KingKorg Synthesizer Review – A Digital Synthesizer For Vintage Synth Fans

king-korg-analog-synthesizer

At the 2013 NAMM Show, Korg introduced the KingKorg – a new synth that offers full-sized keys, a three-oscillator-per-voice synth architecture, a wide range of filter options and a straightforward, knobby interface.

At the same NAMM Show, Korg also introduced the new MS-20 Mini, which not only stole the show, but stole a lot of attention away from the KingKorg. The MS-20 was not just a new analog synth, but a modern take on a classic.

While the Mini was one of the 2013 NAMM Show highlights, the KingKorg is a completely new synth design – and it’s a synth that has a lot to offer. It’s a virtual analog synth that Korg describes as the “full-fledged analog modeling synthesizer you’ve been waiting for.”

Can Korg pull off a analog modeling synth that’s good enough to please vintage synth freaks?

Let’s check it out…..

kingkorg-synthesizer-monotribe

The KingKorg is a full-sized, 61-key analog modeling synth that’s designed for live performance. It offers a clear layout, it’s highly tweakable and it’s even got a streamlined sexiness that’s somewhere between the retro-knobbiness of vintage analogs and the minimalism of early digital synths.

With today’s electronics, it’s easy to add more and more features to keyboards. This can lead to keyboards that are powerful, but also sometimes leads to synths that are complicated and not that fun to play.

WIth the KingKorg, Korg’s designers have gone the other direction, avoiding featuritus and instead, they’ve made tough decisions about what features belong in the keyboard. That meant leaving some features out – features that some buyers may want. But the result of this discipline is a keyboard that’s powerful, but also immediate and fun to play.

Key features of the KingKorg include:

  • Full-sized, 61-key semi-weighted keyboard
  • Three oscillators per voice, with choice of 127 oscillator types
  • Choice of 18 filter types
  • Three master effect sections, each with six effect types
  • CV/GATE OUT jack that you can use to control a Korg Monotribe or MS-20
  • Support for librarian software that lets you manage programs
  • Vacuum-tube driver circuit
  • Vocoder (but bring your own mic)

After spending some time with the KingKorg synthesizer, we found a lot to like. While it is a analog modeling synthesizer, the Korg KingKorg is a digital synthesizer designed for vintage analog keyboard fans.

Design & Build Quality korg-kingkorg-huge

The KingKorg is very straightforward to get started with. The synth powers up with a light show that highlights all the front panel controls . And the front panel is clearly labeled, easy to understand and comfortable under than hands.

kingkorg-presets

The current patch is displayed on an OLED display that’s right in the middle of the front panel. A large knob, placed right next to the display, lets you scroll through sounds rapidly.

Sounds can be organized by type (Synth, Lead, Bass, etc). You can also organize them into collections of Favorites.

The KingKorg keyboard is a velocity-sensitive semi-weighted keyboard. Because of its weight, the keyboard ‘feel’ is more suited to synth and bass sounds and less to acoustic piano sounds.

korg-kingkorg-synth-back

The backside of the KingKorg is equally straightforward, with connections for audio in and out, MIDI In & Out, USB connectivity, pedal jacks and something that’s a bit of a surprise, CV/Gate out.

Korg also includes a feature on the back that we haven’t seen before – an LED that lights up with each note trigger, giving audiences a visual indication of what’s happening on the other side. It’s a minor feature – but it’s a reminder that Korg’s designers paid attention to details in making the KingKorg.

In terms of build, the KingKong is designed to be portable and lightweight. It weight in at just 15.43 lbs. / 7.0 kg. To make a full-size synth that light means that, while the front of the KingKorg is metal, most of the body is plastic. As a result, it’s solid, but doesn’t have the tank-like ruggedness of many vintage synths.

Using The KingKorg

Like most classic synths, there’s no wading through deep menus on the KingKorg. Just turn the keyboard on and start playing.

The KingKorg presets features a wide range of classic synth and keyboard sounds, ranging from old-school Moog and Mellotron, to acid-style bass, digital synth and some basic stage keyboard sounds. The collection of presets seems to have been picked with vintage synth fans in mind. There’s a wide variety of vintage synth sounds, string synth patches, Mellotron sounds, classic Minimoog leads, Rhodes sounds and even vocoder patches.

