Vox Con­ti­nen­tal 61

Korg and Vox have re­vived, rein­vented and colour-in­verted th­ese clas­sic keys. Dan ‘JD73’ Gold­man scru­ti­nises the modern re­vamp

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Orig­i­nally launched in 1962, the Vox Con­ti­nen­tal be­come pop­u­lar with many acts of the time, in­clud­ing The An­i­mals and The Doors, largely due to its porta­bil­ity com­pared to Ham­mond’s su­per-heavy tonewheel beasts! It also had a very dis­tinc­tive bright, edgy and charm­ing char­ac­ter which al­lowed it to re­ally cut through a mix against loud gui­tars.

For the new Con­ti­nen­tal, Vox have gone for a com­plete rein­ven­tion, the only thing re­main­ing be­ing the tomato-soup-red and black colour scheme, along with a new take on the original chrome stand (while you don’t pay ex­tra for this, it’s pretty ugly!) The over­all de­sign is quirky and feels very high-qual­ity (as you would ex­pect from Korg). The chas­sis and top case are metal (like Nord’s) and this ma­chine is most def­i­nitely road­wor­thy. With this in mind, the 61-note model is par­tic­u­larly light­weight, plus all the switchgear feels solid.

There are another cou­ple of nice touches, from the back­lit Vox logo on the rear, to the back­lit NuTube valve grille (this is the first time Korg’s new mini-valve tech­nol­ogy has ap­peared in a key­board). I also dig the free space to the right of the con­trols, which is handy for plac­ing a lap­top or small synth. I would have loved to see the in­verse-style key­board re-ap­pear, but that could be an op­tion for the fu­ture.

The key­board it­self feels like a scaled-up ver­sion of the ex­cel­lent minikey ac­tion found on the Mi­croKorg XL, and it works very well, with enough ac­cu­racy and con­trol for pi­ano sounds, while re­tain­ing speed for synth and or­gan play­ing. Vox have also min­imised the lip on the key front edge, mak­ing this board very com­fort­able for palm slides and pi­ano play­ing too. If you want a longer ver­sion, there’s a 73-note model for an ex­tra £100.

From left to right: first up you’ll find con­trols for valve drive and a Dy­nam­ics dial which con­trols how the sounds in­ter­act with your play­ing style. Then you’ll find a split­table (na­tively or over MIDI) or­gan en­gine ca­pa­ble of Tonewheel (CX3), Vox and Farfisa Com­pact em­u­la­tions. Al­though the LED drawbars work fine in the main, if your fin­gers get sweaty or you want to make su­per-quick changes, then it’s some­times tricky to be ac­cu­rate with them. Re­gard­less, it’s great that you can also use the drawbars to EQ sounds and to change cer­tain set­tings (such as LFO pitch speed, en­ve­lope con­trols and fil­ter cut­off/res­o­nance). It’s nice that, un­like Nord’s Elec­tro, there’s a mul­ti­func­tion lever to the left of the key­board that acts as a pitch­bend on the synth sounds, as a tremolo/pan­ning switch on the elec­tric pi­anos and as a ro­tary speed con­trol for the or­gans. For per­cus­sion, though, key click and vi­brato are all

You can also use the drawbars to EQ sounds and to change cer­tain set­tings

pre­set and not ed­itable, let­ting down an oth­er­wise solid en­gine.

Next up is the EP sec­tion which, like the other en­gines, fea­tures a ded­i­cated vol­ume con­trol along with a vari­a­tion screen with pre­set vari­a­tions of ei­ther Tine, Reed or FM-style pi­anos (which sound nicely au­then­tic; warm, clear and soul­ful). In par­tic­u­lar, the tine and reed pi­anos are ex­cel­lent, and with some valve drive and a lit­tle cus­tom EQ and com­pres­sion, you’ll find the Vox to be a very con­vinc­ing elec­tric pi­ano em­u­la­tor – it’s a real joy to cre­ate and play clas­sic Rhodes/ Wurli patches. Next to the EP sec­tion is the Pi­ano sec­tion, which in­cludes var­i­ous pi­ano types (grands, up­rights and elec­tric grands). There are sev­eral use­ful and solid-sound­ing pi­ano vari­a­tions to choose from, and all work well for comp­ing and solo­ing.

The fi­nal en­gine is the Key/Layer en­gine, which of­fers a small range of mostly use­ful (though ul­ti­mately pretty un­ex­cit­ing) key­board and synth sounds, in­clud­ing some good clavinets, ba­sic lead sounds, warm string and synth pads, and use­able synth brass and poly patches. You can layer any two en­gines si­mul­ta­ne­ously, though there’s no split­ting, ex­cept for within the or­gan en­gine it­self. General patch se­lec­tion and sav­ing is easy via Scene mem­ory (four banks of four patches).

So whats the con­clu­sion? Well, on one hand you have solid build, porta­bil­ity and a lovely-feel­ing key­board with de­cent or­gan, pi­ano and EP en­gines, paired with some re­ally solid-sound­ing FX. How­ever, there are quite a few down­sides which let down what should have ul­ti­mately been a Nord Elec­tro chal­lenger: it’s roughly £400 more than the mar­ket lead­ing Nord Elec­tro 5D SW61, plus there’s no oc­tave transposition per-en­gine, no sep­a­rate out­puts per-en­gine, very rudi­men­tary FX tweak­a­bil­ity, no amp sim­u­la­tions, no split­ting between the pi­ano/EP/ or­gan/layer sections, no user-sam­ple mem­ory, and un­for­tu­nately – at higher levels – the valve drive brings up some pretty in­tru­sive pitched back­ground noise on all the en­gines (with the or­gan be­ing the worst for this). With all this in mind, as much as I was ini­tially ex­cited about the Con­ti­nen­tal, ul­ti­mately it has left me with very mixed feel­ings.

Per­for­mance Slider

A sprung slider (with cen­tre de­tent) that can change ro­tary speed, pitch bend, and EP tremolo de­pend­ing on the mode. DRAWBARS

Th­ese op­er­ate as tra­di­tional or­gan drawbars, but also work to con­trol EQ bands, en­velopes, fil­ter, LFOs, ef­fects and more. CON­NEC­TIONS

Jack and bal­anced XLR out­puts, a damper pedal socket, a ro­tary speed pedal in­put, a con­trol pedal in­put, plus MIDI and USB ports. EN­GINES

Choose your en­gine: Or­gan (CX-3, Vox, Farfisa), EPs (tine, reed, FM) Pi­ano (acous­tic, elec­tro-acous­tic) and a Layer (clavs, strings, leads).

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