Korg Krome EX Review: Powerful…But Too Many Tradeoffs

Korg Krome EX Review

In the past year or so, we’ve reviewed a number of performance-focused instruments, ranging from stage pianos, such as the Roland RD-2000, to some entry-level workstations, like the Yamaha MX88 and the Korg Kross 2.

For most people, these instruments are good enough. A large bank of sounds and some customizability is more than the general musician will ever need.

However, we haven’t touched on heavyweight workstations. These instruments take things another step further and allow users to do just about everything.

If you want in-depth sound editing and full-on song arrangement capabilities, you need a workstation keyboard.

One of our recent reviews covered the Korg Kross 2, which was a synthesizer-focused entry-level workstation. We loved it, but it focused much more on the performance aspect, leaving the arrangement capabilities on the side.

The Krome is one level above the Kross, while the Kronos is their most advanced workstation. In theory, we could easily say that the Krome is just an upgraded Kross, but things aren’t that simple. The Krome actually predates the Kross, which introduces some complications to that basic comparison.

This time, we’re reviewing the 2019 Krome EX, a much-needed update to the 2012 Korg Krome, which was starting to show its age, especially when compared to the similarly priced alternatives such as Roland’s FA-06 and the Yamaha MODX.

As usual, we’ll focus on reviewing the instrument by its own merits. However, we’ll inevitably be comparing it to other products along the way, just to see if its 9-year-old design decisions stand the test of time.

With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Korg Krome EX Specs

  • 61 (semi-weighted) keys – KROME EX-61 | 73 (semi-weighted) keys – KROME EX-73 | 88 (NH hammer action) keys – KROME EX-88
  • Polyphony: 120 Voices (single mode), 60 Voices (double mode)
  • Preset PCM Memory: 4 GB
  • 1536 Internal Programs (Tones)
  • Oscillators: OSC1, OSC1+2 (double)
  • Effects: 193 types, 32 preset per effect
  • Sequencer: 16-track MIDI, 128 songs, 16 user template songs
  • 5 preset arpeggio pattern, 1088 user arpeggio patterns (960 preload)
  • Modes: Layer, Split (up to 16 timbres, velocity zones and crossfade supported)
  • Connections: Line outputs 1/4″ (L/Mono, R), Headphone jack (1 x 1/8″), USB type B (MIDI + Audio), MIDI In/Out ports, SD card slot, 3 Pedal jacks (damper, assignable switch, pedal)
  • W x D x H: 40.4” x 12.3” x 3.7” (102.7 x 31.3 x 9.3 cm) – KROME EX-61 | 46.9” x 12.3” x 3.7” (119.1 x 31.3 x 9.3 cm) – KROME EX-73 | 57” x 15.1” x 5.2” (144.8 x 38.3 x 13.1 cm) – KROME EX-88
  • 15.9 lbs (7.2 kg) – KROME EX-61 | 18.1 lbs (8.2 kg) – KROME EX-73 | 32.4 lbs (14.7 kg) – KROME EX-88
  • Release Date: January 2019
  • Full specs can be found on Korg’s official site here

Below you can check the availability and current price of the Korg Krome EX in your region:

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Design

There are 3 main variants of the Korg Krome EX. There’s the 61-key, 73-key and 88-key variants. Our review was primarily conducted on the 61-key Krome EX, but most of the comments apply to all versions, as the internal components are identical.

Korg Krome EX Versions

The only major difference of note is the key count and key action. We’ll cover these in detail under the Keyboard section.

 

The design of the Krome EX hasn’t changed much since the original. The body is primarily plastic, but it is still well-built and should last you for a good while. The good number of mint-condition Kromes on sale proves this point nicely.

The main difference of the Krome EX is the refreshed color scheme. While the original 2012 Krome was completely black, the EX version has a split silver and black look. I personally prefer the original solid black, but that’s subjective.

There’s also a limited Copper edition of the Krome EX, which is worth considering if you’re looking for a more vibrant look.

Korg Krome EX Front

The overall design of the Krome EX follows the classic workstation paradigm. You get a large touchscreen flanked by buttons and knobs on both sides.


Touchscreen

Let’s talk about the touchscreen first. This is where the Krome’s age rears its ugly head. This is a resistive touchscreen, which predates the capacitive touchscreen technology you see on our smartphones.

This means the screen relies on sensing pressure, rather than detecting a conductive material, like your fingertips. Resistive screens are generally a bit less precise and take a bit of getting used to, especially since practically everyone daily drives capacitive smartphones.

Korg Krome EX Keyboard

Despite the inherent problems with resistive screens, Korg manages to sidestep most of them with good quality components. While most resistive touchscreens feel inaccurate and unresponsive, the Korg EX’s touchscreen feels great.

I can legitimately say that I never once made any mistakes by fat-fingering controls I didn’t mean to hit throughout the review process. The hardware behind the controls is excellent. It’s unfortunate that I can’t say the same about the software.

The Krome EX still uses the same operating system as the original Korg Krome from 2012 (that’s 9 years ago!), and it unfortunately feels every bit of those 9 years.

Korg Krome EX Screen

It’s not bad per se, it just feels archaic. Compared to the sleek, streamlined menus of Roland’s FA series and Korg’s own Kronos workstations, the Krome EX’s menus just don’t cut it in 2021.

