Korg Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine Review

Korg’s Volca Beats analog drum machine is a modern twist on the revered rhythm machines of decades past, notably Korg’s own Electribe series.

Korg is practically a household name in consumer music products, with nearly six decades of experience in manufacturing electronic instruments, audio processors, and effects equipment. 

Their Volca Beats drum machine is a distillation of this expertise, offering free-form programming potential in a user-friendly format that’s cost-effective and not overly difficult to learn.

In this Korg Volca Beats review, we’ll examine some of the unit’s standout features and note what separates it from other compact drum machines.

Pros

  • Expansive 16-step sequencer
  • In-out Sync jacks and MIDI input standard
  • Built-in speaker
  • Low price point
  • Easy to transport

Cons

  • No included power supply (except for bundled models)
  • Inconsistent volume between sounds
  • Moderate learning curve

Things to Consider Before Buying a Korg Volca Beats Analog Drum Machine

The Volca Beats is best suited for musicians with some prior knowledge of analog programming, as they’ll be able to take full advantage of its impressive sequencing and editing capabilities.

While the unit’s basic design is neatly-organized and relatively straightforward, actually learning to use it will likely involve some trial and error and possibly a little confusion if you’ve never built a beat from the ground up.

That said, it’s a great place to start if you’re just getting into creating synth rhythms, which in essence means that just about anyone can pick up the Volca Beats and start making music right away.

If you’re deliberating about whether or not to splurge on the Korg Volca Beats, it’s worth thinking about:

  • What exactly you want to use it for
  • What you’ll be getting for your money
  • How it stacks up to other, similar rhythm machines

Features & Benefits

There’s a lot to like about the Volca Beats. Let’s break down some of the best elements it brings to the table.

16-Step Sequencer

The Volca Beats’ sequencer is inspired by Korg’s popular line of Electribe synthesizers and samplers. It features six analog drum parts—kicks, snares, and high and low toms and hats—along with four digital PCM voices that can be employed to fill out a mix or unlock different permutations of core sounds.

Each of the primary drum parts is manipulable by a series of plainly-labeled onboard controls that allow you to smoothly adjust the levels of pitch, grain, decay, and other sonic characteristics with the simple twist of a knob.

Together, these components make for an agile and fairly intuitive system that’s a lot of fun to play around with.

Sync Jacks and MIDI Input

One of the coolest things about the Volca Beats is its compatibility with other kits.

The Sync-in and Sync-out jack’s inclusion makes it possible to link up multiple Volca gadgets (such as the Kick, Bass, and Keys units), dramatically increasing your productions’ complexity. Similarly, the standard MIDI IN port provides a direct line to your digital audio workstation of choice for further editing and enhancement.

Built-In Speaker

Like other products in the Volca series, the Volca Beats comes with its own incorporated speaker to help you hear what you’re doing while you’re tinkering with a work in progress and boost the volume of your finished mixes.

This is a big perk for musicians who frequently perform live or want the freedom to travel or hit up impromptu jam sessions without having to cart along loads of other equipment.

Social Proof

Those who have been working with the Korg Volca Beats for a while all seem to agree that it’s a versatile tool that does just about everything one might need it to do. See for yourself:

Alternatives

The Volca Beats isn’t the only acclaimed drum machine on the market. Here are some other top-tier beatmakers that might appeal to your artistic sensibilities.

Roland Rhythm Composer

In the upper echelon of best drum machines, the Roland Rhythm Composer is peerless. That’s because it takes the distinctive sound qualities and ingenious interface of the classic TR-808 and channels them into a sleek, compact package for modern musicians.

There’s virtually nothing this drum machine can’t do. It bestows upon the user near-total control over the many sounds it creates, can run on USB power or common AA batteries, and is more than sturdy enough to handle life on the road.

Comparison to the Korg Volca Beats:

  • Faithful to the original TR-808 in almost every aspect
  • Astounding degree of hands-on control
  • Variable step-by-step or real-time programming
  • 10 separate USB outs for complex link-ups

We confidently contend that you can’t do better than the Roland Rhythm Composer. Check it out so long as you’re not scared off by the fat price tag.

IK Multimedia UNO Portable Analog/PCM Drum Machine

IK Multimedia’s UNO analog drum machine is an absolute powerhouse of a mini-synthesizer. With six analog drum sounds, 12 PCM voices, a massive 64-step sequencer, and full USB and MIDI compatibility, it offers the same basic menu of sound-stacking options as the Volca Beats, only expanded.

One feature of the UNO that may be of particular interest to some users is its ability to store up to 100 fully-editable drum kit and pattern presets. That’s a lot, in case you’re counting.

Comparison to the Korg Volca Beats:

  • 6 analog voices and 12 digital PCM voices
  • Electribe-inspired sequencer
  • Susceptible multi-touch pads
  • USB and MIDI ins and outs

If you dig the overall style of the Volca Beats but wish it could do more, listen closely—the UNO is calling your name.

Teenage Engineering PO-12 Pocket Operator

It may look like some sort of funny calculator, but the PO-12 Pocket Operator from Teenage Engineering is an advanced super-miniature drum machine that you can carry around with you wherever you go.

16 is the magic number for the Pocket Operator—it boasts 16 unique drum sounds, 16 customizable effects including distortion, delay, stutter, and vibrato, and an impressive 16-step sequencer that encourages nuanced song construction.

As if that weren’t enough, it’s also the cheapest machine on this list.

Comparison to the Korg Volca Beats:

  • 16 individual drum sounds with 16 built-in effects presets
  • 16-step sequencer (that’s as many steps as the Volca Beats)
  • Super-compact portable design
  • Unbeatable value

Do yourself a favor and snag a Pocket Operator if you’re the kind of DIY music lover that values mobility and practical production power above all else.

Conclusion

All in all, the Korg Volca Beats analog drum machine is a well-rounded rhythm generator that combines an intelligible layout, high-quality sound, and flexible editing functions to great effect.

Regardless of whether you’re a seasoned producer or you’re laying hands on a synthesizer for the first time, you’re guaranteed to get a kick (and a snare, and a hi-hat, etc.) out of the Volca Beats once you’ve taken the time to familiarize yourself with its ins and outs.

Click here to view the Korg Volca Beats’ detailed profile and see what other users are saying.



Michael Southard

Michael is a multi-instrumentalist with extensive knowledge of audio production. He loves trying new gear to discover gems to create unique sound.