Sinevibes’ Groove oscillator for Korg NTS-1

Groove is a single-voice multi-timbral oscillator model for Korg ‘logue-SDK synths – including the NTS-1…

  • One oscillator, 72 drum voices for Korg ‘logue series
  • Monophonic ‘patch-flip’ style grooves for NTS-1
  • $59 for a whole new character of synth

Announced within moments of a Korg NTS-1 landing on my desk (review incoming), Sinevibes‘ cool Groove oscillator looks like a must-have for the Korg prologue and minilogue xd, where you can rapidly gain access to a multi-timbral drum machine per voice, and the complex displays make it easy to understand what you’re programming.

But it also works on the NTS-1, despite the super-limited interface and single voice model. A monophonic drum machine on a synth that doesn’t even have presets? How?

On polyphonic synths you can make full use of features like the random-probability trigger that allows evolving, never-repeating patterns when using the built-in sequencer, and chromatic toms and bassline that complete a very, very complex sound source.

In essence, on the best prologue you can have a 16-voice polyphonic subtractive/FM drum machine patch-flipping per track and filtering/tuning per step for remarkably complex beats – theoretically.

I don’t have a prologue, and besides, Sinevibes already make a video to show what it can do there…

Goove at its best, on the Prologue

Groove on the NTS-1

I do, however, have an NTS-1 – read the full review here – and Sinevibes fired a demo download of Groove over so I could include it in the review. First impressions start not with the oscillator, but with the documentation. Many of the logue-SDK oscillators come with little or no documentation, which makes interacting with them through the limited interface of the NTS-1 quite difficult. It’s a bit like trying to make an omelette in the dark…

What can Groove do?

  • 72 different presets mapped across 6 zones or keys
  • Chromatic Bass, Kick, Snare and Tom
  • Open/closed Hat, 12 sound effects

That’s a lot of ingredients to get into one pan in the right order. But, remarkably, Sinevibes has managed to get access to all of this into the NTS-1’s single oscillator button and three-knobs interface.

For the technically-minded, the sound engine uses three oscillators with four selectable waveforms, with 3-Op FM, three envelope generators, a state-variable filter, a clipping distortion and a comb filter, plus a trigger probability that has a 50% chance of skipping a beat if you choose that version of the sound.

You can’t get in and edit the DSP block configurations in-depth – each tone is a preset arrangement, but it’s still deeply cool, swapping synth configurations on the fly, per note. I’d kinda like to have access to the whole engine, waveforms, EGs and all – but that’s missing the point.

Here’s Sinevibes’ demo of the NTS-1, sequenced using an iPhone app apparently…

When mapping your sequencer, Kick occupies the octave from C3 to B3, Snare occupies C4 to E4, Toms are on F4 to B4 with closed/open Hat and Shaker/Zap effects on F#, G# an A# respectively. B2 and below is the Bass synth.

Selecting the sound for each zone from the 72 available is remarkably easy. Once you’ve uploaded Groove to your NTS-1 with the librarian, select it with the OSC button. Hold OSC, and turn TYPE to scroll through the six zones in order of Bass, Kick, Snare, Conga, Hat and Shaker.

For example, the Bass tone is selected using knob B, from 1-48 (even numbers have random probability), Bass presets run the gamut of analogue-esque fatter tones, to crashing FM harshness, with a degree of shaping and envelope control varied with knob A – this applies all the time, even when not selecting sounds, so you can shape while playing.

Percussion presets – Kick, Snare, Conga/Tom, Hat and Shaker/Zap – are selected using knob B in the same way, but knob A doesn’t do anything here.

There’s a good variety of kicks, and there’s plenty of Cowbell in the Shaker selection of 12 sounds – but you won’t necessarily find it until you’ve stopped assigning the sounds and are playing, when you can adjust the shaping of the percussion to suit, using knob B (now you see why A is assigned to the bassline contour shaping).

