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  • KORG M3 WORKSTATION/SAMPLER

    Things are heating up on the synth front, and I'm noticing that hardware is making a comeback (just ask Dave Smith!). I think part of it is the whole "control surface" aspect - when you have something that's as deep as an M3, it's convenient to have actual buttons, switches, and sliders instead of having to do everything virtually. The other aspect is that companies like Korg and Yamaha are embracing computers, rather than fighting them. In fact, one of the things I'm really looking forward to checking out is the M3's computer integration aspects, as well as its KARMA engine (although it might make my brain explode, it's pretty deep).

    I like to start off pro reviews with a bunch of photos so we know what we're dealing with, as well as other resources. An outstanding resource is http://www.korgforums.com (first image), which is kind of a misleading name because it offers lots of downloads and a news section in addition to forums.

    Another good resource is http://www.korg.com/service/support.asp (second image) where there are documents and FAQs on Korg products. Select M3, and there are lots of tutorials and other helpful docs. (I suspect I'll be downloading the "KARMA Level 2 Introductory Tour" PDF pretty soon.)

    Speaking of KARMA, there's also lots of M3-oriented info at http://www.karma-lab.com/m3 (third image). This web site is run by Stephen Kay, the inventor of the KARMA process. BTW if you don't know what KARMA is, it does algorithmic-based processing of notes, arpeggiations, drum patterns, and more. One particularly cool part of the site is the M3 Online Virtual GUI at http://www.karma-lab.com/m3/gui/main.html (fourth image), which gives you a feel for the interface. For example, if you want to know what the sampling screen looks like, click on the Sampling button.

    The UK service site is at http://www.korguksupport.co.uk. It also has downloads, FAQs, etc. as well as UK-specific news for our friends in England.

    Our final resource (at least for this post!) is a review from Keyboard magazine that is really quite comprehensive...it provides an excellent overview of what the keyboard is all about. You can read it at http://www.keyboardmag.com/article/korg-m3-61/Jul-07/29800 .
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

  • #2
    I've often said each Pro Review has its own gestalt, but one thing I learned from doing the Motif XS6 Pro Review is that when it comes to a deep synth like the M3, this review is going to take a while (the Motif XS6 one still isn't done, and some Pro Reviews have been open and active for close to a year). So please, if you have priorities about what interests you, please post here. For example, if everyone is particularly interested in the sampling aspects or KARMA or using it with RADIAS or whatever, I'll put that at the head of the line.

    Pro Reviews of something this deep can really suck the reviewer (that would be me) into somewhat of a black hole. So, I'm going to try to limit myself to an hour or so at a time on the review, and do more frequent, shorter groups of posts than less frequent, longer posts. Hopefully this will a) present information in more digestible chunks, and b) keep me from going insane.

    The Korg person who will be monitoring this review to help answer your questions and, perhaps most importantly, correct me when I'm wrong is Jerry Kovarsky, who is about as high up on the food chain as you can go when it comes to the M3. One thing you should know is that Jerry is an extremely good keyboard player and musician, so you can expect that his comments will reflect that mentality as opposed to being a "marketing guy." I'm also hoping we can get Stephen Kay to participate when we hit the KARMA part of the review.

    Okay, let's look at some pictures.
    _____________________________________________
    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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    • #3
      You can get the M3 is four main formats: with 61 note keyboard, 73 note keyboard, 88 note keyboard, or as a separate "head" with just the electronics. In fact, the M3 module can be removed from the keyboard as well as tilted up or lie down. With the 73 and 88 note keyboards, there's room to slide in a RADIAS module next to it, or another M3 module. We have the 73-key model here for review, but I have photos of both the 61 and 73-note versions.

      The first image shows the right side of the module. These buttons are mostly for the "housekeeping" functions - bank select, sequencer, sampling, main interface button, tempo control, and the like.

      The second image shows the middle of the module. You can't really see that the TouchView screen is full color, but it is. BTW it's not just a touch screen for selecting parameters, but also does KAOSS pad-type functions (that's what the X-Y mode button in the upper right is all about). Below the display are 8 pads that can be used for triggering drum sounds (as expected), but also do single-touch chord functions and a lot more, actually.

