In their infancy synthesizers were experimental and quite expensive pieces of gear. However, a lot has changed since then. Over the years, synths have become increasingly more popular and affordable. Especially in recent years, the number of affordable hardware synths has grown immensely.
A potential poster child for this movement could easily be Korg’s Volca line of synths. These units are exceedingly small both in size and price. They have found a home in plenty of musicians’ rigs and are beloved for their simplicity and accessibility. Below I am going to go over the majority of the Volca units available.
At its core the Volca Drum is a 16-step drum machine with 6 parts to choose from. Every one of the 6 parts has 2 individual layers that each can choose from 3 different oscillators. You can also add several types of modulation and choose from 3 EGs (envelope generators). Furthermore, you can send any of your drum parts through the waveguide resonator. This resonator is a little hard to describe, but it basically lets you get some really original delay/pitch timbres into your kit.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, the idea with this drum machine is to craft your own unique drum kit. This unit is perfect for those wanting to dive into electronic rhythm creation.
This Volca is a 16-step drum machine containing 10 parts to create beats with. Sound familiar? Yes, this is another drum machine in the Volca line, however it’s not the same as the Drum. The Volca Beats has several things that separate it from the previously mentioned drum machine. First off, the whole idea behind the two differ greatly. While the Drum is much more of a synthesizer, in that you really create the sounds, the Beats is more pre-sampled. In fact, this unit is modeled closely to the classic Roland TR-808 which is one of the most iconic drum machines ever made.
The Volca Beats is not nearly as editable as the Drum, but it does come with great sounding samples. This is a great option for anyone wanting an affordable hardware version of an 808 style unit.
FM Synthesis has quite the reputation. Nearly everyone knows of the legendary Yamaha DX7 that dominated much of the 80s synth sounds. This unit is Korg’s take on that vintage synth compressed into the Volca format. All of those classic bell-like tones and pads are accessible by programming the Volca FM. In fact, you can even import original patch data from the original DX7. Also, just like all true FM synthesizers, the deep editing on the Volca is rather complex. However, if you are not one who likes to spend a lot of time programming, Korg has you covered. For those wanting to keep things simple, Korg has made this Volca simple to edit on a surface level. With this synth, you can start enjoying the sounds of FM, without the hassle.
The Nubass Volca is a bass mono synth that has some original sound and design elements. The main feature of this unit is right there in the name. This one is based around the tube oscillator that’s at its core. What makes this osilator special is that it’s a part of Korg’s proprietary technology Nutube. So, how does Nutube sound? It’s actually pretty dang close to a more traditional vacuum tube. Also, this is not the first we’ve seen this technology. The Nutube has already been used in several guitar amps and pedals, both of which were well received.
In addition to housing this intriguing tube technology the Volca Nubass is a very well-rounded bass synth. The motion sequencing combines with standard step sequencing to make for all kinds of interesting patches. Also, the rich tube distortion in conjunction with the filter yields warm and wide quality of sound. Overall, this is an awesome little bass synth.
One of the best ways to break into the world of modular synthesis is with this Volca. This synth is heavily influenced by west coast modular by employing things like wave folding and functions (instead of things like filters and envelopes). You also have some FM style inclusions to the source portion of the patch areas. Just like with other forms of modular synthesis, there are so many different combinations and sounds you can get out of this thing. And even though this is easy to learn compared to most other forms of modular, it will still take some time to understand. Luckily there is nothing wrong with learning by just trying things and seeing what happens.
This semi-modular unit is easy to jump right into sound creation. If you want to get into modular synthesis but don’t have the time or the funds, this is a great unit to pick up.
The last Volca we will cover in this article is the Sample. This unit is perhaps the simplest to describe in the range… it’s a sampler. Yep, that’s pretty much it, if you’ve ever used a sampler before (software or hardware) the functionality of this one should be familiar. It does have some fairly original features like reverse, swing, and built-in reverb, but at its core this is nothing too new. However, don’t be turned off by the fact that this is a rather simple and traditional sample box. For the price, portability and ability to link up with other Volcas, this is going to work wonders for some people out there.
The Volca Sample comes with 100 preloaded samples, but of course you can upload your own as well. Korg has some included software that you would need to download to do this, but once your up and running transferring samples is pretty easy.
That covers the majority of the Volcas currently offered by Korg. As you can probably tell, there is likely something for everyone in this range. Also, it is worth noting that some of the more fun and musical experiences from Volcas will come when using them together. All the Volca units can sync and play nicely with one another. Korg even has a Volca mixer that aids in this process. But regardless of whether you are going to stick with a single unit, or build out a rig, these are music making tools. If there’s one thing you should take away from this it’s that Volcas, while fun, are not just toys.