Sonic LAB: Korg MicroSampler Reviewed

A sampling keyboard for all      25/09/09

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13:26 mins

Korg's latest brace of product announcements has generated a whole bunch of excitement amongst music makers. The idea of introducing an actual hardware sampler after we've already learned -  that software really is the only way, to go seems bonkers right? Perhaps not, lugging along your computer and audio hardware every time you want to fire off a bunch of samples seems like a bit of an overkill in some situations doesnt it?

Here's the Korg microSAMPLER then, a mini sized - think microKORG or microKORG XL sized sampling keyboard with Kaoss Pad effects algorithms and a 16 pattern sequencer.

Okay then, lets have a look...

What you get:
37 mini keys  of fixed assignment - no octave shift or pitch or mod wheels
Each key has an LED above it for easy viewing of edit parameter or triggered sample.

14 voice polyphony

Connections: Headphones, stereo out, stereo line in, mic in with provided Gooseneck mic, MIDI IO and USB.

: 8 banks of 160 secs @24-bit 48kHz mono dividable amongst 36 samples per bank (or less) in mono, or stereo with dialable sample rates of 48kHz, 24kHz, 12kHz and 6kHz.

Thats around  of 22.4MB sample RAM for live use and 179.2MB for storage - it's all built in. No slots for SD cards or the like, but you do have the USB port for hooking up and feeding/saving sample and bank data to and from the computer using the inclded editor.

When you consider just how cheap sample RAM is these days, that seems a little on the low side. But interestingly, it didnt feel memory light when in use, but still, I'm sure with the price of RAM these days it could have had a bunch more in there without too much of a hike..

There's also a Kaoss Pad derived effects processor in there. Now don't get excited, while it's fine sounding and covers a lot of ground with its 21 algorithms, its not got the pad style effects control. Rather, you get a couple of assignable knobs for realtime control of the key parameters. Pretty much all the effects have some BPM or time based sync capability so they will all tie in nicely to your master tempo should you require.

Operation - Can I Have A go?
Parameter access and editing is taken care of with backlit Edit button (all buttons are backlit btw), then selecting the required parameter using one of the 37 keys - each key has a parameter above it - while still holding the edit key - making it a two handed operation. Additional parameters and value are handled by two knobs on the far right. It is possible to just dial up the parameter via the top of the two knobs, but this highlights a slight issue - sometimes, I found it hard to "aim" the knobs at the right parameter/value - I would have liked to have seen a +/-  pair of buttons somewhere.

A La Mode
With the washing machine style Sampling Type select knob, you can choose from five sampling types:


Auto looping from start to end of sample
plays to sample end (release set to 127)
plays only while key is pressed
select a range of keys, set a time division based on BPM and auto slice
samples while key is pressed, play additional keys to auto create next sample

This is quite handy for quick sampling, it's worth noting that all samples sampled in any of these modes can have their loops switched on or off or their release turned down to behave in GATE mode.

A note on loops: they are really only of the from start to end repeating type. You cant create loop points within a sample and you can't create crossfade loops either. If you want seamless loops for playing keyboard type sounds, then you'll be better off creating your samples in a DAW or audio editor and dropping the samples into the microSAMPLER using the Editor. Incedentally, the USB connection also turns the unit into a MIDI interface so you can play both the microSAMPLER and the MIDI out port as well use the keyboard to play your DAW and reciev input from the MIDI in.

Inputs to the sampler can be either the stereo line in (or mono), the included gooseneck mic, or resample. This takes the live output of the microSAMPLER wether it be a sequence playing, keyboard trigger including effects, and samples that - this is a really key feature and one that allows multi-layering or bouncing if you will.

Once the samples are in memory, they can be played either via triggering their assigned keys on the keyboard or, if you switch to Keyboard Mode, over the range of the keyboard.
What is nice about this feature is that you can set one or more into continous loop mode with the Loop Hold button, switch to Keyboard mode, then select a sample suitable for pitched triggering and play that over the top.

