Korg Triton

Music Workstation

Published in SOS June 1999
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Reviews : Keyboard workstation

Korg's Trinity workstation has, like their earlier instruments, become virtually an industry standard -- but far from resting on their laurels, the company have upped the ante still further with the new Triton. Derek Johnson and Debbie Poyser provide an exclusive hands-on review.

The Korg name is forever entwined in the minds of hi-tech musicians with the word 'workstation'. Having basically invented the mass-market keyboard workstation with 1988's M1, which introduced the magical pairing of sequencer and synthesizer, Korg went on to cement their workstation reputation with a series of very capable machines, culminating in the most impressive workstation of the last three and a half years: the Trinity.

This silver dream machine, incorporating synthesizer, effects and sequencer, was rightly hailed as "probably the first affordable instrument that truly earns the tag 'music production workstation'" (Gordon Reid, SOS Trinity Plus review, December 1995/January 1996). It has a staggering array of features, and where the standard facilities leave off, the options kick in. A fully-loaded Trinity really is a studio in a box -- dedicated Trinity owners could add sample RAM, physical modelling synth boards, a multitrack hard disk recording option and digital interfacing. Musicians flocked to buy it, even at its premium price, lured by the feature set, the polished, high-quality sounds, and innovative ideas like the huge touch-sensitive screen which gave new meaning to the overworked term 'user friendly'. It's a hard act to follow.

Yet the modern pattern of regularly refreshing ranges means that follow it Korg must, with a workstation that has to go one (or several) better, correcting Trinity's faults, refining its user interface still further, adding new features, and, if it forgoes any Trinity facilities, subtracting only those which won't be missed. Can Triton pull it off and keep Korg at the top of the workstation heap?

Sea Changes

It's easy to see why Korg chose 'Triton', the name of a minor sea-god in Greek mythology, for Trinity's successor. It's similar enough to make it obvious that they are of the same lineage, it has classical overtones, and the fact that said sea-god was given to frolicking about with a three-pronged trident echoes Trinity's 'triple' theme!

KORG TRITON £1799
pros
Very good sampler with 16Mb RAM supplied.
Almost doubles Trinity polyphony.
Dual polyphonic arpeggiators.
Mac/PC interface.
Real-time control knobs.
Sequencer even more powerful than Trinity's.
Six audio outputs.
User-installable options.
Still sounds gorgeous.
Still has that great display.
User interface tweaks well thought out.
cons
Trinity's HDR and digital connection options not offered.
No longer possible to use eight 'Size 1' effects in a Song.
Sample RAM volatile rather than Flash.
Samples can't be exported.
MOSS board voices can't be treated individually with insert effects in Combis and Songs.
Trinity sounds and optional boards not compatible.
summary
A beautiful and impressively specified self-contained instrument. If we didn't already have a Trinity, Triton would be our workstation of choice.

Similarities between the two machines continue to an extent with their appearances. Like Trinity, Triton is silver, but where Trinity's panel is smooth brushed aluminium, the Triton has a subtle sparkle finish that's very contemporary, if not quite as expensive-looking (or as easy to clean!). The touch-screen still dominates, but the sci-fi art-deco moulding that lifts it from Trinity's panel is gone, replaced on Triton by a less dramatic rectangular frame. There are some extra buttons, and even some knobs -- but we'll save those for later.

At the back, perhaps the most significant change is the presence of six audio outputs (compared to Trinity's four). A paucity of individual outs was one of Trinity's few weaknesses, so it's good to see the issue addressed, at least to this extent, on Triton. Two audio inputs, with level control and mic/line switch, have also been added, and though the most obvious use for these is to pipe material into Triton for sampling -- yes, sampling -- they can also be used to bring in external audio for treatment by Triton's effects. (Trinity effects could not be employed in such a way without the HDR option installed.) Staying with the back panel, another new arrival is a direct Mac/PC serial interface. This feature has been appearing for some time on more modestly priced keyboards and modules, but is new on a Korg deluxe workstation.

Sound Architecture

A very significant difference between Trinity and Triton is the new machine's 62-note polyphony. This really might turn Trinity owners greenish with envy, as Trinity offers only 32 notes -- a decision for which reviewers took Korg to task. The company were adamant, however, that their priority with Trinity was to ensure the finest sound quality and most comprehensive effects implementation, so resources were directed towards these areas rather than towards providing masses of notes. So what's changed? Have Korg compromised their original vision to provide the extra notes? It seems not.

Korg's pre-Trinity AI2 (Advanced Integrated) workstations made use of 32-note polyphonic tone generator ICs which also incorporated filtering and effects. Two chips yielded 64-note polyphony. For Trinity, things changed: to achieve the sound quality they wanted, Korg used discrete chips for different functions -- samples, filtering, DSP -- on a processor board. Achieving 64-note polyphony in Trinity would have required two of these boards, which would have been "phenomenally expensive" according to Korg UK. Since Trinity's launch, however, Korg have been beavering away to achieve Trinity sound quality on one chip. The resulting 32-note polyphonic TG96 IC has been three years in development, incorporates everything, and has made Triton's increased polyphony possible. As in earlier years, they simply use two chips, though in the case of Triton this produces 62-note polyphony for reasons connected with its built-in sampler. Multitimbrality remains at 16 parts.

