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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Spend $3600 on a microphone, then find that your recordings are no better than before

 Having great equipment doesn't always lead to great recordings. And how much will you regret wasting your money?

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

"Hey how's it going, Mr. Advice Guy? I'm trying to get a good recording of my acoustic upright piano, which
I keep in a small room. What do you think I should do?"

- "Not bad dude. If your recordings stink, you need a better microphone. It's as simple as that."

"OK, what's the best mic going?"

- "The Neumann U87. It'll cost you though - around $3600. But you won't regret it."

Some time later...

"Wah! My recordings sound hardly any different than before. They're certainly not any better. I've wasted $3600. I'm putting the mic up for sale on Ebay, and I'm not taking any more of your advice."
It's a sad, sad story that doubtless has played out many times. The problem is that virtually everything you read in magazines and on the Internet says that the answer to all your recording problems is better gear. Not just better, it has to be more expensive too. Or it has to have an exotic-sounding brand name, or it has to be some piece of vintage kit from the 1960s or earlier - or a copy.

This is just so not true, and I have heard the evidence time and time again. Although microphones do sound different to each other, the differences are tiny compared to other matters that influence the sound of a recording.

In the instance of recording an acoustic piano, an upright piano sounds vastly different (and usually inferior) to a grand. Among newly purchased uprights, there is a HUGE variation in tonal qualities. As a piano ages it often acquires a rather sour and unpleasant tone. Some pianos age better than others.

Then there are the acoustics. Small rooms are always difficult to record in. Put a piano in a small room and even the most experienced engineer might have a hard time getting a decent sound.

Then there is the player. OK, different pianists don't sound as different as as different guitar players. But they can easily sound a lot more different than different microphones. (Is there a prize for the most uses of the word 'different' in a single paragraph?)



You could take the entire catalogue of professional microphones and not find any difference in sound quality anywhere near as significant as moving the same microphone a metre or so (three feet, give or take). In a small room, a difference of a few centimeters can be easily audible.

Finding the right microphone position and orientation doesn't really take more effort than moving the ornaments around on your mantlepiece. It also takes careful listening, and good judgment that is learned through experience. But anyone recording an acoustic instrument who finds that the sound doesn't please them has already acquired a critical ear and is in a good position to improve rapidly.

So if you want to record your upright piano that you keep in a small room, firstly move it to a larger room (and have it tuned). Then consider carefully whether the piano you have really is up to the task - money spent here really can be money well invested. Then practice hard or find a good player. Then...

Then take your mic, that need only be of a basic professional quality, and try out every position you can possibly imagine. Some positions that you wouldn't think of listening from yourself can work well for a microphone. If you're recording in stereo, start by getting a good position for one mic, then find a position for the other that gives a good stereo effect.

Finding the best microphone position costs nothing. Magazine advertisers want you to spend money on their products. Magazine writers earn their living from that advertising income. Internet commentators seem largely to want to add to the confusion, and often merely want to brag about the equipment they own.

In summary, if you have a microphone of a basic professional standard, then finding the best position for that mic, on any instrument, vocal or ensemble, costs nothing and will produce FAR better results than buying a more expensive mic and not taking enough care over positioning.
Publication date: Thursday September 27, 2012
Author: David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Video Compositing in Vegas Pro 10

Friday, September 28, 2012

Q. How can I improve the stereo balance of my mixes?

 Last month, you gave me some advice on identifying why the vocals on my track weren’t audible when I played it in my car [see last month’s answer to this by going to www.soundonsound.com/sos/aug12/articles/qa-0812-5.htm]. However, I’ve since discovered something that I thought you might be interested to know about. I have the iPod plugged into the car via one of those radio transmitters, powered by a cigarette lighter, which you tune into the car radio. It would seem that the car was picking it up in mono.I retuned the transmitter and the iPod was picked up in stereo. I never realised just how wide it would be in the car. My monitors and headphones don’t show up the full effect very well. So do you have any advice as to what to do now?
Via SOS web site
SOS Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: Ah yes: stereo FM radios revert to mono if the signal reception is weak. This is a deliberate design ploy to minimise audible noise during weak reception.
What it demonstrates is that your mixes have very poor mono compatibility, and that is often the case when you use a lot of stereo-widening or width-enhancing techniques and tools.
I suggest you invest in a hardware or software phase meter and learn to mix your material to keep the meter on the positive side of zero. This should ensure a reasonable degree of mono compatibility. Headphones aren’t the best for this, because each ear only hears the sound from that earpiece: it’s called binaural listening and is a completely unnatural experience. Consequently, the brain processes the sounds in a different way to normal, and stereo imaging perception goes right out of the window. There are various headphone monitoring systems involving clever crosstalk systems to try to overcome this problem. Listening over monitors, both ears hear the sounds from both monitors, and that produces an impression that is more like real life. It’s still an illusion and is still fooling the brain, but it works rather better. 

Even if you mix mostly with headphones, it’s well worth switching to monitors to check stereo balance. Due to the way people perceive sound when listening on headphones, stereo issues will often go unnoticed.
I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed how wide the stereo was on your monitors. That would suggest either that your monitors aren’t very good, or that you have polarity or phase issues with them, or — more likely — that you have poor acoustics in your listening environment, with a lot of strong local reflections that mess up the imaging.  0

Media Generators in Vegas Pro Part 2

What is Q? What can it do?

 Ah, that mysterious Q control in your EQ. Does it actually do anything?

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Here's an experiment... set up a track with some audio and an EQ plug-in. As you play the track, whack the Q control up and down. What do you hear?

Er, nothing? Did the Q control make no difference at all?

That's right. That's exactly what you should have heard.

So the Q control doesn't do anything then?

Well it doesn't do anything by itself. You have to set an EQ cut or boost first. Only then will you hear what the Q control can do.

So set an EQ boost. Nothing too extreme - 12 dB at 1 kHz should do. That should make things clearly audible.

Now play the track and whack the Q control up and down. What do you hear?
Probably something. But although the effects of the frequency and EQ gain controls are easy to hear. Q is more subtle.

The way to achieve familiarity with Q is to have a plan...

A low Q setting is generally more useful for making musical changes to the signal. If the balance of frequencies in the mid-range isn't quite what you want, set a lowish Q then experiment with the frequency and EQ gain controls.

As you can see, a low Q results in a wide band of frequencies being affected. This is a Q setting of 0.1...

A high Q setting is more appropriate when there is something that is irritating you about the sound. Maybe there is an awkward resonance that is poking you in the ear. Acoustic guitars are often prone to this. You can set an EQ cut with a high-ish Q to take this out.

Sometimes you can use a high-ish Q to focus in on an individual instrument. For example suppose you have a band recording and there is some spill from the other instruments into the clarinet mic. You can set a boost with a high-ish Q and use the frequency control to focus in on the 'clarinetty' frequencies. This will push the spill further into the background.

Anything above 3 is a pretty high Q. This is a Q of 10. You would rarely need to use it this high...

A very high Q is more often used for EQ cut. If for example there is interference of a particular constant frequency in your recording, you can use a high-Q cut EQ as a 'notch' filter to reduce the interference without affecting anything else too much.

Publication date: Sunday February 21, 2010
Author: David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Dimensions With Vegas Pro 10

Do you have problems, or are YOU the problem?

 We all have problems of one sort or another. But are you suffering from problems, or creating them yourself?

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

In vocational training, one essential activity is to provide a simulation of a real-work environment. So as well as training, students get to see and feel what it's like to work for a client or an employer. Unfortunately, this is almost impossible to achieve completely. Life can be harsh, the workplace can be harsh, but if education or training is made to be equally harsh, then students drop out.

You could say of course, "What's the problem?" If a student can't hack it in training, then they are not going to hack it at work either. I would say personally however that if training becomes a matter of 'survival of the fittest' only, then it really isn't training, just pre-selection of good candidates for employment.

What we find at Audio Masterclass is that some students will send in work of consistently good quality. Most aspects of 'good quality' can be achieved simply by fulfilling the project brief correctly. They will ask the occasional intelligent question and generally be a pleasure to work with. They will go on to get jobs in the industry or win clients. These are the people who will get, and deserve, the work that's out there.

For a minority of students however, things are not so smooth-running. They send in work that is good in places, but doesn't always stick to the project in hand. They ask questions expecting a personal reply when the answer's either there in the notes, or they could have got it in five seconds from Google. They have problems that they expect to be resolved for them. They need their hand to be held the whole time.

Well you could say that all students deserve to be treated equally. They have all paid their course fee (those in state education have had their costs paid for by the tax payer). Yes, I would agree with that. But the trouble is that it is easy to slip into a situation where diligent, hard-working students get less attention than those who always have a problem of one sort or another. That doesn't seem fair to me. Slackers get rewarded while hard-workers are, in comparison, starved of attention.

Let's move this on to people who are working in the music or sound industry already...

Do you find your job easy? Is it OK to partially fulfill a project brief, or a manager's or client's requirements? Can you get by with second-rate work? Do you harass your manager or client with a continual bombardment of questions when you could have found or thought out the answer yourself?

If anyone working successfully in the music or sound industry can answer yes to any of these questions, I'd like to know because that would stand my perception of the industry, developed over more than three decades, totally on its head.

So the conclusion, for students...

Your school, college or tutor cannot provide a totally accurate simulation of the real-world working environment. You have to take, "I'm not totally satisfied with that" from your tutor as the equivalent of a real-world, "You're fired!"

For educators...

It is easy to fall into the trap of pandering to the feckless and ignoring the students who are going to provide real worth to the industry. Give honest advice where it is needed, give a helping hand to those who are willing and ready to be helped. Allocate your time and resources to those who have demonstrated, or you believe are soon to genuinely acquire, the will to succeed.
Publication date: Friday February 11, 2011
Author: David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12

Q. Do mixes benefit from low-pass filtering at mixdown?

I’ve heard a lot about high-pass filtering tracks to reduce clutter at mixdown, but not as much about low-pass filtering in this context. Would mixes suffer or benefit from doing the same at the opposite end? For example, would it be easier to bring out ‘air’ in a vocal if other parts were low-passed?

Via SOS web site

SOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Particularly in small-studio environments where the low-frequency monitoring fidelity is questionable, there’s a lot to be said for high-pass filtering in a fairly systematic way to head off problems at mixdown. 

However, widespread low-pass filtering offers fewer benefits, simply because so many instruments in a mix will have harmonics and noise components that extend right up the spectrum. In practice, I find peaking/shelving cuts are, therefore, more appropriate for dealing with typical mixdown tasks, such as frequency-masking problems. Yes, in theory you could make your lead vocal sound airier by low-pass filtering the other parts, but you’d still have to consider how the mix as a whole will sound during moments when the vocal isn’t active, so achieving an airy vocal in practice isn’t usually as simple as this.

