Korg ESX-1 sampler

Hello. I’ve convinced myself that this hilarious-looking thing might be a worthwhile tool.


I haven’t found any other dedicated threads for it here on Lines. Maybe for a reason.

I want to ask what people’s experience with these things are. I’ve read “oh, I learned sequencing on this thing!” a few times by now. And I’ve heard the stock tubes sound awful. Not sure what that really means. High noise floor and such, which I don’t mind at all. I don’t plan on making prestine crystal-clear anything on it.

I’m not in the market for a fancy sampler like an Octatrack. I know I wouldn’t use most of its functions. I’m more interested in getting simple rythmic structures with custom-samples. I want to, as everyone these days it seems, try to get just a bit away from the computer and try to work more with rhythms, which I haven’t done in a long time. Maybe get something resembling a simple live-set going.

As with almost any gear, many - if not most - videos on youtube and the likes featuring the unit is not something I’d use it for. Seems like it is/was big with certain styles of techno. The only one I’ve ever seen use it, whose music I admire, was Mika Vainio. It seems like it was his main sampler and rhythmbox. And what glorious music came out of that. It’s a sampler, so of course it’s all about what the hell is put on it. I’ve watched a few youtube tutorials on it and it seems somewhat versatile and very fun to use. Not that I wish to or think I am able to copy Vainio, but I’ve got great milage out of my function generators, a cheap reverb unit and a mixer to do manual mute-unmute envelopes and recording one-shot samples. I’d love a sampler, not a fan of working with that material on a computer to be honest.

So. How is it to work with in this day and age? I know it uses the smart media format, which is still available used. Not sure if the sample-loading software works with modern macOS? I’m on High Sierra 10.13.6 and don’t plan on updating this old laptop ever again if I can help it.


I highly recommend one. It is one of those machines that you can develop a really fantastic muscle memory for, and is by far the easiest for sample playback I’ve encountered. There is an editor for it, I used it on a Macbook Pro on a slight OS-lag until about 2017 (Sierra/High Sierra era) when I sold the ESX and it worked okay - a couple of crashes now and then but no show stopper. It might not stand up to a fully featured modern sampler, but its pretty powerful and a hell of a lot of fun. I think for your use case, it is ideal


I agree with @nattog . I used to own one and I loved it. I guess some ears might think it sounds awful, to my ears it was rich and warm… I loved how it sounded.

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Mika Vainio used one and if you want simple with not so much menu diving, go for this or (my recommendation) a MPC1000 (more ins/outs, yup, you can do drones with it, the internal filters are OK, ADSRs are flexible…) if you want to keep it old school buildwise.
If you are not crazy on building stuff out of patterns, a boss sp404 could be interesting as well. I own(ed) too many samplers and they all have their issues and strengths.
My favourite sound is the Ensoniq EPS16+ but I rarely switch it on as I often find myself using longer samples.
These days, I personally enjoy samplers with sequencers that give me a probability option as it really helps to make things a bit more interesting with little efforts.
I had an Octatrack 3 times by now and am just too dumb for it, on the other hand I would rate Cheat Codes 2 on Norns also as rather complex but it I love to use it after being rather intimidated by it at first.
I am sure the ESX-1 will not break the bank, I wonder how the newer Korg Samplers are in comparison but they look a bit more “flimsy”.


ESX-1 is quite nostalgic for me. It’s the first sampler I came across. I’ve only owned one myself for a few weeks (bought it on eBay, but it had some LED issues, so I returned it), but a bandmate had one, and made quite a lot of music on it as our band disintegrated.

From my understanding, its main strength is that it’s generally “one knob per function”, which makes it easy to build muscle memory and an intuition with the machine, and also lends it to “performing the sequencer”, making it great for live use.

It’s on my long list of machines I would like to own one day, but the going price seems to be pretty high (around €700-800 on reverb). I did pick up one of the newer “electribe sampler” models when it came out, but it had a few quirks that I really couldn’t deal with. The big one for me was sample end time, which wasn’t editable unless you trim the sample (which means taking up another sample slot if you still want the full sample)… You could only edit the envelope duration to change the sample length, but this meant that when you set the pad to play polyphonically, pressing a second note would open up the envelope again on the tail of the first voice… absolutely maddening. I don’t know off-hand if the ESX-1 has this issue, but I don’t remember it being there when I’d used it.

If you have an opportunity to get one at a good price, I’d suggest going for it.

edit - I just remembered the other dealbreaker for the new “electribe sampler”, which is that sample management is pretty poorly designed. You have to load the whole bank from SD card if you want to load your custom samples at launch, but this means that you overwrite the built-in samples, so it’s really painful to try to use both.

I recall the ESX-1 having some sample loading quirks, but don’t remember what all of them were - maybe someone with more experience with the machine can comment on this aspect?

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Thank you for your replies so far. I’ve had a look at the MPC1000. It looks quite interesting as well. I’m straddling the fence. I would appreciate ease of use, but I’m quite worried that the ESX-1 will perhaps become too simple too quick. Half the reason for getting one is the limitation as well, to work within the limitations of the machine, but I want to strike a balance. The MPC definitely looks tons more flexible, but yeah, no real desire for menu diving.