In our recent Kross 2 review, I noted how Korg made navigation accessible by having a menu scheme that makes sense. The Krome EX somehow ignores every lesson Korg learned throughout the years.

One problem stems from muscle memory, built up over years of smartphone and tablet use. You know how we often swipe up and down with our fingers to scroll through menus? That’s not possible here, and you have to rely on dragging a scrollbar.

I also miss the zoom controls on smartphones, but that’s understandable, as resistive screens are limited to single point detection, so pincer movements are not possible.

Korg Krome EX User Interface

There’s also a lot of functionality that feels a bit superficial. For example, accessing more advanced transport controls (such as the Play, Record, and Stop buttons) requires you to drag the controls out by hand, which feels cool the first time, but becomes a hassle every time after that (since it defaults to being closed).

The Krome EX even has a calculator, which is practically useless apart from timing your delays.

I’m rambling here, but I legitimately think the software menus are the worst aspect of the Krome EX. It’s strange that the tiny, crowded monochrome screen on the Kross 2 feels more friendly and modern than the large, full-color touch display on the Krome.

Korg Krome EX UI

I really wish Korg added some updates to the user interface because the screen is legitimately impressive. Setting aside the ancient feeling of the user interface, there are some legitimately good design decisions here.

For example, you can drag knobs and faders on-screen, which is what you’d expect. Want even more precise changes? You can hold it down to get a larger, more precise on-screen knob/fader.

Want binary control down to the exact digit? Tap twice to get a numeric keypad.

Korg Krome EX Display

I love instruments that give you options like this. It doesn’t force you into using an unconventional control scheme, it just gives you options to work the way you want.

That’s not the only positive either. The sequencer is very intuitive, and I managed to use it even without glancing at the manual.

While I did praise Korg for some good UI design decisions, the overall experience is still lacking. The menus are just too dated to stand out in a crowded market of modern arranger keyboards.

While I’m being very vocal about my qualms with the software menus, do remember that the Krome EX is a premium workstation keyboard.

Like it or not, there’s no way to operate it without involving the touchscreen, and considering the amount you’re paying, I expected better.

We consistently dock points off digital pianos for their less-than-stellar controls, and the same standards should apply doubly so to workstation keyboards, especially with the interface being integral to the experience.


Physical Controls

The physical controls are thankfully a bit more well thought out. The buttons are essentially the same rectangular buttons you get on Korg Kross 2, and are nicely segregated based on function. They’re clicky and responsive, so no complaints here.

Korg Krome EX Controls

The encoder knob is light, but it has increment steps, so you can make slight or sweeping changes depending on the situation.

For direct parameter control, there are a few physical mini knobs. The same knobs are used to control the volume and tempo sync. These knobs feel great, with solid construction and precise resistance, but they are a little on the small side.

Korg Krome EX Controls Knobs

If I had to nitpick, I’d wish for more controls. Perhaps something like the category selector wheel from the Korg Kross 2, or even some soundbank controls so I don’t need to rely on the touch screen during live performances.

While a streamlined control scheme is alright, having less direct control feels like a missed opportunity to tap into the stage performers market, where tactile feedback is key.


Pitch/Mod Joystick

The Krome EX opts for the Roland-style joystick instead of the classic pitch- and modwheel combo. By default, horizontal movement controls pitch bend, whereas vertical movement handles modulation.

Korg Krome EX Pitch Mod Joystick

Whether or not this is an upside comes down to your personal preference. I personally love the joystick configuration, especially for synth leads. You can easily add in vibrato or fast bends with minimal wrist movement.

While the ‘mod-wheel’ portion of the joystick returns to its initial mid position, you can emulate true mod-wheels via a menu setting, and force it to hold the value of the last point it was pushed to.

Korg Krome EX Modwheel

We’re getting ahead of ourselves, but I consider the joystick configuration a positive, mainly because the Krome EX focused heavily on electronic sounds, which benefits from the flexibility.


Summary on Design

To close out this section, I think the Krome EX is a badly designed instrument. Developments in modern music technology in the 7 years since the original Krome’s release have been seemingly ignored, which hurts the Krome EX in terms of usability.

Don’t get me wrong, the Korg Krome EX is really well-built, and follows the minimalist workstation control scheme really well. It’s just let down by the interface (and this is coming from someone who felt perfectly content with the Kross 2’s deep menus).

Nearly everything revolves around the touchscreen, and it being such a massive part of the experience means that it needs to be as good as possible.

This was a heavy missed opportunity on Korg’s part, and it fundamentally makes the Krome EX a weaker instrument. It’s also unfortunate that this isn’t something a firmware update will fix.

Keyboard

There are 2 types of keybeds featured on the Korg Krome EX. The 61-key and 73-key variants of the Korg Krome EX feature a semi-weighted keybed, whereas the 88-key Korg Krome EX uses Korg’s Natural Weighted Hammer Action (NH) keyboard.

The NH keybed is featured on some of Korg’s digital pianos, but it’s unfortunately not Korg’s best. The NH keyboard is generally featured on some of Korg’s more budget-friendly keyboards like the Korg B2.

