16/01/2011 Bookmark and Share

NAMM 2011: Korg Kronos (Video)

Music Workstation

Korg Kronos

Over at the Korg booth, visitors to this year’s Winter NAMM show could catch the first glimpse of the company’s brand-new keyboard workstation, the Kronos. Available in three different sizes (61-note, 73-note and 88-note, the last two featuring fully weighted hammer-action keys), Kronos boasts no fewer than nine different synth engines, as well as a host of tactile elements, including a touch screen, for controlling their parameters in real time.

No workstation would be complete without some piano sounds, and the Kronos is no exception — a choice of ‘German Model D’ and ‘Japanese C Model’ (presumably based on Steinway and Yamaha grands, respectively) pianos is available using the SGX-1 engine, and these have each been sampled at eight velocity levels per key. Their realism is further augmented by the fact that none of the samples are looped, and both models recreate the sound of key and pedal noise, and sympathetic string resonance.

Electric piano sounds can be accessed via the EP-1 engine, though unlike the acoustic piano engine these sounds are generated on the fly using what Korg call Multi-Dimensional Synthesis (MDS) technology. Six models are available here, and due to their synthesized nature each can be extensively tweaked. The EPS-1 engine also includes emulations of amps, cabinets and vintage effects.

Naturally, a tonewheel organ model is also present, and this comes courtesy of the CX-3 engine. Another modelled affair, this recreates the sound of the classic Hammond organ, complete with valve amplifier, vibrato/chorus and the obligatory Leslie cabinet. The imperfections of the original, including leakage, tonewheel noise and pitch instability, have also been “obsessively analysed and recreated”.

STR-1 is a string-synthesis engine, which not only generates guitar, harp, harpsichord, clavinet and other real stringed-instrument sounds, but can also create entirely new sounds not based on any acoustic instrument at all. It also allows you to use the synthesis engine to process external audio sources, via the Kronos’ input jacks (we’ll cover the audio I/O in detail below).

The remaining five sound-generation engines are based either on traditional synthesis techniques or classic hardware synthesizers. The MS20 EX and Polysix EX emulations from Korg’s Legacy collection have been incorporated here, with MS20 patching achieved via the touchscreen, and the Polysix EX featuring the original’s classic arpeggiator.

Inside the Mod-7 engine lurks an instrument that combines variable phase modulation (VPM), wave-shaping, sample-based and subtractive synthesis, and is apparently capable of generating “everything from classic FM keyboard tones, bells and basses, rhythmic soundscapes and sparkling, epic pads”.

The AL-1 and HD-1 are analogue-modelling and ‘high-definition’ synth engines, respectively. The first is identical to the engine found in Korg’s legendary OASYS, and has some unusual features such as waveform and resonance morphing, in addition to the expected analogue-style synthesis options. The HD-1, meanwhile, makes use of both generated waveforms and an extensive multi-gigabyte library of samples, which includes drum kits, orchestral instruments, rock and hip-hop sounds — basically anything you’d want a workstation to do that isn’t covered by the other engines. It also employs the same Wave Sequencing technology as can be found in Korg’s Wavestation, and is said to offer extremely low aliasing (the same is claimed of the AL-1 engine).

That covers the sounds themselves, but what of its performance and songwriting tools? Well, these are equally impressive. A 16-track MIDI sequencer and audio recorder resides within, allowing you to build up tracks from performances made using any of the synth engines, as well as recorded audio. To these recorded parts, effects can be added, and there are 12 inserts, two sends and two master-bus effects available. Additionally, a three-band EQ can be invoked on every timbre, MIDI or audio track. The sequencer also boasts extensive editing and mixer-automation features.

A Drum Track feature lets you create rhythm parts for your music, or choose from existing grooves taken from performances by professional drummers.

Korg’s KARMA (Kay Algorithmic Real-time Music Architecture) phrase-generation technology makes an appearance in the Kronos, though for this incarnation it has apparently been greatly enhanced, with the addition of wave-sequencing and note-mapping features.

The Kronos also offers extensive sampling capabilities. You can sample in any of the workstation’s three modes (Program, Combination and Sequencer), and samples can be recorded either from external sources or directly from the Kronos’ own sounds. AIF- and WAV-format audio files can be imported via a USB drive, and the sampler is also compatible with Soundfont 2.0 and Akai S1000/S3000 programs.

Real-time performance control comes courtesy of 10 sliders, eight rotary encoders, two joysticks and a ribbon controller, plus the aforementioned touchscreen. The sliders can be used to control synth parameters, organ drawbars or, when in Sequencer mode, mixer channel levels. The large, lit joystick on the far left of the workstation normally governs pitch-bend and modulation data, while the smaller joystick, ribbon controller and far-right fader can be assigned to pretty much any parameter.

As has become de rigueur for cutting-edge studio toys, the Kronos incorporates a USB audio interface — a stereo-in, stereo-out example, in this case. Additionally, the USB port allows you to shuttle MIDI data to and from your computer, as well as letting you save, recall and edit the Kronos’ sounds and settings. But that’s not all: a free plug-in facilitates tight integration with your DAW of choice, by allowing you to use the Kronos as if it were a plug-in instrument.

The Kronos’ rear panel plays host to a vast array of socketry. MIDI In, Out and Thru are present on five-pin DIN connectors, as you’d expect, while a single B-type and two A-type USB ports provide computer and USB drive connectivity. There are two quarter-inch input jacks, each with its own gain control and mic/line switching, plus a row of six output jacks comprising Left/Mono and Right main outs, plus four additional outputs. Two TOSlink sockets provide stereo S/PDIF digital ins and outs. Finally, three further jack sockets allow you to connect a sustain pedal, damper pedal and a footswitch.

As you can see, there’s a lot to say about this monstrous workstation — more than can be said here, in fact, but we’ll be giving it a thorough seeing-to in a forthcoming SOS review. Pricing was yet to be confirmed at the time of writing, but we’ll update you as soon as it is.

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