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Korg i30

Interactive Music Workstation By Simon Trask
Published July 1998

Korg i30

Korg's latest i‑series keyboard is the new flagship of the range, updating the i3's spec and adopting the Trinity's touchscreen graphical display. Simon Trask gets in touch with the i30...

Korg's surprise entry into the keyboard market with the high‑end i2, some four and a half years ago, was significant in several respects. For a start, the very fact that a company closely and prestigiously identified with the synthesizer market had released an auto‑accompaniment keyboard was a recognition of the changing nature of keyboards and keyboard players' expectations. It was also a recognition that, in application if not in image, the high‑end auto‑accompaniment keyboard and the workstation synth were becoming ever more alike in functionality, quality and appearance.

With the introduction of the i‑series, Korg finally closed the sonic gap between keyboard and (workstation) synth, simply by carrying over the synthesis and effects technology of their workstation synths into the new instruments. The 61‑key i2 and companion 76‑key i3 also kept to the 'serious' styling of their workstation synths rather than adopt a more traditional keyboard aesthetic, and were early examples of the speakerless auto‑accompaniment keyboard. A few months later, Korg introduced built‑in speakers with the i4S, a more affordable, scaled‑down version of the i2/i3 slanted more towards the traditional keyboard buyer — though the sober appearance was retained, with the speakers blended into the front‑panel design using low‑profile black speaker grilles.

Subsequently, Korg have produced a number of more affordable keyboards, such as the iS40, iS50 and ix300, ranging in price from £849 to £1199. However, the i‑series has been without a high‑end flagship for the past year, following the deletion of the i2 and i3 from Korg's catalogue. The new i30 sets out to remedy this situation. So just what do Korg think a flagship keyboard should be offering these days?


Korg i30

Korg label their i‑series instruments 'Interactive Music Workstations'. The Interactive bit refers, of course, to the auto‑accompaniment section (a canny application of a contemporary technology buzzword), but it also serves to distinguish the i‑series from the (synth) Music Workstation that is most associated with the company. Like its flagship predecessors, the i30 is a synth workstation, but with auto‑accompaniment features integrated into it. So, it has the familiar workstation combination of sample‑based sound collection, multiple drum kits, onboard multi‑effects, multitimbrality, onboard multitrack sequencer and built‑in floppy disk drive (though it lacks the multi‑Program Combis familiar from Korg's workstations). It also introduces to the i‑series range the large TouchView touch‑sensitive graphical LCD screen previously found on Korg's Trinity synth workstation range.

On the synthesis front, however, the i30 sticks to the AI2 sample‑based subtractive synthesis familiar from the company's X and N series synth workstations rather than adopting the more recent ACCESS sample‑based subtractive synthesis technology of the Trinity (so, for instance, it doesn't have the Trinity's Prophecy‑derived multimode filters). This does, though, allow it to provide the 64‑voice polyphony expected of a high‑end keyboard these days (ACCESS on the Trinity provides a more modest 32 voices). With an 18Mb sample ROM providing 523 samples and waveforms, the i30 has the largest sound source yet on an i‑series instrument (though still short of the Trinity's 24Mb); it also has the largest collection of Programs and Styles so far, and provides full editing of both.

Other features include a 16‑track onboard sequencer for recording sequences from scratch and a Backing Sequence mode for recording live auto‑accompaniment plus melody performances (plus another five keyboard parts if you wish). Korg's new flagship comes in two versions, one with and one without a built‑in 1Gb hard drive for storing all the instrument's data. If you need rapid selection and loading of sounds, sequences and auto‑accompaniment style data for onstage use, then the £200 extra for the hard drive version will be a worthwhile investment.

Action Stations

Korg i30

The most striking aspect of the i30's otherwise sober front panel is its large backlit graphical LCD. But what really sets the i30 apart from the crowd is the fact that this LCD is touch‑sensitive; all you need to do in order to select parameters and call up onscreen windows and menus is touch the relevant area of the screen. Fortunately you don't need to strike the screen in order to get a result; a gentle but firm touch is all that is needed, although sharp jabs work well too, if that's how the mood takes you — the LCD screen seems quite robust. Response/redraw time is comfortably fast, if not instant. (See 'A Touching Display' box for more about the touchscreen interface.)

The i30's front panel features a generous supply of buttons and sliders, mainly for mode and memory selection, plus selection of auto‑accompaniment and keyboard settings. It's worth pointing out, though, that the large graphical display and touchscreen capability provide ready access to the i30's many synthesis parameters. Live mixing of the i30's accompaniment and keyboard parts is facilitated by the Output Mixer section at the left‑hand end of the front panel. The nine level sliders allow individual control of the six accompaniment and three keyboard parts, as do the nine play/mute buttons below the sliders; you can press multiple buttons at once to drop several parts in and/or out together, eg. the drum, percussion and bass parts.

