Korg returned just in time for NAMM this year, with what may one of their most promising issues of the last 15 years since the release of the MS2000 and MicroKorg. Hot on the heels of its success with the re-issue of the Korg MS20 as a buildable kit, and the already infamous Korg MS20 "Mini", the company unveils something many of its devout followers for some time have hoped and even suspected from Korg: An all analog Polyphonic Synthesizer, at an affordable price! Introducing the Korg Monilogue ladies and gentlemen. This incredibly versatile 4-voice synthesizer offers not just a fully-analog signal path, but also a really sturdy and classy build.
With a brushed aluminum faceplate (its got some nice curves), wood back-end, chassis-mounted metal-shaft potentiometers topped with rubber coated knobs, on a hard plastic case, the Minilogue is big enough for comfortable playing (slim keys, not mini), but light enough for portability. The front panel offers all of the parameters a pro would need to get right into sound designing, but it also offers some very interesting features we haven't seen on other synths before. But this is Korg folks, a company that time and time again continues to revolutionize the music industry by putting the power in the people's hands....literally! And so without further ado, let's get into the action, as there is a lot to talk about!
Starting off we have two VCOs (Voltage Controlled Oscillators), using Triangle, Square, or Sawtooth waves, both of which can be independently tuned and shaped (harmonics). This is a really nice feature! Usually we only find Oscillator 2 which can be detuned to help thicken sounds and give you the proverbial "synth" sound, but here we can do both to get even bigger sounds. But that is not all. By giving us not just the option of pitch control, but also toggle switches for octave range on both VCOs , not to mention a dedicated switch for the range of the whole keyboard itself, we get an incredibly wide sonic range to work with. Add Cross Modulation, Sync, Ring, as well as the ability to modulate VCO2's pitch via the envelope generator, and we get a nice well rounded VCO section to kick things off. Right next to it we find a nice mixer section, resembling that of Korg's earlier Polyphonic success, the MS2000, offering a knob for Noise along with one for each VCO.
The filter here is quite nice, as it not only allows you to switch between a 2-pole (12db per octave) or 4-pole (24db per octave), but also can be fully modulated at the Cutoff using the Envelope Generator. A nice tool in helping you truly sculpt the way in which the filter will affect the signal passing through. Modulation can also be done using the LFO to further wreak havoc, a nice way to do classic analog syncopations or spacey sound effects. While it also offers Keyboard Tracking and Velocity, we have to admit it has a slight drawback in that neither one can be fully adjusted. Both toggle switches can be either set to 0% (lower position), 50% (mid position),and, 100% (up position).
Envelope-wise, as mentioned the Minilogue has two, one which can modulate the 2nd VCO, Filter, or the speed or intensity of the LFO, and the Amp envelope which offers your standard ADSR. Below them, we find the LFO section, which is fairly straight-forward, and uses Square, Sawtooth, or Triangle waves to modulate sources that as mentioned include VCO Pitch, VCO Shape, or the Filter Cut Off. Next to the wave toggle switch, we find another switch for the Envelope Generator Mod, which also as mentioned, can be used to modulate the LFO's Speed or Intensity; for which both knobs can be found next to it. But now let's get into the really unique characteristics of the Miniloque, which set it apart from the rest; and some, from any synth ever released!
Let's start with the cool "Tape-Style" delay, which offers a very useful, and not well mentioned feature unless you see it for yourself: A Highpass Filter. Very cool of them to add this. Another really cool feature about this delay, is that it can either affect the signal pre-fader, or post, or can be bypassed completely. In between this switch, and the HPF, we find the Time and Speed knobs, but there is no mention anywhere including the manual whether the speed can be set to MIDI; which is fine for most of die-hards, who typically wouldn't blink an eye to even set an LFO's speed to MIDI...but kids, don't try that at home, as it may cause you to jump out of a window, or put a hole in your wall due to excessive "banging of your head" against it. This isn't for the faint of heart, but worth the time put into practicing it, as it will actually help you get much more out of your modulation attempts. Now let's talk of what may be the Minilogue's biggest strength, and that is its unique "Voice Mode" options.