Graded Hammer Action

The NH action is graded, so lower registers have a heavier touch response than those at the higher registers.

On the subject of playability, these keys are fine for general key-based playing. However, they are a bit heavier than I’d like, and might feel a bit sluggish if you’re working with sounds that require fast playing. This is particularly important given the Krome EX’s heavy focus on synthesizer sounds.

On the subject of playability, these keys are fine for general key-based playing. However, they are a bit lighter than I’d like and might feel a bit sluggish if you’re working with sounds that require tight control.

Korg Krome EX Keyboard

Much like in our Korg B2 review, I occasionally found fast repeated keypresses failing to register (though this was with deliberately unrealistic playing styles). This did not happen when playing piano pieces, but I did need some time to get acquainted with the keyboard’s response, which might be a deal-breaker to some.

Considering the Krome EX’s asking price, I was hoping for Korg’s RH3 key action, which is featured on Korg’s flagship Kronos. Considering the RH3 keyboard is available on the sub-$1000 Korg D1, I expected it to at least make it onto the Krome refresh.

If you opt for the smaller Krome EX models like we did, you get a semi-weighted keybed, which feels more apt given the focus of the Krome EX’s sonic palate.

Korg Krome EX Keys

While the keys look just like any other synth-action keybed, the ‘semi-weighted’ term in the name is not a lie. The keys have a subtle bit of resistance when you push down hard, which is hard to explain. I found it strange at first, but the feeling ends up feeling like second nature after a bit of getting used to.

The unique thing about this semi-weighted configuration is how you can play both synthesizer parts and piano parts with equal expressivity.

For synth parts, fast notes are possible, especially if you try not to play deep into the keys. On the other hand, piano parts have an edge over purely unweighted keys because of that slight resistance.

While I wouldn’t call these keys great, they certainly have a unique charm. I’m used to typical unweighted synth-action keys, but I still found the Krome EX’s semi-weighted keys quite enjoyable.

Before closing out this section, do note that all Krome EX variants lack aftertouch. It is really unfortunate that aftertouch is a luxury, but I guess I can accept it being absent on this keyboard considering the price tag.

Sound

The Krome EX uses Korg’s Enhanced Definition Synthesis – Expanded (EDS-X) sound engine, which is the same engine featured on the original Krome from 2012.

This variant of the EDS sound engine does not rely solely on samples. Korg doesn’t really provide much details, but they do mention a form of pseudo-modeling known as the Resonant structure and Electronic circuit Modelling System (REMs), which adds some spice to the sounds, such as acoustic resonance of filter warmth.

Sound Waves

While we don’t know for certain how the system works, I do get the feeling that certain duplicate presets available on the cheaper Kross 2 sound even more natural on the Krome EX.

To choose between sounds, you enter Program mode and navigate through categories using the touchscreen. The 640 different programs are split across different categories and subcategories.

Korg Krome EX Buttons

The instruments are also split across different banks (labeled A to F) which can be accessed via the keypad, but I managed to navigate the instrument solely using the touchscreen, which was more pleasant (ignoring my many gripes with design).

Covering each category individually would take forever (and the Krome EX is already a very packed instrument), so we’ll just give a quick summary about each category and what you can expect.

  • Keyboard – Pianos, electric pianos and synth keys
  • Organ – Pipe, electric and synthesized organs
  • Bell/Mallet
  • Guitar/Plucked – Acoustic and electric guitars with different FX chains
  • Strings – Orchestral and synthesized pad variations
  • Vocal/Airy – Choirs and synthesized variants, also includes vocal chops
  • Brass – Orchestral sampled brass and synthesized brass sounds. Stabs and sustained variants included
  • Woodwind/Reed – Orchestral woodwinds, horns, and different articulations
  • Bass/Synth Bass – Acoustic, electric and synthesized basses
  • Slow Synth – Synthesized sounds with long attack times, mainly pads
  • Fast Synth – Synthesized sounds with short decay and release times, primarily plucks
  • Motion Synth – Synthesized sounds with evolving timbre over time. Primarily pads, but with some FX as well
  • Lead Synth – Synthesized lead sounds
  • SFX – Sounds without a musical tone
  • Short Decay/Hit – Fast SFX hits
  • Drums – Different drum kits, used in the Drum Pattern system as well
  • Piano – Reed and tine-based electric pianos, synthesized pianos, clavinets and harpsichords
  • Organ – Pipe and Electric organs, accordions
  • Bell – Bells and mallets
  • Strings – String and vocal ensembles
  • Brass – Acoustic brass, woodwinds and reeds
  • Synth Lead – Synthesized lead sounds
  • Synth Pad – Pads and motion-heavy synthesizers
  • Guitar – Acoustic and electric guitar
  • Bass – Electric, acoustic and synthesized basses
  • Drum/SFX – Drums, percussion, hits, sound effects, and vocoders
  • User – Custom made presets

If you feel like the 640 sounds aren’t enough, there is also a General MIDI bank, though these sounds aren’t included in the usual navigation. To access them, hold down 0 on the number pad and press 1-9 to go through the options.

I would only use the GM sound bank as a last resort though, as Korg’s sounds are many steps ahead in terms of quality.