Here are the official KingKorg audio demos:

The acoustic instrument and stage piano type sounds on the KingKorg are good, but not state-of-the-art. While they don’t match the sounds on what you’d get with more expensive ‘flagship’ keyboards, they are welcome and useful. And, even if you don’t need sounds like piano or organ, the foundation of these sounds are oscillators that you can use for building your own custom sounds.

The presets show off the KingKorg’s strength – its flexible synth engine. And if a sound isn’t exactly what you want, the sound is instantly tweakable, because there are dedicated knobs for so many aspects of the sound:

king-korg-knobs

There are knobs and buttons for oscillators, filters, amps and all the major aspects of the synth voice. This minimizes the need for wading through menus.

The keyboard action is semi-weighted and quick, so it feels better for synth-type sounds than for piano. The illuminated joystick is a nice alternative to the usual dual mod wheels, and makes it easier to control multiple parameters of a sound simultaneously.

In addition to the expected controls, there are dedicated controls all around the synth to allow for tweaking of things like portamento rate, drive, effects depth, LFO mod levels and velocity sensitivity. The selection is well-thought-out and means that you quickly learn that you can tweak a lot of aspects of your sound while you are playing.

Finally, the KingKorg offers a unique feature for a digital synth, control voltage outputs. The CV/GATE OUT jack is designed to let you use an analog signal to control a Korg Monotribe or MS-20. A dedicated cable for the Monotribe is included, allowing you to use the keyboard of KingKORG to play the Monotribe.

While the front panel is easy to get around, the KingKorg’s panel layout seems like a missed opportunity. Vintage synths frequently laid out the controls so that they reflected the signal path of the synth’s architecture. Designing the front panel so that it reflects the synth’s architecture makes it easier to learn and understand patching on a synth.

On the KingKorg, though, the front panel layout doesn’t follow the signal path. Instead, it seems like the designer may have emphasized visual balance over clarity. As a result, it’s ultimately not clear from the front panel how the signal path flows through the KingKorg.

You Have To Synthesize!

Playing through the presets is fun, but you have to dig into creating your own patches if you want to get the most out of a synth. Fortunately, the KingKorg is a very inviting synth to program.

On the KingKorg, you create Timbres, which can be combined in various ways in Programs.

kingkorg-synth-timbre

Timbres are what’s generally known as a synth patch:

  • You can mix from 1-3 oscillators, each of which can be classic oscillators (sine wave, square wave, etc) or sampled oscillators (piano, mellotron). There are 127 oscillator options.
  • You can then run the mix through a variety of filters and an amplifier. There is one filter per timbre, but there are 18 filter types to choose from.
  • You can modify various elements of the sound with envelope generators and LFOs.

Programs combine multiple Timbres, as splits or layers.

kingkorg-synth-design

The result can be run through a variety of effects, including Master FX that can be applied to Timbres individually, or Global EFX, which apply to all Timbres.

There’s a lot to like about the KingKorg’s synth architecture. It’s a fairly traditional architecture, so it should be easy to learn for most people. Two things jump out with the KingKorg’s architecture, though:

  • The KingKorg’s design delivers immediacy. There are dedicated knobs for most patch parameters, so tweaking a sound is done primarily by turning knobs. A few items, like the Filter and Amp ADSR knobs are shared. But even there, a button makes it easy to toggle between the two, and an indicator lamp shows the current state. This makes creating new sounds fast and fun.
  • The KingKorg packs a lot of power into its relatively straightforward architecture. Each of the three oscillators can be set to any of four different types of oscillators, ranging from classic oscillator types to sampled sounds. There are 18 filter types (7 LPF, 5 HPF, 6 BPF), flexible modulation options and 5 different effects slots. The result is a easy-to-learn voice architecture that still offers a lot of power.

Here are Korg’s official intro videos that explain the KingKorg’s Oscillators and Filters:

KingKorg Oscillators:

The oscillators give you a choice of 127 types of oscillator algorithms. You can chose from 32 analog and noise waveform options, 64 DWGS options, 30 PCM + Mic in. You can also make the waveform richer and thicker by applying the unison setting.

