I should preface this review by saying I am not going to be dissecting the minutiae of the KORG Kross. There are plenty of reviews online that have done that already. What i am going to do is give you my “impressions” and some thoughts on how the Kross compares to the Yamaha MX.
One of the most common questions that crops up regularly here at YFUK is “which keyboard should I buy?” and it’s one of those questions that is usually quite difficult to answer, at least not directly. The best we can do is list the pros and cons of each and then tell people to try and get a “hands on” before making a final decision. Music is one of those things in life where you may really love something and someone else may hate it. You can ask for people’s opinions but in the end, only “you” can decide what is right for you. A keyboard may have all the features in the world but if it doesn’t sound and feel right then it’s time to move on.
Having said that I thought we would take one of the regular topics that comes up and see if we can come to some conclusion which may help some people out. The topic in question being “should I buy a Yamaha MX or a KORG KROSS?” So let’s attempt to answer that one right now. We’ll kick off with the KROSS since KORG were kind enough to loan me one for a couple of weeks and then I’ll say a few words about the Yamaha MX and how it compares.
Many of you may well be familiar with KORG’s current workstation line-up, Kronos X, Kronos, Krome, KROSS, Microstation and Mircroarranger. The KROSS comes in as the “entry level” workstation and although not sporting many of the features found on it’s more powerful siblings it does non-the-less pack in quite a surprising amount of tech and features for a shade under it’s current price which as of today (Sept 2016) is just a smidgen over £500, that’s for the 61 note version. The 88 note is £830 depending on where you buy it.
A quick look at some of the features:
- Very light and portable. 61 key model weighs in at an almost feather light 4.3 kg and the 88 key version is a very respectable 12.4 kg. Both can be powered by 6x AA batteries (approx 4hrs) plus there is very useful carry handle built into the rear of the 61 note version.
- Good acoustic/electric pianos. Excellent synths and very decent drum sounds.
- A wide and varied selection of sounds with twice as much PCM memory as previous instruments. Sounds to cater to all musical styles with ease.
- Rotary Category Selector makes finding a sound very easy
- Excellent and easy to use favorites function. Lock in up to 64 selected sounds or audio songs and select at the touch of a button. Makes Kross a great keyboard for playing live.
- Built around the EDS-i sound engine for pro-quality sounds plus there are a total of seven effects available for simultaneous use
- External input jacks for mic or external audio source to be directly connected. No phantom power though.
- Quick Layer/Split function for on-the-fly versatility
- 2 channel audio recorder allows you to record and overdub your performances and vocals to sd card
- Step sequencer as on the Electribe, a 16-track MIDI sequencer, arpeggiator.
- Each sound has an accompanying drum track activated by dedicated “drum track” button
- Connects to your computer via USB for plug-in integration with your favorite DAW
- Retains standard DIN type MIDI connectors, great for hooking up to legacy equipment and sadly missing from many keyboards these days.
- Software synth editor available
There have of course been a few compromises, which I will come to in a moment but in fairness the same can be said of most keyboards at this price point.
The first thing I am interested in when considering any new keyboard is, what does it sound like? If it doesn’t sound good then there’s really no point going any further. So does the KORG KROSS measure up in the sound department? Well for the most part yes it does. There are a decent selection of acoustic pianos, electric pianos, organs, strings, brass, synths and guitars which should keep most people happy. Plus there is a free “bonus pack” of 512 sounds you can download from the KORG website. Have to say I found myself playing around with the bonus sounds more than the stock ones but all in all it’s not a bad showing on the sound front. Only slight niggle if using the free downloadable sounds is there is just the one user bank to load sounds into and you can’t load them all at once so a few more user banks would have been very nice or perhaps some sort of flash board so you can play sounds direct from that…but then it would push the price up. Anyway, it’s a niggle not a deal breaker and it works ok.
My main instrument of choice is guitar so that is often my first port of call and in this case it’s a bit of a mixed bag. There are some good nylon string acoustic guitars but the steel string and electrics I don’t think are as convincing as Yamaha’s are on the MX61 and MOX. It’s not that they are particularly bad its just as a guitarist I want to be convinced and in a blind test I would absolutely know this is a keyboard I am hearing, not a guitar. Yamaha are renowned for their acoustic sounds so perhaps this result will not come as a surprise to many.
The acoustic pianos are generally good but benefit from a bit of tweaking here and there. Would have been nice to have an easy way to dial in some reverb and chorus as with the KROME which you can do from a control knob instead of having to dive into the menu but again it’s just a niggle and of course you can always add reverb and save the sound if you wish. The grand piano has three levels of velocity and faithfully reproduces the noises produced by the damper pedal which adds an extra dimension of reality to proceedings. There is also a rather nice upright piano which I found I used quite a bit. KORG have also included sounds from their Sampling Grand and the M1 Music Workstation so there is something to suit most people and all occasions there.