      The third image shows the left side of the module, and this is where the more "fun" controls are. The eight sliders can be a mixer/control surface for the M3, or a control surface for other programs; the five control assign buttons along the left determine the slider functionality. The buttons on top do mute/solo functions (among other things), and the lower buttons relate to KARMA and drum track functions.

      The fourth image shows a long view of the 61-key version, with the module lying flat. And see the joystick in the lower right? It really does glow blue, it's lit in a really cool way. I'll include a close-up shot of it later.
      _____________________________________________
      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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      • #4
        Before signing off for now, I wanted to include some shots of the back as well as a couple other things.

        The first image shows the control pedal and several of the I/O options. From left to right you can see provisions for Damper, Switch, and Pedal connections, and below that, two FireWire expansion ports. To the immediate right is optical SPDIF digital I/O, and to the right of that, the stereo inputs for sampling and processing (with accompanying level control and mic/line level switch), and the four individual audio outputs below. Not visible: Two main audio outputs off the right side of the picture.

        The second image shows the MIDI ports to the right, and to the left, two USB ports and a USB "host" slot. So, not only can you connect the M3 up to your computer via USB, you can use USB peripherals (like memory sticks) with the M3.

        The third image is the joystick, with a ribbon controller below. You gotta love that cool blue illumination. As you've probably figured out by now, I do

        All right, more to come later. I think the first thing I should do is download the 512 new patches that Korg just introduced for the M3. Stay tuned...
        _____________________________________________
        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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        • #5
          Stephen Kay emailed me the following:

          "Thanks for mentioning my web site. One other thing you might mention if you have a chance is that not just korgforums is an active forum for the m3; my own forums for the m3 are quite active and a lot of sound development/sharing is going on there presently:

          http://www.karma-lab.com/forum

          Users can click on the M3 icon at the top to go to the M3 sub-forum. I personally answer many m3 related questions and issues, and it's not just
          about KARMA.

          The downloads and sound-sharing area presently is at:

          http://www.karma-lab.com/forum/forumdisplay.php?s=&forumid=211

          Thanks!"
          _____________________________________________
          There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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          • #6
            Must...resist...temptation...

            Of course I want to just keep playing the M3 and generate some audio examples, but I must do my Professional Reviewer Thing and make sure everything is up to date.

            First step is to download the new programs and OS, then the new Editor Software. Let's see how difficult or easy it is. Meanwhile, as I await 29MB of new operating system to download, here's a link where you can see the system requirements for the Editor software:

            http://www.korg.com/service/downloadinfo.asp?DID=1385

            Okay, here's a doc that says "How to Update M3." That seems obvious enough, and the updating process is obvious as well: You copy the OS to a USB stick, plug the USB stick into the M3, turn on power, then in the Global screen, tell the M3 to update system software. Turn power off, turn power on: Done.

            Cool. No installing drivers in your computer, hooking up cables, and the like.

            However, you have to do this twice: Once to update the operating system, and once to load the 512 new programs. Apparently the 512 programs are included in the "system section" of the keyboard as preload data, so if you ever have to re-initialize the machine, the programs will still be there.

            Let's do it a second time...yup, it's loading the program data. And let's hit a few bank buttons...yes, they're all in there.

            Two things are immediately clear:

            1. The sounds are really good.
            2. I could really get used to the touch screen interface.

            I'm going to duck out for a few minutes and boot up my music computer, then record some of the sounds so you can hear some of the factory programs.
            _____________________________________________
            There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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            • #7
              We'll start with preset 1, called BPM Dense Modulations. You'll hear a couple important things in this one: First, there's a Drum Track that you can turn on and off with the "Drum Track On/Off" button. Second, the left hand is holding down a couple of notes that are being modulated for a rhythmic effect...sort of a built-in AdrenaLinn The right hand is playing the block chords.

              BTW all these examples are being played in real time into Sonar, not recorded as MIDI and tweaked - no quantizing or anything. I'm not the greatest keyboard player in the world, so take that into account - the main thing here is I want to make some sounds happen for ya.

              Preset 2 is an acoustic guitar, with a mellower drum track, which I decided to leave on. I'll attempt to do a fingerstyle pickin' sorta thing here...

