Hands-On Review:Pro-quality Digital Workstations for the Studio and Stage

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You probably can't get Jimmy Bones from Kid Rock's band, Natasha Shneider of Chris Cornell's band, and Backstreet Boys keyboardist Tommy Smith to agree on much, but they all agree that a Korg Triton ( Triton, Triton Pro, and Triton ProX) is their digital workstation of choice.


Korg Triton SeriesWhat's a digital workstation, you say? Glad you asked. Korg's definition involves a combination of keyboard; TouchView screen; 62-voice polyphonic synth; sampler; arpeggiator; stereo effects processor; and sequencer, all in an expandable, upgradable design.


That's a lot of machine!
Glad you noticed. To help get your head around the capabilities of the Triton series, let's describe these three workstations in terms of three categories of product performance: creating sound, playing sound, and composing with sound.


Creating Sound
You probably already know that Korg has a long-standing reputation as a manufacturer of premiere synthesizers and the Triton series is no exception. Picking up where the Trinity series left off, Korg has fashioned a new 48kHz synthesis system to improve upon CD-quality sound. They call it HI (for "Hyper-Integrated") and have stocked the Tritons with 32 Mbytes of HI samples - 425 multisamples and 413 drum samples in all! These samples have been crafted into 768 Programs, covering the gamut from realistic acoustic and electronic keyboard sounds to guitars, basses, strings, brass, woodwinds, drums, and both vintage analog and unusual "out there" synth sounds. 256 of these Programs and nine drum kits meet the criteria of the newly-established General MIDI Level 2 specifications.



Click to EnlargeWith its onboard sampler, the Tritons also let you create your own sounds from scratch. 16MB of sampling memory-expandable to 64MB-means you can create samples up to nearly three minutes in length right out of the box. One-shot samples, phrase samples, any sample can be edited, looped, converted to lo-fi, even time-sliced to cut it up into smaller elements for use at any tempo. You'll find the sampler-or indeed, any component of a Triton-unbelievably easy to use thanks to the workstation's large, 320 x 240 pixel graphic touchscreen. And you'll be sure to appreciate adding the optional SCSI interface, which allows you to hook up external hard disk and removable drives for extended storage and backup.


The Tritons also include built-in, full-featured, stereo effects processors. Further tonal shaping of your sounds is possible with five insertion effects, two master effects, and a three-band EQ. In addition to what you might expect on board these professional-quality machines-reverb, vibrato, rotary speaker, chorus, flanger, etc.-the Tritons also include hard-to-find effects such as amp simulation, ring modulator, Doppler Effect, auto reverse, vocoder, and distortion?102 effects in all! Plug a microphone into one of the rear-panel inputs, and you can use the Triton as a standalone effects processor for vocals, guitar, mixdown, what have you!


If that's not enough sound-shaping power for you, you will want to make use of the Triton's two onboard expansion slots and one or more of the optional 16MB PCM expansion boards loaded with additional firepower. Some will go for the "Pianos/Classic Keyboards" board or the "Studio Essentials." Others will find "Future Loop Construction", "Dance Extreme" or the new "Vintage Archives" expansion boards to their tastes and needs. And if your tastes run to the latest cutting-edge DSP synthesis sounds like virtual analog and physical modeling then you'll appreciate adding the EXB-MOSS board, a 6-voice Z1 engine loaded with 13 types of synthesis and adding 128 new sounds.



Click to EnlargePlaying Sounds

Let's assume you've become familiar with the library, created a juicy sample or two of your own from scratch, fooled around with your favorite expansion board. It's time to take off your engineer's cap and put on your keyboardists' hat.




If you decide on a Triton, you'll have synth action keys at your disposal. The Triton Pro expands to 76 keys, and the ProX goes the full 88 and adds weighted action. Each model comes with a ribbon controller, two panel switches, a 4-axis joystick, plus four knobs to control anything from filter cutoff, envelope and LFO rates to the powerful effects we've already mentioned. If your hands get too busy, the Triton's back panel has inputs for a sustain pedal and two other assignable pedals.


And let's not forget the Triton's powerful, dual polyphonic arpeggiators, first featured on the legendary Z1. Choose from one of 180 provided arpeggio patterns or customize your own using up to four octaves and 48 steps per arpeggio. Switch patterns with a velocity change, move from staccato to legato, set the degree of swing, split the keyboard and assign different arpeggios to different zones, or use the Fixed Note mode to create awesome drum patterns. And don't forget to check out the genre-specific arpeggios for instant jungle, bossa nova, trance, disco, and hard rock moods.


