Korg electribe First Thoughts

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electribe

At long last, it’s arrived.

In some respects it feels like it’s been forever that I’ve been waiting, having pre-ordered my electribe back in September when it was first announced.  On the other hand, in some ways it’s been almost ten years for this moment, when Korg would finally release a successor to the EMX.  Not that I didn’t like the EMX, it’s insanely deep if you spend the time with it, both for performance and composing.  But for some reason it just never had that specific sound I was looking for.  I always wanted to see Korg take it one step further, give us just a little more creative control and depth of features.

It’s no secret I’m a big fan of grooveboxes, it’s by far my preferred way to make electronic music.  I’ve owned most of the major ones, and gotten pretty good at knowing them inside and out over the years.  Recently I decided to take a break from hardware live sets to focus on other musical endeavors, so I’ve been without a groovebox for almost two years.

The big question on my mind, is will the new electribe fill that role for me?  Does it have an interface that sucks you in and makes you lose track of time without realizing it?  Will the sounds match my tastes today, and can I actually perform those live in a way that lets me express myself in a way I enjoy?

I’ll be doing a more in-depth review in the coming days, but for now I wanted to note my first thoughts after only a couple hours playing with it.  Just the things that first struck me about it as I learned my way around.  So, let’s get started.

I was happy when I first picked it up after unboxing to learn that it’s definitely as solid as most people have been saying.  It’s got some weight to it, though it’s not overly heavy at all.  A bit lighter than I expected in fact.  No flex in this thing at all though, it’s definitely a metal body and feels like it.  I don’t see any issues taking this thing live.

The knobs are pretty good overall, nothing spectacular, but they feel solid enough for live use and after a bit of use are loosening up without feeling wobbly at all.  The trigger pads are nothing special either, but again they feel more than up to the task.  They definitely aren’t as responsive as say Maschine in comparison, but I had no issues with double-triggering or not being able to enter different velocities while playing.

The touchpad is probably the cheapest feeling part on the unit, you can feel a sort of bumpy, textured surface underneath.  It’s not as smooth as it looks.  It works well enough in use for most things, but it was a bit tricky so far to accurate play scales with it, for instance.  In time perhaps.  Anyway, not a deal breaker by any means, as most touchpads are pretty cheap feeling to me.

I’ll be honest, I didn’t even listen to the factory patterns at all.  The first thing I did was initialize the first pattern, go through the menus setting all my preferred defaults, and then save it over all the 250 factory pattern slots.  Sorry James, I gotta start mine from scratch 🙂

I did start to have a bit of a panic doing this though, as I realized just how many menus there are, and how often I would have to be using them to write music on the electribe.  Luckily, I tried holding Shift while going through the menu pages, and this jumps you from one edit menu category to the next.  IE, you can skip from global settings, pattern settings, part edit, etc.  That helped a lot.

I later remembered that by holding shift and pressing a trigger pad, I could also access shortcuts to different menu pages.  This works MUCH better, all the major functions have their own shortcut, and the ones that don’t are now only a button press or two away in most cases.  Really speeds up any menu operations, so I’m a lot less worried about this.  It’s brilliant in fact.

This sort of thing applies in a lot of places on the electribe, for instance holding shift and turning the OSC select knob skips you between the different drum types, then different samples, finally the raw OSC types.  Same with the effects, you can hold shift and skip through the distortion category, the delays category, etc.  This type of thing really speeds up the work flow a lot, so I’m happy to see they didn’t just do it in a couple places, but machine-wide.

The sounds and the unit itself sound really good, no disappointments there.  I haven’t had time to really dive into the synth editing as much as I want yet, but the drum sounds are uniformly up to date and useable, and the PCM samples have a lot of potential too.  Some cheese as well, but I think with some clever editing we’re going to see more use ou of these than people would expect.  The raw OSCs have a lot of tweakability thanks to the OSC edit knob, which sometimes drastically alters the sound of the OSC beyond what you’d expect.  Overall there’s a lot more room for sound design than on any other electribe to date I feel.

I did have a few issues with clipping internally causing some clicking noises, but once I adjusted the volumes of my parts down a bit it cleaned right up.  Headroom is apparently pretty important given the complex processing going on.  Keep it a tiny bit quieter than you might expect, and it all works and sounds amazing.

I’ve already read the manual a few times (it’s only 16 pages) so it wasn’t too hard for me to find my way around and start making my own patterns.  The first one sucked, total preset cheese sounding, even I cringed 🙂  The second one was much better though, and had exactly the sort of depth of sound I wanted in a modern groovebox.   Good low end, nice bright mids, and effects are really clean and blend well with each other.

Big sigh of relief!

Basic editing operations all worked as expected and were simply to find via the shortcuts mentioned above.  It’ll take some time to become second nature, but already I feel pretty quick on the unit.  There’s a lot of depth here, and I think Korg did a really good job of making it easy to get to.   It’s still early, but so far I’m still really excited at what I’m going to be able to create with the electribe.

So, what about the not so good things?

As mentioned, headroom is important if you want to keep things click free.  Not really a huge deal, you just can’t get crazy with your levels internally.  I did have one weird lock up too, some notes got stuck and the display always showed the same menu screen no  matter what I did.  A power cycle fixed it, but still a little worrying.

You can save your patterns while they play and you are editing them, but occasionally it seems to throw the timing out.  You get a slight skip in the pattern playback.  Not something you probably want to do live, even though it only happens about 3 in 10 times.

A lot of people are worried about the whole pattern change glitch issue, but for me it wasn’t really something I noticed.  Yes it would be awesome if reverb, delay, and amp release tails carried over to smooth transitions, but that’s just not how this box works.  So far it’s really only with the part delays that I find it’s that noticeable, and I’m sure I can think of a workaround once I get a bit time with the box.  Maybe not ideal, but not something that really is a huge turnoff for me either.

Other than that so far it’s been a mostly positive experience, hell it’s been downright fun to be honest.   I’ll post some more thoughts and a video review in a few days, hopefully I can cram as much time as possible on the electribe so it doesn’t take too long.

If you have any questions, just let me know and I’ll address them if I can.  I don’t plan on using this as a MIDI sequencer, so anything related to that side of things will probably be the last area I dive into though.

Stay tuned!
Tarekith

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