You can read more reviews like this, along with Tony's productions at his personal site -> Tony Long Music.
KORG SV-1 - INTRODUCTION
Here is an instrument that I have been longing to get my hands on - The Korg SV-1 Piano. The SV stands for 'Stage Vintage' and that it exactly what it appears to be; a Stage Piano that looks as if it would have felt very much at home in the Seventies. I know that many people like me would wish that it was more of a Synth and Piano combination, but it is not! I therefore intend to concentrate this review on what it is rather than what it is not. I will be looking at the 73-note version, which is a lovely rich burgundy colour with black rounded ends...
KORG SV-1 - A STAGE VINTAGE PIANO RIGHT OUT OF THE BOX
The Korg SV-1 feels a reasonable weight as I take it out of the box, with a solid construction... just right for gigging! Korg specifications show this to be 17.46Kg / 38.5 lbs and its size dimensions are 1143mm x 347mm x 155mm / 45.0" x 13.66" x 6.1". Its narrow depth and rounded front edge mean that it is easy to manoeuvre and also use in more confined areas. The weight is not light but it is very good given the fact that there are 73 weighted keys. My 76 note Triton weighs 16.5Kg and that does not have weighted keys.
Hold-on a minute here... there is no LCD on the Korg SV-1, which means that I have no menus to wade through. There is just a large control area, which is full of tweakable knobs and buttons. I have to say that it looks great and as you switch it on, an array of lights come on, including a see-through valve, which just oozes warmth, giving you some anticipation of the sound to come. The Korg SV- 1 comes complete with a User Manual, Accessory Disk (containing the software and related manuals), a Music stand, Korg DS-2H damper pedal (supporting half-pedalling) and the Standard IEC AC power cable.
KORG SV-1 - THE SOUND
Right, I want to hear its sound and so impatiently I decide to try out my new headphones. I couldn't find the headphone socket at first but soon discovered that it is neatly and conveniently situated at the front, to the left. I wish other keyboard companies would take on-board that the best place for a headphone jack is on the front - well done Korg! As I started to play and hear my first sounds, I seemed instantly aware that there was little to no learning curve here. Everything I wanted to do was right in front of my eyes; easy to see, control and understand. I wish Korg had taken some of this design and solid construction to the new Korg Kronos. So straight away I was working my way through the presets; changing effects, EQ and amp simulation etc. in seconds. I love the clarity, mechanical noises and warmth about the sounds and believe that they would shine through with an air of quality in a live band situation. So far there is not much to not like about the Korg SV-1, but let's delve a little deeper...
KORG SV-1 - HOW MANY SOUNDS DOES IT HAVE?
Well, to many people this is the sad news, because we are only looking at 36 - six banks of 6, with eight large buttons to store and recall your favourite patches. Today, everyone wants more of everything - they are not happy with 36, they want 3600 sounds! As I said at the start, this is not a Synth, this is a Stage Piano that would have been very at home in the seventies. If you had a Wurlitzer in the seventies, that is what it was and that is all it did - make the famous Wurlitzer sound. So having got that out the way, we need to look at exactly what these 36 sounds are and what they can do. The positive side to this (especially for live use) is that there are not hundreds of patches to wade through or many decisions to make and this fits in well with the fast and convenient layout of the controls as well.
KORG SV-1 - SIX BANKS OF SIX
Working my way through the sounds we start with:-
Electric Piano Bank 1 which has:-
• Four Electric Pianos. Piano 1, the Tine EP (Electric Piano) / Amp has a great sound but you can hear a fair amount of hiss with this. EPs 2 and 3 are enhanced by way of tremolo and auto-pan effects - very nice. Piano 4 the Dyno EP is brighter and faster and has that classic EP sound.
• Two VPM Pianos. I liked both of these with the first having a warm 80's sound, whilst the second was accentuated by electro-mechanical noises.
Electric Piano Bank 2 has:-
• Two Reed Electric Pianos. The first reminded very much like the EP used in the song 'You're my Best Friend' by Queen - great sound! The second was a much cleaner EP, but still very nice.
• An Electro-Acoustic Grand. That is exactly what it sounds like. Korg have captured this perfectly.
• A Korg SG-1D. I am not familiar with the SG-1D but what I will say is that I found this very different from the rest of the presets as it seemed to contain a number of acoustic piano qualities.
• An 80's Synth Piano. Again, Korg seemed to have captured the spirit of the sounds used at this time.
