When Korg's original two Electribe units first appeared in 1999, they made quite a stir. It seemed that musicians the world over flocked to acquire either one or both of the fancy new boxes. They were superportable, featured lots of tweak-friendly knobs and relied on the pattern-based step programming loved by producers and DJs alike. In 2001, Korg announced the arrival of the EM-1 to the Electribe family. Designed as an all-in-one dance-production station, the EM-1 was virtually a hybrid of the ES-1 synth and ER-1 drum machine. Now, all hail the arrival of the next item in the Electribe lineage, the EMX-1.
The EMX-1 Music Production Station may share some functional parallels with its predecessor, but once it's out of the box, you can see that the two are indeed a generation apart. The EMX-1 comes with a far more modern backlit display, along with its most obvious feature: the Valve Force vacuum-tube circuit, which comprises two 12AX7 tubes set like museum pieces behind a small pane of display glass. The Valve Force vacuum tubes are part of a 100 percent genuine analog circuit that's tied to the Tube Gain control directly to the right of the Master Volume knob, the idea being to add a touch of true vintage warmth to your overall sound.
Once you stop staring at the Valve Force tubes and get around to the rear panel of the machine, you'll see that the EMX-1 is outfitted with the standard trio of MIDI connections (In/Out/Thru), a mic/line gain switch, a ¼-inch audio in (mono only), a pair of individual ¼-inch outs for independent routing to a specific output bus and a separate pair of ¼-inch outs for your mixer or powered monitors. Less obvious to the eye is that the EMX-1 is outfitted with more than 60 additional drum waves, a boatload more song memory (now up to 64 MB from its previous 16) than the EM-1 and three simultaneous stereo effects processors that make use of as many as 16 effect types each. The EMX-1 relies on what Korg calls MMT, or Multiple Modeling Technology. The MMT engine offers 16 different forms of synthesis, ranging from powerful analog simulations to a number of digital synthesis types to unique algorithms such as PCM + waveshaping, vocal formant and more. A total of 76 PCM synth waveforms and 207 PCM drum waveforms are available to add to your creative sound palette. The EMX-1 also includes a collection of available synth filters including lowpass, highpass, bandpass and a special bandpass version that adds the dry signal back into the sound.
Like with other grooveboxes on the market, approaching the EMX-1 can seem like a semidaunting experience if you're interested in just creating a few fun patterns that you can dump to tape or into your sequencer of choice. But once you break down the instrument in your head, the process is far more accessible.
The top panel of the EMX-1 is divided into five or six principal sections (depending how you group them), and the first one to become acquainted with should be the main section, which houses the transport controls (record, playback and so forth), the mode keys (which determine whether the EMX-1 is in Pattern, Step Edit or Song mode), the ubiquitous bpm Tap key and the useful Mute and Solo buttons (to remove or single out respective parts within your pattern). By using the Auto BPM Scan key, you can easily detect the tempo of audio that is coming from the audio-in jack. The matrix menu that is sandwiched between the large rotary dial and the mode keys helps guide you through what parameters are available for the selected mode. You select the parameter by first pressing the mode key and then moving up or down the parameter list using the two small arrows to the left of the matrix menu.
The edit area is made of five separate subsections that include Effects, Part Common, Modulation, Synth Oscillator and Synth Filter. The 16 onboard effects are selected via the large knob and edited with the two rotary controls beneath it. The Edit Select button allows you to decide which effects processor is being edited at the moment. The FX Chain button is married to the two small red LED lights above it that indicate how the output of one effect is being input into another. All you have to do is repeatedly punch the button to determine the connection. There's also the Motion Seq button that records and plays back the movements of the two FX Edit controls.
Part Common governs parameters used by both drum and synth sounds. This encompasses the Pitch/Glide setting (Pitch being used for drum parts and Glide to adjust the length of time it takes for pitch changes between two synth-based legato notes), EG Time (note-decay time for a particular part), Pan, Level, Amp EG (used to set the envelope shape of a part from decay to no decay), Roll, FX Select and FX Send. The Motion Seq control also comes into play here. Furthermore, the Modulation section contains rotary knobs for Speed and Depth, a Type button that lets you select from one of five modulation types, a Dest (destination) control to determine which parameter is targeted for modulation (Osc Edit 1 or 2, Cutoff, Amp, Pan or Pitch) and a BPM Sync button to turn tempo synchronization on and off.
