Review: Korg Volca Keys

The last of the three mini analogues from Korg   17-Sep-13

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16:59 mins    

So finally we come to the last of the Korg Volcas

The three voice Volca Keys - 3 oscillators which can either be played in single voice mode or as a three voice poly and an analogue filter, we expect great things.

As with the other Volcas, the build quality is adequate with  most controls being of the Monotron variety, though as I  have previously said, a better overall build quality. Same 9v DC centre positive power input (PSU not supplied), same MIDI in and minijacks for Sync In - Out and audio output.


The Volca Keys has three of them, with a single Sawtooth waveform, they are not as flexible as the Bass - you can't tune them to intervals of your choice, but there is the option of switching voice modes:

  • Poly - three voice poly mode
  • Unison - three osc with detune amount - up to what sounds like a semi-tone
  • Octave - each oscillator on three consecutive octaves
  • Fifths - two on the root and one a fifth above - detune also applies
  • Unison Ring - creates a square like ring mod mono voice
  • Poly Ring - first note is ring modulated by the second and third



I am confused with this one, to me it doesn't  sound like the Volca Bass, but apparently, it's got the same filter from the 700S - maybe it's being driven differently, but it doesn't   sound the same to me. I should also mention that while the Beats and Bass are nice and quiet, the Volca Keys definitely has a higher noise level, you are aware of this especially when you drop the filter down. It should also be noted that the filter does step when swept - this is probably due to the fact that you can MIDI control the Cutoff frequency so we've got 128 steps.


We have a three wave LFO (saw/tri/square) which has the same sort of range as the Bass, ie: getting into the audio range though not too far, you can also trigger sync the LFO so it restarts on note on.

The Envelope has ADSR and by default is hard-wired to Amplitude, with Pitch and Filter Intensity controllable for additional modulation, I would have liked to have seen a longer release for longer pad or drone notes.. One quirk I noticed was that  all voices share the same VCA - hit a quiet note (via MIDI) then add another harder velocity note and the first note will jump in amplitude to match the second played note.


The Keys has a simple low sample rate delay with simple time and feedback control - it's pretty crusty but adds a lot of flavour to the sound - it's like the Monotron Delay. Delay time can be tempo synced to the sequencer. You can also MIDI control Time and Feedback.


Same 16 step sequencer format as the Bass and Beats but with several key differences - firstly it has Flux mode - like the Monotribe - meaning you can record un-quantized both note  AND motion or parameters. In fact  pretty much all of the front panel controls except Voice and Octave and for some reason Resonance (which controls the keyboard range) can be recorded for some really complex control and animation of the sound. In fact, it is possible to record motion only  sequences to play through for tempo sync'd riffs - try it.

Another unique feature is that you can divide the tempo by 2 or 4 to get up to four bars of recording  - in Flux mode this gives you some  great possibilities. Active Step is also available for muting or shortening sequences.


MIDI control is available for ALL  front panel knobs, except Octave and  Peak (resonance) for some reason.  This means you can play the Keys from an external MIDI controller with ease  and when combined with the sequencer allows some complex riffing and control to be set up.


The keys is again great fun while at the same time can be musically relevant,  any kind of poly at this price kind of deserves a double-take second look, as it's astonishing that it can be done.

The only downsides for me are the noise level which can become intrusive at low filter settings and the filter itself, which  just doesn't sound as musical as the Bass which is odd considering they are in fact the same filter. Still a great purchase  and when combined with the Bass and a MIDI keyboard can get you lost in analog goodness for hours. As I said in the video, it's hard to think of a reason not to own at least one Volca.

Volca Keys available very soon £120, $149, €139



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

Sean Dynan    Said...

What incredible value for money! Shame about the lack of MIDI control over Resonance (surely an oversight??). But these are going to shift by the warehouseful.

Nice bit of Berlin school over the outro, Nick ;)

17-Sep-13 06:26 AM

factualAct    Said...

Great review. We got to see it properly & i think that this says it all really, the 'KEYS' is the most feature packed of the 3 units. If these had been released 2 months or more earlier, i would have bought the bass & keys models but with the extra time to think about it i'm now less exited, like the novelty wore off before they got here, DOH ! Whilst i would not criticize these because of their price point, i would say that they don't quite live up the hype that has been created around them.I bought the 'Beats' model knowing how it would sound after listening to various demos & i was still underwhelmed by its output.It just sounded weak. At least i tried it out though & hey, it has future prospects when midi out mods etc arrive. Anyway, appreciation to Sonicstate for their ongoing commitment & frankness, what would we do without you guys, thanks Nick. My ears are to the ground waiting for the earth to shake with volca keys vibes !

17-Sep-13 07:21 AM

xyzzy    Said...

Fantastic review!

Was waiting for the outro to morph into Chariots of Fire...

17-Sep-13 07:24 AM

eXode    Said...

