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…..
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
- 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)
- There are three stages:
- 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.
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.
- Easy to use
- A digital keyboard for analog fans
- Great collection of vintage-style sounds
- Intelligent design and attention to details
- 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!