Synth Site: KORG: N5: User reviews Add review
Average rating: 4.3 out of 5
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Blaise a hobbyist user from Hungary writes:
I am using synthesizers more then 10 years. My first professional synth was a Roland synth, and it had very nice acoustic sounds. But nothing strange sounds. I like them. Then I got my n5ex. I thought (and I heard before) Korg synths have wonderful sounds. But to play on the n5ex it was dissapointing. There was tons of useless sounds, not the best quality. The GM sound bank sounds terrible. The only things what I like, the programable control wheels and the aftertouch. And the possibility to edit the existing programs and combinations...maybe that's the point where everybody can make the n5ex be good for everyone...

Rating: 3 out of 5 posted Tuesday-Oct-17-2000 at 03:33
Simon Edwards a part-time user from the UK writes:
KORG N5 REVIEW

by Simon Edwards

What is it with synth manufacturers' colour preferences? They get an idea and then rigidly stick with it for years as if it were some sort of religious mantra. As proof of this, cast your mind back to the synth market of the late 80s and early 90s. Henry Ford-style, you could get your synth in any colour... so long as it was black. Then, up popped the Novation Bass Station (which dared to have a blue panel behind the knobs) and the cool blue Yamaha CS1x. These instruments, especially the CS1x, started two trends: the trend for "dance" or "groove" oriented synths, and the trend for having your synth finished in any of a thousand shades of bluey-purple. Enter the Korg N5.

SINGIN' THE BLUES?

At first glance, the N5 appears to be very, er, "influenced" by the CS1x. Similar features are present and correct: more sounds than the GM staple, tweakable MIDI-friendly knobs, and a purple case. However, under the bonnet the N5 is a lot more like Korg's earlier sound module, the NS5R. It shares many of the NS5R's features, including over a thousand sounds; good multitimbrality (32-part, with Korg's cable) and polyphony (64-note); a seperate "performance" mode intended for live use; and two outputs. Wait a minute: two outputs? Now, this might just be me, but isn't having a basic stereo output pair a huge waste of the synth's impressive polyphony and multitimbrality? Stinginess with outputs is rather a pet hate of mine, you see, especially on an instrument which is otherwise so flexible and easy to use.

LEMON SQUEEZY

Speaking of ease of use, the Korg largely excels in this area. Apart from a couple of niggles (which we'll cover later) editing sounds, multi setups, and other bits and bobs is simplicity itself. This is helped by the provision of those four knobs - which can be assigned to almost any controller - and the large backlit LCD screen. One thing that does need noting is that there can be confusion regarding saving your multitimbral setups. Confusingly, Korg lump Multi mode setups together with Performance setups, and the whole lot is saved from the second Performance mode screen. Not the most obvious method in the world; why couldn't this have been accessed from the Multi mode screen?

Grumbles aside, saving the Performance data along with your Multis is a sound principle in itself, as it allows you to save the assignments of your knobs (ooer) and other Performance mode parameters such as the arpeggiator settings. The arpeggiator is not accessible from Multi mode, though, which is a shame. Despite not being user-editable, it's a useful function to have. The various knobs feel a little cheap but operate smoothly; a useful pop-up readout on the screen tells you the value of a knob when you move it. The pitch-bend and modulation are fine, if a little far apart, but this is only really a niggle to those of us who play live in a band situation.

THE HEAVY HEAVY MONSTER SOUND

Moving on, we come to the sound engine itself. This uses a refined version of Korg's "AI2" synthesis, which is their take on the basic S+S system. In Korg-speak, a single patch is a "Program", and sounds made of a combination of layered patches are known as "Combis". Where the Korg stands out over some similar synths is that both Programs and Combis can be used in multitimbral mode; full marks for versatility there. Needless to say though, this is a polyphony eater!

The sounds themselves, as in so many synths, are subject to individual taste. The definite standouts are the very nice organs and electric pianos, and some lovely string sounds and Korg digital pads. The standard N5 piano sounds (as opposed to the upgraded stereo piano of the N5EX and N1) are fairly mediocre, though still usable in the mix. The various orchestral and "real-life" instruments range from excellent to average, though there are some nice flutes and basses. And unusually for a synth of this type, some of the drum sounds are fairly good as well.

Where the synth is really lacking is in the "analogue"-type sounds on board. There are various sync leads, sawtooth noises, PWM sounds and so on, but a great deal of them are very thin and light-sounding, which is a real shame. There is one patch in particular that I think is supposed to replicate the classic "hoover" sawtooth unison sound (as found on dozens of old skool hardcore and modern hard house tunes). Sadly, what actually emerges from the outputs is a very weak and cold sound - not helped by the usual Korg practice of not providing resonance on the N5's filters. Instead, there's a parameter called "Colour Intensity," which does very little in real use. A rather digital-sounding "Resonance Filter" is available, but it uses up one of the N5's on board effects. Which reminds me...

