iMono/Poly review – Korg bring another classic synth to the iOS platform… and to Gadget

Download from iTunes App StoreKorg have an impressive legacy in the world of the synthesizer starting way back when with some innovative hardware designs. And while they still make (and recreate) classic synths in hardware, they have also embraced the software synth.

Over recent years that has included iOS and, amongst the more recent releases are apps such as ARP ODYSSEi, iM1, iWaveStation and iDS-10. They have also released the excellent Gadget (now ported to OSX) and Module, there flagship iOS sample-based virtual instrument. It’s an impressive suite of apps.

Korg’s hardware Mono/Poly synth is a classic from the 1980s…..

…. and now we have another one. The most recent release is iMono/Poly and no surprisies for guessing that it is a software recreation of Korg’s classic early 1980s hardware synth, the Mono/Poly.

The Mono/Poly was a popular analog synth with 4 VCOs giving a 4-note polyphonic options or the choice of stacking them for a rich mono synth mode. The hardware filter had plenty of character and a combination of 2 envelope generators, 2 LFOs for modulation duties and a neat/simple arppeggiator made for powerful, and portable, performance synth. The synth is still used today by acts such as the Chemical Brothers but it has appeared on countless electronic music tracks over the years.

You can still seek out the original hardware but, for a working model in good condition, I’ve seen them priced well upwards of US$1500 (eek!). In app form, iMono/Poly is launched at a somewhat more manageable price of £19.99/US$19.99, 1/2 off what will be the eventual price as an incentive for early adopters. The app requires iOS9.3 or later and an iPhone 5s/iPad Air or newer are recommended.

iMono/Poly – hardware emulated in software – but with some added extras.

Clone plus

For those whose budget doesn’t stretch to the original hardware (that’s pretty much all of us them), we now have the synth recreated in an iOS app. You get all the features of the original hardware modelled as closely as possible but, of course, also get some additional modern touches such as two multi-effects engines, XY pads and more modulation options than the original hardware. It looks, and sounds, great but check out the trailer demo from Korg below for a brief listen or Doug’s excellent demo that covers a broader palette of the available sounds.

While the app offers the same visual vibe as the original hardware, the control layout on the main screen is not absolutely identical. Some rearrangement of the various knobs, buttons and switches has been done to make the touchscreen workflow more efficient and to accommodate some of those ‘extras’.

Amongst various options, there is a larger format keyboard if you need it….

In terms of the core programming, the bulk of the controls are housed on the single main screen and, by default, this has a mini piano keyboard at it’s base. This can be expanded via the Keyboard button located within the top-most menu strip to show larger keys but you can, of course, also play the app from a suitable external MIDI keyboard/controller.

The top menu strip also includes access to the Settings menu (various MIDI settings can be configured here), the ‘info’ menu (where you can access the PDF manual), the Store (there is an IAP of additional presets available), the well-organised preset system and, on the far right, buttons to access the larger keyboard, the Kaoss pads (not on the original hardware!), the effects (ditto!) and, via the little ‘patch cable’ icon, the additional modulation matrix options. More on these below….

… and also the standard Korg twin Kaoss pads for touchscreen control.

Times four

As with the original hardware, the heart of iMono/Poly’s sound comes from the combination of four oscillators and the associated filter. Perhaps by some modern ‘hi-tech’ standards, the synth engine is not so sophisticated so, for example, each of the oscillators offers a choice of only four basic waveform types. However, where the original scored – and Korg believe their emulation does also – is in the warm, ‘fat’, analog sound. We have some very good analog synth emulations available for iOS….  and, if my own experience with iMono/Poly is anything to go by, now we have another one. I’ve never played the original hardware but, pass the app’s output through some decent monitoring, and it really does sound fabulous.

You can, of course, blend the oscillators to taste and detune their outputs for a thicker sound. However, the engine also offers you a number of different ways for the oscillators to interact and this actually forms part of the modulation system as the oscillators can be configured to cross-modulate (amongst other things) within the VCO Modulation sub-panel. The combinations of Single/Double and Sync/S&X/X-Mod settings provide a number of different options here and if you simply load up a preset and start changing the switches, it is easy to hear what each combination does to the sound.

The heart of the sound comes rom the four oscillators and the filter/envelope sections of the engine.