The Minilogue features 8 options for how it will use its 4 voices, and utilizes a "Voice Depth" knob to apply specific parameters to each mode. Polyphonic mode, obviously will allow all 4 to play at once, but with the depth intensified, inverts your chords. Monophonic mode only allows one note at a time as always, but with the depth set partly to the right, allows voice 2 and 3 to be used as a sub oscillator one octave lower. If set once more to the right, it uses the 4th voice as a sub osc as well, but 2 octaves lower. Duo mode stacks the 4 voices into two separate sets, one set in Unison, and the other 2 voices in polyphony. Setting the knob intensity will increase how detuned to each other they become. Unison mode puts all the voices into one single voice as a Mono synth, also increasing the detuning as you increase the depth. Chord mode allows the 4 voices to play as a chord, using the knob to specify which type (eg. mMaj7, 5th, 7sus4, Maj7, etc). But it gets even more interesting than that: Delay mode for example makes the 2nd through 4th voices play in increasing delay to the first the more you set the depth knob. Arp mode is essentially an arpeggiator, but giving you quite a few more options than the standard, like manual modes which let you specify the notes to play, as well as a 2 more variations of random play for example. Finally, Side Chain mode attenuates the volume of the previously played voice when a new one is triggered. That is to say, it reduces the volume of the last note when you play a new one. The knob allows you to specify the volume range by which it is reduced.
But folks, if you thought that was it, we have one more great feature, specially for a polyphonic synth like this, which while not rare, still gives you a tremendous amount of power to take your compositions even further; and that is the Step Sequencer. Modeled in part after Korg's very succesful EMX/ESX series, this is essentially like taking one of those beauties and combining it with the power of an amazing polyphonic analog keyboard. The only drawback here, is that as opposed to the groove machines, which let you input or trigger up to 64 steps, the Minilogue only allows for 16 steps. However, with Motion Sequence recording, as well as the ability to record your steps by either playing the keyboard as the sequencer runs; even allowing for real time overdubbing, not to mention the standard input-per-step mode, this is still quite a treat, and a very useful tool. No doubt you will be able to record some very interesting and beautiful sequences, which when coupled with the unique voice modes, and the awesome delay section and High Pass filter, what you have is free-range creativity to do what you will.
Another cool feature never found on a synth before, is the cool OLED display, which not only lets you see the values and parameters you are working with, as well as a few "under the hood" options, but also the actual waveform itself, and what is being done to it as you apply things like filtering, or modulation. Very cool stuff, and a neat way to get a more objective view of what you are doing to your signal.
The Minilogue also offers 100 patches to fool around with, along with 200 spaces to save your own work; which we highly encourage. Patches are great for the novices, but the true art of synthesis lies in truly digging into the machine itself from VCOs on out. Don't miss out on the joy of knob fiddling!
Lastly, connectivitywise, the Minilogue offers MIDI I/O but no thru, which I would really love it if someone could explain to me why Thru is being phased out. Seems like a very essential tool in a multi-synth studio, where you would want to pass the signal Thru to the rest of your gear, while sending Out to your DAW to record notes in or trigger other gear in more creative ways. Perhaps in what may be considered a nascent hardware market coming out of the Plug in era, companies like Korg don't expect people to have too many machines, yet still, Korg, if you are reading this...don't forget about us who were doing hardware before the revolution began. Our other synths will love you for it! The Minilogue also offers a cool feature, in that it has Sync I/O, using the 3.5mm cables that you could use to connect volcas together, to allow you to add the Minilogue into your Volca set up. There is also a 1/4" input to send a signal through the synth, as well as your obvious 1/4" output (thank you Korg for not doing a 1/8", that would have been silly). There is also a headphone jack (1/4"), and USB port, and the whole unit is powered via an included 9v adapter.
A great synth for any enthusiast ready to feed their synthful addiction, or a wonderful way for beginners to learn the art of synthesis. For some time there had been much speculation as to what would come next from Korg, and while this seems to satisfy most people's expectations, I have a feeling the simple fact it is called the "Minilogue", leads me to believe there is something even bigger around the corner. Wth Arturia's release of the Matrixbrute, which many suspected would come from the "Minibrute", Korg will undoubtedly release something perhaps even more revolutionary and powerful. It always does. For a company once ran out of the pocket of it's devoted founder Tsutomu Katoh, to the revolutionary MS-20 back in '78 which catapulted the company to global success, and since then decade after decade of affordable and truly forward-thinking machines, we can only cross our fingers with hope and confidence that Korg won't let us down. If you would like to get the Minilogue, get your order in asap, as shipments have been burdened, but will continue to be fulfilled over the next few weeks. Some shops seem to have them in stock, so get it now!
Written by: Santino Fernandez