Sonic LAB: Korg Monotron Mini Synth

Single voice ribbon synthesizer      11/06/10

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7:6 mins

Buying Choices

The Korg Monotron was probably the product of the show from this years Musik Messe - strange when you consider its almost a toy or novelty instrument. With a ribbon keyboard with no discernable pitch corection, a single wave VCO (sounds like saw to me) - tunable over about 5/6 octaves, a single LFO (ramp down methinks) and an MS20 modeled resonant low pass filter, its what one would consider to be basic. There's no envelope, just a straight gate from the keyboard.


This thing is small, probably the size of a small remote control, its battery powered (2xAA) only, mini-jack output (mono) - however there is also an AUX in jack (mini again) allowing processing of external audio through the filter and LFO.


Actually, this thing can scream with quite a passable MS20 character. Sure its only Low Pass - the MS20 has separate Low and High pass frequency and resonance (peak) controls, but the resonance captures quite well the harmonic instability of the original filter and screams like crazy when pushed.


The other ace in the hole is the LFO -  with a backlit rate knob that indicates the speed and a depth, the LFO can be switched to affect either the Pitch or the Filter. The rate is extremely wide from about 0.2Hz (around 1 cycle every 5/6 secs) to well up into the audio spectrum, allowing you to tune it to a fixed note for some psuedo dual-oscillator effects.


The ribbon keyboard is a little bit useless as hitting any meaningful pitches is almost impossible, heck, even the Stylophone has some sort of note quantization. But for sound FX triggering its fine.
Also limiting is the single VCO and LFO waves, but for the price, perhaps I'm expecting too much. 

Did I mention the filter already? Well for the price - lets face it this thing costs as much and many boutique plug-ins, you have a passable hardware MS20 filter with an LFO and VCO thrown in. I mean I know this thing looks like a toy, but you can get some very useable tones from processing external audio.


Interestingly, Korg have made access to the innards and patch points of the Monotron easy and there are already videos popping up on Youtube of people having hooked up additional circuit modifications to get access to the pitch and trigger functions - mini sequencers, additional VCOs etc etc - Once this reaches a wider audience I can see  tutorials for several must-have mods making their way out into the eager hands of would-be circuit benders everywhere.

Another great unit from Korg which crosses the line between must-have musical equipment, and casual purchase for the curious. I expect this will sell by the bucket load and make many people very happy - if only for a short while.


Available Worldwide soon (Summer 2010)
£69/$99 Full Retail
Expect to see it cheaper on the street.



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