Korg M01 Review

(Opening song selection screen.)

The original Korg music arranger synthesizer, the M1, came out in 1988 with a $2,000 USD price tag. It was one of the first synths to combine preset sampled instrument voices with a built-in sequencer. In 2010, Detune, the Japanese software company made up of the people that worked on the Korg DS-10 emulator, came out with a Gameboy DS emulator of the M1, called the M01. It’s not an exact point-for-point copy of the M1, but that’s a good thing.

(Track and scene selection screen.)

I’ve been looking around, and it seems that the M01 was never officially released in the U.S. Initial price in Japan might have been around 6,000 yen ($60 USD), and most of the sites I’ve seen carrying it only have used copies, priced anywhere between $100 and $260. So I feel kind of lucky in snagging my copy for $50, which is more than I would have liked to pay, otherwise.

(Sequencer for the selected track and scene.)

When you turn it on, the M01 lets you set only two options, screen brightness and button layout. Or, you can share music save files with another user, or open up one of the save files to start composing. If you want, you can pick the Init file to start from scratch, or edit an existing file and save it under a different name to one of the 10 available slots (there also are 2 bonus and 2 demo songs). Within the app, you have access to the sequencer interface, which lets you program notes for up to 8 tracks. Or, you can switch to the keyboard or Kaoss interfaces to play music interactively with the selected instrument for real-time recording. The Mixer function lets you mute tracks, play one track solo, set volume levels, and specify how much of the FX you want applied to each voice. (FX includes reverb and delay with certain presets.)

(Instrument selection for a specific track. Using the Extras bank, here.)

If you’re wondering about the name “M01”, the emulator lets you select from about 330 instruments from 3 banks: the “M1” bank (which came out in 1988), the “01/W” (voices released in 1991) and the Extras bank. Most of M1 voices are gimmicky, like the cowbell or synth bass, with only 10 or so that I’d normally want to use. The 01/W and Extras banks are much better. Within the sequencer drum track you can program 8 drum effects at once, which is very nice. The other instruments are per-track, but have “A” and “R” levels you can tweak to modify the sounds more. Specifically, this is Attack and Release, with values from 0 to 15, and they work like you’d expect them to on an ADSR envelope generator.

(Drum sequencer.)

The sequencer interface is set up as “scenes”, which can be copied, erased, or inserted. Depending on the timing selected, one scene is 2 seconds long, and you can have up to 99 scenes, or 7,700 notes, in one song file. I did find the sequencer interface confusing at first. “Sel” lets you rubber band select multiple scenes or instruments and then drag them to another part of the screen. With “Copy”, you choose one scene and drag that to the location you want to do the copy operation to. This is limiting in that you can only drag, or copy-drag, to a location currently within your window. If you want to copy 1 minute worth of music to some section 1 minute farther into the song, you can’t. (Or, at least, I haven’t found a way to do it easily yet.) Within the sequencer, you can set gating (note ON time) and volume per note.


If you want to compose original music, you may instead want to get PC or Mac software, like Sonar or Sonic Forge, and do it on a computer. On the other hand, the beauty of the M01 is that you can carry it around anywhere that you can take a Gameboy DS. The sound is good, and the addition of the Kaoss pad makes it more fun to play with. If you’re just starting out with electronic sound, and you can get a used copy of the “game” for under $50, I highly recommend that you buy the M01. The onscreen instructions and button names are all in English, although the user manual is in Japanese. The game is easy enough to use, though, so that the user manual isn’t really necessary. In any event, I’d say that the real, bottom-line reason to get the M01 is that it makes for an inexpensive, decent drum machine.

(FX screen.)

(Kaoss pad.)


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  1. Korg DSN-12 new release | threestepsoverjapan

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