Editing is easy and rewarding using the graphical touchscreen interface.

To the right of the mixer section are eight buttons for selecting the i30's various operational modes: Arrange Play, Backing Sequence, Song, Song Play, Program, Edit Style, Global, and Disk. Over on the other side of the LCD are the familiar tempo/value dial and +/‑ buttons for use in parameter editing along with the touchscreen, plus Menu, Exit, Compare, Reset and Tap Tempo buttons and an array of buttons for selecting Programs and Arrangements. Each i30 mode has an edit menu, called up logically enough using the Menu button, with options selectable by touching large, clearly‑labelled graphical square 'buttons' in the LCD.

Running across the lower edge of the front panel, just above the keyboard, are all the buttons for use in conjunction with the auto‑accompaniment section. Here you can select the 10 sections of a Style (Intro 1 and 2, Ending 1 and 2, Fills 1 and 2, and Variations 1‑4) and start/stop the accompaniment, and also select synchro start/stop, fade in/out and ritardando/accelerando options. Other parameter buttons include Chord Memory ('off' means bass and harmony parts only play when trigger notes are held down), Bass Inversion ('on' means the bass part plays the lowest, not always the root, note of a trigger chord), and Ensemble ('on' adds harmony parts around the melody line; you also get a choice of 10 voicing types). You can also lock tempo and keyboard sounds (so they don't change when you call up a new Arrangement), select Keyboard Set mode (for calling up user‑programmable keyboard settings), and enable/disable the Full Keyboard trigger zone option (a welcome feature, I feel, as it can be useful to be able to drop in and out of full keyboard triggering for those moments when you need two‑handed triggering for more sophisticated chords, or big chordal keyboard stabs). Also provided on the front panel are handy octave up/down and transpose buttons, allowing you to quickly change the range of individual keyboard parts (+/‑ two octaves) and alter the key of the keyboard and accompaniment parts.

To the left of the 61‑note keyboard is Korg's familiar X/Y joystick plus a couple of buttons, Switch 1 and Switch 2. The joystick handles the usual pitch‑bend and modulation functions, but can also be assigned per Program to control a number of synthesis parameters. Meanwhile, each switch can be assigned any one of 54 functions globally; in many cases these duplicate front‑panel buttons, but they also include handy up/down functions (eg. Program or Keyboard Set up or down). Incidentally, this same set of functions is also available for the two assignable footswitch inputs and the five footswitches of the optional EC5 board — useful in this case as hands‑free alternatives to front‑panel operations. The synth‑style keyboard has a lively action, which will be pleasing to players as it encourages clear articulation.

Making Arrangements

An i30 Arrangement is a complete set of keyboard and accompaniment sounds, effects, tempo and front‑panel settings grouped together with a Style selection. You can call up a different Style at any time within a given Arrangement — which can be an interesting way of randomly experimenting with different Style and sound combinations. A new Style is selected simply by pressing on the Style field in the main Arrangement Play mode LCD screen, then pressing on one of the 12 graphical musical style buttons and selecting a Style from the resulting pop‑up menu. You can select from 128 ROM and 128 RAM Arrangements (great to see the user memories given equal weight), either via the LCD or the relevant front‑panel buttons. The transition from Arrangement to Arrangement is completely smooth in performance (on the first beat of the next bar), so you can create performances and songs out of multiple Arrangements and Styles — ideal for user‑created auto‑accompaniments.

If you're a fan of Korg's sample‑based workstations and you want to get into auto‑accompaniment sequencing, the i30 is the ideal instrument...

The i30's virtual backing band has six 'members': drummer, percussionist, bassist, and three very versatile multi‑instrumentalists! For your own keyboard performance you get three parts — Lower, Sub and Main — each of which can, like the 'backing band members', be assigned its own Program. Lower occupies the left side of the user‑selectable keyboard split, while Main and Sub are layered sounds on the right side of the split. You can use any combination of these keyboard sounds, and also define a velocity window, damper on/off, and joystick x‑axis on/off settings for each part. Keyboard and accompaniment parts can also use external sounds (from other MIDI instruments), as each part can be assigned its own MIDI transmit/receive channel.

All the Style sections (intros, variations, fills, endings) can be selected live, of course, with seamless transitions; it's worth mentioning that each Fill‑in can be assigned one of 13 possible options defining which Variation follows on from it! But perhaps the standout Style feature is the multiple Chord Variations programmable for each section — two for each of the Intro, Fill‑in and End sections, six for each of the Variation sections — greatly increasing the number of available sections. They're called Chord Variations because each can be triggered by any one of an impressive 20 (yes, 20) chord types. This allows a lot more flexibility to be introduced into the backings where you're playing chord sequences, but also it greatly expands the flexibility of a more modern 'pattern loop' approach to auto‑accompaniments, where chords are used purely to trigger patterns which may have chord sequences already programmed within them.