I don't know if this is the case with the Keys, but what many people don't realize is that filter stepping is actually a feature. Many synth designers put stepping into their cutoff knob control so that the user easier can tune the filter to semi tones when using a filter that allows self-oscillation. These knobs also often have a filter or slew added to their function so that the steppig only is apparent when tweaking slowly, when sweeping fast the movement is smoothed out.

17-Sep-13 07:44 AM

Mattsynth    Said...

Very interesting how many features are packed into this inexpensive little box. Too cheaply made for my taste but it will be interesting to see what people do with all three boxes together.

17-Sep-13 09:13 AM

Tom    Said...

Sequence modulation and play live over it - you the man Nick!

17-Sep-13 09:47 AM

eXode    Said...

I guess that the Keys are more akin to paraphonic than polyphonic, perhaps the Mono/Poly's long lost younger brother. :)

17-Sep-13 11:40 AM

Eric    Said...

Thanks Nick for your detailed review of the Volca's. This has helped me greatly get a solid feel of picking up one of these!

17-Sep-13 11:56 AM

Ian    Said...

The Korg website merged with some weeks ago. As this is an international site content is specific to the country viewing from or selected.

17-Sep-13 01:13 PM

Ian    Said...

In response to Sean, resonance is not controllable via MIDI as this is wholly in the analog signal path. It is not an oversight but a design feature to maintain analog purity

17-Sep-13 01:17 PM

Dr.Filterstein    Said...

This is another cheap Toy for poor stupid customers.Buy it if your brain and pocket are very small.

17-Sep-13 01:58 PM

blox electric    Said...

Quote "Dr.Filterstein Said... This is another cheap Toy for poor stupid customers.Buy it if your brain and pocket are very small."

That's what we like to see around here ! Constructive comments by massive brained folk. You can always tell the bright ones by their overwhelmingly intelligent grammar. I feel sooo stupid now that i bought a volca.Thank the cyber heavens for those internet trolls !

17-Sep-13 03:18 PM

Dr funkenstein    Said...

@ dr.filterstein... Your momma

18-Sep-13 11:12 AM

Fr777    Said...

I suspect the filter was altered to ensure a need for both bass and key versions of the volca line. If not, you would have to be a complete idiot to buy the volca bass.i can't wait to open these boxes up and take a soldering iron to them,making them reach their full potential. Also @dr. crackedpluginsfilterstein,stop being such a gaytard

18-Sep-13 11:20 AM

factualAct    Said...

So, you'd have to be a complete idiot but you're going to buy them anyway ! Or are you going to open up someone elses ?

19-Sep-13 05:33 AM

Ted    Said...

eXode: Incorrect.

The filter stepping is a totally unwanted byproduct of digital control. It only exists on digitally controlled analogs and low-res VAs.

There is no "slew" on fast knob tweaks. Slew would only be useful on slow tweaks! It's merely stepping through those discrete values too fast to be heard.

No one is designing filters like this on purpose - 127 steps of MIDI resolution is the problem.

It's not hard to tune keytracked self-oscillation on a smooth analog pot.

Korg is making maxium profit on these things, and so a dated 127 steps of filter resolution is one of those cost-saving options that is keeping me away from it.

19-Sep-13 08:56 AM

Lu    Said...

I actually like the stepped filter, just for the variety, but is kind of cool in its own way, digital artefacts have their own unique texture, and as others have said, you have the lovely sweepy bass filter as well.

19-Sep-13 10:15 AM

downtoearth    Said...

Some people still like these no matter what ! There's a heck of a load of defense going on for a gadget that isn't here yet. Can't wait to see what the same people think of them in a year when they actually have time to spend with the things.

20-Sep-13 01:55 PM

RP    Said...

Are these things even in the stores yet. I've been checking from time to time and nobody seems to have received any stock. Seems like a very long time ago they were introduced at Messe. Anyone (non media) got one?

20-Sep-13 02:18 PM

blox electric    Said...

I predict the volcas will be arriving in U.K shops within 7 days. Watch out for them.I think they are in the country now so it's just a matter of time for main depo's to distribute them. If i'm wrong, cyber-shoot me !

20-Sep-13 05:45 PM

Lee    Said...

People called the 303 a piece of junk toy when it came out. People got past their limititations and the rest is history.picked up 2 from local pawnshops in the early 90s for about 150 a piece and just sold one of them for 1800 bucks so people should spend more time making music and less time on forums releasing their rage stemming from how sh** their lives have turned out. Stop being so damn angry already,enjoy your cracked plugins and leave this stuff for people that still find some joy in life

21-Sep-13 02:52 PM

Anon    Said...

They arrive on the 24th for 1 u.s. retailer and will only fulfill preorders, and more than likely there will still not be enough. Second wave hits stores in mid October. A good friend happens to work for this company and isn't supposed to tell customers anything but they should be arriving soon. Currently the volca beats has the highest amount of preorders,then its the bass,followed by the keys. Hopefully this offers some insight as to when you can actually expect to get your hands on these.

21-Sep-13 03:11 PM

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