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Sonic LAB: Korg Wavedrum X - Hit It!
We give Korg's new electronic instrument a bashing 20/11/09
No flash plug
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Korg introduced the first Wavedrum back in 1994 - it was pretty advanced for the time and was the first instrument of any kind to use the newly-developed OASYS architecture. It was also designed and constructed to withstand the rigours of live (ab)use, and it was an expensive instrument - not many were made, and it quietly fell into history. The instrument has since aquired an almost mythical status - so few survive that tracking one down can be an epic task... in fact there's the story recounted at Wavedrum enthusiast Tim Pasch's website Wavedrum.net about how Korg managed to locate one for him in India, which he then travelled to Japan to collect... it has enthusiastic devotees!
So there's a fair bit of interest surrounding the release of the latest incarnation - the Wavedrum 'X'.
It's obviously based on the technology and form-factor of its illustrious predecessor, but at a significantly reduced and pretty accessible price-point (UK price is around £400)... so what compromises might have been made to achieve this?
Now I can have a look at it from a musician's and a technical viewpoint, but I'm no percussionist, so for some more informed comment I took the Wavedrum X to some folk who are - big thanks go out to:-
Their viewpoint was invaluable in putting things in context.
It must be said, though, that a Percussion Synthesiser isn't just gonna be used by percussionists - synth geeks will feel right at home with the complex DSP capabilities, and musicians of all flavours will I'm sure have a lot of fun with the instrument... and full-blown instrument this certainly is.
Not all is roses in the garden of Wavedrumdom, though - there are some thorny issues too...
There's little point in me writing an essay about it here; that's why I did a video ;-] but for those impatient types, here are some quick bullet points...
Fantastic fun to play, and very sensitive and responsive as an instrument
Immense range of sounds & voices
100 Fixed + 100 User program locations available
Enough parameters to tweak to keep you busy for a year
The 'authentic' sounds are good enough to replace a van-load of instruments for a live gig
It can fit in a small bag, and is pretty lightweight and very portable
Feels robust enough to handle being hit... repeatedly... by guys with sticks
Pithed Off By
Editing the paramaters is only marginally more fun than root-canal work without novacaine
Manual is written by someone who needs to get out of the lab more often
...But you are DEFINITELY going to need it
Very low output; can be swamped by the 'real' sounds of you thwacking the drum - you can only really hear what's being generated on playback. Unbalanced outputs?
Head sensor cover is needlessly large and intrusive... and has a mirror finish right in front of the controls [err.. shiny black buttons on a shiny black surface with small dark grey print] C'mon, guys, take this on a stage and you'll be blinded by the lights and won't be able to see s&*t!
'Teeth' are a real pain - literally - bit of a gimmick, hard on the hands.
No Expression Pedal input
Programs slow to load and mute whilst loading (but load fine in Live Mode)
and the biggie... No MIDI... no USB... no interface for hardware or software editor... and no way to externally edit/store/backup/share patches.
So, big wet kisses to Korg for releasing another fantastic instrument (but someone needs their bottom smacked for leaving out such a fundamental requirement!)
PostScript: after the review was published, Korg got in touch to say they'd sent us an early version (it was the only one in the country at the time!) and subsequent versions have an update which allows the Output Level to be set either at the original setting, or a new 'Twice as Loud' setting.