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Is this Korg’s best bang for the buck workstation?

By David Bryce


I feel pretty safe in saying that when it comes to workstations, Korg rules the roost….and, for the most part, pretty much has ever since bringing the best selling synthesizer of all time (the venerable M1) to market in the mid 80’s. Sure, there are other companies that have made (and still make) excellent workstations, but Korg’s unrelenting commitment to that market segment combined with a constantly growing set of unrivaled features has made them the big dog in this arena.  

So, how does their latest affordable workstation stand up to the other offerings on the market? Let’s find out…


Kross overhead.png

 

 

What You Need To Know

  • Weighs less than 10 pounds, has a handle and can run on batteries (6 AA), which should last about four hours. This allowed me to do a bunch of the review sitting on my back porch with the keyboard on my lap, listening to headphones. Pretty unusual, and a lot of fun!
  • 112 MB of Wave ROM. 421 multi-samples, 890 drum samples. 905 preset programs (Prog) and 384 combinations (Combi).
  • 80 voices of polyphony in Single mode (1 osc) or 40 in Dual mode (2 osc). This may not seem like enough for dense sequences, but there’s a really cool way around that. Read on….
  • Dedicated layer and split buttons make it easy to combine any two programs on the fly.
  •  480 ppq resolution 16 track sequencer (with overwrite and overdub modes), drum tracks and powerful dual polyphonic arpeggiator provided.
  • The step sequencer was lifted from the Korg Electribe. Up to 64 steps in a sequence, with 16 dedicated buttons for 808-style programming.
  • Kross Sound Selectors.jpgSound Selector knobs make it effortless to access different categories.
  • 4 banks of 16 Favorites are available. Programs, Combis, Sequences (both 16 track and step) can be stored as Favorites for one touch recall.
  • There are multiple ways to do the same thing – i.e. programs can be browsed and chosen with the Sound Selector knobs, data wheel, cursor buttons, and (in a more limited fashion) the Favorites buttons.
  •  Onboard multi-track audio recorder can store up to 3 hours on a SD card (up to 2 MB) or SDHX card (up to 32 MB). Keyboard performances and audio (vocals, line input for guitars, etc) can both be captured – simultaneously, if desired. ¼” unbalanced and 1/8” stereo mini line inputs are provided.
  • Way easy to burn sequences to the audio recorder, effectively increasing polyphony exponentially.
  • Auto Song Select function instantly copies a Combi right to the sequencer, automatically assigning the different parts to discrete tracks. There are also 15 templates set up as genres that can be used as a starting point for sequences – these set the tracks up with a handful of thoughtfully chosen sounds for each genre. 15 more slots are provided for user-defined templates.
  • There are 916 preset Arp patterns and 111 user slots. Editable parameters include Range, Resolution, Gate, Velocity, Swing and Latch.
  • 700 onboard drum patterns, with editable Trigger Mode, Key Range, and Latch.
  • 134 (!) onboard effects (including reverb, delay, chorus, flange, phase, overdrive, EQ, amp sim – you name it…even vintage effects). Five insert effects and two Master effects can be used per Program/Combi/Sequence.  Routing is extremely flexible – effects can be run straight, in series, or parallel. Effects can even be assigned to individual drums. Gotta love that….
  • Vocoder = yes, indeed.
  • Half-pedaling supported on Damper pedal input with compatible pedal (Korg DS-1H, sold separately). One additional assignable switch pedal and one assignable continuous control pedal input are also present.
  • USB to host and MIDI I/O. Either (or both) can be enabled.

Kross back panel.png

 

  • Kross editor software available for free on the Korg website. Plug-in editor lets the Kross operate as a software synth within a DAW.
  • 88 key version with hammer action weighted keybed is also available for less than $1,000.

 

Limitations

  • Keybed is not the most rugged thing I’ve ever played.
  • No aftertouch. 
  • Wall wart power supply.


 
Conclusions

Frankly, I’m amazed at how many features Korg was able to pack into this bad boy, especially when you take the price point into account…and it’s not just the feature set that impressed me – the majority of sounds I played were really pleasing, and should be able to be used happily by any pro. They’ve even included legacy sounds, such as the pianos from the M1 and SG-1D!  The pianos and EPs in general are quite good…although I do admit I appreciated them even more when I MIDI’d it up to a weighted 88 key controller – not terribly surprising. Some of the other standout banks for me included the Bells, Strings, Lead and Pad synths…and the Guitar bank, which has a few articulation sounds incorporated that took me pleasantly by surprise. I expected the synths to be impressive,…but honestly did not expect the depth and realism that I found in the acoustic sounds.  Even the brass sounds (which I’m typically not a big fan of in keyboards) were some fun to play.  I compared similarly named programs from different banks in the Kross to those in my Kronos, and was pleased to hear very little difference – if any, in more than a few cases.

I’m also impressed that they were able to give dedicated controls to as many of the functions as they did. Pitch and mod wheels, two assignable front panel switches, transport controls for the 16 track sequencer, step sequencer and audio recorder, cursor keys, four navigation keys, four Mode buttons, 16 buttons for the step sequencer, dedicated Sound Selector knobs, Split and Layer buttons, Arp and Drum Track switches, Master Effects and Audio In toggles – even a Tempo knob and Tap Tempo button! There are more than a few instruments costing a bunch more than this that don’t have half those features or controls.

The Combis are where a lot of the fun in this instrument can be found – that’s where I really lost track of time. 16 slots let you layer and split multiple programs all over the keyboard, and add two Arps, a step sequence and a drum part, if desired. It’s difficult to play through them without getting inspired - you can pretty much compose songs and sonic soundscapes in real time.

On that note, one of the things that I think Korg has really gotten right is the ability to quickly set up sequences from either Combis (using Auto Song Select) or templates. It’s simply amazing how quickly you can get an idea out of your head and into this instrument, and then burn it to audio and overdub vocals. I simply love this feature.

Overall, this is a remarkable instrument. Expressive sounds, a ton of power, more dedicated controls than you can shake a stick at, a price point that’s hard to believe…and you can play it anywhere! It’s going to be hard for me to sit on my back porch without thinking of playing keys from now on.

 

Resources

Musician's Friend's Korg Kross online catalog page ($869 MSRP, $699.99 "street")



Korg's Korg Kross web page



Korg Kross demo video:


 


dB bio image.pngDavid Bryce is a composer/producer living in Thousand Oaks CA.  Specializing in keyboards and synthesizers, Bryce is also comfortable with guitar, bass, drums…and can sort of play some horns.  He operates his own state of the art professional recording studio, where he does music and audio production, and is also an accomplished voice-over artist, with credits ranging from radio and TV spots in markets across the USA through industrial presentations and computer video games.  He currently plays keyboards for a few LA based bands, and spends a large portion of his days consulting with a variety of professional audio and musical instrument manufacturers.

 

 

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