Want to win over electronic sound geeks? Korg’s found a simple formula: give them a steady diet of compact, affordable, fun toys that can also be serious sound tools. And so, Korg actually manages to upstage some “bigger” tech announcements this week with some good, clean gear candy. Aside from the expected Monotribe, there’s the unexpected Wavedrum Mini.

You’ve probably already seen the Korg Monotribe, the follow-up to the stocking stuffer analog handheld, the Monotron. It’s been leaked and teased as the words “under strict embargo” have come to mean in the music tech blogosphere “publish as quickly as possible.”

If you just joined us, though, the Monotribe is best described as a Monotron with step sequencer, new control features, analog sync, and simple drum circuits.

Let me boil down some predictions about this instrument, due summer this year.

1. Price will be the deciding factor. Keep the street well under US$200, Korg, and it’ll be a blockbuster. Go above that, and we’ll have to start comparing it to a pretty broad variety of boutique instruments – oh, and lots of stuff on eBay, even from a company called Korg.

2. More evolved synth control, not drums, is the killer feature. Yes, there are “discrete analog” drum sounds, but since they’re fixed, that doesn’t mean much. (Leave that to the modders.) So, instead, see the synth side.

I love the Monotron’s sound, when combined with its deliciously-raucous LFO and classic MS-10 / MS-20 Korg analog filter. Revisiting Korg’s own filter circuit was a stroke of genius. Extend on that success with the Monotribe by adding step-sequencing and recording, and add different control modes (including the ability to hit actual notes on its tiny ribbon), and it all becomes more useful. I also like pushing the frequency range. There’s a double-edged sword here, too, though – by adding features, it’s apparent what’s missing. And as a synth, the Monotribe is pretty limited. It pales oddly versus the (affordable when introduced) Roland TB303; I’d hesitate to even make the comparison. (But see item #1, which overrides the rest.)

3. The design is a bit of a disappointment – but it could be more fun than a Monotron. The original Monotron was iconic and adorable, tiny enough to fit in your hand, dirt-cheap and simple enough to give to non-synth friends in place of wine. The new Monotribe is mostly utilitarian-looking, as if several units were cut and paste together, and with the extra bulk, you still don’t get niceties like, um, MIDI. But no matter: again, assuming they’ve got the price right, this appears to be a fun little busy box for synth addicts that can make most iOS apps look soulless by comparison.

4. Sync is more fun than you think. So, that sync jack will take an audio pulse. That means you could send this a click and sync to a DAW – or, I’d imagine, do some fun audio triggering with it. Hacks should therefore be really easy on the sync side. And it could wind up being sync that moves this into the must-buy category.

Demos:

It’ll be a fascinating test – can you take something ultra-minimal, make it a little less minimal, and have it still work?

And yes, it’s funny to hear the word “analog” turn into a “new” marketing buzzword.

Will people make whole albums with it? They will, indeed. Listen to Chris Randall tell CDM about putting the Monotron on EPs.

And a Mobile Drum

The Korg Wavedrum Mini is equally adorable. On the Wavedrum Mini, it’s easier to complain about absent MIDI output since it’d make a terrific little controller, but that’s about the only gripe so far. Again, the major unknown – and it could be the deciding factor – is price.

The Wavedrum Mini is otherwise an ultra-portable drum pad with speaker, and a “sensor clip” — I’m guessing just a trigger — that you can put on anything. There are built-in patterns and things, but let’s skip to the good parts.

It’s a win for:
1. Anyone who needs to play with batteries.
2. Anyone who needs something ultra-portable for practice (especially with the speaker and headphone jack).
3. Anyone wanting a fun toy to play with drum triggers, using that clip.

It’s just a shame the clip and pad can’t be used with MIDI or USB or Bluetooth or anything but audio. Makers, time for us to step in and offer a little DIY alternative, huh?

Due summer 2011.

Full disclosure: Create Digital Music produces and sells the competing MeeBlip. Okay, that was fun to say.

  • Krieger

    Seriously, the monotribe lacks midi because…….?

