Friday, 6 March 2015

NAMM 2015: New Korg gear

A little late out of the running, but worth talking about nonetheless. Meanwhile in camp Korg, the other major Japanese synth maker still seems to be powering ahead with their own ideas and released a number of new hardware units at NAMM this year. Nothing quite on the lines of the Korg volca range but still some interesting things nonetheless.

Starting at the high end of the spectrum, NAMM was the chance to unveil their ARP Odessey re- release, one of the expected highlights of the show. Adding an overdrive function for distortion plus a selectable filter (three in all, reflecting the three different revisions of the unit where the resonance seems to get more intense) and slimming the machine down were all decent decisions, though the choice to use smaller keys has divided the viewing community. Some say they are mini keys, like those used on the MicroKorg, though I think these are distinctly larger despite not being full sized from what I can tell in the coverage I have seen. I will reserve full judgement until I play one in the flesh, but for me I think that less of a footprint in a studio is always welcome and the ability to play the unit via MIDI. USB and CV means there are plenty of ways of controlling it externally. Hell, Herbie Hancock said it was just as he remembers it from making Chameleon so that's good enough for me.

Speaking of smaller footprints, the second announcement of a desktop version of the MS-20M kit with expanded patch functionality is good for those who want to use the machine solely for interfacing with their existing gear and external sequencing - such as with the newly announced remake of the SQ1. Taking design cues from the Volca range, the SQ1 is either battery powered or USB friendly and offers a convenient way to sequence a large variety of analogue gear as either two sets of eight steps or one set of sixteen steps. Having played with it with an MS20 Mini, it's easy enough to pick up but amazingly heavy as well, far heavier and taller than I first realised, plus it also comes with MIDI out and sync options for the Korg LittleBits kit as well, which is great to see further support for. The SQ1 comes either as a standalone sequencer or bundled with the MS20 desktop kit, which helps to justify the higher street price than for the MS 20 Mini.

Sadly there's nothing for me from Korg at NAMM this year - the sequencer would be a nice idea, but I like the look of Arturia's Beatstep Pro instead, which for me blows the SQ1 out of the water.