Korg’s Monotribe became the surprise hit of gear announcements at this month’s Messe trade show. It’s little, it’s cute, and it seems entirely focused on synthesis and pattern-making fun.

Plenty of videos have circulated, but odds are you haven’t seen the Japanese-language demo above (well, Japanese titles – the video itself speaks the international language of synth). It’s a nice jam on Monotribe and the recently-released Kaoss Pad Quad.

Korg’s James Saveja answers some questions for CDM, rapid-fire style.

CDM: Can you describe the drum voices?

James: Drum voices are all analog. A nice punchy snare, kick and hat part.

CDM: How does the sync work?

James: It’s audio sync. You can use a pulse to keep things synced.

CDM: What’s the workflow like for the step sequencer?

James: Very easy. Hit record and the sequencer runs, and captures what you’re doing at the moments where you’re traversing the 8 steps.

CDM: Pricing I gather won’t be announced until the summer?
James: We’re getting close. Sooner than summer for sure.

CDM: Any impressions you wish to share?

James: I only got my hands on it for a few minutes at the show, and I gotta tell you, it’s got a very special vibe. It’s built like a tank, and the user interface feels extremely substantial. Sturdy knobs and switches, etc. It was a pleasure to play with. I’m excited to get my first production one. Yes, even [product managers] have to wait sometimes! =)

More details: Korg has also posted additional specs on the components. To me, the main thing remains their distinctive-sounding MS-series filter. And I think it’s telling that Korg, of all the major manufacturers, has actually returned to their back catalog of analog designs; in some ways, it’s surprising that no one else has. I’m not entirely sure about an analog pulse being a “return to modular” – that seems to overstate the case a little bit – but it is very, very easy to use a pulse to sync.

From the source:

Classic Analog Components – VCO, LFO, VCA
The VCO offers a choice between sawtooth, triangle and square wave. White noise can mixed in to the oscillator signal in any amount. The Octave selector covers a broad range, from deep bass to piercing lead-lines. Three EG (Envelope Generator) presets provide the VCA with impressive versatility and dexterity. The LFO can be patched to the VCO and/or the VCF, creating impressive dynamic effects. The Range switch allows the LFO to deliver stirring cyclic changes over tens of seconds (SLOW) or superfast (FAST) audio-range FM ringing. Switching the LFO Mode to the 1-shot setting allows the LFO behave as a second envelope generator – a truly powerful addition!

Vintage MS-10/MS-20 Filter
The monotribe features the same VCF circuit found on Korg’s classic MS-10 and MS-20 analog semi-patchable synthesizers. Distinctively analog, this sharp and powerful filter adds dramatic change to the sound, imparting the uniquely memorable character of Korg’s early analog synthesizers. Using the audio input, any audio source can be enhanced by passing through the filter section. Process an instrument, a voice, or a complete mix form CD or MP3 and create larger than life filter effects!

Sync Jacks: A Return to Modular
The monotribe provides both Sync In and Sync Out jacks, empowering multiple monotribe units to play and work together for a synchronized performance. Not just other monotribes, either. Audio line level pulses can trigger the Sync Input so the monotribe can be synchronized to a DAW system, for example. In addition, the polarity of the pulse waveform can be changed for both the input and output, so you can enjoy synchronized performance with a variety of equipment equipped with Sync connections.

Monotribe Product Page

By the way, one dirty little secret: almost all gear from recent decades uses some analog circuitry and some digital circuitry, this of course being no exception. I’ll let you conclude from that what you wish. To me, it’s design and use that gives electronics soul, not how analog or digital something is. What the Korg devices remind us is that analog circuits remain an affordable, practical solution to many problems.

Anyway, rest assured we’ll be watching for one of these boxes to arrive in the New York metro area. (Hmmm… I’m in NYC. Korg is on Long Island. The Monotribe and a number of other pieces of gear run on battery power. Synths on the Beach party, anyone?)

  • Paul

    Well, I did want one! Then I watched the awful video..

  • Peter Kirn

    Easy… ever tried being musically inspired playing a synth at a trade show?

