KORG KRONOS Workstation Keyboard: The Gear Gods Review

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The Korg Kronos.

Ever since its introduction in 2011, the keyboard workstation has never been the same. In fact, ever since the Kronos hit the market, there hasn’t been any other keyboard on the market to compete with it, and it’s been 4 years and counting! So what makes this keyboard so special and different from the rest of the current crowd? And why is it significant compared to what has come before? Well, you are about to find out!

First of all, the Kronos is a keyboard music workstation – meaning, it can be used as a 1 stop shop for pretty much all your keyboard musical needs. Other than having an already vast library of sounds to choose from, said library can be expanded with an currently sizable collection of expansion libraries. It has an onboard sequencer that can do pretty much what ever you want it to, and last but not least, it also has onboard audio recording. But the Kronos goes much deeper then that – it’s how all these aspects work together that makes it really special.

First of all, let’s start with whats new in this iteration of the Kronos. I should note that these new features are part of the Kronos System Version 3.0.2 update. This update is available for all original Kronos and Kronos X owners for free. You can download from http://i.korg.com/support.

The update comes with nearly all of the features of the new Kronos, except for the updated sounds and sample libraries. These updated sounds and libraries, including the EXs17 Berlin D Piano, EXs18 Korg EXs Collections, and new KRS07 Programs and Combinations, can be bought by original Kronos and Kronos X owners at https://shop.korg.com/kronosSoundLibraries.

The first new feature is actually an update to the piano sound engine, called SGX-2. It now includes modeled String Resonance for all pianos available for the Kronos, including the new Berlin D Piano which is included in the new Kronos.

The Kronos now also allows you to use a touch-drag gesture input to use on things like sliders and knobs. It also lets you create and delete connections in the MOD-7 and MS-20EX sound engines, making using those engines even easier.

Set List mode has had some improvements made to it as well. You can assign a variety of colors to each slot. A new quality of life feature added is the ability to transpose slots individually. This is a particularly useful feature for me because I play in a lot of different bands, and they tune to a variety of different tunings. Instead of having to make a new program or combination just to have a transposed sound, now I can just set it in the only place were it actually matters – Set List mode.

A new effects category, “Vintage”, has been added to the already bustling collection of effects that includes 12 effects based on the CX-3 and EP-1.

You can now edit programs from within a combination or song while retaining the ability to hear all the other sounds you currently have active. This is useful for when you are trying to work out the balance between certain sounds to be just right.

Another great quality of life feature added is a “Find” function – it makes searching for a particular sound you have in mind as quick as it can be.

Meters were also added in this update, allowing you to now see the audio levels in programs, combinations, songs, insert effects and the main output, making it much easier to see what is to loud and where.

The ability to add a USB alphanumeric keyboard has also been added, allowing you to type instead of using the touch screen if that is your preferred method of input.

Load required samples is also in this update, meaning, if you are faced with a message saying “Samples Not Loaded” you can now use the Load Required Samples command to load all the required samples with push of one button.

That pretty much wraps up all the new features, quite a lot I know – but we’re not done yet! Lets talk build quality.

In the 4 years that the Kronos has been out it never had any new iteration physically until now. The new Kronos is now black with wood end panel caps (instead of the usual plastic), as well as gold plated I/O, giving it more premium look and feel. Honestly, at first I wasn’t sure that I liked the wood panels, but after sending some time, it grew on me. It’s also a much more reliable material for end caps. Ask any keyboard tech or repair shop what is the number thing that breaks on all keyboards – they are likely to tell you the plastic end caps. So having wood end caps pretty much solves that problem entirely. That being said, this does make the keyboard slightly bigger and slightly heavier then the previous versions but those differences are small enough that I don’t think it really matters. I’m reviewing the 61-key version and I personally think the keyboard on the Kronos is overall the best synth-action, semi-weighted type keybed I have played. The only other keybed I have liked this much are the ones Korg and Yamaha used to use on the Triton and DX7 respectively.

What about sounds? What cool rock and metal keyboard sounds can you expect to get out of this thing? Well….pretty much any that you can think of and have the skill to create. In my time with the keyboard, I created a bunch of my favorite sounds that I have come across by listening to certain bands over the years. Sounds from Jordan Rudess, Jens Johansson, Tuomas Holopainen, Janne Wirman, Derek Sherinian, etc. And I do demo some of these in the video for you to get a good idea of just how close you can get to some of these famous sounds in most cases using nothing but the Kronos. That being said, if you aren’t one for sound design, there are plenty of awesome presets in the Kronos that sound great in any context that you use them. I should mention that pretty much my favorite sample based piano to date is the German Grand on the Kronos. I don’t know where Korg found the piano that they used to sample this sound, but it really is something special. I feel like the Strings also deserve special mention, they too are some of my favorite and just sound amazing. Of course if you have your own samples you would like to use, the Kronos makes it pretty quick and easy to bring in and use them.

What if you wanna use this thing live? What cool tricks does it have up its sleeves? Well I mentioned the update to Set List mode and its cool transpose feature but what makes it so special for live use? Well you can assign any program, combination or song to slots in set list mode, in any order you want. Meaning you can have all the sounds you will be using in a live show, in the order you will need them and can even assign a foot pedal to cycle through them so you can always have your hands busy keeping the action going. And speaking of keeping the action going, one of my very favorite features of the Kronos is its ability to smoothly transition from one program or combination to the next with out any cut in the sound or effects. You can even have the last note from a previous program still be sustained after having switch to the next, without it ever cutting out. It’s a feature I always wanted, and I finally got it!

Last but not least, one of the most important aspects of this keyboard is that the support it still receives from Korg is unprecedented. Never before has a keyboard maker updated a product in such significant ways, let alone doing it for free! While Kronos is the upper range of price for keyboards, it’s an easy value proposition to sell with what you get out of the box. But add in the fact that Korg is constantly working on improving the Kronos through software updates years after release – now that’s taking it to a whole new level. I had the pleasure of talking to Jack Hotop from Korg for a few hours and if there was one thing I took away from my conversation with him, it’s that these are people who are actually musicians that are designing these things. It’s not just a bunch of marketing guys and engineers making decisions based on research data that leads to optimal profit but not necessarily what musicians actually want. With the Kronos, Korg did something even better than giving keyboardists what they wanted. They gave them something they didn’t even know they wanted, and thats something no marketing research will ever be able to show. If you want the best keyboard money can buy, I’m not sure I could recommend anything other then the Kronos.

Written by

Alex Nasla is a keyboardist, producer and mixing engineer. He keeps busy making audio plugins for Rosen Digital, is audio director at multimedia company Toxic Creativity and is involved in 3 different musical endeavors.