The time has come! That’s right, the Korg Volca Bass is under our eye today.
We’re fans of old-school style setups, which is one of the reasons we’ve decided to review this heavily-praised bad boy.
With an awesome analog synth and a powerful sequencer, this is where the heart of your compositions will lie. The vast range of sounds available really makes this stand out from the crowd; we’ll get into that soon enough, though.
First, let’s quickly sum up what what like and don’t like about this box.
- Easily portable; takes 6 AA batteries, and is a great size for musicians on the move.
- Perfect for those with small budgets, but still want pro analog synth.
- Velocity-sensitive implementation means greater versatility and options of sounds.
- Record separate melody lines for each of 3 oscillator
- The sequencers one-measure lines restrict your capabilities.
- The sound from the built-in speaker isn’t the highest quality.
- Reviewers state that 16-steps in a sequencer aren’t quite enough.
- The keys are critiqued for being too small.
About the Korg Volca Bass
This analog bass machine is known around the world for being a classic-sounding EDM groove box and is part of the 3-machine “Volca” series. The 12dB low-pass design that’s implemented on this model formerly appeared on Korg’s classic synth models, such as the 700S or 800DV. This machine is a true grasp back to Korg’s roots, and it truly has an identity of its own.
With an oscillator that goes from thick and low, to howling high-frequency pitch and a cool slide-function, this little beast is perfect for techno-heads, and acid-house lovers across the globe.
The praise keeps coming, ever since the day it was released, and it is still standing the test of time now.
Sonic State has a thorough demo that’ll give you that taste we can tell you’re dying for.
What You Get in the Box
Along with the Korg Volca Bass Unit itself, you will also receive…
- 6 AA batteries so you can get started straight away
- You will also get a complete manual, containing everything you need to get going.
Unfortunately, with any of the Volca range, you will have to pay an extra $12 for the AC Adapter, unless you already have a 9V adapter lying around, which many people do!
Let’s get into the specs! There are a lot for us to look at for this one!
- Multi touch Keyboard / step key
- Analog synthesis
- Structure: 3VCO, 1VCF, 1VCA, 1LFO, 1EG
- Saw & square VCO Waves.
- Cutoff, Peak, and EG Int VCF options.
- VCF type: Low Pass Filter, 12 db/oct – The same filter that defined the popular 700S.
- VCA: EG on/of, Sustain on/off
- LFO: Rate, Int, Target (Amp, Pitch, Cutoff), Wave (Triangle, Square)
- EG: Attack, Decay/Release, Sustain
- 3 parts, 16 steps, 8 recording patterns.
- Headphones (3.5mm stereo mini jack)
- Sync In (3.5mm monaural mini jack, Maximum input level: 20V)
- Sync Out (3.5mm monaural mini jack, Maximum Output level: 5V)
- MIDI IN
- 10 hour battery life.
- 6 AA batteries included.
- 193 × 115 × 46 mm / 7.61 x 4.54 x 1.82 inches (W x D x H)
- 370g weight, excluding batteries.
Jampacked with adjustable parameters and things to mess around with, the Volca Bass is certainly not scarce of impressive features.
1. Throwing it back with the 700S’s LP filter
With a full-bodied filter, Korg has really outdone themselves by using this low-pass 12dB filter; taking them back to the glory days of synth machines. This makes the sounds from the machine resonate and ring out in a way completely characteristic of old school bass synth. Open up that filter by turning the Cutoff knob up to get uninhibited, bright sounds.
Alternatively, roll that dial the other way, closing the filter, and achieve fat, fuzzy notes. A look over to the left to crank the Peak knob will give you a clean peak, at first. Keep going and listen for that thick distortion, so iconic of acid house.
2. Oscillating Madness
Another special feature of the Korg Volca Bass is the 3 oscillators, and the fact you can record different melody lines for all 3 at the same time. I am very much a fan of this; it means you can have fat bass lines playing at the same time as squealing melodies.
I think this is unique of a bass synth, for this price. Instead of using them in a 2+1 form, to create the melody and bass, you can set them to 0, +3 and +7 to produce a chord!
Detune the oscillators to create an impressive unison chorus. Use these accordingly, to always vary your vibe on stage, or in the studio.
3. Simplicity is Everything
What makes this truly great for novice musicians, is the simple structure of the machine. Singular VCF, VCA, LFO and EG ensures the fabrication of personalized tunes, without giving you a headache trying to work out the difference between 100 different knobs.
Having the ability to customize sounds is paramount in a machine of this sort; it gives you a massive sense of achievement and great enjoyment.
4. Step Sequencer of the much-loved Electribe
We all love when stuff is easy, right? Easy is just what the sequencer is. Utilize the 16-step keys, whilst visually keeping track of the timing to compose with ease.
Also, add or remove parts on the fly! There is also a handy mute option to single out or silence parts. Obviously, you can use the 3 VCOs and panel keyboard during real-time recording.