KingKorg Filters:

Where traditional analogs generally have a single filter, or possibly a multi-mode filter, the KingKorg offers 18 filter types: 7 Low pass filters, 5 high-pass filters and 6 band-pass filters. In this video, Korg USA’s Rich Formidoni highlights the characteristics of some of the various filter types:

Effects Section kingkorg-synth-design Something you don’t generally find on vintage synths is a robust effects section. Looking at the Program diagram above, you can see that there are Master FX and Global FX:

  • Master FX can be enabled/disabled for each Timbre.
    • There are three stages:
      • Pre FX: DISTORTION, DECIMATOR, RING MOD, GT AMP, EP AMP, TONE
      • MOD FX: 6 types (FLANGER, CHORUS, U-VIBE, TREMOLO, PHASER, ROTARY)
      • REV/DELAY: 6 types (HALL, ROOM, PLATE, TAPE ECHO, MOD DELAY, BPM DELAY)
  • Global FX apply to the mix of both Timbres. Options include 2-band EQ and analog tube effects.

While the effects section generally sounds great, we would love to see a more powerful reverb on the the KingKorg.

Summary

The Korg KingKorg is a fun synth that packs a lot of power, without miring you down with complexity. It comes with presets tailored to the vintage keyboard enthusiast, including classic analog sounds, Mellotron, string synth, electric piano and more.

With a street price of about $1,300, the KingKorg is a good value for players that want a full-size flexible synth, but don’t want to pay for workstation features.

If you can afford to buy a collection of vintage keyboards, good for you! Nothing will ever be an exact match for the original. On the other hand, if you want a great collection of vintage synth sounds and a flexible synth engine, in a modern keyboard, the KingKorg should be on your short list.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • A digital keyboard for analog fans
  • Great collection of vintage-style sounds
  • Intelligent design and attention to details

Cons:

  • Lightweight construction
  • Some users may prefer synths with more features
  • Keyboard lacks aftertouch

If you’ve tried the KingKorg synth, leave a comment and let us know what you think of it!

30 thoughts on “KingKorg Synthesizer Review – A Digital Synthesizer For Vintage Synth Fans

  1. I had the chance to check this out at NAMM and was impressed. I thought it was a full on analog synth at first, until I got into the mellotron presets.

    Between this, the MS-20 Mini and the Volcas, Korg’s putting out some great stuff!

  2. I’ve got the KingKorg and it can sound immense if you program it right. You can detune the oscillators, you can add analog instability to the oscillators and you can add randomness to the tuning, for example. The presets play it pretty safe, but don’t be fooled!

  3. If this had a CS80 filter and a keyboard with aftertouch, it would have been a no-brainer for me. Does it support aftertouch via MIDI?

  4. I wonder whats so expensive in it, that they had to reduce knobs, take their signature sequencer away and cut back the synth engine…

    Sound is most important of course, but just wondering. Even as a kind of downgrade, its still so expensive that you can buy an actual poly analog with that price…which is a kind of no brainer for me compared to this.

    1. I suspect this was a marketing decision. If they remove some complexity (and yes, even features) folks will perceive it as more simple to learn. Perhaps also, with fewer features, it will seem more like an analog synth. In reality, we know that this same synth could have had a sequencer and more knobs– even a ton of sampled oscillators- without adding much to the cost. If Korg is doing their market research, they are probably finding that the kids are profoundly influenced by first impressions of accessibility.

    2. “you can buy an actual poly analog with that price”

      What poly analogs are you thinking of?

      There really aren’t a lot of analog polysynths in the $1300 price range. The ones that are, like the Mopho x4, are great synths, but are way less powerful than the KingKorg.

      The KingKorg has 6 times the polyphony of the x4, more oscillators per voice, 50 times as many oscillator options, a dozen more filter types, an extra two octaves on the keyboard and more knobs and controls on the front panel.

      A better comparison would be against the Prophet 12, but it costs $3,000.

