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Review of the
Korg Triton Rack

Tweak's Pick for the Power User

by Rich the Tweak

zZounds has a Great Triton Department 

Korg Triton Rack Module The Triton Rack provides all of the sound and sampling functionality of the most highly respected synthesizer/workstation in today's music scene the Triton. In addition, this 2-space, rack-mountable unit dramatically expands the possible number of sounds, provides digital output, allows a total of 8 EXB-PCM boards to be installed, and features numerous other functions that make it the ideal choice for the musician looking for a no-compromise sound source.

Tweak:  The Triton in a rack has greater expansion possibilities than the original Triton itself.  This is one serious module with tons of features.  If you are just starting out, be prepared for a learning curve. But if you already know your way around MIDI and are ready for a no compromise general synth with powerful mix-ready sounds, onboard sampling, this is an extremely great value. You can also use scsi (optional board), hard/removable drives, cd roms,  There's a an optional analog synth board that gives you modeled synthesis, and several 16 meg PCM boards mentioned above. But what truly differentiates the Triton Rack from the others is the rich, detailed, warm and lush sound. It sounds fabulous.   The drawbacks to the Triton Rack is the limited 60 note polyphony.  As these sounds are thick, you can run out of polyphony very fast. But what you will have in 3-4 tracks will be very full sounding.  You may not even need to treat it with other processing.  This is the king of the synths. It's a great tool for gigs and the studio.  Just using one "combi" and pressing a few keys you can have drums, bass going, freeing your right hand to improvise.  While lots of synths do this today, none of them do it, or sound, quite like the Triton.  It's programmed incredibly well and the sound is evocative and sometimes beautiful.  Like textures? Some of the best you will ever hear are in the Triton. You'll find support at www.tritonhaven.com. If you are thinking of the Triton LE keyboard, but already have a nice keyboard, you should know you can load the LE sounds right into the Rack. There is also a SoundDiver adaptation if you own SoundDiver that will help you build a library of patches and program on the computer screen.

I have my Triton Rack connected to a zip drive, scsi cd rom player, and an old scsi 3 gig hard drive.  The installs were fast and painless. That's something of a miracle in itself.  However, an issue with the scsi card that goes in the Triton is that it is factory preset to ID #7, the same ID most PC host adapters use.  Korg warns against connecting it to a PC.  So, don't think you'll be able to browse your computers hard drives looking for samples. Too bad!  A good thing, though, is you can import samples by floppy.  The OS of the Triton will read PC formatted floppy disks and the PC will read Triton formatted disks.  Refreshing to have this actually work.  It does!  It read the two Akai cd roms I tried without any errors (which loads samples and keymaps)  I also burned a cd rom on my PC of my favorite wave files and the triton rack read them without error.  

The process of sampling into the Triton is much like any other sampler.  Naturally, you don't get all the features you would find on an Emu Ultra for example, but you do get enough to get the job done.  There is an onboard graphic waveform editor, just like the big boys.  It's zoomable too.  There is also a key mapping graphic display which is well implemented.  How does it work? First you load the wave files, then you make a keymap, then you assign the keymap to a program, with FX, then assign the program to a Combi.  Of course you can synthesize your own samples using Roland's HI synthesis.  Very straightforward synth engine with the usual pitch, filter, amp sections.  Even wimp samples sound great in this engine, and excellent samples are truly breathtaking.  With the FX engine tweaked, you samples will sound better than they do in a dedicated sampler without such effects. I put in some Peter Siedleczak section strings and timpani from my Akai CD Rom, tweaked FX, and the sound totally and unequivocally blew away the sound of these samples on my e5000 (which has only a bare bones FX system). But with the good comes the bad.  The load time of a big sample set is long...yep, go make a sandwich, take out the trash, tuck in the significant other....

It's true, the power of the Triton relies on FX.  There are 5 "insert FX" which you can place anywhere in a multi timbral setup or Combi.  Plus you get 2 "global effects", like most synths have, and a powerful EQ.  The effects are well done.  These are effects you will want in your mix.  I routinely turn off effects on all my other synths.  Not this one.  The FX sound great, as good as most external FX boxes and parameters of the FX can be controlled in real time. You can, for example, get 7 tracks with a different effect on each track. In fact, there is an external analog input on the back so if you WANT to use the Triton Rack to effect other synths, you can.  Just route a send from your mixer to this input.  You can use it as a stand alone FX box if you want. Ear candy, anyone?

The Architecture of the Triton:  This is true of all Tritons.  There are three levels of architecture.  First is the Program level.  This is like many other synths.  You can layer up samples here, add controller definitions, filters, envelopes and lfos.  The second level is the Combi level.  You can mix 8 programs any way you want on anywhere between 1 and 8 midi channels.  The Multi is the top level.  You can define 16 programs here or put a Combi on channels 1-8 and have 8 more programs on channels 9-16. I usually start a song in Combi mode, then when I want more channels, I convert the Combi to a Multi.

