Review: Korg Volca Keys

The last of the three mini analogues from Korg      17/09/13

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16:59 mins    

So finally we come to the last of the Korg Volcas

The three voice Volca Keys - 3 oscillators which can either be played in single voice mode or as a three voice poly and an analogue filter, we expect great things.

As with the other Volcas, the build quality is adequate with  most controls being of the Monotron variety, though as I  have previously said, a better overall build quality. Same 9v DC centre positive power input (PSU not supplied), same MIDI in and minijacks for Sync In - Out and audio output.

Oscillators

The Volca Keys has three of them, with a single Sawtooth waveform, they are not as flexible as the Bass - you can't tune them to intervals of your choice, but there is the option of switching voice modes:

  • Poly - three voice poly mode
  • Unison - three osc with detune amount - up to what sounds like a semi-tone
  • Octave - each oscillator on three consecutive octaves
  • Fifths - two on the root and one a fifth above - detune also applies
  • Unison Ring - creates a square like ring mod mono voice
  • Poly Ring - first note is ring modulated by the second and third

 

Filter

I am confused with this one, to me it doesn't  sound like the Volca Bass, but apparently, it's got the same filter from the 700S - maybe it's being driven differently, but it doesn't   sound the same to me. I should also mention that while the Beats and Bass are nice and quiet, the Volca Keys definitely has a higher noise level, you are aware of this especially when you drop the filter down. It should also be noted that the filter does step when swept - this is probably due to the fact that you can MIDI control the Cutoff frequency so we've got 128 steps.

Modulation

We have a three wave LFO (saw/tri/square) which has the same sort of range as the Bass, ie: getting into the audio range though not too far, you can also trigger sync the LFO so it restarts on note on.

The Envelope has ADSR and by default is hard-wired to Amplitude, with Pitch and Filter Intensity controllable for additional modulation, I would have liked to have seen a longer release for longer pad or drone notes.. One quirk I noticed was that  all voices share the same VCA - hit a quiet note (via MIDI) then add another harder velocity note and the first note will jump in amplitude to match the second played note.

Delay

The Keys has a simple low sample rate delay with simple time and feedback control - it's pretty crusty but adds a lot of flavour to the sound - it's like the Monotron Delay. Delay time can be tempo synced to the sequencer. You can also MIDI control Time and Feedback.

Sequencer

Same 16 step sequencer format as the Bass and Beats but with several key differences - firstly it has Flux mode - like the Monotribe - meaning you can record un-quantized both note  AND motion or parameters. In fact  pretty much all of the front panel controls except Voice and Octave and for some reason Resonance (which controls the keyboard range) can be recorded for some really complex control and animation of the sound. In fact, it is possible to record motion only  sequences to play through for tempo sync'd riffs - try it.

Another unique feature is that you can divide the tempo by 2 or 4 to get up to four bars of recording  - in Flux mode this gives you some  great possibilities. Active Step is also available for muting or shortening sequences.

MIDI

MIDI control is available for ALL  front panel knobs, except Octave and  Peak (resonance) for some reason.  This means you can play the Keys from an external MIDI controller with ease  and when combined with the sequencer allows some complex riffing and control to be set up.

Overall

The keys is again great fun while at the same time can be musically relevant,  any kind of poly at this price kind of deserves a double-take second look, as it's astonishing that it can be done.

The only downsides for me are the noise level which can become intrusive at low filter settings and the filter itself, which  just doesn't sound as musical as the Bass which is odd considering they are in fact the same filter. Still a great purchase  and when combined with the Bass and a MIDI keyboard can get you lost in analog goodness for hours. As I said in the video, it's hard to think of a reason not to own at least one Volca.

Volca Keys available very soon £120, $149, €139

 

 

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