Korg M3: Best practices for installing 3rd-party sound sets


Unlike the generally simple community-shared combis and programs that you have might have downloaded from sites like www.karma-lab.com, 3rd-party sound sets for the Korg M3 can contain multiple program banks, sampling data, RADIAS motion formants, user drum patterns, and user drum kits. When installing these 3rd-party sound sets, you might encounter a variety of potential issues, depending on how experienced you are with basic data management techniques for the M3.

  • Because program bank space on the M3 can be tight, you might need to remap the banks from the original location in which they're saved in the PCG file of the sound set. This can have unpleasant consequences if the original location conflicts with banks that are normally used by system default Korg programs.
  • The sound set might overwrite your RADIAS formant motions and user drum patterns, but you might not have developed the habit of backing these up these in your PCG files because you've never worked with these elements of the M3.
  • You're not sure whether you can load more than one sound set into your M3 at the same time, because when you've tried doing this, some of the sound sets seem to stop working properly. For example, a program or combi seems to be using the wrong drum pattern in its Drum Track, or a program stopped using the right waveforms and sounds totally different than before, or some of your RADIAS-based programs stopped using the correct formant motions.

Note: for the highest-quality KARMA-fied Sound Sets for the M3, be sure to visit Karma-Lab M3 Sound Sets.


The advice and recommendations given in this article are largely the personal opinion of the original author, and do not represent any official opinion of Karma-Lab or Korg. The intent of this article is to explain one potential strategy for dealing with typical issues and confusion that you might experience when trying to juggle your own M3 data with the data in 3rd-party sound sets. Hopefully the views expressed in this article will help you to formulate your own strategy for managing your sound sets.

Best practices for installing 3rd-party sound sets

The easy way and the hard way

If you really know what you're doing and you're really good at examining the contents of a 3rd-party sound set (looking inside the PCG and KSC files and understanding what you see), then it is indeed possible to put several different 3rd-party sound sets into your M3 at the same time without any of them stepping on each other. But this is not the simple and easy way because there are pitfalls you can run into. You must ensure that at most only one of the sound sets has drum patterns and/or RADIAS formant motions in it. And you must load each sound set's PCG/KSC file pair at the same time in the same operation, using the Append allocation option for the contents of the KSC file. And when you're done, you'll need to know what to go double-check to ensure that no sample or multisample assignments got messed up and that all the drum patterns and formant motions that you expect to be there are indeed there. This is a lot to chew on, so as an alternative…

The easy and relatively safe way is to not attempt loading multiple sound sets into the M3 at the same time. This is the basis for the remainder of this article—teaching you how to think in the "one sound set at a time" mindset. After you're more familiar with M3 data management, feel free to break the following "rules" and recommendations as needed.

The Golden Rule: start managing your own creations as a "personal sound set"

Until you become very adept at M3 data management, It is very risky to attempt mixing and matching your own personal combis and programs in the M3 along with the combis and programs from a 3rd-party sound set. Why? Because at least some 3rd-party sound sets can overwrite important data that might be used by your own personal combis and programs, such as:

  • User drum kits that you've created
  • User drum patterns that you've created
  • RADIAS formant motions, either ones that you've created or at least the default system ones that came with the EXB-RADIAS itself, upon which the the default system RADIAS programs in program bank I-F rely.
  • Wavesamples, drumsamples, and multisamples that you've created and upon which some of the programs, combis, and drum kits that you've created might rely.
  • And of course any songs that you've created might contain programs that rely on some or all of the preceding data.

Now, to be fair, you can avoid some of these potential data overwrites if you are really familiar with basic data management techniques for the M3. But even if you are an expert in this regard, there is no possible way to prevent the areas where user drum patterns and RADIAS formant motions are stored from being overwritten if you try to load two or more sound sets that have drum patterns and/or formant motions. And even without that important problem to worry about, there are several pitfalls in trying to load multiple PCG and KSC files into the M3 in a way that doesn't break all your mappings between programs and drum kits and the multisamples and samples that they rely upon

So the best course of action is to treat all of your personal stuff as a full sound set in its own right, and to just entirely swap out your "personal sound set" with a 3rd-party sound set when you want to work with a sound set that you've purchased. Then swap the 3rd-party sound set with your personal sound set when you want to work with your own stuff again.

All of the remaining sections in this article are meant to help you achieve this goal of managing your personal stuff as a sound set in its own right, and to easily swap among your personal and 3rd-party sound sets without the risk of messing up important user-created data such as your user drum kits, user drum patterns, RADIAS formant motions, sampling data, and songs. These best practices apply to your personal sound sets just as much as they apply to any 3rd-party sound set.

Save your formant motions and drum patterns as part of every PCG file

Before 3rd-party sound sets started appearing, many of us learned to save only programs and combis to our PCG files. This saved space on our USB sticks and speeded up loading times. But since there is only one location for formant motions and only one location for drum track user patterns in the entire system, it is vital that you save the data in these locations to the PCG file in each sound set, even for your personal sound set.