Stretch It

There are other rudimentary sample editing functions, such as pitch, truncate, reverse, normalize etc  but probably the most useful is the BPM sync feature, it has two modes: Timestretch and Pitchshift - Timestretch will do a maintain the pitch and change the tempo based on the tempo change made by the tap tempo  or master BPM setting. If you enable Timestretch, the voice count is reduced by 50% to 7 concurrent voices. This is pretty light and in some ways highlights the limited processing resources this keyboard has. The stretch algorythm is pretty good though, unless you take it to extremes.

Sequence It
The last of the main features is the on board pattern sequencer, with 16 patterns per bank and 99 bars per pattern, it's reasonably capable. You can either record into the device realtime and overdub - with basic quantize, or work up your sequences in your main sequencer and import them into memory via the editor software. You also get to assign which (if any) sample will play in keyboard mode per pattern. This is pretty handy, mainly because, when playing a pattern and attempting to select which sample you want to use to play over the keyboard, the display keeps reverting back to the sequencer display, making it hard to select the correct sample.

Bank It
Each of the eight banks stores sample data, effects settings and sequencer patterns, so the whole lot is  recalled in one go. Storing is quite a swift process, but if recalling a full bank of memory with a lot of samples can take several seconds (I counted 10). This seems a little high considering the small amount of RAM involved, but you'll just have to get the singer to tell a joke or two.

My major gripes are: No way to mute the sampling input - if you are using this as a performance sampler, how can you avoid feedback?  Your mixer feeds the sampler, but your sampler is in the mix, unless you send on an Aux or bus and mute the sampler output or the source. They really should have allowed you to mute the input when sampling to avoid this issue.

  The microSAMPLER is not going to be a sampling workhorse for you if you require large string libraries or hours of storage, but as a simple loop replay device or maybe sound effects trigger for a theatre production, it could really fit the bill. Where the microSAMPLER's strength lies is in the ability to quickly set up loops or phrases. With some careful planning and arrangement, I dont see why it couldn't run the show, negating the need for a laptop - assuming you dont need to run a LOT of audio and backing vocals etc.  

Available now $750/£449 RRP - much cheaper on the street.





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25 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
Marc JX8P    Said...

Excellent review! Seems like a very fun sampling tool.

25-Sep-09 10:13 AM

Al    Said...

Thanks for the review! I hope full featured hardware samplers come back. Like an updated S-760! :)

25-Sep-09 06:03 PM

H    Said...

I´ve got this machine for a couple of days. This is a very good and precise review !!! I miss portamento and other (simple) performance related tricks...whishing it would be like a mini ASR10 :-) -but is is fun and will do its job on stage.

Thank you !

26-Sep-09 05:27 AM

victor_bln    Said...

Great review Nick as always, it looks like a good sampler for the money. What do you think about the converters? Do they color the sound as my Korg Electribe ESX-1 does(not necessarily a bad thing) or are faithful to the original sound? One thing I don't like, and I need it badly on my ESX-1 is the fact that it does not have a full ADSR, does the MicroSampler has at least an attack stage on the envelope? I see only decay and release...



26-Sep-09 07:37 AM

DC    Said...

This seems like a bit of a "My first sampler" toy. For £449 you can get a decent entry level laptop. I'm not seeing this being used for any real work.

28-Sep-09 03:35 AM

Nick B    Said...

Victor, I wasnt aware of sound coloration. If its a problem, just drop the samples in via USB for the sonically important ones?

28-Sep-09 04:50 AM

G    Said...

most useless piece of junk. did not watch review though.

28-Sep-09 10:20 AM

Ben    Said...

Very nice review. I'm thinking of getting one now. A small question: is there a way to sample a loop and trigger it directly without any gap? If yes it may well replace my KP3 or my digitech jamman as a looper. As you said at the end of the video, it's mainly a live sampling tool, ...

Thank you for this review.

28-Sep-09 03:16 PM

Velocipede    Said...