The Krome EX’s big update over the original Krome is a bunch of new programs. Even though the sounds are heavily biased towards modern EDM synth sounds, there are a good number of updated acoustic sounds, such as pianos and keys.

These new sounds are undisputedly the highlights of the Krome EX.


Non-synth Sounds

Let’s start with the non-synth programs. The default piano sound that greets you as you boot up the Krome EX sounds great, and can certainly stack up against premium digital pianos.

There are also some gorgeous electric pianos and jazz organs, which serve as excellent foundations to build upon with further FX customization.

Korg Krome EX Grand Piano

Unfortunately, a lot of the other sounds from real instruments are recycled from the original Krome, and they are dated. A lot of this might come off as anecdotal, but some of the sounds just feel less ‘natural’, as they don’t vary much as you move through different velocities and octave ranges.

That’s not necessarily a slight against the Krome EX. Most of the subcategories feature new sounds, and those that don’t, have at least one or two excellent presets which are studio ready.

It’s just a little bit unfortunate that many programs feel like filler. Chances are these programs will work great once you put them into interesting combinations, but I found myself going for the early sounds in each category if I wanted something like brass or strings, simply because the quality is frontloaded.

Korg Krome EX Strings

The sounds also lean slightly in the direction of being for arrangements, rather than being for performances.

As an example from a competing product, the Juno-DS has brass sounds that change articulations based on your playing velocity, giving you an adaptive preset that goes from sustained notes to brass stabs. The Krome EX can’t do this by default, though you can set this up if you want to put in the effort.

Korg Krome EX Electric Piano

From the viewpoint of a performer, that’s the big caveat with the Krome EX. A lot of the sounds are usable, but you’ll need some extra effort to make it work. We’ll talk about these in the upcoming section when covering the Combinations feature.

If you’re looking for a workstation specifically for emulated real instruments, I’d say there are better off-the-shelf options.

However, to an arranger or composer, the large sound palate will feel quite liberating, especially when you use them in conjunction with the built-in Sequencer mode.


Synth Sounds

With synths, the Krome EX tells a different story.

Much like on the Kross 2, Korg clearly knows how to make incredible synth sounds. Practically every synth-based preset is usable out of the box, and you can easily modify them with the tone knobs to make some wide-stroke modifications.

In the marketing materials leading up to the Krome EX’s release, Korg put a heavy emphasis on the new EDM-focused sounds, and it definitely shows when you start to explore the synth categories.

Korg Krome EX Pads

The cool thing about being released in 2019 is how varied and mature the electronic music landscape at the time. Unlike the swarm of dubstep from 2012, or the trap music boom of 2015, 2019 was a year with a good selection of genres. This shows in Korg’s sound selection.

In my opinion, Korg’s strong suit has always been their pads, and the Krome EX features their classic warm synth pads, complete with customization options that let you tailor the sound to your liking.

Leads are another great category with a huge swath of options. You get piercing high leads perfect for trap (and even rock music if you want to slice through the heavy guitars), warm soft leads (perfect if you’re pursuing the Owl City electronica style), and even some retro-inspired synth sounds (perfect if you want Jean-Michel Jarre style old-school electronica).

Korg Krome EX Synth Bass

The synth basses on the Krome EX are also great. As you’d expect, you get a solid selection of warm basses, both sustained and short. While most people won’t appreciate the modern dubstep-inspired growl basses, I do like having these as options for some extra ear-candy during arrangements.

Finally, there’s the motion synth and FX category. I’m not a film score composer myself, so I can’t really evaluate these fairly. However, there is a really wide variety of SFX sounds on offer here, and being synth-based, you can adapt them to different keys as required.

Interestingly, some synthesizers even include the tempo-synced sidechain effect baked in. For those unfamiliar, this effect is often described as pumping, where instruments ‘duck’ in volume while following the kick drum pattern. For an example, listen to the drop in David Guetta’s ‘Titanium’.

From the perspective of a performer, the synth sounds on the Krome EX are a joy to play, and I daresay it’s one of the best out-of-the-box solutions for someone who doesn’t want to do much tweaking.

Even as an arranger, these sounds are great. A lot of the tricks you’d apply on desktop-based DAWs are also applicable here.

Note-specific pitch, velocity and modulation can be applied in-post, meaning that performances can be made even more expressive through the power of editing.


Drums

Drums are an essential part of any songwriter’s toolkit. Whether you write acoustic-focused pop or hard-hitting club bangers, you need a nice beat to stand out.

The Krome EX includes a ton of sampled drum kits, and I’m happy to report that they’re all of great quality.

Korg Krome EX Drum Kit

Acoustic and electronic drums are covered, and different genres are represented too. Korg’s sampling is solid, and most of the samples also include alternative multisamples that trigger based off your playing velocity.

Most likely, you won’t be playing these sounds directly. Instead, you’ll be using them in the form of rhythms. These are similar to rhythms in arranger keyboards, and we’ll cover them under the Rhythms section later on.


Effects

There are a total of 193 effects on the Krome EX, split across the different FX categories. Both programs and combinations are routed into 5 Insert FX, 2 Master FX and 1 Total FX before going to the master outputs.

193 effects are a ton, and covering them all in this review will be a futile endeavor. Just know that pretty much everything you’d need is available.

