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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24 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
STATIX888    Said...

it's too light - sounds good but it might break easily if your a hardcore jammer. but you can always connect it to a midi keyboard.

06-Mar-09 08:08 PM

FujiKORG    Said...

The price should be $100 below the original MicroKorg not above. They should build another MaxiKORG instead!

07-Mar-09 01:13 AM

S R Dhain    Said...

Great review yet again, Nick.

As i suspected, this is just an R3 repackaged, which considering street and internet prices, will probably boil down to wether you need a load of stored formants on the R3 and also which case and presets you prefer from the factory batch. As good as the supplied editor softwae packages are, I dont know ONE person in the real workaday musician world who actually sits there and uses them .

07-Mar-09 05:53 AM

S    Said...

Okay Korg -- now it's time to create this as a VSTi. I'm tired of you trying to sell us YET ANOTHER plastic box. Seriously -- who cares about your little keyboards? We love your SOUNDS... GIVE Them to us now.


07-Mar-09 05:34 PM

Alex    Said...

S, I hate VSTi's unless they're Native Instruments. Anyway, I think that for the price, I'd go for the R3 instead. I hate the way korg puts the genres ON the keyboard. Types of sound maybe, but not genre. I also see a lack of those arp/patchselect buttons on the panel, which are a must in live performances.

07-Mar-09 06:19 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

Mr. Batt, you're video reviews are excellent!

As for the machine itself, the microkorgXL is fantastic, there's no doubt about it. Great presets. Although, the presets honestly don't sound as good as the R3. Perhaps it's because non of the preset on the microkorgXL make full use of both timbres, like some of the patches on the R3 do. An interesting if confusing decision that certainly does the microkorgXL no favours.

The gooseneck mic is very handsome and in the eyes of those unfamiliar with the confounding ways of pro-audio, elevates it from looking like a toy, to looking like a comparatively serious and professional unit. The XLR socket has a special notch built in, which prevents any other microphone being plugged in - which seems a bit cruel.

I don't know why the three multi-function knobs are positioned on the far right of the panel, like the R3. Maybe I'm alone in thinking that this is desperately un-ergonomic piece of design. I like to tweak the filters etc with my left hand, while my dominant right hand plays the keys and I'm certain I'm not the only one.

As an current R3 owner, the battery power and portability are the reason for owning this.

I will set about rewriting all the patches to accommodate both timbres and make the whole thing less clean-cut sounding with some of that wave-shaping.

09-Mar-09 08:51 AM

nick b    Said...

Benedict, I just checked the XLR connector and it seemed to take the standard mic cable no problem, not sure where this information comes from?

09-Mar-09 10:06 AM

Skippy    Said...

Nice review. I suggest you clean the lens of your video camera for the next review. The pass along the back showing the ports and connections looked like it was raining indoors :D

09-Mar-09 12:32 PM

Nick B    Said...

Skippy, yeah I need a new filter for that. Its been through a NAMM which means it got sprayed by enthusisastic demonstrators.

09-Mar-09 02:05 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

yes nick, you are quite right. my bad!

09-Mar-09 11:49 PM


I would like to see more demos that use Hustler's Convention... Sport... Nice....


10-Mar-09 04:19 PM

Nick B    Said...

Hustlers Convention? Not sure I'm with you?

10-Mar-09 04:47 PM

Mike Van Olden    Said...

There is a small sample that is being looped in the demo video. It is when you are showing the filter. The loop is from an album called Hustler's Convention. The song is called Sport. The band playing the song is really Kool & The Gang under an alias.

It's not really relevant, other than it was impressive that you used that sample as your demo song.

10-Mar-09 07:14 PM

Nick B    Said...

Ah, I see - I call it Knitting Factory

11-Mar-09 08:08 AM

Starchild Excalibur    Said...

Your demos are always outstanding!

12-Mar-09 01:02 AM

Ian B    Said...

The UK RRP is £436 inc VAT not £499

16-Mar-09 04:15 AM

Alex    Said...

Hi! Great Review review so far on the internet.

I want to buy the Microkorg xl, but I have 3 questions.

How is the sound on the Xl? (good, very good,excellent)

Can you use the Xl as a synth-bass on a real band??

Finally, can you connects it to your computer speakers?how?

Hope you give me some help. Once again, Great review. Thanks.

16-Mar-09 10:22 PM

keepin it real    Said...

while i appreciate all of this guys product reviews, i cant help but notice how dry and "tight" he is even on the podcasts. he just needs to lighten up a bit.

22-Mar-09 05:16 AM

Nick B    Said...

Alex, sorry for the delay - I would good, yes and just hook up the outputs of the XL to your speakers, you will need the right leads etc.

even better, use a mixer of some sort.

23-Mar-09 08:54 AM

Speedy    Said...

Has everyone forgotten that the original mK has a sound editor also?

24-Mar-09 05:29 PM

Peter Kadar    Said...

Great job once again Nick!

I wonder if the R3 has the extra PCM waveforms?

I finally tried the XL out in a store and was pleasantly surprised by how good the keys felt. Even though I have the Radias card in my M3-m, I think having this little guy would be a ton of fun!

12-Jun-09 04:25 AM

Howard S    Said...

I must say it's a great little machine for gigging - I'm seriously considering using just this (plus my guitar) on stage instead of a Fantom S.

22-Jun-09 12:58 AM

Howard S    Said...

Filter Balance doesn't balance the two filters, it morphs filter 1 type: 4-pole LP > 2-pole LP > BP > through

22-Jul-09 01:33 AM

djyucatec    Said...

something i must tell you that noone ever talk that you can download 3 xtra bnk of preset sounds and switch all or individually,what mean you don t have 128 sounds on the korg xl,but 4 time 128= 512 sounds!!! me i just change all the sounds i don t need or like and switch it with other from the list of preset,just save and new sounds are in your xl!!! xtra preset are the 128 sounds from the old microkorg and 128 sounds from MS2K and 128 from from korg web side.any question ask me or on myspace djyucatec

08-Feb-10 02:01 AM

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