Sep 18

INTRODUCTION TO THE KORG KRONOS


For the synth players amongst you, 2011’s biggest highlight so far has got to be the release of the new Korg Kronos – a nine synth in one beast. In many ways it is an updated Korg Oasys but as I have discovered, it is much more besides. A synth of this much depth with its nine synth engines probably requires nine reviews therefore, rather than overload you with information you can easily get elsewhere, I am going to take you through some of my personal experiences so far – some good, some great and some not quite what I had expected. Unfortunately this is still a big article and I have hardly scratched the surface.

KORG KRONOS FIRST THOUGHTS

The heart of the beast lies in its 30 GB Solid State Drive and this is the first synth to use this type of drive. It allows fast access to an incredible amount of information, samples, multi-samples, and libraries. Whilst this blows you away with excitement and anticipation, it does bring two very real problems. Firstly as you switch on the Kronos, the boot-up time is over two minutes. This is fine at home as you go and make a cup of tea but in a “live” situation, this presents a real worry. The second problem is keeping everything cool. Unfortunately, the fan is a bit noisy. This is the opposite of the first problem whereby in a “live” situation you will not notice this at all, whilst at home or in a studio some users (including myself) have already decided that they would need to switch the Kronos off whilst recording vocals for example.

KORG KRONOS – IT’S ALL ABOUT LOOKS

I found the Kronos to look very lush, professional and classy. Its overall black look with black glossy ends convinces you straight away that you have a quality instrument in front of you. The controls are nicely laid out and the discreet blue lights give it a luxurious look. In the centre is lovely looking eight inch Touch-View TFT (800 x 600 pixels), unfortunately it is not angled like on the Oasys. Information on this screen is abundant, in fact there is far too much. I find that manufacturers today are truly of the belief that everyone’s hands are much smaller and thinner than they used to be and that we are all blessed with Superman’s vision. Personally I would have preferred that all of the controls and screen information to be larger. What I want is a Roland Synth on the outside and a Korg on the inside.

KORG KRONOS – PROBLEMS

I have had, so far two bad experiences with the Kronos which have not occurred again and they may be related. The first occurred whilst I was changing from one sound patch to another and the first sound sustained indefinitely. The only thing that would stop it was changing to a third sound patch. This occurred a few times regardless of what mode I was in – Program, Combination or Set List Mode. The strange thing is that this only occurred on first use when I unboxed it after delivery, set it up and started to work my way through the presets. Interestingly, I had the same experience in a music store that did not have a Kronos on display. They unboxed one for me and as I started to use it, I had the same problem.

My second problem was that whilst changing sounds, the Kronos started to re-boot itself. As it started to load, it froze and I had no alternative other than to do a manual re-boot which was successful. With this problem I decided to put a Surge protector on the mains just in case this caused this.

I decided to read the start of the “Quick Start Guide” and found a section under “Handling of the Internal Disk Drive”. It stated that “When this device is moved to a location where the temperature is radically different, water droplets may condense on the internal disk drive. If the drive is used in this condition, it may malfunction, so please allow several hours to pass before operating this device”. This statement in my opinion is a little vague but under the abbreviated specifications it shows operating conditions +5 degrees to +35 degrees centigrade – (no condensation). I would not have thought that these two 61 note Kronos keyboards that I used were stored below +5 degrees prior to unboxing but I have concluded that the changes in temperature may have caused these issues.

SONG WRITING WITH THE KORG KRONOS

The best compliment I can give to any synth is when it has that instant ability to provoke and inspire me creatively to write songs. To be honest, I don’t think there is a better synth for this; the Kronos is the best in the world. To some extent the places where it wins simply and very easily is by having two rhythmic features – the first “The Drum Track” which is an essential item (and should be on every workstation) and secondly “Karma “ or “Karma 2” as it is on the Kronos. These provocative facilities get your rhythmic juices flowing for instant song creation. I love Roland keyboards but in comparison they are so far behind Korg in this respect. Yamaha have done better and are now taking on Karma but they still do not match Korg. For example the drum track alone has 697 preset patterns and room for 1000 user patterns – wow.

KRONOS – NINE SYNTHS IN ONE

Working through the Programs (and there are 1536 of them to keep you occupied), you will find an excellent selection from Pianos to Sound Effects covering the nine synth engines which are:-

Three engines dedicated to the most important traditional keyboard instruments:
SGX-1 Premium Acoustic Piano
EP-1 MDS Electric Piano,
CX-3 Tonewheel Organ.

Three virtual analog Synthesizers with tons of programmability:
AL-1 Analog Synthesizer
MS-20EX Accurately reproducing the sounds of the famous MS-20
PolysixEX Accurately reproducing the sounds of the famous Polysix

A full-featured sampling and Wave Sequencing synthesizer:
HD-1 High Definition Synthesizer.

A physical modelling synth, for creating both traditional timbres and unique new sounds:
The STR-1 Plucked String Synthesizer

A waveshaping, PCM-mangling powerhouse:
The MOD-7 VPM Waveshaping Synthesizer.

