Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Korg M3

I wanted to find a good title for this blog but I felt it best to make it simple, the Korg M3. For a few years now I have owned a Korg M3 and I suppose like buying most keyboards or even soft synths, one eventually moves bey0nd the initial excitement of having a new set of sounds to work with and begins to realize the strengths and weaknesses of an instrument. Perhaps, this is really the best time to write a review and not during the period of initial exploration.

First, I wanted to explain why I bought a Korg M3. Very simply, I got tired of soft synths crashing on me and all the little glitches in my recording when the CPU was not up to the task. At first, I was attracted to the Roland V-Synth which I still find to this day and interesting synth. I have even considered buying one but the truth is, the V-Synth is not really a workstation.

Then I found out about the Korg OASYS and I was very intersted but of course buying one would have bankrupted me. In the end I have probably spent about that much on other equipment and synths anyway but I don't regret not getting one. Korg promoted this synth as a sort of be all and end all of synths because it was in their words "expandable". The idea was that even if this synths did not do everything that you wanted (and it does a lot), it could be expanded with new synths that were going to be coming out all the time.

For a short while after its release it looked like this might be the case but then it was clear that what you saw was what you got. I knew that the M3 was not a lesser OASYS but I also knew that it was a notable synth in it's own right and KARMA (Korg Algorithmic Real time Musical Architecture) got me interested.

Now for those who may not know, KARMA is in the words of Stephen Kay, an appegiator on steroids. It's actually much more than this but many aspects of KARMA untested me. KARMA was not a fixed arranger but something that was supposed to work in a dynamic way with the musician.

Korg also offered an internal Radius which could be placed inside the Korg and accessed through the main menus which also untested me. The Radius being an Analogue emulation.

Now the Motiff had more to offer in a way. It has a digital interface for recording. The M3 has an expansion card but it has problems, big ones. It also had a better sequencer and probably a better set of sounds. Korg tended to favor more dance oriented music and had a bit of a flare for cheesy sounds.

On the positive side the M3 offered a touch screen controller, a strip controller and what I would have to say is a very sophisticated modulation mixer.

So balancing all things together I decided on the M3 over a Motiff.

Now that I have been using it for a while now what are my impressions. First, I have to confess that outside of using presets, I have not worked much with KARMA. KARMA is very complex. Unfortunately, the KARMA presets don't really work so well for me. I would not call them cheesy per say but they are not to my liking. I overlooked this because I saw myself programming my own but as I have said, this has not really happened at least yet. Some KARMA presets do tome really useful things like emulating a strummed guitar by using the strip. This actually works pretty well and with some practice, has some real potential. My point is that KARMA can be used effectively and many of the presets can be tweaked to be useful for a variety of applications. I am not done with KARMA yet, I just have to admit that at least at first its a bit daunting.

That being said, are the sound cheesy as one review I recently read said. No. I really can't say they are. There is a nice collection of samples of instrument sounds and drum kits that would give most musicians more than enough to work with.

On the side of effects the M3 comes with a very substantial set of quality effects and a pretty sophisticated on board routing system. There is also an audio in which works well for a side chain input for the vocoder effect and also can be used to make the M3 into a very sophisticated effects processor (which you can controller using the full set of the M3s controllers). It also has not one but two axillary stereo outs (4 outs to be technical) which can be used to create complex setups with other equipment.

What I like about the M3 is how you can layer sounds and that I learned to do reasonably quickly. Some of the sounds are also very beautiful. I like many of the string and voice sounds myself so characterizing the M3 as a collection of cheesy sounds is unfair. The M3s filters are, well, not what they could be cut I find its real strength is in laying and modulation as well as realtime control.

The M3 is a master at modulation and this is where it really excels and in my option far beyond the Motiff. First, you have not a mod wheel but a joystick. The joystick can also be frozen using two utility buttons so that it remains in one position. There is a ribbon controller right below that, the XY touch pad, beyond being an easy way to program is also an XY controller. There are also a set of 8 sliders and buttons to control many things in real time. When you play something on the M3 it will record everything that you do and play it back. While the sequencer is not that powerful, you can always to this with an external DAW. The M3 is more oriented toward recording you performance.

The M3 also a sophisticated modulation mixer beyond probably anything in the market. The M3 is a powerhouse at modulation. You can modulate just about any setting and you can mix modulation sources in several ways. Sliders are great ways of setting up various performance parameters and then using them in real time in performance which the M3 will record.

That's a simple assessment of the M3 after using it for a few years and yes, while I have been fair to point out what is weak about it, I also have pointed out why its still in my mind a really powerful workstation. In my mind, any musician that can't make some great music with it is just not taking advantage of what it can do.

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