Discchord has an insightful video that pits the KORG volca bass – that beautiful, affordable wonder – against a 303 bass (in this case, a Cyclone clone).

It’s in my view a completely fair comparison, just because the Roland TB-303 has become such a template for basslines, particularly in acid music.

And understanding what the KORG isn’t is also a key to understand what it is. And yes, that silver cover can give people the wrong idea. (Where’s KORG doing pink or green army camouflage when you need them?)

My own takeaways:

  • The KORG filter is the main problem for 303 fans. The sound and controls don’t have the same level of control. (It’s why I wouldn’t necessarily consider the volca bass an acid bassline synth – you might be just as happy making basslines with its sibling volca keys, but you could pick it up for other reasons.)
  • That same volca bass filter, though, with its unruly and unique sound, is also what means you might want the volca. We’ve heard lots of the 303 filter sound; this is something special on its own.
  • Those 303 clones are also a good buy. Spending $3k on a used 303 which might fail on you is not a brilliant investment of money on an instrument that earned its popularity originally by being cheap.
  • The three-oscillator unison mode on the KORG is fantastic. And here, again – it’s not a 303 clone; it’s a volca.
  • KORG’s KAOSS effects are simply awesome.

The volca bass remains an incredible buy – once you understand how it’s different from other offerings.

Hat tip to Nick and SonicState.

Hands-on with the volca bass.

Hands-on with the volca bass.

  • chris

    you can accent by layering the oscillators.

    • aaron

      that’s a good tip. vco grouping mode 2, with vco 3 acting as an accent

  • Nagasaki Nightrider

    Peter, wondering if you could elaborate on why you think the Kaoss FX are so great. I had a mini-KP for a while and have used the bigger models here and there over the years. They mostly sound so thin and brittle that I’ve never enjoyed sending an analog (or any other) signal through them for recording. Things always sounds a bit weaker for having passed through a KP to my ear. They obviously nail it in terms of ease of use, expressivity, price, etc., but the plastic-y timbre and invariably noisy outputs always turn me off. To me this is illustrated perfectly by this video. I’m not stumping for pricey pedals as an alternative, but for digital FX, I’d rather just use the computer.

    • http://discchord.com/ discchord

      I kind of feel the same way. This past week has been the most I’ve ever used the miniKP2 and I just don’t like what it is doing to the sound. I had a KP3 and don’t remember it sounding this thin, but it wasn’t spectacular either.

      But, it is hard to justify buying another pedal that costs about the same as the Volca.

    • Robert McKenna

      The distortion on the KP in the video sounded awful compared to the boutique pedal. The multi effects sounded perfect to me. You’re not going to get nice warmth out of the KP but for rhythmic and expressive effects it’s great.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, right, it’s fine for, say, a delay. :)

    • Aaron

      yeah. the KP3 has some other nice stuff (lfo/phasers are useful and sound wicked), but I have the KP1 and KP3 and mostly use it for it’s reverbs and delays which are excellent and do not sound thin at all. the other fx..meh. maybe the quad can sound super sweet when you stack the distortions with other fx..dunno. but i stay away from the distortions for the most part

    • just passing

      Aye, but I bet people used to stick their $25 303s through $20 distortion pedals. I kind of get the impression that even the cheapest and crappiest of analogue TS clones will sound a world apart from the frankly icky sound of that miniKP. (Hell, an awful lot of *digital* pedals sound better than that.)

    • wolf

      yeah the pro co rat is what hardfloor use

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, maybe I just like it on principle … the interface, the multi-effects properties, the cheapness. And I like the old KAOSS Pads, especially.

      But I have to admit, the thing I kept thinking was … Raspberry Pi. Have to rig something up for myself. 😉

  • Charles

    Good, I’m glad it’s not a 303 clone. I’m sick to death of that mosquito and the legions of unimaginative musicians who fetishize it.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, this should be an uncontroversial comment.

      Like he says – go f*** yourself if you think everyone needs to spend $3k on a used 303. But… he makes a pretty good case in the video for what makes the filter controls appealing on the 303, and that’s something that other gear could learn from (not fetishize, learn from)

    • just passing

      I wonder whether the 303 would have been so fetishised had other manufacturers responded with more powerful synths featuring drum-machine-style sequencers and 6-knob interfaces of their own. (Come to think of it, did I just summarise Elektron’s Monomachine sales pitch?)