Although fairly systematic high-pass filtering is very sensible in home-studio mixing, as you can see in this screenshot from a recent Mix Rescue project, it’s rarely beneficial to apply low-pass filtering in a similar way.

Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with low-pass filtering if you really want to kill the high frequencies of an instrument for balancing reasons. I would most commonly do this with amped instruments, such as electric guitars, which are capable of contributing a lot of undesirable amplifier noise in the top two octaves of the audible spectrum. However, this has to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, because it’s very easy to dull the overall mix if you’re not careful.  0

Percussion Notation in Finale 2010

Monday, September 24, 2012

When I was his age, that was me!

 Ask anyone with a real and passionate interest in audio - they got into it young. But as young as this? That's going some!

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

How old were you when you first got interested in audio? I was six. An older relative had bought a tape recorder, with which I was absolutely fascinated. So I saved and saved and saved and, together with some Christmas and birthday money, finally bought one for myself - a Stella ST458. I'm not saying I made any great recordings with it but I certainly had a lot of fun. Here's one on the right...

Now as far as boom operation goes, I don't think I would have been aware of the technique. There's so much more information around these days. But I'm aware of it now and I appreciate what strong arms this guy must have to hold the boom for the duration of the shoot (which I presume was a lot longer than it takes to pour milk on a bowl of cereal). OK, there's a wire, or it's a Photoshop, but it doesn't do any harm just to believe for a while, does it?

Here's the full pic, or at least what I could rip out of the mag...

My question to RP readers? What first got you interested in audio? And what was the first audio equipment you had?

P.S. In the spirit of good karma let me say that I enjoy Rice Krispies, particularly when mixed with muesli. I'd recommend you go out and buy some. They'll give you strong arms!

Publication date: Thursday March 17, 2011
Author: David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Quick Tip Video: Ctrl Copy Paste In Sound Forge

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Q. Should I mix an album as I’m writing it, or all at once?

Sound Advice : Mixing
I’m in the long process of trying to write enough material to put a cohesive, album-length bunch of stuff together. I have a few ideas in ‘semi-baked’ state, and have got to the point where I have one track written, structured and recorded, and am ready to make a proper mix (I’ve already made a rough mix). 
My decision now is whether to go to town on mixing that one track, and then get on with the rest of the writing and recording at a later date, or to keep it at the rough mix stage, finish the rest of the material, then mix the whole lot afterwards.I’m guessing the second approach would lead to greater overall consistency, but this is my first real stab at ‘doing an album’, if you want to call it that. 
My output up to now has been rather discontinuous, so it hasn’t mattered before.What approach would you take, and how do you think it could help your progress?
Via SOS web site SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton replies: Consistency is great if it’s consistently good. Otherwise it’s not such a laudable aim! There’s no harm in still writing and recording stuff while you’re mixing other stuff, but I would rather mix one track at a time, so that any lessons I learn can be applied to the next mix, and so on.
Also, bear in mind that, while mixing the first or second tracks, you might have one of those dawning “Oh, that would have been so much easier if only I’d recorded it like that!” moments, and that would be a bugger if you’d already tracked everything else.

There’s no particular reason not to continue writing while you’re mixing other tracks, but it makes sense to complete a couple of mixes before getting stuck into the rest of a project if you’re, say, recording an album. This means that you can apply what you’ve learnt from your first mix(es) to the rest of the material. It also means that any recording issues you pick up during the mixing stage won’t appear in all tracks.
SOS contributor Mike Senior adds: I’d second Matt on that one. It may mean that you end up redoing the first couple of mixes with the benefit of hindsight, but I think, overall, it’s probably the best option if you’re still feeling your way though a little bit with the mixing side of things.
It’s no different from when you’re mixing anything: you have to reference your work against any other material you want consistency with. Often that will be commercial releases with which you want your work to compete, but it can just as easily be other mixes you’ve done, which are destined for the same record. If you make sure to do that, then everything else should sort itself out in the long run.
I do tend to keep the main send effects I used for the first mix available for the second if I’m working on several things for one artist, as long as those effects met with their approval first time round! That does help to give some conformity to the sound. However, there are perfectly valid aesthetic reasons for not wanting to make all the tracks sound the same, so you should still try to make each track shine on its own terms. If that means using completely different mixing strategies, then so be it.  0

Musical Instrument Editing in Sound Forge Pro 10

How do you know when your performance has peaked?

 You might make twenty takes of a track before you get one that really works. But could the twenty-first have been better?

By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

A while ago I had the interesting task of playing Fender Rhodes piano in a recording with a conventional jazz trio consisting of normal piano, standup bass and drums.

An odd combination you might think, but it had the sound that was required for the task in hand.

Now I have to say that when it comes to jazz piano skills, I'm not exactly Oscar Peterson. I'm not even his left hand. I'm not even the little finger of his left hand.

But I can hit the notes, mostly the right ones and mostly in the right order.

So, Take 1... not even close. All the right notes were played, but it didn't mean a thing because plainly it didn't yet have that swing.

Then Take 2, Take 3, Take 4... on through the evening.

I don't actually remember what take number we got up to, but it was pretty high.

So someone suggested we take a break. That might do us good.

So we had a break, consuming only innocent substances such as tea.

Feeling refreshed, we sat back down at the instruments. Apart from the standup bass of course.


We couldn't get it. We just couldn't get it at all. Individually we were playing OK, but the combo just didn't gel.

But then the engineer spoke up and said, "You know, you really had something going around Take 15."

So we listened back. Fortunately the engineer had kept all the takes, which wasn't always a practical thing to do back in the days of tape.

And he was right. The take before nearly had it, Take 15 (or whatever it was, I can't remember precisely now) had it. The take after had gone a little bit downhill.

What we can see from this is quite typical in recording.

Things will start off a little shaky and not quite together. Then everything comes together for that 'golden take', then it goes downhill.

The thing is... you don't know you've recorded the 'golden take' until you have recorded a few more that are not as good.

The job of the producer is to spot exactly when everything is at its best. Performances often go in a kind of arc, and somewhere among them is the one that is exactly at the peak.

Publication date: Thursday January 06, 2011
Author: David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass

Friday, September 21, 2012

Quick Tip Video: Slipping An Event In Sound Forge Pro

Korg Kronos Keyboard Workstation (2011)

