KORG's volca series is ultra-compact, so KOMA fashioned this breakout box to accommodate their extra functionality. If you wished the volca beats had separate audio outs for different parts, or CV input, wish granted. KOMA's first day of hacking reveals just what can be modded on these devices.

KORG’s volca series is ultra-compact, so KOMA fashioned this breakout box to accommodate their extra functionality. If you wished the volca beats had separate audio outs for different parts, or CV input, wish granted. KOMA’s first day of hacking reveals just what can be modded on these devices.

When KORG’s Tatsuya Takahashi is involved in a project, you can expect some hackability. KORG surprised the music tech community by releasing filter schematics for its monotron and designing the boards for the monotron and Monotribe in such a way that opened them to modifications – like adding much-needed MIDI capability absent on those first devices.

The KORG volca series already has MIDI input and most other features you want, so the majority of volca buyers won’t need or want to modify anything at all. That’s not bad for boxes that cost just US$150.

But there are some opportunities for modifications for those who want them. volca series creator Tatsuya already hinted to CDM that we’d find a MIDI opportunity silkscreened right onto the board (the volcas include input, but not output).

Today, we find out just what kinds of hacks the volcas should allow. Berlin boutique maker KOMA Elektronik managed to get a volca beats into their lab, and sat it on the same workbench where they design their own gear.

KOMA isn’t planning any official modification services. And they’re quick to warn you that this manner of tinkering will void your warranty. Of course, that just means you should know what you’re doing – and if you do know what you’re doing, you may not need a warranty; you can repair your own gear.

That caveat out of the way, their experiments have already yielded some revelations about what you can do. Full details and video:

Add audio outputs for the beats. Right on the board, there are points for the toms, snare, hi hat, pink/white/ring noise, and sums of different combinations of the sounds. That means you can make separate audio outputs for the different drum sounds, as you’d find on a higher-end drum machine.

In addition, KOMA added their own snare and bass drum outputs.

Add Control Voltage inputs for analog control. The volcas have MIDI input, but not control voltage input. You’d want the latter for use with analog gear like sequencers – or KOMA’s own, rather lovely Kommander. This one’s a more advanced mod, but with the right points on the board, you can input 3.44V input (or built a circuit that modifies your input to the correct input voltage).

You should find similar possibilities on the other volcas for CV.

Add MIDI Output. KOMA didn’t try this one, but they confirm to CDM that MIDI output is an option visible on the board (though “not that super clearly marked,” they say). It seems that would most likely include the ability to output sync signal over MIDI, since many of the volcas controls are analog (and thus wouldn’t be a logical choice for MIDI output). It might also allow chaining over MIDI. Expect us to look into this and report back.

See it in action. KOMA also shot some video, in which they demonstrate both the separate audio outputs (so they can add a delay to just the toms), and control voltage input (for gestural control):

We made a nice video with the KORG Volca beats with the Snare Output goes into a KOMA Elektronik BD-101 Analog Gate / Delay to give it a bit more edge, while the Depth, Time, and High Hat grain are controlled by a KOMA Elektronik KOMMANDER. Enjoy!

Try it yourself. You’ll want to carefully read the KOMA site for all of the details of how they did this, complete with images and plenty of warnings to help make sure you don’t do something … dumb. (What, people who know what they’re doing making mis– okay.)

KOMA Elektronik mods the new KORG Volca Beats

But even if you don’t attempt this yourself, it’s a nice insight into the decisions made in the volca’s design to keep it so compact, and the possibilities these devices may have over time.

KOMA also came up with a clever idea that other experts might want to copy: they recently held a Fix-It Day in which they fixed and modded gear. Sounds like it was a great social event as well as a practical one; I hope to make the next one:
Announcement on the blog
Photos on Facebook

Stay tuned as we see what else can be done with these gadgets – out of the box, or post-hacking.

By the way, if you’re wondering why KOMA is so keenly interested in modding a product not made by them – and sharing the results – that’s easy to answer. KOMA is working toward the imminent release of the RH-301 “rhythm workstation/utility tool.”

Ah, now you can see why they wanted to get that volca beats modded so fast. The KOMA RH-301 is a versatile-looking bridge between the analog and digital components of your studio - even for those who are just getting started collecting gear. Watch for our full hands-on.

Ah, now you can see why they wanted to get that volca beats modded so fast. The KOMA RH-301 is a versatile-looking bridge between the analog and digital components of your studio – even for those who are just getting started collecting gear. Watch for our full hands-on.

