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Got a Volca Bass

Josh Paxton

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... and it's a fun little thing to mess around with at a great price point.


Unfortunately, a fun little thing to mess around with at a great price point is not what I was looking for when I ordered it. I was looking for something I could use to add some synth bass tones to my organ trio gigs (not so much for swing tunes, of course, but on the funkier side). While it seems like it would be the perfect choice for that, in practice it just didn't cut it.


The appeal of this machine, of course, is that it offers Genuine Analog Goodness. The downside is that it offers fairly little else. Obviously some sacrifices had to be made in order to offer it at this price, and while those will probably be workable for many situations, they weren't for mine. The unit has no EQ, no effects, pretty limited MIDI implementation, less envelope control than I'd like, no way to alter the balance between oscillators, an octave shift that affects only the built-in "keyboard" (not incoming MIDI data), a single filter and envelope for all three oscillators, and probably some other limitations that I didn't play with it long enough to discover because I had already decided it wasn't gonna work. Oh, and in an unusual twist, batteries are included -- but an AC power supply is not. The manual has many warnings about not using the wrong type of power supply, but it doesn't say what the right kind is or where to get one.


Apart from all that, I just didn't find it to be a lot of fun to play. So I'm sending it back and putting it toward another option that I had a ton of fun playing in a store last week: a Microstation. I had forgotten what a great little board that is. In fact I nearly cancelled my Volca order after I spent about 45 minutes playing the Microstation at the store, but I didn't, on the grounds that surely a genuine analog bass synth would be better than any rompler bass sounds. Turns out I put too much stock in the "genuine analog" component. I enjoyed a number of the Microstation's synth bass presets more than anything I was able to coax out of the Volca, and it has nearly all the features that the Volca lacks, and it has a ton of other killer sounds to boot. Once I figure out how to keep it perched on top of my Mojo, that will make for a killer "mostly organ but with a few other funky sounds" rig.


So the Volca isn't a bad little box; it just wasn't what I had hoped it would be. The thing I'm most bummed about is that it fit absolutely perfectly on top of the Mojo. It's like it was made to sit there, looking all cool with its clear flashing fiber-optic knobs. But alas, it was not to be.

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Interesting. I bought the Volca Keys for almost the same reason - I wanted to supplement my organ with a few analogue lead lines - and it fits absolutely perfectly on top of my Numa. At the time, I wondered whether the Bass would have been better, with its choice of waveforms, independent oscillators and larger knobs, but after using the keys, I'm quite happy. It doesn't do bass very well, and the controls are quite fiddly, but it's a bundle of fun, is immensely tweakable, and it stays in tune!


I've had a Mopho, a Plugiator, a Dr. Synth and a Slim Phatty sitting on the Numa. I was convinced the Moog would be the ideal mate for it, but mine would take over an hour to stabilize, and when the Phatty and Numa were talking MIDI they seemed to require an interpreter. Actually, the Plugiator is the most versatile of the bunch, and perhaps (surprisingly) the best sounding of them all - and will shred both your speakers and your ears at bass and treble ends, if you let it. However, knobbage is limited on most of those units, and I wanted something I could tweak live. Along came the Volca, and it was an almost perfect solution at an astounding price.


To be honest, I don't think the Volca sound is that special; the VR-09 can do as well or better with its VA engine, and the Volca Keys' delay effect, while nice to have, is noisy and only suitable for live use. But hey, for 150 bucks, it's pretty amazing. As for power, you can get the Volca units bundled with Korg's own power adapter for only $10 more.

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I have the 3 Volcas on preorder - just got the shipping announcement. The introduction of the Microbrute though has me changing my mind. I already have enough portable, battery powered music making machines. The Microbrute might be a better fit for what I like to do.


The Volca Bass has some interesting quirks like full pitch range (you can use it as a lead synth - it goes as high as any monosynth), you can sequence the VCOs independently, etc. But if I kept everything that had something interesting, I'd have no room to move in my little house.


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