Every so often, something comes along that’s just irresistibly lovable. So it was with the Korg monotron. With a price of US$60 (or far less), a pocketable size, the ability to run on batteries, a nice, glowing red LFO knob, a delicious filter, and toy-like playability, everyone loves the monotron. People who have racks of vintage synths love the monotron. People who have never seen a synth before love the monotron.
Then, along came the Korg Monotribe, which grafted ultra-simplified analog drum circuitry and a sequencer, and … somehow, you wanted to love the thing instead of just loving it. I talked to a number of people who struggled to find something to say about the Monotribe – it didn’t have that magical effect the monotron did. Readers didn’t like thd drum sounds. The unit was bigger and pricier, but still lacked real control voltage or MIDI without hacking. Some of these units found very happy homes, to be sure, some mods were impressive, and it was great to see the circuit designs, which are quite clever, released. (Look closely at that design, and I think you begin to appreciate what was beautiful about the Monotribe that a lot of people missed: the circuits for the drums, while some folks maligned them, are incredibly elegant and simple.) But the bottom line: the Monotribe simply wasn’t the sensation the monotron was.
Well, Korg has wisely returned to the cute, impossible-not-to-buy, pocket-sized monotron package with two new models. And suddenly, that feeling — that “yeah, I have to have that” feeling, rather than the “I think I might want it” — is back.
The monotron DUO looks like it’s just a monotron with a new paint job, but it’s not. In addition to bumping from one VCO to a far more interesting two, the X-MOD circuitry comes straight out of Korg’s ridiculously-brilliant Mono/Poly classic. (Edit: I should add that the X-MOD is not specifically what made the Mono/Poly great – but it is nice to see anything off the original. In this case, it’s essentially a pitched FM, as readers point out, and as you can see in the video.) And that turns to another lesson learned from the monotron: bring back great circuits (like the filter on the MS) into modern designs. Like tasting the Tootsie Roll candy you had as a kid, it remains every bit as sweet. It’s otherwise the same monotron VCO square wave synth (double doubling your enjoyment in the process), but the addition of X-Mod should be good fun, as was the LFO on the previous model. Update: it appears the DUO also has the key range switch present on the Monotribe – bonus!
Then there’s the monotron DELAY. The silkscreen looks like it escaped from a movie tie-in toy for The Last Starfighter. But what you get is both that brilliant analog filter (the MS-10/MS-20) and a new “Space Delay.” I’m guessing the delay is digital, as it offers “analog-style echoes,” but no matter. Korg may have just created something more useful than the original monotron, because now you have a simple delay unit and the filter and the Stylophone-style controls in one unit, with an audio input jack.
Yeah, the ongoing emphasis on the “analog muscle” in these is a little funny, but let’s be honest: you want these. 2011 just got its first obvious Christmas list entries. And some of us will be looking for a holiday we can make up just to get them sooner.
Hope to have a hands-on — and some sound samples of the delay, which we know only by
its silkscreen YouTube demos from Korg JP right now — soon.
See also DE:BUG coverage [Deutsch] – hi, guys, see you tonight at your Berlin Music Days party!