You have to admit that this is an impressive selection. Have a look at Korg’s website for a full breakdown on these :-http://www.korg.co.uk/products/workstations/kronos/ws_kronos.php You may well draw the conclusion that instead of having multiple keyboards, the Kronos is the only keyboard you will need.

PROGRAMS AND COMBINATIONS ON THE KRONOS

Creating programs is an area I love and I really enjoyed creating my own MS-20 program, especially as you can patch leads virtually on the touch screen just as you would on the original MS-20. The big disappointment I had was when I decided to save my creation. Korg are very generous with the vast amounts of preset programs that they supply but the only trouble with this is that there is only one bank of 128 free. This would be ok if you could save any Programs here but it seemed that I could only save HD-1 programs. This would have annoyed me immensely if it wasn’t for the fact that Korg have just announced an incredible O/S update coming out soon (mid-October). See the end of this article for full details.

The thing with Programs is that you can have 16 of these together to make a complex Combination and if you edit a Program it could change one of your Combinations. HD-1 Programs have two oscillators that lets you layer two completely separate synth voices, each with their own velocity- switched oscillator, dual filter, EGs, LFOs, etc. and you can have two completely separate drumkits. You can then add Karma, Step Sequencing let alone choose from the immense Effect selection.

So with Combination Mode, you can play up to 16 programs simultaneously to a maximum of 32 sounds. As you listen to some of the Combination presets, you will find some wonderful evolving sounds which with Karma provide constant changing sounds, many with delicate nuances that complement the main sound(s) to provide interest and colour.

The story doesn’t end here because just like the Oasys, the Kronos provides nine build-in Sound Expansion PCM Libraries:-

EXs1 – ROM Expansion, EXs2 – Concert Grand Piano, EXs3 – Brass & Woodwinds, EXs4 – Vintage Keyboards, EXs5 – ROM Expansion 2, EXs6 – SGX-1 German D Piano, EXs7 – SGX-1 Japanese C Piano,EXs8 – Rock Ambience Drums and EXs9 – Jazz Ambience Drums. See also at the end of this article about new Sound Expansion PCM Libraries EX10,11,12 and 13 coming soon.

KRONOS SET LIST MODE AND SMOOTH SOUND TRANSITION


When using my Korg Triton “live” and changing from Program to Combination, to Song and then back to Program etc., I found was just too many key presses. The only way around this for me was to have everything in Combination mode, not use Song Mode and painfully prepare Sets by writing to new locations. The Kronos easily solves these problems by having Set List Mode. This via the Touch Screen provides you with a 4 x 4 grid (16 at a time view) so that you can easily go from Program to Combination to a Song or Sample, just with one touch – absolutely brilliant. Each Set List can have up to 128 selections and you can have 128 Set Lists. The selection highlights in yellow which is good to see however, Korg try to cram in too much information about the selection. It is almost as if they haven’t quite grasped what “live” playing is all about. Having a small box selection that shows :- 0 SGX-1 PRG1 – A000 Premium Piano is not so easy to see when you are trying to do a quick change in poor lighting and you are concerned about everything else related to your performance. Possibly the only relevant piece of information here is the word “Piano”. Personally I would like to see a number location (and I wish they would not start at zero) followed by the name of the song in a much larger font. The larger top line helps a little bit but this is only any good once you have made your selection.

My other dislike on my Triton was going from one Patch to another where the first sound abruptly stops as you change to a new patch. The Kronos again solves this with something called Smooth Sound Transition (SST) whereby the previous sound continues and fades with its smooth transition into the next patch – what an excellent design.

KARMA 2 – KAY ALGORITHMIC MUSIC ARCHITECTURE

Karma is a strange beast for me. It is one of those things I love to give me inspiration but when I record, I tend to take it apart and only use some aspects of it and maybe apply my own EQ and Effects. It is like an Arpeggiator which creates a human feel from one of its algorithms called Generated Effects (GE’s). There are 2048 GE’s and space for another 1536. I haven’t yet found the time to get to grips with creating with Karma. As much as I have achieved is simply making changes to Drum Kits and Patterns. I do however love the idea of bringing in or taking out different elements on the fly of Karma by use of the Karma buttons on the keyboard.

To find out more Karma and the second generation Karma 2, have a look at the site of the man who invented it – Stephen Kay at :- http://www.karma-lab.com/main.html You will also find details of his new Karma Kronos software here that has just been released as well as his Combination soundsets.

SAMPLING ON THE KRONOS

The Kronos Sampler is a bit like the best bits of the Oasys with the improvements made on the M3. Some of its limitations are to be improved in version 1.5 in October 2011. The maximum RAM Multi-Samples will be increased from 1000 to 4000, with indexes increased from 4000 to 16,000. This will allow more samples to be loaded at once. There will also be support for additional RAM. This will more than double the amount of memory for EX’s and RAM Samples.

SEQUENCING WITH THE KRONOS

I cannot comment on this much as I always use my DAW to record my work. I intend however to investigate a few facilities here, such as editing MIDI tracks, creating your own Drum Track Patterns and the recording of Patterns and assigning them to individual keys, using Realtime Pattern / Play Recording.

