Sonic LAB: Korg microKORG XL

Successor to the most popular synth of all time....      06/03/09

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8:31 mins
The original microKORG is a tough act to follow, bearing in mind that it was one of the biggest selling synthesizers of all time, the new XL has a lot to live up to. No pressure then.. XL Basics
So lets start with the basics - the new microKORG XL doubles the polyphony of the original to 8 voices, adds the Korg MMT synth engine found in the RADIAS and R3 synths adds plenty more effects algorithms to the two master effect processors, and increases the Vocoder bands Styled with a nod to the 70's era Wurlitzer and Rhodes pianos, the case is distinctive and I think quite attractive, with a mini keyboard and dinky 50% or so scaling like the original. The case is quite plasticky, and although should be robust enough under normal use, I think the knobs are not quite as confidence inspiring - particular under high stress uses, like live for instance. The inclusion of a quality black, gooseneck XLR mic and multi-country power supply top off the package nicely. XL-ent?
Operationally the XL sticks to the same two-knob, 64 program selection system we know and love with the bank switch unlocking the second 64 programs for a total of 128. Extra memories would have been welcome, but probably opened up a whole can of worms for the front panel design. The LCD is a big improvement over the original, with a 2 line backlit display that gives you much more information. The edit matrix is also something you'll recognize with quick access to the more useful parameters for tweaking - this actually is easier to scan and read than the original. But to be honest, you'll not be using this to work on creating sounds as the inclusion of the USB port on the rear has opened up a world of editing via the microKORG XL Editor (Mac/PC). This is where the synth really shines for the programmer in you as you get visual access to all the parameters making creation or modification of sounds a much more pleasing experience. For a small synth, it does still pack a lot of punch and the inclusion of more PCM/DWGS waves gives you some good stock piano and string type sounds too, although these aren't likely to fool a blind concert pianist, they will certainly do for live. Like it's predecessor, the XL can supply two discrete sounds (timbres), available in Layer, Split or Multitimbral modes so as part of a sequencer setup you could find this synth pretty handy for a couple of parts. The effects help add a glossy sheen to many of the sounds but they are not mandatory to flatter the basic sound sources, which hold up well. The vocoder too has more to offer than before, with extra bands available, the intelligability is improved, though its not quite up to EMS or Roland VP quality - try before you buy if that's what you're really after. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the XL, only the worry of the durability of the knobs were of concern, and something I also found that the outputs weren't especially hot, so you'll need a bit of gain somewhere along the line. I suspect that this XL will be another hit for Korg, although I'm not sure it will have the same impact as it's first incarnation, those microKORG users will no doubt hanker after the extra voices. Prices
List $750 /£499
Street $499/ £379

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