Korg Krome Review – First Impressions

korg krome workstationSome quick background: I’ve been buying, selling, playing, and critiquing keyboards since about 1991. I have owned vintage synths, drum machines, workstations, samplers, stage pianos, etc by most all manufacturers. As a result I am familiar with myriad hardware interfaces and workflows, and my ear is highly developed in terms of sound/sample quality. While this review cannot be considered authoritative, it can certainly be considered trustworthy.

Starting with aesthetics. This is an excellent looking board. It’s also super light (although there are some tradeoffs, as we will see shortly). The Krome is jet black and there are no annoying red, blue, green or yellow lights competing for my attention, only subtle light purple lights that illuminate function and mode buttons. This is how it should be. The buttons seem to be firm and high quality. The knobs are not ribbed so they are unfortunately slippery to the touch, and they offer no unity/center click. Poor design decision. Geez it’s 2012 and how long has Korg been making keyboards? 30+ years? Give us ribbed knobs that click at unity. And while you’re at it, give us a fader for volume, I am not feeling the volume knob at all. Feels toyish.

Speaking of toyish, the power adapter is in-line, rather than built-in. Worse, they chose to use one of the smaller connectors, so the connector does not fit snugly into the back of the board. This is not professional and will look very cheesy on stage. Not sure what Korg was thinking. There is way too much play when the connector is plugged in, and it is prone to disconnection (despite the help of the plastic hook intended to prevent that from happening). This was an astoundingly poor design decision. If you’re going to make a “professional” board, then give us a professional power adapter. This is just inexcusable on any board over $500.

Speaking of poor design decisions, the transport buttons for the sequencer are on the far right of the board and strangely grouped with the BANK buttons. This is unorthodox. There is no relationship between sequencer buttons and bank buttons and they should not be grouped together. How long has Korg been making keyboards now? The sequencer buttons are also of the same rigid form as the mode buttons so it feels unorthodox to use them as sequencer buttons. [Check the Motif line of keyboards to see how transport buttons should be done]. It’s also bizarre to have these buttons on the far end of the board. If this is a workstation, shouldn’t the transport buttons be right in front of you?

The display is very nice and bright. Some virtual buttons are too small to turn with your finger, so you select them with your finger, then use physical buttons to change values. Unlike the Motif XS and XF, I haven’t noticed any screen lag. Screens change quickly and seem to keep up with your button presses. Amazing to have a touch screen at this price point. One small annoyance is the always-flashing tempo light. There should be an option to turn it off because it’s very distracting.

Finally, the key bed. In a nutshell, Korg’s keys generally suck. Yamaha is the leader, Roland is a distant second (with the exception of the RD700nx – which is IMO the best key bed ever), and Korg is even further behind Roland. The M50 (which the Krome replaces) had some of the worst keys ever. The Krome’s keys are thankfully slightly better. I like the feel of the action because they are not overly springy. Conversely, they don’t have much travel at all, and since they are so thin, when depressed at high velocity movement you can actually catch your finger between adjacent keys and it HURTS :

korg krome keyboard

Furthermore, due to the cheap way they are hinged, the keys are nearly impossible to play if you depress them at their base. So if you often press keys at the base during your playing, you will not be able to with this board. You have to play everything towards the middle or end of the keys , which is difficult when you are playing a lot of accidentals. Compare to the RD700 and Motif boards (and real pianos) where if you touch the base it is just as easily depressed as the end of the key. On top of everything else, the keys are LOUD when played. They click and rattle. Again, this is inexcusable on a professional board, $1,000 or $10,000.

To be clear, Korg chose another flimsy, cheap key bed for a “professional” keyboard, and just because it it slightly better than the M50 does not mean it is even good. It’s not that good. And it’s high time Korg stop cutting corners on their keybeds. Enough.