To Your Marks - Get Set - Compose
The final major component of the Triton is its sequencer. And this sequencer is BIG: with 16 tracks, up to 200 Songs, and a capacity of over 200,000 notes, you won't have to worry about running out of space on a Triton. Whether you prefer to work in real time or step by step, with or without creative assistance, this sequencer will make songwriting more fun and less of a chore.



Click to EnlargeEveryone writes in different ways. Sometimes you just want to play from beginning to end, other times you create little "kernels" of inspiration and want to build up your piece of music from these smaller elements. No problem, Korg has you covered! The Tritons

offer users a multiplicity of methods to create, shuffle, and re-shuffle verses, choruses, hooks, bridges, intros, and outros until completely satisfied. Play and record parts live, in step-time, overdub or punch in/out on the same track, use the dual arpeggiators? not only is this workstation big, it is DEEP.




Getting Your Groove Going
Some people like to start writing with a melodic idea and others are stuck until they find an inspiring rhythm. When writer's block strikes, 150 preset drum patterns get you grooving down the road to a new song. Juices already flowing? Great! Sequence a number of percussion phrases, then use RPPR (Real-time Pattern Play/Record) to assign each phrase to a specific key on the keyboard and trigger the groove of your new verse or a chorus with the touch of a key. Trying out different arrangements couldn't be easier. If you'd like, you can even play other instruments in real time as you trigger your sequenced rhythm phrases on the fly.



Click to EnlargeLooping

Why sequence a full 16-bar drum pattern when it's so much quicker and easier to loop a four-bar phrase four times? The Triton

can do so with ease. And each of the sequencer's 16 tracks can loop independently, so once you get those drums going, it's simply a matter of moving to a different track to lay down a bass loop of equal, half- or double-length. Move to a third and punch in some brass accents, guitar strums, or organ fills, etc. Before you know it, you've got it going on!




Song Templates
For those days when you could use a creative nudge, the Triton comes with 16 preset song templates in a variety of musical styles. Eight tracks of pre-assigned instruments, effects, routing, mix, and pan settings are waiting for you to add eight more tracks of your original material. The 150 preset drum rhythms we mentioned earlier are all matched to these templates so you're ready to "roll tape" in the genre you please. And you can create and store 16 more song templates, so you can have access to your favorite ensemble of players whenever you need them.


Cue List
Like RPPR, the Triton's Cue List feature gives you the power to cut and splice all of your ideas to your heart's content. Whether you've used looping, RPPR, song templates or creating your own ideas from scratch, the Cue List function allows you to seamlessly link up to 99 individual song components-rhythms, melodies, harmonies, one-shot samples, etc.-to create a single "cue list" that is then fixed as a final composition with the "Convert to Song" function.


What You See IS What You Get
Nothing is worse than trying to sequence on a display the size of a postage stamp. The Triton's oversized LCD touchscreen gives you a wide-angle view of the material you're laying down. As fast, intuitive, and easy to read as a palmtop personal assistant, the touchscreen interface makes it incredibly easy to enter and view the data and parameters that best express your musical ideas. Simply use your finger to touch what you want to edit/select and go for it


Are You Still With Me?
Whew! Well, that's about it. I should also mention, however, that the Triton's two LFOs and many of it's effects can sync to MIDI clock (as can the arpeggiators), the ability to store and load data to and from an external hard drive (optional SCSI interface board required), stereo inputs, six outputs, MIDI in/out/through, floppy drive, a "To Host" jack for connection to a personal computer without a MIDI connection, and a stereo headphone jack. And don't forget its TouchView screen, sampler, sequencer, arpeggiator, stereo effects processor, and your choice of keyboard - all in an expandable, upgradeable design.


Features & Specs:



  • Hyper Integrated synthesis system
  • 32Mb of 48 kHz PCM samples (expandable to 64)
  • 62 voices
  • 768 Programs/512 Combinations
  • Stereo/mono sampling (16 Mb expandable to 64)
  • 5 Insert, 2 Master FX plus 3-band EQ
  • 102 Insert/89 Master effects algorithms

  • Effects with BPM/MIDI sync
  • 16-track sequencer
  • 200 Songs, 200,000 notes
  • Cue list for chains of sequences
  • RPPR Realtime Pattern Play/Recording
  • TouchView screen
  • Polyphonic dual arpeggiators
  • Realtime controllers
  • User-installable option boards