KORG’S FIRST workstation was the M1 keyboard
workstation, introduced back in 1988. Tricked
out with a 4MB sample ROM and an 8-track
sequencer holding up to 4,400 notes, its
amenities included a relatively generous and
marginally configurable complement of effects,
with proprietary memory cards allowing
as much as 512K of additional samples.
An additional card slot allowed room for
programs, combinations, and more sequencer
memory. Times change: Today, Korg’s Krome
workstation comfortably accommodates a
nearly-4GB sample ROM dressed in a powerful
synthesis engine, flexible program and
combination options, and an equally flexible
and powerful sequencer that is ready to jump
in and record at the touch of a button. Sixty-one-,
73-, and 88-key versions are available; I
reviewed the 88-key instrument.
Well-Planned Work Surface The first
thing I noticed was Krome’s relatively light
weight: substantial, but far from unwieldy.
Its sleek, slightly wedge-shaped profile is
more than an aesthetic choice; the display
and control panel are canted slightly forward
for a better viewing angle, especially onstage.
Generally speaking, I am more accustomed to
semi-weighted synth-action keyboards, but
Krome’s weighted keys are easy enough to get used to. Another nice touch is the unit’s
illuminated joystick; its light marks each axis,
making it easier to choose modulation or pitch
bend without moving too far afield when you
are on a darkened stage or dimly lit studio.
A pair of switches above the joystick let you
assign Control-Change messages, change
octaves, turn portamento or user modulation
sources on and off, and more. Switches glow
a bright blue when engaged, making it even
easier to take stock of operational status in the
heat of performance.
The realtime fun begins with a Select
switch that chooses the assignments of
four knobs: Tone (filter settings), a user-definable
set, and arpeggiator controls.
The Tone section offers enough control for
general realtime tweaking or major timbral
adjustments without getting deep into Krome’s
considerable synthesis engine. Responses
to filter tweaks are smooth, and cutoff and
resonance changes are devoid of zipper noise.
The Arpeggiator controls let you adjust
the notes from a tight staccato to a smeared
legato, make the velocity varied or uniform,
and move from straight note values though
swing and all the way to dotted performance.
(You can adjust the number of steps in real
time.) A pop-up readout on the instrument’s
generous display provides feedback on parameter adjustments. (Disable the pop-up
to tweak by ear.)
Next to the realtime knobs is a pair of Mode
buttons: Media, and Global. The former lets
you save and load sequencer and patch data to
SD cards, and the latter sets up transposition,
Master Tuning, and the Velocity Curve, and
much more. You can also toggle Krome’s
effects on and off, which saves a lot of hunting
and pecking when printing tracks that may
favor outboard processing. Likewise, you can
toggle arpeggiators and drum tracks, which
are available for each and every patch. Krome
often provides several ways to accomplish the
same task: For instance, to turn features on and
off, use touchscreen switches in the display or
those on Krome’s top panel. Change a value
by rotating the Value dial, using increment/
decrement buttons, or by dragging your finger
on the value in the display. It’s hard to go
wrong, even if you’re in a hurry.
Display of Power I’ve always gravitated
toward Korg’s ergonomic workflow, and Krome’s
generous, information-packed touchscreen ups
the ante immensely. The top level of the Program
display is a work of ergonomic art, allowing
access to the most important tweaks you might
want to grab, such as basic filter frequency and
resonance values or transposition. Tabs on the
screen let you get to just about any parameter,
with hopping between menu and page buttons
kept to a minimum.
|Detail of the touchscreen.
Depending on the context, hitting the Page
button exposes Krome’s deeper patch-editing
options for programs or combinations, global
parameters, sequence and pattern parameters,
and more. The beauty of the Page button is
that it is only a single page deep, and all related
parameters, such as tunings or MIDI setup
(in the Global Page, for instance) are accessed
from tabs nested in each page.
The touchscreen elevates Krome’s onboard
sequencer into a class by itself, with the ability
to poke and grab individual notes in the pianoroll
screen and change pitch, duration, location,
and controllers. That makes it one of the few
onboard sequencers I wouldn’t mind using.