Korg Kronos

Keyboard Workstation

Reviews : Keyboard workstation
Korg really know what they’re doing when it comes to workstations, and their new one has been eagerly anticipated. Meet the Kronos in our world exclusive review...
Gordon Reid
The 73‑note version of the Kronos employs the fully‑weighted RH3 keyboard found on Korg’s SV1.
When Korg released the M3, I wondered whether this might be the company’s equivalent to the CS80 — a great synth built on similar technology to a rare and expensive predecessor, but refined and made affordable. However, while its EDS (Enhanced Definition Synthesis) sound generator was based upon the core HD1 (High Definition) synthesizer engine in the flagship OASYS, it offered a smaller ROM, less processing power, less sample RAM, fewer effects slots, and lower polyphony. What’s more, it didn’t support the OASYS’s EXis (expansion instruments), so six of the OASYS sound generators were missing. I concluded that the M3 was more a step up from Korg’s Triton than a step down from their OASYS, and was not a replacement for the company’s previous flagship.
But now there’s the Kronos. Announced at the NAMM show in January and, at the time of writing, still a few weeks away from distribution, its specification looks much like a revised OASYS. And, although its sombre styling is more reminiscent of an M1 or a Wavestation, its control panel also looks suspiciously like that of an OASYS. So is this the instrument to take Korg forward into the next decade?
The Core Of The Kronos
Korg have written a dedicated Expansion Instrument (EXi) to make best use of their two new families of grand piano samples. Despite being very simple to use, the results can be outstanding.
Let’s be clear from the start: the core of the Kronos is the core of the OASYS, and nowhere is this more apparent than in its implementation of HD1. In the OASYS, HD1 drew upon 1505 multisamples and 1388 drum samples, plus two expansion libraries: EXs1, which included 229 multisamples and 1483 drum samples, and EXs2, which offered 10 concert grand piano multisamples, all of which resided on its 40GB internal hard drive. Later, an optional upgrade (EXs3) added a further 700MB of brass and woodwind samples, although this could only be used if you expanded the OASYS to its maximum 2GB of RAM.
In the Kronos, HD1 is retained in full on its 30GB solid state drive (SSD), with a core of 1505 multisamples and 1388 drum samples, plus three expansion libraries, EXs1, EXs2 and EXs3, that comprise... well, you get the picture. But in addition to this, it also includes, as standard, no fewer than six further expansion libraries, EXs4 to EXs9, comprising Vintage Keyboards, a second ROM expansion, two new piano libraries, and two new drum libraries.
It’s not possible to review HD1 in a ‘select some waveforms, mix them and then send the results to the filter and amplifier’ fashion, because each oscillator can be based upon PCMs, samples or wave sequences, each can use up to eight velocity-crossfaded sources (the OASYS only offered four) and the outputs from these can be modified and controlled by a vast array of multi‑mode filters, LFOs and envelope generators, multiple Alternate Modulation Sources, AMS Mixers, and more. Then there’s the Vector Synthesis that lies at the heart of every Program, allowing manual and enveloped control over dozens of voicing parameters, and Drum Tracks (see below) that are integrated within each, to say nothing of the KARMA algorithmic composition technology, which can be used for anything from building simple arpeggios to complete tracks. It can sound fantastic and, if I’m honest, I don’t think that anyone will ever exhaust the possibilities of HD1, especially with the new EXs libraries on board.
The EXs6 and EXs7 libraries provide the samples for two new pianos, and these are so important to Korg that the company have developed a new engine to make optimal use of them. SGX1, which is one of eight expansion instruments in the Kronos, offers eight velocity layers per note, with the natural piano noises — damper thunk, case noises and so on — separated out for independent control. What’s more, there’s no sample looping. No longer does a realistic attack turn into a featureless loop when a key is held, and each note now decays smoothly for as long as 30 seconds from its beginning to its end.
Each of the two piano libraries is sampled from a single instrument; EXs6 is a Steinway Model D, while EXs7 is a Yamaha C7. The sampling is first‑rate for both, and the noise layers add considerably to the illusion, both for the player and the listener. However, rather than offer just two pianos based upon these, the two sample families have been moulded into 32 preset instruments that you can further customise using a dozen or so parameters, and there’s also an option to choose one of two soundfields: that which you would hear facing the keyboard as the player, and that which you would hear in the audience with the piano side‑on. 
I prefer the latter, which has excellent ambience and is more appropriate to anybody but the player anyway.
Physically Modelled Synths
Unlike most workstation sequencers, the Kronos’s Track Data Map can show the status of all 16 MIDI tracks, all 16 audio tracks and the Master track simultaneously.
EP1: In contrast to the acoustic pianos, the electro‑mechanical pianos generated by the new EP1 engine are based on a resynthesis method that appears to be similar to the Structured Adaptive Synthesis that powered Roland’s RD pianos in the late 1980s. In this, parameters are derived from the pre‑analysis of samples, and sounds are then rebuilt from these in real time when you play. But despite the complex technology behind the scenes, EP1 is incredibly simple to use. There are just three tabs of controls: the Basic page, where you select which of six pianos (three Fender Rhodes and three flavours of Wurlitzer) will form the basis of the sound; the Oscillator page, where you adjust parameters such as the attack and release noise, the hammer width, and so on; and the Panel/IFX/Amp page, which offers controls almost identical to those of the original instruments, as well as a selection of stomp‑box effects bearing names such as Small Phase (recalls the Electro Harmonix Small Stone), Orange Phase (inspired by the MXR Phase 90) and Vintage Chorus (provides a Roland CE1 Chorus feel).
I love EP1. For example, playing the Rhodes MkII through the Black Chorus (inspired by TC Electronic’s Stereo Chorus/Flanger) is a joyful experience, and I doodled away an entire evening on this sound alone while writing this review. My only criticism of EP1 is the absence of Hohner Pianet and Clavinet models, so I called Korg and asked the question. The response I received boiled down to, “you’ve got to start somewhere”, which suggests that there could be updates in the future.
AL1: First seen in the OASYS, the AL1 virtual analogue synth seems to have become the poor relation of all the original expansion instruments, perhaps because it encapsulates everything that die‑hard analogue nutters hate about virtual analogue. For one thing, it’s complex. Overflowing with morphing oscillators, multi‑mode filters with 22 filter profiles, EGs with selectable slope profiles, LFOs with nearly 200 waveform variations, multiple AMS Mixers, and much more, it was never going to reveal its secrets quickly or easily. What’s more, while Korg have done everything possible to lay these facilities out clearly, it’s still a long way from a knob‑twiddler’s preconceptions of how an analogue synth should be programmed and controlled. Nonetheless, AL1 is a powerful synthesizer capable of imitating many revered vintage synths, as well as creating huge ranges of sounds unavailable in the heyday of analogue synthesis. My advice is to persevere... the results are worth it.
STR1: The STR1 Plucked String Synthesizer (which first appeared in the OASYS v1.1 upgrade) is based on physical models of plucked and hammered strings, so is ideal for synthesizing acoustic and electric guitars, basses, bowed strings, harps, clavinets, harpsichords, clavichords, sitars, and all manner of other stringed instruments. However, it’s not limited to producing imitative sounds, and I particularly like the results that one can obtain using unworldly facilities such as samples or filtered noise as the ‘excitation’ source, as well as enharmonic excitations and non‑linear string models.
STR1 contains a full complement of filters, EGs, LFOs and AMS Mixers, but it’s more powerful than before because you can now use streamed audio as one of its building blocks. In a different era, STR1 would have been a powerful synth in its own right, but when integrated within Kronos and used with its effects — to say nothing of being hooked up to some of the KARMA picking and strumming algorithms — it takes on a life of its own, allowing you to compose and play music in ways that you might find almost impossible without it.
The back panel of the 73‑note Kronos. On the left is an IEC port and a power switch; in the middle a pair of USB A ports and a single USB B socket; and at the right we find the bulk of the Kronos’s connectivity. This includes a pair of quarter‑inch audio inputs with accompanying trim pots and mic/line buttons, four individual outputs and a stereo main output on quarter‑inch jack sockets, MIDI In, Out and Thru ports, S/PDIF I/O and three footswitch sockets.
MOD7: Also born in the OASYS, MOD7 was released as part of its final upgrade in 2008. It was — and remains — a modular monster that combines FM synthesis with sample playback and sample mangling, waveshaping, and conventional subtractive synthesis. I suspect that few if any players have ever fully gotten to grips with it (myself included) and that’s a shame because, although the learning curve is a bit steep, MOD7 can produce a fabulous array of sounds. Sure, keeping track of patchable FM algorithms is a bit mind‑bending, but it can be done and, if you want to experiment further, you can use the PCMs from the HD1 engine or even samples and streamed audio as FM operators, which leads to all manner of weird and wonderful outcomes.
MOD7 is also able to load Yamaha DX7 SysEx libraries. This means that a single EXi Program, which can support two MOD7 sounds, is equivalent to a hugely enhanced DX1 (the monster of the DX range), and you can layer multiple Programs in a Combi to emulate all eight TF1 modules in the mighty TX816, although with significantly reduced polyphony. I loaded the first four TX816 factory SysEx libraries from a USB memory stick and then layered the string and English Horn patches from the first four TF1s into a single Kronos Combi. Although this dragged the polyphony down to just five notes, the results were fabulous. You have NEVER heard FM sound so good, with such clarity and presence, and with so little accompanying noise. If I wasn’t a level‑headed sort of person, I would be tempted to buy a Kronos for this alone. Bravo, Korg!
Vintage Synthesis
Two new expansion (EXs) PCM libraries provide the basis of myriad drum kits and percussion instruments, all of which can be further sculpted using the full power of the HD1 synth engine and the effects.
The original Korg Legacy Collection contained ‘soft’ implementations of three of Korg’s famous synths — the MS20, the Polysix and the Wavestation. So, given that much Wavestation technology already existed in HD1 synthesis, it wasn’t a huge surprise when the MS20EX and PolysixEX became available as an OASYS upgrade.
Of course, Korg couldn’t leave things alone and, when rewriting the MS20EX plug‑in as an EXi, they extended its facilities, adding new patch points, more LFOs, extra contour generators, new AMS Mixers, new audio inputs, vector synthesis, and more. Clearly, the MS20EX within OASYS was not just a virtual MS20, although it could sound like one. Happily, the MS20EX in the Kronos retains all of these extras in an improved GUI that allows you to understand and control it despite the apparent complexity on offer.
Likewise, the PolysixEX can be a remarkable synth: simple, direct and with great warmth. Whether it sounds identical with the original Polysix is no longer the issue (it can, by the way) because, once you’ve started throwing all of the Kronos’s additional capabilities at it, emulating the original becomes just a tiny subset of what you might ask it to do.
But why include the MS20EX and PolysixEX in the Kronos at all? After all, the AL1 virtual analogue can do everything the PolysixEX can, and much of what the MS20EX can. The answer is threefold. Firstly, their characters are markedly different. Secondly, the simplicity of the PolysixEX begs even the most nervous programmer to create new sounds, while the patchability of the MS20EX encourages you to try things that you would never attempt using a modulation matrix. Thirdly, the low processor load of PolysixEX makes it the synth of choice if you want to conserve resources for elsewhere.
Finally, we come to the CX3, which Korg have been developing since the late 1970s when the original CX3 and BX3 organs were, by common consent, the best Hammond clones of the analogue era. More recently, the company released two digital equivalents, also called the CX3 and BX3, and an enhanced version of these appeared in the OASYS, where it offered all manner of enhancements. This version — which, in my opinion, remains the best and most authentic sounding of the so‑called ‘clonewheel’ organs — has now made its way into the Kronos. If you’re happy to use sliders as drawbars, you’ll not need anything else for your Hammond sounds and performances. It seems almost criminal to dismiss CX3 so briefly, but there really is nothing more to say!
Combining Sounds, Sequencing, Effects & Sampling
No matter which synth engine (or engines) you choose, Programs in the Kronos can be quite complex affairs, comprising two patches inside a common wrapper that adds vector synthesis, step sequencing, additional modulation, KARMA 2 (see box above), and of course the full power of the Kronos’s effects section. In HD1, this is achieved by creating two independent oscillator/filter/amplifier patches (Double mode), but when you’re using EXis you can mix two patches from whichever engines you choose. But this isn’t the limit of the Kronos’s Program architecture, because each Program can also include a Drum Track. Introduced on the M3, a Drum Track comprises a kit and a rhythm, each of which can be selected from the hundreds on offer. So if you like to write music on the piano and you fancy a bit of salsa today, attach a Latin kit and an appropriate rhythm to your piano of choice, and start composing. As if this were not enough, the Kronos also offers Korg’s usual Combi mode, which allows you to create splits, layers and multitimbral setups of up to 16 Programs comprising a maximum of 32 sounds.
The new EP1 electric piano module provides a simple control panel based upon the original instruments, as well as a selection of appropriate stomp boxes to enhance the sound. This is a Fender Rhodes MkI played through a Small Stone phaser.
Of course, the Kronos is a fully‑fledged workstation, and I was delighted to find that its sequencer is based on the full OASYS system, with all 16 MIDI tracks or all 16 audio tracks simultaneously visible. What’s more, the upgrade to 480ppqn timing resolution introduced on the M3 has been retained, and the maximum audio resolution has been increased from 16‑bit to 24‑bit. Maybe the Kronos doesn’t quite substitute for a dedicated computer-based DAW, but it’s sufficient to compose, arrange and produce music to professional standards if you’re prepared to work at it. In part, this is because the effects structure in the Kronos has also reverted to that of the OASYS rather than the Triton‑esque system found in the M3. So, in addition to any dedicated effects within the sound generators themselves, the full complement of 12 assignable, routable, stereo, insert effects slots are available, together with dual Master effects and dual Total effects, plus up to 32 track EQs. Likewise, the full complement of 185 effects algorithms is retained, together with the ability to store up to 32 presets per effect module. While not truly multitimbral (which would require independent effects buses for each Program in a Combi or Sequence setup), this is still very powerful.
The Kronos’s sampler (which recognizes Korg, Akai and Soundfont formats as well as WAV and AIFF files) is a hybrid of that in the OASYS and some improvements introduced on the M3. It uses the free RAM inside the workstation itself, which you might imagine provides lots of room for your own sounds, but that it isn’t necessarily the case. As shipped, the Kronos comes with 2GB of RAM, but only 148MB is free when all the factory EXs libraries are loaded, and this equates to less than 14 minutes of stereo sampling. Happily, you can now load or sample directly to the SSD in either 16‑bit or 24‑bit WAV format, but the resulting files still need to fit into RAM if you want to use them as the basis of sampled sounds or in place of PCMs in Programs and drum kits.
Although it’s not the simplest to use, there’s much to like about this sampler. My favourite facility is ‘In Track’ sampling, which allows you to record audio, then converts it into a multisample, saves it in a Program, loads the Program into a sequencer slot, and then inserts a note into the sequence at the point at which you started sampling. I’m also grateful for ‘Convert MS to Program’, which does what the name implies, and the ability to resample the sound being generated while playing, or playing back sequences. Another feature that’s worthy of mention is its ability to auto‑load samples into RAM at start‑up. My OASYS sits with its Mellotron Programs lying silent until I remember that I have to load the samples from the drive. Now I no longer need to do so. (Well, doubly so, because there are already some excellent Mellotron Programs based upon the Vintage Keyboards library.)
The Kronos lacks an internal CD drive, which may be inconvenient for owners of large sample libraries, but you can use an external USB CD/DVD player to load samples from discs. Unfortunately, I don’t own one of these, so I transferred some files from my Mac to a USB memory stick that already held a mixture of samples, JPEGs, and even Powerpoint presentations. The Kronos recognised everything, ignored the inappropriate stuff and was able to load the audio without hiccups. Once loaded, I saved my audio and samples to the SSD, so there was no need to carry any external devices around. Consequently, my only significant gripe is that, despite a long‑standing Korg promise to load Roland‑format samples, the Kronos remains unable to do so. Actually, that’s not true... I have a second gripe. The Kronos sampler/recorder retains the 48kHz sample rate from the OASYS and M3, which means that you can’t burn audio directly to CD; it has to go through an intermediate sample‑rate conversion. The system does this for you automatically, but I’d much rather it wasn’t necessary.
In Use
The enhanced patch panel of the MS20EX synthesiser allows you to do everything that you could on the original synth, and much more. Unlike a modulation matrix, this encourages you to try hooking things up in new and interesting ways.
So those are the nuts and bolts of the Kronos, although it has been impossible to do more than scratch the surface here. The specification in its preliminary manual runs to 2741 words, which is almost half the length of this review, so if I’ve missed out an important function here or skimmed over significant details there, it’s nothing more than another indication of the number and depth of the facilities on offer. And even when you understand each section in isolation, it still doesn’t tell you what it’s like to use the Kronos and the disparate ways there are of using it. So here are a few observations that I hope will give you some flavour of what it’s like to program and play it.
Let’s start with the control panel. Apart from the loss of the luxury hardware and sexy cosmetics, the major difference between the Kronos and the OASYS is that the new model’s screen is significantly smaller and mounted flush with the panel. This isn’t a problem, but it’s a shame, because synths with angled screens tend to be easier to use. A second look also reveals that the OASYS’s velocity‑sensitive pads have gone. Nonetheless, it’s clear that the two panels are designed to do the same job, and I found it effortless to switch from one to the other.
Elsewhere, there are equally significant hardware differences. The omission of the CD drive is understandable, but then there’s the reduction from 10 outputs to six (which may be a limitation for players outputting multiple Programs simultaneously to an external DAW or live‑sound desk) and the loss of two of the OASYS’s mic/line inputs, as well as the XLR sockets for the two that remain. Likewise, two of the OASYS’s USB ports have gone, as has its ADAT expansion capability, but I’m not concerned by these omissions. The Kronos’s two Type A and single Type B USB ports, the latter of which allows audio streaming and MIDI connection to external computers and other devices, are a better choice for the modern studio.
Turning to the software, the Kronos is almost identical to its predecessor. Even the factory sounds in each of the common synth engines are largely the same, with not just the same controls on all of the same pages, but the same values for all of the controls, and the same control highlighted when you access each page. Nevertheless, the Kronos offers a number of new features that in some ways make it an even better instrument than the OASYS, particularly for on‑stage use. Most important in this regard are the Set Lists. There are 128 of these, each of which can hold up to 128 items (Programs, Combis or Songs) that you can select by hand or step through using a footswitch. Not just a good way of organising sounds, the lists offer space for comments or lyrics, and allow you to determine how one sound will be curtailed when you select the next. Discovering this at the start of the review made me wonder, will the Kronos continue to play held notes correctly — including all of their effects — when you change to the next Program or Combi? Yes, it will. This is something that the OASYS cannot do, and it’s an important improvement.
But for most people, it’s the combination of immediacy of use, the range and quality of the sound generation and effects, and the quality of the sampling, recording and sequencing that defines a workstation. So how does the Kronos score on these points?
AL1 is a deep, complex and sometimes daunting ‘virtual analogue’ synthesizer, but it’s worth getting to know because the range of options available make it more flexible and more capable than most hardware VA synths or plug‑ins.
Let’s start with immediacy. There’s a die‑hard school of analogue synthesists who demand knobs for every function, and the Kronos is not for them. But for the rest of us, its combination of a touchscreen and a panel with nearly 100 buttons, knobs and faders — not to mention two joysticks and a ribbon controller — is more than adequate. Having owned an OASYS for six years, I have a head start on most people but, for all its apparent complexity, the Kronos is not difficult to grasp, and most new owners should be able to get up to speed without too much hassle.
What about the range and quality of the sounds available? Is the Kronos a powerful VA synth? Yes, three times over. Is it a state‑of‑the‑art piano? Again, yes. Is it a superb electro‑mechanical piano? Yes. An unsurpassed clonewheel organ? Yes. A powerful FM synth? Yes. An even more powerful PCM‑based synth? Again, yes... and that’s a particularly interesting aspect of the Kronos. Korg have often led the way in developing new sounds and textures, but have equally often fallen short in areas such as orchestral sounds. With the addition of the Kronos’s new EXs libraries, I suspect that the manufacturers whose orchestral sounds have been the de facto standards for 20 years or more may now have more competition.
So that, then, leaves facilities such as sampling, audio recording, MIDI sequencing, and composition tools such as KARMA and Drum Tracks. I doubt that anyone has ever fully plumbed these facilities in the OASYS and M3, and I suspect that there’s enough here to keep you experimenting, playing and composing until someone develops a USB cable that you can plug directly into your brain. That’s not to say that the Kronos does everything. For example, there are facilities in the Roland V‑Synth XT that would be welcome additions on other manufacturers’ flagships. But if I were ever to be stuck on that mythical desert island, a Kronos 88, a decent sound system and a working 13A mains socket would be more than enough to keep me occupied until Claudia Schiffer hove into view on her otherwise crewless 80-foot yacht.
Of course, the Kronos isn’t perfect. I’ve mentioned a few issues above, and there are two others worth mentioning. Firstly, it takes a long time to boot — two minutes 15 seconds for the review unit — which would be embarrassing if there were a power glitch that required a restart on stage. Secondly, I found the noise from its motherboard fan a bit annoying, so I could see myself switching it off for critical studio listening. But these complaints aside, it’s hard not to eulogise about the sounds and facilities on offer. And finally, I need to compliment Korg on the quality of the pre‑production software in the review unit. Despite being warned that it might have a few minor issues that would be resolved before release, it didn’t do anything untoward at any time during the review. You can’t say that about some manufacturers’ products three months after release, let alone three months before!
The Kronos offers plenty of opportunity for hands‑on control, providing two joysticks, a ribbon controller, a selection of knobs and faders, a generous array of buttons and, of course, the central touchscreen.
We keyboard players are a funny lot, and never was this more obvious than when Korg allowed the first sounds from the Kronos to trickle out into the world. But what was it? Based on what they heard, enthusiasts speculated that it was an updated Wavestation, a new Karma, some form of vector synth, a hardware‑based Legacy Collection, and even a sampler/resynthesizer. Another popular idea was that it would be an updated MS20 with MIDI, memories and advanced effects, and one person even went so far as to state that this would be the only product that anybody would ever want from Korg. We now know that they were all correct; well, all except the MS20 extremists. So, when it was revealed, did the synth aficionados of the world cheer? No. Having been presented with something that has the potential to be the most flexible sound source and music-production keyboard yet developed, many greeted it with caution. But they’re the ones who are going to miss out, and here’s why...
Throughout this review I have been comparing the Kronos to the OASYS, which I am able to do because, having reviewed it in 2005, I bought one. And, as far as I am concerned, it remains the sexiest, best sounding and most desirable workstation yet developed. But today, the Kronos — while foregoing the gorgeous and unusual OASYS physical design — retains all the audio quality of the OASYS. It also offers the expanded PCM libraries for the HD1 engine, the excellent SGX1 pianos, the fabulous EP1 electric piano engine, set lists, improved audio handling, and more. In other words, it’s more flexible and in many respects more powerful than the OASYS. Yet it no longer occupies the stratosphere of synth prices; indeed, it costs little more than its (supposed) competition. So while there’s nothing surprising about the Kronos — it’s an enhancement of existing technology — I’m impressed. I mean... really impressed. I need to lie down for a while.    0