Korg Krome EX Effects

While you get standard options like distortions, chorus and reverb, there are also some more esoteric effects like multi-filters, bitcrushers and hybrid FX units.

Each preset comes with different controls, and they can be modified via the touchscreen interface. If you’re not a fan of manual knob twiddling, you can also work with one of the 32 presets corresponding to each FX unit.

Note that some effects, such as the Multiband Limiter and the Early Reflections reverb unit take up two slots. These FX units are known as ‘double-size effects’, and disable the next slot once they’re applied. This also means you can’t use these on the Total FX slot.

Korg Krome EX Real Time Controls

In most cases, you won’t need to access the FX chains manually. Every program and combination comes with a set of customized FX, and is generally well-tuned to suit the sounds they’re assigned to.

I tested out a few custom effect chains on electric pianos and electric guitars, and I managed to get them sounding just right with little to no effort.

I will say that I didn’t attempt to work with the combination mode FX much, but judging by the available presets, I’d say that it should be just as straightforward as working with individual programs.


Korg Krome EX Parameter Guide

I do want to applaud Korg’s excellent manual, specifically the ‘Parameter Guide’ manual.

This is a 300+ page manual that covers every aspect of the Krome EX. It includes examples, routing diagrams, and complete explanations.

Even if you have zero experience with music production, it is so thorough that you’ll be able to learn all you need to know.


Polyphony

Korg Krome EX Polyphony

What is Polyphony?
Polyphony is the number of notes a digital piano can produce at the same time.

Most of the contemporary digital pianos are equipped with 64, 128, 192 or 256-note polyphony.

You may wonder how it is possible to have 32, 64, or even 128 notes playing at the same time, if there are only 88 keys and we never play them all at once.

First of all, many of today’s digital pianos use stereo samples, which sometimes require two or even more notes for each key played.

Furthermore, using the sustain pedal, sound effects (Reverb, Chorus), dual-mode (layering), and even the metronome ticking sound takes up additional notes of polyphony.

For example, when you depress the sustain pedal, the earliest played notes continue to sound while you’re adding new ones and the piano needs more memory to keep all the notes sounding.

Another example of polyphony consumption is when you’re playing along with a song playback (can also be your own recorded performance) or auto-accompaniment.

In this case, the piano will need polyphony not only for the notes you’re playing but also for the backing track.

When you reach the polyphony cap, the piano starts to drop the earliest played notes to free up memory for new notes, which in turn affects the quality and fullness of the sound.

You’ll rarely need all 192 or 256 voices of polyphony at once, but there are cases when you can reach 64 or even 128 note limits, especially if you like to layer several sounds and create multi-track recordings.

It’s desirable to have at least 64 notes of polyphony.

Polyphony describes how many notes can be simultaneously triggered before subsequent sounds cause prior sounds to be cut off.

On workstations, especially those designed for full-song arrangements. Having a low polyphony count might result in songs being unplayable due to their complexity.

The Krome EX has a maximum polyphony of 120 notes, though this limit is occasionally halved to 60 if ‘double’ samples are used.

This number is a little on the low side, but I didn’t notice sounds cutting off despite me using a ton of notes in Sequencer mode (sustained layered piano parts with chords played with layered strings and pads).

The number 120 is likely just a rough estimate, so I wouldn’t think about it too much.


Conclusion on Sounds

The sounds on the Krome EX are one of its strongest aspects (despite some sounds being clearly less impressive).

While designing sounds isn’t as easy as I’d like (cough, cough, the interface), the presets are excellent, especially if you love synthesizer sounds. If you prefer working with acoustic sounds, you might be better served with an alternative option.

Just bear in mind, I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to the capabilities of the Krome EX. Many of these sounds are editable using the user interface, letting you modify each sound to better suit your arrangements.

However, I do want to note the absence of sampling capabilities, a feature present on both the cheaper Kross and the flagship Kronos.

With the Krome, you’re limited to the sounds available onboard, and you can’t expand it with sampling features. This is a very strange omission and arguably makes the Kross a more powerful instrument.

Other Features

Here’s a quick rundown of the many miscellaneous features offered on the Krome EX.


Rhythms

Rhythms Musical Instruments

Most people won’t be using the drums for sequencing or finger drumming. Instead, you’ll most likely be using the Drum Track button to play a backing beat, which you play along to. Interestingly, you don’t need to set this up.

Every single program and combination on the Krome EX comes with a corresponding rhythm track, and they’re different for every single preset.

Korg Krome EX Drum Track

It’s also really nice that certain sounds, like the guitar combinations, enable accompaniment features once the drumbeat is active. If you’ve used arranger keyboards before, you’ll feel very familiar with how this works, though it is a bit different, especially if you’re expecting a familiar experience.

Unlike arranger keyboards, the Drum Track button doesn’t always come with accompaniment features (though you can emulate it with some effort). There are no rhythm variation buttons, and there are no fills or dedicated intros and outros.

That’s not to say custom drum patterns are impossible. Using the Sequencer mode, you can assign different patterns to different keys and then force said keys to repeat the patterns indefinitely. This allows you to simulate rhythms as found on arranger keyboards, but it is a lot of effort.