In other respects, Triton's sound-generating side -- now called Hyper Integrated (HI) synthesis -- should be as familiar to seasoned Korg synth users as Trinity's. (For a fuller description of the Korg method, check out SOS's two-part Trinity review, mentioned earlier.) Briefly, just like Trinity, Triton is sample-based: at the bottom level of sound creation are raw sampled waveforms. Up to two of these can be combined (as 'oscillators') in a Program, and up to to eight Programs can be layered, split or crossfaded in a Combi, which can also be multitimbral if desired. There's also the option of velocity-switching between the two oscillators in a Program, plus, if you can handle it, the ability to velocity-switch between two waveforms in each oscillator, with no adverse implications for polyphony. Oscillators may also be delayed, treated to random tuning (where each time an oscillator sounds, its pitch is slightly different) for recreating the effect of an analogue synth with unstable tuning and, new to Triton, reversed, so that a waveform plays backwards. Strangely, the Trinity's reverse factory waveforms have made their way over to Triton even though the latter has this facility.

The raw waveforms in a Program can be treated using a familiar collection of subtractive synth parameters that, again, have much in common with Trinity's. The basic signal path of oscillator, resonant filter and amplifier is augmented by two LFOs, plus a variety of envelope and modulation options. In most cases, Triton has more parameters, and certainly more modulation options; the filter, for example, is actually meatier and more resonant than Trinity's, but there don't seem to be quite as many options when it comes to filter types. Excellent effects processing is the icing on all stages of the cake.

Like the standard Trinity, Triton comes with two banks each of Programs and Combis, both banks containing 128 sounds, overwritable with user edits. Korg have upped the PCM waveform count, though: Triton has 425 multisamples, plus 413 single drum samples for use in kits, as opposed to Trinity's 375 multisamples and 258 drum samples. Trinity users will be keen to know how far Triton's voice selection differs from that of their own machine. Many of the basic waveforms seem the same, and many Programs also sound very similar across the two machines, though lots have been re-named for Triton. Combis appear to have been largely reprogrammed. You'll certainly find the staple bass/vibes and bass/piano splits, piano/string layers and classic Korg orchestral combinations, plus more fairy-like atmospheric pads than you could shake a wand at, just as with Trinity, but they seem to have been re-done from scratch for Triton.

Korg's intention to give the Triton more dance appeal emerges in various new Combis and Programs, though not really in the raw waveforms; even so, there is a collection of DJ-friendly scratches, yells and hits, many of which were included on Trinity. Some of the dance-focused Combis are great fun, and a few make excellent instant tracks, too! The dual arpeggiator -- more later -- offers a wide selection of dance rhythms, suitable for producing quick bass lines or drum patterns.

"Some might question one or two of Korg's decisions: abandoning digital connectivity options at a time when the world is becoming increasingly digital seems almost perverse."

Though Trinity was not General MIDI-compatible in its original form, a disk full of GM sounds could be loaded for GM compatibility. Triton goes further, with a GM sound bank already on board. This is divided into sub-banks providing the alternate voices required for XG and GS, the Yamaha and Roland extended GM formats. There's even a sequencer mode for playing Standard MIDI Song Files direct from disk, though since Triton doesn't support all GS/XG sound maps and messages, Korg don't guarantee that all GS/XG data will always play back correctly. (We tried a few XG files and they played back properly.) GM Programs, by the way, can be freely used in Combis and sequences.

Anyone unfamiliar with Trinity's sounds can rest assured that they are beyond reproach in terms of quality -- and this extends to its successor. The presets are imaginatively and creatively programmed, and source samples have excellent clarity and sparkle, with basically undetectable loop points. The Korg bods who worked on voicing apparently used Jupiter Systems' acclaimed Infinity sample-manipulation software to ensure the smoothest loops.

  Hearing Test  
  Though the sonic character of Triton is very similar to Trinity, the new machine's arpeggiator adds a new dimension, introducing textural arpeggiations in some of the preset sounds and achieving an almost 'wave sequencing' effect, such as you get from Korg's own Wavestation. Triton, like Trinity, is very strong on most imitative sounds, both traditional instrumental and electronica, and its synth pads are largely wonderful (check out Combi A055, 'Sofia's Place'). We thought some of the bass drums lacked 'oomph', but the Master EQ goes a long way towards remedying this.

Favourite sounds are always rather subjective, but talking about them does at least allow reviewers to be more descriptive about the most important reason most people buy a synthesizer -- how it sounds!