With all due respect to some excellent workstations from other manufacturers there is, as far as I am aware, no direct equivalent to the Kronos. The best of the rest are, for me, the Roland Fantom G7 and the Kurzweil PC3x, both of which can also sound superb. But while these offer a number of similar facilities, neither offers the range of synthesis engines, nor the composition tools, nor the audio integration of the Kronos, in which the traditional dividing lines that separate PCM‑based synthesis, physical modelling synthesis, sampling, audio recording, and audio streaming have become so blurred as to be interchangeable for many purposes.
Of course, you might contend that a PC‑based system such as Open Labs’ Neko — or even a powerful PC with appropriate host software and plug‑ins — allows you to combine multiple synthesis engines and sampling, as well as audio and MIDI sequencing. But this again lacks the integration of the Kronos, and a Mac or a PC (whether housed in a conventional case or with a five‑octave keyboard glued on the front) is not the same as a dedicated keyboard workstation whose real‑time performance is assured, even when everything is running flat out.

Maximum Polyphony
There has been much speculation regarding the maximum polyphony of the Kronos and how this compares with the OASYS. In general, the Kronos manages slightly lower polyphony, but not by huge amounts. For example, HD1 polyphony on the Kronos is 140 notes and on the OASYS 172, while the AL1 synth figures are 80 and 96 respectively and those for MOD7 are the same, at 52. The Kronos’s CX3 synth actually offers more polyphony, at 200 notes compared to the OASYS’s 172. The published figures do not tell the whole story, because the OASYS is affected by the use of power‑hungry effects, whereas Korg claim the Kronos is less susceptible to this. Note that the Kronos distributes its resources as best it can, so if half its processing power is being used by one of the engines, only half will be available for the others, and the polyphony offered by each will be reduced accordingly.

Kronos Keyboards
The Kronos will come in three flavours. The first will be the 61‑note, semi‑weighted version reviewed here. The flagship of the range will be an 88‑note version that will use the excellent RH3 keyboard already used in the M3 and the SV1, so if you’re planning to use the Kronos as a stage piano, this will probably be the one for you. The model in the middle will use the truncated, 73‑note RH3 keyboard first seen on the smaller of the two SV1s. This is great for electro‑mechanical pianos, but a fully‑weighted action is not ideal for playing organs or synth solos. Given that the middle of the range has traditionally been a 76‑note, semi‑weighted model, Korg have either had great foresight or have been a bit misguided in bucking the trend. Time will tell.

