What: Portable synthesizer with 61 mini-keys, tons of programs/sounds, built-in sequencer, effects, and editing software as well as VST/AU/RTAS plug-in capability.
Why: I hadn’t expected to cover a keyboard as part of this roundup, let alone the microSTATION. But when an online retailer asked for my opinion and sent one to check out, I realized that it was well-suited to portable MIDI recording. For starters, it weighs under six pounds, and at just under 31 inches long, can fit in a large suitcase.
Faraway Factor: While a laptop running a program like Reason offers serious sonic firepower, you still need a controller—not just for the notes, but for realtime parameter tweaking. The microSTATION’s mini-keys might be a turnoff at home, but keep weight, size, and cost down for portability. Also, it’s self-contained; there are the usual “greatest hits” sounds (pianos, guitars, organs, synths, pads, voices, etc., based on the same basic engine used in the Korg M3) along with combis, effects, and a very complete sequencer.
The 16-track sequencer contributes the most to the Faraway Factor, as it’s very easy to use—I created a song on it without opening the manual, and while editing is more involved, it’s still not difficult. Another factor is drum machine-style loop recording, so you can build up tracks a piece at a time (e.g., record a drum part’s kick and snare first, then do the hats, toms, cymbals, etc., all without having to stop). You can even do grid/matrix-style programming using 16 dedicated buttons to “deposit” notes on specific beats.
When you’re done, you can save the file to an SD card. And when you get home, you can connect the microSTATION to your computer via USB, and use the included software to have it serve as a VST/AU/RTAS plug-in in your host of choice.
For collaborations, the microSTATION is also a GM2-compatible sound module, making it easy to trade Standard MIDI Files. Finally, with the appropriate plug, the universal AC adapter will work anywhere in the world.
Strengths: The sounds are really good—defined and rich. There are 480 factory sounds (512 program slots total), 256 factory combis (384 total), and 25 factory drum kits (48 total). The effects are also a strong point, as the selection is comprehensive— you’ll even find amp modeling—so you can get a pretty polished sound thanks to five insert effects, two master effects, and a “total” effect that processes everything (i.e., a “mastering” processor). And the sequencer is powerful enough that you can build some pretty impressive music.
Limitations: The mini-keys are both a limitation and a strength; it may take you awhile to acclimate to the smaller keys, but they’re the main reason why the microSTATION is well-suited to portable recording. Also, you can’t record audio (not that Korg ever said it could, I mention this for completeness) and the controller knobs, while welcome, are better for set-and-forget tweaking than performance, as they’re somewhat small and cramped.
Conclusions: If you’re going away from home, take this with you (or ship it in advance of your arrival) and you’ll have a surprisingly useful workstation to satisfy your musical addiction. Touring? You’ll have no problem finding a place to put this in your van, tour bus, or for many planes, the overhead compartment. And it sounds just as good at home.
As I said, I wasn’t planning on including a product like this—but it’s cool enough that it kind of forced me to write it up.
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