Sequencing Groove monophonically

First of all, you’re going to want to plug a MIDI controller of some sort into the Nu:Tekt synth. There’s no transpose on the ribbon and though there’s an arpeggiator, there’s insufficient control to really do much that’s predictable. That’s not to say you can’t find a use for it – but really, get a sequencer (any number of suitable iOS and Android ones can run on your smartphone), mappable pads or even a MIDI keyboard hooked up.

Quick demo of Groove on the NTS-1

In the style of YouTube video reviewers everywhere, I’ve gone for the Arturia Keystep Pro. This has a few advantages for this sort of task, not least of which is that the unconventional drum mapping is easily worked around and the monophonic step sequencer is quickly and easily edited.

It also has a metronome to help you get started on the beat, and can send MIDI or analogue sync signals, both of which the NTS-1 likes!

Sequencing these sequential patches needs to avoid legato playing when you record, as that can cut off the patch you watched to play – and pitch bend also ends up venturing into the wrong zones, so treat each key as a fixed sound. You can, however, shape the percussion using the B knob; the effect applies across all sounds, but as the knob is an assignable controller you can sequence different values per step – use CC#54 for the Bass shaping, and CC#55 for the percussion shaping.

It’s also possible to use the LFO and EG to further shape the sound – again, this is probably best accomplished by assigning parameters according to the NTS-1’s MIDI mapping, rather than delving into the front panel.

Sinevibes’ Groove – verdict

In some ways, this is a technical tour-de-force that draws attention to Sinevibes other oscillators (which are all just as well-presented and documented). This is a case of ‘because we can’, rather than ‘because we should’, but paired with an on-board sequencer and the incredible versatility of mapped sounds across a single voice, it’s a proof of concept that has applications beyond drum sounds.

The sounds are pretty good, too – particularly the scope of the FM basslines and synth-toms & snares. So the verdict is: if you already own a prologue or minilogue xd, you’ll get huge value out of Groove.

If you plan to buy one of those in the future, it’s worth buying for your NTS-1, or if you want to show off what the NTS-1 is capable of. On-the-fly dynamic reconstruction of the voices to form 72 sounds from a single voice is innovative, efficient and shows the potential of synths like the prologue to be almost limitless for any practical application.

In the NTS-1, it demonstrates just how much more there is to the little Korg kit’s sound than it being a posh Monotron with more waveforms. It also highlights how limiting the lack of a sequencer is, down to the fact that Groove is immensely sophisticated, and the three-knob, seven dedicated button interface isn’t.

If I had a minilogue xd or prologue, I’d definitely want Groove in my collection of oscillators. It reminds me of my Nord Drum 3P in some of the sounds, and being able to use them polyphonically, sequenced without cut-off envelopes or fiddly programming would be awesome.

Groove for NTS-1 owners – worth it?

NTS-1 owners, though, face a $59 cost – more than half the synth itself – for an oscillator model that does something really cool, but needs external control to come alive. And the thing about the NTS-1, Monotron and other things of this type is that they’re pocketable, portable and self-contained.

While it’s impressive (and very geeky, so of course I approve) being able to squeeze all these sounds out of a tiny synth, it’s chained to your smartphone or sequencer; once you’ve fished out your iPhone you’ve just moved away from your cheap, fun and spontaneous electronic instrument to a $1,000 high-power DSP-driven workstation with built-in high-fidelity speakers, long-life battery and super-cheap or free virtual synths, drums and everything else.

Staying away from extra hardware, you can get some amusing beats out of the arpeggiator – admittedly, some sound like dubstep for ducks – but what would really make it shine on the NTS-1 would be a ribbon keyboard mapping of kick and snare, plus one other effect for thumb-groove beatboxing.

Until then, if all you’ve got is an NTS-1, and just want some lo-fi fun beats, take the $59 and buy a Teenage Engineering PO-12 Rhythm. You’re going to need to carry extra bits anyway…