The filter section (top-right) offers both the filter itself and an envelope generator (EG) for the filter. The controls are pretty straightforward (as per the original hardware) but the emulated sound is – to my ears at least – very attractive. Whatever Korg’s analog modelling technology involves, they really are very good at it. You also get an amplitude envelope (the VCA EG) and options to set the global pitch-bend, output volume, pan and to add a noise element to your sound.

I think the combination of the Key Assign Mode and Voices panels mimic the hardware also but also go somewhat further than the original allowed (for example, in terms of polyphony). You can operate in different mono and poly modes and the app also offers the neat ‘chord memory’ mode where you can program in a specific chord shape and then re-trigger the full chord at any pitch from a single key press. One other obvious addition here is the Analog knob; dial is as much (modelled) analog random variability (applied to pitch and filter cutoff) as you like the sound of :-)

You can combine the oscillators in various ways… and there are also some interesting modulation options.

Further sound shaping is provided by the pulse width/pulse width modulation options. Each of the oscillators offer this as an option and you then get a global set of controls (located towards the top-left) to influence how this is applied.

All mod cons

The original hardware offered two MG (modulation generator) options and these can be used as a modulation source for a number of synth parameters with configuration via the various switches on the main screen.  I think the options here reflect pretty closely what was offered on the original synth.

However, Korg have added a whole set of further modulation options via the ‘Virtual Patch’ page (tap the button located top-right of the menu strip). Here you can configure up to eight further modulation options in a matrix that is actually pretty easy to navigate. It includes simple drop-downs to select both the modulation source and modulation targets, and then a knob to set the intensity of the modulation applied.

One of the additions for the software is the additional modulation matrix…. easy to use but offering plenty of extra programming options for those that what them.

Sources include the mod wheel, pitch bend wheel, velocity, key tracking, aftertouch, the MGs and the various EGs. A good range of targets are also available covering almost all the major elements of the synth engine. In modulation terms at least, iMono/Poly is a significant step up from the original hardware and programmers will enjoy the additional options. Equally, Korg have approached the implementation of this in a user-friendly fashion. Even my synth-deficient brain found it easy to navigate…  even if I didn’t always understand the sonic implications of the modulation connections I was making. That is, however, half the fun :-)

Setting up modulation routing is very easy to do….

Added extras

Also present from the original is a basic – but very usable – arpeggiator. This is easy to use. However, over and above the original specification are some very good effects options. The effects panel can be toggled on/off from the menu bar and appears at the base of the synth engine display. There are two effects slots and a very nice range of effects on offer within each slot. each effect also features a rather nice control set.

The pop-up effects panel provides an excellent selection of additional audio effects….

The effects types span the usual territory – reverbs, delays, modulation, dynamics and distortion – but with plenty of variants of each. I have to say that this was actually one of the biggest surprises of the app for me. The effects sound absolutely great and there really is plenty of control. If Korg were to rip out the effects section from iMono/Poly and sell it as a separate iOS AU effects app, I’m sure there would be lots of takers….  These effects are as good as lots of stand-alone effects apps we have out there.

The range of effects included is very good….

Also note that both effects units offer something called Dynamic Modulation and controls where that’s available appear highlighted in a lighter blue colour if the ‘Dynamic’ LED is toggled on. Tap on such a highlighted control and a menu of modulation options appear….  you can, therefore, modulated your effects as well as the synth engine parameters.

Modulation is also available for some of the key effects parameters….

As mentioned earlier, the other ‘added extra’ is the option to toggle on Korg’s twin Kaoss XY pads. These can be used to both touch-based parameter modulation (the left pad) and to trigger notes (the right pad). There is a lot of creative fun to be had here that would not have been available to users of the original hardware.

The Kaoss pads include lots of scale options for the right-sided pad.

Preset settings

As I’ve already indicated, iMonoPoly sounds fabulous and you only have to work your way through a few of the presets to convince yourself just how ‘analog’ the synth sounds. That’s particularly obvious with, for example, some of the bass sounds. These are big, warm and juicy. While I never played a hardware Mono/Poly, I’ve played enough vintage synths to get the sense that the app is doing a very fine job.

There is an impressive selection of presets supplied with the app… and more available via IAP if you want them.

I also liked lots of the lead sounds and there are some great ‘arp’ patches….  but there is not really a weak suit amongst the preset categories. I did get hold of the additional presets IAP and it does just add more of the (equally good) same. It’s well worth it if you really get into the sounds of the base app.

