Thursday, July 05, 2007

Korg's R3 - Affordable Portable Formant Recordable

I needed something portable so I could play over at friends' houses without the hassle of disturbing/deconstructing my studio setup. Enter Korg's R3 - for a portable poly, its the buisiness!

It has an extremely easy to use User Interface - LED rings show current knob position (ala Nord 3) and little displays over each knob show its current function (ala Remote SL). The UI is probably what contributes to its highish price but, to me, represents good value for the money, especially if you like programming your own patches. For the ammount of space it takes up (or dosen't), this is the best "small" UI I have ever used! Nice to have something this classy on a so-called "cheap plastic synth".

The R3 has a great little sound engine with enough parameters to really get a huge variety of sounds going on. Mostly it has a VA/Subtractive architecture though with some unusual and useful extras. I was able to get some really decent EPs and "standard synth" sounds though its certainly capable of evolving/morphing pads, basses and dirty leads as well - I wouldn't pigeonhole it to a certain kind of sound. Here's the killer for some - If you didn't like the MS2000's sound, you might not like this beast either as their overall timbre is fairly similar, though I must say the R3 is "thinner" and "brighter" to my ears. It seems to be a perfect clone of the Radias engine with a different (maybe better) UI tacked on. I cranked the pitches really high on a number of patches to try to induce aliasing to no avail...very nice! However, If you actually want aliasing, there is a decimator in the FX section. There are a lot of features in a tiny space but not so many that its a bitch to edit.

Having three octaves of full-size velocity-sensitive keys is perfect. Two just isn't enough for me but three still makes this extremely portable. Wish it had aftertouch, one of my only niggles, the other is that there's only 128 program slots. The only other thing that bothered me, though not too badly, was that most of the presets are "dancy/trancey", thankfully they're overwriteable.

I thought it would end up being an awful gimmick, but the "Formant Motion" recorder turned out to be a blast to play with and you can get some unusual timbral changes you won't hear from anything else except the Radias. Ditto on the vocoder, I thought it would be cheesy but was pleasently suprised...having the dedicated mic included was very handy as well - though you can use the external input instead if you want to mangle external audio...drum loops and things with lots of noise are cool to smunch.

I wouldn't actually get rid of any of my synths for this thing but, for a portable board, its featureset is very compelling and, personally, I like its sound, though its a tad thinnish. Its one of those borderline boards where the fun bits outweigh the so-so bits. We'll see how long this one lasts.


Creatiefje said...

Hi Carbon

I read the last line in your blogpost on the Korg R3. Recently i discovered a website of a woman who has made several personalised (i.e. made to fit) dustcovers for many if not all available Korg synths. If you can't find your model there, you can still send her the dimensions and request it.

Also some of the materials used to make the covers are either washable or wtaerresistant, which makes them a great alternative choice if you'd like to use them as gig bag.

www .digitaldeckcovers .com/Korg-Novation-cart. htm

Enjoyed your blog, keep it up!

Cheers, Mark

Carey M said...

I've had an R3 for a couple of days now. At first I wasn't too keen on it's sound, but now I'm really starting to dig it. Very digital and modern sound, which is like a breath of fresh air in my otherwise raw analogue palette. But the main factor that attracted me to the R3 is that it's a really, really fun synth. Everytime I turn it on I have great time! And the vocoder is just hilarious.

Kristjan said...

Hey guys, would you be interested in exchanging patches for the R3? Do you know any good sites to get patches, maybe even converted from the radias?

Kev aka K said...

Nice review. I've kinda had this on my radar. What about a key size? As I'm not a player, and my fingers are from flexible to play such devices like microkorg. Is that bigger or the same?

matrix said...

They are full size keys, not the small ones like the MicroKorg.

Anonymous said...

This is esentialy a Radias kb in a smaller (and better designed in my opinion) box.
I can understand the negative comments on the sounds - "thin / transy etc" but you have got to dig into this monster to appreciate its sonic capabilities. AND OPEN IT UP. The synthesis architecture is an amalgamation of a number of iconic and sometimes unique methods of sysnthesis taken from Korg (and other) legacy machines - Virtual Analogue with saw and square wave oscillators taken directly from Korg's Odysy synth (without the heavy price tage). Formant synthesis that sounds very reminscent of the wavetable sysnthesis as used in the Wavestation. DWS additive waveforms borrowed from Korg's DW8000 (great machine!). Then comes Phase Distortion - Casio pioneered this method in their CZ machines - lovely metalic warm tones. FM as pioneered by Yamaha and used on Korg's own DS8 machine (great user interface) is covered with Cross modultation of the two oscillators (not just with sine waves either) to give you that thin twinkly 80s sound. Then comes Ring and Sync modulation and Pulse Width modulation reminiscent of the old analogue patchable synths. These oscillators can be stacked and detuned = FAT sounds. To top all this you can feed an external signal into one of the oscillators and modulate it like a resident waveform! = Limitless wave tables. If all that isnt enough to make a tone palate the size of a small country, there is 'patchable modulation' - Thats Matrix modulation in other terms, available in high end Ensoniq and Oberheim machines (routable to modulate the oscillators). Then push the whole lot through some of the most gorgeous sounding warm resonant filters Ive ever heard AND then through a Waveshaper and modulation sequencer and vocoder and stick on some very nice FX....
This thing is like a whole studio's worth of synths in a box a little less than 1m wide and its less than £500!!!!!!
OK the 128 presets wont suit everyone but then this machine isnt aimed at everyone. I bought one without even hearing one first, simply because of the spec of the sound creation capabilities. And its sound? Stunning: Warm. Metalic. Analogue. Digital. Futuristic. Breathy. Fat. Thin. Sparkly. Wierd. Acidic. Crystal Clear. Dirty. In fact sounds from every synth I've ever heard! I'm not a big fan of 'accoustic' sounding synths, of which there are plenty out there from the 90's, and the presets dont seem to include any that spring to mind that sound like real instruments. That said I did manage to tweak the preset EP with a few knob twiddles to make it sound a bit more useable.
Some of those presets are actually quite awesome if thats what you want, however, from getting it out of the box and having a quick read of the manual, it took me only 10 mins to program a very close imitation to one of the preset breathy pad sounds from the Roland D50; which sold in HUGE amounts based upon its presets alone. Another few tweeks and one of the punchiest bases ever came out of the thing that would sit quite happily in any electro mix in the current market.
If its preset sounds that you want then go and buy some samples. If you want to sound unique, cutting edge or imitate anything thats ever been done (or hasnt yet) then read up on some synthesis techniques and BUY ONE NOW.
p.s. I dont work for the marketing department of Korg but if they are reading and are impressed my email is

Anonymous said...

I agree with Anon. I have owned mine for a year, next month. All of the descriptors used apply to this diminutive powerplant. I only wish there were more knobs. Menu diving isn't ideal in a live setting. However, if you have the time and inclination, it is an extremely versatile studio workhorse.

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