Combi A008 'Knob as Drawbar1': an effective organ with drawbar settings altered by the control knobs.

Combi A009 'Indian Ocean': a wonderful layer of tablas, finger cymbals, sitars and so on, with the arpeggiators providing a tabla and cymbal pattern. It's very atmospheric, and the control knobs bring in sequenced delays from Insert effects to vary the basic rhythm.

Combi A028 'Random Blocks': sets up a convincing Steve Reich vibe.

Combi A051 'Crusin' Compton': pretty self-explanatory -- crackly, laid back, lo-fi hip-hop.

Combi A083 'DoItToYaFeet': strange rhythmic goings-on -- speaker-rattling bass, cheesy beatbox and garbled phonemes all in one.

Combi A086 'SciFi Chase Scene': an instant track, but still very satisfying. Use as a basis for your own ideas.

Combi D113: 'RichHarmonic Piano': a lovely, subtle piano/harp layer, with effective harp arpeggios; if you think Duran Duran's 'Save A Prayer' intro, you'll be in the right ballpark. This is in a PCM board bank, but only uses basic Programs.

The review Triton had a MOSS board, and several Combis melded HI and MOSS sounds rather intriguingly. Combi B033 'Tell Me Thelma' (on our machine) is weirdly effective, with a theremin-like sound just breaking out over a heavy rhythmic pad. Many MOSS/HI combinations are 100mph jungle, with other contemporary feels in abundance.

The Triton's GM set is also worthy of mention -- there are few low spots, and the majority of sounds are above average.

 

Just For Effects...

Trinity set its own standard in effects sophistication, allowing flexible processing similar to that achievable with a rack of outboard. Specifically, it provides more 'Insert' processing -- effects that can be dedicated to a single sound, such as distortion on a lead guitar -- than competing workstations, plus two global 'Master' processors. And it offers straightforward graphic routing of those effects, so best use can be made of them.

On Trinity, effects had a so-called 'Size' (either 1, 2, or 4), which reflected their complexity and the consequent demands they made on the Trinity's DSP chip. As long as the total Size of all active effects did not exceed eight, you were free to set up effects in a variety of combinations (eg. two Size 4 effects, one Size 4 and two Size 2, up to eight Size 1). At first glance, it would appear that effects have been trimmed on Triton: its two Master effects are augmented by five Insert effects, as opposed to Trinity's maximum of eight.

In fact, Triton's effects have merely been implemented differently. Triton does not have any 'Size 1'-style effects (except in chained pairs -- see the 'Triton Treatments' box), and simply offers a list of Insert effects to choose from, most of which are equivalent in DSP terms to Trinity's old Size 2 effects, but with a selection of more complex effects which equate to Trinity's old Size 4 effects, and are dubbed 'double-size' in Triton terminology. It's possible to use two double-size effects at one time, along with a normal effect, so really there's more Insert processing than on Trinity, since the total permitted Size (to talk in Trinity terms again) on Triton equals 10 (five size 2, or two size 4 and a size 2). Furthermore, Trinity only allowed the maximum eight Insert effects to be used in a multitimbral sequence setup, limiting Insert effects per Combi to three (though still with a total Size of eight). Triton, however, can use all five Inserts in sequence setups and in Combis. Nevertheless, if you'd like the option to use eight size 1 Insert effects per sequencer setup, you might lament the Triton reduction to five, even though the Triton's are more complex.

Effects variety has been increased, though, especially in the Master department -- Trinity had 14 Master effects to Triton's 89, and the two Master processors are not restricted, as in Trinity, to reverb/delay for one and modulation for the other. Triton's Master effects can be any of the 89 available -- which, incidentally, are identical to the 89 normal-sized Insert effects. 'Double-sizers' aren't available as Master effects.

On the Insert front, Triton offers 101 effect choices (including 13 double-size effects available only to Inserts 2, 3 or 4) to Trinity's 100. However, 29 of the Trinity Insert effects were the small 'size 1' ones, so overall Triton does better. The selection of Insert effects has been changed very slightly.

As on Trinity, a Master EQ is available, but it's been improved: where the original machine offered a fixed high/low EQ that was more like a tone control, Triton features an effective, fully adjustable 3-band EQ with swept mid. This is well worth having.

Effects routing, too, has been improved on Triton: the effects edit windows now have better graphics that make it even more obvious what is being sent where. Programs, or Programs in a Combi or Sequence, can be routed to the main or individual outs (and the individual outs can be grouped in pairs for stereo operation), or to the Insert effects. The Insert effects can themselves be routed to other Insert effects, or to the same choice of main or individual outs as the Programs, making it easy to send individually treated Programs to their own external mixer inputs, if required. The send controls to the two master effects are found in the Insert effect edit pages, just as on Trinity.