Another neat live mixing feature is the Synchro Backing option. If you enable this for any accompaniment part, the part drops out whenever you hold down the notes of your trigger chord; this means you can dynamically drop selected parts in and out while playing, simply by the choice of when you play the trigger chord on the keyboard.

Edit Style mode lets you create your own Styles from scratch, by editing an existing Style, or by mix 'n' matching parts from different Styles (always a fun way to create new Styles — sometimes the results are awful, sometimes excitingly fresh). You can, of course, also mix your own parts with existing parts. Remember that you also have all the Chord Variations parts, so there's plenty of scope for creativity. Full bar and event editing is available, and you can also record up to 99 Patterns as a common pool of material to draw on, and import accompaniment tracks into the patterns and patterns into the accompaniment tracks. If that's not enough, you can import any bar range from any Song track into a Style, allowing you to draw on material from MIDI songfile toolkit disks.

Sounds & Styles

Inevitably the Korg i30 provides a General MIDI sound set, and it's one of the more vibrant and appealing ones available, characterised by Korg's usual sonic excellence. However, the new keyboard is sonically much more versatile than this, coming with a further 192 ROM and 128 RAM Programs, sophisticated sound editing capability, and a large sample and waveform ROM complete with the usual quirky and creative Korg sounds to draw on. Editing is easy and rewarding using the graphical touchscreen interface. While the i30 treads a well‑worn path sonically, it's also solid and reliable. Worth highlighting is the large number of drum kits, which as usual from Korg provide one of the more interesting and satisfying drum and percussion presences available on a workstation, including plenty of modern kits.

The i30's 128 preset ROM Arrangements/Styles are divided into 12 musical style categories: 8 Beat, 16 Beat, Ballroom, Dance (not ballroom!), Latin, Country, Trad, Jazz, R&B, Funk, Rock and World — the usual split‑personality keyboard attempt to appeal to both traditional and modern users (it's about time this situation changed). However, the standard of the i30's Style programming is impressive across the board; unlike some manufacturers, Korg do manage to come up with credible modern dancefloor Styles, and have the components and the overall sound to put them across convincingly. Now if only Korg would focus even more in this area... But whatever your musical preference, do check out the i30's Styles if you are thinking of investing in a high‑end keyboard.


The i30's onboard 16‑track sequencer is pleasingly flexible, intuitive, and well provided for with editing features; it also benefits greatly from the instrument's large graphical display and touchscreen access.

Each track can be set to play internally and/or externally via MIDI, and assigned its own MIDI channel; you can also set key and velocity ranges per track, as well as transposition, detune, and bend range. Overwrite, Overdub, Manual Punch‑in, Auto Punch In/Out and Loop real‑time record modes are provided, as is step‑time recording. As well as linear tracks you can also record up to 100 Patterns that all the Songs can draw on, and move song data between Patterns and tracks. The sequencer has a thorough complement of bar‑level editing functions, and also lets you edit at event level (complete with data filtering options to simplify the data stream). As usual from Korg, then, this is no half‑hearted effort; the memory, shared by Backing and Song sequencers, offers around 65,000 events in total.

The i30 can load MIDI songfiles off disk into its 10 Song memories and automatically play them back with the assigned GM patches; you can also change the patches and mute any parts individually. Of course, you can also play back songfiles on the i30 via MIDI from an external sequencer. A Jukebox option lets you create a playback list of the Songs on a disk, with the option to specify that Songs are started automatically or manually; in this way you can pre‑program your set for a gig. You can save your own Songs to disk in Standard MIDI File (SMF) formats 0 and 1, and also convert your Backing Sequences into SMFs and then save them to disk (format 0 only). Converted Backing Sequences can then be loaded as Songs into the multitrack sequencer for further work.

...the standard of the i30's Style programming is impressive.


