By now, you’ve heard about KORG’s $499 minilogue analog polysynth, and the next question is: how does it sound? I’ve been playing around with it, and I can at least say this: it isn’t boring.

I’m wary of sound samples. Most synths are capable of producing some sorts of good sounds, unless there’s literally something wrong with the way they’re engineered. And likewise, the experience of using an instrument goes beyond what an out-of-context sound can describe.

But with that in mind, I’ll share some somewhat random excursions here. My guess is that (cough) more respectable synthesists will post the bread and butter stuff, KORG will likely produce something that applies to some sort of genre (other than my favorite genre, “take-out ramen noodling”).

minilogue 9

Four analog voices on their own are not going to be so interesting; analog oscillators (they’re VCOs) ought to deliver something reasonably reliable. It’s really the design around that where you start to enter new territory. And there, the minilogue has chosen a few simple options that add a lot. Ring modulation and cross modulation let you color those oscillators significantly, aided by visual feedback from the OLED oscilloscope. The delay circuit isn’t the delay found on the monotron delay or volca KEYS, but the principle is similar: add a feedback circuit around the delay and go wild. (That means you can significantly alter the sound by adding resonance with shorter delay times.) The filter is comparatively tame, as it should be – you’ve already got four parts and eight oscillators and that crazy delay, so the filter is the opportunity for adding some order.

And then there’s the sequencer. I was very often using all four automation slots at once.

Here goes. First, some assorted selections of “okay, that sounds interesting” experiments:

And one extended freak out:

If anyone says this is “volca”-like, I think the likelihood is, it’s the ability to add grit to the oscillators with modulation, and feedback via the delay circuit. Neither of those is particular to the volca line, and the sonic character here is different. But what Tatsuya and team have done again is make access to those qualities immediate in the interface.

We’ll have the full review posted later today.

If you read Japanese, Tatsuya and Masahiko Sakamaki did an interview with the Huffington Post.

If you don’t, there are still lots of pictures of their work over the years, plus this charming DIY synth from some years ago (Tats says he built it, unrelated to the minilogue):

diysynth

  • Jenko Nashorn

    A question from a not so experienced synthesizer user. There’s one point I don’t get: Why would an oscilloscope be useful? When I program new sounds, I use my ears, not my eyes, because it’s the sound that matters.

    • carlguy

      I remember using an oscilloscope when I was still coming to grips with synthesizing. With cross modulations and ring mod, there are funny things that happen at the extremes of the waveforms that you can hear very clearly, but the visuals start to provide cues for why you get that sound at different depths. Also it’s kind of handy in that it calls your bluff – you may have an idea for a sound that is visual. Once you achieve it and realize that it doesn’t sound special and you’re playing to the scope you learn you lesson.

      I think a good example of how the wave geometry gets useful is this – on some soft synths that offer both ramp waves and saw waves – the harmonic content is equivalent, the two sound identical – but the difference can come out in ring modulation or filter fm. Unless I was just imagining this.

      • Jenko Nashorn

        So the oscilloscope teaches you not to trust an oscilloscope? 😉
        I agree that it can be helpful to see and learn what a sawtooth wave sounds like as opposed to a squarewave, for example. That’s what I did to show my son the difference (I used an oscilloscope software on my computer).
        But I still don’t get how it can help you for sound design.

        • mikefreq

          The brain likes multiple streams of information. As I am tweaking a sound and listening to the changes, it’s nice to have a visual reference. As I watch the waveform symbols change, I can listen for sweet spots. Later, I can imagine how the qualities of sound will change if I make the visual waveforms move in certain ways. Sometimes it’s nice to wander. Sometimes I prefer checkpoints. Could you perhaps commit to referencing an oscilloscope when engaged in sound design for a period of time? You could then compare your experiences. Maybe compare it to driving. I like to drive with my GPS on sometimes even when I know where I’m going. I often like the real-time updates of arrival time or distance to the next turn. Since I know timely information will be given to me I can focus on other things like the flow of traffic or just sightseeing. Hope that helps…

          • Darren E Cowley

            Great Analogy with the Sat Nav….

        • carlgal

          I would recommend trying something flexible like the trial version of u-he’s ACE – then simply ring modulating two oscillators, changing oscillator parameters. Watch the scope and see if it helps explain why certain settings sound like they do.

          If it doesn’t, cross modulate two oscillators and you’ll probably see something.

          With intermodulations, the effect becomes more pronounced at certain settings, etc. This happens directly because of the geometric differences in the two oscillators. In these cases, the visual readout is directly insightful.

          One the other hand, the scope is going to tell you very little about the character of a filter sweep. That’s a good time to use your ears.