  • http://noisepages.com/members/polite/ Polite

    I am quite liking both of these releases. The clip on the wavedrum mini seems like fun for adding a kick or other percussion while playing guitar or keys.

    I'm looking forward to giving the monotribe a shot in stores if it makes it out here. It seems the right level of immediacy and fun to me.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/polite/ Polite

    Krieger – because midi would require a analog to digital converter. it's cheaper without it and you can just send it a sync pulse from almost anything. Actually it could be interesting setting up my DM5 to send the kick through the 2nd output and see how it handles syncing up to a manually triggered source.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Krieger: Because these are dirt cheap, and because they're also made to be as simple and tiny as possible. Cost of MIDI is pretty negligible, but then you have to work out how to fit big MIDI DIN connectors in the case. So it's indirect costs here, I'm guessing. It may also be philosophical – that is, I'm describing what would stop them if they wanted to put it on, but maybe they didn't.

    Anyway, if you want simple, cheap MIDI synths, those options are multiplying.

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

    @Peter: how bout simple, cheap, and analog? ;)

    The microkorg is simple-ish and midi, and I just got a Alesis HR-16 off ebay for $50, and that's got midi. But both of those don't look as fun as this does. I mean I can totally just see myself plopping this thing down, bashing out a pattern real quick and just going to town with some other synths.

  • hipsters must be in

    these will be scouped up by every "postal service" wanna-be band and beaten to death on pitchfork for the next 6 months 

    I like the Monotribe, but I'll stick with my my Dark Energy instead

    at least Korg is ok with building toys, unlike some other "has been" synth company…

  • Velocipede

    Are they really dirt cheap?

  • Fergus Waveforms

    It is completely silly, I love it.

    I can see it working great for live performances, unpredictable, but simple enough to tame.

  • Khoparzi

    I think I'll be picking up some of their clips as soon as they are available for some DIY happiness. Look like a brilliant package.

  • Genjutsushi

    Got to agree re the failure on midi, but for me the biggest loss is the extra 8steps on the sequencer. Having only a 1 bar 8 step sequence loses far too much flexibility. Also, the price is a bit steep at launch £170 in the uk, though I would imagine it will hit 125 by Christmas 2011. 

    Big excitement though could be that korg are scaling their monotron tech upwards. Roll on an analogue microkorg

  • Genjutsushi

    Actually it's probably more interesting that while most companies are looking to roll tech DOWN their product ranges from big workstations to consumer synths,  Korg are rolling it UPWARDS as well….

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    I like it. Not sure about how to integrate it in my workflow, I guess just recording sounds and editing them. It can be a nice toy, but still far from an electronic music instrument in it's conventional definition. And to me, analog or virtual analog doesn't make a difference really, and I'm sure there is a lot of people like me. I understand the hype around analog, and it's delicate nuances, but it is still a luxury, and far from a balanced cost-benefit-usability relation. An affordable analogue circuit, that's cool, bust still very limited and lacking the most basic fetures every synth has had for the last 20 years. And, we are still waiting the new Electribe…

  • http://kdmusic.org deb

    oh boy. that mini wave drum thing is going to work great in my existing setup as a (mostly analog, extended technique, ooga booga) percussionist. love that clip!

  • http://nickkent.net nick

    The strategy of improving/reformatting a product a bit to re-sell it a year or 2 later is a tried and true product development strategy Korg helped pioneer. Definitely the polar opposite to the Schmidt Polysynth. I would say a Monotribe Pro will be due next spring.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/danielo/ Daniel Ottini

    I agree that price will be a factor…given the limitations of the hardware and available software with greater functionality. I do love my Monotron…so far i've used it for low rumbling bass drones that my software synths don't seem to do as well. Not the first thing I reach for during a track, but it does have its place…and its hard to complain about its limitations because I only paid $60 for it :-)

  • http://fallsastar.com Crashproof

    Huh… even with my combined love for percussion and electronic toys, the WD Mini is surprisingly uninteresting.  I think I'm spoiled by the full WD-X.

