Review: Korg Triton Extreme
Derek Johnson assesses what makes this Triton so extreme.
Review: Derek Johnson
Take a range of sampling workstation synths from a major manufacturer and repackage them with more desirable features and release the result for less money. You’d go for it, right?
Well, that’s just what Korg has apparently done with their top-notch Triton range. First of all, it genuinely is a repackage job, losing – sadly, it must be said – the classic silver look that the company’s followed from 1995’s Trinity to the Triton Studio range launched in ‘02. But we don’t judge a synth by its colour, do we? Especially if it features a flexibly assignable vacuum tube circuit, as initially seen on the company’s latest Electribes! Extreme loses some of the overt expandability of the Studio range, but in the area that we’d most like to expand – sounds – you don’t have to worry. The instrument features most of the raw waveforms from Korg’s PCM series of slot-in cards as standard. That would be a huge saving if the instrument came in at the same price as a Studio model, let alone hundreds of dollars cheaper. This is one of the main conundrums offered by Extreme: it’s practically everything we’d want from a Studio, yet is significantly cheaper. Yet the Triton Studio range remains a current Korg product.
Anyhow, the Studio family also featured an internal hard drive and could be expanded with an optional CD writer. Neither of these is an option with the Extreme, but it comes with two USB sockets (SCSI connectivity, as featured on the Studio, has gone to the great interfacing graveyard in the sky). One USB port connects to a PC or Mac, making the Triton Extreme talk to your Midi app’s and allowing samples to be beamed back and forth, while the other allows the workstation to host the USB-equipped drives of your choice. Buy a cheap portable hard drive, or one of the many affordable CD writers, and you can do everything Triton Studio could. (The USB socket even powers PSU-less drives.) This ommission might sound like a cop out on Korg’s part, but the official internal CD drive for the Triton Studio was quite expensive; you can pick up any drive for 70 bucks or less and plug it in. Okay, not as tidy as having all the drives fitted inside the synth, but we’re talking a serious cash saving here!
Extreme also features a CompactFlash/Microdrive slot, for compact budget data storage and retrieval to a card of up to 1GB capacity. You’ll need to buy one of these increasingly cheap cards if you want to beam samples from your computer, since a card in the slot is the only destination in this circumstance. Samples can’t be simply sent to Extreme’s RAM.
In most other ways, Extreme is very much similar to the Triton Studio. It comes in three flavours for a start: 61-note, 76-note and 88-note keyboards, the latter featuring a weighted piano action. There may be more waveform ROM and more patch memories, but the synthesis system is identical, effects the same, sampler and sequencer likewise. But that’s no bad thing: Korg do this stuff right. Even if you’re finally moving from a Trinity to an Extreme, you’ll be on familiar ground. The synth engine is very similar, and the sequencer, though enhanced, has the same look and feel.
Summarising Triton Extreme’s architecture is straightforward. It offers a whopping 160MB of waveform ROM – it’s all the data from the previously optional expansion boards that makes all the difference. Triton Studio offered just 48MB of waveform ROM. Mind you, Korg had to do something: their nearest immediate competition comes from Yamaha’s still-silver Motif ES, which has 176MB of sample ROM as standard. Korg’s waveforms are arranged as 962 multi-samples and 1,175 drum samples. Next up in the hierarchy is the Program. A normal Program uses one or two waveforms as ‘oscillators’, which are then treated to a comprehensive analogue, subtractive synthesis-like signal path. Single oscillator Programs are 120-note polyphonic, while using two oscillators halves that. Drum Programs are slightly different: each note in the 128-wide Midi range can have a sample assigned to it, and each sample gets processed by a simplified analogue-style signal path.
That signal path offers expressive and potentially aggressive multi-mode filter, envelope, twin Midi-sync’able LFOs, and a whole load of modulation options to add movement within a sound or control from the front panel knobs or an external hardware control surface.
If the sample-based synthesis on board isn’t enough for you, Triton Extreme maintains one bit of expandability from previous versions: a MOSS Z1-like physical modelling synth board can be installed if desired.