KARMA 2 Explained
The simplest way to describe KARMA 2 is as a complex arpeggiator that, instead of playing static sequences of notes, generates quasi‑random elements to emulate what a human player might do when presented with the need to play a similar phrase or pattern. With eight scenes per Program, a KARMA module can create anything from simple arpeggios to complex performances. When used within a Combi, up to four modules can be applied, to create anything from evolving soundscapes to auto-accompaniments of whole bands and orchestras.
KARMA 2 generates its effects using a set of algorithms called Generated Effects (or GEs). There are 2048 preset GEs in the Kronos, and space for another 1536 user‑defined ones. If you can get past the initial hurdles, you may never stop finding things to do with them.

Guts Of The Kronos
The Kronos is, as the OASYS was before it, essentially a PC in a keyboard‑shaped box. Rather than using the Core processor (the direct descendant of the P4 used in the OASYS), Korg have adopted the Intel Atom for the Kronos. Although this choice has been criticised elsewhere, I think it’s an astute one, because the Atom is small, uses less power than a Core, runs cooler, and is less expensive. Sure, for any given clock rate it’s less powerful, too, but since Korg have avoided the power-sucking monster that is Windows and run optimised code in a Linux environment, the swings outweigh the roundabouts, both in terms of price and of performance.

Kronos Upgrades
The Kronos is highly upgradable. Installing any forthcoming EXs libraries should be a doddle, and new synth engines could also appear, should Korg decide to develop them. As for the hardware, the provision of USB means that you can add external devices to extend its functionality, and increasing the internal memory should also be possible. There have been no announcements regarding expansion as yet, but I can’t believe that Korg would be unaware of users’ interest in this, especially where the issue of PCM and sample RAM is concerned.

Korg appear to have been careful to avoid calling the Kronos the OASYS MkII, which would have been just as appropriate. I suspect that there is a commercial reason for this. If they had done so, it would have been reasonable for OASYS owners to expect some or all of the Kronos’s new libraries and facilities to be made available as upgrades. By divorcing one from the other, the company are, in effect, saying, “How can we put Kronos inside OASYS? They are different products.” As an OASYS owner, I hope I’m proved wrong.

Abridged Kronos Specification
Keyboard: 61‑key semi‑weighted; 73‑ and 88‑key piano‑weighted.
HD1 Synth Engine 314MB ROM, 1505 multisamples, 1388 drum samples.
Expansion Libraries EXs1 ROM expansion; EXs2 Concert Grand Piano; EXs3 Brass & Woodwinds; EXs4 Vintage Keyboards; EXs5 ROM Expansion 2; EXs6 SGX1 German D Piano; EXs7 SGX1 Japanese C Piano; EXs8 Rock Ambience Drums; EXs9 Jazz Ambience Drums.
Wave Sequences 165 preset, 374 user.
Expansion Instruments: SGX1 acoustic pianos, EP1 electro‑mechanical pianos, AL1 virtual analogue synthesizer, MOD7 FM synthesizer, STR1 plucked string synthesizer, MS20EX virtual analogue synthesizer, PolysixEX virtual analogue synthesizer, CX3 virtual tonewheel organ.
Internal RAM 2GB.
Available Sample RAM 148MB after factory libraries loaded.
Internal Drive 30GB SSD.
Memory 1664 Programs, 1792 Combis, 152 Drum kits, 256 GM2 Programs and nine GM2 drum kits.
Set Lists 128 lists, 128 slots per list.
Sampling 48kHz, 16-/24‑bit, 4000 samples, 1000 multisamples maximum
Effects Insert Effects: 12; Master Effects: two; Total Effects: two. 185 different types with side‑chaining; 783 presets, maximum 32 presets per type. EQs: one per track.
KARMA 2048 preset Generated Effects (GEs), 1536 User GEs, one module in Program mode, four modules in Combi and Sequencer modes.
Drum Tracks 697 preset patterns, 1000 user patterns.
Sequencer/Recorder 16‑track MIDI sequencer, 16‑track hard disk recorder, master track. Four‑track simultaneous recording, maximum 200 songs, 300,000 audio events, 400,000 MIDI events. Resolution: 480ppqn. Real-time Pattern Play and Record (RPPR): 1 Pattern set per song.
Screen TouchView, eight-inch TFT, 800x600 pixels.
Analogue Outputs Main L/R, four individual, headphones.
Analogue Inputs Two quarter‑inch TRS balanced jacks.
Optical S/PDIF In & Out, 24‑bit, 48kHz.
Control Inputs Damper, assignable switch, assignable pedal.
MIDI (DIN) In, Out, Thru.
USB A Two connections to external USB devices.
USB B MIDI & two‑channel audio interface, 24‑bit, 48kHz.

Korg All Access: Prepping for Dr. Dre's Coachella Set with Daniel Jones and his Kronos

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Korg Triton Music Workstation (1999)

Korg Triton

Music Workstation

Reviews : Keyboard workstation
Korg's Trinity workstation has, like their earlier instruments, become virtually an industry standard -- but far from resting on their laurels, the company have upped the ante still further with the new Triton. Derek Johnson and Debbie Poyser provide an exclusive hands-on review.
The Korg name is forever entwined in the minds of hi-tech musicians with the word 'workstation'. Having basically invented the mass-market keyboard workstation with 1988's M1, which introduced the magical pairing of sequencer and synthesizer, Korg went on to cement their workstation reputation with a series of very capable machines, culminating in the most impressive workstation of the last three and a half years: the Trinity.

This silver dream machine, incorporating synthesizer, effects and sequencer, was rightly hailed as "probably the first affordable instrument that truly earns the tag 'music production workstation'" (Gordon Reid, SOS Trinity Plus review, December 1995/January 1996). It has a staggering array of features, and where the standard facilities leave off, the options kick in. A fully-loaded Trinity really is a studio in a box -- dedicated Trinity owners could add sample RAM, physical modelling synth boards, a multitrack hard disk recording option and digital interfacing. Musicians flocked to buy it, even at its premium price, lured by the feature set, the polished, high-quality sounds, and innovative ideas like the huge touch-sensitive screen which gave new meaning to the overworked term 'user friendly'. It's a hard act to follow.

Yet the modern pattern of regularly refreshing ranges means that follow it Korg must, with a workstation that has to go one (or several) better, correcting Trinity's faults, refining its user interface still further, adding new features, and, if it forgoes any Trinity facilities, subtracting only those which won't be missed. Can Triton pull it off and keep Korg at the top of the workstation heap?

Sea Changes
t's easy to see why Korg chose 'Triton', the name of a minor sea-god in Greek mythology, for Trinity's successor. It's similar enough to make it obvious that they are of the same lineage, it has classical overtones, and the fact that said sea-god was given to frolicking about with a three-pronged trident echoes Trinity's 'triple' theme!
Very good sampler with 16Mb RAM supplied.
Almost doubles Trinity polyphony.
Dual polyphonic arpeggiators.
Mac/PC interface.
Real-time control knobs.
Sequencer even more powerful than Trinity's.
Six audio outputs.
User-installable options.
Still sounds gorgeous.
Still has that great display.
User interface tweaks well thought out.
Trinity's HDR and digital connection options not offered.
No longer possible to use eight 'Size 1' effects in a Song.
Sample RAM volatile rather than Flash.
Samples can't be exported.
MOSS board voices can't be treated individually with insert effects in Combis and Songs.
Trinity sounds and optional boards not compatible.
A beautiful and impressively specified self-contained instrument. If we didn't already have a Trinity, Triton would be our workstation of choice.

Similarities between the two machines continue to an extent with their appearances. Like Trinity, Triton is silver, but where Trinity's panel is smooth brushed aluminium, the Triton has a subtle sparkle finish that's very contemporary, if not quite as expensive-looking (or as easy to clean!). The touch-screen still dominates, but the sci-fi art-deco moulding that lifts it from Trinity's panel is gone, replaced on Triton by a less dramatic rectangular frame. There are some extra buttons, and even some knobs -- but we'll save those for later.

At the back, perhaps the most significant change is the presence of six audio outputs (compared to Trinity's four). A paucity of individual outs was one of Trinity's few weaknesses, so it's good to see the issue addressed, at least to this extent, on Triton. Two audio inputs, with level control and mic/line switch, have also been added, and though the most obvious use for these is to pipe material into Triton for sampling -- yes, sampling -- they can also be used to bring in external audio for treatment by Triton's effects. (Trinity effects could not be employed in such a way without the HDR option installed.) Staying with the back panel, another new arrival is a direct Mac/PC serial interface. This feature has been appearing for some time on more modestly priced keyboards and modules, but is new on a Korg deluxe workstation.

Sound Architecture

A very significant difference between Trinity and Triton is the new machine's 62-note polyphony. This really might turn Trinity owners greenish with envy, as Trinity offers only 32 notes -- a decision for which reviewers took Korg to task. The company were adamant, however, that their priority with Trinity was to ensure the finest sound quality and most comprehensive effects implementation, so resources were directed towards these areas rather than towards providing masses of notes. So what's changed? Have Korg compromised their original vision to provide the extra notes? It seems not.

Korg's pre-Trinity AI2 (Advanced Integrated) workstations made use of 32-note polyphonic tone generator ICs which also incorporated filtering and effects. Two chips yielded 64-note polyphony. For Trinity, things changed: to achieve the sound quality they wanted, Korg used discrete chips for different functions -- samples, filtering, DSP -- on a processor board. Achieving 64-note polyphony in Trinity would have required two of these boards, which would have been "phenomenally expensive" according to Korg UK. Since Trinity's launch, however, Korg have been beavering away to achieve Trinity sound quality on one chip. The resulting 32-note polyphonic TG96 IC has been three years in development, incorporates everything, and has made Triton's increased polyphony possible. As in earlier years, they simply use two chips, though in the case of Triton this produces 62-note polyphony for reasons connected with its built-in sampler. Multitimbrality remains at 16 parts.

In other respects, Triton's sound-generating side -- now called Hyper Integrated (HI) synthesis -- should be as familiar to seasoned Korg synth users as Trinity's. (For a fuller description of the Korg method, check out SOS's two-part Trinity review, mentioned earlier.) Briefly, just like Trinity, Triton is sample-based: at the bottom level of sound creation are raw sampled waveforms. Up to two of these can be combined (as 'oscillators') in a Program, and up to to eight Programs can be layered, split or crossfaded in a Combi, which can also be multitimbral if desired. There's also the option of velocity-switching between the two oscillators in a Program, plus, if you can handle it, the ability to velocity-switch between two waveforms in each oscillator, with no adverse implications for polyphony. Oscillators may also be delayed, treated to random tuning (where each time an oscillator sounds, its pitch is slightly different) for recreating the effect of an analogue synth with unstable tuning and, new to Triton, reversed, so that a waveform plays backwards. Strangely, the Trinity's reverse factory waveforms have made their way over to Triton even though the latter has this facility.