              Preset 3 is legato strings, with orchestral percussion. As you can hear, you can pretty much hit anything and it sounds okay. Speaking of which...

              I then called up preset 6, which is a cool acoustic bass. The first part is just me sort of jamming away, and then I decided hit the KARMA on-off button to see what happened...check out the patterns in the last several seconds. KARMA is clearly something with a lot of potential.

              Bottom line: I haven't read the manual yet, but I'm having fun...off to dinner, more tomorrow.
              _____________________________________________
              There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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              • #8
                Reviewing a workstation like the M3 is not easy, because it's not a single-function device. Is it a sampler? A drum machine? A composition tool? A live peformance keyboard? Plug-in for your favorite host? Recording studio? Computer peripheral? Answer: It's all of them.

                So the problem for a reviewer - whether in print or online - is how can you use a linear medium to describe a device with multiple parallel processes? Well, you can't. Fortunately, one of the great things about a Pro Review is that we can at least take the space (and include graphics and audio examples) to describe these various parallel processes in detail.

                However, before jumping in to individual elements, let's give a bit of an overview.

                The M3 has several modes.


                Program mode is closest to what we think of as a traditional synth: Call up a preset, play keys, make sounds. However, there are some differences compared to, say, a classic analog synth:

                You can have a drum pattern going along with your playing, as shown in previous audio examples. I must say this can be quite inspiring; I always like playing to a drum part better than a metronome.

                A KARMA module can generate phrases. For example, if you're playing a bass part, KARMA can generate variations.

                You can sample external signals or resample your performance. This is not the same thing as the sampler mode, which we'll cover later. This is sampling applied to performances, as opposed to sampling for the process of creating new sounds that get converted into programs, or creating the virtual equivalent of "audio tracks."

                Combi mode is something that reached early maturity in the Korg M1, but the M3 takes the concept further. Of course, it can serve as a 16-channel multitimbral sound module (no surprises there) but to me, the main Cool Feature to me is the ability to use four KARMA modules to generate phrases on multiple parts. You can also do the same sampling/resampling tricsk as in Program Mode.

                Sequencer mode seems to me like a variation on Combi mode, but with the foundation being MIDI tracks for driving various instrument sounds. These feed a mixer with pan, level, automation, EQ, and the other usual suspects. As with Combi mode, four KARMA modules can come into play for generating phrases and variations. That's all as expected. But also...

                Korg is clear the M3 isn't an audio recording system, but it has what Korg calls "In-Track Sampling" (translation: it does audio recording), which creates a note-on event that triggers any audio you recorded where you recorded it. Not that this means it's an audio recording system...

                Now, I know what they mean: The M3 isn't designed to be something like a VS-880-style (or D888, if you want a Korg reference!) stand-alone hard disk recorder. Nonetheless, if you want to add acoustic sound sources to a sequence, you can.

                You can assign recorded patterns to individual keys, then play them back. This reminds me somewhat of the "arrange" mode in Cubase, in that you can trigger blocks of patterns to create an arrangement, or of the old days of loop-based music, where you'd record multiple loops on a keyboard and play them back in whatever order you like. Or, the patterns can be little "licks" to add interest to an arrangement.
                _____________________________________________
                There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                • #9
                  Korg bills the M3 as a "workstation/sampler," and yes, it's a sampler with its own Sampler Mode. Compared to the hardware samplers of yore, though, the M3 can sample through effects. There's very good waveform editing (I wonder if when using the M3 as a plug-in you can edit waveforms on your big computer screen...hmmm...well, we'll find out) and decent loop point editing as well.

                  As expected you can also create multisamples that map across the keyboard and convert them into programs for later use. But one of the more unusual features is that you can add a USB CD-ROM drive, and sample directly from audio CDs.

                  The two remaining modes are more utilitarian.

                  Global mode is where you do housekeeping - do MIDI sysex dumps, create drum kits, do global settings like tuning, and set up assignments for footswitches and pedals. Extra credit: This is also where you set up alternate tunings.

