Friday, February 24, 2012

Korg Monotron Delay Review

Just about a week ago, I got my hands on one of the two newest members of the Monotron family, the Korg Monotron Delay.  This little beast is an analog synth and filter with a Space Echo style delay.  I don't think the delay is analog, but it isn't clearly stated anywhere-- only as an "analog style" delay.  It seems Korg doesn't want to admit that this isn't an all-analog affair, but that doesn't make this little module any less fun.

The layout of this synth is pretty simple.  It's a sawtooth voltage controlled oscillator, which can be modified by an LFO as either a square or triangle shape, and can reach well into the audio frequency range. This feeds into a voltage controlled MS-20 filter, which has fixed resonance and a cutoff knob for sweeps by the user.  Finally, all this is sent through the delay, which has a simple time and feedback knobs.  As someone who hasn't used delay much, this is a fun and easy tool to learn on.  The pitch is controlled by the ribbon keyboard, which has only one setting, which is across the entire audio spectrum, so it's not really possible to play melodies well on this synth.

On top of the synth, there is a tuning pot, and an audio in jack, as well as a headphone jack.  The lack of quarter inch in and out knobs for this synth limit its use as a serious delay.  Unfortunately, there's a fair amount of noise out of this synth as well (not unlike the original Monotron) so if you want to record it, you might need to use some noise cancellation software.  The fact that the synth is able to process outside sources is the strongest feature of the Monotron Delay.

So what can really be done with the delay?  The first thing I noticed was that the feedback loop can be pushed into an unstable mode where the delays out are louder than the sound in, forcing the Monotron Delay to start to put out crazy chaotic noise sounds, without any input.  After fiddling with the cutoff frequency, I was able to get more room out of the feedback knob before this happened (the resonance drives the output to that mode if the cutoff is in a certain range.)  Once I opened the cutoff completely, however, I was on my merry way with a myriad of delay effects.  The standard delay type effects are all there, but some interesting things can happen if the delay time is changed mid-delay.  Due to the nature of the design of the Monotron Delay, decreasing the delay time (with enough feedback) causes the pitch of the delayed sound to increase as it's played faster, creating an almost vinyl-like affect.  The same effect of a vinyl slow down can be created by increasing the delay time.  This is probably the most fun thing to do with just the unit itself, and it could easily be used for a recording, as it's incredibly unique.

On it's own, don't expect to get any true musical melodies from the Monotron Delay.  As said before, the  ribbon keyboard makes this pretty difficult.  The unit can make great ambient and space sounds, so I'm sure people will use it for that in recordings or live shows.

As mentioned before, the biggest strength of the Delay comes from processing other sounds through the auxiliary jack.  Using my Monotribe, I was able to get some pretty fantastic effects on both the synth sequencer and the drums.  This is the point where I thought that the Delay would definitely be recordable, even despite its noisy output.  So many unique effects can be accomplished through this little box.

The downsides to this unit are mainly in its limitations that keep it low-cost.  Replacing the eighth inch stereo jacks with quarter inch jacks would compromise the pick-up-and-play aspect of the Monotron Delay.  Adding a resonance knob would drive up the cost and force it out of the Monotron "5 knob" family.  If the keyboard was locked to a smaller frequency range, you wouldn't be able to create such great effects using just the module.  Perhaps one day we'll see an updated version thats' a little bit more record friendly, but it would cost more, so I can't really complain about anything on the Delay for its price of $50 USD.  It's also worth mentioning that some of these issues could probably be worked out via mods, so if you're a modder, you'll dig this module.

I recommend the Monotron Delay for anyone who's looking to get their hands dirty with some delay, especially if they want it on the cheap.  It's an incredibly fun little piece of hardware, even if recording it isn't the easiest thing to do.


  • Awesome Price
  • Lots of great sound effects just through module itself
  • Auxiliary input adds a ton of value
  • All around, an incredibly fun piece of gear


  • Noisy Output
  • Uses 1/8 inch out instead of 1/4
  • Keyboard isn't useful for melodies

Final Say:

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