Not a fan of Brass myself purely because I never use it but the brass section is pretty convincing and so no complaints with that. Likewise strings do a fine job and are certainly the equal of anything else in this price range.
No complaints in the Bass department with some really nice acoustic and electric basses to choose from. Also the drums are particularly good with plenty of punch and presence apparent.
Where the KROSS really shines though is in the synth section. Some great leads and emotive pads plus a range of really useful combis that inspire and get the creative juices flowing. There are by the way a total of 1,028 User Arpeggio patterns (916 Preloaded) which is slightly more than found on the Yamaha MX.
Finding your sounds is easy because of the category dial which lets you select from piano, electric piano, organ, bell, strings, brass, synth lead, synth pad, guitar, bass, drum/sfx and User. So first select the category and then use the select dial which sits to the right of it to find the sound you want within the category. It’s a very quick and intuitive way to get to the sounds you want.
Korg has also included a rather nifty ‘Favourites’ function which lets you register up to 64 (4 x16 banks) selected sounds or audio songs for one touch access using the 16 buttons on the right side of the keyboard which is perfect for the gigging musician as all your sounds are just one button push away.
Talking of buttons, there are also dedicated ones for layer and split settings. It’s so easy to use. You begin by selecting the first program you want to use and then press the layer or split button depending on what you want to do. Whichever one you choose, a screen will appear from which you then select the other sound and specify details such as the split point. Write your settings and that’s all there is to it, your layer/split sound will be saved as a Combination. So for sounds I think the KROSS gives a very good account of itself.
Moving on to the keybed action, I thought it was fine. I hear a lot of complaints about the quality of keys at this end of the price scale but honestly, the KROSS is no worse than any other entry level keyboard in this respect and I have found that you get used to the feel of it quite quickly so it’s not really an issue. To my mind it was better than the Yamaha MX but there’s really not much in it. KORG do make an 88 note version of the KROSS which uses a weighted hammer action keybed and having played it briefly I found it to be a vast improvement but then your paying a lot more for it. Might be worth considering for some though.
The screen on the KROSS is 240 x 64 pixel backlit LCD with adjustable contrast. It’s not going to win any awards but it does the job well enough and is pretty much par for the course in this price segment. There is though a very good computer based software editor for the KROSS and personally that is where I would do most of my work, leaving the onboard screen just for scrolling through sounds at a gig or rehearsals.
Another nice addition on the 61 key version is a built in carry handle at the rear of the keyboard. Now I must admit that I thought at first this was a bit of a gimmick, just something to set it apart from the crowd but I actually found it extremely useful. Over the time I had the KROSS I found myself using the handle more and more. I’m limited on space here so always need to move keyboards around. Having a handle built in means never any risk of dropping the thing. You start wondering why other manufacturers don’t include one?
By the way, the KROSS is in no way heavy. It’s light enough to lift with one hand which of course is where the handle comes into it’s own. You truly can carry your keyboard around using just the one hand! Roadies need not apply!
I found myself warming to the KROSS the more I used it. There is a lot to like. It’s light weight, can run on batteries for up to 4hrs if need be, it has a midi sequencer, 2 channel audio recorder, inputs for mic and guitar and you can record to sd card which can also be used to import new sounds. All in all KORG have come up with pretty comprehensive entry level “workstation” for under £600, which I think is a bit of a bargain.
So, how does all that compare to the Yamaha MX61? (Updated Sept 2016)
Well first off I have to mention that when I first wrote this article back in 214 the MX was about £100 cheaper than the KORG Kross. Now the price difference is reversed and the MX is £60 more expensive however there is a reason for that. Yamaha have re-launched the MX so it’s now MX v2. Don’t get excited though, there is not much different about the “new” MX so most of the following still applies. The only main difference to the MX released in 2013 is that MX v2 is now available in Blue and White as well as Black (white is a limited edition though) and it now sports a class compliant USB connection so, theoretically it should be just plug in and go and for the MIDI side of things it most certainly is. The Audio side it’s not so straightforward at least not in my experience. The MX has an Audio interface built in so you should be able to use it as your main Audio In/Out but on testing in Windows 7, Windows 10 and Mac OS Sierra it was not seen by any of them. It did work in OS X El Capitan though. I checked with the boys at Yamaha (they loaned me the new MX) to see if they had any problems but they didn’t although they had not tested it in MacOS Sierra…it’s definitely not working in that OS though, not yet at least. So i can only conclude that I live in some sort of Bermuda Triangle of music tech and things just cease to work as soon as they pass the threshold of my front door!
I should also mention the MX v2 has exactly the same wave rom as the original (165mb) and exactly the same sound set. What it does have is an app! Fm Essential. You can download it from the app store and it will work if you don’t have an MX but you will be limited to 10 instruments. To unlock the rest you need to connect the MX to your iPad/iPhone and then you can explore the full glory of this 4 Op FM synth. I have not been able to test it myself yet because Apple has disabled the two third party camera connection kits I had and yes you do need a camera connection kit in order to hook the MX up to your device. Given it is very likely to not work with the cheap ones you find on Ebay and Amazon you can look forward to shelling out an extra £40 for a Genuine Apple one. Not great!