For this machine, we have 8 internal saves available for your own composition. I’m not a fan of so little, but it’s hard to knock for the price.
5. Short Loop-like effect with Active Step!
Just as all the other components of the Volca Bass, the Active Step function couldn’t be easier. Active Step allows you to skip steps of your compositions, creating, as Korg put it, “unexpectedly irregular rhythms”. Too right!
If you feel like you’re looking to nail those crazy dynamic bass lines; this allows you do so, with a true sound, without even half as much effort.
6. Get sticky with the Slide Function
The slide function is a jumpy, sticky kind of sound. Perfect for EDM, and each step can have the function added, creating unique, acid-like bursts! This probably wouldn’t be considered a main feature but really cool, nonetheless.
7. What else?
- The multiple connector ports allow you to really get stuck in.
- A MIDI IN connector allows you to connect a keyboard, which is handy for controlling the level of the VCOs, since you can’t do that with solely the machine.
- Another thing that is equally as handy with a keyboard is the velocity implementation, which can be super fun to play around with.
- The Sync In/Out ports are designed for connecting up to other models, to create a full composition, with all parts.
- All Volcas are compatible, as well with the Monotribe. It doesn’t really come as a surprise that there’s an iPhone app, “SyncKontrol”, that you can use to wirelessly control some parameters like Tap Tempo.
We’ve talked briefly about the quality of the sound from the built-in speaker not being that great. One owner said that “trying it out in the store with that puny little speaker really makes it look and feel like a 90’s era LCD plastic video game toy”.
Most reviewers who use PAs, or external speakers, do nothing but praise the sound quality of the Volca Bass, though. So bottom line, if you’re going to use this unit, hook it up to and external speaker for quality analog sound.
We’ve also mentioned the power of the oscillators. For each VCO, you have the option of sawtooth or square. Slightly detune each VCO, bring in some LFO sweeps of the filter Cutoff, and feel the power behind the sound as it resonates in your ears… amazing.
One thing we did notice, is that, for whatever reason, the octave actually affects the maximum rate of the LFO, so maybe check both parameters before stressing about a faulty device. There is also no level control for the VCOs unless you’re connected via a keyboard, through the MIDI in port.
I’m not a fan of the fact that your dial movements won’t be saved in any of the 8 pattern save slots on the device; it’s purely notes that are saved. However, this is pretty manageable for live performers, and as I said earlier, the Volca Bass is, all in all, great for live musicians.
Fantastic for those on the move, quite like me, Korg have proven their worth to the busking bass-blasters. The sequencer allows you to edit your compositions in an improvisational way, instead of spending valuable time sitting and editing post-composition. Adding and removing steps honestly couldn’t be easier, which, again, resonates well with buskers, and live musicians.
It honestly is made for live music. Since you can’t save the fluctuations in knob movement in your patterns, the only time you’re going to get those sounds is live, in an organic way.
Tony Horgan from Stuff.tv shows you exactly what’s possible with the Korg Volca Bass.
What We Like
So, what’s to like? Well, pretty much the whole thing. I was surprised how flexible the oscillators are, especially how you can use them separately; I thought you’d have to pay a hundred, or more, extra to get that kind of function, and no one wants it to come to that!
I definitely can’t complain about the price of this thing, at $159.99, and it’s really hard to ask for more when it already has so much without even breaking the $200 mark.
I love moving around, and I love music. The Korg Volca range are almost a few inches from being pocket-sized, and so lightweight! You won’t be lugging this box around; you’ll hardly notice you’re carrying it.
What I Didn’t Like
This is the hard part… I’m not quite sure that 16 steps are enough to create those dynamic riffs, and when you realize you can’t add anymore, it’s just a bit disappointing.
I also think it could benefit from more than 8 pattern save slots so that you can remember your best parts. However, it is possible, with the right adapters, to record from the Volca Bass.
The rest of the negative points are rather minute; the fact the AC adapter isn’t included, the keypads being pretty small, and the speaker isn’t that great, which could be a pain if you are on a budget.
Is It Worth It?
For the price, yes, a thousand times yes; it’s a super machine that really gets the job done. It works great as a mono synth, and if plugged into a computer, the versatility of the box increases tenfold. Take it anywhere with you; you could even use it as a travel synth if you already have a large setup at home. It’s right up there with the best bass synths out there, for the same price.
With great user reviews, the Volca Bass is proving to be a loveable one. What’s more loveable, though, is the damage to your wallet, or the lack thereof as this little monster is more than fairly priced. This small guy is perfect for live players, especially, due to its smooth operation. With all it can do, could you ask for a better deal? There will always be cons; do the smaller things, like the key size, matter to you? We’ll show you what else Korg has brought out for this machine!
- BUILD QUALITY9
- SOUND QUALITY7.5
- EASE OF USE9