The raw waveforms in a Program can be treated using a familiar collection of subtractive synth parameters that, again, have much in common with Trinity's. The basic signal path of oscillator, resonant filter and amplifier is augmented by two LFOs, plus a variety of envelope and modulation options. In most cases, Triton has more parameters, and certainly more modulation options; the filter, for example, is actually meatier and more resonant than Trinity's, but there don't seem to be quite as many options when it comes to filter types. Excellent effects processing is the icing on all stages of the cake.

Like the standard Trinity, Triton comes with two banks each of Programs and Combis, both banks containing 128 sounds, overwritable with user edits. Korg have upped the PCM waveform count, though: Triton has 425 multisamples, plus 413 single drum samples for use in kits, as opposed to Trinity's 375 multisamples and 258 drum samples. Trinity users will be keen to know how far Triton's voice selection differs from that of their own machine. Many of the basic waveforms seem the same, and many Programs also sound very similar across the two machines, though lots have been re-named for Triton. Combis appear to have been largely reprogrammed. You'll certainly find the staple bass/vibes and bass/piano splits, piano/string layers and classic Korg orchestral combinations, plus more fairy-like atmospheric pads than you could shake a wand at, just as with Trinity, but they seem to have been re-done from scratch for Triton.

Korg's intention to give the Triton more dance appeal emerges in various new Combis and Programs, though not really in the raw waveforms; even so, there is a collection of DJ-friendly scratches, yells and hits, many of which were included on Trinity. Some of the dance-focused Combis are great fun, and a few make excellent instant tracks, too! The dual arpeggiator -- more later -- offers a wide selection of dance rhythms, suitable for producing quick bass lines or drum patterns.
"Some might question one or two of Korg's decisions: abandoning digital connectivity options at a time when the world is becoming increasingly digital seems almost perverse."

Though Trinity was not General MIDI-compatible in its original form, a disk full of GM sounds could be loaded for GM compatibility. Triton goes further, with a GM sound bank already on board. This is divided into sub-banks providing the alternate voices required for XG and GS, the Yamaha and Roland extended GM formats. There's even a sequencer mode for playing Standard MIDI Song Files direct from disk, though since Triton doesn't support all GS/XG sound maps and messages, Korg don't guarantee that all GS/XG data will always play back correctly. (We tried a few XG files and they played back properly.) GM Programs, by the way, can be freely used in Combis and sequences.

Anyone unfamiliar with Trinity's sounds can rest assured that they are beyond reproach in terms of quality -- and this extends to its successor. The presets are imaginatively and creatively programmed, and source samples have excellent clarity and sparkle, with basically undetectable loop points. The Korg bods who worked on voicing apparently used Jupiter Systems' acclaimed Infinity sample-manipulation software to ensure the smoothest loops.

Hearing Test
Though the sonic character of Triton is very similar to Trinity, the new machine's arpeggiator adds a new dimension, introducing textural arpeggiations in some of the preset sounds and achieving an almost 'wave sequencing' effect, such as you get from Korg's own Wavestation. Triton, like Trinity, is very strong on most imitative sounds, both traditional instrumental and electronica, and its synth pads are largely wonderful (check out Combi A055, 'Sofia's Place'). We thought some of the bass drums lacked 'oomph', but the Master EQ goes a long way towards remedying this. Favourite sounds are always rather subjective, but talking about them does at least allow reviewers to be more descriptive about the most important reason most people buy a synthesizer -- how it sounds!
Combi A008 'Knob as Drawbar1': an effective organ with drawbar settings altered by the control knobs.
Combi A009 'Indian Ocean': a wonderful layer of tablas, finger cymbals, sitars and so on, with the arpeggiators providing a tabla and cymbal pattern. It's very atmospheric, and the control knobs bring in sequenced delays from Insert effects to vary the basic rhythm.
Combi A028 'Random Blocks': sets up a convincing Steve Reich vibe.
Combi A051 'Crusin' Compton': pretty self-explanatory -- crackly, laid back, lo-fi hip-hop.
Combi A083 'DoItToYaFeet': strange rhythmic goings-on -- speaker-rattling bass, cheesy beatbox and garbled phonemes all in one.
Combi A086 'SciFi Chase Scene': an instant track, but still very satisfying. Use as a basis for your own ideas.
Combi D113: 'RichHarmonic Piano': a lovely, subtle piano/harp layer, with effective harp arpeggios; if you think Duran Duran's 'Save A Prayer' intro, you'll be in the right ballpark. This is in a PCM board bank, but only uses basic Programs.
The review Triton had a MOSS board, and several Combis melded HI and MOSS sounds rather intriguingly. Combi B033 'Tell Me Thelma' (on our machine) is weirdly effective, with a theremin-like sound just breaking out over a heavy rhythmic pad. Many MOSS/HI combinations are 100mph jungle, with other contemporary feels in abundance.
The Triton's GM set is also worthy of mention -- there are few low spots, and the majority of sounds are above average.

Just For Effects...

Trinity set its own standard in effects sophistication, allowing flexible processing similar to that achievable with a rack of outboard. Specifically, it provides more 'Insert' processing -- effects that can be dedicated to a single sound, such as distortion on a lead guitar -- than competing workstations, plus two global 'Master' processors. And it offers straightforward graphic routing of those effects, so best use can be made of them.

On Trinity, effects had a so-called 'Size' (either 1, 2, or 4), which reflected their complexity and the consequent demands they made on the Trinity's DSP chip. As long as the total Size of all active effects did not exceed eight, you were free to set up effects in a variety of combinations (eg. two Size 4 effects, one Size 4 and two Size 2, up to eight Size 1). At first glance, it would appear that effects have been trimmed on Triton: its two Master effects are augmented by five Insert effects, as opposed to Trinity's maximum of eight.

In fact, Triton's effects have merely been implemented differently. Triton does not have any 'Size 1'-style effects (except in chained pairs -- see the 'Triton Treatments' box), and simply offers a list of Insert effects to choose from, most of which are equivalent in DSP terms to Trinity's old Size 2 effects, but with a selection of more complex effects which equate to Trinity's old Size 4 effects, and are dubbed 'double-size' in Triton terminology. It's possible to use two double-size effects at one time, along with a normal effect, so really there's more Insert processing than on Trinity, since the total permitted Size (to talk in Trinity terms again) on Triton equals 10 (five size 2, or two size 4 and a size 2). Furthermore, Trinity only allowed the maximum eight Insert effects to be used in a multitimbral sequence setup, limiting Insert effects per Combi to three (though still with a total Size of eight). Triton, however, can use all five Inserts in sequence setups and in Combis. Nevertheless, if you'd like the option to use eight size 1 Insert effects per sequencer setup, you might lament the Triton reduction to five, even though the Triton's are more complex.
Effects variety has been increased, though, especially in the Master department -- Trinity had 14 Master effects to Triton's 89, and the two Master processors are not restricted, as in Trinity, to reverb/delay for one and modulation for the other. Triton's Master effects can be any of the 89 available -- which, incidentally, are identical to the 89 normal-sized Insert effects. 'Double-sizers' aren't available as Master effects.
On the Insert front, Triton offers 101 effect choices (including 13 double-size effects available only to Inserts 2, 3 or 4) to Trinity's 100. However, 29 of the Trinity Insert effects were the small 'size 1' ones, so overall Triton does better. The selection of Insert effects has been changed very slightly.
As on Trinity, a Master EQ is available, but it's been improved: where the original machine offered a fixed high/low EQ that was more like a tone control, Triton features an effective, fully adjustable 3-band EQ with swept mid. This is well worth having.

Effects routing, too, has been improved on Triton: the effects edit windows now have better graphics that make it even more obvious what is being sent where. Programs, or Programs in a Combi or Sequence, can be routed to the main or individual outs (and the individual outs can be grouped in pairs for stereo operation), or to the Insert effects. The Insert effects can themselves be routed to other Insert effects, or to the same choice of main or individual outs as the Programs, making it easy to send individually treated Programs to their own external mixer inputs, if required. The send controls to the two master effects are found in the Insert effect edit pages, just as on Trinity.

Worthy Of Notes: The Sequencer

Triton's sequencer will be familiar to Trinity users, being an almost identical, largely linear 16-track device, offering real- and step-time recording with 192ppqn timing resolution, a 40-240bpm tempo range, a wide choice of time signatures, and straightforward corrective quantisation facilities. Almost the same editing options are available -- erase, copy and bounce track; erase, delete, insert, copy and move measure; create and erase control data; quantise; shift/erase note; and modify velocity. New for Triton is Repeat Measure, which allows the user to specify how many times a measure should be played, instead of making multiple copies -- a sensible addition.

Other enhancements have been made, too: note capacity is over 100,000, to Trinity's 60,000, and the Triton sequencer's ability to loop individual tracks (so that a couple of bars of drums and eight bars of bass, for
Missing In Action
* Trinity's digital interfacing options: an S/PDIF facility came with Trinity's HDR option, and an ADAT connection could also be added. So far, Triton isn't offering any digital connections at all; this could be because, according to Korg UK, the Trinity digital options weren't that widely taken up. * The hard disk recording option: this is not offered for Triton, say Korg because since Trinity's launch there's been an explosion in affordable digital recorders, including their own D8, rendering Korg's 4-track Trinity HD option less relevant. It's a fair point, but still, the idea of having four audio tracks alongside MIDI in one keyboard was very appealing -- and Triton's lack of digital outs means you can't access stand-alone hard disk recorders in the digital domain either.
example, could loop for the length of a song without the need for manual copying) will increase Trinity owners' envy. Maximum sequencer Song capacity is now 200, and there's a very good new Cue List mode which allows the playback order of up to 100 Songs to be specified. Korg suggest that small sections such as verses, choruses and bridges could each be saved as Songs and the Cue List used to lay out their order and repeats to make up a track -- a finished cue list can be converted to a Song.
Many Trinity users apparently wished for real-time phrase triggering from the keyboard, and their wish has been granted on Triton in the shape of RPPR (Real-time Pattern Play/Recording). This allows musical phrases or patterns (up to 100 user patterns per Song) to be assigned to keys and triggered in real time, perhaps for live performance -- though the result can also be recorded into a sequence. Triton even has over 100 preset drum patterns, though we found, on the review unit, that there was a slight lack of range, with blocks of adjacent patterns seeming very similar to each other. This may be to facilitate real-time triggering of related patterns in different combinations, like 'variations' on auto-accompaniment instruments.