A Program can also be fitted out with effects and an arpeggiator.
Next up, the classic Korg Combination. Here, up to eight Programs are layered, with options to velocity and/or key split individual elements. Each part could also be addressed on its own Midi channel, for a sort of mini multitimbral setup complete with basic mixing options. Effects are even more interesting in this mode, and Extreme’s array of insert and master effects start to come into their own in this mode. The arpeggiator also magically grows a twin: arps A and B can have their own pattern and note resolution settings, making one-finger performances a definite option, quite well exploited in the factory presets. Yamaha’s Motif ES has just one arpeggiator, and you really do notice the difference once you’ve had two at one time!
Top of the heap is the Sequencer: a truly multitimbral mode allowing Extreme to be played in 16-part glory from its internal or an external sequencer. Insert and master effects are also flexibly-assignable here, and the dual arpeggiators are also in evidence. The output of the arps can be recorded to sequence tracks or played live, and one particularly nice facility lets you copy all the settings of any Program or Combi to a Sequence. If you find yourself having a nice noodle with one or the other, you don’t have to go in and recreate it in a Sequence before recording said noodle. Two convenient button pushes, and you’re in a Sequence with the metronome clicking, ready to register your performance.
Incidentally, the effects system offers five insert effects, that can be assigned flexibility within Combis and Sequencer setups, that can choose from a central pool of 102 effect types, plus two master effects, a global three-band EQ and that ValveForce vacuum tube circuit, which can be used as an insert or master effect. Effects can even be applied to audio routed through the Extreme’s inputs.
Of course, so far, we haven’t mentioned the sampling capabilities of the Extreme. This is a tricky one to address. Not only does it feature facilities that would be the envy of a stand-alone rack sampler, if such a thing was being made any more, but it integrates with the sequencer in such a way as to almost convince you that you had a digital recorder on board as well as the Midi sequencer. Almost. Certainly, with planning it’s possible to even add vocals to a sequence. Be warned that keeping track of the resulting samples will be a little tricky, but the routines are there to help you make the most of it. And if you invest in a large hard drive (or one of the larger capacity cards), you’ll have no trouble keeping your work safe and backed up.
The sampler is great at capturing any audio from outside the Triton, so you can create your own multisamples of real instruments (or import them from Akai format sample CDs!), or add loops and beats to your session. The synth’s own outputs can be resampled, of course, and beats and loops can be time sliced and time stretched. Triton Extreme samples at 48k only, though samples can be converted to lower rates during editing.
There will be those of you who have nothing to do with computers, and will appreciate some of the additional Extreme facilities on offer. For example, a mix of a sequence playback can be bounced down for burning to an attached CD writer. The sequencer is sophisticated enough for quite serious work, too. Just be warned that Sequences – and samples – are not backed up when you power down. You’ll need a card or a USB hard drive in order to keep your work safe for later recall.
The live performer, too, will find much of value in the Triton Extreme. The 88-key version, for example, features a real keyboard player’s action. There are also a handful of phrase/pattern-style composition options. Assign preset or custom phrases to keys for instant song creation, a feature even dance-meisters might find handy in some situations. It’s also possible to create, and play back, a list of Standard Midi Files automatically – ideal for gigs. This is perfect for General Midi style SMFs, but isn’t restricted to it.
And that’s nearly it… but I can’t let you go without pointing out the three pairs of stereo outputs, the stereo input, the optical S/PDIF digital I/O, and a trio of foot pedal sockets. Those in favour of real-time performance controls will once again welcome a Korg ribbon controller, and the combination pitchbend/mod wheel, plus a quartet of assignable knobs – 12 parameters are easily accessible with these knobs.
Finally, though the livery might change, a Korg workstation wouldn’t be the real thing without the fabulous touch screen. Parameter access and value changes take on a whole new meaning in this environment. Other synths will appear stuffy and claustrophobic after you’ve had this experience.
And other synths may well pale into sonic insignificance once you’ve had the audition.