Korg Volca FM – minimalistic and cheap synthesizer for professional amateurs.

‘Professional amateur? You mean somebody who repeats the same mistakes and somebody who doesn’t want to grow out of his / her errors of the past?”

It is in my eyes more fitting for somebody who isn’t a complete beginner and also not a complete pro, yet not completly middle-experienced-user-friendly.

While browsing on my favourite Synthesizer Facebook meme groups, I saw a lot of pictures of the Volca and how many people made fun of it.

Is it because it can run with batteries? Maybe. Some people out there think that synthesizers that need batteries, are too similar to kids toys and therefore too similar to kids keyboards.

Is it because of it’s price? Probably too. You can buy nowadays a new Volca for 175$ in a new condition! I repeat: in new condition. Some Eurorack or Buchla modules cost twice as many, for only one module! But who is the judge when it comes to musical instruments? Is a smartphone for 50 bucks less of a smartphone than one for 1,500 bucks?

The point is, if you want to trample on the Volca, you go enough vantage points.

But like so many times in life, you need to stand on the other side of the fence to properly judge and comment.

Dabble with stuff like the Volca…

before you drown in a tech-pool. We get it. There are a lot of rich YouTubers and influencer and artists out there who got good studio-equipment for tens of thousands of dollars. It is necessary though to get a feeling for hardware and software step by step. This is of course when you want to enter the world of modular synthesizers. If you’re not comfortable in that zone at this point of time, I suggest you start with basic DAWs. Get your feet wet with open source software like the VCV Rack and if you’re ready to begin modular, you can either buy the Volca on eBay or newly from officially trademarked Korg salescompanies. 

Modern problems require modern resolutsion:

While old analog synthesizers have more analog knobs than digital displays, knobs, functions and automations, nowadays it’s the other way around. Cheaper synths tend to have less knobs, because of the cost and more functions for these knobs. Let’s say you have a simple knob. It’s labeled Content goes here. So you have the C3 keyboard button and it’s labeled as “1” and “POLY”. This means you automatically have 2 buttions that can be used for 3 functions. 1 function is to play the note C3.

The next function is to program something with the value of “1” and the last function is to switch between “MONO” or “POLY”. You save up space and the production of the Volca FM is therefore less expensive. It is up to you, the user, to learn all the functions by either trying around, watching YouTube videos, reading blogs, contacting Korg or reading the manual.

So Korg saved some money and you saved some money but the information to use the instrument completly, takes up your mental learning. While learning in itself is beneficial against Alzheimer’s disease, it can easily sweep up into the other direction. When one key has 5 functions and you need to memorize that stuff for an optimal workflow, so in order for that you need to study the manual in and out. You must be able to quote the manual to percision or otherwise it’s plain and simple trial-and-error for you.

I am somewhat quite ashamed to tell you that I’ve read way less manuals than I actually should’ve.

It won’t be shocking for you that most of the folk out there also avoid reading memory.

Creativity beginns when you throw your self onto something that you’ve never tried and it ends when you know its strict rules and when you know how it works and you understand its inner mechanics. So most people, like me, try stuff out and if it sounds alright, they stick with it. The Volca FM… if you watch this, you will understand what I mean:

You must learn and study hard that manual to unfold its wholesomeness, otherwise you limit yourself and the Volca

to the potential it has to offer. It’s more of a journey of learning and understanding and applying with the main focus on the learning-segment.

A big minus

is the calculator-alike display that shows numbers and letters in its limited ways. I bet if they sold the Volca FMs for 200€ or 200$, they could’ve built in some small resolution displays. That would have been a big improvement. I bet there are some extremists out there who already soldered some high resolution displays onto the Volca while programming it newly to display proper letters and values and such. But in general I see this as the biggest issue. You don’t need no small 4k display to show every bit of detail that you might never use or which is just there to show you that it exists, but I know for a fact that you can get a Raspberry Pie display for 30 bucks.

Make yourself also a picture on their homepage.

Like a lot of newer and cheaper models

It is inspired by an older synth, in this case the DX7. Which is in itself a little meme. Since many people

know that it was a pain in the a** to work with the Yamaha DX7, they used rather more the presets of the

DX7. Some people found even work to program the DX7, because choosing the presets was easy

but programming, learning and understanding the patches was just horrid. Very confusing menus

and too much work. So getting inspired by the DX7, is like copying ethic values from a serial killer. 

In both cases it’s bad. Luckily they just got one or two inspirational ideas out of it and added enough features

so the Volca wouldn’t end up as a purchases-nightmare, like the DX7 in some way did. Not to mention

that you can either get a used DX7 for twice the price with waaaaay less functions, or you can get

the Volca newly for half the price plus guaranty and support and an active community that still

converses information on special threads. It’s some years old but not so old that anybody would

forget it very soon.

This brings us to our final rating and conclusion:

Get it, if you got the money. If not, save up for a Moog Minimoog Voyager. Nah, just kidding.

There is always room in the middle. I haven’t tried the Volca yet, but I bet there will be a chance

where I come to try it out and it will be fun. Volca FM is also part of a series.

So if I ever get the money, time and chance, I want to try all of ’em out as the series bundle.

This means:

If possible I hope to somewhat get someday a chance to synchronize and connect the 

Volca Bass with the Volca Beats, Volca Keys, Volca Sample, Volca FM, Volca Kick, Volca Mix, Volca Drum, Volca Modular and the Volca Nubass. But if and when and how this happens… lays in the stars.

When this happens, I will let you guys know of course what I’ll enjoy and hate about that series.

That’s it for today. I hope you had fun reading my rant and I hope to see you next time.

Contact me directly or comment on here if you want and I’ll get back to you.

Bye =)