Earlier this year, synthesizer giant Korg unveiled one of the most exciting synthesizers in recent years. It was a small and boxy monophonic synth, that packed a serious punch. Named the Monologue, it was based on Korg's successful Minilogue polyphonic synth, but with more bite and advanced tuning capabilities. This, combined with an extremely accessible price point made it a real winner. As if that wasn't enough to be excited about, the Monologue was built in collaboration with none other than synth maniac Richard D. James, aka Aphex Twin. Checkmate. After spending quite some time with it, these are our thoughts on the mighty desktop synth.
NAMM is a producer's wet dream. It's like Toys R Us (RIP) for adults. All of the latest and greatest is presented, and it can be quite overwhelming. None of this is news, but with this in my mind, the Monologue was easily the one thing I was most excited about getting my hands on. So much power in such a small footprint, and build with input from Aphex Twin? How could you not cause a ruckus? When my demo unit finally arrived, I tore into that box like that kid and the Charizard card. Upon plugging it in and hearing that first patch, it was instant love. I never really know where to begin when first playing with a new synth, so I usually scroll through the presets, if they have any, to get a feel for what the designers had in mind. Each preset was better than the last, and anytime < > surrounded a patch name, I felt like I was literally Aphex Twin. The advanced sequencing capabilities are what really showcases the insanity that is Richard's brain, and the level of modulation and commotion coming from this little black thing sitting on my desk was something I've never heard before.
So what is it? The Korg Monologue is a 25 key, single-voice monophonic synthesizer, in a sleek and easy to understand layout. It's based on Korg's best-selling Minilogue synth, but with an updated modulation and filter section, as well as a new drive and expanded sequencer section. One thing that really separates the Monologue from its competition is the fact that each key can be micro-tuned, a key player in Aphex Twin's signature sound. All this at an incredible price nearly puts the Monologue in its own league.
How does it work? As I said, the layout is extremely straightforward and is perfect for both beginners and advanced synth users. From left to right, everything is laid out in a way that helps you understand signal flow, starting with the master volume knob, then into the VCOs, each with their own selectable waveform switches and shape knobs, into a mixer section which allows you to adjust the gain of each VCO, then into the filter section, and then ending in the LFO. There is a menu that offers a bit of diving and under-the-hood controls, but none of it necessary to get you going with your sound design. I'm a bit torn when it comes to menus, as I appreciate the ability for advanced tweaking, but I also love not needing to think about any of that. This is one of the things I love about the Arturia Mini and Microbrute, which are definitely the Monologue's competition.
How does it sound? As stated, this is a dual VCO, single voice analog mono synth. If that doesn't quite make sense to you, the best way to describe it would be thick, rich, and warm, like nice Joe's Diner Mac n Cheese from Trader Joe's. While this sounds lovely, and it is, don't be fooled for one second. With a few quick knob turns, the Monologue can go from light and fluffy to industrial rave real quick. Remember, Aphex Twin made some of the patches, and that alone should tell you that this thing can become the soundtrack to a horror movie. If that wasn't enough, the drive knob takes things even further into the nether region and can take your acid bassline to peak time Tresor dungeon levels. In fact, below are some examples of just how naughty this little beast can be.
So what do I think about it? If I haven't been clear thus far, the Korg Monologue is a must. The sign of a great piece of gear is when you forget that it's there and it just becomes an integral part of your production process. Like a goto VST or EQ plugin that you use on every track. It's easy to become infatuated with a new purchase, use it a bit, opt for using something in the box, and turning your once pride and joy into a dust collecting art piece. But not the Monologue! The ease of use right out of the box, mixed with the incredibly powerful sound really makes this something you want to use over and over again. I've actually got a new EP I'm working on, and each track features multiple instances of the Monologue, no joke. I'll be the first to admit that I can be lazy and choose the easy in the box answer, but like I said, you WANT to use the Monologue as much as you can. That's when you know you've got yourself a winner.
So final thoughts? The ease of use, combined with the raw power of analog and advanced modulation in a sleek, desktop-sized package is enticing enough. Add to that the fact that one of the greatest synth pioneers ever helped create it, and most importantly, will cost you less than $400, and you have yourself a must-buy synthesizer. Oh, and it comes in 5 colors, but black is the only one that really matters...
Pros: Powerful sound, extremely detailed yet easy to use, and the perfect price
Cons: Mono only, which isn't really a con seeing as you already know that going into it, could do with another square wave
Final Score: 10/10