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April 25, 2012

Korg Monotribe Review

Filed under: Synthesizers — Tags: , , , , , , , , — audiofanzine @ 8:13 am

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Korg Monotribe Review

Presented during the Musikmesse 2011, the Monotribe is the big brother of the Monotron. This standalone sound module includes one synth voice and three analog drum sounds and was conceived to change patterns while playing live. To write this review I decided to take it with me on my skiing vacations…

Korg Monotribe

You know, February is time for holidays in the mountains among friends. Usually when night falls, Paulo grabs his guitar and steals the hearts of the girls present… I mean women — time flies! Like every year, Paulo plays while the fire crackles inside the chalet covered with snow. But I have decided Paulo will have a serious competitor this year! While the mountains disappear behind the thick clouds, a wonderful Bang Bang Chack Bang Wiiiiizzzz will pierce the silence. This year our dear Paulo lost the competition (Sylvia won’t be waiting for him) — a small analog box took his throne. “But, what the heck is that box with a black ribbon keyboard and trashy loops?” .” Explanation…

Unpacking

Korg Monotribe

The Monotribe is a small drum machine that includes four different instrumental parts (one mono synth and three drum sounds) and a 16-step sequencer. Battery operation and the small integrated speaker ensure autonomy. That’s why I didn’t hesitate to take it with me to the mountains in spite of the very low temperatures. By the way, the announced battery life is 14 hours — enough to compete with Paulo the whole week. As for design, the Monotribe is a small black box (8.2″ x 5.7″ x 2.8″) made out of plastic and weights 1.6 lbs (without batteries). The product seems to be sturdy and well manufactured. The front panel provides quite a lot of action: five rotary controls, six slim trim pots, six three-way selectors, 17 push buttons, 15 LEDs, and a ribbon/keyboard controller.

Korg Monotribe

On the rear panel are all connections, which aren’t many! Besides the on/off switch and the power in for external 9V DC power supply (ref. KA-350, unfortunately not supplied!), you get only four minijacks and one 1/4″ jack: step sync input (impulse-type sync with adjustable polarity, for example the rim shot of a drum machine), sync out (delivers +/- 5V during 15ms for every step), phones out, audio in, and mono audio out (1/4″ jack). No CV/Gate or MIDI connections! This means you can program and sync the Monotribe but you can’t control it remotely… at least in the original version since some DIY fans have managed to create upgrade kits. The bottom side gives you access to the integrated speaker and the battery compartment for six standard AA batteries (this time, Korg does provide the batteries).

Now let’s take a closer look…

Conclusion

In the end, this small box can serve more purposes other that annoying Paulo when he’s sitting next to the fire. This mobile solution is made for people who prefer intuitive and spontaneous creativity rather than complex menus and multiple memories. It’s a pity that the hidden features accessible via button combinations are not printed on the device. The ribbon keyboard is really hard to use to use if you are looking for precise triggering. With the Monotribe, Korg reinforces the idea that live electro musicians can be unexperienced keyboard players or programmers. If you want to trigger real analog, MS-20-like loops in real time without spending a fortune or learning by heart the product manual, the Monotribe is probably your instrument of choice.

Advantages: 
  • Dirty, intuitive analog sound
  • Resonant low-pass filter inherited from the MS-20
  • Fast and versatile LFO
  • Clever features (gate, flux, …)
  • Independent number of steps for each part
  • Easy to use and fun
  • Good manufacturing quality
  • Mobile device with battery operation and integrated speaker
  • Hardware modifications possible
  • Very affordable price
Drawbacks:
  • Only for live applications
  • Ribbon doesn’t allow precise triggering
  • Only two user sequences possible
  • Playback only in one direction
  • Drum sounds not editable
  • Button combinations not printed on the unit
  • No CV/gate nor MIDI
  • Optional external KA-350 PSU

To read the full detailed article with sound samples see: Korg Monotribe Review

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