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This is the Korg volca bass on top of my master keyboard. The volca bass has a true analog synthesis, with three VCOs and a nice sounding filter (that uses the circuitry of the legendary miniKORG-700S from 1974).

The volca bass is very direct, very easy to learn. It’s tactile and inviting to play. It’s also small, like a VHS cassette, and the build is sturdy enough for the price point.

True Analog

I wanted a sound source that couldn’t be imitated digitally, and I actually wanted something well-defined (limitations somehow inspire me, while a tabula rasa has always been connected with anxiety for me). So I looked for a new analog sound engine and found the volca series.

It’s my third Korg, but the microKORG uses DSP analog modeling and the Polysix for Reason, a softsynth, uses CMT (Component Modeling Technology) to replicate the sound and parameter response of the original analog hardware.

The Sound

I like the sound of the volca bass, it’s rich, beefy, punchy and unmistakably analog. It may be inspired by the classic Roland TB-303, but the volca bass sounds different – it has its own sonic signature. Well I don’t mind, and I don’t make acid house anyway.

It’s easy to produce sounds for a wide range of music genres, like electro, electronica and EDM and even detuned old school EBM basses.

First I thought I’d be sequencing the volca bass externally in a DAW, and then resample and mix it with other instruments. I didn’t think I’d need the built-in loop sequencer, but now I admit that sequencer is part of the instrument itself: I mean, one will come up with phrases and riffs (with slides, octave jumps and such) in real-time that one never would have on a timeline in a DAW. Now I can resample, comp and edit the shit out of these loops.

The Keyboard

The ribbon controller, or the multi-touch half-step chromatic keyboard, is odd and confusing to say the least; it has inverted colors fucking up your head and begins with an A, instead of a standard C. Not a big deal though, I can live and trigger notes on an external keyboard via MIDI in.

Bass or Keys

I decided to go for the volca bass, and not the volca keys, because I wanted both sawtooth and square waveforms, and independent control of the three oscillators.

Some people say volca keys is more versatile as a standalone module, but I’m more a composer and a sound designer, than a performer, so the extended loop sequencer, polyphony and voicing options of the volca keys, were less important than the waveforms to me. They also say the filter on the volca bass sounds better than the one on volca keys, but it’s supposed to be the same filter so I don’t know. The volca keys is said to be more noisy, due to the digital delay that generates background noise.

Anyway, I’m now thinking of getting the volca keys too. Even if some features overlap, the different modules have their own niche and complement each other; surly Korg and engineer Tatsuya Takahashi designed them with this in mind.

And it could be fun too, because these devices are made for synchronized chaining of multiple volca modules (and even monotribe).

Modding

Recently Korg has designed some instruments so that they are mod-friendly. The company even published a reference schematic for the predecessor, monotron, and labeled solder points on the printed circuit boards of the volca series for modding and hacking.

For example, I’ve always thought the snare sounded weak on the volca beats, but that can be modded by placing a 104 capacitor across position C78 on the PCB.

In the same mindset, Korg released a SDK (Software Development Kit) and library that encourage people to code their own applications for the volca sample.

Wishlist

Of course I’d like to be able to set the volume for the individual VCOs, and to level distortion and accent et cetera. And even if I don’t mind the lack of MIDI out, I wouldn’t mind it either.

But some things I’d like to change with the volca bass. As I don’t value portability as high, I’d rather drop the built-in speaker, switch the 1/8” mini jack to a balanced 1/4” jack, remove the battery slot and include an AC adapter. I guess these changes would make the volca bass less a toy and more a studio instrument.

It’s still fine, it’s great actually.

But with them features some clever modding could accomplish, the volca bass would be perfect. In theory that is, I can’t say for sure, because I haven’t yet made any music with it.

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