Worthy Of Notes: The Sequencer

Triton's sequencer will be familiar to Trinity users, being an almost identical, largely linear 16-track device, offering real- and step-time recording with 192ppqn timing resolution, a 40-240bpm tempo range, a wide choice of time signatures, and straightforward corrective quantisation facilities. Almost the same editing options are available -- erase, copy and bounce track; erase, delete, insert, copy and move measure; create and erase control data; quantise; shift/erase note; and modify velocity. New for Triton is Repeat Measure, which allows the user to specify how many times a measure should be played, instead of making multiple copies -- a sensible addition.

Other enhancements have been made, too: note capacity is over 100,000, to Trinity's 60,000, and the Triton sequencer's ability to loop individual tracks (so that a couple of bars of drums and eight bars of bass, for

  Missing In Action  
  * Trinity's digital interfacing options: an S/PDIF facility came with Trinity's HDR option, and an ADAT connection could also be added. So far, Triton isn't offering any digital connections at all; this could be because, according to Korg UK, the Trinity digital options weren't that widely taken up.

* The hard disk recording option: this is not offered for Triton, say Korg because since Trinity's launch there's been an explosion in affordable digital recorders, including their own D8, rendering Korg's 4-track Trinity HD option less relevant. It's a fair point, but still, the idea of having four audio tracks alongside MIDI in one keyboard was very appealing -- and Triton's lack of digital outs means you can't access stand-alone hard disk recorders in the digital domain either.

 
example, could loop for the length of a song without the need for manual copying) will increase Trinity owners' envy. Maximum sequencer Song capacity is now 200, and there's a very good new Cue List mode which allows the playback order of up to 100 Songs to be specified. Korg suggest that small sections such as verses, choruses and bridges could each be saved as Songs and the Cue List used to lay out their order and repeats to make up a track -- a finished cue list can be converted to a Song.

Many Trinity users apparently wished for real-time phrase triggering from the keyboard, and their wish has been granted on Triton in the shape of RPPR (Real-time Pattern Play/Recording). This allows musical phrases or patterns (up to 100 user patterns per Song) to be assigned to keys and triggered in real time, perhaps for live performance -- though the result can also be recorded into a sequence. Triton even has over 100 preset drum patterns, though we found, on the review unit, that there was a slight lack of range, with blocks of adjacent patterns seeming very similar to each other. This may be to facilitate real-time triggering of related patterns in different combinations, like 'variations' on auto-accompaniment instruments.

Another new presence in the Sequencer is the Template Song. There are 16 user Templates designed to speed composition by allowing you to save favourite sets of voices, drum sounds and effects, to come back to time after time when creating a new Song -- a good idea. Korg also provide 16 preset Templates, filled with voices and effects settings suited to particular musical styles (including, on the model we reviewed, Techno, Drum & Bass, New Age, and Rock) but not, perhaps strangely, matching arpeggiator settings or drum patterns.

The powerful sequencer is very easy to use, not least because of the superb screen. Perhaps a time display, which would be useful for checking how long a given Song is running, could be added at some point?

  Where To Now For Trinity Owners?  
  It's always hard for owners when a prized instrument is superseded, especially when it adds lots of new stuff for lots less money. Reactions typically include 'How much is mine worth now?' and 'Is the new one much better than mine and how annoyed will I be when I see the features it's got?'

The answer to the latter question is quite complicated. Trinity was a lovely instrument on its release, and it's a lovely instrument now, regardless of the launch of Triton. Triton has enhancements Trinity owners may well hanker after, but they (and we, as Trinity owners!) can console themselves with the knowledge that Trinity has a few things Triton doesn't have. Depending on how you work, the Trinity features Triton misses out (see 'Missing In Action' box) may be the ones you use most.

The Triton enhancements Korg have made are great and take their flagship workstation even further, but probably the single biggest inducement for a Trinity owner to trade up to Triton is the very accomplished sampler -- for anyone who doesn't already have one or gigs a lot -- though a sampler built into a workstation synth won't add extra polyphony or multitimbral parts, which you'd get with a dedicated unit.

Trinity owners who have made the instrument their musical centrepiece may also see Triton's 62-voice polyphony as a big advantage. The fact that the MOSS board becomes multitimbral in a Triton could have a bearing too. Sound-wise there's not that much difference between the two machines (though sounds can't currently be ported from Trinity to Triton, which is a real shame) and though Triton boasts more waveforms, Trinity owners need not fear that their instrument is sonically more limited. However, the Triton's arpeggiators do extend the sonic possibilities for that machine.

We'd really like the sampling of the Triton, and the extra polyphony, and the arpeggiators, but Trinity is a classic instrument and we don't think anyone who bought it should ever regret their decision. It would be nice, though, to see Korg's purely software tweaks making their way into Trinity, even as a chargeable upgrade. There seems no reason why Trinity owners can't have the improved effects routing, for example, and the sequencer track looping.

By the way, anyone considering changing to Triton and thinking they could swap the SCSI and MOSS boards from their Trinity into the new machine will have to think again: the boards for Triton are not exactly the same and so won't be swappable.