Another new presence in the Sequencer is the Template Song. There are 16 user Templates designed to speed composition by allowing you to save favourite sets of voices, drum sounds and effects, to come back to time after time when creating a new Song -- a good idea. Korg also provide 16 preset Templates, filled with voices and effects settings suited to particular musical styles (including, on the model we reviewed, Techno, Drum & Bass, New Age, and Rock) but not, perhaps strangely, matching arpeggiator settings or drum patterns.

The powerful sequencer is very easy to use, not least because of the superb screen. Perhaps a time display, which would be useful for checking how long a given Song is running, could be added at some point?
Where To Now For Trinity Owners?
It's always hard for owners when a prized instrument is superseded, especially when it adds lots of new stuff for lots less money. Reactions typically include 'How much is mine worth now?' and 'Is the new one much better than mine and how annoyed will I be when I see the features it's got?' The answer to the latter question is quite complicated. Trinity was a lovely instrument on its release, and it's a lovely instrument now, regardless of the launch of Triton. Triton has enhancements Trinity owners may well hanker after, but they (and we, as Trinity owners!) can console themselves with the knowledge that Trinity has a few things Triton doesn't have. Depending on how you work, the Trinity features Triton misses out (see 'Missing In Action' box) may be the ones you use most.
The Triton enhancements Korg have made are great and take their flagship workstation even further, but probably the single biggest inducement for a Trinity owner to trade up to Triton is the very accomplished sampler -- for anyone who doesn't already have one or gigs a lot -- though a sampler built into a workstation synth won't add extra polyphony or multitimbral parts, which you'd get with a dedicated unit.
Trinity owners who have made the instrument their musical centrepiece may also see Triton's 62-voice polyphony as a big advantage. The fact that the MOSS board becomes multitimbral in a Triton could have a bearing too. Sound-wise there's not that much difference between the two machines (though sounds can't currently be ported from Trinity to Triton, which is a real shame) and though Triton boasts more waveforms, Trinity owners need not fear that their instrument is sonically more limited. However, the Triton's arpeggiators do extend the sonic possibilities for that machine.
We'd really like the sampling of the Triton, and the extra polyphony, and the arpeggiators, but Trinity is a classic instrument and we don't think anyone who bought it should ever regret their decision. It would be nice, though, to see Korg's purely software tweaks making their way into Trinity, even as a chargeable upgrade. There seems no reason why Trinity owners can't have the improved effects routing, for example, and the sequencer track looping.
By the way, anyone considering changing to Triton and thinking they could swap the SCSI and MOSS boards from their Trinity into the new machine will have to think again: the boards for Triton are not exactly the same and so won't be swappable.

Interface Improvements

Triton's front-panel redesign has given Korg an opportunity to make a few user-requested tweaks. There are those knobs, of course -- we'll deal with them shortly -- and a new row of dedicated Bank buttons. This comes in response to reports that choosing Program and Combi banks, done on Trinity by cycling through the options with a single button, could be more immediate: in the case of Triton, buttons labelled A-D take care of the four possible Program and Combi banks, while three more (E-G) cover Program banks made up from sampled sounds, a MOSS bank (only active if the Triton has the optional Z1 board fitted), and the GM bank.

Other operational changes become evident as one uses the new workstation -- for example, where Trinity resets itself to Combi 01 when it's powered up, you can elect to have Triton power up how you left it. Trinity
"Overall, though, the Triton really can't be too highly recommended, as a truly professional, incredibly
well-rounded instrument, which is not revolutionary, admittedly, but surely does what Korg set out to do."
owners will also notice less use of the safety-pin icon which, on Trinity, prevents pop-up windows from disappearing before you've finished with them. Triton does things a little differently, and safety pins appear only in a few windows, such as when choosing individual samples in a multisample in the sampler section.
Such changes aside, Triton's interface is quite similar to Trinity's, including the way in which the touch-screen helps the user navigate large, well-laid out pages, often without needing the manual, simply by stabbing at the desired parameter on screen with a fingertip -- though it seems that the way Trinity on-screen controls, such as faders in the mixer page, could be altered with a fingertip, is gone. You can select the control with a finger, but have to change its value with the front-panel data dial or slider, which removes some of the point of a touch-driven interface.

On the whole, though, the Triton interface feeling is of enhanced graphics and layout. Whereas Trinity often makes do with quite bald lines of text -- which is clear enough -- Triton adds more boxes and graphic elements. The act of getting to an edit page, for example, is slightly quicker, and more logical now. With Trinity, you'd press the Edit button and select an edit page from a potential eight, using numbered buttons on the front panel. However, until you're familiar with the synth you often don't remember what function lives on what page. Triton's system is easier: the physical page buttons are gone, and if you want to edit something, you simply press the Menu button (novices might have preferred this to be labelled 'Edit') and an onscreen display showing labelled icons for up to nine pages appears.

Simple Sampling

Sharp-eyed readers will spot a big hint about one of Triton's most important enhancements right on the front panel: the words 'Music Workstation/Sampler'. Where Trinity had a sample RAM option for loading samples, Triton features full sampling as standard.

To deal with the facts first, the sampler offers 16-bit mono or stereo sampling, at a fixed 48kHz sample rate. Maximum sample RAM is 64Mb, though initially 16Mb is installed; there are two SIMM slots, so upgrading to 64Mb (two 32Mb SIMMs) will leave you with a spare 16Mb SIMM. The spec says there are 4000 possible sample locations -- a huge number -- but that appears to be true only with 64Mb of RAM; a base machine provides 1000 sample slots. Those 1000 (or 4000) samples can be organised across the keyboard as one of 1000 multisamples. With 64Mb of RAM you could easily manage a couple of multisamples with a different sample assigned to every key. Those with time and patience (or the right sample CD) could, for instance, assemble a killer grand piano. Note that samples can also be freely used in Triton drum kits. An interesting memory-saving feature is that copied samples don't necessarily have to be physically copied: 'ghost' copies can be looped independently of the original (shades of Roland's S330/S550!). Any destructive editing, however, will be reflected in all ghosts.

A 16Mb Triton offers a maximum sample time of just under three minutes mono (about a minute and a half stereo); the full 64Mb of RAM would yield 11 minutes 38 seconds mono. The RAM of a fully loaded Triton is addressed in four chunks, which has implications for the length of sample you can record in one go -- just under three minutes mono. That fixed sample rate may look like a problem, but it isn't: sample rates can be converted after sampling. This is done by multiplying the current sample rate by two-thirds, a half, a third, a quarter or a sixth. Starting with a 48kHz sample, the resulting rates would be 32kHz, 24kHz, 16kHz, 12kHz and 8kHz. The way Triton works, though, means that some odd sample rates are produced: you might multiply a 16kHz sample by a sixth, say, which results in a 2.667kHz sample! It looks as though the lowest available sample rate is 2kHz (a 12kHz sample rate multipied by a sixth).

Sampling is undertaken in the Recording window, which also offers a display of the keygroups of the current multisample, assigned to an on-screen keyboard, plus input level meters, a running total of available sample RAM, and the key range, original key and top key of the current sample. Keygrouping is handled automatically, with user controls for determining keygroup size (between one and 127 notes). Simply press the on-screen Create button to add a sample slot to a new keygroup, hit the front-panel Record button, set input level with the rear-panel level control (and a further on-screen gain fader), and press the Start/Stop button to record the sample. Pressing Start/Stop again finishes the process. There's also a threshold mode that begins sampling as soon as a user-set level threshold is reached, and even a pre-trigger option so that the attack of sounds that start a fraction early is preserved, though we found that even with careful use a bit tended to get cut off the start of a sample -- we tried the pre-trigger (up to its maximum 500mS), but this parameter didn't seem to work properly on the review model. One point worth mentioning is that audio input can be passed through Triton's Insert effects while being sampled -- all five of them if you like, in stereo! We put this facility to use compressing a guitar while sampling a series of chords. Sampling through effects, of course, may also mean that an effect can be saved later.

Triton Specification
• Keyboard

Triton: 61-note, velocity- and aftertouch-sensitive; Triton Pro: as Triton, with 76 notes; Triton ProX: 88-note, weighted.
• Polyphony: 62 notes (68 with MOSS board).
• Multitimbrality: 16-part.
• Waveform ROM:

32Mb (425 multisamples, 413 drum samples).
• Synthesis System:
Hyper Integrated (HI).
• Preset Programs:
• Preset Combinations:
• General MIDI Bank:
256 Programs + nine drum kits.
• Effects

Stereo digital multi-effects (2 Master and 5 Insert effects plus 1 Master EQ simultaneously). 102 Insert effects and 89 Master effects to choose from.
• Sequencer:

16 tracks; 192ppqn resolution; 200 Songs; 100 preset/100 user patterns per Song; reads/writes Standard MIDI Files.
100 user patterns/Song, approx 100 preset patterns.
• Arpeggiator: dual;
232 patterns, approx 180 preset.
• Sampler:

Mono/stereo 16-bit, 48kHz sampling; 16Mb standard RAM (upgradeable to 64Mb); approx. three minutes mono sampling with standard RAM; imports AIFF, WAV, S1000/3000 and Trinity-format samples; resamples at lower rates; no sample export.
• Controllers:

Joystick, ribbon controller, 2 assignable switches, 4 assignable knobs, 3 arpeggiator control knobs.
• Disk drive: 3.5-inch 2DD/2HD floppy.
• Outputs:

L (mono)/R; four individual outs; headphones.
• Inputs: 2 jack audio inputs.
• MIDI: In/Out/Thru.
• Computer Interface:

Mac/PC (MIDI driver software available).
• Display:

320x240-dot backlit graphical TouchView screen with brightness control.
• Power Supply
• Options:

