 - Hat Grain

System clock and Song position mode also recognized when in Ext clock mode.


Additionally there's a tempo synced Stutter effect, which sounds like a delay, but I think is a retrigger effect, this can be applied Globally or to a single voice - whichever is currently selected by the <> part buttons. Useful for adding a little bounce to parts or metallic buzz when set to higher speed.


16 steps, steps can be switched on and off - like the Monotron to enable creation of 6/8 or triplet feel beats or just random mutes to steps for interesting variations. Parts can be recorded live, via pads or MIDI input or in Step Mode like a tradition machine. There is no velocity or accent so everything is fixed in level.

Additional tracks can be recorded for Stutter Speed and level and PCM playback speed for each of the 4 voices. This is pretty cool for animated pitch and delay type phrases and can give you great results. This can be recorded either from the front panel or via external MIDI input. 8 patterns can be recalled on the fly for basic pattern chaining, though sounds are not stored with the patterns, the front panel is global.

Overall A limited sound set means inevitably, you are creatively limited, though the kick is enormous it's not a 909, it's an 808, sort of. Still at the price, it's pretty hard to criticize.

If you like the sounds, then you're in luck, changing the decay can turn it from a boomy sounding electro kit to a tight "bitty" one, but thats about it. For the money it's a snip.

As a rule, I'm not a fan of drum machines, but the Volca Beats is a lot of fun, even I am tempted.

Becoming Available now, though in short supply priced £119, $149, €139



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15 Comments... Comments are closed while we transition to Disqus

dyscode    Said...

Here is some report from KOMA about patching the volca beats - requires some soldering on SMD parts, yikes!

04-Sep-13 07:36 AM

MadGoat    Said...

So this won't be out for another 90 years? According to the review credit date it's September 2103.

04-Sep-13 08:14 AM

Nick B    Said...

Ha! nice spot, was in a bit of a rush to get this out, no, should be sooner than that!

04-Sep-13 08:31 AM

Eric    Said...

excellent review Nick! My questions were answered and made clear!

still getting one!

04-Sep-13 08:38 AM

Lu    Said...

Thanks Nick! Nice and thorough. This is just what I need to add a bit of complexity to my beats. Complements my tr-606 beautifully I think. And has exactly the sound I'm after which admittedly is somewhat casiotone-ish.

04-Sep-13 10:36 AM

GTRman    Said...

There is just not enough "must have" features on this box for me. Nick did not talk much about the quality of this unit. It seams to be made very toyish like. The new Korg MS20 was a big disappointment in the quality category so I would figure this box would follow suite. Anyway it looks like you get what you pay for here.

04-Sep-13 02:05 PM

Production Unit    Said...

Excellent review as ever. Will the 'sync in' also function with a CV sync like the Monotribe?

04-Sep-13 02:16 PM

factualAct    Said...

Thankyou Nick.A very good review & enough really for this product.I could hear it pretty well on headphones. I think that while the drum patterns can sound comfy & warm it still lacks enough variation & would soon become boring. A very good expander for monotribe artists though. I'll put my money on the volca keys i reckon.

04-Sep-13 02:30 PM

al_bot    Said...

Thanks Nick for the review! Still on the fence on this one. I'll have to try at the store. Something's not clicking for me on this one.

04-Sep-13 06:28 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

I am clearly from a generation that has never heard these kinds of percussion sounds used in their element. Sounds familiarly like Flight Of The Conchords, but I'm unfamiliar with the entire world of Roland Drum machines

06-Sep-13 02:30 PM

blox electric    Said...

I have given the volca beats a raw deal so far compared to the other two volca models & really, it does seem quite limited...HOWEVER, it was the volca beats that first drew my attention the the volcas back in Feb or March having the need for basic raw analogue drum sounds & back then i was exited about it.... ...Then there was a long long wait & a bunch of date setbacks from Korg ! (& tons of speculation) Eventually when demo's started to appear on youtube i was keen & all ears but with an open mind! (Thanks Ghandi). They came thicker & faster & what occurred to me was that the sounds in the volca beats seemed thin for an analogue drum machine (With the exception of the kick) .Was it just varied recording quality or the youtube & soundcloud compression ?? I dunno but i put it out there on some forums & on youtube & was mostly met with fanboy attitude & people with rose tinted glasses who wanted to defend the thing but didn't actually own one !! OMG the new volca beats could not possibly have any shortcomings...Our bubble is burst !! That kinda vibe. They even believe that you won't be able to get your hands on one because they are SOOO POPULAR you won't stand a chance if you don't preorder !

In the end i got kind of set against it until i saw one on ebay (New) at the correct £120 price tag & after a long thoughtful consideration (About 5 mins) i bit the bullet & handed over some overdraft resources.

SO, going back to my point. I still need those basic dirty analogue drum sounds & i am 24 hours away from trying this unit now. I am going to be ruthless & straight to the point & honest about my findings of the the volca beats.I will be sympathetic to it's price & not judge it by comparing it to any other gear of a higher quality. I'll keep in mind that some external processing is obligatory & to be expected. That this is NOT an 808 or 909 & that korg are not reputed to be the best drum machine makers !

I have put my money where my mouth is albeit a budget product but hey £120 is £120 right ? For the price of 3 volcas i could buy an electribe esx1 or emx1 , new !...

...One last thing. Whatever it turns out like, it's not the gear, it's what you do with it ! (Must try & remember that).I'll post here my findings....If you're all not already bored with this bit !

12-Sep-13 06:50 AM

blox electric    Said...

O.K so i wrote that last spiel. Now i've had time to play a bit. Nick's review here is right on the button. Listen to the sound of the thing on headphones. Mine sounded the same, no surprises there. ON ITS OWN (Unassisted by any fx etc.) i found it to sound small & light. The kick is the biggest sound in the box.The snare sounded terrible, the hats sound ok but quiet. The toms are useful but not tom-like, more like typical 606ish style toms. The pcm sounds also quite light sounding. BUT, if you feed it through some reverb or other mangler of choice it brings it to life, brightens it up. Also looking at the whole package within the volca beats i found that to get the best out i had to use its tools well, the stutter is your friend ! as are the motion sequences. It drew me in & made me tinker with it & i enjoyed the time spent. For 24 hours i was in two minds, keep it or send it back ?? but then it kinda hooked me. I can't see me using it for the type of music i produce even though i am a hardware-die-hard but somehow it has a thing going on & with the right combo of outboard gear to beef it up & the prospect of modding the outputs etc it can stay i reckon. Good fun.

14-Sep-13 03:53 PM

Lou    Said...

Nick you not discuss the part level knob at all. Does it not help with the quiet hats?

19-Sep-13 10:31 AM

Nick B    Said...

No unfortunately not, they are just too quiet IMHO, the only way to address this is to turn everything else down relative to the hats which isn't ideal.

23-Sep-13 04:16 AM

Andy macc    Said...

sounds similar to my electribe er-1 especially the stutter and time feature the er-1 has this too with similar results sounds good :)

30-Sep-13 04:37 PM

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