      The KingKorg also covers a lot more territory – it’s a powerful synth, but it also gives you Mellotron, piano, Fender Rhodes, etc.

      1. I don’t think that King Korg is even nearly as powerful as a synthesizer as Prophet. Prophets have so vast modulation possibilities, that you can make, and keep making for years, tons of sounds that KK could only envy. And Prophet 08 desktop is only a couple hundreds more, but also has the pots and a sequencer, which is rather nifty modulation source. And you don’t waste any money or space in crap feeling cheapo keyboard in a desk top model.

        Alesis made a fantastic sounding VA a bloody decade ago, a long time in digital evolution, but the difference is that it was half the price, over twice as interesting synth engine and good amount of pots and graphical interface.

        I think this “King” is a mere knight.

        Theres actually comparison videos, where “King” Korg takes beating from a meager, age old, half the price, Alesis Ion

        1. It’s a pity that the KK has been promoted as a VA synth as it has one of the most powerful digital synth engines every created. I have yet to see this mentioned in any review. Under the hood is MMT2 synthesis, which features VA, PCM and DWGS synths. The VA section employs cross modulation (true FM), oscillator sync, PWM, Phase Modulation (Yamaha’s FM) and various modelled filters including Moog. The DWGS waves can be routed the Phase Modulation section. This kind of FM synthesis is reserved for a select few synths such as Yamaha’s SY77/99 and Korg’s Kronos. With the addition of matrix modulation being able to modulate any of the controllers (i.e. the PM depth), this is a pseudo modular synth and one of, if not the, most comprehensive synth engines on the market.

        2. I’ve tested the KK side by side with the Ion, there’s no comparison. One sounds like it was made in the early 2002’s and one sounds like how modern VA’s have begun to sound. Your point is a bit strange, because there’s a s**t ton of sounds the KingKorg can do that the Prophet could only dream of too.

  5. Dumb name but I got over it. Dumb Buick color but I got over it. No 76 key version but I got over it. Sqeaky plastic construction with cheap switchgear that has a dot of glue inside just in case it falls off in the showroom but I got over it. Expensive for the feature set but I got over it. No decent presets but I got over it. I bought one and am enjoying the sounds I created myself and trying not to look at this cheap ugly board.

    1. I tried one at a local music store and my first impression was that the overall contruction is decent (maybe a little on the cheap side considering the price tag of the instrument) but the keyboard really, really sucked. It’s by far the most unpleasant keyboard I’ve played on in years. Even a cheap Casio keyboard from the 80s or 90s has a better keyboard than this synth. And that’s a shame because the filters and some of the oscillator waveforms (I really like the fact that you can get digital, wavetably sounds in addition to the rather mundane square, saw, triangle and so on) sound quite good. It’s a little tedious to program with only a few buttons and different functions per knob depending on which waveform you’ve selected for instance. I was not so impressed by the FX section. The distortion/overdrive stuff sounded uniformly horrible compared with a simple guitar pedal. The tube circuit is a bad joke in my opinion. You can do nice things with tubes, but Korg didn’t with this one it seems. Or maybe there was something wrong with the model I played (perhaps the factory neglected to set the right bias point for the tube’s grid voltage or something like that during calibration).

  6. The thing that I noticed is that one of the big three keyboard companies finally introduced a synth that doesn’t suck.

    Roland and Yamaha are officially put on notice.

    1. Ummm… could you please define “suck” for the audience? 😛 No, I’m not trying to troll. Sometimes its just a hair-pulling matter of deciding what percentage of suckage a new item involves and whether or not that neutralizes its appeal. One person’s ‘suck’ is another’s captivatin’ passion.

  7. I wish they would make something with the same untuitive knob per function layout, but cut back the cost by making in 3 octaves. I think this is too much money for a digital synth these days – especially one that looks so ugly!

  8. I think that as much as not, manufacturers either make cheap mechanisms for profit or they don’t even have a decent idea of how vital a solid touch is to making music. That feels peculiar to consider. The touch-to-sound factor matters a lot to me, but I often wonder if many others notice it, because we keep seeing the same poor builds, season after season. If Korg offered the superior M3 keyboard as a separate controller, I could understand wanting to push your premium tool, but they don’t. Its a disappointing puzzler.