• A MIDI Grand, which seems to be combined with a string ensemble. I thought it had a very good balance between piano and string.
Clav Bank 3 has:-
• Four Clavs - If I had to choose I would say that I thought Clav 1 and 4 were the best, with Clav 4 just slightly ahead due to its compressed, phased funky sound.
• An Electro Piano - I love the electro-mechanical sound of this and it has that late sixties / early seventies classic piano sound.
• Electra Piano - This is more like a piano associated with Prog Rock and has more of an aggressive attack to it.
Although Clavs are not really my thing, they do have their uses and can be very funky. Personally I prefer them when they are layered with another sound to produce something new but Clav-like. My research shows that the multisamples used in these Clavs are the four pickup combinations AC, BC, BD and AD from the famous Hohner Clavinet D6.
Piano Bank 4 has:-
• A Bright Japanese Grand, which sounds gorgeous, especially when you increase the depth of the reverb.
• A Smooth European Grand, which in some ways I prefer to Piano 1 (which should give you some idea of the quality here).
• A Mono Grand, which I thought was very useable although I preferred it with a little reverb.
• An authentic Upright Piano, which is great for fast work with its short sharp attack.
• Piano + Strings, which I did not like much, especially as you are unable to change the volume levels of each without the use of the editor to produce the desired balance between the two.
• Piano + Pad, which had a much more pleasing and useable sound. I also found that with use of the Amp Modelling, I could change these acoustic pianos into new sounding electric pianos. Some produced a more current low-fi EP sound.
Organ Bank 5 has:-
• Three Tonewheel Organs, which I found a bit heavy and muddy sounding. The best out of the three was the third one.
• A USA Tube Console Organ, which I thought was the best out of the five! It reminded me of the organ sound used by the progressive rock bands Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.
• An Italian Combo Organ, which is not too bad and is useable, although perhaps with the right amount of tweaking could be improved upon.
• A VOX Combo Organ - to be honest I really did not like this at all.
So overall I found the Organ Sounds a bit of a disappointment and I ended up thinking why did they bother... this is meant to be a stage piano and they would have been better off devoting more to the Pianos and not having any organs and then this would have made more sense with the RH3 keyboard being used.
Other Sounds in Bank 6 are:-
• Full Strings - Very orchestral sounding . I quite liked this sound and found I could also find some usable varieties with different effects.
• Tape Strings - I found this a little disappointing and harsh.
• 70's String Machine - again, not really a great sound in my opinion.
• A Real Choir - the sound was OK but far from a real choir - I really believed that Korg could and should have done something far better here.
• Synth Brass - again not necessarily a bad sound but just nothing special about it
• Sharp Brass - a little better than most in bank six.
Yes, Bank 6 to me was the most disappointing, leaving me with the burning question as to why Korg bothered with this at all.
KORG SV-1 - EFFECTS
As I said earlier, everything is in front of you and this includes the effects which start with a great little three-band EQ, which has a very musical sound. This does a good job for shaping your sound but lacks some of the other controls normally found with EQ. I believe you can however, sweep the mid-band frequency by use of the software editor.
Working from left to right; next up is the PRE FX section, which is for selecting from six stompbox models. There is a compressor, a boost, Uni-Vibe, a Hammond chorus/vibrato, tremolo and my favourite, which is an emulation of Vox wah-wah, which can also be controlled via a footpedal. These Pre-effects are ones that come before a Pre-Amp and you can only select one of these effects at a time.
In my opinion, the Third section ('AMP MODELLING', which also includes the selection of the cabinet) really made those 36 sounds expand into a much larger amount, because you could really create some new sounds with this. Again you have six to choose from; Clean Combo, California, Tweed, AC30, Modded OD and Korg OD/HG. I would say however, that editing is best done via the Software editor, which allows you to cross-combine the six amp models with any of 10 speaker cabinets.
Next along are the MODULATION effects, which have two choruses, two phasers, a flanger and excellent rotary speaker emulation. Again, to get the best from these, I would suggest using the editor because you will find that the majority of their parameters are only available there.
You then come to the REVERB/DELAY section, where you can select from Room, Plate, Hall, Spring, Tape Echo and a Stereo Delay. The editor gives additional control such as pre-delay and damping for the reverbs, and feedback for the delays.
Strangely enough, the last effect, 'LIMITING', cannot be seen on the keyboard, but is found in the Editor and there are two types.