          • Jenko Nashorn

            Thanks for all the replies and suggestions. I have the u-he Bazille on my computer, so I will start to pay more attention to the oscilloscope on that one when experimenting with sound.

    • It looks pretty, that’s it.

    • Will

      Think it’s mainly there because ‘oh neat’! For some, they’re useful. For the rest (of us), oh neat! I did get a kick out of playing with the wave shapes and watching it do its thing.

    • Roikat

      I bet part of Korg’s thinking was that folks like to make videos of their synthesizer experiments for YouTube, so anything that adds to the visual appeal of instruments drives sales more so than in the past.

    • Polite Society

      Especially if you aren’t experienced with synth sound design, having a scope will hugely improve your learning process. Because really most of the functions on a synth do actually act on oscillators in quite a visual way. For example, to an untrained ear, pulse width modulation and two detuned oscillators may sound the same, but visually you can easily tell the difference.

  • Freeks

    Did you add some fx or does the reverb’y sound come from the delay?

    Great sounds!
    Please make those downloadable so we can sample 😉

    • Nope, no effects (apart from light compression).

      And good idea … making them downloadable and double-checking CC license. 😉

  • itchy

    sounds cool but would like to get more demos on the low end

  • tt

    my volca keys is fun but extremely ‘noisy’, especially the delay (maybe i have a bum unit?). in the few demos i’ve heard of minilogue i hear a faint hiss of the same type of digital noise i get from the volca. i know analog is supposed to be dirty and whatnot but my elektron a4 doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of noise and the noise sounds digital to me like a poorly compressed 64kb mp3 so that tells me it’s coming from the digitally implemented parts of the signal. yes, it’s ‘cheap’ and yes i’m going to get it, but can anyone who’s had an opportunity to play with it in a recording environment comment on the noise situation, especially the delay section?

    • tt

      i should add that i’m not poopoo-ing all over this thing because i know compromises need to be made to produce it this cheaply, but my recordings of the volca keys are unusable if i turn on the delay because it’s such a crappy kind of noise. for the price i paid for the keys, i didn’t stress about it, but $500 is where i start stressing.

    • wetterberg

      Yeah the delay is crunchy. I really don’t think it’s intended as “that inevitable final stage”, rather it’s a fun addition that a lot of people might really like, and doesn’t detract from the rest of the synth. It can be turned off and then you “just” have a 500dollar four-voice analogue without on-board effects. Still worth it.

      It’s that princeton tech delay chip. It sounds high-end for fast slap-back type things, and grungey and cruddy for long delays. That’s the nature of it. I have two modules in my modular just for that pt chip. So good.

      • tt

        that’s what i figured… again, not to detract from the value here, but there’s a reason why great, modern analog poly synths typically cost 2-3x as much. what id love to see is one of the big guys release an outboard usb poly OSC module… JUST the oscillators with midi + audio io over usb with a companion vst/au plugin to implement the amp/filter envelopes, lfos, internal mixing/routing (of real analog source) and multi-effects digitally with a nice ui… ala elektron overbridge (seriously overbridge is amazing). it could be dirt cheap too!

      • Will

        I really don’t think it’s intended as “that inevitable final stage”, rather it’s a fun addition that a lot of people might really like

        Nailed it. I forget this on the volcakeys sometimes; then I turn it off and ‘hey, synth!’

    • wingo shackleford

      I was playing one extensively over the weekend, and I can say the sound in general is very pure and clean sounding, unlike the smaller Korg boxes. No extraneous noise. The delay can get really super crunchy at extreme settings, which is actually pretty cool IMO, but it’s also very useful and less gritty at subtler settings as well, especially with the HPF. It doesn’t actually remind me much of the sound of the Volca Keys at all. Oscillators, filter, envelopes all sound different, i.e. much better. It really does not sound cheap.

      • tt

        that’s encouraging! i guess i won’t know for sure until i get in front of one.

        but some users are reporting clicking on short attacks and releases. are you getting the same? https://youtu.be/gfny2cT_hVg

  • TeamOth

    Kylie Minilogue is getting a Korg Minogue – well that’s what I heard.

  • Hermann

    Hey, when can we read the announced “full review”? 😉 Thanks in advance!

    • Garret

      +1

  • leolodreamland

    can you do “hardcore noodle”?

  • Niko

    No LFO send to amplitude?!?! Why is everyone so gaga over this rather simple unit? Only one LFO and only 4 voices, no Korg reverb, and very basic waveform selection (the waveshape function is cool I will admit). I know we all like new toys, especially ones that look cool but this is just a very basic analogue synth – considering other hardware synths in this price range (and lower).