Korg have come up with a strong contender at the high end of the keyboard market. The i30 doesn't revolutionise the concept of the auto‑accompaniment keyboard, nor does it stand at the forefront of synthesis developments (that is still, it seems, the preserve of the new generation of 'real synths', such as the Prophecy and the Z1). However, if you're a fan of Korg's sample‑based workstations and you want to get into auto‑accompaniment sequencing, the i30 is the ideal instrument — what's more, its 'synth‑like' appearance shouldn't put you off, and it also has the credibility/boasting factor of its large touchscreen LCD (though Technics, of course, can also play the bragging game with the KN5000's colour LCD). Keyboard players new to Korg have an opportunity to buy into the famous Korg sound, not to mention some of the best‑programmed Styles in the business. Korg may be relative newcomers to the auto‑accompaniment keyboard market, but their take on Style programming and auto‑accompaniment features is credible, rich and deep. You can use the i30 as a sample‑based synthesizer, a multitrack workstation synth or an auto‑accompaniment keyboard, and it will satisfy in these areas individually. Its greatest strength, however, is that it provides a well‑integrated and exciting combination of all three, crowned by one of the best user interfaces you can get.

A Touching Display

The i30's inclusion of the TouchView touch‑sensitive backlit LCD (320 x 240 dots) is one of those significant moments in keyboard history — not only does it put the i30 on a par with Korg's Trinity synth workstation, but it also puts the keyboard ahead of the synth market in general (echoes of the Technics KN2000 here). Actually, the i30 isn't the first keyboard to include a touch‑sensitive LCD screen; German company Wersi got there first with the Pegasus a few years back (before the Trinity, even).

I've commented elsewhere on the touch responsiveness of the screen (see 'Front Panel' section). Here I want to outline the features of the display. There are several graphical parameter field types: edit cells, pop‑up buttons, check boxes, radio buttons, tabs, and select buttons.

  • With an edit cell, you just press the relevant area on the screen and then use the edit dial or +/‑ button to change the value (this option is typically used for numeric ranges).
  • Pop‑up and select buttons call up menus which occupy some or all of the screen; these are typically used for selecting Programs or Styles by category.
  • Check boxes and radio buttons are used for on/off parameter settings; you simply press them and a graphical tick or blob appears or disappears accordingly.
  • Tabs, meanwhile, are the equivalent of the physical 'soft' function buttons often found below LCD screens, and are used to call up related pages

Each LCD page also has a Page Menu button in the top right‑hand corner; pressing on this calls up a pop‑up menu which typically has write options and sometimes copy, swap, initialise and metronome options, depending on the context. Selecting one of these options typically calls up a dialogue box with parameter, cancel and OK options. A feature of the pop‑up menu is the 'safety pin', which you open or close by touching it; open means the menu disappears once you've selected an option, closed means the menu stays open.

The i30's graphical page layouts are clear and very accessible, and the size of the screen (320 x 240 dots) in conjunction with these graphical layouts and the ease of selecting parameters and options simply by touching them onscreen makes the i30 a real pleasure to edit. To give one example, in Arrangement Play mode it's possible to select one of six effects configurations for the accompaniment parts; the large LCD lets you see the six configurations graphically in the one display and select the configuration you want simply by touching it. Another good example is the text edit dialogue box, which gives you a graphical typewriter key layout, complete with space bar and shift and delete keys; this makes entering names a doddle, as you literally type them onscreen.

Key Features

Keyboard: 61 keys, attack velocity and channel aftertouch.
Sound generation method:AI2 sample‑based subtractive synthesis.
Sound ROM:18Mb PCM samples and waveforms.
Polyphony:64 voices.
Programs:320 ROM + 32 ROM drum kits, 128 RAM + 8 RAM drum kits.
Effects:2 digital multi‑effects; 24 types, 47 effects (4 available in Arrangement Play and Backing Sequence modes).
Keyboard Sets:64.
Arrangements:128 ROM, 128 RAM.
Styles:128 ROM, 48 RAM.
Backing Sequence:10 Songs.
Song Sequencer:10 Songs.
Memory capacity (Backing and Song sequencers):65,536 events max.
Display:TouchView touch‑sensitive backlit LCD, 320 x 240 dots.
Storage: (i30) built‑in 3.5" DSDD/HD floppy disk drive; (i30HD) built‑in 1GB hard drive.
Connections:L/Mono & R audio outs, two individual audio outs, headphones socket, sustain pedal input, two assignable switch/pedal inputs, EC5 multi‑footswitch board input, MIDI (In, Out and Thru), To Host PC computer serial port.
Weight:14.21 kg.
Dimensions:109cm (W) x 34.8cm (D) x 11.7cm (H).


  • Touchscreen LCD.
  • The 'Korg sound'.
  • Accessible front panel, including mixer section.
  • Large collection of Programs and Styles, plus custom editing.
  • Versatile, accessible auto‑accompaniment capabilities.
  • Smooth transition between Programs while holding notes.


  • No Combis.
  • No custom sample capability.


The i30 is a sophisticated, powerful and versatile keyboard/synth crossover instrument, offering plenty of high‑quality sounds and Styles. As such, it should appeal to a wide range of musicians.