Sonic LAB: Korg Volca Bass Review

Analogue synthesis for all   09-Sep-13

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12:31 mins    

The second in the trio of affordable analog instruments from Korg.

The Volca Bass is a three oscillator  (yes three!) mono synth with the filter from the venerable Korg 700s  - Korg's first affordable mono synth.

Lets not beat about the bush, the Volca Bass undoubtedly pays homage to the 303, the silver facia and the  top sliced knobs with red LED's, certainly give it that look. But aside from the step sequencer, that's perhaps where the similarities end.


For a start, Volca Bass has three oscillators, each with a +/1 12 semi-tone range, but also de-tunable by +/- 90 c or so. Each also can be Sawtooth or Square by means of the function button and touch keyboard. The result is some seriously beefy tones or indeed three note fixed pitch chords. Don't let the plastic case fool you, these oscillators sound pretty good.


On to the filter, modelled on the Korg 700S - favourite of Daniel Miller (Mute records Boss) used by Goldfrapp for the main line in Train, it's a stalwart of the Synth Britannia era (do try and watch that documentary) It's got plenty of resonance and can warble and scream with the best of them. Like a slightly creamier MS20 low pass.


LFO gives you Square and Triangle waves which can get up into audio rates, though not all that high, with individual routing for Filter Cutoff, Amplitude and Pitch.

A simple A(S)DR  sustain is selectable envelope is hardwired to the filter, but can also be routed to the VCA for sounds with some release, though would like to have seen longer times available.

Finally a fixed length legato Portamento or Slide can be switch in and out, though only over MIDI - default is on.


Speaking of MIDI, you can play the Volca Bass from a keyboard, my preferred mode as the touch pads keyboard is not all that intuitive. Nice to see there is Velocity Sensitivity too!  There is also plenty of MIDI control available:


  • 5 Slide time (rather slide on/off)
  • 11 Expression
  • 40 Octave (for keyboard range)
  • 41 LFO Rate
  • 42 LFO intensity
  • 43 VCO Pitch 1
  • 44 VCO Pitch 2
  • 45 VCO Pitch 3
  • 46 EG Attack
  • 47 EG Decay/Release
  • 48 Cutoff EG intensity
  • 49 Gate time


Cutoff frequency and resonance are notably absent.


Things get a bit more interesting with the sequencer, as there are three Oscillator modes, single - one Osc, twin - two unison and one single and unison - all three together

In terms of sequencing, it means that in single mode, you can record three, up to 16 step single oscillator parts separately, one two Osc part and a single or one three osc part.

While this initially sounds exciting and it is a lot of fun, in practice all OSC share the same VCA and filter so you can't get complex individual parts, the velocity of an incoming note, if played over MIDI will affect the volume of all the Oscillators, even if they are playing different notes. In practice it's a heck of a lot of fun to throw down quick one bar riffs.

I would dearly have liked to see oscillators separately addressable over MIDI, but I'm told that there were no more processor ports available to do this (whatever that means).


No Motion

In the Volca Bass, there is no ability to record any motion or parameter tweaks, it all has to be real-time, which I don't mind to be honest, hooking up a MIDI controller and assigning the parameters gets you into a whole world of fun and pretty usable musical nonsense in no time. As with the other Volca sequencers, you get Active Step for muting or shortening sequences on the fly - so you can do 12 or 6 if you want (or 3,5,7,9 too). 8 memories for storing sequences, real-time and step modes for creation.


Just to recap, the Volca Bass has the same set of connections as it's brethren, 9V DC centre positive power - not included, MIDI input, sync in and out, plus a minijack audio output. The build quality is the same across the range - think improved Monotron and you're not far off.

As these units get into the hands of intrepid hackers, we are seeing mods being made - apparently it is possible to add MIDI out, and goodness knows what else to come.

So far, the Volca Bass is my favourite, it can do massive basses, interesting chordal or tuned leads and high pitched twinkles - a lot of synth for £120 quid. Hard to think of a reason not to own one.

Becoming available now

£120/ €139/$149

Next up Volca Keys...

Check out our Volca Beats Review

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

Ununseptium    Said...

I'm noticing a fair bit of wobble in that big cutoff knob while you're tweaking it. Will it last long?