 

Interface Improvements

Triton's front-panel redesign has given Korg an opportunity to make a few user-requested tweaks. There are those knobs, of course -- we'll deal with them shortly -- and a new row of dedicated Bank buttons. This comes in response to reports that choosing Program and Combi banks, done on Trinity by cycling through the options with a single button, could be more immediate: in the case of Triton, buttons labelled A-D take care of the four possible Program and Combi banks, while three more (E-G) cover Program banks made up from sampled sounds, a MOSS bank (only active if the Triton has the optional Z1 board fitted), and the GM bank.

Other operational changes become evident as one uses the new workstation -- for example, where Trinity resets itself to Combi 01 when it's powered up, you can elect to have Triton power up how you left it. Trinity

"Overall, though, the Triton really can't be too highly recommended, as a truly professional, incredibly
well-rounded instrument, which is not revolutionary, admittedly, but surely does what Korg set out to do."
owners will also notice less use of the safety-pin icon which, on Trinity, prevents pop-up windows from disappearing before you've finished with them. Triton does things a little differently, and safety pins appear only in a few windows, such as when choosing individual samples in a multisample in the sampler section.

Such changes aside, Triton's interface is quite similar to Trinity's, including the way in which the touch-screen helps the user navigate large, well-laid out pages, often without needing the manual, simply by stabbing at the desired parameter on screen with a fingertip -- though it seems that the way Trinity on-screen controls, such as faders in the mixer page, could be altered with a fingertip, is gone. You can select the control with a finger, but have to change its value with the front-panel data dial or slider, which removes some of the point of a touch-driven interface.

On the whole, though, the Triton interface feeling is of enhanced graphics and layout. Whereas Trinity often makes do with quite bald lines of text -- which is clear enough -- Triton adds more boxes and graphic elements. The act of getting to an edit page, for example, is slightly quicker, and more logical now. With Trinity, you'd press the Edit button and select an edit page from a potential eight, using numbered buttons on the front panel. However, until you're familiar with the synth you often don't remember what function lives on what page. Triton's system is easier: the physical page buttons are gone, and if you want to edit something, you simply press the Menu button (novices might have preferred this to be labelled 'Edit') and an onscreen display showing labelled icons for up to nine pages appears.

Simple Sampling

Sharp-eyed readers will spot a big hint about one of Triton's most important enhancements right on the front panel: the words 'Music Workstation/Sampler'. Where Trinity had a sample RAM option for loading samples, Triton features full sampling as standard.

To deal with the facts first, the sampler offers 16-bit mono or stereo sampling, at a fixed 48kHz sample rate. Maximum sample RAM is 64Mb, though initially 16Mb is installed; there are two SIMM slots, so upgrading to 64Mb (two 32Mb SIMMs) will leave you with a spare 16Mb SIMM. The spec says there are 4000 possible sample locations -- a huge number -- but that appears to be true only with 64Mb of RAM; a base machine provides 1000 sample slots. Those 1000 (or 4000) samples can be organised across the keyboard as one of 1000 multisamples. With 64Mb of RAM you could easily manage a couple of multisamples with a different sample assigned to every key. Those with time and patience (or the right sample CD) could, for instance, assemble a killer grand piano. Note that samples can also be freely used in Triton drum kits. An interesting memory-saving feature is that copied samples don't necessarily have to be physically copied: 'ghost' copies can be looped independently of the original (shades of Roland's S330/S550!). Any destructive editing, however, will be reflected in all ghosts.

A 16Mb Triton offers a maximum sample time of just under three minutes mono (about a minute and a half stereo); the full 64Mb of RAM would yield 11 minutes 38 seconds mono. The RAM of a fully loaded Triton is addressed in four chunks, which has implications for the length of sample you can record in one go -- just under three minutes mono. That fixed sample rate may look like a problem, but it isn't: sample rates can be converted after sampling. This is done by multiplying the current sample rate by two-thirds, a half, a third, a quarter or a sixth. Starting with a 48kHz sample, the resulting rates would be 32kHz, 24kHz, 16kHz, 12kHz and 8kHz. The way Triton works, though, means that some odd sample rates are produced: you might multiply a 16kHz sample by a sixth, say, which results in a 2.667kHz sample! It looks as though the lowest available sample rate is 2kHz (a 12kHz sample rate multipied by a sixth).

