Korg Gadget has a rep for being one of the best iOS apps for making music. Recently it was ported to macOS, as the perhaps unsurprisingly named ‘Korg Gadget for Mac’. So what is it and do you need it?
What is it?
Korg describe Gadget for Mac as a “second DAW.” When you open it, you’re greeted with a unified single screen environment that’s divided into four quarters, comprising, from top left to bottom right, a ‘scene’ editor (which is akin to a simplified version of Ableton Live’s Session View), a MIDI editor, a mixer, and the Gadget window. Undoubtedly the lead vocalist in this 4 piece combo, is the latter, which displays your gadget of choice. Think of gadgets as virtual Volcas that Korg hasn’t made as hardware (yet). There are currently 31, that offer a dizzying array of everything from virtual analogues to classic digitals (and, of course, you can use a different gadget on each track). Some of the highlights include:
Darwin – a virtual version of 90s classic, the Korg M1… with… and we can’t quite get over this…the sounds from every memory card that Korg ever released…not just for the M1, but for the T1 too.
Lexington – an emulation of the second most important mono synth in the history of electronic music, the ARP Odyssey, that features filters from all three of its hardware incarnations. Korg, you had us at preset 003 ‘Curried’ (NB for anyone under 35, google Ultravox).
Milpitas – a virtual Korg Wavestation that, like Darwin, includes the patches and waveforms from every memory card that Korg released for this wave sequencing and vector synthesis giant.
Recife – a retro-futuristic MPC style Drum Module, whose 30 kits encompass pretty much every dance sub genre you can think of. Drum ‘n’ Bass, Trap, Tropical House, Dubstep, Glitch Hop, Grime, UK Garage, Techno, House, Electro, HipHop, Chillout, Nu Disco and even Indie Dance are all represented and all represent.
Chicago – a self confessed acid house ‘Tube Bass Machine’ that’s part 303, part Volca Bass, and part Electribe MX. However, switch on its arpeggiator and engage one of its multi effects, or choose and tweak one of its more curve ball presets, and it quickly becomes something greater than its sliver livery might suggest.
Brussels – a ravetastic ‘Monophonic Anthem Synthesizer’. If its hoovers don’t inspire you to find the whistle and pacifier that you hid in your parents loft in 1993, nothing will.
Kingston – a ‘Polyphonic Chip Synthesizer’ that offers an array of 8-bit chip tune style tones, chords & noises; with “Run” (arpeggiator) & “Jump” buttons and 12 effects to take things to the next level.
Kamata – a wave table synthesizer that uses 4 bit samples to emulate the NAMCO CUSTOM30 sound generator found in a some of the most famous arcade games of the 80s. Programmed by the sound design team at Bandai Namco Studios, it offers deeper programmability than Kingston, which it compliments.
Miami – a ‘Monophonic Wobble Synthesizer’ whose “X-MOD” oscillator and “CRUSH” filter have been created with the express purpose of delivering dancefloor destroying Dubstep basses.
Phoenix – a virtual analogue poly synth whose lush pads and Oberheimesque good looks evoke the sound of the late 70s and early 80s.
Abu Dhabi – a ‘Dynamic Loop Slicer’ that lets you import samples, automagically slice, dice, and then manipulate them.
Other gadgets include Montreal – a vintage Fender Rhodes style piano, Alexandria – a Hammond style organ, Firenze – a Honer style Clavinet, Salzburg – an acoustic piano, and Gladstone – an acoustic drum module. All of the synth/keyboard gadgets include the ability to play notes and chords in an impressive 35 different scales, including every western mode and assorted ethnic ones. There are also two gadgets for recording audio – Zurich a general purpose audio recorder with 26 onboard FX, and Rosario – a guitar FX processor that features 19 modelled amps, 12 modelled cabinets, and 24 stomp boxes.
How do the gadgets sound?
In a word, fantastic! Running the gamut from retro cool, to cutting edge dance Korg’s Gadgets offer enough diversity to satisfy everyone from accomplished keyboardists to DJs and producers. Full details of all 31, together with soundclips can be found here
Why do you need a Second DAW?
Although Gadget for Mac offers more than enough to put together whole productions, it’s really intended as a musical scratchpad, on which to try out ideas. At this it excels, thanks to its combination of a single screen environment, and a DAW that embodies the Swedish concept of ‘Lagom’ i.e. just enough (functionality). Consequently you can concentrate on making music, instead of using software.
This in itself would be great news were it the full story, but it gets better because this release offers the option to export your work as an Ableton Live project; and because AU/VST/AAX versions of all of the gadgets are included, when you open your exported project in Live, it is a seamless and exact duplicate of your Gadget project. Naturally this also means that you can access all of Korg’s gadgets directly from within your DAW as stand alone plug-ins.
What do we and don’t we like?
Our one complaint about the otherwise perfect Korg M1 was that it lacked a resonance parameter, so we love the fact that Darwin has a resonance knob…or at least, we did, until we realised that it doesn’t actually appear to do anything? Also, our awe at Darwin’s inclusion of every M1 ROM card ever released is tempered by its lack of a full set of M1 parameters. That said, for many, Darwin and the other gadgets on offer will strike the perfect balance between simplicity and programmability. However we can’t help but think that if Korg were to add an advanced mode to at least some of these gadgets they would further enhance the appeal of this software, without compromising its usability.
The decision to name the gadgets (mostly) after places is somewhat confusing, as it provides no clue about what they do. To be fair though, when previewing and selecting gadgets, there is a helpful paragraph of text that clarifies this.
Whilst we like the fact that all of the synth gadgets include mini keyboards, because the black keys and white keys are all the same length, the former read visually as being parallel to the latter, instead of on top of them.
Those very minor points aside, we love everything about Gadget for Mac.
Korg Gadget for Mac sounds fantastic, is great fun to use, and provides a simple and elegant environment in which one can be highly productive. It’s a great adjunct to any DAW and for those making electronic music with Ableton Live, it’s practically mandatory.
More info: http://www.korg.com/uk/products/software/korg_gadget/for_mac.php
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