  • http://www.inoutfest.org active

    price point and schematic is a big one for me on the monotribe. my monotron is about to go on the operating table to become a eurorack module! 

    plus, if they release the schematic, those who want to spend the extra cash to midi-fy it can. my room mate picked this up for his and it works great!

    http://beatnic.jp/monotron/midi-kit.html

    IMHO, it wasn't the super cheap/analog that made this thing a success, it was releasing the schematics and printing on the PCB board what points to hook up to mod it. it was a DIYers best friend! what a great way to get into hacking electronics too! 

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    In fact, the Monotribe LOOKS like a DIY kit. Very smart.

  • ideletemyself

    I'll defn. agree that if they price the Monotribe at or more happily below $200 then it would be pretty awesome… However when you added that last bit on how CDM produces & sells the Meeblip it took almost ALL the excitement out of the Monotribe in comparison because the Meeblip has more features that seem way more practicle to use all the time and has a great unique sound… Basically, until I see more of the Monotribe… Meeblip > Monotribe ;)

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

    Yeah, it looks really nice. Reminds me a lot of gakken kits, only more sturdy-looking.

    I hope that bass drum is really bassy, cause that's what I love my monotron for: it's got enough low-end to pretty much destroy my speakers if I want it to.

  • Qorn

    I think the Monotribe is a good idea, I love the sound of my Monotron, but the 8 step drum sequencer with fixed drum sounds seems like a waste of resources that could have been better applied to expanded functionality for the synth – a 16 step synth sequencer w/ a knob to recall a few stored patterns for example. I realize this thing is a very entry level analog synth in a simple plastic box, but I can't see paying $200+ for it knowing that I'd never use the silly drums. I don't use the drums in the DS-10 app I have for my Nintendo DS either. I guess it's silly to complain about what are essentially toys, but the use of Tribe in the name is a bit silly given how big a gap in usability there is between this and the Electribe series.

  • Silenti

    If the monotribe accepts an audio input signal in addition to its sync port this would be a cool way to get a wild external analog filter on your meeblip type box. Im sure the avr in its heart can send a digital output to trigger that sync. Maybe even adding a voice of korg oscillators triggered by a hacked meeblip.

    TL;DR: Step seq filter for my meeblip? sure!

  • http://www.twitter.com/dirtRAID Brand B

    I own an Roland TR-606, and a SH-09 (seq by an MC-09) and with that in mind.. I think the Monotribe presents much of the fun factor of that setup for many more people to enjoy. I saw that the sequencer can quantized or none on the fly.. that was pretty impressive. Programming on a TB-303/MC-202 is cool but so is the ability to record on the fly, I welcome that style of programming as an alternative.

  • BIlly Ray Valentine

    Mr. Kirn, I agree with you. Price is the number one factor facing the Monotribe, and KORG really needs to get it right. I've said it before and I'll say it again, I wouldn't pay more than $179 US for the Monotribe. I like the box, so I hope to own one, but I'll pass on it if KORG gets greedy with their pricing.

    I do think that KORG missed something with the Monotribe. One Commenter here hit it when they mentioned that "fixed drum sounds seems like a waste of resources that could have been better applied to expanded functionality for the synth". I agree with that, too. I think KORG should have come out with two boxes at the same time – one box with the analog synth & sequencer and pattern storage, and one box with the (tweakable) analog drum sounds & sequencer and pattern storage. In other words, repeat the (successful) process that they carried out when they debuted the Electribe ER-1 and EA-1 in the late 90's. I think that KORG knows that they're on to something with the "analog resurgence", but they're playing at it in a way that I think short changes the idea. As another commenter out there said, the Monotribe is so perfectly summed up as "almost". It is "almost" the box that many of us can envision.

  • Aaron

    Yesterday, Monotron, today, Monotribne. Yesterday, Kaossilator, today Kaossilator Pro. Yesterday, Kaoss Pad, today, Kaoss Pad Quad.

    Korg is unique in their trial & evolve sensibility. Next year I fully expect a full blown Mono-keyboard or full on Electribe with discreet analog.

    This is one of the reasons Korg is fun!

  • loopstationzebra

    Korg seems to have forgotten what MIDI is, lol.

    It will make most iOS apps soulless by comparison? Please. I don't even know what that means, other than thinly veiled Apple hate….