IS THERE AN ECHO IN HERE?

The N5's effects are of typical Korg quality. Which is to say, they're so nice that the preset designers couldn't resist smothering almost every patch in them. This is something to beware of on many similar synths: switch to multitimbral mode, and your huge killer sound may become a pipsqueak. However, the usual gripes about usage aside, the general quality of the effects is good. Very good, in fact. Especially worthy of note are the chorusing, flanger and lush multitap delays. Only the reverb lets the side down a little, being marginally cold sounding, but reverb was never Korg's strong point.

Never mind; the N5 also posesses some slightly more esoteric secrets, such as the aforementioned Resonance. Another effect of note is the impressive ultra-chorus Symphonic Ensemble effect, which takes up so much processor power it can't be used in conjunction with other chorus-based effects (or Resonance). The various distortion effects are also noteworthy, especially considering they have a rather nice wah effect (or as we know it, a resonant band-pass filter) built in, which can really pep up distorted synth lines.

The only real problem with the effects, aside from the usual issues with sharing effects in Multi mode, is the default serial effect setup. Now, to use the effects in typical multitimbral style (where you can individually adjust each part's effect send levels), you have to switch the effect mode to Parallel 3 .. but this is only mentioned in a small, obscure corner of the frankly awful manual. This had me scratching my head for a long time wondering why I couldn't alter the effect sends. Korg should have made this the default mode for multitimbral use. There's really no excuse for this sort of thing anymore, especially when the synth is so easy to use in other ways.

THE BORING BITS

As is increasingly common these days, the N5 sends and receives on just about every MIDI controller known to humankind. The sending of such data is largely taken care of by the four freely-assignable knobs, which let the N5 earn its keep an inexpensive, competent master keyboard. As for the other points of contact between synth and user, button size and keyboard action are always a matter of taste, but I found the keyboard action the best in the instrument's price range. The buttons, meanwhile, are just the right size (if a little cheap-feeling) and patches can be selected via a numeric keypad in usual Korg style. From the unit's Global and Utility modes, a range of useful tasks can be performed which range from sending out the instrument's memory banks over MIDI (useful for storing patches) to the predictably-awful factory demo tune. The pitchbend and mod wheel can also be calibrated, as can other controllers. If the synth's MIDI-to-serial connection is used, it also acts as a MIDI interface. Not bad for an "entry-level" machine!

AND NOW WE FACE, THE FINAL CURTAIN ...

I may have appeared scathing about some elements of the N5, but I want to stress that it's actually an excellent solution if you require a budget synth to perform multiple roles: competent controller keyboard (so long as you don't need weighted keys), workhorse synth engine, and general heart of a project studio. What was Korg's mistake, in this correspondent's humble opinion, was implying via design and marketing that the N5 was a CS1x, Roland Groovebox-style dance music solution. In that role, it's sadly lacking; the Korg sound has many fans, but its main strengths are not in the dance music area - at least in the stereotypical sense. However, if you look beyond the outside appearance and take the instrument for what it actually is - a general purpose synthesiser with a couple of nice extra controller features - the N5 turns out alright in the end. You never know, it may even open a few Groovebox-fixated minds...

- Simon

Rating: 4 out of 5 posted Friday-Sep-22-2000 at 16:47
Hiphopman a hobbyist user from The Netherlands writes:
I have had a lot of synths and modules, all with specific styles and genres. What about the Planet Phatt (E-mu) and the EG-101 (Roland). But the problem with these machines was the lack of regular sounds like strings and pianos. The N5 is an all-in-one solution. The bomb!!! For every musician!!!

Rating: 5 out of 5 posted Saturday-May-06-2000 at 20:13
Wang a hobbyist user from China writes:
I have just got a N5ex.At first,the thing really let me down.I found most programs and combis with the same names as on my late X5d sound much inferior .But I load the original patches to it,most x5d sounds are almost same, but I am sure there is a certain degeneration in strings.I'm afraid KORG aring using some comparatively short samples in the rom.And also the controls over some combis are much less fancy than on X5d.So I hate so many presets that can't be modified better.So, if you already got a X5d,I suggest you not to sell it and buy a nX5d instead. I'm a teacher in a college in North China ,this means a thing like Korg N5ex would cost me 4 months'total income.18M sample is a joke. X5 or 05w/r can still evolve many good sounds with its 6M rom,and sound better.With all my disappointments,N5ex is usable,for its excellent copatibility to GS and XG.I 'll buy a small cheap sequencer and take this combo to the local bars to perform(Is it a shame in your country for a college teacher to make money this way?)I give it 3.5 point.

Rating: 4 out of 5 posted Wednesday-Apr-19-2000 at 09:04
Fredrik a professional user from Sweden writes:
Most sounds ar good, or at least useful. Bad keyboard and plastic buttons. Rather good value for the money

Rating: 3 out of 5 posted Saturday-Dec-25-1999 at 16:29
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