The Triton works fast in Combi mode; in Multi timbral mode, you have to do some setup chores and define the effects routing which has to be done from the front panel. But that's where the fun is. A Multi is like having a 16 channel mixer and 7 freely routable FX boxes with switchable arpeggios and real time controllers for each channel. Think about that a minute, OK.  What could you do with 16 synths and 7 FX boxes? That's what you can do with the Triton.  You can copy a Combi to a Multi (ch 1-8) so as to preserve its effects routing, and then you can add more midi channels (9-16) till you are 16 -way multi-timbral.  Then you can route your added instruments to the insert FX already active or define more.   Working this way requires some editing on the screen.  But it's nice and graphical.  You can route cables to their destination effects.  After having it a few months and learning the shortcuts, I can transform a Combi to a Multi tweaked with FX in a about a minute. Not bad.  You typically will have a different multi for each song you do. You can route channels to independent outs.  The Triton has a L/R mix out and 4 more analog outs, and a digital out (optical s/pdif). Plenty.  So you can route to more external effects if you want to.  Perhaps a great use of the Triton is just to route it straight to your digital audio sequencer and record from Combi mode to audio.  Simple, and none of the sounds get compromised that way.  I assure you, once you hear the audio streaming out of the rack, you will want to preserve it.  (Note there are also mLAN and ADAT interface options--see the Korg site for details).

The display is the same type of display used on many Korg instruments, i.e., the Triton LE, the Karma.  At 1st glance it can be intimidating, and Korg has some unusual ways of implementing things.  This is what makes the learning curve a little rough, especially for newbies.  But once you figure out Korg_Speak, it all makes sense and you can move very fast through the OS.  Of course there is no "touch screen" like on the Triton keyboards, but you can't have everything.  You do get 4 knobs that serve multiple (11) functions, including the obligatory filter cutoff and resonance and envelopes, and some really cool stuff like Tempo, arp gate and arp velocity.   There's dedicated bank select buttons for navigating through the thousands of sounds, once you max it out.

How many sounds?  To start out you get 4 banks of 128 combis, 4 banks of 128 programs (which the combis are made of), a relatively empty user RAM bank for both.  There's the obligatory GM bank with 256 programs. You start will 1150.  and 9 empty banks of 128 for both Combis and programs.  These are set aside for the expansion boards.  But!  You can load other sounds into 8 of them.  For example, I loaded about 75% of the Triton LE soundset into 3 banks.  Once you get an expansion card, you can load it's sound into any bank you want.  This lets you tailor your Triton any way you want.  There's also the ability to create templates for multis.  You can store 15 user templates.  Nice.  Fully expanded 1,664 Combis and 2,057 Programs, 160 megs of waveforms, an additional 96 megs of sample RAM (16 comes standard--you have to replace it with three 32 meg simms.)  The Basic waveform ROM is the standard Triton 32 meg ROM that is in all the Tritons, the Karma and the LEs.  Amazing that only 32 megs of waveforms can sound this good. 

Arpeggios, RPPRs, Time Slice.  The Triton Rack does not have a sequencer to record songs on.  However it does have 2 arpeggiators that can be assigned to different sounds in a program.  The arps respond to MIDI clocks so you can change the tempo on your sequencer and the Triton does not lose a beat.  There are plenty of arps provided, some in the form of drum patterns, others doing trance-lines, basslines, and the synth-lines.  There is also the ability to record RPPR (realtime pattern play/record) sequences.  Don't freak, that's just Korg-Speak.  Call it a "user sequence" if you like.  Lets get this straight right here.  There is NO way to record songs with just the rack.  You can use RPPR to record arps, drum patterns, cascades of midi notes, whatever.  These are assigned to a key in the main preset in the multi and it will "play" whatever patch is selected.  Think of it like a "beats mode" on a emu though not quite as flexible. Unlike the beats mode though, you can record these in real time, or step time if you want.

So what's wrong with the Rack? The learning curve.  This is  complex synth architecture with a deep menu structure. If you are a newbie, I suggest starting with something simpler.  Once you figure out there is a different menu for each mode (combi, multi, program, global and sampling) it starts making sense.  The manual, while very complete, is hard to read because it is so technical.  Don't think you can wing this one without the manual though, even if you are experienced.  Also the polyphony is weak compared to the 128 voice Motif Rack, perhaps the achilles heel of all the Tritons.  The good thing is that once you get a bearing you find that the Rack is more capable than other synths.  Its easier to create a patch from scratch on a Triton than it is on my Proteus, far easier than a qs synth, about the same as my e5000.

