Korg has announced a “West Coast”-inspired semi-modular analog synth in its popular Volca format.

Deviating from the norms of “East Coast”-style synthesis, Korg has announced Volca Modular, a battery-powered semi-modular analog synthesizer that delivers a decidedly “West Coast”-inspired sound.

What does this mean exactly? “East Coast”-style synths (Ex. Korg’s MS-20 Mini) offer straight ahead, subtractive designs. Think saw waves being modified by a resonant filter. These synths are (relatively) easy to understand and are what you think of when you think “vintage analog synths”.

So, what is “West Coast” style? “West Coast”-style synths (think Buchla) typically feature FM (Frequency Modulation) circuits, sample and hold circuits, low pass gates and more. What results are incredibly complex sounds, full of overtones and character, with a certain degree of unpredictability. While they can sometimes be a little difficult to tame, these synths will take your music in directions you never dreamed of.

As with the entire Volca family, Korg has packed quite a bit of functionality into an incredibly compact module. Volca Modular features eight different modules and 50 patch points.

Let’s take a closer look.

Eight Modules for Sound Design

As noted, Volca Modular is a semi-modular design. It features eight independent modules consisting of analog synth modules, digital effects and a built-in sequencer. When nothing is patched on the Volca Modular, each of the modules is attached. If you’re curious how things are routed, just follow the white lines printed on the panel. Any patches  you make via pin cable will disconnect the internal connection. 

Let’s look at each of the modules:

  • SOURCE: The source module has a triangle VCO carrier and a modulator. This FM design will create an incredibly complex signal. Further overtones are added as the signal is sent through a wave folder circuit. This module will serve as the foundation of your sound. The controls include “Ratio”, “Mod” and “Fold”.
  • FUNCTIONS: This section consists of two function generators (also known as Envelope Generators). The two function generators are ADH (attack, hold and release) and Rise-Fall, also referred to as a slope generator. In addition to functioning like a standard envelope, you can patch it to itself, creating a loop that makes it function as an LFO or VCO. 
  • WOGGLE: Looking for a sample & hold circuit? This one utilizes pink noise as its source and has two distinct outputs for either stepped or smooth random noise. 
  • SPLIT: Need to send one signal to two destinations? Enter the Split module. This module can take one input and mult it out to two outputs. You can also go in the opposite direction, taking two control or audio signals and combining them into one.
  • DUAL LPG: This module feature two low-pass gate circuits, packaging a filter with an amp. This allows you to vary the overall brightness and volume simultaneously. 
  • UTILITY: This module allows allows you to combine two signals in a variety of ways,  so you can mix not just audio signals but control signals as well. You can even invert or attenuate those signals.
  • SPACE OUT: Looking for a bit of reverb? This module applies a stereo spatial reverb to your audio signal. 
  • SEQUENCE: This module is dedicated to controlling the internal sequencer, allowing you to set the tempo and select different rhythm divisions to output.

Patching on Volca Modular

As mentioned, Volca Modular features 50 patch points that you can connect utilizing the included pin cables. Color-coding and printed symbols (to indicate audio, control, gate or trigger) make patching straight-forward and fast.

Out of the box, Volca Modular includes 20 pin cables and a reference sheet with 8 patching examples to get you started.                                                        

Built-In Sequencer

Like its predecessors, Volca Modular has a 16-step sequencer with a wide range of functions. The sequencer supports step-by-step input as well as realtime recording via the built-in keyboard. Even better? You can chain your patterns allow you to connect up to 16 sequences. In other words, you’ve gone from 16 steps to 256 steps.

Looking to add some movement to your sound? The built-in sequencer supports motion sequencing, allowing you to record your knob movements and add some life to your sounds.

As with prior Volcas, Volca Modular’s sequencer allows you to turn certain steps in your sequences on and off, allowing you to create unique loops or polyrhythms.

Two new sequence modes have been added: bounce sequence mode and stochastic sequence mode. Bounce sequence mode essentially makes a round trip through your steps while stochastic sequence mode proceeds forward while adding random backwards and forwards movement.

Additional Sounds, Features and Specifications 

In addition to all of the unique sound generation and sequencer functionality, Korg shipped Volca Modular with 14 different scales as well as a micro tuning feature, so you can specify the pitch of each note individually. Volca Modular also features a sync jack (for connecting to other Korg gear) and CV In for hooking up with other analog gear.

Like the rest of the Volca family, Volca Modular can run off of batteries (six AAs) and features a built-in speaker, making it the perfect portable synth.

So, if you’re looking for a new piece of gear that will inspire you to take your music in different directions, you’ll want to add Volca Modular to your setup.

Related: Check out our recent overview of the new Korg Minilogue XD

Shop our full collection of Korg synthesizers.