09-Sep-13 07:24 AM

Nick B    Said...

I cant pretend that this thing is built like a tank, but its serviceable. I guess it depends on how much you use it and how vigourous you might be, but they are not built to last an eternity it true.

09-Sep-13 07:42 AM

realist    Said...

wobble compared to what?

09-Sep-13 08:17 AM

Governmentyard    Said...

Where the hell do you take your loved one out for meals?

09-Sep-13 08:36 AM

Nick B    Said...

Well, somewhere nice would cost around 75/80£ around here, plus babysitter and taxi there and back, and you aint far off.

09-Sep-13 08:47 AM

RNFR    Said...

I'm pleasantly surprised by this little box. Is the pcb labelled like the Beats?I'd bet that modding it for individual oscillator volume level would not be difficult at all. Regarding the pots, they are not the highest quality, the shafts are made of durable, yet rather pliable plastic- hence the bendiness when a large knob is attached. my guess is that korg uses them because they are small, cheap, and due to the ridges that are usually used to fix the knobs in place, they are easily gripped without the extra cost of knobs. The good news is that they should not be difficult to replace. I'm already dreaming of adding switchable modes of fuzz! If I kill it in the process, oh well- It could've been a crappy date!!

09-Sep-13 11:18 AM

Sunny Jim    Said...

Great review, gives a very useful picture. Well done Nick.

09-Sep-13 11:33 AM

GTRman    Said...

Get a real mans bass synth. Moog Sub Phatty

09-Sep-13 02:27 PM

Bobisdead    Said...

Sub Phatty? - now I know exactly what kind of jerk-off GTRman is - you couldn't pay me to touch a Moog

09-Sep-13 07:11 PM

GTRman    Said...

Good because we don't need children playing around with professional instruments.

10-Sep-13 06:42 AM

Bobisdead    Said...

...said the bitter old man

10-Sep-13 11:17 AM

blox electric    Said...

Well, i like the volca reviews so far. I'm getting to see the reality of these units & that is what i want from a review. I've followed the volcas all year & have been digging around for some frankness about them. The forum banter is all hot air & written by people who don't own one yet but seem to see these through rose tinted glasses. This series of reviews now serves as a solid source of relevant info. C'm Nick...Show us the keys will ya'....Saving the best till last ?

10-Sep-13 12:12 PM

anickt    Said...

Can't the slide be turned on and off with the "slide edit" function? Great review as usual!

10-Sep-13 08:50 PM

Lou    Said...

Glad to see the bass getting a good rap. I agree the three oscillators is a way fun feature and it just sounds great!

Keep the videos coming Nick, I'm waiting till atleast September 25 in Australia. Kind of going crazy! Post some of your jams up!

11-Sep-13 04:13 AM

Saxifarag    Said...

Hi! What about a Dübreq Stylophone S2 review? Would make a good adition to the OP-1 and Volcas I think. I very much enjoy your show and reviews! Have become a fixed part of my TV replacement programm.

15-Sep-13 05:17 PM

Lee    Said...

After owning all three for the better part of a month I have to say the volca bass has kept my interest the longest,I actually love it to be honest. even with its limitations and little idiosyncrasies I think it has the potential of being a future classic.

14-Oct-13 09:06 AM

Paul    Said...

While its a great little synth, im having issues with note triggering (not via midi) while recording on to the second or third VCO it seems to cancel out previous notes on VCO1 and messes everything up, no idea why this is happening maybe a firmware update will resove this issue.

09-Nov-13 06:51 PM

mike    Said...

There's wobble in the big knob but it feels pretty sturdy!

10-Jan-14 06:14 PM

Mekkael    Said...

After Nicks review, I gave the volca bass a try. Its not an ms-20, or a minibrute but it is damn impressive for what it is and how much it costs. The only problems it has for me is that few of the knobs seem to produce an exponential change in values and that the LFO is not tempo synched and the filter is not as powerful as the one on the monotribe. other than its a pretty groovy little machine and pretty usable in production as well especially with a b it of distortion, delay and compression you get another colour in your sound pallet for £110

23-Mar-14 08:40 AM

BTNCRT    Said...

The LFO rate can be synched to the tempo if you hold down the FUNC button while rotating it.

16-Jul-14 07:48 AM

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