                  Media Mode issues press releases and shoots videos. Just kidding! Actually, this makes heavy use of the USB 2.0 port. With a CD-R drive you can create audio CDs out of WAV files, as well as read multiple formats of files (Korg, Akai, SoundFonts 2.0, AIFF, and WAV). RAM samples (not the ROM samples included in the M3) can also be saved out via USB as WAV or AIFF files. So, not only can the M3 import various files, it can be used to create files and as a sound design tool.

                  All right...that gives you an idea of what's available "under the hood." Now to figure out which are to cover next...maybe we'll start with drums. I'd also like to get into describing how the UI works, but I'll wait to see if I can get something to grab M3 screen shots as that will make it much easier to explain.
                  _____________________________________________
                  There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                  • #10
                    In case you were wondering why I didn't do any posts yesterday on the M3, it's because I spent hours trying to get the editing software installed--without success. I felt it was important to install the software because the editor tells a lot about what's going on with the M3, and I thought being able to post screen shots from it would be helpful. But no matter what I did, I couldn't get the MIDI/USB driver to show up.

                    So I contacted Korg, and they suggested several possible reasons why the M3 wouldn't talk to my computer. One of these involved the infamous Windows XP MIDI port limitation problem. Actually, I had run across this problem before when reviewing the Yamaha Motif XS6, so I should have known better (and even wrote about how to solve this problem in a Tech Bench article for EQ magazine; I've attached a PDF of the article in case any of you need to fix this problem). But I didn't think I'd installed THAT many MIDI ports in my computer...

                    Anyway, I read my own article , followed the directions, and found that the Line 6 TonePort KB37 interface was using FIVE MIDI ports! Why? Well, when I first got my PC Audio Labs computer, I had some USB issues with audio interfaces (which was solved by installing a PCI USB board for audio, and using the motherboard USB only for non-audio devices like hard drives and other USB peripherals). So I had plugged the KB37 into multiple USB ports, and yes, Windows happily installed a new driver for each one. So I deleted all of the duplicate entries except one, made another attempt at re-installing the Korg software, and bingo--everything worked just like it was supposed to.

                    Within a minute, I had imported all of the programs from the M3 into the editor. Yay!! Thanks, Korg.
                    _____________________________________________
                    There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                    • #11
                      The 73-note keyboard on the M3 being reviewed has synth action, not weighted action, but it has a firm, classy kind of feel. The velocity response is predictable; I like the way the velocity value correlates to my playing.

                      But the really big deal here is the aftertouch. Now that's a yawner topic, right? Wrong. If you don't like aftertouch, or haven't used it much, that might be because with many keyboards, "aftertouch" is more like "afterswitch." Sure, you can press hard on a key and introduce vibrato or whatever, but traditionally, it's been very difficult to get a truly nuanced, predictable effect with aftertouch.

                      Well, Korg claims to have redesigned the keyboard from the ground up (including the aftertouch), and I believe it. Well actually, I had a hard time believing the response at first, so I fired up Sonar and pressed on a key as evenly as a could so I could see what was going on. Check out the first image with the aftertouch curve, and how even it is: That is the smoothest aftertouch curve I've seen on a keyboard.

                      But the real shocker comes with the second image, which shows the actual data values in an event list. You can see the aftertouch step through individual values one value at a time. Even with hardly any pressure applied, there are no jumps: The aftertouch travels smoothly though 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc. It isn't until it hits the 20s and 30s before you see the occasional value being skipped, and I can't guarantee that isn't due to my not pressing smoothly.

                      This is extremely impressive, and makes aftertouch a truly expressive, nuanced function with a great deal of musicality. The M3 gets exceptionally high marks for this.
                      _____________________________________________
                      There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                      • #12
                        Aftertouch has eight different response curves, as shown in the first image. Velocity has nine different response curves, as shown in the second image.

                        However, they both offer a feature I haven't seen before: the choice of having the response be "PreMIDI" or "PostMIDI." This allows equal flexibility when using the M3 keyboard as a master controller, or using just the sound generator part as a tone module (as you would with the M3-M rack).

                        The PreMIDI curve is applied right after the keyboard. So, if you're driving another module with the M3 keyboard, you can choose the velocity or aftertouch curve for the data that gets sent to the module. Also with the PreMIDI setting, when the M3's used as a tone module, the sounds respond in a standard linear fashion.

