NAMM: The Korg Karma

It's a chameleon      21/01/01

It seems like the Korg Karma is the synth in this show that people either love or hate. I personally thought it was the most interesting new synth released by the big three of Yamaha, Roland, and Korg. The color scheme is striking, with the body of the synth in a deep maroon, a black face plate, and an orange/yellowish display. Not as red looking as you might think from looking at the pictures. Last year at the NAMM show there was a line to play the MS2000, this there was a line to play the Karma, at least when I was wanting try it out. There was also a guy doing a very loud demo of it. The Karma has that same glossy Trinity/Triton type of sound that we all know. It has 32 Mbytes of onboard PCM multisamples, and two EXB-PCM expansion slots for expansion boards. Adding expansion boards couldn't be easier as the slots are under a little door on the front panel of the synth. You can also install the EXB-MOSS DSP synthesizer board in the Karma. The Karma has a 16 track sequencer and four audio outputs, plus eight realtime knobs, and is 62 voice polyphonic. The unique part of this synth is what Korg calls the "Karma module". Not having a tremendous amount of time to play with this synth I can't go into great detail on it, but it seems that the Karma module is an arpeggiator, or rather several arpeggiators that interact with how you play the synth. I noticed that playing with different velocity and/or pitch seemed to bring up different sequences of notes, or variations of the sequences of notes. Again, I didn't have time to really dig in and do some programming, but some of the cascades of notes that came out of the Karma were quite lovely to hear. Korg calls these sequences of notes Generated Effects (GE). Up to four GE's can be playing at one time. If I understand correctly, GE's are basically small sequencers that have 400 parameters each. The parameters include harmony, scale, ad-lib/humanize, rhythm randomization and complexity, phrase variation, tone, pan, effects, pitchbend, volume, velocity, duration, MIDI control changes, chord control, MIDI delay/repeat, and pitch change. Up to sixteen of those controls are available for realtime control. What I'm not sure about is if those GE's are user editable/creatable. The literature on the Karma says that "new GE's can be loaded as they are made available". The GE's are programmed in a variety of different musical styles. Seems like it would be more useful to the creative musician to be able write their own GE's, but again, I'm not quite clear on if that is possible based on the official literature. This is not an "edgy" kind of synth, but one very much in the tradition of the Trinity/Triton. Suitable for pop work, film scoring, and any number of styles of electronic music. It may very well be possible to get more edgy sounds from it, but at first listen it definitely has that silky Korg sound. Korg has set the Karma list price at $2,250. Albert

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