Sonic LAB: Korg Volca Beats

Budget Analogue Drum Machine      04/09/13
    MP4 10:47 mins    

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Once in a while, there's a product or range that comes along and gets everyone fired up. The new Korg Volcas are exactly that, ever since they were shown at MESSE 2013, people have been gagging for more information, demos, shipping dates.

We have all three here and our first look is at Volca Beats - an analogue drum machine with 6 analogue voices and four PCM, plus a 16 step pattern sequencer.

Build

Think Monotron, then think higher quality, it shares the same knobs, but the case is of a better build and the touch pads (16 of them) have LED status lights and are much easier to hit.

Connections

Power 9v center positive power required - not included. You do get 6 AA batteries to get you started.

MIDI input on din plug for receiving MIDI data - note and Controller.

Sync In and Out - comes with a short mini-jack to hook up to other Volcas/Monotribe or other sync enable gear - the pulse can be set to +/- polarity for other options - say a drum machine or somesuch.

Mini-jack stereo headphone output - with volume - seems quiet enough not as noisy as the Monotron.

Voices

Kick - a plump, 808 ish sound with adjustable click, pitch and decay, has a LOT of bottom end - it shook the room.

Snare - Snappy - noise burst element and pitched element controls, plus decay, would have like it to go a little lower in pitch.

Toms - think analogue bibble bobble with adjustable global  decay and pitch for Hi and Lo.

Hats - a syn ring mod metallic sound with decay for Open and Closed separate and a global pitch (Grain). A little quiet to my ears.

PCM Voices -  Clap (classic analog style), Clave, Agogo and Cymbal - can adjust the playback pitch (speed) over a wide range. Cymbal is rather low quality and the levels could be higher on some of them.

MIDI

Note triggers the sounds, there is no velocity response all sounds are just on or off. Controllers are fixed assignment:

40-49 each part level,

50-53 - PCM playback speed

54 - Stutter Time

55 - Stutter Depth

56- Tom Decay

57 - Clsd Hat Decay

58 - Opn Hat Decay

59 - Hat Grain

System clock and Song position mode also recognized when in Ext clock mode.

Stutter

Additionally there's a tempo synced Stutter effect, which sounds like a delay, but I think is a retrigger effect, this can be applied Globally or to a single voice - whichever is currently selected by the <> part buttons. Useful for adding a little bounce to parts or metallic buzz when set to higher speed.

Sequencer

16 steps, steps can be switched on and off - like the Monotron to enable creation of 6/8 or triplet feel beats or just random mutes to steps for interesting variations. Parts can be recorded live, via pads or MIDI input or in Step Mode like a tradition machine. There is no velocity or accent so everything is fixed in level.

Additional tracks can be recorded for Stutter Speed and level and PCM playback speed for each of the 4 voices. This is pretty cool for animated pitch and delay type phrases and can give you great results. This can be recorded either from the front panel or via external MIDI input. 8 patterns can be recalled on the fly for basic pattern chaining, though sounds are not stored with the patterns, the front panel is global.

Overall A limited sound set means inevitably, you are creatively limited, though the kick is enormous it's not a 909, it's an 808, sort of. Still at the price, it's pretty hard to criticize.

If you like the sounds, then you're in luck, changing the decay can turn it from a boomy sounding electro kit to a tight "bitty" one, but thats about it. For the money it's a snip.

As a rule, I'm not a fan of drum machines, but the Volca Beats is a lot of fun, even I am tempted.

Becoming Available now, though in short supply priced £119, $149, €139

 

 


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