Korg Monotron Review

by Ben on May 21, 2013

korg monotronKorg seems to be doing everything right recently. They’ve given the people what they’ve been clamoring for: cheap analog gear. And it all started with this little guy, the Korg Monotron. The Monotron was Korg’s first introduction to their growing line of affordable analog gear. Soon following the Monotron came the Monotribe, the Monotron Delay and Duo, and newly announced, the Korg Volcas. I am particularly excited about the Korg Volca line, which seem to be affordable analog grooveboxes that can be synced with one another, have midi input, and look to be powerful instruments in their own rights. So I thought it was only fitting that I write a little review of the Monotron in anticipation of the upcoming Volcas.

The dark side of the Monotron…

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first. The Monotron is simple cheap plastic. At under $50 it is understandable, but the cheap feel to the case makes you worry that a single drop could do some serious damage to it. The Monotron has no real tuning on a small ribbon controller making it difficult to perform or get an in-tune note or melody without a lot of practice and/or fiddling around. It has a an underwhelming built-in speaker, and the sound can be a bit noisy on the 1/8″ output. It has very limited synthesis options: a low-pass filter with resonance, and an LFO that can be switched to effect pitch or the filter cutoff. Now that may seem like a daunting list of negatives, but the positives in my opinion far outweigh them. Let’s get started:

Analog and under $50, a great value

This was the first selling point when Korg released the Monotron. All analog circuitry seemed to be a thing of a bygone era, or at least it was a cost prohibitive prospect for the average musician or hobbyist. At $50 (or less) it becomes very much an impulse buy, and people have been snatching them up with ease because of the low price point.

The famous Korg MS-20 filter

The Monotron uses the same lowpass filter as the famous MS-20 synthesizer (and now MS-20 mini!!) known for its unique sound and wonderfully resonant characteristics. The MS-20 is such a well thought of and sought after synth that Korg has included the filter not only in this little gadget, but also in its Monotron Delay, Duo, and the Monotribe. This set the stage for them to rerelease the MS-20 almost exactly with the MS-20 mini.

Easily hackable and modified

In a wonderfully surprising move, Korg made the schematics to the Korg Monotron freely available, basically encouraging people to hack their units. The circuit boards even have labels for various things like filter cutoff for ease of modification. While a fun little piece of gear in its own right, this opened up the unit to a lot more inventiveness in the hacking and modding community. Search youtube for the various hacked and circuit bent monotrons and prepare to be amazed. And at such a cheap price point, people have not been afraid to dig in; mess up your bend and just get another one.

Plays nice with others

With an aux input in order to modify external sounds via the Monotron’s filter, the Monotron becomes a great addition to any sound source. You can easily apply a the lowpass filter to radically shape sounds, or couple it with the LFO for some great tremolo type effects. The options are endless here, and is one of the most fantastic features of this little synth. Experimenting with different instruments and sounds and effects running through the Monotron is a lot of fun and really opens up a lot of options for the creative musician.

Portable

With its built in speaker and diminutive size, the Monotron is a fun and portable sound maker. You can annoy your neighbors without having to hook it up to an amp or external speaker with no problem. Portable noise making is great fun, and allows your creativity to flow whenever and where ever.

The Sounds!!

Of course the biggest asset to the mighty little Korg Monotron is how everything comes together to produce some fantastic sounds. Hook up the line out for some serious bass thump and boom, get crazy laser and squelchy sounds, or even devise various drum kit sounds, all pretty easily. Sure, the lack of playability can pose some difficulty give certain scenarios, but overall I think this adds to the charm of the little device, and the contraint does wonders for creativity.

Highly recommended

The Korg Monotron is a great device. Plain and simple it is just fun, and a joy to play around with. I would highly recommend it, and would replace mine if it was ever lost, or stolen. You can easily get lost in its diminutive size but huge sound potential for a surprising amount of time. Pair it up with its brothers, the Monotron Delay, Monotron Duo, or Monotribe, and you’ve got some really crazy and fun sounds to be had. I got mine on amazon for cheap. You can find it here.

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