Review: Korg volca kick

A low-cost powerhouse for modern dance low-end
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Now more than ever, modern dance-music genres are closely tied to specific sounds and synths. Where would EDM be without the supersaw, or deep house without the M1 piano and FM bass? While it’s certainly possible to carve out a unique space as an artist by crafting your own presets, for some genres, you have to stick to a very specific palette of sounds to get noticed.

With that in mind, it is no overstatement to say that Korg’s new volca kick is tailor-made for generating the distinctive kick-drum sounds of the trap, hiphop, and hardstyle genres. That’s not to say it isn’t also fantastic for creating smaller, vintage-style bass drums and toms, because it excels at those, as well. But for artists looking for instant production credibility in the above styles, the volca kick is poised to become as indispensable as the 808 when it comes to low-end bombast.

With its MS20 filter-based resonator positioned front and center on the panel, it provides a fantastic lesson on how self-oscillating filters can be used to create massive kicks. Tuned to higher frequency ranges, the volca kick is capable of conjuring other classic percussion elements, as well as Kraftwerk-friendly zaps.

What is especially cool about the volca kick is the clever way it introduces sophisticated sound-design techniques to a broader audience. While there are other kick-centric modules, they’ve often used nonstandard terminology to describe their parameters. Not so with the volca kick. Savvy users will grasp that Pitch controls the filter’s frequency cutoff, while Bend and Time govern the filter envelope and decay, respectively. But that may be a tad too deep for newcomers looking to nail the trap sound. By balancing that type of information, Korg successfully straddles the line between keeping the pros happy and letting novices feel a sense of agency as they craft their own kicks and basses.

Along the top of the unit you will find additional parameters: Pulse Colour and Level are useful for tweaking the transient “click,” and the Amp envelope’s Attack and Decay are great for exploring the darker side of techno bass lines.

The Drive and Tone controls are crucial for re-creating the ear-splitting hardstyle 909 kick: A little goes a long way with these parameters, but with some experimentation you can even delve into dubstep pseudo-wobbles and subsonic drones that would sound right at home in atmospheric tracks when coated in generous amounts of reverb.

As with its siblings, the volca kick’s sequencer is a breeze to program. It provides automation for the majority of its parameters, supports pattern chaining, and includes the Touch FX feature for easily adding time divisions and creating sequence variations. The Accent and Swing parameters can be used to breathe dynamic life into your patterns, and the 16 factory sequences do a great job of demonstrating this.

While mainstream synthesists may find the volca kick a tad too exotic to become an essential part of their rig, it is an absolute necessity for artists and producers who work in bass-heavy genres. The immediacy of its interface makes the volca kick fairly indispensible, especially when you factor in its ability to live-sync with many Korg products (minilogue, electribe, SQ-1, and other volca modules), as well as Ableton Live when using Korg’s Link-enabled SyncKontrol app.

STRENGTHS

Analog signal path. Sequencer. Overdrive. Some parameter automation. Touch FX. Sync I/O. Runs on battery or AC power. Built-in speaker.

LIMITATIONS

May be a bit too specialized for some musicians.

$159 street
korg.com

Producer Francis Prève has been designing synthesizer presets professionally since 2000. You can check out his new soundware company at symplesound.com.