Hands-On Review:Korg TR-61 Workstation

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Bringing big-time creative power to the home studio

By Ben Wilcox


Bringing big-time creative power to the home studio

Korg has been at the forefront of sound synthesis for decades, developing the cutting-edge sounds, processors, instruments, and other tools used for high-level music production. It was Korg that perfected the concept of the keyboard-based music workstation in the first place, and its TRITON workstations have set the standard for professional music production worldwide. The TRITON sound so permeates contemporary music that it would be hard to overstate its influence.


Now Korg has drawn upon its vast resources to create a fresh, new workstation for the little guys—the TR-61 Workstation. Both powerful and affordable, it puts the creative power of Korg's most advanced sounds and synthesis within reach of the semipro musicians and part-time producers working in home studios across the land. We should be hearing from them soon.


A TRITON in black


The TR-61 draws heavily on the TRITON workstations and to a great extent is an updated Le. There's a TRITON engine under the TR hood, so it has the magic that Korg calls "Hyper Integrated synthesis" and that we call the TRITON sound. Its control layout comes from the TRITON Le. It has the TRITON Le's comprehensive effects. It has the spacious 16-track sequencer. Most importantly, it has the superb quality of sound that has made the TRITON such a resounding success.



The TR improvements are subtle on paper, but very significant when experienced. USB MIDI connection and a SD (Secure Digital) slot have been added, so it's up-to-date with computer connectivity and ample, affordable storage. But what really makes the TR new and now is its huge load of great sounds—Korg classics, best picks from the TRITON, and lots of fresh new stuff from Korg's sound designers, including extreme sounds for current dance and techno-groove production—a full 64MB worth of PCM data in all, twice the sonic power of the original TRITON and the Le models. Especially notable is the TR's stereo, velocity-switched acoustic grand. It was derived from the same sampling sessions as the uber-Oasys. The electric pianos, nylon guitars, and woodwinds have also been upgraded to killer expressive versions.


With around 500 multisamples, almost that many programs, and over 500 drum and percussion sounds, the TR-61 gives you riches to work with. All can be extensively edited and stored, expanding your sound options. And those who want even more can add the optional EXB-SMPL upgrade board. This turns the TR-61 into a 48kHz, 16-bit mono stereo sampler with practically infinite sound possibilities.


From studio to stage


Besides being an immensely powerful creative tool capable of professional-quality production, the TR-61 can also be a monster stage board. It's quite portable and, once you have your sounds tweaked and organized and sequences set up, the TR is fast enough on its feet to perform live. Its many realtime controls make it expressive and dynamic.


The TR-61's arpeggiator adds yet another dimension to performances. Actually there are two separate arpeggiators making arpeggio harmonies or counterpoints possible. You can choose from pre-made patterns, program your own, tweak them in all kinds of ways, and play them back in a choice of five pattern modes (up only, up and down, random, etc.). It only takes a finger to play an arpeggio on the TR—no full chords required, and the RPPR (Realtime Pattern Play Record) function lets you record and playback short loops on the fly, arranging them across a range of keys for instant access.


Studio onboard


The sequencer on the TR-61 is from the TRITON and is central to its use as a workstation. You can sequence in real-time or step-entry modes, and with 16 tracks and plenty of room, it lets you create complex compositions and hone them to detailed perfection. It can also be used in a fast and simple way for capturing ideas at moments of inspiration. By using its built-in song templates and pre-made rhythm tracks, you can use the sequencer to quickly flesh out song ideas.


The TR Workstation gives you all the sounds, sequencing power, and editing capability you need to create finished compositions and polish them to detailed perfection. It can also be used as a creative speed-tool for capturing ideas while the fire burns. It can be a standalone production studio, serve as the controller in computer setups, and be your stage axe when you have a gig. But no matter how you use it, the TR-61 will make your music sound incredible without putting a hurt on your wallet.





Features & Specs:



  • Acclaimed TRITON sound engine
  • Fresh samples include pianos, guitars, and more
  • Grand piano taken from the Oasys sampling sessions
  • 470 multisampled waveforms plus 518 drum samples
  • 62 voices
  • 128 General MIDI programs plus 9 drum kits
  • 512 program sounds (all programmable) with many fresh programs and combinations
  • Compatibility with many TRITON and Karma sound products
  • Potent sound-shaping tools
  • Large, intuitive interface
  • Realtime controls include assignable switches, joy sticks, and knobs
  • Superb effects section with 89 effects
  • 16-track, 200-song, 200,000-note sequencer
  • Song templates and rhythm tracks
  • Dual arpeggiators with 5 modes, 205 patterns, editing, and polyphony. On-the-fly loop creation
  • USB ports for connection to and from computers
  • RPPR Realtime Pattern Play/Recording
  • Cue list for chains of sequences
  • Optional sampling/SCSI upgrade (16MB expandable to 64MB)