Korgs I’ve Owned Part 3 — X50
In the previous installment in this series, I highlighted the low-point of my on-again-off-again relationship with Korg keyboards, the X2. This time, I’ll talk about my return to the Korg fold and my decision to buy an X50.
The X50 came after a string of other keyboards I owned after the X2, including an Alesis QS6.1 (another favorite keyboard of mine), and Emu PK-6 (touted as an Ensoniq replacement), a second Ensoniq VFXsd (again, the version 2 with the upgraded piano samples and upgraded sequencer), and an utterly uninspiring Roland RS-50.
Anyway, I’d promised myself that I’d never own another Korg after the disappointment of the X2, and it was with some trepidation that I considered the X50. But, my friend Steve Rosch of the band The Janglebachs had one, and he loved it. It sounded great. It was lightweight and feature rich. It looked cool, too, and it was comparatively affordable. So, I sold the RS-50 to a friend, crossed my fingers, and pulled the trigger on the X50.
I quickly found that even though the X50 was an inexpensive synth (some would say cheap or entry level), the sounds, many of which were derived from Korg’s Triton flagship, were fantastic! Performance controls were logical, and well laid out. It had the features I wanted, and there was a fairly useful editor available. The only parts that felt low-end to me were the pitch bend and modulation wheels.
For performance, there were some really cool capabilities like dual arpeggiators, and velocity cross switching in Combi mode. Even the display, while small, wasn’t horrible. Things were well laid out, and it was pretty easy to follow the flow. The X50 even had an additional pair of assignable outputs, though I never used them. The only thing missing was aftertouch, but for the kinds of things I was doing, that wouldn’t matter a whole lot. The X50 was actually fun to play!
So, let’s take a quick look at the X50 specs as well as the description from Korg’s web site:
Korg X50 61-Key Synthesizer Keyboard
The X50 music synthesizer is packed with Korg’s distinctive and world-renown sounds, designed for easy and intuitive operation, and with an ultra-light and compact design that’s ideal for the active musician.
- 512 professional-quality sound programs produced by the HI synthesis system used on the world-famous Triton series.
- 384 combinations, each allowing up to eight programs to be freely combined to create complex sounds.
- Multi Mode allows the X50 to be played from your external sequencer as a 16-part multi-timbral sound module.
- Powerful effect section with four processors (one insert effect, two master effects, one master EQ).
- Four-channel audio output (two main channels, two individual channels), a first in its clas
- Dual polyphonic arpeggiator for even more musical enjoyment.
- USB connector allows single-cable MIDI connection with your computer.
- Stand-alone and innovative plug-in sound editing software is included, allowing you to tweak and program the X-50, even within your DAW software.
The Korg X50 music synthesizer features the HI (Hyper Integrated) sound engine that’s used on the world-famous Triton series. It gives you pro-quality sounds in an ultra-compact body. This keyboard synthesizer delivers unbeatable convenience and enjoyment for live performance or song production.
Amazing Sounds, Powerful Effects
The 64 MB PCM memory contains a wide range of sounds, including piano, strings, guitar, and synth sounds. With 512 sound Programs, as well as 384 ‘Combinations’ that let you use up to eight Programs together, you can start enjoying a diverse selection of great sounds right away. The effect section lets you simultaneously use four effects (one insert effect, two master effects, and one EQ), and provides a full selection of effect types such as reverb, chorus, and delay. Best of all, the X50 is compatible with Korg’s TR line of music workstations so you can share sounds and songs with Korg users around the world.
An arpeggiator lets you play a variety of phrases using just one finger, and the X50 provides two polyphonic arpeggiators! For example, in Combination mode you can use the two arpeggiators to play drums and bass while you play chords and melody, giving you amazing power for live performances. In addition to five basic preset arpeggio patterns, it also provides an additional 251 patterns containing various phrases. Of course you can also create your own original patterns and store them in internal memory.
Finding the right sound quickly when you have so many to choose from can be a problem on some systems, but never Korg’s! The X50 organizes its vast array of sounds into sixteen categories, and provides a Category Select function that makes it quick and easy to choose the sound you need from the category you specify. There’s also an Audition Riff function that provides one-touch audition of each sound. Four knobs can be used to quickly adjust sounds, effects and arp settings, and the ClickPoint cursor makes it a pleasure to use and play.
The X50 packs professional-quality sounds and a wide range of functions into an amazingly light and compact body. Even with a 61-note keyboard that gives you plenty of room to perform, it boasts an ultra-light weight of only 4.5 kg — about the same as an electric guitar. The compact design ensures that it can fit into the smallest home studio workspace, and thanks to its cool side handles it’s easy to take along wherever you go.
In a first for its class, the X50 features individual outputs, allowing professional setups in which the sounds of specific parts are sent to their own outputs. This can be very useful in situations such as recording when you may want to EQ and process each sound separately, and for surround-sound applications.
