You've got to admire the workstation. These all-singing, all-dancing boxes have survived much longer than most concepts in music technology, and new models continue to spring up in a range of price bands.
Along with Roland, Korg have perhaps done the most to keep the Workstation concept alive with their current series, including the Triton and the mighty Oasys. Enter new model, the TR.
Feature-wise, the TR is well speced. For starters, it’s stacked with sounds, available in Korg’s traditional Combi and Prog modes. Combi allows you to stack a number of Progs together so that powerful, multi-layered sounds can be constructed. Progs are individual programs that can be used with the internal sequencer to create multi-tracked songs.
Any Workstation needs to provide a sonic punch, and the TR does a good job here. Some instruments work better than others, but everything is useable. Of particular note, however, are the pad sounds. Korg have had a proud tradition with their pads ever since the Wavestation first reached us, and the TR continues to astound in this regard. The sounds ooze, swell, burble and gurgle away and are just a joy to play – you can get lost for hours. The pianos are good, but have an electronic quality which remains reminiscent of the classic M1 piano. The strings perform well without being entirely authentic.
In many ways, we’re so spoiled with extended sample libraries that it’s easy to turn the same spotlight on any set of sounds. This would do the TR a disservice – after all, it fits all of its 512 Programs, 384 Combinations, 470 multisamples and 518 drum samples into just 64MB of ROM. There’s also a GM bank of 128 sounds and nine drum kits, and the TR is compatible with sounds from the Triton too.
Things really get going, however, when you start digging into the arpeggiator. This is so integral to some of the onboard sounds, it almost acts like an extension of the main sound engine. Various types of pattern can be created, from typical bouncing synth sequences through to programmed drum loops, where each arpeggiated ‘event’ triggers a drum sequence.
These sequences can either play across the full keyboard range, or can be triggered from a single key hit. In this way, it’s possible to trigger a beat loop from C1, play a bass sound up to C3, and have a pad or keyboard sound available in the top three octaves. Four knobs lie above the arpeggiator too, for real-time tweaking of any sound loaded. These knobs are capable of controlling anything you like, as you can assign your own parameters or settle for Korg’s choices instead.
The sequencer itself allows you to create songs from your musical noodlings. 16 tracks are available per song, with each song capable of holding up to 200,000 events, which you can record in either real or step-time. The TR will store 20 songs for you internally, which should be enough if you’re intending to use the TR to run a set of sequenced backing tracks live.
You can also construct sequences from cue lists, 99 of which are available. You can program sequences or patterns outside of the song environment and then integrate them later, which acts as a useful ‘ideas notebook’.
When sequencing, though, you need to keep your eyes and ears open, as you’ll almost certainly test the limits of the polyphony count. Only 62 voices are available, which you’ll eat into pretty quickly if you start layering up anything remotely ambitious.
Effects and sampling
The effects section is musically very useful. The engine has been taken from Korg’s D-series digital multitrackers and 89 types of effect lie beneath your fingertips.
Any sound has two Master effects available, one additional ‘Insert’ effect and a three-band EQ. You can decide how these elements should be combined and routed, so it will come as no surprise that this is a powerful addition to the sonic armoury on show here.
You can save the effects as part of any Prog, Combi or Song too, so this means instant access for those of you gracing stages up and down the land. One option which wasn’t installed in the review model is the EXB-SMPL board, which will allow you to turn the TR into a sampler.
This option allows 48kHz, 16-bit mono or stereo sampling, with a range of audio editing options waiting to mangle any audio you record. You can load AIFF and WAV samples too, and any audio can be stored on the included SD card. The TR ships with a USB connector for MIDI connectivity as standard.
Much of this spec is available on the Triton LE, and as there are synths from the range available both above and below the cost of the TR, I don’t know why they’ve chosen to re-badge the technology in this form. Our guess is that this synth will appeal principally to gigging keyboard players who need a wide range of sounds and functions available. If you’re in that camp, you should certainly check out the TR.