Sonic LAB: Korg Wavedrum X - Hit It!

We give Korg's new electronic instrument a bashing      20/11/09

No flash plug

   Windows Media 
14:1 mins

Korg introduced the first Wavedrum back in 1994 - it was pretty advanced for the time and was the first instrument of any kind to use the newly-developed OASYS architecture.
It was also designed and constructed to withstand the rigours of live (ab)use, and it was an expensive instrument - not many were made, and it quietly fell into history.
The instrument has since aquired an almost mythical status - so few survive that tracking one down can be an epic task... in fact there's the story recounted at Wavedrum enthusiast Tim Pasch's website about how Korg managed to locate one for him in India, which he then travelled to Japan to collect... it has enthusiastic devotees!

So there's a fair bit of interest surrounding the release of the latest incarnation - the Wavedrum 'X'.

It's obviously based on the technology and form-factor of its illustrious predecessor, but at a significantly reduced and pretty accessible price-point (UK price is around £400)... so what compromises might have been made to achieve this?

Now I can have a look at it from a musician's and a technical viewpoint, but I'm no percussionist, so for some more informed comment I took the Wavedrum X to some folk who are - big thanks go out to:-

  • Ivan Moreno
  • Andy Fuller
  • Lisa Cherian
  • Myke Vince
Their viewpoint was invaluable in putting things in context.
It must be said, though, that a Percussion Synthesiser isn't just gonna be used by percussionists - synth geeks will feel right at home with the complex DSP capabilities, and musicians of all flavours will I'm sure have a lot of fun with the instrument... and full-blown instrument this certainly is.
Not all is roses in the garden of Wavedrumdom, though - there are some thorny issues too...
There's little point in me writing an essay about it here; that's why I did a video ;-]  but for those impatient types, here are some quick bullet points...
Juicy Bits
  • Fantastic fun to play, and very sensitive and responsive as an instrument
  • Immense range of sounds & voices
  • 100 Fixed + 100 User program locations available
  • Enough parameters to tweak to keep you busy for a year
  • The 'authentic' sounds are good enough to replace a van-load of instruments for a live gig
  • It can fit in a small bag, and is pretty lightweight and very portable
  • Feels robust enough to handle being hit... repeatedly... by guys with sticks
Pithed Off By
  • Editing the paramaters is only marginally more fun than root-canal work without novacaine
  • Manual is written by someone who needs to get out of the lab more often
  • ...But you are DEFINITELY going to need it
  • Very low output; can be swamped by the 'real' sounds of you thwacking the drum - you can only really hear what's being generated on playback. Unbalanced outputs?
  • Head sensor cover is needlessly large and intrusive... and has a mirror finish right in front of the controls [err.. shiny black buttons on a shiny black surface with small dark grey print] C'mon, guys, take this on a stage and you'll be blinded by the lights and won't be able to see s&*t!
  • 'Teeth' are a real pain - literally - bit of a gimmick, hard on the hands.
  • No Expression Pedal input
  • Programs slow to load and mute whilst loading (but load fine in Live Mode)
  • and the biggie... No MIDI... no USB... no interface for hardware or software editor... and no way to externally edit/store/backup/share patches.
So, big wet kisses to Korg for releasing another fantastic instrument (but someone needs their bottom smacked for leaving out such a fundamental requirement!)
Andy McCreeth

PostScript: after the review was published, Korg got in touch to say they'd sent us an early version (it was the only one in the country at the time!) and subsequent versions have an update which allows the Output Level to be set either at the original setting, or a new 'Twice as Loud' setting. 


Find the percussionists featured here at:-

Available December 09:
RRP £459  MSRP: $850.00
$599.00 at
$599.00 at



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11 Comments...  Post a comment    original story
DJ Sean Sax    Said...

Those missing factors are HUGE missing factors. I was sure I was going to have to upgrade my Handsonic but now I think I'll wait for Wavedrum XI. Shame really.

20-Nov-09 12:36 PM

Memoryman    Said...

Yes there are expectations that may not have been met here, but it is still a brilliant instrument. I think the only real problem is the no data port of any kind - either via MIDI or USB. If you lose/break it, all your hard editing work is lost, no backup at all.

20-Nov-09 03:40 PM

fx1mark    Said...

I am a synthesist and I play some percussion. I am intrigued by the programming capability's but without an external editor and not being able to trigger external sounds,I wouldn't be interested.

20-Nov-09 08:11 PM

Peter Kadar    Said...

How could they have left off midi? Those are HUGE missing factors indeed... I think the only people who might be into this are actual acoustic percussionists... I'll be sticking with my Handsonic.

21-Nov-09 04:05 PM

Nick B    Said...

To be fair, MIDI would be wholly inadequate to handle the expressivity of this instrument, but for patch management or editor hookup, or indeed, sync - it is surprising that it was not included

21-Nov-09 04:57 PM

JimmyJam    Said...

One thing he said was a bit misleading. You CAN save your sounds, there are 100 user locations. You can't export them for backup, but there's on board storage for your edit - fo sho'!

23-Nov-09 07:34 AM

Nick B    Said...

Yeah for sure, if that's the impression given - you CAN STORE ON BOARD, just cant get them in or out of the machine.

23-Nov-09 09:35 AM

Marc JX8P    Said...

Great review, also a very good idea to get the professional percussionists on board for this one! I agree with the previous posters that the lack of midi and the resulting absence of possibilities of remote editing and even using it as a controller even is a pity. Still, sound wise and flexibility-wise it is amazing!

24-Nov-09 12:33 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

How great to hear the insights of real professional musicians! They make me feel less stupid for having a hopeless time with manuals (the adage of the techless: "I'm only a musician!"). It's basically a synth - I don't understand why Korg don't include a software editor like all their other recent synths? On the other hand, I'm sure most professionals wouldn't bother to program or edit their own sounds, so if it keeps the price down, it's probably for the best?

30-Nov-09 07:01 AM

Shab    Said...

Out of all the synthesizers ever sold, what proportion of users create their own sounds Vs the users that use the factory sounds? My guess is that majority use factory sounds. I agree with the points that having a means of backing up is required but most likely was omitted down to cost and research of who actually ever edits the sounds. I suspect you guys are the few that really get into a product and why it's so important for you. Lastly, you can't compare Wavedrum to handsonic, select a snare drum on both product and play each with brushes- that's the difference just for starters

01-Dec-09 08:28 AM

Phil    Said...

I got my wavedrum last week. And there are my first impressions.

Programming is really like working with the first digital synthesizers. It is not very comfortable at all. Maybe some kind of Retro-Style, back to the 80s?

Unfortunately or luckily I have to do it, because I want to change the tune of a bass sound or put another sample on the rim to make a program fit better to our songs.

Nice, you can change the hit sensitivity for head and rim separately (hand or stick) and combine them as you want.

Programming is not fun, but the results are worth the pain.

Bad in my opinion: The max headphone output is too low. Quite high noise from the outputs. Maybe ok on stage, but very annoying in the studio.

No MIDI? That´s no problem for me. The MIDI bus is too limited for the range of expressions the WD-X offers. The Wavedrum is an instrument and no controller!

28-Jan-10 11:20 PM

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