    The KK has a great sound. Complaints about its simplicity are not all that well supported. If you’ve played anything like a ‘real’ synth with knobs n’ sliders, you already know how important “grabability” can be. Like the VR-09, this one offers a lot of it. Its aimed at immediate playability, not in-depth programming. You buy an instrument like this to compliment your basic workstation, Nord piano, mini-modular and softsynths. The engine and GUI seem perfectly good to me. After all, it held its own against a real Prophet.

    1. They have to make what people will buy. Unfortunately, things like the MicroKorgs are the big sellers, not more serious keyboards.

      The KK is close to being an awesome board, but for $1300 you want the keys to feel better.

  9. I agree they should make a three octave version!! That would totally make sense. Although isnt that just a korg r3 then?

    1. Almost, but the R3 has a fair bit of menu diving. The King has a much simpler interface – as well as 3 oscillators, more filter options etc.

      1. R3 on other hand has two freely routable multimode filters and one of them is also continuously variable multi mode and it also has a modulation sequencer.

        Jesus. If only King Korg would have had a step sequencer and two filters, I would have bought it, if it was more expensive and considered it a good deal, even if it was shorter. Now it only looks expensive piece plastic with crap keys. I was so keenly waiting for a successor of the MS2000->Radias line. I hate, I HATE KK for eating my chances of getting one.

        Revolution½!!! Kill the King!!!

  10. Not sure why they didn’t offer a rack version of this… seems interesting to me but who’s got the room?

  11. After watching the video where the guy compares the filters to the originals, I picked one up and I’m thrilled. Well built as far as I’m concerned and lots of fun dialling in a slow attack/decay sweeping pad for example and switching between the different filter types. Different shades of resonance at the edge of self oscillation….it’s all there. All the nesessary FX are there plus an arp. Plenty of knobs for the immediate parameters. I can’t stress it enough….audition it with a decent pair of studio headphones.

  12. I have had a KingKorg for nearly a year, it is so underrated, I have reproduced Minimoog & Juno 106 sounds that sound identical, you would not be able to tell the difference.

    Well done Korg, you did it Again

  13. Arggg… it’s so hard to know which posts to believe. I had a nord lead 2x which I loved but ultimately it wasn’t versatile enough for me and it was pretty rare that the sounds made it to any of my recordings. I sold that and bought a nord electro 2 as I was looking for a mechanical keyboard emulator, but now I’m looking for a synth to compliment this for live gigs. Really looking for something with vintage sounds but I can’t stand cheap plastic builds and I’m worried about that. Think I really need to find somewhere that stocks these in Ireland and give it a whirl for myself.

  14. i cannot understand how anyone could play the King Korg in a store and get a proper impression. i bought one for 500 dollars and i can honestly say its the best 500 dollars ive paid for a synth. this synth can sound smooth and juicy or CUTTING and aggressive. i have a waldorf Pulse 2, a Moog SubPhatty and have owned so many i cant list them. I reach for the King most of the time. i blew it off at first. but now i feel properly smart for buying one. the Subphatty is GREAT no doubt but its monophonic. the KIng is Polyphonic and sounds just about as close as you can get to Real Analog. I use it just as much as i use the Waldorf. DONT LISTEN TO THE DETRACTORS WHO JUDGE IT FOR ITS COLOR AND PLASTIC CASE. isnt music about SOUND? the LFO can spin right up to Audio rates, the Effects section is INSTANTANIOUS AND VERY EFFECTIVE. the Filters are Really SMOOTH and NO STEPPING AT ALL. put the King in a mix and just dare anyone to tell you its not Real Analog. and to be honest What Does that mean anyway? REAL ANALOG SYNTHS are the old ones that use TUBES. now the Moogs and the Waldorfs are all SOLID STATE. i wonder how the TUBE ANALOG NUTS came down on SOLID STATE? its a tired arguement.

    1. by far my favorite post. good to know. lol and to the end of your post, the only leg analog nuts have to stand on is the filters in my opinion. good Analog filters are still super nice but everything else is basically splitting hairs.

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