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Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer – Exclusive Synth and Software Review

Mark Jenkins

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Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer – the latest and most powerful in Korg’s long line of successful sequencer designs. And Mark Jenkins knows exactly how to push its buttons (all 64 of them).

Korg has a long tradition of successful sequencer designs, ranging from the SQ10 released in 1979 to its diminutive descendant, the 2×8 step SQ1 from 2015. The new Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer is more powerful than any of these, offering four simultaneous channels for control of MIDI or analog CV/Gate instrumentation. But it’s very compact – not much wider than a laptop – and squeezes a lot into a small space.

Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer #1

This new poly sequencer is hot on the heels, or maybe the toes, of two new Korg synth reissues: the Wavestate and the opsix.

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The main panel consists of a rectangle of 64 event buttons, which gives the impression of a 4×16 step device. But each channel can actually use up to 64 steps, the buttons lighting as you select each channel, to indicate what’s going on.

And the channels are slightly different – the first three send note, chord, or arpeggio events, and the fourth “D channel” sends drum events, with eight separate trigger outputs controlled by sub-channels. The whole set of buttons can also take on various keyboard layouts for programming notes.

Get deeper into programming – accessed by a variety of pushbuttons that change the mode of the small LCD display – and you’ll find that channels don’t have to run the same length as one another, or even at the same speed or in the same direction. So it’s possible to program and save a very complex pattern, with the various channels playing quite different types of pattern simultaneously.

Korg SQ-64 Poly Sequencer #2

What instruments will you match with the SQ-64? It’s quite happy with MIDI instruments, connecting them with minijack adapter cables, and the MIDI channel addressed by each channel is fully programmable. But the major part of the rear panel is taken up with CV, Gate, and Modulation CV minijacks – for each of the A/B/C channels – and eight trigger outputs for the drum sub-channels. And by the way, the trigger type can be varied to S-trigger as required by some Moog and other instruments.

So the SQ-64 will be very happy playing with a couple of MIDI modules, but equally happy interfaced to small or large analog modular systems, able to create endlessly varying patterns and to send modulation voltages, changing the filtering or modulation of each step as required.

Sequential Complexity: The SQ-64 really goes beyond the traditional concept of a sequencer, with this ability to send all sorts of events per step. (You can “swing” patterns too so they’re not in strict time.)

Suppose you program one channel to send single notes, but the next to send chords via MIDI, and the third to send arpeggio events (of various kinds and directions). Then match that with drum events controlled by the fourth channel and you have potentially very detailed textures.

These can certainly be created in advance, but can they be created and controlled more spontaneously? This may be a challenge, since red legends on small black switches aren’t the easiest to see at the best of times. Remembering which parameters are adjusted under which control button is demanding, and some require holding a button while turning a control, using up both hands just to adjust a sequence parameter.

I’m sure we’ll see impressive improvisations with the SQ-64 soon, but I wouldn’t like to be the first to try it under smoky, darkened stage conditions.

On the subject of improvisation, one current obsession amongst sequencer users is the “ratcheting” effect of fast repeated notes developed by Chris Franke with Tangerine Dream in the 1970’s. This hasn’t popped up on too many sequencer designs since, although the Manikin and Zaquencer both offer it, but it’s here on the SQ-64 in spades. Every note can be set to “ratchet” with any number of fast repeats, and these can also fade up or down in velocity/volume.

But getting to the right menu position to punch this facility in and out live is again going to be a challenge. You may prefer to program and save complete Songs for playback rather than tryingto improvise.

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At $300 in the USA and around £250 in the UK, the SQ-64 isn’t going to break the bank and may well become the center of your sound creation process for many types of music. It’s not without its competitors, notably the well-established Arturia Beatstep Pro with fewer but larger buttons, the same number of functional channels, and initially at the same price (though a couple of years after release it’s a little cheaper).

Coming up though is the Behringer BCR1000 Zaquencer, a new version of the versatile MIDI controller with a built-in multichannel sequencer option. That may prove to be fractionally more open to improvisational use, though the SQ64 is more powerful in terms of saving and replaying complete songs.

My preference would be for an SQ-64 Pro, about twice the size with larger buttons, clearer legending and fewer sub-menu or shift functions. I happen to have space for one of those – but the power and compactness of the SQ-64 may be all that’s needed to convince many.

Company website: https://www.korg.com/us/products/dj/sq_64/

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