The X50 also provides a USB connector that lets you establish MIDI connections with your computer using a single cable – no interface needed. A powerful Multi mode give you 16 parts to create music with, with the full complement of effects and other settings to make complete songs using only the keyboard and your computer. 128 Multis can be saved and recalled, with 16 preloaded covering many common music styles and genres.
It also comes with editor/librarian software that makes it easy to create and organize sounds using your computer. Two versions are provided: a traditional stand-alone application and an innovative plug-in version (VST, AU, and RTAS formats supported) that can run within your DAW and MIDI sequencing software. Both versions are colorful, graphic-rich, and provide a wonderful interface for working with the X50 in all its modes.
Korg X50 Music Synthesizer Specifications
- HI (Hyper Integrated) sound engine
- 48 kHz sampling frequency
- 64 MB PCM ROM
- 470 multisamples + 518 drumsamples
- Keyboard: 61-key, velocity sensitive
- 62 voices, 62 oscillators (in single mode)
- 31 voices, 62 oscillators (in double mode)
- Stereo digital multi effect system – all can be used simultaneously
- 2 Master Effects (mono in, stereo out)
- 1 Insert Effect (stereo in/out)
- 1 Master Effect (3-band stereo)
- Number of Effect Types: 89 (available for Insert Effect and Master Effects)
Programs, Combinations, Multi-sets, Drumkits:
- 512 user Programs (512 preloaded)
- 384 user Combinations (384 preloaded)
- 128 user Multi sets (16 preloaded)
- 40 user Drumkits (16 preloaded)
- GM sound map compatible – 128 programs + 9 GM2 drum kits (ROM)
Dual Polyphonic Arpeggiator:
- Two arpeggiators, useable simultaneously in Combination and Multi Modes, one arpeggiator can be used in Program Mode
- 5 preset, 251 user arpeggio patterns (251 preloaded)
- pitch bend wheel
- modulation wheel
- Realtime controls knob 1~4
- Audition key
- Category key
- Display: 240 x 64 dots LCD with backlight, graphical user interface
- MAIN-L/MONO, R
- INDIVIDUAL-1, 2
- damper (half-pedaling supported)
- assignable switch
- assignable pedal
- MIDI: In, Out
- USB: type B connector (transmits MIDI only)
- Power Supply: DC 12 V
- Current Consumption: 12 Watts
- Dimensions: 38.39″ (W) x 10.12″ (D) x 3.15″ (H), 975 (W) x 257 (D) x 80 (H) mm
- Weight: 9.48 lbs./4.3 kg
That’s all pretty impressive for a keyboard that sold for only a few hundred dollars!
I never had a lot of success with the editor on my Windows computers, but as it turns out, it was not because of any issue with the Korg software, but rather a really stupid limitation of Windows. At the time, Windows had a severe limitation on the number of USB MIDI devices (maximum of 10!) and what’s more, if you plugged a MIDI device into one USB port, and then into different USB port later, that counted as two MIDI devices. Of course, Macs had no such limitation.
Close inspection of the images of the editor for the X50 (and Micro X) reveal that the system architecture of the X50 definitely resembles that of the Triton editor, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the newer Kross editor and also the Kronos editors. The X50 editor may be a little prettier, but the methods and architecture are basically the same! So, things that I learned on the X50 (but had until recently forgotten) have applied to the Kross 2 and now to the Kronos 2. In other words, if someone learns one synth, and know that if they buy a new synth from the same manufacturer, what they learned about their old synth will transfer to the new one, they’ll be far more likely to stay “in the family” when they do upgrade or add another instrument. Put another way, Korg seem to have figured out that a common architecture would make things better and easier for users, and by extension, foster future sales for Korg.
I kept the X50 for quite a while, eventually supplementing it with a Korg PS60 (which will be the subject of the next installment in this series) and later a Casio Privia PX-310 digital piano, and throughout that time, the X50 was my keyboard of choice for leads, organs, electric pianos, and clavs. I used the X50 with three bands (Any The Wiser, Wicked Sun, and Power Project) and there’s a sample here. To hear more, visit my Band Music page.
I ended up selling the X50, replacing it with a Roland VR-09, but only because I wanted a keyboard with drawbars for the organ but couldn’t afford a Nord Electro. The Roland did an admirable job, for the most part, of replacing the X50, though I later found that the Roland was a little weak in the lead synth department, and that Roland did some rather stupid things when it came to management of user-programmed sounds that precipitated my moving up to the Korg Kronos as my primary keyboard.
While the X50 is another instrument that I wouldn’t mind owning again, there’s really nothing it can do that I can’t do now with my Kross 2 and Kronos 2. Not to mention, they’re going for some incredibly high prices on eBay and Reverb — as of this writing, they’re selling for as high as $450! I think I only paid $500 or so for it when it was new.
I know starting to run into a bit of overlap in my Korg timeline now, but I’m going to continue this series in the order of acquisition. Next time, I’ll talk about one of the other Korgs I mentioned in this installment, the highly unique PS60 Performance Synthesizer.