CDM can confirm that that product will be shipping worldwide on the 6th of September – and we’ll have a complete hands-on test. KOMA brags to us that it’s the “missing link between analog and digital, syncs up every studio.” Priced under 400 €, you get master clock with tap, an LFO, envelope generator, MIDI, and 14-point CV patch bay. It really is looking like a must-have for the resurgent analog/digital hybrid studio. And adding this and the volcas to your studio is well within reach of a lot of people. We’re excited to bring you more.

http://www.koma-elektronik.com/
http://korg.com/volcaseries

  • petek

    i wonder if you will be able to get cv /gate out from the keys / bass sequencer ?

  • Jim Warrier

    Had a chance to play with the RH301 at the fix-it day and it also has din sync. Great for using with old Roland gear

  • Ted P

    It’s kind of lame that you can’t punch in the tempo with a number pad, on that Koma unit…

  • brendan

    looks like their site is down – volca-mania? but looking forward to seeing the guts of one of these – great idea with the ribbon cable breakout box

  • slutfxcker

    omg that volca series is just horrible.

  • Bob t q j

    Was so excited about the beats, unforutnately the kick mod is just not feasible for any averagely equipped home electronics enthusiast. Those components are just too small. Tried a few times with a brand new tip and high quality solder but when I could get it onto the tiny point, it was too fragile to survive re-boxing the volca.

    Not being able to separate the kick made the entire box basically useless to me, so sold it off.
    Holding out hope for another option… what’s surprised me is the apparent lack of discussion.. besides the usual sites, I’ve hardly seen anyone with modded volcas.

  • cooptrol

    Hi, I want to share my own MIDI out mod, in my case for a Volca Beats.
    Instead of buying the expensive Amazing Machines kit, or doing the mod that is shown everywhere, with a female DIN connector in a hole drilled to the box, I figured out a completely inexpensive and non-destructive way of having MIDI out.

    I just connected the 3 MIDI terminals on the PCB to the 3 legs of the Sync Out minijack female connector, and then made a minijack-DIN midi cable. MIDI only uses 3 of the 5 DIN pins, so a stereo minijack connector is as good for MIDI data. This way you avoid drilling the volca case, and you don’t need a female DIN conector.

    Photos:

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/68730219@N03/

    Here a list of the MIDI data the Volca Beats outputs. The note numbers for the parts are weird, and the choice of the knobs that output CCs is even weirder. Maybe someone can shed a light on this. So far I managed to control my Nord Micromodular very well. The Volca outputs incoming MIDI clock too, so it works like a Clock MIDI Thru. This is very useful for daisy chaining.

    NOTES:

    Kick – C2
    Snare- D2
    Lo Tom – G2
    Hi Tom – D3
    Cl Hat – F#2
    Op Hat – A#2
    Clap – D#2
    Claves – D#5
    Agogo – G4
    Crash – C#3

    CCs:

    Part 1 Level: cc40
    Part 2 Level: cc41
    Part 3 Level: cc42
    Part 4 Level: cc43
    Part 5 Level: cc44
    Part 6 Level: cc45
    Part 7 Level: cc46
    Part 8 Level: cc47
    Part 9 Level: cc48
    Part 10 Level: cc49

    Part 7 PCM Speed: cc50
    Part 8 PCM Speed: cc51
    Part 9 PCM Speed: cc52
    Part 10 PCM Speed: cc53

    Stutter Time: cc54
    Stutter Depth: cc55
    Tom Decay: cc56
    Hat Closed Decay: cc57
    Hat Open Decay: cc58
    Hat Grain: cc59

    MIDI Clock Out: Yes (also routed from MIDI In)

    • Steve Lockett

      @cooptrol,

      The two questions I have (and this is only through lack of research on my part at this point in time) are:

      1. How are the two output signals electrically isolated/buffered from the respective signal sources? I can’t find any circuit diagrams which show this and I haven’t traced the circuit.

      2. How does the mod impact Sync Out, if at all, and could a stereo-splitter be used, one for the MIDI Out, the other for Sync Out?

      I’m imagining that Sync In on a daisy-chained device from this mod would ignore MIDI data and not false sync.

      Will also try to catch you in the MatrixSynth Lounge on Face book…

      Cheers,

      Steve

  • Grit

    I also created a midi out port on the Volca beats and I can confirm it sends out clock, some controllers and notes. Muted notes are not muted on MIDI alas…