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Review: Korg R3

You might mistake it for a child’s toy but the R3 is actually a keenly priced powerhouse.

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23 January 2008

Korg really has been pulling out some great synths of late. An issue or so ago (my life is measured in AT issues these days) I looked at the Korg M3, which really impressed me. Then, out of the blue, Korg sent me the R3 vocoder/synth. Now I’m doubly… no, make that triply impressed with the direction Korg is taking with its synths. This thing totally blew me away – I kid you not. We’ll get into why shortly but first we should set the R3 scene.

To begin with it’s small; small enough to lug gleefully between gigs, but mercifully the keys are full size and cover a three octave range – the R3 would hardly have been taken seriously if it’d been equipped with mini-keys like previous Korg mini-synths and controllers. My first nitpick, however, relates to these keys – and this is pretty much my only complaint: there is no aftertouch on the R3 and this is a little disappointing. Aftertouch is available as a parameter via a separate aftertouch-capable keyboard, and I can understand Korg keeping the price point low for the R3 – and it is refreshingly affordable – but surely aftertouch wouldn’t have added that much to the final price? Maybe Korg is trying to use up its old Yamaha keyboard stocks (Korg has only recently gone to its own keyboard designs after being supplied by Yamaha for years).

LAYOUT

The R3 sports a very simple layout and is consequently a doddle to use. This translates immediately into more fun, I might add. The factory programs are organised into categories and selected via a large knob on the left that switches through 16 banks of eight sounds. These programs are selected via the eight red buttons in the middle of the unit. How simple is that! And quite old-school into the bargain. The drawback is there are only 128 sounds in memory at any point but I don’t see that as a real restriction, considering Korg supplies editing software for the R3. With it you can store away sounds to your computer and rearrange your banks very easily. Editing the patches isn’t as old-school but very easy nonetheless.

To the right-hand end of the R3 are five knobs. The first, larger knob selects groups of parameters that are editable via the remaining four. These four all sport LED surrounds to indicate their edit position, and all five knobs are accompanied by a bright red eight-character LCD. These visuals let you know what parameter is assigned to each knob, and when you’re not editing a program the four knobs act as controllers for whichever parameter you assign to them. It’s very easy and incredibly fast to edit, which in itself is – and I’ll say it again – rather old-school.

DROID ARMY

The synthesis engine is derived from Korg’s Radius modelling synthesis engine. It’s obviously a pared down version at it will only stretch to eight notes of polyphony. Multitimbral operation only extends to two MIDI channels, so the two outputs will cover any multitimbral work you may be keen to get the R3 involved in. There are also various other features of the Radius architecture that haven’t made it into the R3. Without the space to go into these omissions at length, I’m sure functions like the Radius step sequencer won’t be missed at this price. Multiple Modeling Technology is the engine responsible for the R3 sonics so there’s plenty of sounds the unit will produce other than analogue emulations.

The sounds themselves are chunky and modern, with the factory patches leaning well toward the trance and dance crowd, but it still does some nice keyboard emulations like electric pianos etc. I’d be after an R3 myself merely for the synth, but then Korg throws in a 16-band vocoder as well. I’m sure some will see these attributes in reverse preference, and want the R3 just for the vocoder, but hey, why not have both! The vocoder is certainly worth having and sounds absolutely lush. And besides, everybody should have a vocoder at the ready for that next 15-minute moment in time when vocoders become fashionable again. Vocoders are a great tool for turning pitchless vocalists into the next cool sound – worth having in the cupboard should the need arise. Korg also supplies a gooseneck mic that plonks straight into the R3; I stuck an SM57 in it and jumped about making Daft Punk noises [with the helmets on or off? – Ed.].

Without another page or two to go into detail, all I can add is: go and have a play with one. For 1300 bucks the R3 is an awesome source of really modern sounds. It has a superbly simple interface but what’s more important is it’s a hoot to play. Keep your eyes peeled for my OSCar on eBay because it really is about time I upgraded. An absolute corker.

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