Close up of a keyboard.

Review: KORG SV-1 Keyboard

Korg took a bold step when introducing the SV-1. A retro-style keyboard that only has 36 sounds, very limited editing facilities, no digital display, and no built-in sequencer, yet selling at a price that would buy a reputable keyboard workstations with all of the above and more. But the simplicity of the SV-1 (Stage Vintage-1) is probably its greatest appeal.

The Korg SV-1 keyboard.

Apart from the headphone output, which is conveniently located at the front, all the inputs and outputs are at the back. Everything else is immediately accessible from the front panel via an array of dials, switches, and buttons, summarized in the table below.

Control Summary
Master Volume A simple rotary volume control
Equalizer Three-band – bass, middle, treble – offering a useful amount of cut and boost. Has a dedicated on/off button.
Pre FX Vibrato and tremolo are included among the six pedal effects that can be dialled up, with a further two controls to adjust the speed and intensity of the effect. Has a dedicated on/off button.
Amp Model Amp/cabinet emulation selection with a drive control to adjust the pre-amp volume (i.e. the overdrive saturation). Has a dedicated on/off button.
Favorites Allows you to store and recall up to eight settings, effectively expanding the 36 inbuilt sounds to a possible 44.
Sound Six sound groups with six variations each (totalling 36 sounds).
Modulation FX Chorus, phasers, and flangers are included in the six modulation effects that can be dialled up, with a further two controls to set the speed and intensity of the effect. Has a dedicated on/off button
Reverb & Delay There are six reverb/delays, with a depth control to adjust the intensity of the effect. Has a dedicated on/off button.
Power A simple on/off toggle switch.

All of the dials, apart from the volume control, are the click-stop type as opposed to continuously variable. The advantage here is that it’s easy to recreate precise settings that you have used before. With a continuously variable control you can never be sure of the exact setting. LEDs around the dials light up at each click-stop position, giving clear visual feedback of each dial’s setting.

In keeping with the retro styling the on/off switch is an old-style toggle, with a very positive action. But what at first seemed like a striking omission was the lack of an ‘on’ LED indicator. However, on reflection, anyone that doesn’t notice the keyboard is on from the vast number of LEDs the front panel has, not to mention the illumination of the valve, wouldn’t be helped by another LED specifically showing that the keyboard is powered up. In short, an on/off LED is not necessary.

At the far left-hand side of the control panel is a compartment housing a real valve that is used to add warmth and genuine overdrive distortion, making the retro emulations that much more authentic. An LED provides the glowing effect as the actual valve doesn’t get hot enough to glow of its own accord. In fact the transparent plastic cover of the compartment housing never got anything more than warm after I’d had the keyboard on all day.

Part of the front panel of the Korg SV-1 Keyboard showing the valve glowing.

The sounds on the SV-1 consist of electric pianos, acoustic pianos, clavichords, organs, and 'others', a position on the dial where brass, strings, and a choir can be found. All the sounds are convincing, particularly the electric pianos. However, the acoustic piano sounds that the SV-1 comes with have a decay that is too short, effectively ruling out playing music that requires sustained notes or chords – and that’s a lot of music! Fortunately Korg fixed this with their Sound Pack 2, one of two sound packs that can be downloaded free from Korg and installed into the SV-1 via a computer and USB cable. Judging from the file size, which is quite small, the sound packs probably don’t contain any new samples, but they do sound fresh, and are a welcome addition to the original sound set.

Within the sound packs there is a small selection of split and layered sounds too, but it is not possible to create your own splits or layers, nor is it possible to edit the split point. This is a pity, as it would have been nice to have a little more versatility here. And still on the subject of sounds, and what the SV-1 won’t do, the instrument is not multitambral. Whether you are playing the keyboard or sending it midi signals, the SV-1 will only play one sound at a time, i.e. the sound that has been selected..

Using the software included with the SV-1 it’s possible to mix and match the sounds from the two sound packs to your liking. The software also allows some basic editing, giving access to controls that aren’t on the instrument’s front panel.

The Edit Page of the software that comes with the Korg SV-1.

Before leaving the subject of sounds, mention should be given to Korg’s RX noise technology, RX being short for Real eXperience. RX noise is the mechanical noise created by some, but not all, instruments. In the case of a piano, for example, the mechanical noise would include the sound of the key being released, the hammer returning to its rest position, and the damper resonance of the strings. This all goes to make the instrument sound more authentic. The RX noise level can be adjusted by pressing the Function button and then using the Bass control in the EQ section to adjust the level. Unless the new setting is saved to the Favorites, it will be lost as soon as another sound is selected. The same applies to any edits made to the sounds.

The Favorites buttons on the Korg SV-1.Saving sounds couldn’t be easier. Once you’ve edited a sound and want to save the settings simply press and hold down one of the eight Favorites buttons until it starts flashing. While it is flashing press it again, and your settings are saved. It's a small point but the Favorites buttons are sensibly located in the middle of the panel, making it easy for left or right hand opperation. As with many keyboards, changing patch causes any sound currently sounding to cut off abruptly.

Some of the dials on the front panel are multifunction, details of which are clearly explained in the SV-1 manual, but the table below gives an overview of which dials are used to affect changes when the Function button is pressed and starts to blink.

FUNCTION Does this:
EQ – TREBLE Adjusts the fine tuning. By default, the SV-1 is tuned to the standard Western tuning (A = 440Hz). Using the TREBLE knob changes this, by lowering or raising the pitch by 0.25Hz corresponding to each click of the knob.
EQ - BASS Adjust the volume of the RX Noise component of the sound, or the volume of the Layer.
FAVORITES 1 – 8 Selects the corresponding tuning curve (eight different curves are available).
NOTES C6 – D#7 Select the corresponding MIDI channel (out of 16).