Sampling is undertaken in the Recording window, which also offers a display of the keygroups of the current multisample, assigned to an on-screen keyboard, plus input level meters, a running total of available sample RAM, and the key range, original key and top key of the current sample. Keygrouping is handled automatically, with user controls for determining keygroup size (between one and 127 notes). Simply press the on-screen Create button to add a sample slot to a new keygroup, hit the front-panel Record button, set input level with the rear-panel level control (and a further on-screen gain fader), and press the Start/Stop button to record the sample. Pressing Start/Stop again finishes the process. There's also a threshold mode that begins sampling as soon as a user-set level threshold is reached, and even a pre-trigger option so that the attack of sounds that start a fraction early is preserved, though we found that even with careful use a bit tended to get cut off the start of a sample -- we tried the pre-trigger (up to its maximum 500mS), but this parameter didn't seem to work properly on the review model. One point worth mentioning is that audio input can be passed through Triton's Insert effects while being sampled -- all five of them if you like, in stereo! We put this facility to use compressing a guitar while sampling a series of chords. Sampling through effects, of course, may also mean that an effect can be saved later.

  Triton Specification  
 
• Keyboard


Triton: 61-note, velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive; Triton Pro: as Triton, with 76 notes; Triton ProX: 88-note, weighted.
• Polyphony: 62 notes (68 with MOSS board).
• Multitimbrality: 16-part.
• Waveform ROM:

32Mb (425 multisamples, 413 drum samples).
• Synthesis System:
Hyper Integrated (HI).
• Preset Programs:
256.
• Preset Combinations:
256.
• General MIDI Bank:
256 Programs + nine drum kits.
• Effects



Stereo digital multi-effects (2 Master and 5 Insert effects plus 1 Master EQ simultaneously). 102 Insert effects and 89 Master effects to choose from.
• Sequencer:


16 tracks; 192ppqn resolution; 200 Songs; 100 preset/100 user patterns per Song; reads/writes Standard MIDI Files.
• RPPR:
100 user patterns/Song, approx 100 preset patterns.
• Arpeggiator: dual;
232 patterns, approx 180 preset.
• Sampler:





Mono/stereo 16-bit, 48kHz sampling; 16Mb standard RAM (upgradeable to 64Mb); approx. three minutes mono sampling with standard RAM; imports AIFF, WAV, S1000/3000 and Trinity-format samples; resamples at lower rates; no sample export.
• Controllers:


Joystick, ribbon controller, 2 assignable switches, 4 assignable knobs, 3 arpeggiator control knobs.
• Disk drive: 3.5-inch 2DD/2HD floppy.
• Outputs:

L (mono)/R; four individual outs; headphones.
• Inputs: 2 jack audio inputs.
• MIDI: In/Out/Thru.
• Computer Interface:

Mac/PC (MIDI driver software available).
• Display:


320x240-dot backlit graphical TouchView screen with brightness control.
• Power Supply
Internal.
• Options:


PCM Expansion boards; EXB-MOSS DSP Synthesizer board; EXB SCSI SCSI Interface board.
 
Comprehensive editing functions include cut and clear highlighted area, truncate either side of highlighted area, paste, insert silence, reverse, normalise and mix (where two samples are merged). Looping is carried out on its own page. Both sample and loop edit pages feature a zoomable, scrolling waveform display, with tools for highlighting sections of a sample or selecting a loop point. It might lack the resolution and size of a computer monitor, but it's perfectly up to the task of providing feedback while editing. And once a collection of samples has been edited and looped, the resulting multisample, if desired, can be automatically converted into a Program. This is a painless end to a relatively painless process. Indeed, if sampling gets any easier than with the Triton sampler, we'd like to know about it.

For those working with rhythm loops, the sample waveform display has a useful grid option: if you know what the tempo of the sampled loop is, the grid will divide it into half, quarter, eighth, 16th or 32nd notes (with triplet options), allowing you to easily edit, cut or copy individual beats, which can then be assigned to their own keygroups to make up a kit of sounds derived from a loop. The grid display also has potential as an interface for time-stretching loops, if this facility were ever added. Yes, that is a hint!

Triton's sampling facilities are certainly comprehensive, but die-hard samplists may miss one or two things: as mentioned above, there's no time-stretching, no crossfade looping, no alternate reverse/forward loops and no multiple loops (not to mention no digital input). We could also find no way of resampling existing audio or onboard sounds through the effects, and there's no 'undo' facility at the moment (though when you're mangling a sample you're always given the option of overwriting the original or saving the result in a new location, which is considerate!). That said, the sampler is quick to use, highly integrated with Triton's synthesis side, and offers one of the fastest, easiest ways around of compiling multisamples. One point to keep in mind, though, is that Triton's RAM is volatile (Trinity's sample RAM was flash), so if the synth is switched off, unsaved samples and sequences are lost. The optional SCSI interface and some external storage would be pretty much essential for serious samplists: even the contents of the basic 16Mb of

  Triton Treatments  
  Triton's effects are high-quality, fully editable, and are divided into type categories (rather than sizes, as in Trinity). Categories are Filter/Dynamic (15 effects); Pitch/Phase Modulation (16 effects); Modulation/Pitch Shift (nine effects); Early Reflections/Delay (11 effects); Reverb (six types); Mono-Mono Chain (lots of chains of two Trinity-style 'size 1' effects); and Double Size (13 effects). There isn't room to list them all here, but SOS's two-part Trinity Plus review has a full effects list which gives a good idea of the kind of thing on offer. Almost the same effects are available as both Inserts and Masters, but double-size effects can't be used as Masters.