PCM Expansion boards; EXB-MOSS DSP Synthesizer board; EXB SCSI SCSI Interface board.
Comprehensive editing functions include cut and clear highlighted area, truncate either side of highlighted area, paste, insert silence, reverse, normalise and mix (where two samples are merged). Looping is carried out on its own page. Both sample and loop edit pages feature a zoomable, scrolling waveform display, with tools for highlighting sections of a sample or selecting a loop point. It might lack the resolution and size of a computer monitor, but it's perfectly up to the task of providing feedback while editing. And once a collection of samples has been edited and looped, the resulting multisample, if desired, can be automatically converted into a Program. This is a painless end to a relatively painless process. Indeed, if sampling gets any easier than with the Triton sampler, we'd like to know about it.
For those working with rhythm loops, the sample waveform display has a useful grid option: if you know what the tempo of the sampled loop is, the grid will divide it into half, quarter, eighth, 16th or 32nd notes (with triplet options), allowing you to easily edit, cut or copy individual beats, which can then be assigned to their own keygroups to make up a kit of sounds derived from a loop. The grid display also has potential as an interface for time-stretching loops, if this facility were ever added. Yes, that is a hint!
Triton's sampling facilities are certainly comprehensive, but die-hard samplists may miss one or two things: as mentioned above, there's no time-stretching, no crossfade looping, no alternate reverse/forward loops and no multiple loops (not to mention no digital input). We could also find no way of resampling existing audio or onboard sounds through the effects, and there's no 'undo' facility at the moment (though when you're mangling a sample you're always given the option of overwriting the original or saving the result in a new location, which is considerate!). That said, the sampler is quick to use, highly integrated with Triton's synthesis side, and offers one of the fastest, easiest ways around of compiling multisamples. One point to keep in mind, though, is that Triton's RAM is volatile (Trinity's sample RAM was flash), so if the synth is switched off, unsaved samples and sequences are lost. The optional SCSI interface and some external storage would be pretty much essential for serious samplists: even the contents of the basic 16Mb of
Triton Treatments
Triton's effects are high-quality, fully editable, and are divided into type categories (rather than sizes, as in Trinity). Categories are Filter/Dynamic (15 effects); Pitch/Phase Modulation (16 effects); Modulation/Pitch Shift (nine effects); Early Reflections/Delay (11 effects); Reverb (six types); Mono-Mono Chain (lots of chains of two Trinity-style 'size 1' effects); and Double Size (13 effects). There isn't room to list them all here, but SOS's two-part Trinity Plus review has a full effects list which gives a good idea of the kind of thing on offer. Almost the same effects are available as both Inserts and Masters, but double-size effects can't be used as Masters. Like Triton, Trinity has a vocoder, yet the thing that vocoders are best at -- using human speech or singing to modulate a musical sound -- isn't possible due to its lack of audio ins. Here Triton scores: not only is its vocoder effect a little more sophisticated (though it lacks the precise control over frequency bands which would be offered by a dedicated device), but external audio can be used as a modulator. The process is a bit long-winded, but follow the instructions in the manual and you won't go far wrong.
RAM would require around a dozen high-density floppies for a full backup.

Board Sensible: Expansion Options

On examining the keyboard's underside, one spots two new screw-on panels. These reveal yet another Triton enhancement: its expansion boards are user-installable, so adding the MOSS (Z1) board, SCSI board, PCM expansion boards or extra sample RAM no longer entails returning your machine to Korg HQ, as with Trinity. The options will also apparently be cheaper, as they don't have to incorporate an installation cost.
* PCM Expansion boards: these are something like the Roland JV-series Sound Expanders. Two are currently available, with more planned. Pianos/Classic Keyboards features various flavours of piano, clavinet and organ, while Studio Essentials provides extra brass and woodwind instruments, strings and choirs. A Triton can host two boards at a time, and each board comes with a floppy of new Programs and Combis that load into the C and D memory banks. According to Korg UK, future boards will cover contemporary musical styles. Incidentally, in Tritons without PCM expansions installed, the C and D banks are empty and thus provide extra memory slots for your own sounds.

* MOSS (Multi-Oscillator Synthesis System) option: this is almost the same Z1 physical modelling synth-on-a-board that came with the Trinity V3 (see the V3 review, SOS September 1998, and the Z1 review, October 1997). There's one big difference, though: inside a Triton, the 6-voice polyphonic MOSS board becomes 6-part multitimbral, rather than being monotimbral as in Trinity! This is quite an advantage and makes the Triton MOSS option closer to a fully fledged Z1, which features two MOSS boards for 12-voice polyphony. As you'd hope, Triton polyphony is increased to 68 notes with the MOSS option.
Triton vs Trinity: Principal Changes
Full sampler Loads samples into optional sample RAM
Dual arpeggiators No
Control knobs
Four No
Option board/RAM installation
User Factory
Audio Outputs
6 4
Sequencer capacity
100,000 notes 60,000 notes
Individual track looping in sequencer
Template Songs
Yes No
RPPR (Real-time Pattern Play/Record)
Yes No
External audio treated with effects
Yes Only with HDR option
PCM Expansion option
Yes No
MOSS board (if installed)
6-part multitimbral Monotimbral
General MIDI

GM Program Bank,
GM seq. mode
GM sound bank on disk

Hard Disk Recording option No 4-track
Digital Interfacing


S/PDIF with HDR option,
ADAT option
SCSI Option Yes Yes
Sample RAM
Volatile Flash

However, we came across an odd situation in regard to the MOSS board and effects. One of the few things the SOS reviewer criticised about the Z1 was the fact that different voices in a Multi setup (similar to a Combi) couldn't be treated with different effects. Trying to place MOSS voices from the Z1 board into a Triton Combi or multitimbral sequencer setup and effect them individually revealed a similar problem during our testing: though the display showed MOSS voices apparently routed to different Insert effects (or individual outputs), they were in fact all being treated by one Insert effect or Insert effect chain (or going to one individual output). The user can choose which Insert effect, or audio output, MOSS voices will be routed to, but all MOSS voices will be so routed, no matter what the routing diagram reports. It's not even possible to route MOSS sounds via the main stereo output untreated, or set up individual send levels to the Master effects. This is quite a serious flaw which limits the usefulness of MOSS board multitimbrality.
* SCSI option: as mentioned earlier, the SCSI option, which uses a large SCSI connector rather than the miniature SCSI II version on many current peripherals, will be pretty much essential to anyone who uses Triton's sampler a lot. Incidentally, when a CD-ROM drive is connected, the Triton's sampler can not only access Akai-format CD-ROMs, but also load WAV and AIFF files off standard PC-format CD-ROMs. We couldn't get the same result with Mac-format CD-ROMs, however, and SMDI transfer isn't supported. Neither can Triton samples currently be saved in a format that can be exported to other samples or software editors.


To anyone familiar with the streamlined look of the Trinity, the next obvious difference is Triton's knobs. Korg have provided four, configured for real-time control of up to eight parameters, in two banks of four -- obviously an extra nod towards the increasingly hands-on direction the market has taken since the Trinity was launched. One bank of knobs are preset to control familiar synth parameters: filter cutoff, filter resonance, EG intensity and EG release. The other bank is user-definable. Preset Programs (and Combis) assign the second knob bank to various parameters: EG controls, effect sends, or the volume of elements in a Combi, for example. Some interesting organ Programs use the knobs as real-time drawbar controls. There's a variety of modulation options, and the knobs used in combination with the joystick and ribbon controller provide even more real-time sound mangling possibilities than on the Trinity.

Three additional knobs on the Triton's far right hint at another new feature: dual polyphonic arpeggiators, with the knobs usefully controlling Tempo, Gate Time and Velocity. When the Trinity V3, featuring the Z1 board, was released, one facility reviewers felt was lacking was the Z1's arpeggiator, and Korg have obviously borne this in mind for the new machine -- there's really nothing to beat an arpeggiator for instant gratification.

The two independently configurable arpeggiators are really well-specified. They'll happily simply chop the notes of a chord into an up/down pattern over a number of octaves, with a choice of note resolution, but then they take the whole thing several steps further: some patterns are auto-
Essential Reading
Half the magazine would be needed to go into sufficient depth about an instrument such as Triton, so although this is a long review, it can't give you everything. Fortunately, though, SOS has followed the Trinity story closely and you won't do better than checking out the following reviews for more detail about Triton's predecessor: • Trinity preview: November 1995
• Trinity Plus: December 1995/January 1996
• Trinity Expansion Options: January 1997
• Z1: October 1997
• TR Rack: February 1998
• Trinity V3: September 1998
accompaniment in arpeggiator clothing! Nevertheless, many of them, programmed in styles such as jungle, drum & bass and hip-hop, are quite groovy, and there are also guitar strum arpeggio patterns. If you're in your local music store auditioning a Triton, Prog A005 'Acoustic Guitar' illustrates the strumming technique, which is pretty convincing -- for a while, anyway!
Custom arpeggio patterns can be created, so if, instead of being straitjacketed into a preset style, you'd like to design your own straitjacket, you can! The arpeggiator edit grid is identical to that on the Z1, and functions as a basic step sequencer. Up to 48 steps are available; each step can play up to 12 notes, and there's full control over velocity, note length and rests, plus a flam option used in some guitar strumming patterns. There appear to be 200 user arpeggio pattern memories on an unexpanded Triton, though many of these are filled with factory settings. The number increases if PCM boards are installed.

Programs, Combis and sequencer Songs can all take advantage of the arpeggiators. One, any or all eight parts in a Combi, or all 16 in a sequence, can be assigned to one or other of the arpeggiators; the choice is yours. Arpeggiations played while a sequence is recording are nearly always recorded as played -- the arpeggiator isn't needed during playback to get the desired result, when using single Programs. The exceptions mainly centre around Sequence setups derived from Combis which use arpeggiations; though a Combi that's been turned into a Sequence will play properly, you may have to tweak MIDI channels, or record the final performance across several tracks, to accurately reproduce the original Combi as a Song.

Triton: Try One

As Korg's updating of their workstation concept for the millennium, Triton must be judged a
Also Check Out...
If you're in the market for a workstation, there's no shortage of competition for the Triton -- including the Trinity, which will continue to be available. Other comparable instruments, in terms of price and features, include: • Emu E-synth
(reviewed November 1997).
• GEM Equinox
(reviewed May 1999).
• Kurzweil K2000VP
(reviewed September 1998).
• Roland XP80/XP60
(reviewed May 1996).
• Yamaha EX5/EX7
(reviewed May 1998).
success. It retains the proven Trinity design, sound, display and effects; attends to the areas where Trinity fell short, notably polyphony and audio outputs; improves day-to-day operation in numerous ways (better effect routing, user-installable option boards, computer interface, sequencer enhancements... the list goes on); and adds desirable new features -- including full sampling, arpeggiators and real-time control knobs -- at a price some £600 less than Trinity on its launch! Some might question one or two of Korg's decisions (see 'Missing In Action' box): abandoning digital connectivity options at a time when the world is becoming increasingly digital seems almost perverse, and if Korg had managed to retain Trinity's HD recording option they really could have kept the title 'self-contained MIDI + Audio workstation' for Triton. Though it's probably due to a hardware limitation, the situation with the MOSS board and effects is also unfortunate. Overall, though, the Triton really can't be too highly recommended, as a truly professional, incredibly well-rounded instrument, which is not revolutionary, admittedly, but surely does what Korg set out to do. Like Trinity before it, Triton is the workstation to beat.

Published in SOS June 1999