Korg Monotron

Korg Monotron Image

Korg Monotron Classic

The Monotron, released in 2010, is Korg's first foray into the world of analog synthesis in nearly thirty years. Marketed as the "Go-Anywhere Analog," the Monotron is roughly the size and shape of a cassette tape (for those of you who know what that is). At its core, the Monotron is a (very) basic, but fun, battery powered monophonic analog synthesizer. It has one voltage-controlled oscillator that produces a saw waveform, one voltage-controlled filter, and one LFO.

Despite its apparent lack of sophistication, it is arguably quite musical. The oscillator is controlled by a small one-octave ribbon keyboard that spans a whopping 3.25 inches across the bottom of the unit. Since playing melody lines on a caterpillar-sized ribbon controller is haphazard at best, the Monotron is best suited for external audio processing and sci-fi spaceship sounds. However, the ribbon scale is adjustable, and the lowest setting scales the oscillator to track the "keyboard" printed on the ribbon. This, along with a little practice, should allow a player to perform simple melodies on the instrument. The LFO, which, like the VCO, produces a saw waveform that can be routed to modulate oscillator pitch or filter cutoff. The speed of the LFO is indicated by a blinking LED inside the rate knob.

Now, on to what may be the biggest selling point on the synth: the filter. Where to start? An entire book could be written on the MS-10/MS-20 filter, and it is difficult not to get long-winded about it. This legendary filter, now reincarnated in the Monotron, is back with its signature bite. Capable of self-oscillation, the celebrated 12 dB/oct lowpass filter is remarkably versatile and can produce a wide range of tonal variation. When paired with the aforementioned LFO, it is sure to provide endless hours of exploration and fun (often at the expense of others). "Thick" is the best term that can be used in describing its character: rich with harmonics, it is full of squeaks, gargles and howls just waiting to be unleashed through a quick jerk of the peak (resonance) knob and various tampering with the cutoff knob. An eighth-inch Aux input jack lets you apply the filter to any audio source too. The most notable limitations of the Monotron are the lack of any kind of VCA envelope generator (no ADSR here), memory and MIDI/USB options.

Korg Monotron Image

Korg Monotron Duo

The Classic Monotron has been followed up by three siblings: the Monotron Duo, which adds a second VCO and X-MOD capabilities to the mix; the Monotron Delay, which, in addition to its analog oscillator, filter, and LFO, adds a (digital) "Space Delay"; and the Monotribe, which is essentially an expanded Monotron with a VCO capable of producing not just a saw wave, but also square and triangle waves. It also includes a 16-step sequencer and analog drum machine.

Korg Monotron Image

Korg Monotron Delay

The Monotron's simplicity, price (around $50), and size make it ideal for anyone who wishes to learn the basic concepts of analog synthesis without blowing even a modest budget. Sure, the Monotron may look like a toy to some. But where else can you get a Korg MS-20 analog filter, and then some, for around $50? It makes a perfect pocket synth/analog effect unit. Being battery powered and equipped with a built-in speaker, you can take it anywhere for processing audio, or just having fun creating analog synth sounds. In fact, they are inexpensive enough that it could be worth getting a couple, allowing for some polyphonic synth action or processing. The little Monotron series are really a useful addition to any musicians tool box...or pocket.

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22 Visitor comments
April 13, 2013 @ 8:34 am
I have two original monotrons, which i have coupled together by ripping off the ribbon of one of them and then put it on the other ones ribbon. Might seem stupid, but the fact is that now i have two monotrons that i can play from one ribbon :D!

A cool trick you can do with the monotron is to put the pitchmod/cutoffmod/standby switch between the pitch mod position and the cutoff mod position. If you manage to do that right, the lfo is modulating both!
April 3, 2013 @ 11:04 am
I have the delay Monotron it's a fun little effect synth. The sounds you get out of with just two oscillators is just crazy. You can make some crazy video game sounds, and I'm hoping to get the PAC-Man sound you hear when your attacked by the ghosts.
April 2, 2013 @ 2:08 am
I got the 1st version of tron seires. The filter is possitively inspiring whilst the built quality is cheap especially the audio input which tends to break easily and its hard to fix.
April 1, 2013 @ 9:32 pm
I got the Duo, it can do very noisy and interesting sounds, tried the other 2 and found them less playable than the Duo, I still don't get how to hack it but I wouldn't mind to have midi or gate.
I think it's nice for VSE to add new gear but I've been asking the addition of the mc808 and the n364 cause I can't find decent info on the web and haven't got response. Oh well... Maybe it can change the format to "New Gear Explorer" and have a vintage zone somewhere around. 😃
April 1, 2013 @ 4:15 pm
Excellent product with available schematics, portability and hackability make this one of my favorite synths. The Duo with its quantized keyboard is performance-ready (I use it in a live setting), and the original Monotron with the addition of the handy MIDI-IF kit from Beatnik.jp makes it more useful when you add a MIDI keyboard. The possibilities are endless with this thing, and the constraints inspire musical & DIY creativity. It was the toy I wished I had when I was a child. But it's not a toy, it's a real synth. Never too late to have a happy adulthood. I don't leave home without it.
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Rated 3.63 (201 Votes)

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  • The link above will take you to an eBay search for this synth to see active listings. If you don't find it there, try looking in our forum marketplace or post a wanted classified.
  • Specifications
  • Polyphony - Monophonic
  • Multitimbral - No
  • Oscillators - 1 VCO (Duo offers 2 VCOs with individual tunings and Cross-Modulation)
  • Waveforms - Saw (Duo adds triangle and square)
  • LFO - 1 LFO with saw, can be applied to the Pitch (VCO) or Filter (VCF). Monotron Delay adds selectable waveshapes.
  • Filter - 1 VCF 12 dB/oct Lowpass with Cutoff and Peak Control (taken from the MS-10 & MS-20)
  • Envelope - 1 VCA with gate trigger, no envelope generator
  • Effects - Monotron Delay: Delay with Time and Feedback controls
  • Sequencer - None
  • Arpeggiator - None
  • Keyboard - Ribbon controller keyboard
  • Memory - None
  • Control - None
  • Date Produced -
    Monotron Classic: 2010
    Monotron Duo: 2011
    Monotron Delay: 2011

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