Like Triton, Trinity has a vocoder, yet the thing that vocoders are best at -- using human speech or singing to modulate a musical sound -- isn't possible due to its lack of audio ins. Here Triton scores: not only is its vocoder effect a little more sophisticated (though it lacks the precise control over frequency bands which would be offered by a dedicated device), but external audio can be used as a modulator. The process is a bit long-winded, but follow the instructions in the manual and you won't go far wrong.

 
RAM would require around a dozen high-density floppies for a full backup.

Board Sensible: Expansion Options

On examining the keyboard's underside, one spots two new screw-on panels. These reveal yet another Triton enhancement: its expansion boards are user-installable, so adding the MOSS (Z1) board, SCSI board, PCM expansion boards or extra sample RAM no longer entails returning your machine to Korg HQ, as with Trinity. The options will also apparently be cheaper, as they don't have to incorporate an installation cost.

* PCM Expansion boards: these are something like the Roland JV-series Sound Expanders. Two are currently available, with more planned. Pianos/Classic Keyboards features various flavours of piano, clavinet and organ, while Studio Essentials provides extra brass and woodwind instruments, strings and choirs. A Triton can host two boards at a time, and each board comes with a floppy of new Programs and Combis that load into the C and D memory banks. According to Korg UK, future boards will cover contemporary musical styles. Incidentally, in Tritons without PCM expansions installed, the C and D banks are empty and thus provide extra memory slots for your own sounds.

* MOSS (Multi-Oscillator Synthesis System) option: this is almost the same Z1 physical modelling synth-on-a-board that came with the Trinity V3 (see the V3 review, SOS September 1998, and the Z1 review, October 1997). There's one big difference, though: inside a Triton, the 6-voice polyphonic MOSS board becomes 6-part multitimbral, rather than being monotimbral as in Trinity! This is quite an advantage and makes the Triton MOSS option closer to a fully fledged Z1, which features two MOSS boards for 12-voice polyphony. As you'd hope, Triton polyphony is increased to 68 notes with the MOSS option.

  Triton vs Trinity: Principal Changes  
 
FEATURE TRITON TRINITY
Sampling
Full sampler Loads samples into optional sample RAM
Polyphony
62-voice
32-voice
Arpeggiator
Dual arpeggiators No
Control knobs
Four No
Option board/RAM installation
User Factory
Audio Outputs
6 4
Sequencer capacity
100,000 notes 60,000 notes
Individual track looping in sequencer
Yes
No
Template Songs
Yes No
RPPR (Real-time Pattern Play/Record)
Yes No
External audio treated with effects
Yes Only with HDR option
PCM Expansion option
Yes No
MOSS board (if installed)
6-part multitimbral Monotimbral
General MIDI

GM Program Bank,
GM seq. mode
GM sound bank on disk

Hard Disk Recording option No 4-track
Digital Interfacing

No

S/PDIF with HDR option,
ADAT option
SCSI Option Yes Yes
Sample RAM
Volatile Flash
 
However, we came across an odd situation in regard to the MOSS board and effects. One of the few things the SOS reviewer criticised about the Z1 was the fact that different voices in a Multi setup (similar to a Combi) couldn't be treated with different effects. Trying to place MOSS voices from the Z1 board into a Triton Combi or multitimbral sequencer setup and effect them individually revealed a similar problem during our testing: though the display showed MOSS voices apparently routed to different Insert effects (or individual outputs), they were in fact all being treated by one Insert effect or Insert effect chain (or going to one individual output). The user can choose which Insert effect, or audio output, MOSS voices will be routed to, but all MOSS voices will be so routed, no matter what the routing diagram reports. It's not even possible to route MOSS sounds via the main stereo output untreated, or set up individual send levels to the Master effects. This is quite a serious flaw which limits the usefulness of MOSS board multitimbrality.

* SCSI option: as mentioned earlier, the SCSI option, which uses a large SCSI connector rather than the miniature SCSI II version on many current peripherals, will be pretty much essential to anyone who uses Triton's sampler a lot. Incidentally, when a CD-ROM drive is connected, the Triton's sampler can not only access Akai-format CD-ROMs, but also load WAV and AIFF files off standard PC-format CD-ROMs. We couldn't get the same result with Mac-format CD-ROMs, however, and SMDI transfer isn't supported. Neither can Triton samples currently be saved in a format that can be exported to other samples or software editors.