Some of the sounds are very much ‘of their time’ and, if you are a fan of 1980s sci-fi films, then you will find some of the presets pushing you in that classic ‘synth score’ direction. Equally, however, Korg’s sound programmers have provided plenty of examples of more contemporary sounds; this is an app that can also work in modern EDM or dubstep genres, for example.

The preset templates make for a good start for budding programmers.

The other very interesting element of the preset system is the Template category. This is a bunch of specifically crafted presets that a user can use as a starting point for developing their own sounds. The thoughtful element of this is that they are labelled very well so, if you can a ‘kind of’ sound idea in your head, you can use one of these templates to kick off the programming in a suitable direction. For those less accomplished at synth programming, this is a very nice touch.

Plug me in

As with other Korg iOS synths, if you purchase the main app, iMono/Poly will then also become available as a new gadget within Gadget. In this case, it appears under the title of Montpellier. I’ve not had a chance to spend a lot of time with the gadget version as yet but you get the same engine options but with the controls spread out over three screens rather than two. The third of these pages provides access to the effects and, in a further tabbed options at its base, to the eight modulation matrix slots.

iMonoPoly offers Audiobus and IAA support…. but not, as yet, AU.

So, iMono/Poly is fully functional as a ‘plugin’ (gadget) within Gadget and, as it also supports both Audiobus and IAA, you can, in principle, use it as a plugin within the likes of Audiobus, AUM or any of the popular iOS DAW/sequencer apps.

Of course, what you don’t get is an Audio Units option. OK, so Korg have not, as yet, offered AU with any of their iOS apps so that’s perhaps not a big surprise. And, of course, within their Gadget environment, then ‘gadgets’ themselves are obviously their ‘plugin format’ of choice. Equally, Korg are not the only iOS development team that, as yet, has not embraced AU. There are a good crop of top-end and long-standing iOS synths that don’t offer AU support…  and plenty of non-synth app categories where AU is still a rarity (virtual drummers and guitar rig sims for example).

Korg have implemented iMono/Poly within Gadget in a very neat fashion…. and this allows access to the full control set for programming purposes.

Korg are, therefore, not alone….  but while the online iOS music chat rooms are full of praise for the sound of iMono/Poly, there is also an understandable clamour for AU. It will be interesting to see how Korg respond to what is now becoming the rapid development of support for AU under iOS. When you see how the iMono/Poly gadget UI is structured, it is not difficult to imagine how that could me tweaked to fit the AU UI format…..

Could the same UI also make a good basis for an AU plugin version of the synth?

Whether we will see the likes of iMono/Poly popping us as AU plugins in Cubasis or AUM, for example, any time soon remains to be seen. I do hope so though…..  and, as on the desktop, eventually, common plugin standards are going to dominate.

In summary

Korg continue to impress with the iOS music app collection. If you are looking for some classy iOS music apps to add to your collection, then do check out the original reviews of their other flagship iOS music apps Gadget, Module, iM1 and, of course, ARP ODYSSEi. They are all excellent and, while not the cheapest iOS music apps that you can buy, they most certainly offer excellent value for money. For some potential purchasers, the lack of AU might be a sticking point….

However, if the sound is key to you, then working around the workflow technicalities (as we did perfectly well before AU came along) might be acceptable in the short term simply to use what is an very impressive sounding synth. Avid iOS synth head – and lovers of classic synths delivered as cheap-as-chips apps in particular – should watch the iMono/Poly demo videos and prepare to hit the App Store download button while that special launch price holds :-)

iMono/Poly

Download from iTunes App Store



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    Comments

    1. Definately one of the best sounding synths on IOS. And the sonic palette is huge.
      Analogue heaven for me. Sadly, the MIDI implementaion is basic, to put it nicely.
      No MIDI learn, not even a fixed CC tabel as far as I know. And no sync options either.
      But of course, there’s always Montpellier …

    2. Yeah, love the sounds of this app but the lack of midi learn is a real letdown.

      The app lets you assign 4 CCs.

      Yep.

      F-O-U-R!

      • Passivemixer says:

        Korg has never been too keen on being up to date on app features. They rarely update their apps with the exception of Gadget, they definitely don’t care about AU and it’s about time synths like iMS20 and iPolysix and etc either get a price reduction or update. They do great work and then cease to support their work almost immediately.

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