    • wolf

      yes but at that price there’s nothing stopping you buying a few guitar pedals to process it and get close to the same results, although I took mine back, after 2 weeks it just sounded boring.

  • pescolly

    I know looks are the least important aspect of any instrument but this is horrendous. It looks like something you would use for accompaniment in a funeral parlor.

    • reeno

      Very mindless statement.

    • pescolly

      Oh yeah? Well, I had sex with your wife.

    • VOLCA

      You had sex with nobody. You have no penis.
      The volca bass is a great instrument, at a fantastic price.

  • RobS

    First up I’ve got to say that I stayed away from the Volca Bass cos I’ve got a Xoxbox and, having a Monotron, realised that the filter isn’t going to anything like that of the 303, that is to say they’re both uniquely different in the sounds they produce.
    The 303 is certainly fetishised but for good reason, its creation was a happy accident that resulted in a machine with a unique and phenomenal sound. Roland could learn a thing or two from Korg and have a go at resurrecting it.
    As for the Volcas though, yes they might look a bit retro but I think that was the aim of the designers and I don’t think it looks cheesy at all. The sound of the Volca Keys is phenomenal for such a small synth. It will do anything from bass to fat pad sounds and can easily be coaxed into producing some pretty way out and weird sounds thanks to the gritty VCF, plus like all the Volcas its portable.

  • Downpressor

    Maybe its just me but the Volca Bass being silver didnt make me think it would sound like a 303. Also whats the point of comparing a $150 synth to a €630 synth of a completely different type?

  • joshuabogart

    Riddle me this Batman…Why on Earth doesn’t Roland remake it’s vintage line of synths? They’d make money hand over fist with the 909 and 303 re-release. Surely they haven’t destroyed the molds, right?

    • rockers

      These volca’s indeed are just a hype and a good way to get money from the kids. But Roland has it’s focus on the pro market. They’re afraid it won’t sell enough, after all it didn’t when they first launched it. Now 25 years later they hopefully come with something stronger. Korg created a hype and hopefully they will now move there focus more toward the creative user as they did with the electribe series, which where also ‘toys’ but a lot more versatile and useful. The idea behind volca is nice but it’s nothing more than a toy a toy that probably gets boring very soon.

    • REENO

      The volcas are not toys AT ALL. They are fully fledged musical instruments with full midi control, each for $150.
      Pretty silly to find anything to complain about!

  • ddiggler

    Well face it it sounds horrible the 303 is a legendary machine for lots of reasons but that absolutely won’t happen to de volca’s. I love the idea to bring out cheap synths but i don’t see anyone making serieus music with it because no serieus artist will invest in yet another gimmick synth. It’s fun it’s small but it’s just a toy, having looked around on you tube all you find is horrible sounding acid from sketchy looking guys in their parents basements and i suggest do everybody a favour and keep it in there.

    • REENO

      It actually sounds great…not a toy at all. I don’t use the sequencer. I trigger it from logic so that I can use it for proper basslines, not 1-bar loops.
      It really sounds fantastic in a mix. Don’t call it a toy.

  • mike
  • urkel

    I have sh*tloads of these gadgets, you can integrate them in your studio but after playing with it for a few weeks they get boring as hell ,thats because gadgets like these are very limited. I like limitation because you can get more creative but i only limit myself within a setup where i still can get the needed tec to make a proper song. Like i said you can integrate this box but you can’t make a tune with it that doesn’t sound like you randomly put note’s on a 8 step sequencer. all the video’s show exactly the same people turning knobs well guess what that’s funny as hell but only for the one turning the knobs i wouldn’t like to have them playing on a party. These are great gadgets and Korg makes it very clear if you want to produce buy a kingkorg or ms20 if your not interested in making music buy or amateur range..agreed! Good.

    • todd

      I made this with the volca bass/keys . Every sounds besides the drums came from the keys/bass. It’s not all 8 step madness.


    • reeno

      You can trigger it from a midi controller or ANY other sequencer! Nobody said you had to use the oboard 1-bar pattern sequencer.
      When you use it as a monophonic bass module, it can be VERY powerful!

  • todd

    All sounds come from Volca Keys / Bass . Drums from PC .Toy ?? I made this track last night with just the Volca bass / key . All sounds are from Volca besides the simple drums, they came from the PC. They might be kinda limited sound range wise compared to a 500-1000$ synth but they sound good for what they can do . It’s my first track so it has lots of noise , they are noisey synths, I think my 2nd will have less tho .