I can relate. The esx looks easier but second hand prices seem quite high right now. I would not want to pay more than 400 Eur for it and with a little more you can easily get the mpc. The thing I started doing with a lot of machines is to add external midi control to them with my most used functions. Something like the ec4 looks expensive but is so useful to me to use machines with too many submenues.

It was my first proper sampler, and was initially used to provide backing sounds for live performances, at which it was fine, but under-used and big to lug around for what it did - it got supplemented with a Machinedrum belonging to another band member (and then we got a real drummer, and the ESX-1 remained for the odd effect).

I did start using it for more rhythmic music, alongside an EMX-1, which honestly gets a lot more use and has done consistently for the last 15 years or so. They work very well together, and having essentially knob per function is a real boon (there are menus involved, but mostly for sample selection and FX) and it’s a very playable instrument. The valves sound fine to me, and I pretty much have them turned up to full all the time. The effects are also rather usable, and can sync to BPM and are great with the external input, especially when using the sequencer triggers to gate an incoming signal. The alternate 3-4 outputs are handy too, and any track con be routed to them without FX for further processing.

I bought a load of SmatMedia cards when they were being sold off cheap, but to be honest I’ve never used more than the ones that came with the ESX; but that may just be me, because I hardly ever actually use it as a sampler… which I probably should! There are later SD card versions available too, which are otherwise identical in specifications and function.

It took me ages to discover this, but it’s possible to route the LFO to a few destinations, which can make a very limited sort of randomisation / probability, depending on the shape chosen.

On the whole, I would probably not buy one now if I was going to get a sampler (that would perhaps be a Digitakt), but since it’s what I have to hand and I don’t use hardware samplers very much (though various Norns scripts are drawing me in further and further to their uses), it’s fine and I appreciate its qualities.

It’s been a while since I’ve loaded any - I will have a look in a spare minute if I can - but the main thing is the sample memory is fairly limited, but not so much that it ever became much of a problem with say drum machine samples. I never quite got the hang of sample slices and stretch samples when integrating loops into the sequencer, but that’s probably mostly me not getting that involved in those areas.

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I had the ES-1 and always eyeballed the ESX but never got one. I always loved the strange look of it.


I had one years ago when I started out. It is a great machine. Though about getting one again but the second hand prices are way to high imho.

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Worth noting, this series from korg can experience a failure state where all the knobs will jitter and send fluctuating values to all the parameters. Dont know how wide spread this failure is but I know of a couple individual incidents of this happening to these. Not to scare you away from looking at these, but if you see one for sale with any sort of control issues, avoid it.

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Interesting - I’ve never experienced this personally with either the ESX-1 or EMX-1, but will keep an eye out in case it happens.

Had one, was really enjoyable to use. You can record knob motions on the fly which is great for twisting up patterns. But, grainy sound and a high noise floor. That might be a plus. Be careful buying one used, they are getting old now and can have obscure flaws.

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And an absolutely great function it is too - motion sequencing is always good to have. All the knobs on the ESX-1 can have cc assigned to them for controlling other devices, complete with motion sequencing - the sequencer is very useful for working with other synths and drum machines.

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There’s one ESX for sale locally here for a little over 400 euros, but the seller hasn’t replied in 4 days, unfortunately. Read a bit about the mk1 octatrck as I found one used for sale locally for only 100 euroes more than the ESX. wondering if I’m being silly for dismissing more powerful hardware. As mentioned, it’s an old unit by now, might not last long.

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i had one and can’t recall how i got interested (i think carlos niño used it for some ammoncontact production…maybe?)

long story short, i didn’t record any music with it and needed cash so it got sold before i totally fell in love

but you can can make synth arps or stutters w/ the touch slider on the left and i’ve never seen anything like that on other gear

also quite sturdy
has heft to it which felt satisfying and durable

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Yes, the arp slider and touchpad are fantastic performance controls, which I use a lot both in real time and for entering sequences. The fact that the sequencer can have 128 steps per pattern is also a great boon.

Very, very chunky as you say. I’d dismissed the EMX-1 groovebox as a bit digital when I first got it, but it’s been a favourite piece of equipment for along time now.

This track was recorded mostly live using some drum camplessamples on the ESX-1, some percussion on the EMX-1 and the pair synced together with a noise generating box run through an MFB Filterbox and then into the ESX/EMX comb filter effects which were then gated differently by the sequencer on each. I think all the other effects are from both units, perhaps with some external BBD delay.

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Saw this thread yesterday, and shortly after this live video of foodman who appears to use one:


Halfway convinced myself to get an Octatrack. Not to make it my personal “which sampler?” thread, but I think I might like the added depth and possibilities. Not a whole lot of, if any, added colour, will need to route it into some dirty, colourful compressor or something. Any words on the mk1 octatrack?

EDIT: Bought a mk1 Octatrack. Already having tons of fun. Maybe I’m not hard to please.


Traded in the Octatrack for a near-mint MPC1000. A new part of the adventure begins.