  • http://www.humanshield.co.uk tommy walker

    there should be a breadboard inside

  • http://nickkent.net nick

    Would have wished the ribbon was an alternate interface rather than the only interface, then again there would be no forthcoming Monotron Pro if they did that.

    Also to be entirely correct, it's the filter circuit of the MS-10 or half the filters of the MS-20.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    Japanese online stores are listing a price of 18,900 JPY. This equals 229.367 USD, So my bet is the U.S. price is going to be more than this, probably like $249-$269. Too bad about the weak dollar…

  • http://davidrothschild.bandcamp.com/ David Rothschild

    definitely intrigued by this as a solo performer and electronic artist this could be perfect to add to a rig as it is small and has a very simple sequencer which is really cool. I wonder how this will sound when tweaking external sources.

  • Radiophobic

    For those that are choked about the ribbon controller, it can be quantized so that the notes played are the same were it a keyboard. 

    Looking forward to when these end up here in canada. $250 is my threshold for this; hoping its not more. 

  • http://nickkent.net nick

    It's not a given that U.S. street is more than Japanese retail at the current exchange rate. Sometimes to have a success they dip the price point in various markets and tweak it up domestically.

  • Charlie Lesoine

    It would be super sweet if they could sell if for $199

  • renderful

    I'm all over this for $199. I use my Monotron as a filter source for the Meeblip, daily. If I could animate that, and get more bass synth action out of the Monotribe than I can with the Monotron, I'm sold(already).

  • Chad

    I'm thinking $300.

    - c

  • Spazmatron

    Any word on how hack friendly it's going to be?  pcb markings, schematics, etc?

  • Percival J

    it's no jp-80 thats for sure

  • http://www.jeremyabel.com Jeremy Abel

    Yeah, I hope it's as hack-friendly as the montron. Given the success that they had with releasing the monotron schematics, I assume that they'll do the same, eventually. I just hope that the sequencer is designed with, say, 74 logic, as opposed to a proprietary microcontroller thing. Or worse, a epoxy-coated ASIC-blob.

  • http://na self-oscillation

    yea man, this thing doesnt have shit on the jp80.

  • http://gieskes.nl gijs

    if they are smart they used a atmega328 for the sequencer.

  • cymatics

    Without wanting to douse any flames on this (as I have nothing but undying respect to Korg for doing the monotribe and tron, and WILL get one), I did go to Messe and James must have tried a different Monotribe to the one I did if he believes it has 'sturdy' knobs. While most of them were fine, on all the models I tried the octave pot had worrying amounts of wobble. They were prototypes I'm assuming, and/or may have been badly treated by attendees, so hopefully not a trait of production models.

    The switches felt good though and the case was tough. Just in the interests of balance!

    The product itself blew me away. Super super simple, everything that's great and immediate about hardware. Go Korg, long may it continue.

  • lala

    "Process … a complete mix form CD or MP3 and create larger than life filter effects!"

    > no, you can't do that, except your mixes are mono; or is it stereo in mono out?

  • Ruin

    ATMEGA in the sequencer? maybe, probably not. 74 series in the sequencer, maybe only for the absolute digital signals, like the clock and any counting. but theres also more complex stuff going on then a few 74's can handle, quantization, pitch storage…etc, it likely some little microcontroller that can't be easily hacked.. but im hoping it will be something hacked easily.

  • loopstationzebra

    HORRIFYING.

    Should have asked him: "what is it about the word MIDI that Korg does not understand."

  • Kindly Copperfeel

    So, my newb question is, since it can sync to any pulse waverform, could I sync it using SMPTE?

  • Bjorn Forsberg

    If this is over 250 it is simply not worth it. Honestly It shouldnt be over 150. If it is, stick with your monotron or just spend the extra cash to get a full on electribe. Believe me, I want to own it, but without midi and being around 250, I dont think so. Same goes for the mini wave drum (it's just as much a toy as the stylophone beatbox. C'mon Korg, enough of the toys, bring us some real hardware with real features.