I have had the Korg Volca Keys for a little over a week and have gotten quite comfortable with the unit. The feature set can be learned in a matter of minutes, but the sonic range of the instrument is impressive and much more broad than I expected. The strength of the Volca Keys is in the modes: poly, unison, octave, fifth, unison ring, and poly ring. The sound I posted earlier, for example, demonstrates the poly ring modulation mode. Lately I’ve been enjoying syncing the Volca Keys with my DSI Tempest and Korg Monotribe, but more about that later.
Of course a hardware analog synth that exhibits the diminutive size and cost that the Volca Keys does is bound to have some limitations. From my perspective the most obvious limitation is the quality of the onboard delay. According to Korg’s block diagram the delay is the final circuit in the signal flow. Therefore, high frequency noise coming from the delay can’t be rolled off with the filter. The noise is most obvious when playing a sound that is programmed with the cutoff frequency most of the way down, the delay time at the slowest setting, and the feedback at the highest setting.
To illustrate the noise introduced by the delay circuit I created a few versions of a simple test sequence. One without delay, one with the internal delay, one with Ableton’s Simple Delay, and finally one with my Electro-harmonix Memory Man Delay. The sequence sounds pretty clean on its own, but buzzy, high frequency aliasing becomes audible when the Volca’s delay is introduced. In comparison, Ableton’s Simple Delay doesn’t add any noticeable noise, while the Memory Man adds a little noise (and pleasant chorusing), but nowhere near as much as the Volca delay.
Korg Volca Keys Sequence with No Delay:
Korg Volca Keys Sequence with the Internal Delay:
Korg Volca Keys Sequence with Simple Delay:
Korg Volca Keys Sequence with Memory Man Delay:
Some might find the buzzy delay noise desirable at times. To me it sounds more-or-less like a cheap, digital delay circuit that uses some down sampling and/or bit reduction to handle the memory requirements for the repetitions. I have also noticed that the filtering on the delay trails is significant. Cranking up the cutoff and lowering the attack, decay, and sustain on the EG produces obviously muffled delay trails. All of these limitations are not that noticeable when you’re using the Volca alongside two or more other instruments, but I plan on using my Memory Man as an alternative to the on board delay when it’s convenient to do so.