Paring Down Your Synth Setup with the Korg Electribe 2 Sampler

With new gear flooding the electronic musical instrument market on a daily basis, it can be difficult to find a setup that suits one's needs—but not because you can't find what you want. With so many used and new options available, it can almost become too easy to buy too much of the gear you come across. Before long, even under the $1,000 price limit, you can amass six or seven synths, a mixer, drum machines, effects, and samplers alike.

Maybe some of your tools are redundant or unnecessary. Maybe they're such a pain to connect that you begin to wonder how you're supposed to play it all again at your gig next week. Maybe, just maybe, you could create the same sounds with a smaller rig.

Today, I'd like to offer advice toward paring down your synth setup, based off of my own recent downsizing. I settled on a particular piece of gear—the Korg Electribe 2 Sampler—that is capable of synthesis, sampling, drums, and anything else you can imagine, and it can help you start making tracks with ease.

Initially released in the 1999, Korg introduced a line of synthesizers, drum machines, and samplers they called the Electribe. With a compact, X0X system of sequencing (that is, a sequencer that functions like a Roland TR-808 or 909), the Electribes gave immediate control over parameters and an ability to motion-sequence in a full song-mode length. At a price well below $500 USD, these were quite a success for the Japanese electronic instrument maker. Fast forward a decade or so, and the original machines become cheaper than ever.

In recent years, Korg has accumulated the absolute best of the Electribe range and modernized it into two units, the Electribe 2 and the Electribe 2 Sampler. While both versions offer an on-board synthesizer, filters, LFOs, and an envelope filter, the Electribe 2 Sampler limits the synth functions and preset sounds in order to allow users to load and edit their own samples. Almost by chance in a transaction through Reverb, I ended up with the 2 Sampler, which not only contains its namesake sampler but also includes an excellent 16-channel MIDI controller, all for around $300 USD.

Paired with a four-voice modular synthesizer, the Electribe has inspired a whole new means of production for me. All of my favorite drum machines now lie within the sample engine of the Electribe, leaving the top four channels open to control my modular setup. Hit record, play a few notes, and watch it loop. Add and subtract notes as the sequencer plays or enter a little melody with the XY pad in the arpeggiator setting. In an instant, full tracks become possible, all in a hardware platform.

The Electribe made owning classics like the Roland CR-68, Korg KR-55, and Boss DR-55 drum machines feel redundant in my setup. I was able to take samples of those machines and arrange them into patterns of my own, rather than using the stock, somewhat bland motions held within the original units. Instead of processing the actual sounds from the drum machines, I’ve found myself using the Electribe's effects and filters to create new drum sounds.

Modular set-up with the Korg Electribe 2

My Ensoniq EPS keyboard—with its clunky floppy discs for loading operating system and sample image files—became a waste of space. The samples and sequences created on the EPS are removed once the device is switched off. However, this is not the case with the Electribe—samples, sequences, and ideas are gracefully preserved along with that classic bit reduction sound the vintage samplers of the Ensoniq era are known for.

Wildly enough, the Electribe has actually countered my long-standing addiction of buying new synths. Rather than spending large sums of cash on an original machine, I can just sample an SH-101 from some guy on the web or take a Juno sample from dutch producer Legowelt’s vast and free sample library in relatively good tonal quality.

Korg Electribe 2

The Electribe makes it easy to sample into the device—either in mono or stereo. Once recorded, you can tweak everything from the start and end points and change filter, pitch, and envelope settings, just as you would on a subtractive synth. In turn, any sound can be played like a synthesizer—chromatically, with the "keyboard" mode, or with the one-shot style triggers.

Loading samples is a bit of task, however. You'd need to take a SD card, then drag and drop 16-bit wav files into a folder. From there, you'll have to go into the menu and find the "Data Utility," where you can read the files, and import. From there you'll assign to a pad, playback, and tweak from there. Don't forget to save and export though. Without that, all is lost, including the pattern you just created.

Like anything, the Electribe 2 Sampler takes some getting used to. I'm to the point now though that I can use this as a main controller for my modular, or as master effects processor. With the pair, I'm getting closer to that dream of a single folding 12u for complete Audio/Visual performance. Yes, I could do this all in the computer, but as someone who works on one already, it's nice to set up a few small pieces to play a show or make a record.

For me, this chance instrument is comparable to something like an MPC or a Digitakt, though it's much more affordable. Something else to be noted, the Electribe runs on batteries. So if that's your thing, you can take this on the go, or have one less power supply to worry about losing.

Bound with MIDI I/O and that classic Korg SYNC I/O, it's possible to sync a Volca or a vintage drum machine with the Electribe itself.

If, like myself, you want to use this to control your modular, you'll need something like Mutable Instruments' Yarns, a four-channel MIDI-to-CV module. Or if if you've got a rack of MIDI modules from a few decades back, simply go MIDI OUT and chain about. Either way, mapping your MIDI channels is the same.

Whether you're on a budget, or simply looking to pare down into a powerful sampler/synth combo unit, the Electribe 2 Sampler can be an answer to your problem. Listen to a track I made below with this pared-down Electribe 2 Sampler-meets-modular rig.

Have you used a different groovebox to achieve the same ends, or found another way to reduce your rig while expanding your sonic palette? Let us know in the comments.


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