As its name suggests, the M3 XPanded is an enhanced version of Korg's M3.
So what's new? Tons, actually. For starters, you should know that, if you're an existing M3 user, the whole lot's yours for nothing via a quick download. Lucky you, especially when you consider that many of Korg's prices have recently shimmied upwards.
Anyone considering purchasing one of these bad boys should know too that the XPanded now is the M3. Effective immediately, this feature set replaces the previous incarnation.
What you'll find first and foremost is a vastly increased capacity for sound generation, with the previous 256MB of internal PCM sounds swelled by 384MB of extra content, to 640MB in total.
You now get, as standard, the sounds from the previous 'expansion option' (EX-USBPCM01/02/03 range), with the new sounds focusing primarily on additional pianos (both acoustic and electric), strings, brass and woodwind.
As you'd expect, this also swells the program and combination playback options, with more sounds available out of the box. The sequencer has been improved too, most notably with the addition of a piano roll style editor, which lets you get up close and personal to MIDI event data.
The updated touchscreen plays its part here. It's now possible to grab, drag and edit notes directly on the screen, in a way familiar to DAW users everywhere. Equally, many more aspects of a sound or effect can now be sequenced, so that 'automation' can effectively be added to M3 sequenced arrangements.
The screen has also improved in other ways. It's now possible to move virtual faders directly on the screen, whereas the original M3 required movement via the hardware equivalents to the screen's left.
The powerful effects section has been simplified with the provision of effects presets, which enable you to pick single effects or chained stacks in different combinations.
Karma, the phrase-sequence technology present in the original M3, has progressed to software version 2.2, which brings two key benefits. Firstly, there are now 1,024 locations for Karma-generated effects and, secondly, it's possible to cut between any of these in real-time, making the XPanded a live player's dream.
It's been said that the best thing to happen to hardware workstations was the software studio revolution. Many predicted that feature-packed keyboards with built-in sampling, effects and sequencing possibilities were on borrowed time when soft synths arrived, but this was to ignore the immediacy of the workstation concept and the fact that, for certain applications, there's no finer instrument type.
The M3 XPanded reeks of an instrument that knows it has to be competitive in the modern music-making workplace and, accordingly, it plays to its strengths. This keyboard is now audibly and ergonomically better and, regardless of the reason you like workstations, you can't help but feel that this represents the double espresso hit the M3 needed.
Listen to the M3 XPanded strutting its stuff: