Look what showed up in the studio. It's every bit as addictive as you imagine.

Look what showed up in the studio. It’s every bit as addictive as you imagine.

KORG’s volca line of affordable analog instruments isn’t yet available everywhere, but they’re slowly, slowly trickling into the world. KORG hasn’t yet sent any to CDM, and we’re generally hearing “September” from most retailers, but Japan has got a few. One of those was store-bought and brought back to Berlin, and I got to play with it with music collaborator and fellow journalist-at-large Benjamin Weiss of De:Bug.

It’s worth revisiting CDM’s detailed hands-on from some weeks ago, as we got to talk to the creator, and hear what he does with his own instrument (a real highlight of 2013 so far for me, I must say):
Hands On with Korg’s <$150 Volcas, Plus Sounds from Its Creator [Direct Audio Samples]

De:Bug has added some additional raw sounds. Remember that the unprocessed line feed from a synth can often sound really bare – with any synth. But it does give you a sense of the range of timbres you can coax from this device. (CDM will have hopefully our own sounds up soon, though if you skip toward the end, I contributed some of those last arpeggios.)

Preview: Korg Volca Keys: Korgs Volca Keys spielt sich warm [De:Bug, in German – but I bet you can work out what that headline means]

What I can say is, if I had to recommend buying just one volca, this is probably it. In fact, my personal order looks something like this:

1. volca keys
2. volca beats
3. volca bass

Why? Well, the beats is excellent, and if you have more need for a drum machine at the moment than a synth, you can reverse the order of the first two. But the keys is by far the most sonically deep and broad of the three. There’s nothing else that sounds quite like it. The 1974-vintage filter can be more than a bit unruly, so the bass wins out a bit on having a squelchy, acid-ready filter if that’s what you most crave. But despite the name, the keys is still very capable of deep, floor-rattling bass sounds, and as a lead synth winds up being much more versatile.

volca keys front panel - click for up-close detail. Photo courtesy KORG.

volca keys front panel – click for up-close detail. Photo courtesy KORG.

The keys adds a number of terrific features:

  • The knob at the top left is full of inspiration. You get thick unisons, plus fifths and octaves, and the Ring Mod in particular opens up a whole other realm of sounds. (In fact, I think I most often switch to one of the Ring settings.)
  • The new delay is really out there, and with sync on/off options means the keys makes a nice all-in-one pattern maker.
  • The larger touch area with piano-style layout is easier to play.

And on a more intangible level, while the beats makes some great sounds and its Stutter is great fun, and while I do like the three-pitch VCO and filter on the bass, the keys really sets itself apart as something that sounds unlike anything else.

That’s just my first impression. They’re all nice boxes, and I think there’s little doubt that this will be a big hit of the fall. Those retailers better be ready when the boxes do arrive. We’ll have more volca coverage soon.


Official video, hosted by the hardware’s creator:

  • Fab

    It’s me or this synth sounds a little bit muzzled ? regarding the soundcloud demo.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Hope to post some more sound samples … see also the previous article:


      It doesn’t have to sound muzzled. I think these were meant to be more scientific samples. Hoping KORG can get me one for an extended test.

    • pulsn

      The design reminds me just a little bit of the Buchla Music Easel…

  • Justin Reed

    wow, terrific range of sounds, this is no mono…

  • Immon Talebian

    Sounds greater than the sum of its features I’m guessing the sequencer is a big part of the sound.

  • man with feathers

    Really curious about the sound of the volca beats…. its that vs a second hand mfb (if I ever find one), and whilst the playability of the beats looks wonderful (and draws on the great playability of the electribes), from the demos I’m not sure I’m totally convinced by the actual sound of it (compared to the mfb 503, say)…

  • Aaron

    Keys is the last Volca I’d want, if I get it at all.

  • kerm

    Damn, I ordered the Bass and Beats but didn’t get the Keys. I’m reconsidering after hearing this demo. Didn’t want to be the guy who had all three Volcas, but there you are.

  • Miquel Dangla

    Just wondering how did Korg manage to cram *analogue* polyphony in such a small box? Alright, 3 voices is not mind-blowing, but still…

    • Tess

      Well, remember — they crammed analog into a Monotron, right? This box is a fair bit bigger and more expensive, and so it has more complexity to match. But it sure seems like that they figured out the scale of what they could do in the Monotron, and then they set out to make a set of groove boxes that were a clear step up from the Monotron in a bunch of different ways — keep them affordable enough to still be fun toys and attract casual users and kids without a lot of money, but make them useful enough to fit into someone’s real production workflow.

    • Eisenhower303

      Transistors are much smaller now than they were in the 1970’s, as are other basic components due to surface mount technology which allows both sides of a PCB to crammed with components.

      Have you seen the DSI tetra? It is also tiny.

  • Bryan Pope

    I concur with the Keys and I’m waiting on mine. It makes for a good analog sound module as well. All knobs, albeit one, have a midi Continuous Controller command. Meaning you could possibly create sounds or do things that aren’t possible with physically manipulating the knobs. It’s a whole facet to the Keys that has yet to be heard.