Great review, Nick. Confirmed that it is not the droid I am looking for, but I can see how it could be very useful for some. I like the unit's style, but I worry that any accidental spill could be made worse by the recessed knobs and buttons.

28-Sep-09 03:44 PM

A Trail    Said...

Well, this seems like what I have been waiting for - a way of sampling multiple synth sounds over a key range! Alriite. Using an sp 404 for phrases and this for riffs - well I'm pretty sold. Pity they didn't put a smartcard storage or something but ...

28-Sep-09 06:23 PM

when an opinion isn't an opinion    Said...

Hey, I know the moon is made of cheese. I just know, okay?

28-Sep-09 07:43 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

Excellent review - Nick is a true expert. But I still don't like the Microsampler. It looks very easy to use - although in reality it's actually fiddly and frustrating.

I can understand why Korg didn't call it the Koasspad 4, give it an XY interface and make manipulation it's primary feature above capture, but I think they should've done.

My needs are very specific and I'm probably not the Microsampler's target market. I'd love a compact hardware device like this to use instead an expensively reliable laptop containing expensive software, plus expensive audio interface to use for non-linear backing in live instrument-based performances. This generation of the Microsampler wants me to think it's perfect for the job. Maybe it is. Maybe we've all become spoiled and don't know a good thing when we see it? Maybe Korg should take more notice of what people actually need?

I look forward to the Microsampler XL with baited but cynical breathe.

29-Sep-09 08:28 AM

Trisfx    Said...

As for the ADSR thing Victor, i'm really sad to report that it only have release and Decay on the enveloppe.... I really tought that it had a full ADSR... I missed the attack soooo much, was planning to do some rich soundcapes out of organic loops, but if my loops cannot have a fade-in, it destroys my plan....

05-Oct-09 05:42 PM

victor_bln    Said...

yeah, very funny indeed Trisfx

06-Oct-09 09:20 PM

Sampler    Said...

I'm not going to buy it.It's just a toy.

08-Oct-09 03:36 PM

rockmanrock    Said...

That BPM matching stuff is clever. Looks like they've sort of made it idiot-proof. Give me an old sampler anyday though.

09-Oct-09 10:09 AM

super kiwi    Said...

found this video on you tube, very interesting:

14-Oct-09 07:36 PM

Tarak Lobama    Said...

I tested it today in a shop and was very disappointed.This is the worst cheap toy on the planet.All knobs are so cheesy and weak and can break very easy.the output sounds a little weak an thin.I didn't buy it because my old Akai S2000 seems to be a very good workhorse for my studio.

27-Oct-09 03:03 PM

Oberkeim    Said...

Sorry Nick B but yous aid nothing about the quality of the Buttons. They are horrible cheap crap rubber ! The price doesn't justify such a trash.

17-Nov-09 07:22 AM

nick b    Said...

Horrible cheap rubber? I guess I didnt say that, but I didnt thnk they were unreasonably low quality

17-Nov-09 08:13 AM

VJ Franz K    Said...

Victor_Bin - what sound "color" do you think the ESX has? ( regarding input or output )

The ES-1 definitely did have it's own sound

Have tried MS-1 a couple times in the store... quite different than electribe (which are my favorite!) but I think it'll be really fun for live performance.

12-Dec-09 08:32 AM

Rolto    Said...

Thank you very much for this great review. I already own a microsampler, but i frequently watch this review - it is better than the manual.

20-Aug-10 03:51 AM

Laura    Said...

I am disappointed with it. Its interface is not user-friendly, recording is picky and editing samples is a frustrating mess. It has very limited sample size too. I am looking for a real phrase & riff sampler and this isn't it.

29-Sep-11 09:46 PM

danny g    Said...

I have had the MS for a year and it collects dust perfectly.Very difficult to integrate into live band app.and manual is worthless.Wrong choice for my app.

23-Sep-12 05:31 PM

johnny6    Said...

one word for it, "a booger picker"

20-Dec-13 04:31 AM

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