You can read more reviews like this, along with Tony's productions at his personal site -> Tony Long Music.
KORG MONOTRIBE - INTRODUCTION
Following my review of Korg's Monotron Synth (click here to read it), I thought I would have a look at the new Korg Monotribe, which is bit like taking the Monotron to the next level. With sounds from the famous MS 20 and inspiration from the Electribes, I am hoping for a real treat here. Presumably this is why Korg used the word 'Tribe' in the name. The outside of the box states it is a Monotribe Analogue Ribbon Station.
KORG MONOTRIBE - OUT OF THE BOX
The Monotron is a very pocket-sized piece of kit and the Monotribe is nearly twice as wide, much heavier and has more features, but is approximately three times the cost. Comparing the sizes and weights, they are as follows:- Monotron Dimensions: (W x D x H): 120 mm x 72 mm x 28 mm / 4.72" x 2.83" x 1.10", Weight: 95g / 3.35 oz. (without batteries). Monotribe Dimensions: (W x D x H): 207 x 145 x 70mm/8.15 x 5.71 x 2.76 inches, Weight: 735g / 1.62 lbs. (without batteries).
You do notice the weight as you take it out of the box; it is much more solid but still very portable. It has been designed to run on batteries, allowing you to make sounds and grooves on the move, but there is an optional power supply you can get. It is nicely packaged and comes with a manual, six AA alkaline batteries and a very small stereo mini-jack lead. What surprised me was that it has a built-in speaker so you don't have to wear headphones all the time when you are on the move. The controls all seem to have a good build and are very solid. The switches are chunky and very positive and the control knobs/pots are very smooth. You immediately get the impression that Korg know you are going to be performing endless tweaking and have made this unit to last and take the necessary punishment! There is no LCD and therefore no menus to navigate and sadly there are no MIDI or USB connections.
KORG MONOTRIBE - FIRST IMPRESSIONS
As I switched it on and started to play some 50's Star Trek sounds on the ribbon controller and tweak everything in sight, I realised just how user-friendly this little beauty is. Pressing the play button set off the sequencer and I had some drums. There was a sound volume knob and a drum volume control so you could quickly make your own balancing decisions. The ribbon controller is the same size as the one on the Monotron, which I feel is a bit of a shame because with this larger Monotribe, Korg had a great opportunity to house a slightly bigger ribbon controller for people with larger fingers. However, I guess you could use a Stylus (like the one used on the Stylophone) for more precise note selection. Nevertheless, I think in fairness to Korg here, I have to realise that this is a ribbon controller for a Monophonic Synth where you can only play one note at a time, rather than a keyboard.
In comparison with the Monotron, Korg have expanded the synth voice and they have added an eight track sequencer with four channels. There is a Channel for the Synth Voice, the Bass Drum, the Snare Drum and the Hi-Hat. The drum voices are just basic analogue sounding voices. It is not that they are bad, it is just that you cannot alter the sound of them, which to be honest is a bit disappointing as I wanted to use the oscillators and filters to make changes, but alas this is not to be and would have no doubt increased the cost of the unit. However, the synth sound is just great and you can create some of those fat voltage-controlled sounds from the late Seventies / early Eighties.
KORG MONOTRIBE - THE SYNTH ENGINE
The synth engine on the Monotribe seems to have all of the Monotron's main features, but a few great extras have made it much more interesting and versatile. When it is not producing sound, the Monotribe has a self-tuning function, which tunes itself internally to correct any pitch drift that may occur due to temperature changes or aging. Despite the analogue VCO, the Monotribe does not require regular servicing to stay in tune over time. There are four main sections to the Monotribe's Synth Engine; VCO, VCF, VCA and LFO.
Looking firstly at the VCO you will see that it has an Octave Selector that covers a wide range from 64' to 2' to specify the VCO pitch in octave steps. With the 64' setting, the pitch range of the ribbon keyboard will be A0-D2. It has also got three waveforms - square and triangle as well as the Monotron's sawtooth. Just like on the Access Virus, there is a control to add in some noise if desired. Just under the Wave Selector switch there is a Range Selector switch to select from WIDE, NARROW or KEY. With the WIDE selection, the pitch range will be extended to approximately six times that of the NARROW setting and pitch change will be continuous. The OCTAVE selector will be ignored. With NARROW, the pitch will change continuously according to the ribbon controller. Lastly with KEY, the pitch will change in chromatic steps. As I changed to KEY I found that my finger position is automatically quantised to the nearest whole note, with the auto-tune feature. This ensures that for my melody playing, the VCO is perfectly in tune every time. Melodies can now be played with ease.
