If you thought Korg was over its Volca series, and perhaps moving on to bigger and better things, think again! Korg returns after its popular release of the Minilogue Polyphonic Analog synthesizer, with the Volca FM. As the company states on their website: "The volca series has shed new light on classic technologies, by linking classic sound engines such as the groove machines and early samplers of the past, with the dance music of today. Now it's time for the series to gain an FM sound engine." Upon seeing this, the only thing I could think of is: "What next?" These are the kind of practical, and almost "innocent" things that Korg always gets me with. The serious company who seems to have this inner child running wild, constantly looking for ways to make the musical experience as fun and approachable as possible, without ever giving up on classic synthesis or quality sound. Always thinking of more and more ways of empowering the little guy with sometimes very little big things! Which is exactly what the Volcas are all about!
The Volca FM is essentially a reproduction, and quite faithfully at that, of the Yamaha DX7. The synthesizer that introduced the world to the sound of FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis, and one of the most acclaimed of all digital synthesizers of yesteryear. While every website is already supporting the claim that this is indeed a faithful reproduction of the DX7, I found it interesting that Korg's website would only go as far as saying that this is: "The sound engine of the classic digital synthesizer that made the world aware of FM synthesis." I guess only meaning that they are being cautious of copyright infringement and in a sorta "tongue in cheek" kinda way, have given people the chance to own this classic synth in a small and portable package. The Volca FM even supports original DX7 patch data via SYS-EX/SYS files, so that should tell you a lot.
It was rumored when the Volcas first came out, that Korg was bringing back the 303 and 808 in small units to get people enthusiastic about performing with hardware again, while introducing people to classic machines. The look, and in many ways sound engine of both machines without a doubt seemed to almost jab at Roland as if saying "Well, somebody had to do it!" Well, it was Yamaha's turn now I presume, which i must say in regards to classic synthesis is a company that has been rather a let down over the years, though of course they make great instruments in general. I do hope they take notice though, and get back into real synths!
But back to the Volca FM now, which is controlled by 6 operators, and 32 algorithms, diving straight into metallic tones of all sorts; whether it be stabs, basses, or downright nasty clanging effects, is no trouble at all; especially from all the reviews so far. The easy to use interface, helps even the amateur synthesist to navigate with ease. But for the pros, it gets even more interesting, since it provides Parameter Guide, and Algorithm lists to allow you to dig into the machine much deeper, a lot like the original DX7.
Perhaps the most interesting feature on the Volca FM is its Arpeggiator; a first so far for a Volca, and here giving you 9 different options (3 Rise, 3 Fall, 3 Random) that put together with Motion Sequence recording, allow you to do some really nice sweeps and sounds with lots of movement and life to them. The Step Sequencer has been improved a lot as well, which this time around allows you to chain patterns together to create up to...get this, 256 steps!!! This is done via the fact that you can store up to 16 patterns altogether, so you can really get creative here. Another cool function you'll find is the Warp Active Step feature, which lets you skip steps during playback, but can be done in such a way that it will warp in the time it takes to playback 16 steps if you have fewer than that, allowing you to create some really abstract, but in-sync sequences for that extra touch of editing madness. Chaining it to other units, you can completely distort the playback time, and get really wild during performances or in the studio.
Aside from all this, the Volca FM comes with an on-board Chorus effects module, and can perform in either Mono, Poly, or Unison mode. It also includes a built-in Metronome, which is kinda cool, especially in-studio. As far as connectivity, the Volca FM follows the standard protocol of other Volcas, featuring MIDI-In, and Sync In and Out, (which also lets you transfer patch data between two Volca FM units). The unit of course runs on batteries primarily, but can also be powered using Korg's KA-350 adapter.
This is a very nice addition to the Volca family, and even for me, the kind of guy who always promises "no more synths", I have to say I am quite intrigued by it and will probably be adding it to my arsenal at some point. I highly reccomend you do as well, especially if you already own some or perhaps all of the Volca units. You can order now from Sweetwater, or wherever you buy instruments. Get into the action!
Written by: Santino Fernandez