KORG SV-1 - FEEL AND PLAYABILITY
There are two sizes for the Korg SV-1; a 73 and 88-note version. Both of these have Korg's RH3 graded-hammer action keybed. You can also find these on the 88 note Korg M3 and the Korg M50. In my opinion, the action is good but not completely what I am seeking. It hasn't got the crisp feel of say a Roland G8 and feels very different on key release; however, it is always about compromise here and keyboard players who do not want a multi-keyboard setup but need a singular instrument for piano need to be able to lift it. This necessitates a lighter, full-size hammer-action keyboard and the compromise is then on playability of the keybed. Korg do complicate this a little further by including organ and other synth sounds. The keybed is then not fast enough for these sounds. Perhaps one day technology will be so far advanced that the keybed feel will totally change depending on the sound selected. Actually that is not a bad idea; just remember, you heard it hear first! You can make some changes to the feel of the keys by way of velocity curves and I found that I did start to get used to this feel after some use.
KORG SV-1 - TRANSPOSE, LOCAL OFF, TOUCH AND FUNCTION
The only other controls, which go a little deeper, are the Transpose, Local Off, Touch and Function buttons. The Transpose button allows you to transpose plus or minus 12 semitones. If you want the keyboard disconnected from the internal sounds, then you need to turn the LED of the 'Local Off' button on. With the 'Touch' button you can adjust the sensitivity of your keyboard. There are eight velocity curves ranging from 'Normal' to 'Fixed'. Lastly, the Function button allows you to make MIDI and tuning settings, adjust the RX Noise volume, adjust the Layer volume, or to restore the instrument to the default configuration.
You can also listen to 36 built-in demo songs by pressing the TRANSPOSE and LOCAL OFF buttons together and then select a particular demo song by using the TYPE and VARIATION knobs in the SOUND section.
KORG SV-1 - OUTPUTS AROUND THE BACK
At the back of the Korg SV-1 you have XLR outputs so you don't need a direct box - wow that will please the Sound Engineer! There are also two quarter inch outputs and two quarter inch inputs so you can practice along with your mp3 player for example. You can plug in three pedals - the Damper Pedal which is supplied, an Expression Pedal which is great for volume or to control the vox-wah, and you can plug in a foot switch which will either turn off and on the effects, or it can control the speed of the rotary amp simulation. There are MIDI IN and OUT connections but no THRU. Finally there is a USB connection that will also carry MIDI and allow you to connect to the software editor.
KORG SV-1 - EDITOR
Korg apparently decided that despite the fact that they had made a very user-friendly keyboard for an easy and quick hands-on experience, they were very much aware that so many keyboard players today like to delve much deeper to refine and shape sounds to a greater extent. With this in mind, they created the SV-1 Editor / Librarian, which also provides access to parameters that are not on the SV-1's control panel. Here you can program and save each of the 36 sounds and eight of your favourites individually. What is good about this is that you can create libraries of sounds and exchange them with other Korg SV-1 users. You can also combine sounds from different libraries, change the order of sounds, replace sounds you don't plan to use with others you like better and create and edit tuning scales. The editor is very easy to install, load and understand. On top of this there is a separate manual with 63 pages of info for you to go through.
Korg have also released a free soundpack with another 36 sounds, which you can load via this software. The pack is called :- The Korg SV-1 Sound Pack 2 and features a collection of sounds that were inspired by user feedback. Korg state that 'these vintage sounds include darker tine pianos, an acoustic piano with more sustain as well as a wider variety of organ sounds.' Of special note, for the first time there are split sounds, including left hand basses - a nice surprise hidden in the ROM!
KORG SV-1 - CONCLUSION
The Korg SV-1 Stage Vintage Piano, designed for live performers, is without doubt a great instrument and a pleasure to play, accurately capturing all those electro-mechanical, transistorised and tape-driven sounds from yesteryear. There is so much to love about it, from its classic retro looks and rich burgundy colour to its warm vintage sound and extremely user-friendly control panel. It is by no means perfect, but Korg have done their utmost to address as much as possible from the user feedback they have received. It seems ironic that its purpose was to be the best stage piano available and to a large extent it is, but it has been let down to some extent by its other sounds. You cannot really find faults with its Piano's; some of them are just beautiful and as you change from an authentic Fender Rhodes to a Wurlitzer it makes you realise that what you have in front of you is most certainly quality not quantity.
For more information on the Korg SV-1, or to purchase one of these keyboards, follow the links below: