Korg Monotribe: Fun, Powerful, Mini Analog Synth / Sequencer + iPhone App

In recent years Korg has become known for pushing musical instruments in new directions with boutique-style beat and sound machines that cross the consumer/prosumer boundaries at a low cost. Korg’s Kaossilator, Kaoss Pad and Electribes have all survived criticism that “toys” wouldn’t make it and have gone on to be used by top performers such as Brian Eno and Lily Allen. The point being – Korg takes risks that other manufacturers wouldn’t dare try. They are the Nintendo of the music market, constantly creating clever devices that we didn’t know we wanted until we got our hands on them. The latest innovation from the company changes the game yet again with a groovebox aimed at analog junkies, bedroom tweakers and circuit benders with the Korg Monotribe. This piece of gear has been a hot topic since its debut at NAMM 2011 when it annouced with the tagline “Analog Synth + Analog Rhythm + Step Sequencer = Analog Electribe.”
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The Monotribe combines a (real) analog synth based on the Monotron pocket synthesizer and an 8-step pattern sequencer from the Electribe series. It’s battery-powered, portable and has a speaker on that back that sounds decent for tweaking in the park (yes we tried it.)  The box includes a 3-part analog drum sequencer as well, although the drums on this machine aren’t what you’ll be buying it for. The real interest in this piece of kit is an affordable analog synth that uses the same VCF (filter) circuit as the classic MS-20 – a sought after synth that you’ve definitely heard on many records. Combine this with a ribbon keyboard, selectable oscillator waveform, noise generator, versatile LFO and you’ve got a powerful little sound machine that can create thumping bass lines, metallic noise, 303-style acid lines (minus the accent/slide) and more. It’s a specific sound and aimed directly at electronic musicians but that sound is really nice for a box priced at $249. Korg explains a few more features of the sequencer on their site:

Korg’s Monotribe shares the Monotron’s analog DNA, yet quickly delves deeper into the rich, organic, and often chaotic world of analog synthesis. In addition to analog synthesis, Monotribe brings together intuitive ease of use and a three-part discrete analog rhythm section, plus the proven appeal of Electribe-style sequencing. Active Step editing lets you remove or re-insert individual steps, creating short loop-like effects or off-beat patterns that weave in and out of complex rhythms. The step buttons provide this Active Step control during playback, and also provide an instant return to the original 8-step sequence if needed. Flux Mode allows the creation of sequenced synth parts that are not rigidly tied to the step grid, providing more musical versatility. The creation and morphing of edgy beats and stuttering rhythms has never been easier.
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One interesting feature on the Monotribe are the Sync In & Out jacks which allows synchronized integration with multiple units as well as Korg’s SyncControl iOS app (more on this in a moment.) People have criticized Korg for not including MIDI ports on the Monotribe but this seems to be a calculated decision as the homebrew synthesis crowd is growing and a throwback to CV gates on an analog synth is both unique and useful for those who use older analog gear.
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In an effort to appeal to the technological set and bring more functionality to this unique box, Korg has released SyncControl – a free app for the iPhone / iPad that sends a sync clock to the Monotribe and allows the Monotribe to sync with other WIST (Wireless sync) enabled apps on the iPad such as the iMS-20 and iElectribe. The application also includes a tap tempo feature and a swing setting that I found to be a very cool addition for creating funky basslines. To use this application you’ll need a minijack cable but thankfully Korg included one with the Monotribe. This application as already been hijacked for other uses as you can see in the video above.
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One other cool fact about the Monotribe is that Korg seems to have released it with modifications in mind. First – understand that opening the box will void your warranty. But if you do open it up you’ll find that Korg has indicated solder points for decay modulation on the circuit board. This has spawned a movement of people hacking the device including Monobot, a user who created the above video showing the decay modifications. He also runs a blog on Monotribe hacking that’s worth checking out. As the Monotribe just hit stores last month we are eager to see how this develops into further modifications and integration into studio / performance use. We’d love to hear your opinions on this cool piece of gear if you’ve had some experience with it!

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  • geos
  • 8/11/2011

Monotribe/Webotribe (flash online version) http://angryoctopus.co.nz/synth13/

  • Dubspot Lab Report: Korg Monotribe (Mini Analog Synth) – Road Test w/ Abe Duque | Dubspot Blog
  • 8/11/2011

[...] this episode of Road Test, Abe has brought us the Korg Monotribe from his latest overseas adventures, playing a gig in Moscow. He added the Monotribe to his live [...]