After the Monotron’s success, which now boasts two additional models, the Duo and the Delay, Korg decided to continue the new analogic journey churning out a new model, born from the fusion of a Monotron with a Drum Machine module: here comes the Analogue Ribbon Station.
Inside the box, in addition to the Monotribe of course, there is the owner’s manual, the batteries and a stereo mini-jack which is useful either for the synchronization or for the update that can be done via an audio file, in typical analogic style.
Monotribe has got a metal case, it doesn’t come in plastic as the Monotron, therefore it’s very sturdy and very well-made. On the other hand, the battery compartment comes in plastic and it might be useful to use some scotch tape in order to fix it, since, while not being fastened enough to the case, it always a bit too loose and this may result bothering. The switches come in metal too and they give a good stable feel. Instead, there are two kinds of potentiometers: ones without knobs (3) and ones with knobs (5). The ones without knobs are the same as the ones on the Monotron and they all are volume controls: Synthesizer’s VCA, rhythm section and noise. The ones that come with knobs are in plastic with a fake metallic-grey sticker on, they are strong enough but it is always better not to treat them badly, after all we’re talking about a rather cheap machine considering what it may offers. The potentiometers that come with knobs control are: VCO’s octave, VCF’s Cutoff and Resonance (Peak), LFO’s Rate and Intensity.
The Synth section (obviously monophonic) is somewhat the Monotron’s evolution and it includes an oscillator with selectable waveform (Saw, Triangle, Square), a 24 dB/oct low pass filter with Resonance (Peak), a LFO (Saw, Triangle, Square) with 3 destinations (VCO, VCO+VCF, VCF), an envelope with three presets which cannot be customized. Unlike the Monotron’s oscillator, this VCO can’t control any pitch (besides the ribbon, of course), it is not possible to put it “out of tune” as we like, but it allows to set three ribbon modes in order to control it. Wide (extended throughout all the oscillator’s range), Narrow (the exact ribbon’s range), Key (the exact ribbon’s range with a special pitch “synch” which follows the exact note we’re playing). There is also a volume control for the noise which automatically comes up in the filter section.
The Rhythm section includes three sounds: Bass Drum (Kick), Snare Drum and Hi-Hats. Unfotunately all the volumes for each voice are locked and it only allows to change the general volume via the Rhythm potentiometer. As long as we use the built-in speaker the mix sounds nicely, but as soon as we need to amplifly the Monotribe on a system, it would need a little bit of fixing, especially for the bass drum that comes out a little bit too hard.
The sequencer is really easy to use, including 16 parts for the rhythm section and 8 parts (up to 16 by update) for the Synth section.
How to update the Monotribe? It’s very easy. In typical analogic style, it is possible to update our own Monotribe to the 2.0 version via the supplied cable and an audio file which can be downloaded via the Korg web site. It only takes a few minutes and increases dramatically its possibilities and internal functions. The cable must be connected to the Sync In input on the Monotribe and to the output of any device which is capable of playing audio files (mp3 player, computer, mobile phone, …).
Theese are just a few of the new functions:
• Synchronized performance, for synchronized combined use with multiple Monotribe units ( via the sync jacks)
• Step Sequencer, expanded to 16 steps for the synth section
• Volume Automation, can be applied to every synth and drum part
• Drum Roll, allows to control a large amount of dynamic crescendos based on the speed of the percussive sounds which are rhythmically aligned
• Gate Time Hold allows to artificially retain the pitch release. Each part can refer to its own Active Step.
• Sample & Hold for the LFO (instead of using the 1SHOT mode)
• Half Tempo, to cut the tempo in half in order to synchronize multiple Monotribe units
For a comprehensive list about all the new functions we suggest to check the manual which is also available at the Korg web site.
No MIDI, no party?
Unfortunately the Monotribe comes without MIDI inputs/outputs or CV to control it (or to control any other device via the built-in sequencer). The only way to interact that Korg offers us is by synchronizing it with other Monotribe units. Anyway, luckily enough, around the web there are several kits which allow us to add a MIDI input and output without having to work it too hard. The one we bought (about 45€) includes a small circuit that must be added to an already existent port on the Monotribe. The MIDI implementation has already been set by Korg, it’s simply lacking any connectors. Here you can get a glimpse of the various mounting phases of the kit:
It only takes about 10 minutes and you must arm yourself with a screw-driver (to open it) and a drill to make holes through the case so to add mini-jack connectors. In my opinion, the choice of mini-jack connectors was perfect because it avoids holes for the standard 5-pin MIDI connectors (bulky and useless), you will only need to use the two mini-jack MIDI cables provided by the kit.
Without a doubt the Monotribe is an interesting instrument but risks to be consigned to a “toy” status following the Monotrons’ strand. Without the MIDI adjustment it is indeed limited and, after a few days of using it we soon discover the hitches that may come up when combining it with other instruments. To me, the MIDI adjustment is, therefore, something necessary in order to take full advantage of its capabilities. Of course it cannot be considered as a substitute for the many analogic monophonic synthesizers on the market since a few years now, anyway the possibility to control it via the master keyboard or a computer is indeed fascinating. Not to mention the excellent filter that can be used via the input that processes any type of instruments, guitars, voice, other synths and so on…
Italian to English Translation: Umberto del Giudice ( firstname.lastname@example.org )