When you get to the Synth Oscillator and its two Osc Edit controls, the major fun begins. For instance, selecting the chord type and tweaking Osc Edit 2 changes the number of voicings (±3) whereas Osc Edit 1 controls the chord type (a total of 16 types). What's even cooler about these and all of the other tweaks you might make to a patch is that the display flashes “Orig Value” before you roll past the initial setting. This is handy if you rethink a parameter change — other groovebox producers, please take note. Another interesting oscillator type is the PCM + Comb, which allows you to use one of the sampled PCM waveforms as the oscillator and then output the sound through a comb filter. But the most fun may possibly be had from the PCM + WS, which applies a waveshaping effect to a PCM waveform. Using the Edit controls brings in waveshape adjustments, as well as tonal-character shifts. And if that doesn't pique your interest, there's also the facility for taking your external audio in through the ¼-inch mono jack and running it through a comb filter of your own tweaking. The Synth Filter itself not only contains the control knobs for Cutoff, Resonance and Drive but also offers hands-on manipulation of the envelope-generator intensity through the EG Int rotary knob.
If you bypass the step-key section momentarily, the last stop on the tour is the Arpeggiator, which features the smooth look and feel of a ribbon controller. On synth parts, the ribbon controls note duration; on drum parts, the ribbon controls how fast the EMX-1 cycles through the arpeggio. The slider on the side is used for changing the pitch of the arpeggiated notes. You can also reverse the cycle of the arpeggio by changing that parameter under the Global setting in the matrix menu or changing the type of scale used (everything from Hawaiian to gypsy to three types of raga scales are available to choose from) through the Arpeggio Scale parameter under the Pattern setting. Although all of this might sound impressive on paper, it tells you little about how easy the EMX-1 is to drive as a creative tool.
LINE UP YOUR SOUNDS
If you want to try and pull apart any of the demo patterns to see how patterns are created with the EMX-1, 196 phenomenal working examples are already onboard. But the process basically boils down to users having as many as nine drum parts, five synth parts and two accent parts (one for drums and one for synths) available to combine into a pattern.
You can record a pattern either in real time or through step recording. For real-time recording, simply press the Pattern key in the main section, select a synth part by pressing one of the five rubber Synth Part keys, hit the Record button (which also causes the Play/Pause button to light) and press Play. From there, any key entries made with the 16 step-key pads at the bottom of the EMX-1 will be recorded into your pattern. You can even continue to record during playback by hitting the Record button once the pattern is already in motion.
Step recording is equally straightforward. If you want to step-record a rhythm part, the procedure is essentially the same. First, press the Pattern key and then select the appropriate part. You must then use the left- and right-arrow select keys to choose which section of the pattern is to be recorded. (The section to be worked on is lit by the green LEDs above the 16 step-key pads.) If the rhythm pattern is four parts long but you only wish to record to the third section, move the arrow select keys until the third green LED is lit and then begin your edits. Lighting any of the 16 step keys turns that beat on for that position.
You can also assign an entire pattern set to any or all of the 16 step keys and recall them at will during a live performance. By holding down the Pattern Set key, you can select the step key to be assigned. Continue holding the Pattern Set key, and dial up the desired pattern. Pressing the Write key enables you to make the assignment (dialing “yes” to commit the change).
In Song mode, you can connect as many as 256 patterns to create a full-fledged composition. A maximum of 64 songs can be stored on the EMX-1. You put together songs by deciding which pattern is to appear in what song position. By using the matrix menu to turn on Song mode, you can select the first position with the up/down cursor key. Once position 001 is visible in the display, use the down-arrow cursor key to start the pattern-selection process. Using the dial, you can decide which pattern will occupy this position and then use the right-arrow key above the step keys to move to the next position (making sure that the keyboard button is not lit during this procedure). Repeat the process and then select End once all of the positions for your song have been selected. After your song is saved, it's ready to be trotted out for future performances, parameter tweaks or edits.
The endurance of the Electribe line seems to be holding fast, and with the addition of the EMX-1, Korg has taken another step toward winning the continued devotion of users who don't necessarily feel that software provides all of the answers to their tone-generation needs.
ELECTRIBE EMX-1 > $850
Pros: Great sounds. Significant increase in pattern and song storage over previous models. Unique Valve Force tube circuit.
Cons: External power supply. Mono-only input.