Knobs-U-Like

To anyone familiar with the streamlined look of the Trinity, the next obvious difference is Triton's knobs. Korg have provided four, configured for real-time control of up to eight parameters, in two banks of four -- obviously an extra nod towards the increasingly hands-on direction the market has taken since the Trinity was launched. One bank of knobs are preset to control familiar synth parameters: filter cutoff, filter resonance, EG intensity and EG release. The other bank is user-definable. Preset Programs (and Combis) assign the second knob bank to various parameters: EG controls, effect sends, or the volume of elements in a Combi, for example. Some interesting organ Programs use the knobs as real-time drawbar controls. There's a variety of modulation options, and the knobs used in combination with the joystick and ribbon controller provide even more real-time sound mangling possibilities than on the Trinity.

Three additional knobs on the Triton's far right hint at another new feature: dual polyphonic arpeggiators, with the knobs usefully controlling Tempo, Gate Time and Velocity. When the Trinity V3, featuring the Z1 board, was released, one facility reviewers felt was lacking was the Z1's arpeggiator, and Korg have obviously borne this in mind for the new machine -- there's really nothing to beat an arpeggiator for instant gratification.

The two independently configurable arpeggiators are really well-specified. They'll happily simply chop the notes of a chord into an up/down pattern over a number of octaves, with a choice of note resolution, but then they take the whole thing several steps further: some patterns are auto-

  Essential Reading  
  Half the magazine would be needed to go into sufficient depth about an instrument such as Triton, so although this is a long review, it can't give you everything. Fortunately, though, SOS has followed the Trinity story closely and you won't do better than checking out the following reviews for more detail about Triton's predecessor:

• Trinity preview: November 1995
• Trinity Plus: December 1995/January 1996
• Trinity Expansion Options: January 1997
• Z1: October 1997
• TR Rack: February 1998
• Trinity V3: September 1998

 
accompaniment in arpeggiator clothing! Nevertheless, many of them, programmed in styles such as jungle, drum & bass and hip-hop, are quite groovy, and there are also guitar strum arpeggio patterns. If you're in your local music store auditioning a Triton, Prog A005 'Acoustic Guitar' illustrates the strumming technique, which is pretty convincing -- for a while, anyway!

Custom arpeggio patterns can be created, so if, instead of being straitjacketed into a preset style, you'd like to design your own straitjacket, you can! The arpeggiator edit grid is identical to that on the Z1, and functions as a basic step sequencer. Up to 48 steps are available; each step can play up to 12 notes, and there's full control over velocity, note length and rests, plus a flam option used in some guitar strumming patterns. There appear to be 200 user arpeggio pattern memories on an unexpanded Triton, though many of these are filled with factory settings. The number increases if PCM boards are installed.

Programs, Combis and sequencer Songs can all take advantage of the arpeggiators. One, any or all eight parts in a Combi, or all 16 in a sequence, can be assigned to one or other of the arpeggiators; the choice is yours. Arpeggiations played while a sequence is recording are nearly always recorded as played -- the arpeggiator isn't needed during playback to get the desired result, when using single Programs. The exceptions mainly centre around Sequence setups derived from Combis which use arpeggiations; though a Combi that's been turned into a Sequence will play properly, you may have to tweak MIDI channels, or record the final performance across several tracks, to accurately reproduce the original Combi as a Song.

Triton: Try One

As Korg's updating of their workstation concept for the millennium, Triton must be judged a

  Also Check Out...  
  If you're in the market for a workstation, there's no shortage of competition for the Triton -- including the Trinity, which will continue to be available. Other comparable instruments, in terms of price and features, include:

• Emu E-synth
(reviewed November 1997).
• GEM Equinox
(reviewed May 1999).
• Kurzweil K2000VP
(reviewed September 1998).
• Roland XP80/XP60
(reviewed May 1996).
• Yamaha EX5/EX7
(reviewed May 1998).

 
success. It retains the proven Trinity design, sound, display and effects; attends to the areas where Trinity fell short, notably polyphony and audio outputs; improves day-to-day operation in numerous ways (better effect routing, user-installable option boards, computer interface, sequencer enhancements... the list goes on); and adds desirable new features -- including full sampling, arpeggiators and real-time control knobs -- at a price some £600 less than Trinity on its launch! Some might question one or two of Korg's decisions (see 'Missing In Action' box): abandoning digital connectivity options at a time when the world is becoming increasingly digital seems almost perverse, and if Korg had managed to retain Trinity's HD recording option they really could have kept the title 'self-contained MIDI + Audio workstation' for Triton. Though it's probably due to a hardware limitation, the situation with the MOSS board and effects is also unfortunate.

Overall, though, the Triton really can't be too highly recommended, as a truly professional, incredibly well-rounded instrument, which is not revolutionary, admittedly, but surely does what Korg set out to do. Like Trinity before it, Triton is the workstation to beat.

 

 information
61-note basic Triton £1799;
76-note Triton Pro £2049;
88-note Triton ProX £TBC;
SCSI option £109;
MOSS board £375;
PCM Expansion options £139 each.
Prices include VAT.
Korg UK Brochure Line
+44 (0)1908 857150.
+44 (0)1908 857199.
www.korg.com

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