The VCF and Resonance controls are the same as the ones on the Monotron and there is a VCA level for the overall gain of the Synth Part. The EG select switch lets you choose one of three modulation waveforms for the EG that is applied to the VCA - Decay, Gate and Attack.
Then there is the LFO section with Rate and Intensity knobs. The Rate can be switched between Fast, Slow and One-Shot with the mode select switch. One-Shot is like an Envelope that triggers every time you press a key. You can affect the VCA, VCF or both together with these switches. There are also three waveforms to select from in the LFO section, again Square, Triangle and Sawtooth.
KORG MONOTRIBE - SOUND, SEQUENCER AND SAVING
I do like the bottom end and I always did love this on the MS20 but you really need external amplification to fully appreciate this. I managed to get some great bass, strings and effects out of it. I did find a little bit of hiss in some of the high frequencies but nothing too disconcerting. The filter can really make this unit scream.
The drum sounds are fairly basic analogue sounds and cannot be changed but you can get 16 part resolution by holding down a drum voice (e.g. the hi-hat) and then selecting a second group of eight to make the sixteen part resolution. This means that you could therefore create a two-bar pattern. You can then add a bass line, for example. When you input this using your own rhythmic idea, you will probably be disappointed as it automatically quantizes the pattern, however, Korg have included a Flux button, which de-couples it from the quantize engine. On the synth side, Flux mode allows the sequencer to play back a continuous, gliding synth note. With Flux mode off, one note plays for each step, with the pitch sampled and held throughout.
Once you have your little groove going you can take out steps to make it more interesting and / or change the tempo if you wish. The Monotribe is completely analogue with just a couple of exceptions. The main one surprised me because you can digitally store a single sequencer pattern. This is useful if you have started a complex pattern and you wish to continue with it at a later point.
KORG MONOTRIBE - CONNECTIONS
Ok, at the back there are six connections, four of which are on 3.5 mm mini-phone jacks - Sync In and Out (to sync to external equipment), a stereo Audio In and a headphone jack. The other two connections are a standard stereo 6.3mm phone jack output (unbalanced) and the DC9V power input. I know that there is a useful built-in speaker but it is good to see that they have also included separate headphone and line out connectors for when you want to hear a higher quality representation of the sounds you are creating.
For additional fun, I played an mp3 through the Audio In and changed the sound with the filter and this provided some interesting results. The filter is just great and I would go as far as to say that the Filter is the best component of the Monotribe.
KORG MONOTRIBE - LINKING UNITS
I remember seeing a clip of three people that linked 12 Monotribes together and built up a track with them. I thought that this was very interesting and that it started to show the complex possibilities of th Monotribe. I did laugh, however, at one comment that said 'You guys have succeeded in turning a brilliant machine into a jar of crickets'.
KORG MONOTRIBE - SYNC CONTROL FROM AN iPHONE
You can now control the Monotribe's tempo with your iPhone using something called SyncKontrol. This gives you precise tempo control, plus the ability to sync your Monotribe to WIST (Wireless sync) enabled apps such as Korg's iMS20, iElectribe and iElectribe Gorillaz Edition. You can control the tempo and the start/pause status of the Monotribe and it also offers Tap Tempo (20.0 - 999.9 BPM) and a Swing function (50 - 75%) and receives sync from Mac based DAW software by receiving MIDI clock and play/stop commands via Wireless Network MIDI.
KORG MONOTRIBE - CONCLUSION
The Monotribe is a fun package that is very easy to learn. The immediacy about it certainly means that you could hand it to someone and they could be creating some random techno sounds and interesting drum rhythms with no prior knowledge. It could also be a great introduction for some people into the world of Analogue Synths. It is very portable and the in-built speaker only adds to this; however it is very much like the Monotron in that it is not something to take on holiday and use as a song-writing tool. I think the idea here is clearly to mess around with sound and begin to understand how different sounds are made and what effect the interaction of the controls make on those sounds. I think if you are one of those people who thought the Monotron was great then you are most certainly going to love the Monotribe.
For more information on the Korg Monotribe or to buy one, click the link below: