Review: Korg Nautilus Music Workstation
Korg streamlines its super-heavyweight Kronos. It promises all the sounds you’ll ever need.
Captain Nemo’s ship in ‘Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea’ was the ‘Nautilus’. I don’t have any insider’s knowledge as to why Korg has named its latest workstation synth after a legendary ship (or indeed a mollusc). But I do recall thinking the Korg’s flagship Kronos — when I reviewed it — was much like a synth equivalent of a battleship — monstrous, complex, and allows you to sail into any situation and own it.
Nautilus is more like a pocket battleship. The 61-note version I had in for review even looks a bit nautical. The chassis is sleek, curved and sensuous. Looks great, although a little hard to grip when you’re relocating it.
Nautilus largely packs all the firepower of the Kronos but it sacrifices some measure of customisable complexity for ease of use. It’s definitely easier to pilot, and it’s still easy to feel confident in sailing into just about every musical scenario and owning it.
Kronos takes a long time to boot up. Nautilus is much the same. Without being a Pollyanna, I actually found this reassuring. It says to me that the Nautilus power is formidable. It’s not Kronos Lite.
Once you’re in, navigation is centred around the touchscreen. You’ll develop a love/hate relationship with it. It’s big enough (around eight inches in the diagonal) to be super-useful but Korg does pack a lot of info onto it at times, such that buttons and menus can be tricky to reliably hit in a hurry. If you wear reading glasses you will most definitely need them — rock ’n’ roll!
The touchscreen is supplemented by a judicious array of hardware controls. Nautilus isn’t a stage piano or performance synth in the same mould as a Korg SV2, Nord Stage or Yamaha YC, but the available knobs are very welcome. For starters, they’re retractable, which is a great touch, especially if your Nautilus is in and out of a gig bag every week. The knobs respond to preassigned parameters — the most oft-used — and work a treat. Otherwise, the other controls support the touchscreen. It’s (mostly) easy to know where you are and to get around the keyboard’s architecture.
Nautilus is a ‘workstation’. Practically, this means you get an onboard sequencer (16 MIDI tracks plus 16 audio tracks) and a highly serviceable sampler, as well as all the other synth engine firepower. The Workstation promise is you can bring everything you need to a production or gig in the one keyboard.
Workstations still have a place, albeit their territory keeps getting eroded by the laptop/synth combo.
As a musician, I’d feel a whole lot more reassured knowing all my backing parts were on the Nautilus than on a laptop. Still, I’d feel even better knowing my parts were on both.
NEED TO KNOW
The familiar Korg workstation architecture is maintained in Nautilus. Your sounds are demarcated as Programs and Combis.
I was delighted with how easy it was to create a Combi when I prep’ed for a gig only hours after busting Nautilus out of the box. After selecting the Program that best fits the bill, hit the quick Split or Layer button to select the companion sound you’re after. Once you’ve saved your resulting sound as a Combi you can open it up and continue to fine tune — add further sounds and effects, and more.
After I had my Combis created and other Programs selected I could easily create a setlist for the gig. Simple. I didn’t have any need to resort to the manual or YouTube, everything is logically arrayed.
Nautilus passed the first test with flying colours.
Actually it immediately passed an earlier test. It sounds great.
If you’re after a huge repository of diverse and super-effective sounds, then Nautilus is in elite company. It’s not a specialist in any one area, necessarily, but remains a black belt in just about every genre and discipline.
If you are after the ultimate piano or Rhodes sound, then you could get super tweaky about the one-percenters (actually, more like the 0.1-percenters) and your personal preferences, or you could marvel at just how good the keys sound on Nautilus.
Ditto the orchestral sounds. Will Nautilus halt the trade in terabytes of sound libraries? No. But it will get you 99% there, with a tremendous sonic palette.
Synth sounds are more than ably addressed (thanks to the four synth engines). Beautiful pads, expressive leads, beefy bass sounds and more. Will your favourite, edgy dance outfit use Nautilus as their ‘signature’ synth? Not a chance. That’s not really Nautilus’ jam. But it does have the capacity to sound cutting edge, as well as packing the power, polyphony and multitimbrality to bring you all of the other must-have sonic elements every production requires.
Music directors, music teachers, arrangers, worship pastors, composers, jazz and rock keys… Nautilus will be many musicians’ and producers’ new best friend. If Kronos was out of reach or unnecessarily deep, then Nautilus is the answer.