Sounds! Let’s start with pianos. The main piano is pretty good… compared to past crap Korg has put out. Bear in mind when Korg says the piano sample on the Krome is AMAZING, they are comparing it to the pure crap they have been putting in their boards since time memorial. The Krome grand piano is not amazing. The grand piano in the RD700nx (which I own) is amazing. The Motif XF piano is great. The Krome piano is average. if you’re seeking a full bodied grand piano sound with a resonant, “woody”, beautiful sound, you are not going to find it in a Korg keyboard.

And it’s not about price because there are VSTis that sound almost identical to grands for a mere $150. Korg could have EASILY partnered with such a company and eviscerated their competition, but no, instead we got slightly better than average piano samples that sound like samples of samples. Middle B,C,D, E keys are the worst. They have a thin, biting, harsh, bell-like sound that reminds me of toy pianos. Not even close to professional. Also, the pianos are not EQ’d for solo playing. I.e. they lack body and bass as though they were lifted as stubs from a mix. Perhaps this is why there are so many piano patches, all derived from the same samples, and tweaked to appear unique. Most of them I wouldn’t use. (Listen to these keys being played in this clip.

The electric pianos are WAY better. Many are outstanding. Although again, they fall short of great. Same can be said of the basses, although the acoustic basses are very good as are the electric basses. Synth basses are so-so. Synths in general are not that impressive. I think the Juno and new Yamaha (both at this price point) win this category. Brass and woodwinds are very good in some cases, and horrid in others (such as french horns and orchestral ensembles. Strings are decent. String ensembles are decent. Organs are above average. Acoustic guitars are OK, electric guitars are pretty lame. Pads and voices are average. Drum kits are average. Hip hop kits are good. Acoustic kits are decent, but fall well short of Motif or EZDrummer, etc etc. Kits lack body and presence. Reminds me of Juno drum patches. Definitely limited by lower grade effects used.

In all there is program mode, combi mode and sequencer mode. In program mode there is also a drum accompaniment track. So let’s say you’re playing a program patch, click DRUM TRACK and then a beat starts . Now click ARP and you can have an instrumental ARP going with the beat. This not groundbreaking. Motif has been doing this forever, and much better, but it’s nice to see at this price point. If you hit RECORD Krome loads a song with all the right sound and you can emulate what you were doing in program mode. Some of the beats are excellent. The drum track is actually an ARP (Korg stole a page out of the Motif book). So you can assign a different beat to each arp and get some awesome drum beats. Noteworthy is the Krome’s swing and quantization. They are excellent. Unlike the Motif and Fantom, the swing bounces like an MPC. Not sure how Korg did this but it sounds awesome.

The sequencer is not as easy to use as some I have seen, esp Motif, but it is decent and can get the job done. I think you can make some pretty nice stuff with it. Unfortunately there is no pattern mode, so you have to get clever with track looping and so forth, but it’s workable if you have a lot of time on your hands. Korg needs to have a look at a program called Ableton Live to see how sequencing has evolved. They are way behind the curve.. again. Korg is not a sequencer company.  Skill level to use this board is about intermediate. Beginners will have a tough time learning the sequencer without a great book … like the one I am writing and will be avail here on kromecity.com soon!

There is a lot more to cover of course like sound editing and so forth but overall it’s like most other workstations, just not as in depth. The effects are vast in number and style, but they are not high quality. I give them average rating at best. The saying “you get what you pay for” is still true with the Krome. The Krome is a nice little machine for dance, pop, rap, etc. It will do the job, but you won’t get BIG quality sound out of it like you will a Motif XS or XF. I wouldn’t recommend it for serious acoustic or concert work. The best use I can see for it is idea pad, MIDI controller, meat and potatoes sounds to complement some VSTi synths. It would also work well on stage if the majority of your sounds were EPs, organs, etc. I wouldn’t use for pianos, pads, strings, or woodwinds. I’d also be very careful with it for the plastic casing is cheap and prone to breakage and the AC adapter is just dying to disconnect… as I’m sure you are after reading this big rambling mess of a review. Hope it helped :)

 

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