Don't dismiss the three-octave, mini-keyed microKORG XL as a toy. It's packed with tempting features for creative musical minds.
The XL is incredibly portable, measuring 55.6cm from end to end and weighing just 2kg, with the ability to run on six AA batteries or mains power. So if your studio is the cupboard under the stairs it'll fit in just fine, and when you want to pop round to your mate's house for a jam session, you can just put it under your arm and hop on the bus.
You can use the XL in two main modes: synth and vocoder. It comes with a solid set of synth sounds arranged by type (bass, lead, strings...) and also by style (rock/pop, R&B/hip hop, techno/trance...).ds.
This makes it easy to pick the kind of sound you want, most of which are great. It's especially good at electronic strings, basses, bleeps, raspy leads and old-skool electric pianos and organs.
The onboard arpeggiator lets you play looping patterns and scales just by holding a note or a chord, and can be synced (manually or via MIDI) to the tempo of any other gear you're playing along with.
The only downside to the synth engine is that it's not properly multitimbral, which means you can't, for example, play a bass sound and a string sound at the same time.
Basic tweaks to the sounds can be made easily enough with the knobs, but to design your own you'll be better off using the software editor on a PC or Mac. Even if you don't know your LFO from your ADSR envelope, you can just hit "Randomize" to create some awesome noises.
And now to the vocoder. "Is it that effect that's all over R&B at the moment?" you ask. No, that's Auto-Tune, but it is a bit like it. You sing or talk into the microphone and play some notes on the keyboard at the same time. The vocoder then combines elements of your voice with a synth sound.
Some vocoder presets are very musical, while others make it sound creepily like you've had your voice masked to hide your identity. You can also feed other sounds into the vocoder or through the synth's filters and onboard effects.
As a compact solution to electronic music production, the versatile microKORG XL is a very hard act to beat.