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Brian W. Evans -

Soliloquy or Something To Say: The Korg Monologue

The world of monosynths is expansive. I imagine it can be rather difficult to choose if you are in the market for a simple two-VCO sound-making machine. However, having a workhorse monosynth or two is a necessary staple of any small home studio, and it is a choice that we all must make eventually. Should we go for one of Uli’s plethora of remakes? Is shelling out a few extra clams for Dreadbox or Erica Synths boutiques going to satisfy? Do we go with the tried-and-true Moog sound and quality for a boatload of hard-earned cash? In 2017, Korg threw their hat into the ring with another choice – the Monologue. Is this Monologue a comic routine, a collection of self-ramblings, a long speech uttered by someone with too much to say, or is it an ear-catching dramatic sketchpad meaning to suck us into the world of synthesis?

I like Korgs. The build quality is phenomenal. Ease of use has been perfected. Every single one of their latest synths sounds great and appeals to people on any point of the gear acquisition spectrum. From analogue to digital, and everywhere in-between, there is something for everyone. Sure, every now and again, a bad apple falls from the tree (X5 rompler), but all in all, you can’t really go wrong with a modern Korg. They haven’t got much in the line of simple monosynths, though. They do offer a few small boxes, such as the Monotrons and Volcas, and there are the Arp remakes, but one standout in their line is the Monologue. It’s cute, well-built, easy to use and sounds solid. Let’s take a look.

E-to-E, wood, plastic and metal. Odd varieties.

Beginning with the layout, we’ve got the standard left-to-right sound path of stereotypical analogue synths. The keyboard goes from E-to-E, rather than the standard C-to-C. This is an odd choice but seems intended to supplement a guitarist’s licks with basslines. It’s really no biggie. The thing has mini keys which have a nice action. Simple. Effective. They actually feel nicer than my Korg Opsix’s keys, albeit a lot smaller. The device itself is well built with a lightweight plastic base, nicely grained wooden rear-plate, aluminum face, rubberized knobs, clicky 1970s hi-fi type switches and a minute, but extremely clear and helpful oled screen. I find screens on my synths extremely helpful when buggering around with functions, automation and such. It’s much better than having to remember key combinations and shift-button presses. The screen also helps with managing your presets, and it offers an oscilloscope for those who like to see the waves they’re constructing.

Diversity of sound?

The sound path, from left to right, starts with master volume and drive knobs, an octave switch and a clever springy pitch bend lever. Next, we’ve got the VCO sections. There are two VCOs in total. However, I would imagine they are also digitally controlled, as this is a machine that can save presets. This does not, in no way, take away from the analogue feel of the device. VCO 1 offers up a slice of saw, triangle and square waves. VCO 2 gives us a selection of saw, triangle and noise. It may sound quite run of the mill, but Korg provides a bit of added spice to both oscillators. Both VCOs have a shape knob, which enables adding some harmonics to what would normally be boring old waveforms. I feel that this is the selling point of the Monologue. With only two knobs, one can reach a plethora of sounds. VCO 2 gives us a sync and ring-mod switch for further mangling. Already, it offers a more expansive sound palette than the Wasp Deluxe that I own. Don’t get me wrong, the Wasp is great but has nowhere near the flexibility of the Monologue.

Moving past the simple mixer section, we come to the filter. It is a 2-pole 12db filter with self-resonance capabilities. Although it is another 2-pole on a monosynth, this baby can scream and growl. It also doesn’t seem to lose too much bass when the resonance is cranked. The dedicated drive circuit helps to define what is already a great-sounding filter. The filter’s resolution is so high that no stepping can be perceived. Sweet. Playing the filter is possible.

Now, the sound of the oscillators is not too bad. With a bit of fiddling, you can reach any sound a monosynth can produce. However, the Monologue does seem a bit harsher than others within its price range, such as the Uno Synth or Arturia Microbrute. The harshness can be tamed with its wonderful filter and a few external pedals. It’s a shame it doesn’t have any onboard effects other than its drive.

Life without modulation would be dull

When it comes to modulation, the Monologue is a weird little fellow. The envelopes are quite limited. You choose a basic shape with the flick of a switch and then dial in attack and a combined decay/release. This can control amplitude and filter with a flick of another switch. Dedicated ASDR envelopes for both would have been nicer. The envelope has a set sustain and resets after hitting another key as well. This is my first negative point of the synth. My second shed tear is for the fact that there is only one LFO. Although it can be pushed into audio rates, it doesn’t track the keyboard. This isn’t so bad when creating formant-like yelps, but that’s about it. However, the sole LFO does its job well when applied to usual destinations like filter cutoff, pitch and VCO shape. A sample and hold option would have been nice, but we can’t have it all, can we?

The sequencer is where this little monster shines. Although it has only 16 steps (really?), resolution can be turned way down as slow as you can go, making a sequence seem longer than it really is. What is fun is putting in only a few long notes and using the four automation lanes of each step to “sequence lock” twists and turns of knobs and switches. It does open the synth up to your imagination. Check out some of the sequence patches made by Aphex Twin to get the gist of what I mean.

Well? Yet another 5-year-old monosynth?

Yes and no. In its price bracket this thing is the bees knees. If I could have only one simple monosynth at home, this would be the one. People swear by it. Aphex Twin was involved in making patches for it. It sounds good. It does everything a monosynth should be able to do (except for the lacking envelopes) and looks good while doing it. There are two kinds of musicians who this device would fit: beginners looking for a solid learning instrument and veterans needing a dependable-sounding bassline/lead machine. Well, I suppose that includes everyone in between as well. Hip hip hurrah for the everyman synth.

If you are interested, Oscillator Sink has a few dedicated patch creation videos of the Korg Monologue. Here is a taste:

Tagy Korg Monologue

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Brian Wayne Evans
I'm a musician, experimental and otherwise, that has been involved in underground scenes since he was a rebellious teen... and on to a rebellious middle-aged nerd. From electronica to punk rock to country and everywhere in-between, he has dabbled in mashing up each as much as…