The original Korg Pandora was one of those pieces of equipment that screamed, "Own me! Own me!" as soon as you saw or handled it. The new, updated Pandora PX2 is similarly attractive and I'm sure that your hand twitched in the direction of your wallet as soon as you saw the photo on this page. In the original Pandora, Korg put together a wonderful combination of simple design, ease of use, and excellent effects to interest any guitarist, and even synthesists who might like to add guitar-style processing to their lead lines. In the PX2, the Pandora concept is extended with drum programs and additional auxiliary input functions, but the emphasis is still on simplicity and ease of use.
As soon as the PX2 appeared through my letterbox, I rushed for my trusty (or is that rusty?) Fender Stratocaster, jack lead and headphones. I plugged in, set the input gain switch, and that was the rest of the day gone. My fingers did the walking all over the fretboard of my guitar, and all over Pandora too. I found myself improvising in styles ancient and modern, and some that I don't believe I've ever heard before. It's quite an inspiration. I've always claimed to be a great believer in creating effects from individual building blocks, such as compression, distortion and reverb, to match the sound that already exists in your mind's ear. But a good selection of presets can inspire musical creativity beyond what you can imagine -- and if I could impress myself with my Pandora-inspired creativity, I am more than sure that you will too.
As I said, the Pandora PX2 is a simple device: you would be disappointed if you'd thought that it could create any sound in the known universe of guitar sounds. But if Pandora's range is limited, what it does it does very well. As on the original Pandora, the building blocks of the effects are Drive, Tone, Modulation, Ambience and a Cabinet Resonator, with noise reduction thrown in too. Any of the 38 presets (compared with the original Pandora's 20) can be edited and stored, and you can always go back to the original factory presets if you need to.
In editing mode, the Drive parameter offers eight alternative types, ranging from compression through mild overdrive to high-gain distortion. As always, it's impossible to say that a digital box of tricks can sound exactly like a real amp and speaker, but the results are perfectly good enough to record directly, and you always have the option of amplifying if you feel you need to. For each type of drive there is one editable parameter adjusted by the Value buttons -- in the case of compression, this is the strength of the compression effect, and for the other types of drive, the 'amount'. The Cabinet Resonator, which is, along with noise reduction, curiously separated from the rest of the editing functions, is not a cabinet simulator in the sense that it's frayed round the edges, weighs 40kg and rattles when driven hard, but it does give the flavour of a real speaker in a box, if not the substance. The Value buttons adjust the strength of the resonance. The Tone parameter comes, usefully, after the Drive section and offers two bands, low and high.
Possibly the most interesting section is Modulation, which, even though it can only do one thing at a time, has a wide range of options. I always look first to the phaser in a digital effects unit, because the digital versions hardly ever come up to the standard of the old analogue phaser foot-pedals dating from the 1970s. This one, however, is certainly comparable, if a little on the clean side. There are four phaser types and in each the Value buttons set the modulation speed. For funk-heads, there's a selection of four auto-wah effect types. I normally can't stand auto-wah myself, so if say that I can't stand the PX2's auto-wah either then that must be a compliment of a kind. Although each of the remaining chorus, flange, vibrato and tremolo effects has only one variable parameter, the simplicity of not having too many options to meddle with actually means that you find the sound you want more quickly -- hence more music-making!
I continue to be amazed at how natural digital reverbs can sound, considering that real acoustic reverb contains an almost infinite complexity of reflections. Korg, I feel, are the unsung heroes of digital reverberation. If you listen to the variety and useability of the reverb effects on their keyboards, you'll find that they stand comparison with almost anything the major reverb manufacturers have to offer. On the Pandora PX2 you will only find two reverb types, Room and Hall, but there are a total of 12 delay types as well; although the delay times can't be adjusted precisely, the options are more than sufficient for a unit of this type. Pitch-shifting is possible too, with a useful detune setting as well as semitone intervals.
If you thought Pandora was just an effects unit, then think again, because there's more! The PX2 can also act as a tuner with settings for signal through and signal off, as appropriate. I didn't find the digital display nearly as useable as a needle-type tuning meter, but perhaps I could get used to it, and it would be one less gadget to have to plug in. As well as an effects unit and a tuner, Pandora also incorporates rhythm programs -- it's a drum machine too. Don't expect a TR909 or anything like that: the rhythms are really only there as a practice aid. But it's great to be able to play along to one of the 32 preset rhythm patterns, or a sampled metronome, not just for practice at keeping time but as a songwriting tool too. If a simple rhythm track isn't enough, you'll need to consider using the auxiliary input. In this case, you can plug in your Walkman and strum along to a backing track, or even play along with your heroes. And if the backing track just happens to be in the wrong key, you can pitch-shift it; if necessary, you can also adjust its tuning. If you're pitch-shifting the auxiliary input, any ambience applied to the input signal is switched off, but you would expect this -- processing power can't be infinite. Also, there's an option to cancel the centre image of the stereo auxiliary input, with the object of removing the vocal or lead instrument which is probably balanced equally left and right. As usual with this kind of function, it works better on some recordings than others, but that isn't Korg's fault.
In conclusion, the Korg Pandora PX2 may be simple, but it's simple in the sense that you can easily use it to the full. It's a terrific little box and you couldn't possibly be disappointed with it.
Delayed vibrato 1-3
Auto Wah 1-4
Pitch shift 1-8
Easy to edit.
Brilliant practice aid.
Can't use reverb or pitch-shift in the same program as modulation.
Tuner difficult to use.
Simple, inspiring and a pleasure to use.
£ £199 including VAT.
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