Korg calls this ‘Realtime Pattern Play and Recording’ or RPPR, which is a powerful feature for performers. If you’re an avid user of Ableton Live’s Session view, this feels similar, but with extra steps.

Since we’re on the topic, you can also emulate left-hand accompaniments with the powerful onboard arpeggiator. By carefully assigning programs to specific key ranges, and defining the right pattern.


Combinations

Dual Mode Layering

While individual programs might not be all that exciting, it is the combinations that make the Krome EX an impressive instrument.

I touched upon this previously, but some of the sounds feel like they’re lacking a certain something which keeps them out of the ‘great’ category.

Combinations are the answer. This mode is like the Layer/Split functionality found on any other keyboard, but supercharged.

Combinations on the Krome EX include up to 16 programs each, a far cry from the 2-4 sound limit found on more conventional digital pianos. Each of these programs can then be layered, split, mixed and modulated to suit your needs.

Korg Krome EX Combinations

For performers, it’s really easy to design sounds consisting of different splits and layers. 16 slots is a lot to work with, and the onboard CPU somehow handles large scale programs effortlessly.

The 120-voice polyphony might be something you want to look out for (despite passing my stress test), so try limiting yourself to 3 sustained programs if you want to work with lush, layered pads.

As someone who loves customization, the onboard editor is incredible. It’s not a stretch to say that your creativity is the only limit.

For example, you could have 3 sounds assigned to the same range, and morph between them using different velocities.

Korg Krome EX Combo Split Zones

While I had my gripes about the user interface, I will say that assigning crossfades and mixing different programs was a breeze once you got to grips with the interface layout. If you’re someone who enjoys perfecting a sound with minute tweaks, the Krome EX’s combinations will likely be your favorite part about this instrument.

In fact, let’s dive into the sound editing possibilities, and how it works.


Sound Editing

Audio Editing

Regardless of which mode you’re in, the Krome EX comes with a plethora of more detailed sound editing options.

There’s way too much to cover in this review, but I’ll give a basic summary of the signal chain, and discuss a few common ways you can interact with the preset sounds.

Not sure what Oscillators, Amplifiers, Filters and LFOs are? Here’s a summarized glossary!
  • An Oscillator (OSC) can be thought of as a sound source. The term was sourced from ‘analog oscillators’ which powered early synthesizers, which produce sound by oscillating at audible frequencies.
  • An Envelope Generator (EG) gives you control over the Attack, Decay, Sustain and Release of an envelope, which can then be assigned to modify parameters each time a keypress is detected. This is how short bass sounds with intense transients are made.
  • An LFO is a looping waveform that modifies specific parameters over time. By assigning an LFO to pitch or volume, you can recreate the effect of vibrato and tremolo effects.
  • Polyphony can be split into ‘Monophonic’ or ‘Polyphonic’, which controls how many simultaneous key signals are tracked at any given time. A piano is polyphonic, whereas a synth lead is monophonic.

As a reminder, each sound on the Krome is known as a Program, and Combinations consist of up to 16 different programs.

Each Program on the Krome EX is routed as follows:

2x Oscillators -> Filter -> Amplifier -> 3-band Equalizer -> Insert Effect (IFX) -> Master Effect (MFX) -> Total Effect (TFX) -> Audio Output

If all you want to do is quick modifications, the Krome EX provides quick access to some commonly used controls.

When in Program view, you’ll see the 3-band equalizer, which allows you to quickly finetune the frequency response of your sounds. This is particularly useful if you’re working with layered combinations, and want to eliminate clashing frequencies.

Since each program consists of up to 2 oscillators, you can mix them individually. For example, the default Krome Grand Piano preset has key noise as oscillator 2, meaning you can mix or mute it as required by the song. You can also edit the drum track on this screen.

Note that you cannot change individual oscillators here, as they are bound to each program. However, if you wanted to combine the key noise of a grand piano with a synthesized EP, you’ll need to use combinations to achieve that.

If you want to quickly edit the profile of the sound, you can also use the real-time controls to the left of the screen. This section consists of 4 knobs, and a button switching between 3 option banks, TONE, USER and ARP.

The TONE category lets you edit the filter and amplifier settings in broad strokes. The knobs change the filter cutoff, resonance and envelope intensity and release respectively.

ADSR Envelope

This is more applicable for synth players, but it allows you to turn a bright sound into a more muted sound by cutting out high frequencies.

Under the USER section, the 4 knobs control different settings for each program. In general, knobs 3 and 4 control the chorus and reverb depth respectively, so use this if you want to dial in some extra atmosphere to your sounds.

Finally, the ARP section controls how the arpeggiator reacts. GATE controls the duration of each note, VELOCITY affects the dynamics of the notes being played, SWING adds a shuffle feel to the arpeggio pattern, and STEP changes the length of the arpeggio pattern.

Korg Krome EX ARP Arpeggiation

For most people, these settings will be more than enough. However, for perfectionists, you can dive deep and change the sonic profile of each sound even further.

Korg has assigned the most commonly used settings for each program to controllers on the TONE ADJUST page. This gives you deeper control over your sound’s filter characteristics or modulation, without needing you to dive into obscure menus.

However, you can also access detailed editing options by moving through the EDIT pages. There’s way too much to cover here, but you can do practically everything here.

