Sonic LAB: Korg Monotron Mini Synth

Single voice ribbon synthesizer      11/06/10

No flash plug

   QuickTime (MP4)  | iOS MP4
7:6 mins

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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14 Comments...  Post a comment    original story

this Video seems more like a promotion than a review Nicky !!! the Microsamper-review is another example for Korg-promotion. Is there a kontrakt ???

11-Jun-10 07:40 AM

Nick B    Said...

Really? I cant say I agree. I mean for the price it is hard to fault this, now of course, its not for everyone.

MicroSampler I would say not - I did bring up some (in my opinion) short comings with that, as well as with other Korg products.

praise where praise is due I would say.

11-Jun-10 08:39 AM

bln    Said...

i love the track on the iPad hehe

11-Jun-10 10:56 AM

randy roads    Said...

I sure do hope this is a teaser for something a hell of a lot better to come. IMO boring to meh =)

11-Jun-10 11:10 AM

The Guvnor    Said...

Thanks for an excellent review Nick!

Sounds like a fab little unit. The filter sounds awesome... I didn't realise that the keyboard isn't divided into individual notes but is a ribbon with piano graphics printed onto it... interesting.

It's time to power up the Arduino and do some open-case surgery on the little beastie when it finally arrives in the US.

You gotta wonder if Korg will release an iPhone app? :0)

Also,is that the 7" of 'The Model' sitting on top of the keyboards in the background?

11-Jun-10 01:12 PM

Marc JX8P    Said...

Good review and a fun little product. Korg seems to have a knack for releasing this kind of cheap and fun products. It seems to have a great sound, but I can't help thinking that an envelope and perhaps an envelope trigger would have increased its usability a lot (although that would have of course added to the price). I loved the filtering of the music that you did. I assume that it's all mono though?

11-Jun-10 03:03 PM

Nick B    Said...

marc, yes the filtering is mono. I agree that envelope etc would be nice, but I think the bending aspect is going to be quite fascinating

11-Jun-10 06:05 PM

CI    Said...

Thanks for the thorough review. All SMD components. That would drop the price way down for an analogue synth these days.

Maybe it is a toy, or simply a market testing for korg to release other products.

But the filter is definitively sweet... time to move over you boring CEM chips...

11-Jun-10 07:44 PM

dr. whammo    Said...

when is korg gonna get serious about dance music again

im thinking some kind of Kaos Kommand Station (u like that?) with multiple pads and an electribe style layout or something.. im looking for another $1k+ cutting edge type product

11-Jun-10 08:21 PM

Earsmack Music    Said...

Nick, Thanks for the demo and for including my app (chipPad) in it - what a nice surprise. My little demo tune sounded really nice going through that filter. Thanks again - much appreciated!

Earsmack Music

11-Jun-10 08:53 PM

Exploding Tube    Said...

A must-have musical equipment? Yes but only for stupid people who need a Doktor.

13-Jun-10 04:20 AM

Ben    Said...

good sound for the price!! I guess this is a test from korg before showing their "full analog" radias replacement at the next NAMM ;-)

14-Jun-10 01:29 AM

Jeremy Abel    Said...

Man, it's worth it just for the sweet aphex twiny filter LFOness! Think I'll get me one when the next paycheck comes 'round!

24-Jun-10 05:23 PM

Benedict Johnson    Said...

I played one in Korea on Saturday. My first thought was "yay! Korg are going analogue again!"

I wonder how long it is before they release an analogue range of Electribes or such?

Korg do appear to be making the most interesting gear right now.

28-Jun-10 06:13 PM

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