In the same row as the function button is a Transpose button. Just hold the button down until it starts blinking and then press a key in the octave below or above C4 (the C closest to the centre of the keyboard) to transpose the corresponding number of steps up or down. Pressing the button again restores the pitch to normal. Turning off the keyboard also resets the transposition to normal.

Pressing the Local Off button disconnects the keyboard from the internal sounds. However, midi data continues to be sent via the midi or USB ports.

The SV-1 has eight different touch settings. To select these simply press the Touch button until it starts blinking, then use the Favorite buttons to select the touch curve you require (see the manual for details). ‘1’ is normal.

For me the real genius regarding the SV-1 is making a 73-note weighted keyboard. Many manufacturers make 88-note weighted keyboards, but these ignore the fact that often, especially when playing in a band, the lowest and highest notes are seldom, if ever, used, yet add a significant amount of weight and bulk to the instrument. Seventy-three notes, the number of keys on the original Fender Rhodes piano, is a good compromise for many situations (although I would preferred the more standard 76 notes).

In use I found the smooth sides of the keyboard hard to grip when lifting. Putting a recess for the fingers would have made the keyboard much easier to pick up, and wouldn’t have interrupted the smooth contours of the design.

The wooden base of the keyboard, around the holes where the bolts from the keyboard stand enter, is susceptible to wear with frequent use. If you only do half a dozen gigs a year then this isn’t going to be a problem, but for pros doing, say, 100 gigs a year, the wear will become significant. All that is needed is a metal plate around the hole. I believe Korg are aware of this problem.

An often overlooked feature in keyboard reviews is mention of the boot up time of the instrument. The SV-1 takes around 7 seconds from switch on to being ready to play. Compared to some keyboards, particularly keyboard work stations, this is very short.

Accessories

Korg's DS-2S sustain pedal that comes with the SV-1 keyboard.The SV-1 comes with the Korg DS-2S piano-style sustain pedal, which supports half-pedalling. The construction quality is not as good as other pedals I have seen and used, but it seems adequate. Regardless of the keyboard you are using it is always best to carry a spare sustain pedal of some description. The SV-1 offers a polarity change function, allowing pedals from other manufacturers to be used, but I still strongly advocate carrying a spare that is ready to plug in and go.

The SV-1 also comes with a music stand that easily attaches to the instrument (pictured below). Although the stand seems quite robust I would be worried about using it on the road. If one of the two prongs that attach the stand to the keyboard were to break it would render the stand useless.

The Korg SV-1 keyboard showing the keyboard stand and music stand.Optional accessories, other than pedals and foot switches, include a stand and case. The stand is very sturdy, and aesthetically looks much better than a standard ‘X’ stand. After assembly, which takes very little time, it is recommended that two people lift the SV-1 into position, making sure that it is correctly orientated on the stand so that it aligns with the two bolts that secure the instrument in place. With the 73-note version I found I could, with care, position the keyboard on the stand myself. However, until the two securing bolts are engaged it sits precariously in a state of balance. In spite of its greater size and weight I am reliably informed that the 88-note version too can also be assembled by one person.

There was no height adjustment for the stand that came with the SV-1 73 under review here, but I notice that the stand for the SV-1 88 clearly has extendable legs. If you usually play standing up then this is something worth checking before purchasing the stand.

A soft case is also available for the SV1. I’m not a big fan of soft cases but I feel that the soft case for the SV-1 is well designed. Only a modest amount of padding is used, but due to the inherent strength of the SV-1 only a modest amount of padding is needed, which in turn helps reduce bulk and increase portability. The case has a large pocket on either side. One side, very thoughtfully, houses the stand. This means that the keyboard and stand can be carried together, leaving one hand free to carry a reasonably sized combo amp. The other pocket can be used to store music, leads, or anything else you care to put in. The case also has wheels at one end so that it can be wheeled along. This is an excellent piece of design work as the keyboard itself is heavy, even without the stand.

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The Korg SV-1 keyboard in its soft case.

Conclusion

Although tempting, it would be unfair to compare the SV-1 to a workstation. The SV-1 clearly isn’t designed to be all things to everyone. It’s probably best to think of the SV-1 as a modern day recreation of the classic Fender Rhodes / Wurlitzer electric pianos, with some acoustic pianos and one or two other sounds thrown in. But more than anything, the SV-1 actually feels like a real instrument, as opposed to a keyboard simply recreating the sounds of real instruments, in a way that’s hard to describe. The action of the keyboard, a real weighted hammer action, is particularly good and a joy to play.

Prices vary considerably, but at the time of writing, April 2013, tend to fall between just over £1000 to around £1450, depending on where you buy, and whether it's the 73- or 88-note version.


View more images of the SV-1 in the KORG SV-1 Image Gallery.

See the related article: Choosing a Keyboard and Choosing a Sustain Pedal.

 
Useful external links:

These links are provided for your reference only. I have no connection with these sites and cannot take responsibility for their content.

Korg SV-1 - More details on the SV-1 from Korg's website.

SV-1 Sound Packs (and other SV-1 Software), available for PC or MAC.

 

 
(I would like to affirm to the reader that I have no connection with KORG, and have received no payment or benefits from any source for writing this review. It is a true customer/user review.)
 


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July 26, 2017. The question I attempt to answer this month is Why Pay For Music? Leaving aside the legal argument there is much more to consider. Read the article to find out more.

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Jan. ~ Mar. 2017. New posts coming soon.

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