Whether you want to modify the Amplifier ADSR envelope in detail or apply a vibrato effect through an LFO, you’ll be able to achieve it with a bit of tweaking.

Korg allows you to go really deep. For multisampled sounds like pianos, you can control the velocity ranges at which each sample gets played. This is way more than you get from typical digital pianos, where velocity curve presets are all you get.

For performers, it might be worth diving into this section just to use the controller assignment options. You can assign physical controls to modify different parameters in real time giving you more options during performances, ranging from the mod wheel to external expression pedals.

As a nice convenience factor, you can hit the COMPARE button to see how different the sound is to the original, unmodified program.

Combinations follow a similar routing, just with a few extra bells and whistles.

(2x Oscillators -> Filter -> Amplifier -> 3-band Equalizer) x 16 -> Insert Effect (IFX) -> Master Effect (MFX) -> Total Effect (TFX) -> Audio Output

Note that you cannot assign custom FX chains to each program in a combination. This is a limitation you need to work around.

Editing a Combination adds an extra dimension of customization to preset creation. Since you’re no longer limited to a singular program, you can layer and split different programs across the keyboard, and also morph between programs as long as you have enough slots.

For example, you can set things up so that your grand piano sound gets a layered FM keyboard when you play at high velocity, and link the modwheel to a pad’s volume. This gives you a beautiful, dynamic tone that is perfect for ballads.

Setting this up sounds complicated, but the UI design here is surprisingly friendly. You can see 4 programs at a time, and move their split points and volumes easily using the Edit menu. There’s even a helpful preview that shows you the key ranges of all 16 programs at once.

Note that the different programs in Combination mode are retained when you go into Sequencer mode, so you can use this mode as a fun playground before composing full-on arrangements in Sequencer mode.


Sequencer Mode

This is the big selling point of more fully-featured workstation keyboards. It might seem odd to cover this at the end, but I’m someone who considers instrument-based workstation sequencers obsolete thanks to the prominence and convenience of computer-based digital audio workstations.

Korg Krome EX Sequencer Program

Sequencer – Program

While budget arranger keyboards allow you to ‘record’ songs by chaining together note recordings alongside preset rhythms and accompaniments, they are very limited in actual customizability.

With workstation sequencers, you can record full songs and edit them in extreme detail. Every single note can be edited post-recording, allowing you to tweak every single aspect of your song to perfection.

Korg Krome EX Sequencer Track

Sequencer – Track View

The Krome EX’s sequencer mode is easily accessible, and just like the Combinations mode, gives you 16 programs to work with. Intuitively, you can use Combinations as starting points, and the assigned programs will be converted into sequencer tracks.

Korg Krome EX Sequencer Mixer

Sequencer – Mixer

From here, you can either record each track individually or simultaneously by playing on the keybed. If you’re not too confident with your ability to keep time, you can also engage quantization during recording, which will attempt to automatically align your playing to the time signature.

Of course, notes can be edited in post as well. You can tweak the velocity, pitch and length of every individual note, which gives you perfect control over every single sound in your songs.

The actual editing process is simple enough. As someone who uses digital audio workstations frequently, I found myself right at home, albeit occasionally fighting with the cumbersome control scheme.

Regardless, working with the sequencer is alright. You have access to most of the essentials like Undo, Copy/Paste, and so on.

Korg Krome EX Sequencer FX

Sequencer – Insert FX

Despite the interface’s issues with design, I didn’t have too many problems with precision either, thanks to helpful snap-to-grid functionality.

Unfortunately, the sequencer pales in comparison to a computer-based digital audio workstation. The mouse and keyboard (of the QWERTY variety) are just superior options for productivity tasks, and having a larger screen just makes the working experience that much smoother.

As a test, I attempted to recreate the simple short song used in our Song Arrangement Guide through sequencing on the Krome EX, but it was noticeably slower than doing it in a dedicated DAW.

Regardless, if you’re someone who prefers working ‘out-of-the-box’, the Krome EX’s sequencer capabilities are perfectly passable.

However, I still think you’d be much more efficient using an external sequencer, especially given the Krome EX’s robust MIDI interface.


RPPR

One thing about the sequencer that is unique is the RPPR feature. If you wanted to do loop playback, you can assign sequenced chunks to individual keys, which can then be used in Combination mode.

Once you go through the effort of setting things up, you can have custom drumbeats or backing tracks that get varied on demand, without relying on the Arpeggiator or Rhythms functionality of the Krome EX.

While this feature might seem useless for recording musicians, one-man-band performers who want a more detailed, nuanced take on laying out performances will love this feature, as it combines the power of the sequencer with the on-the-fly nature of the Combination mode.

Connectivity

Korg Krome EX Back Connectors

The Krome EX’s multi-purpose feature set means it naturally includes all the necessary connectivity options.

Stereo 1/4″ TS jacks are used as the main outputs and will be used to connect the Krome EX to external amplifiers or PA systems.

Unfortunately these are unbalanced outputs, so you’ll need to invest in a DI box to get the cleanest possible signal.

A single 1/8” stereo mini phone jack is available as the Krome EX’s headphone output. This is also conveniently located at the front panel, which is a plus in my books.

