Volca Sample Tutorial 7: Global Settings

Despite all the features the Volca Sample offers, it also gives you some additional flexibility for mobile use and connecting with other gear. This comes in the form of a Global Setting Menu, which is the topic of this tutorial, and also the accompanying video on my YouYube channel.

Accessing & Exiting the Global Menu

The Global Settings menu is accessed by pressing the FUNC button while Turning the Volca Sample ON. When you are done editing your settings, press the REC button to save your changes and enter normal operation. If you don’t want to commit the changes you made (for example, if you’re not sure of something you’ve done), you can simply press the PLAY button and the Volca will resume operation with the previous settings.

There are 8 items in this menu, corresponding to the first 8 pads on the keypad (or keyboard). These are simple ON/OFF switches, so you can tell your current settings just by looking at whether the corresponding LEDs are lit of not. As far as I know, there is no way to “reset” these settings, but all you need to do to reset them is to turn the pads on or off until you get the following pattern:

Step 1 Step 2 Step 3 Step 4 Step 5 Step 6 Step 7 Step 8

I divide these in two categories: the first 2 items handle power consumption and battery usage, while the latter 6 give you tempo and synchronization options.

Power-related Settings

Step 1 handles the auto-power-off functionality of the Volca Sample. This feature is enabled by default (LED lit) and automatically shuts the Volca Sample off after some time of inactivity. I must say I never had the change to see my unit turn itself off automatically, and there is no official documentation on how much time has to pass before this feature is activated, but I’m guessing it will be at around the same 4 hours of inactivity Korg has programmed in the auto-power-off routine of the Electribe 2. If so, this won’t be your everyday battery saver, but it can help if you happen to leave the unit on at the end of the day (or night). When you enable this feature the characters “AP.on” appear on the display. Disabling this feature will present you with an “AP.oF” message.

Step 2 lets you inform the volca of whether you are using Nickel-metal hydride (rechargeable) or Alkaline batteries.  This is an important (and sometimes overlooked) matter. Alkaline and rechargeable batteries discharge at different rates and have a different range of operational voltages. When the volca is running on batteries, it is always checking for the status of the batteries, and will give you a Low Battery, “Lo.Ba” message  (and automatically shuts down) if the voltage at the terminals of the batteries drops bellow what is expected from the kind of battery selected in this menu. In particular, it is essential that the voltage at the terminals of a rechargeable battery doesn’t drop bellow a given threshold, or else its capability to re-charge will be hindered over time. If, like me, you only use your Volca with a mains power adapter, than this item is irrelevant.

By default, the Volca is set to use Alkaline batteries (LED unlit). Changing to rechargeable batteries will make the LED light up and show you the message “bt.nH”. Going back to alkaline batteries turns the LED off and gives your the “bt.AL” message.

Tempo and Sync-Related Settings

Steps 3 and 4 control the polarity of the Sync signal. Step 3 sets the polarity for the outgoing sync signal (SYNC OUT), while Step 4 controls the one for the incoming sync signal (SYNC IN). The sync signal is a regular pulse being sent from one unit to another and is similar to the concept of CV triggers (not to confuse with CV gates). The different combinations of SYNC IN and SYNC OUT allow the volca to connect to different gear. By default, the volcas (as well as the Monotribe and the Electribes) are set to accept the sync signal at its rising stage. This means both LEDs are unlit and the messages “So.HI” and “SI.HI” appear for pads 3 and 4, respectively. If for some reason you which to connect the Volca to a device that only accepts the falling phase of the sync signal, you should turn on  the corresponding step (3 or 4, depending on whether the volca will be the master or the slave, respectively) off. A message “So.Lo” or “SI.Lo” will appear in the display. However, I strongly recommend keeping these two items at their default values.

Step 5 controls the range of tempo values. Bu default, this parameter is set to a narrow(er) range from 60 to 240 bpm. This is indicated by the LED being turned off (and the “tP.nr” message on the display). Turning this step on gives you the “tP.FL” message and allows you to use the full tempo range of the sequencer: from 10 to 600 bpm. This is a very useful feature, so I always keep one of my volcas at full tempo range (I can always use it as the sync master) for particularly slow (or fast) pieces.

Step 6 lets you select the MIDI clock. Like many other synths, the volca sample defaults to an “Auto” setting of the MIDI clock (LED lit, and the “CL.Au” message on the display). This means that the volca will use its internal clock to govern the sequencer, but will automatically switch to being slave to any incoming MIDI clock (F8) signal. The volca will also relay any incoming MIDI clock to the SYNC OUT port, allowing it to be used as a MIDI to SYNC converter. If for some reason you wish the volca to ignore the incoming MIDI clock, you can set this option off and the volca will use its internal clock exclusively (it will still respond to any incoming SYNC signals, though). Such procedure will turn the LED of Step 6 off, and give you a “CL.In” message.

Step 7 allows you to filter out any incoming MIDI RX Short Messages such as the Start and Stop commands (FA and FC, respectively). These will start and stop the sequencer from an external control, such a MIDI controller, the SQ-1 play button or your DAW (via a USB-MIDI interface). This feature is turned on by default (LED lit, and the “St.on” message). Turning this feature off allows you to take control of starting and halting the sequencer irrespective of the MIDI signals being received at the MIDI IN port (the volca can still sync to the MIDI clock, depending on what you have selected in step 6).

The first 7 items in the Global settings menu are common to all Volcas (Keys, Beats, Bass, Sample, FM and Kick). However, the volca sample introduced a new item in the global Menu. Step 8 allows you to set the rate of the sync signal. You can choose between 2PPQ (2 pulses per quarter note) and 4PPQ. the former is the default sync protocol for the Volca range and advances the sequencer 2 steps for each sync pulse. The latter advances the sequencer 1 step per sync impulse, and thus allows you to send and receive SWING via the SYNC ports. By default, this item is set to 2PPQ (LED unlit, “StpP.2”), but you can turn it on to have the 4PPQ mode (LED lit, StpP.1). This feature affects both the incoming and outgoing SYNC signals and the unit all other units in the sync chain must also be set to accept and emit 4PPQ sync signals. Unfortunately, the 3 original volcas (Keys, Bass and Beats) do not have that capability, and rumors have it that the internal memory of their chips is already full, making a firmware upgrade of this nature unpractical.

Anyhow, if you wish to learn more about sending swing via the Sync port, you can also check my video in the Volca Tips&Trics series.