In creating the Microsampler, Korg put out one of the only dedicated keyboard samplers of the last 15 years or so. Sure, there were workstations like the Fantoms, Motifs, etc., but old school keyboard samplers are pretty much a thing of the past. Regrettably, I only had my Microsampler for about a month before I had to sell it on but I did get enough time on it to see what it’s about. First of all, the Microsampler puts the emphasis on fun and ease of use. Unfortunately, it was not very well received while it was available and the production run did not last very long. As a result, they have become somewhat sought after on the second hand market and it’s not uncommon to see them sell in the $400 range these days.
So if it didn’t sell well, what is it that makes people seek them out now? Well, it does cram a lot of features into a rather small (and battery powered) board. You have many different ways to sample, onboard effects and even a sequencer. Finding your way around is fairly intuitive, as Korg took a cue from modern midi controllers and used the keys as a means of accessing various functions. This means that everything is literally at your fingertips and the light up circle above each key lets you know what function is active at any given time.
Physically, the MS-1 is surprisingly light but also surprisingly sturdy despite being made entirely of plastic. The knobs are a little on the strange side, not terribly unlike the dials you find on a washing machine. I actually think that this unconventional look and feel is what prevented it from selling well but I also think it is part of what makes it sought after now. See, the knobs and buttons are all recessed and the rubber buttons light up when activated. Sounds perfect for a live situation where you don’t want to accidentally brush up against a knob and screw something up. And when you factor in that it can run on batteries, it really is perfect for taking with you to a show or just on the go. Also, unlike keyboard samplers of the past, there is a USB port so you can transfer and back up your samples easily.
As far as other features, I thought a lot of them were poorly implemented. The effects are fiddly and do not have dedicated knobs to control parameters. Instead, you have to do some menu diving and use the multi-purpose knobs to the right of the screen. And even at that, there is not a great deal of tweaking you can do. Worse yet, filtering is done as an effect and that is probably the biggest way that Korg dropped the ball. But still, they did make it easy to edit things like start and end points, even the rudimentary envelopes.
So, like with most of my favorite samplers, there is a lot of good and a few bad things. But I think that Korg implemented one thing that redeems the Microsampler for any of its shortcomings and that something is “Key Gate” sampling. In a nutshell, this means that you can have an audio source running through and sample by holding down a key. There is no setting up needed before each sample and no procedure after sampling to slow you down. It’s as simple as that. Hold down a key when you want to start sampling and release the key when you want to stop sampling. Furthermore, the sample stays assigned to the key you recorded it on. So just think of this in the context of a live set. You have all your other gear going and you can just grab loop after loop and, if your timing is good, keep whatever you sampled going so you can switch patterns or whatever on your other gear.
Sorry that this is not much of a review, as it’s been a while since the short time that I used the Microsampler, but that should give you an idea of where this fits in. I never play live or anything outside the studio so many of the best features of this sampler were not that big a deal for me. But for someone who plays live, this sampler could be exactly what you need. Especially with all of the small, budget analog out there these days like the Volcas, Akai’s line of cat themed boxes and, hell, even small modular systems. It’s much quicker to use than an old rack sampler and it has more features than, say, Roland’s SP line. I guess now there is the Volca Sample to sort of fill this niche but it, of course, doesn’t have a keyboard.
All in all, the Microsampler is great fun but not nearly as good in the studio as it would be for live performance. For me, personally, I had an SU-700, MC-909, SP-808, ST-224 and a few other samplers at the time I tried the Micro out so it really didn’t make a lot of sense to keep it. Now that I’ve slimmed things down a little, I sometimes wonder if I’d feel differently about it. But then, it’s nearly doubled in price since I had it about a year and a half ago. 😉