                        The PostMIDI curve happens just before the tone generator section. In this case, the keyboard produces a linear response, whereas the tone generator can respond to MIDI data according to your curve of choice. So if, for example, you've recorded MIDI data in a sequencer and find that the velocity doesn't have the right curve for the effect you want to produce in the M3, you can set the curve to PostMIDI, which will modify the incoming velocity curve and (hopefully) produce the results you want. With PostMIDI selected, the keyboard sends out velocities based on a linear curve.

                        Aftertouch works similarly, but has one less curve option.
                        _____________________________________________
                        There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                        • #13
                          The Pads (used for triggering drums, patterns, etc.) can be set for velocity response or have a user-settable fixed velocity. I was curious if the pads were affected by the velocity curve options, and whether they had aftertouch, but they don't.

                          The feel of the pads took me back a bit, as I was expecting something with less "travel" and a more rubbery feel. Once I got used to them, though, it was easy to produce consistent velocities. I also get the feeling these are built to take musician-level abuse, and also, you don't have to smash them to get a satisfying response--good news for those with a tendency toward RSI (repetitive stress injuries, like what you get from typing or playing keyboards too much and always in the same way).

                          Speaking of which, here's a tip that has nothing to do with the M3 but you might find it helpful.

                          I'm often asked why I don't have RSI problems, given how much I type. I don't have an answer but I have a theory: I usually have two computers going at once, my "office/writing" computer and my "music" computer. Sometimes I'll have a laptop computer off to the side that's also doing something. All three have very different keyboards, at different elevations and angles, so I think that alternating among these may account for why I've been lucky enough not to have RSI problems. With today's USB keyboards, you can try the same thing: Get two entirely different keyboards, and set one keyboard behind the other, with the far one elevated somewhat, and alternate between the two when typing...switch every 15 minutes or so. I don't know if this is a solution--as I said, it's a theory--but if you're plagued with a tendency toward RSI, this might help.


                          And on that note, that's enough M3 for today...although I may just fire it up this evening, put on some headphones, and groove on the sounds.
                          _____________________________________________
                          There are now 14 music videos posted on my YouTube channel, including four songs by Mark Longworth. Watch the music video playlist, subscribe, and spread the links! Check back often, because there's more to come...

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                          • #14
                            ... So I contacted Korg, and they suggested several possible reasons why the M3 wouldn't talk to my computer. One of these involved the infamous Windows XP MIDI port limitation problem. Actually, I had run across this problem before ... so I should have known better (and even wrote about how to solve this problem in a Tech Bench article for EQ magazine; I've attached a PDF of the article in case any of you need to fix this problem). ... So I deleted all of the duplicate entries except one, made another attempt at re-installing the Korg software, and bingo--everything worked just like it was supposed to. ...Thanks, Korg.


                            Craig, this is TOO funny. I had the same problem today trying to install the editor/librarian for the Korg Pandora PX5D. No matter what I did, the device would not show up in a MIDI port (though it recorded and played back audio seamlessly in my DAWs).

                            Giving up for the day (after scheduling a phone appt. with the Korg folks for the next day), I decided to do some forum surfing and ran across your exact same issues. I downloaded the pdf, followed the instructions, and voilĂ ! I now have two-way data communication with my PX5D!

                            To all: Download Craig's article and keep it in a safe place! It saved my bacon! (Well, it saved me a little embarrassment in front of the Korg guys at least. )

                            I'm following your M3 tour with great interest. Very cool stuff about the velocity and aftertouch resolution. Looks like one deep machine!
                            Jon Chappell
                            Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jon_chappell
                            Check out my website: http://jonchappell.com

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                            • #15
                              Credit where credit is due department:

                              When we first started releasing products with USB-MIDI drivers we ran across this issue supporting customers, and I found the answer from some well-written documents at RME's website. Thanks RME!!

                              Since I've now surfaced, I might as well point out that you should really fix the 62-key reference in your earlier post - we're getting calls from a lot of customers asking for the one-key we owe them.

                              oke:

                              I'm here when you (or anyone reading) needs me. Keep up the good work.

                              regards,

                              Jerry Kovarsky
                              Korg Technology Senior Product Manager

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