The MX does not have a built in midi sequencer or audio recorder and cannot run off batteries so you need to factor these in if they are features that may be important to you. The MX does however come with Steinberg Cubase Ai DAW software as well as Steinberg Prologue and the Yamaha YC-B3 organ emulator VST’s which adds up to a terrific value package. In contrast the KORG Kross comes with just the manual and software drivers for Mac/PC although it does have a very good software sound editor which you can download free from KORG’s web site. I think KORG might need to add a little more value in the package here. Customers look for added value these days and a little software goes a long way.
Both keyboards are extremely light and portable at 4.8kgs and 4.3Kgs respectively so lugging to gigs or rehearsals is never going to be a problem.
Both have easy to use methods of selecting sounds., Where KORG uses a category/selector dial affair the Yamaha MX has 16 category select buttons. You can layer and split sounds on the MX just as easily as on the KORG Kross using similar dedicated layer/split buttons.
The MX has more polyphony at 128 notes compared to the Kross’s 80 note max although I have to say I don’t think you are ever going to notice the difference. I certainly ran into no problems on the Kross even with some pretty full on performances on the go.
The display on the MX is somewhat disappointing but I guess it goes with the “apparent” lack of sound editing features (see below). Yamaha probably figured with less features to worry about there was no need for a larger screen and of course it keeps the retail price lower. In this cut and thrust world where margins are often low something has to give and in this case it was the display. Not a deal breaker though as you will most likely be using it just for selecting sounds and anything deeper will be done on the larger screen of a computer. The screen on the KORG KROSS is larger but again I personally would prefer to carry out any in-depth editing on a computer screen so it’s not a massive advantage over the MX.
I have to say, to my ears the sounds on the MX are a little dated. Not bad in any way, just not quite where it’s at right now. The sound engine is “based on” the Motif XS and it has a mix of XS, Motif Classic and what I think are EX5 sounds among others. At first glance this would seem to limit the MX somewhat, especially as Yamaha do not include a software synth editor in the box and there is no mention of editing waveforms in the manual, however! there are indeed synth editors for the MX all be it third party ones. There is a free editor from www.vycromx.com called Vycro MXPerformance Editor and a paid for one from John Melas called MX Tools which last time I checked was just £40 and can be downloaded from www.jmelas.gr
Without these editors it would have been easy to write MX off as a fairly good rompler however having access to the guts of the machine via computer opens up a whole new world of possibilities and raises the MX out of the “entry level” that Yamaha have slotted it into. Would be nice though if Yamaha either produced their own editor or hooked up with Vycro or Melas and included one in the box although again that would probably increase the cost so for now at least it’s third party all the way.
In terms of playability and quality of the keybed I would say there is not much in it. The KORG Kross has a very decent synth action keybed. The Keys on the Yamaha MX are again decent given the price but most people buying at this end of the market will be more interest in the sounds than the quality of the keys so I think both the KORG KROSS and the MX are pretty even in this respect. Some reviewers mention the lack of after-touch but at this price point I think that is an unfair criticism. As far as I am aware there isn’t a new keyboard anywhere under £1000 that has after-touch apart from some controller type keyboards but then they are not having to include the guts of a full blown synth so we are not comparing apples with apples there. Neither the Yamaha MOXF, KORG Krome or Roland FA-06 have after-touch either and they all cost considerably more than the MX so let’s just say the lack of after-touch is NOT an issue.
When buying at the entry level your not really looking for a quality keybed, it’s all about the features, bang for buck as it were and I think the Yamaha MX provides plenty of that bang for your hard earned buck.
So which should you buy? It’s not a particularly easy decision and depends on exactly what you want to do with the keyboard. The KORG KROSS is the more rounded of the two because it gives you more features in a similar lightweight package and given that the price has now dropped lower than the MX it does make it a more attractive proposition however do factor in the built in audio interface of the MX, the class compliant USB and the generous bundled software plus of course the MX has more real time controllers which will be important for some and that may negate the £60 price difference.
Ask yourself do I “need” that on board midi sequencer? Do I “need” a two channel audio recorder with guitar/mic input? Will I ever “need” to run my keyboard off batteries? If you answered no to all those then I would say the Yamaha MX is where you should be laying your cash.
If i were buying right now and the choice was between the Yamaha MX v2 and the Korg Kross I would probably go for the Kross. It has more features and costs less although saying that I would probably go to the second hand market and pick up a used Korg Krome for around the same price 😉
This was a necessarily brief review due to time constraints but if you have any questions please check out the KORG Kross and Yamaha MX sections on our forum.