Feed Your Muse Krome seems designed to
feed your muse from the get-go. Sometimes
the most inspiring song starters are in
Combination mode—and carefully layered,
split, switched, and processed combos are
difficult if not impossible to replicate in a keyboard sequencer, most of which operate on
a strict, single program-to-track basis. With a
single button press, Krome’s Auto Song Setup
command will dutifully copy every one of the
combination’s parameters, including splits
and effects routings, across multiple tracks,
which are simultaneously record-enabled. It’s
a great solution to the muse-crushing task of
re-creating a combination part by part and
parameter by parameter.
Every patch has an accompanying
arpeggiator and drum pattern. The grooves are
well-mated with the patches, but a quick trip
to the display lets you find the patterns you’re
looking for if you have something else in mind,
so it’s just a little easier to quickly audition a
sudden inspiration against a rhythm track.
With nearly 4GB of samples, Krome covers
lots of ground ranging from conventional
pianos and brass to dance and electronic music
production and cinematic scoring. Most of the
piano sample data is derived from the Kronos
sample library, complete with unlooped, full-decay
samples covering the entire range of
the instrument; not a wobbly sustain loop or
a tweezed-sounding high note in the lot. The
Krome Grand Piano works just fine as a solo
instrument or centerpiece in a composition.
Among the electric pianos, I was hard pressed
to tear myself away from the E. Piano Mark
1 Phaser patch, which faithfully evoked the
sounds of Joe Zawinul and Don Grolnick.
Pads gravitate to the warm and delicate
side, ranging from more traditional, placid
beds to pads with all sorts of motion, including
tempo-synced filters, panning, and more.
Basses were full and punchy. I found a few
dubstep-type sounds in that category, but
there’s a huge supply of timbres to customize
to taste. Some of the upright bass patches
(and there are a number of variations) are rich
and full, with a satisfying, throaty growl. The
drums (also derived from Kronos) are the best
I’ve heard in a keyboard workstation; thanks
to generous velocity layering, there’s plenty of
variation from stroke to stroke. Mix and match
from a wide variety of kit pieces.
Krome Polish The effects setup in Krome is
about as flexible as those in any workstation
I’ve used, with six inserts, two master bus
effects, and a final, output-stage, Total
Effect. This function lets you treat sounds
individually so that edgy, distorted sounds can
sit alongside more pristine instruments with little compromise. The additional three bands
of EQ for up to 16 programs help everything
As easy as it is to program from the
touchscreen, Krome ships with editor/
librarian software; the instrument’s USB
connectivity rapidly syncs the instrument with
the editor, and changes made in the editor
are reflected on the touchscreen. Likewise,
tweaks from the keyboard update the editor.
The USB port also furnishes MIDI I/O to
your favorite DAW, and The Krome driver
showed up as an external instrument in Apple
Logic 9.1.8 without a hitch. If you need to
take your sequencer and patch data around
sans computer, you’ll be grateful for the SD
card slot on the rear panel. With support for
capacities up to 32GB, you’re more than likely
to have enough room for many set lists’ worth
of patches, sequences, and MIDI files.
With so much to like about Krome, there
are a couple of compromises in moving an 88-
key instrument into a more affordable price
point. I might wish for more than a single
stereo pair of outputs, but the instrument’s
versatile internal effects-busing capabilities
go a long way toward easing the pain when
you need to play dense sequences. I miss
Aftertouch as a more tactile and direct part of
a synthesizer’s expressive modulation palette.
And it’s not a big deal, but I question the
decision to opt for an 1/8" headphone jack over
the more traditional 1/4" output. Nevertheless,
the $1,599 street price is a big deal here, with
an 88-key, weighted-action instrument stuffed
with nearly 4GB of samples, prodigious effects
routing, and a user interface you can get tight
with quickly. All in all, I could easily rely
on the Korg Krome as a desert island synth,
with an abundant supply of sounds, plenty
of effects, a slick sequencer, and a workflow
second to none.
Marty Cutler is a former assistant editor
for Electronic Musician, a sound designer, and a
bluegrass banjo player of note (or many notes).
SUMMARYSTRENGTHS: Touchscreen provides
intuitive workflow. Huge library of sounds,
with gorgeous, unlooped pianos and
velocity switched drums. MIDI connectivity
via USB. Flexible sequencer and
LIMITATIONS: No Aftertouch. Single
stereo output; 1/8" headphone jack.
$999 (61-key); $1,199
(73-key); $1,599 (88-key)