Sonic LAB: Korg Volca Bass Review

Analogue synthesis for all      09/09/13

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12:31 mins    

Buying Choices

The second in the trio of affordable analog instruments from Korg.

The Volca Bass is a three oscillator  (yes three!) mono synth with the filter from the venerable Korg 700s  - Korg's first affordable mono synth.

Lets not beat about the bush, the Volca Bass undoubtedly pays homage to the 303, the silver facia and the  top sliced knobs with red LED's, certainly give it that look. But aside from the step sequencer, that's perhaps where the similarities end.


For a start, Volca Bass has three oscillators, each with a +/1 12 semi-tone range, but also de-tunable by +/- 90 c or so. Each also can be Sawtooth or Square by means of the function button and touch keyboard. The result is some seriously beefy tones or indeed three note fixed pitch chords. Don't let the plastic case fool you, these oscillators sound pretty good.


On to the filter, modelled on the Korg 700S - favourite of Daniel Miller (Mute records Boss) used by Goldfrapp for the main line in Train, it's a stalwart of the Synth Britannia era (do try and watch that documentary) It's got plenty of resonance and can warble and scream with the best of them. Like a slightly creamier MS20 low pass.


LFO gives you Square and Triangle waves which can get up into audio rates, though not all that high, with individual routing for Filter Cutoff, Amplitude and Pitch.

A simple A(S)DR  sustain is selectable envelope is hardwired to the filter, but can also be routed to the VCA for sounds with some release, though would like to have seen longer times available.

Finally a fixed length legato Portamento or Slide can be switch in and out, though only over MIDI - default is on.


Speaking of MIDI, you can play the Volca Bass from a keyboard, my preferred mode as the touch pads keyboard is not all that intuitive. Nice to see there is Velocity Sensitivity too!  There is also plenty of MIDI control available:


  • 5 Slide time (rather slide on/off)
  • 11 Expression
  • 40 Octave (for keyboard range)
  • 41 LFO Rate
  • 42 LFO intensity
  • 43 VCO Pitch 1
  • 44 VCO Pitch 2
  • 45 VCO Pitch 3
  • 46 EG Attack
  • 47 EG Decay/Release
  • 48 Cutoff EG intensity
  • 49 Gate time


Cutoff frequency and resonance are notably absent.


Things get a bit more interesting with the sequencer, as there are three Oscillator modes, single - one Osc, twin - two unison and one single and unison - all three together

In terms of sequencing, it means that in single mode, you can record three, up to 16 step single oscillator parts separately, one two Osc part and a single or one three osc part.

While this initially sounds exciting and it is a lot of fun, in practice all OSC share the same VCA and filter so you can't get complex individual parts, the velocity of an incoming note, if played over MIDI will affect the volume of all the Oscillators, even if they are playing different notes. In practice it's a heck of a lot of fun to throw down quick one bar riffs.

I would dearly have liked to see oscillators separately addressable over MIDI, but I'm told that there were no more processor ports available to do this (whatever that means).


No Motion

In the Volca Bass, there is no ability to record any motion or parameter tweaks, it all has to be real-time, which I don't mind to be honest, hooking up a MIDI controller and assigning the parameters gets you into a whole world of fun and pretty usable musical nonsense in no time. As with the other Volca sequencers, you get Active Step for muting or shortening sequences on the fly - so you can do 12 or 6 if you want (or 3,5,7,9 too). 8 memories for storing sequences, real-time and step modes for creation.


Just to recap, the Volca Bass has the same set of connections as it's brethren, 9V DC centre positive power - not included, MIDI input, sync in and out, plus a minijack audio output. The build quality is the same across the range - think improved Monotron and you're not far off.

As these units get into the hands of intrepid hackers, we are seeing mods being made - apparently it is possible to add MIDI out, and goodness knows what else to come.

So far, the Volca Bass is my favourite, it can do massive basses, interesting chordal or tuned leads and high pitched twinkles - a lot of synth for £120 quid. Hard to think of a reason not to own one.

Becoming available now

£120/ €139/$149

Next up Volca Keys...

Check out our Volca Beats Review


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