Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Small Synthesizers: The Korg Monotron

Today I decided to ask Old Ho Ho for a Korg Monotron for Christmas.


Here are some things that make the Korg Monotron ridiculously cool:

First, it is tiny. It is less than five inches long, less than three inches wide, and a tiny bit more than one inch thick. It weighs about four ounces with batteries. There is something incredibly futuristic about things that are tiny. I have this idea in my head that I will have a band or be an artist where I will be playing a show and I will run all my softsynths off of netbooks less than 10 inches wide and I will use (mostly Korg-made) controllers and synths Korg nanoKontrol and the Korg Monotron and maybe even the Nintendo DS Korg MS-10 emulator or that sine-sequencer for the iPhone. I mean I could fit enough equipment to generate like 10 tracks of audio on a coffee-table with the way that technology has been going.

It is analogue. "Digital" used to mean "cool". But the meaning has gone too far and now it means "cold". Analogue synthesizers are considered to be warmer and richer at a small expense of versatility. If you told me that you had a tiny synth, I would tell you "that is cool but digital is lame". Then you would have to tell me "actually it is analogue, we have precision machining and circuit-board technology to make a 3-module analogue synth take up fifteen square inches now." Then I would be all like "whoa!" However, I discovered the Korg Monotron before you did, so I get to be the one telling you that while you can find good analogue equipment and hip tiny things easily enough, good analogue hip tiny things are still rare, yet here one is! I will probably be explaining the facts about analogue vs digital sound and synths in later posts. For now just go with and remember "analogue equals good" until I flesh out the details.

It is semi-modular. Things that suck about that sequencer for the iPhone and the Nintendo DS MS-10 emulator and so on are that all they do is output a signal, they have no way to sync up with or react to other synth channels and also they can only generate sounds from scratch--not modify existing sounds. This is one of those things--as you make things smaller you have to remove features, and modularity is one of the first things to go. However, the Korg Monotron's VCF can take external inputs. Basically what this means is that it is instantly a wah-wah or auto-wah pedal for guitar, if you suddenly need one, or it is a hiss remover for a noisy track or it is a drum darkener or whatever else you can use a filter for. With the LFO cranked up it is suddenly some kind of weird FM/ring-moddy sounding thingy.

Other things: It has its own built in speaker. Convenient if not that useful for live stuff. It represents a return to ribbon controllers--this is an interesting historical note. Its circuitry is based on the MS-10. Meaning its sound is already a well-established vintage synthesizer sound that already has a huge following.

Here are some Youtube videos I found displaying its awesome features:

This guy uses it simultaneously with a pre-programmed Korg DS-10 for the Nintendo DS. (I have that too):

Is it just me, or is smaller totally better than bigger?


  1. Wait, did the synth guy just say digital was lame?

  2. @heidenkind There are benefits to both. When you use something digital instead of something analog then in general you are gaining some form of versatility and losing something else. The cases where digital sounds better are all due to "power" I guess. This is going to be a big topic in future posts, I'm just trying to post things to build interest before getting technical.