Korg Krome EX Ports Jacks

Three 1/4″ pedal jacks are included and are assigned to the Assignable Pedal, Assignable Switch and Damper pedals respectively.

The damper pedal slot will be necessary to utilize sustain functionality, and the other two can be used if you want to make use of an expression or switch pedal during performances. Note that the Krome EX supports half-pedaling.

5-pin MIDI ports are included, and serve as the MIDI In and Out ports respectively. I do want to praise the MIDI implementation here.

If you intend on using the Krome EX with external gear (such as modular synths or a DAW sequencer), these will work great.

Korg Krome EX SD Card USB

An SD Card slot allows you to backup your presets and songs. The SD card does need to be formatted prior to use though, so be sure to use an empty SD card.

A USB Type B port is also included and transfers MIDI signals between the Krome EX and external devices. This is an alternative method of working with a computer-based sequencer. Unfortunately, USB audio is not supported.

Accessories

The Korg Krome EX comes with the following accessories:

  • Quick Start Guide
  • AC Power Adapter

This is a very minimal accessory package.

You will need some external speakers or headphones in order to work with the Krome EX. Also, I’d consider a damper pedal essential, especially since the pianos are a strength of the Krome EX.

Also, the usual word of warning applies. Always ensure that the AC adapter voltages are compatible with your country’s mains voltage, especially if you’re buying from an overseas retailer.

Now, let’s talk about a few recommended extras.


Damper/Sustain Pedal

Korg DS-1H

Korg DS-1H

Korg recommends the DS-1H, and I second that suggestion wholeheartedly.

The DS-1H is slightly smaller than your normal damper pedal, but it feels solidly built and supports half-pedaling for even more nuanced control.


 

Expression Pedal

While I personally consider the modulation wheel adequate, some people might prefer to work with a foot-based expression pedal in order to keep both their hands on the keys.

Korg EXP2

Korg EXP2

Korg recommends their XVP-line of expression/volume pedals and the EXP2, and both are excellent premium quality pedals that work well on any instrument.

For the more budget-conscious, I’d go with the Nektar NX-P expression pedal. This is one of the cheapest expression pedals available online and is well-built for the price.


Switch Pedal

The Kross 2 does come with two onboard switches (marked SW1 and SW2), but if you’d rather keep your hands on the keys, you can get a separate switch pedal to trigger sound and parameter changes.

Korg PS-1

Korg PS-1

Korg’s recommendations are the PS-3 and PS-1, which are both good compact options that don’t break the bank.

Summary

Korg Krome EX Review Verdict

Pros
  • Wide variety of sounds
  • Synth sounds are top-notch
  • Powerful customization options
  • Touchscreen is precise
Cons
  • Some acoustic sounds are dated
  • User interface feels cluttered and cumbersome to navigate
  • Keys aren’t the best (on all variants)

I’ll be straight-up, I didn’t like the Krome EX. While it does some things right, there are many aspects of it that seem awfully outdated despite being released in 2019.

In terms of sounds, the Krome EX is a mixed bag. Most of the synth sounds (and a decent number of the updated acoustic sounds) are excellent and certainly feel like they belong on a 2019 premium workstation. However, a ton of the leftovers from the original 2012 Krome sour the overall picture.

Then, there’s the user interface. Being touch-based isn’t an issue, as the screen itself is very accurate. The user interface itself is archaic and harms the overall experience.

While it would have taken a lot of effort, I really wish Korg updated the Krome’s UI, especially in an age where iOS music apps are commonplace (including Korg’s own Gadget app, which is exemplary in terms of design).

I’ve gone on and on about the user interface, but it really bears repeating, as it hampers nearly every aspect of the Krome EX. Sound editing isn’t straightforward, and sequencing requires way more actions than it would on a modern-day sequencer.

Having reviewed the Kross 2 recently, I also can’t help but compare the Krome EX to its cheaper brethren. The Kross 2 comes with sampling capabilities, a mic input, and USB audio. The internal sounds are expandable through expansion packs too.

These are all features absent on the Krome EX, which makes it very hard to recommend.

I can’t help but feel that the Krome EX is an instrument caught out of time. It still feels like the 2012 Krome, despite being released in 2019, where most people are gravitating towards DAWs and mobile production.

As such, I cannot in good conscience recommend the Krome EX. Everything the Krome EX does, something else does better.

If you’re into composing or arrangements, get a DAW. These are the industry standard for a reason and are optimized for maximized efficiency, something the Krome EX’s touchscreen cannot beat.

If you’re a performer, a stage piano like the Korg Grandstage has better sounds and a better keybed, and the Korg Kross 2 exists if you want Korg’s premier synth sounds at a lower price. The Kross 2 isn’t the only competition Korg is facing either.

The detailed editing options of the Krome EX don’t just pale in comparison to its cheaper sibling, it also lags behind the more modern workstations from other brands, such as the similarly priced Yamaha MODX and Roland FA series.

As it stands, the Krome EX feels like a relic despite multiple upgrades in the sonic department. While the Krome is marketed as the middle-of-the-road option between the Kross and Kronos, I’d say you’re better served getting either one of the other two.

Below you can check the availability and current price of the Korg Krome EX in your region:

US: ( What Retailer to Buy From )
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