Programmers will appreciate there is a SoundDiver module already part of the SD 3.0 package (available separately). The diver module is not 100% up to speed as of Aug 2003.  It lacks the hooks for EXB 8 and 9.   But if you want to work remotely you can, for making more programs and combis. Unfortunately the Diver adaptation is slow and Multis are not supported. And you can't manipulate samples from SoundDiver.  There is a Logic environment posted at www.tritonhaven.com an altogether excellent site with a great message board. You'll see me hanging out there.  There's banks of 3rd party sound available on the internet.  See the links section below.

Expansion boards.  These add 16 megs to the onboard sample rom (except in the case of the Orch set, which has 2 boards and therefore is 32 megs). Basically, these boards add to the bread and butter sounds. There is also the Moss Synth board which is a 6 voice modeled analog synth like the Korg Z1, which has been around since the Trinity.    

I think the Vintage Archives is well done with some dancey arps and good analog timbres which work for trance and techno.  Has some well-programmed analog style synths, about as good as these get with sample based technology.

In fact, if you are into Dance/Trance/80's music, get this before you get the Dance extreme board. Dance Extreme is alright, but I am not sure what clubs the Korg folks are going to, it's not what I call dance music, though it is interesting and useful. They put in quite a few vocal hits which you may or may not like. "Luv You, Oooyyeeohhoh uh bayyybeee"  This board has a leaning towards hip hop and R&B.  It tries, but does not completely arrive at techno, dnb or euro. Get Trance Attack for that. 

I also have Studio Essentials.  This gives you alternatives to the stock rom for strings, saxes, brass, voxes and more that are of a higher quality. It is worthy 'cause they mix well. You'll find the best Triton choirs on this one. 

Orch heads will want to get the Orchestral Collection.  This is 32 megs from the Peter Siedleczek collection. In case you don't know, Peter's CD Roms have been used in film scoring for many years and cost $1000 for the boxed set. Of course you cannot fit such a massive library into 32 megs.  So what they did was give you all the essentials. It does cover the complete range of orchestral instruments and has a handful of performance articulations.  Wow! This is one bombastic orchestra, heavily layered with velocity, so when you slam down hard you get a truly gratifying "kaboom" which is quite rare on a synth module.  Nice ensembles, sampled with ambience. When you put insert FX on these they are stunning.  This is the way to do movie scores on a budget.  While this set does cost a pretty penny, it's worth it.

 The Future Loop collection is very cool as well, particularly if you are a loop constructionist. This set uses the RPPR functions to the max. There are awesome hip hop, dnb, house and jazz patterns that are a gas to play with and you can raise and lower pitch without affecting tempo. Becuase it relies heavily on the RRPR patterns, it's a little different to use.  Its sort of like using acid loops. But you can turn off the RRPR functioins and use the presets as straight drum kits.  There is great stuff here for those that dig.

There is a new Grand Piano board that just came out about a year ago.  Finally, a decent piano for the Tritons! I have it and it is now my preferred piano, having beat out my Alesis qs8 and the roland jv stereo piano. Only 32 programs and 64 combis on this card, compared to 128/128 on all the other cards.  But the programs are solid. Its a great piano for a sequencer and live use with a satisfying bottom end. There's also a Piano and Classic Keys board that I haven't heard that goes into slot 1. Probably won't get that one. All my slots are filled!

The latest board for the Tritons is the Trance Attack board.  Now here is a dance music board that sounds like the stuff you do hear in dance clubs.  Trance Attack has the authentic feel of trance, goa, dnb, techno and it is a joy to work with it.  Uplifting?  Yes!  It's Korg programming genius at a very bright hour.

That's it. I wish there were more boards.  Where's the world board?  The ambient board?  For a synth this packed with exotic power, you would think they would have done these by now.  Oh well, that's why they included a sampler.

In conclusion, I really like the Triton Rack a lot.   Despite all the features and specs one thing is clear--the sound of this box is awesome.  If you ever wondered why your synth tracks don't sound as good as stuff on the TV or radio, once you get a rack you will never think about that again. This is what you pay for. The Triton rack does save you a lot of money over the Triton Studio, but even the rack, when fully decked, is a pricey synth, especially given the limitations on polyphony.  The sum is larger than all the parts. If you are a MIDI power user, you already know why you want the Triton rack. If you are in it for the long haul and need a strong and spectacular sounding synth module you will truly appreciate the rack. Korg programmers, through their love of the craft, turned out a truly phenomenal synth. 


Links

Other modules that can be compared to the Triton Rack are  the Roland 5080, the Kurzweil 2600RS as these both have sampling capabilities.  See my Synth modules page for more on those. 

Get the price on a Korg Triton Rack Module

Get the manuals and listen to MP3 demos at www.korg.com  Triton Rack OS was updated in spring of 2003 to version 1.5. 

Turn your Triton in to a Karma with the Karma Triton software by Karma Lab. The software adds the Karma Generated Effects and lets you go way beyond the Triton in its sound making. 

Pro-rec synth sounds Online has banks of sounds for the Triton series

KID NEPRO also sells Triton sounds

Q-up arts has a Triton world sample cd rom called the "Global Village"