  • Stan9fos

    That Wavedrum Mini is ticking off most everything on my wishlist, save only the midi out. And yes, there is a strap so you can attach it securely to your leg or other body parts. Great for horseback drumming sessions and Mick Fleetwood impersonations.

  • Kaden

    @loopstationzeb

    It takes a big man to admit his reading comprehension is less than ideal. Good on you.

  • workingit

    280 euros, nice! thats $403.9, no one will by this. Buy a ipad with the korg app.

    Love the monotron i got it in JP for a higher price when it first came out.

    The monotribe:

    $100 Max, maybe a starter price $130 then drops to $100 after 3 months. For what it is, its not worth more then $100.

  • Aaron

    No way it'll be 100$'s, I think that's delusional on your side. Hell, it's more than delusional, its just batshit crazy. Even the Kaossilator costs more than that. More like 150-175, and I wouldn't be shocked if it was 200-250.

    The Korg rep that said 280 euro in the video posted to Sonic State that he was incorrect in his guess (after stating he had no idea and the infow wasn't released to him yet). Do not go by that #.

  • loopstationzebra

    @Kaden

    The only comprehension issue I struggle with is how anyone, in the year 2011, can release ANYTHING that doesn't have full MIDI implementation. ffs. Korg are the worst offenders by far, but they are certainly not alone.

  • Kaden

    @loopstationzeb Careful of that word 'anything', son. Most musical gear is non midi.

  • loopstationzebra

    As far as I'm concerned, my BLENDER should have MIDI i/o and sync, lol. Vroom!

  • Peter Kirn

    Been done.

    Blender with MIDI:
    http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/03/beat-blende
    (the appliance)

    Blender with MIDI:
    http://projects.blender.org/projects/blendedmidi/
    (the 3D app)

    So, uh, yes… I also find it odd that Korg is stripping MIDI from all their budget products. (KAOSS Quad, microPIANO, Monotribe) Might be coincidence, certainly easily defensible decisions taken individually.

  • Juno

    Stripping MIDI is certainly due to cost.

    But if you own a lot of old synthesisers which don't have MIDI you're already used to actually playing them in time! :)

  • http://reflexaudio.com James Grahame

    @Juno – it'll be hard to play that little ribbon controller live, but I agree with your sentiment. Instead of spending hours tweaking a sequence at the computer, it's far better to just play.

  • workingit

    yah i know "sphen" was wrong, but you don't think that was a nice reaction tester on korg's part (planed or not)? i love korg and all that they have been doing lately, but Japanese still pay $40 for CD's. something that was launched from a great synth that looked like a toy and had the price of a toy should keep the same biz model, oh and this looks like a toy!

    no midi = value of $100 maybe $150 top's, or your being ripped off.

    i hope they do a toy's like these every year.

  • Ruin

    doods need to cool it on the midi nonsense. how hard is it to send a sync signal from your DAW to this?

    i think the decision to not include midi was for price and philosophy. it seems korg KNOWS this is a toy and they are trying to make people have fun with something. Not including midi makes people think about the instrument they are going to play. 

    It's probably not going to sit comfortably in your midi rig, but i dont see the issue with a little discomfort. For laptop musicians this should be easy, send a sync pulse out and you're good. 

    my issue, like everyone else, is the price. if its 170 pounds, about 270usd, thats far too much for me. and like everyone else, if they can get it to 200 or lower, id be on it. the drums have me interested. it wouldn't be hard for modders to throw a couple breakout boxers on either side of the machine, adding controls for the drums and extra controls/routing for the synth. since this is analog you should be able to easily mod the envelopes for attack and decay controls, out put/input, etc.

    i'd like one for modding, but i dont know unless the price goes down.

  • bo

    I just saw German retailers starting to list the monotribe for €199 and an alleged MSRP of €239: http://www.musicstore.de/de_DE/EUR/-/art-SYN00038

  • http://et3pourlecaillou.blogspot.com lomjuju

    Try my tip for sync monotribe to Ableton Live (or any other app) … (french)
    http://et3pourlecaillou.blogspot.com/2011/07/sync