Review: Korg Drumlogue
Analogue plus digital plus a Multi-engine monosynth makes this drum machine different.
255 x 16-bit sounds, built-in reverb, delay, chorus and flange, 39 drum kits, 250 patterns, 100 songs, stereo outputs plus two additional individual outputs… yessiree, my Boss DR660 was quite the weapon in the mid ’90s.
My current drum machine — Arturia’s DrumBrute Impact — has a mono output and no effects. But all is forgiven because of its 10 analogue parts.
But it does make you wonder. Surely there’s a middle way? Something that combines juicy analogue goodness with 21st century processing power.
Korg’s new Drumlogue aims to occupy that Goldilocks sweetspot. For less than A$1000 it offers four analogue parts and an innovative approach to its digital offering.
Korg Drumlogue is a fully-fledged drum machine, with lots of outputs, lots of sounds, effects and song creation capabilities.
Thankfully, it doesn’t carry the burden of my old DR660 of the ’90s. Prior to DAWs and affordable sampling, drum machines attempted to emulate the human touch of a real-life drummer to produce beats that didn’t sound like a machine. No one cares about that anymore. Anyone can call up endless loops of the world’s best drummer playing the world’s best kit in the world’s best studio with the world’s best microphones. That’s kinda passe. Drumlogue’s kits and patterns are almost exclusively aimed at today’s electronic music genre. As you’d expect.
Being a fully-fledged drum machine, it’s designed for programmers, not for MPC-style button bashing.
Its point of difference, is that it’s part analogue and part digital. Which means you get four parts (kick, snare, high tom, low tom) of analogue goodness and the rest are digital sources.
It’s a nifty middle road. It also means you can sample your own sounds into the Drumlogue.
Pull Drumlogue out of the box and you’re confronted by a stealthy black-on-black UI and chassis. It’s a tad intimidating – like unexpectedly encountering a teenage Darth Vader cosplayer in a blind alley. If you don’t power up the Drumlogue then most of the backlit buttons remain cloaked in mystery.
I like the look. It’s not attempting to be retro or derivative. It takes some inspiration from the ’Logue family and probably a bit from the Volca range. It feels modern, even with the black timber end cheeks.
It’s also built to a price (coming in at around A$900) so the oLED display is clear but isn’t big or beautiful. The buttons and pots all feel solid. The drum ‘pads’ themselves aren’t velocity sensitive (you overlay accents onto a pattern for velocity difference, like the drum machines of yore) so they don’t have to feel great. I know Drumlogue isn’t designed as a performance instrument but I still like the Roland approach on its TR-8s where you get one velocity sensitive pad for live playing — seems like a sensible compromise.
NEED TO KNOW
Hybrid Drum Machine
If you’ve ever worked with a drum machine or groovebox then everything about Drumlogue will feel familiar. There are a selection of drum kits. Choose a kit then start programming a pattern with that kit. There’s a 64-step sequencer for building your pattern. You can arrange patterns to build songs. There’s plenty of space for your own creations.
The 16 buttons ranged along the bottom of Drumlogue allow you to select the instrument you intend on editing, and give you the status of when your instrument is involved in the current pattern. Similar detail is provided in miniature on the oLED — it’s hard to interrogate the pattern edit ‘piano roll’ but the oLED comes into its own when on an edit deep dive.
Apart from Pattern and Song modes, Drumlogue has a couple of aces up its sleeve. I like the Loop mode, which allows you to switch between several variations of your pattern — you’re not locked into the structure of a Song but you get the builds and variations. Of course, this is a Korg box and you get Motion Sequencing, where you can record parameter adjustments into the pattern — not to be sneezed at!
effectively it’s a virtual analogue synth voice inside the drum machine
OLD SCHOOL: ANALOGUE SOUNDS
As you start creating patterns, Drumlogue’s assets become apparent. The hybrid analogue/digital approach is a powerful one. Pedants will observe that the likes of Roland’s TR909 was doing something similar nearly 40 years ago. True. But Korg bring 21st century power to Drumlogue — the digital sources are far more than a drum ‘sample’.
The four analogue sources include the bass drum, snare and two toms. These are newly developed analogue circuits by Korg analogue synth team engineer, Junichi Ikeuchi (ARP 2600M, MS-20 mini, ARP Odyssey), and sound great, with lots of body and presence. The front panel control of these sources is useful. Grabbing a sound and tweaking its decay or tuning is fun and inspiring. That said, the pots need a certain amount of ‘priming’ before you hear them working. So don’t expect delicate filigree editing, you need to dig in and get your hands dirty, so to speak.
NEXT LEVEL: DIGITAL SOUNDS
As far as Drumlogue’s digital sound engines this is something else. Other contemporary drum machines might combine analogue and digital sources in the one drum machine (even Korg’s Volca Beats does), the Drumlogue’s approach is unique. You’ve got six parts dedicated to regular sampled PCM sounds (yes, you can even drag your own sounds into Drumlogue), leaving one slot for a synth-based sound or what Korg’s calling a ‘Multi Engine’.
The Multi Engine from Prologue and Minilogue xd comes with a twist in Drumlogue. In addition to the Variable Phase Modulation (VPM) and Noise generator engines, the Multi Engine features a new User Custom slot that can play fully-fledged synth voices that provide extended sonic possibilities.
To show what’s possible Korg has collaborated with logueSDK plugin developer Sinevibes to include a new synth plugin called Nano as a factory preset. It took a bit to get my head around this, but effectively it’s a virtual analogue synth voice inside the drum machine. The synth engine has dual oscillators with optional ring modulation, a 4-pole state-variable filter with soft clipping distortion, built-in EG and built-in multi-waveform LFO. In other words, it’s more than using MIDI messages to ‘play’ a tuned 808 tom to make a bassline, it’s an actual monosynth, albeit with a ‘max headroom’ of a 32MB data size per kit or pattern.
It’s early days and I’ll be interested to see how this develops.
I enjoyed my time with Drumlogue. From the get-go I was impressed by the possibilities. I’m a fan of my DrumBrute and I love that it’s so cost effective but Drumlogue’s stereo outputs (let alone the four addition iso outputs) instantly put it in a different class. The onboard effects, then blast it into another orbit (DrumBrute has a mono out and no FX).
I didn’t have a more expensive drum machine to compare it against, such as Rtym or Tempest, but it’s worth noting that Drumlogue doesn’t come with a ‘boutique’ price tag. For under a grand (A$) it’s a whole lot of drum machine. The editing, sound-sculpting, and effects all add up to real depth. I loved the Spread parameter, for example, it instantly gave some classiness to parts of my drum kit beyond a simple pan position.
The Multi-Engine possibilities are endless — having a full-blown monosynth spliced into my drum machine is something else.
There are aspects that occasionally made me go ‘hmm’, a couple I’ve already mentioned in my review. I guess there’s always a tension between the drum machine as a performance instrument and as a sound engine. I think it’s a false distinction in many ways — very often your drum machine needs to be both. Drumlogue’s matrix of 15 pots are awesome for performance. The Volca-style level pots ranged across the top of the instrument are similarly useful for performance. I did pine for a drum pad for live playing, Drumlogue’s velocity-free buttons are a design choice but are pretty sterile for mine.
But I don’t want to leave you with the wrong impression: Drumlogue has won my heart. You’ll be seeing my DrumBrute on eBay sometime soon, Drumlogue is the upgrade I can afford and at A$900 it’s in a league of its own.