If you are a big Sequencer user, I am sure you will be able to do a professional job here in that the Kronos Sequencer is based on the Oasys but with an upgrade to 480 ppqn timing resolution and maximum audio resolution to 24 bit.

KRONOS EFFECTS

What a setup – you can use up to 16 premium-quality effects at once, with 12 Insert effects and 2 Master and 2 Tonal effects and each has 185 different effect types. There are also783 effect presets. That is enough options for endless possibilities. Here are some of my favourites so far:- Stereo/CrossDelay, Stereo Auto Pan, Wah – Amp Sim and Exciter-Chorus/Flanger. On top of this you can adjust 72 parameters on each effect.

CONNECTIONS ON THE KRONOS


Without going into all the ins and outs, I just wanted to point out that the Oasys had 10 Outputs which has been reduced to 6 on the Kronos. For the USB connections there are two Type “A” and one Type “B” USB ports.

If you haven’t done so yet, I would recommend that that you download all of the Oasys Programs available free on-line. Put them on a USB stick and you can simply play them from the USB stick. There are some great Polysix, MOD-7 and MS-20 sounds available. Also don’t forget you can also load Yamaha DX7 sounds via Sysex.

KRONOS HELP

Built-in help is a great idea and the Kronos gives you access to the manuals on screen. If you want information on any of the controls, knobs or sliders, just hold down Help and press the control or slider in question. You can also touch the on-screen links in blue for more information.

KRONOS O/S UPDATE – SYSTEM VERSION 1.5

Kronos System Version 1.5 update is free to all registered Kronos owners, and will be available for download in mid-October of 2011 at www.korg.com/kronos. The Editor will be available late November 2011. It includes the following new user-requested features:-

There will be 7 new Program banks provide 896 additional free slots to store programs from Korg, from third party developers, or those you create yourself. These will be numbered USER-AA through USER-GG. Program Banks are easily accessed from the front-panel hardware by pressing both the INT and USER buttons simultaneously. Also, 7 new banks each of Wave Sequences and Drum Kits to match the new Program banks. The maximum number of RAM Samples and Multisamples has been increased by four, allowing Kronos to load more samples at once. It supports input from USB MIDI controllers: play Kronos sounds from auxiliary keyboards via USB. It also gives direct support for playing and selecting chords from Korg pad-equipped USB controllers, including the nanoPAD, nanoPAD2, and KONTROL series. There is also support for installing additional RAM: more than double the amount of memory for EXs and RAM samples and support for the Kronos Editor and Plug-in Editor software.

KORG KRONOS NEW SOUND LIBRARIES


Korg will be offering two types of Kronos Sound Libraries. The EXs Expansion Sample Series and the KRS Professional Sound Series. These Libraries will be available for download purchase at Korg.com. The first releases will appear in mid-October.

EXs Expansion Sample Series contain PCM Samples, Program, and Drumkit data. There will be the EXs 10 Ricky Lawson’s “West Coast” Drums which will have 650 MB of PCM samples, 16 Programs and 4 Drumkits, EXs11 Legendary Strings, EXs12 SGX-1 Austrian Piano and EXs13 Jazz Drums Expansion Kit.

The KRS Professional Sound Series are Libraries for assisting sound design and song production, containing Program, Combination, and Song data. These will be :- KRS01 – Pro Grooves by David “Fingers” Haynes containing 200 Patterns and 8 songs, KRS02 – STR-1 / MOD-7 Phase II containing 128 Programs, KRS03 – Nu Electro containing 128 Programs, 120 Patterns and 3 Songs and KRS04 – Pro Splits and Layers containing 128 Combinations.

CONCLUSION

The Korg Kronos is certainly a talking point. It is an incredible piece of kit which has instantly got me song-writing. It has a fantastic sound, providing you with endless sound-creating possibilities which will never exhaust. There is just so much to love here and quite a bit to learn but this is all much easier today with the aid of You Tube instructional clips. There are quite frankly some annoying aspects to the Kronos and I am sure Korg will look to address them with further updates but I am not sure about the all of them. In particular, the long boot-up time and the noisy fan.

This is not a full review despite its length and there are many areas I still need to explore but hopefully it is useful and is read in conjunction with other reviews and Korg’s own information. Despite some of the issues, I still believe it is the best synth in the world at present but I feel happier with it being in the Studio rather than it being used “live”, maybe users in time will convince me otherwise – I hope so.

5 Responses

  1. Ricardo Silva Says:

    Hello, great review on the kronos.
    I got mine a few days ago and i experienced the same rebooting problem while cycling through sounds. Where you able to fix it??

    Tnx

  2. tonylongmusic Says:

    I think so, I put a power surge protector on the mains. I really do hope things will settle down with O/S 1.5 due hopefully in the next 8 days. Thanks Tony

  3. Mike Bengel Says:

    As far as the sustaining note problem. I was at the music store when they unpacked it. I was the first to play it and I had a hanging note problem like you were talking about. Been back quite a few times after and have never had it happen again.

  4. tonylongmusic Says:

    Mike,

    Thanks for your comments. I am almost convinced it has something to do with temperature change and settling down in a consistant environment. Which makes it more worrying to the Giging Kronos user.
    All the Best – Tony

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