Review: Korg Volca Mix

One Volca to unite them all
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The Volca Mix can power
 three Volca instruments
 while providing two mono
 inputs, a stereo input,
 send and return jacks, and
 compression and stereo-width
 effects on the output.

The Volca Mix can power  three Volca instruments  while providing two mono  inputs, a stereo input,  send and return jacks, and  compression and stereo-width  effects on the output.

In the five years since Korg first introduced its Volca line of synths and beatboxes, the series has captivated producers by combining legitimacy (real analog, DX-7 compatibility, etc.) and affordability, with all six units selling for around $170 each. In a way, the Volca lineup has a lot in common with the modular world: Every unit is specialized, offers audio-based sync, and is affordable enough that you can build a customized rig. Of course, if that rig gets big enough, the associated cabling starts to resemble a Eurorack too.

Although I’ve been a major fan since they arrived (I own all six), they’ve been relegated to studio use only, because I can’t risk battery issues for multiple units in a live set. Yes, there are AC adapters available, but pairing them with two power strips (to support all of the power adapters) means bringing yet another gig bag that is almost larger than the units, themselves. Then there is the issue of integrating them into a mix, which can be problematic when the club won’t let you reconfigure their DJ mixer.

That’s why I wish the Volca Mix had arrived ages ago. Not only does it offer three fader channels (two mono, one stereo), but also it serves as a single power source for multiple Volcas, thanks to three discrete power outputs, cables included. There is also a master-sync function and play/stop button, for controlling the tempo of all connected units with a single knob.

Each of the channels includes a short-throw fader, similar to those found on Korg’s Nano controller series, along with a mute button and lo/hicut filter knobs that work extremely well for both light EQ and Daft Punkish sweeps. There is also a set of tiny send knobs that route signals to a mini-jack output, with a stereo aux return input. Although the return does not offer its own volume knob, it is useful for more than effects—especially if you’re a laptop or iPad-based performer. With some planning, you can run your computing device into the Mix, set your master level from that, then add your other Volcas in real-time as you DJ.

The stereo RCA outputs also include adjustable compression and stereo-width enhancement. In my extensive tests, these mastering processors give the final output a polished and punchy sound that works well, even when blended with professional club tracks.

Additionally, using the output and aux-return input, you can easily daisy-chain multiple units together. For example, you could mix drum modules into the first unit and heavily compress them before routing the mix into a second unit to add other gear. There’s also a pair of built-in speakers that have a bit more oomph than the earlier Volcas. As I quickly discovered, these speakers are handy for both bedroom rehearsals and campfires.

The Volca Mix is more than just the final puzzle piece for integrating Korg’s portable grooveboxes into a live rig. In a way, it makes the whole series far more coherent as a platform. If you own more than one Volca—or have a few desktop devices in your bedroom studio that need mixing—you owe it to yourself to test-drive one soon.

STRENGTHS

Three-channel analog mixer. High-and low-cut. Aux sends and returns. Integrated compression and stereo enhancement. Doubles as a hub for voltage clock and AC power. Built-in speakers.

LIMITATIONS

No volume knob for aux input. First two mixer channels are monophonic.

$170 street
korg.com

Francis Preve has been designing synthesizer presets professionally since 2000. Check out his soundware company at symplesound.com.