Use the same exact name for PCG and KSC files

For sound sets that contain sampling data, you can easily load both the PCG file and the KSC file (and its related sampling data folder) at the same time if all three objects have the exact same name. For example, MYSET.PCG, MYSET.KSC, and MYSET for the folder that contains the sampling data listed in the KSC file. If the PCG and KSC files have different names, you'll have to load each file separately.

When these objects have exactly the same name, you can load the [filename].PCG file and then select the Load [filename].KSC too checkbox to load both files and all the sampling data in one single operation.

More importantly, it's always safest to load these two files at the same time in the same operation, because once you start experimenting with putting more than one sound set in your M3 at the same time, you must load these two files in one single operation and using the Append option to ensure that all the sampling data for the sound sets are properly remapped to their respective programs and drum kits. If you load the KSC and PCG files separately, the system will not remap the sampling data.

So if a third-party sound set comes with different names for the PCG and KSC files that comprise the sound set, the first thing that you should do is put them in the same folder and give them exactly the same name.

Organize your SNG files into the same folders as the PCG and KSC files that comprise a sound set

Your songs ultimately rely on specific programs being present in specific bank slots, and those programs in turn might rely on specific user drum kits, user drum patterns, user-created sampling data, or user-created formant motions (or even the system default formant motions), any of which might be overwritten by the data in another sound set. So your songs are at risk for not sounding quite right unless you can ensure that all the correct PCG and KSC data is loaded into the M3 first.

The easiest way to prevent problems with your songs to always save your SNG files in the same folder as the PCG and KSC files that comprise a sound set. This makes it very clear what data has to be loaded into the M3 in order for those songs to play back correctly without risk of any missing data. Before loading a given song, you should ensure that the corresponding PCG and KSC files in the same folder are loaded together into the M3 first.

Take special care when installing a 3rd-party sound set for the first time

When preparing to install a 3rd-party sound set for the very first time you should examine the objects inside its PCG file. If the contents include the Global Settings, Drum Kits, and Formant Motions that's a good indicator that the PCG file was created with the Save All command of the MEDIA function. That's to be expected because Korg seems to urge users to do this in their product manuals. However, it's a good sign when the vendor of a sound set includes only those PCG objects that are truly needed for the sound set.

The problem with using the Save All command is that the global settings of the other person's M3 will often be quite different from your own for a variety of reasons, so loading those global settings into your M3 could mess up your MIDI setup, your controller configurations, your category names, and other things. Also, the Drum Kits object might include only the I-A drum kits [000-031 (INT)], which you shouldn't need to load because that's where the system default drum kits are located.

More importantly, the PCG file(s) in the 3rd-party sound set might use target program banks that could overwrite banks used by your system default programs, or might otherwise cause problems when attempting to globally change all program bank references for combis in the sound set. For example, a 3rd-party sound set might include multiple PCG files that offer you a choice of where the programs and combis will end up on your M3 if you just load the PCG file without remapping their target program and combi banks. Assume that one of the PCG files will place a bank of programs into program bank U-D (which is used for system default programs in System Version 1.2.0 and later).

Here's the pitfall: even if you manually load that particular bank into a different location such as program bank U-G, when you subsequently change all program bank references in the M3 to modify the sound set's combis to point to the new location of the programs that were originally in program bank U-D, you will inadvertently remap all other combis that might be floating around in your system that point to the system default programs in program bank U-D. Remember, the operation that globally changes program bank references will make changes to combis in the internal combi banks too!

To avoid this pitfall, you need to carefully evaluate the alternative PCG files available in the sound set and choose the one that contains destination program banks that are completely unused by anything in your system at the time that you first install the sound set. If you cannot find such a PCG file in the sound set, you might need to work with the creator of your sound set to provide you with a PCG file that uses destination program banks appropriate for your OS version:

  • System Version 1.2.0: U-E, U-F, or U-G, which are not used by any system default programs.
  • System Version 2.0.0 or later: U-F or U-G (because program bank U-E is used for some system default EXB-USB-PCM programs).

    Note to sound set creators: Whether you're a community member distributing your sound sets for free or a professional sound designer selling commercial sound sets, you don't have to avoid using program bank U-F for EDS programs. Even if a customer has an EXB-RADIAS card and their GLOBAL setup defines program bank U-F as a RADIAS bank, if the U-F bank in your sound set is an EDS bank it will gracefully change the customer's U-F bank to EDS when your soundset is loaded. So if you need to use two different EDS program banks in your sound set, or if want to offer two different choices for loading your sound set (to accomodate also loading another sound set of yours at the same time), it's okay to offer the choice of either program/combi banks U-F or program/combi banks U-G, even if your sound set uses all EDS programs. If the customer reboots their M3, their bank U-F will start out in RADIAS mode again per their GLOBAL settings. Or if they just load a sound set that uses RADIAS programs U-F, that other sound set will switch U-F back to RADIAS mode again when the sound set is loaded.

    If you produce several sound sets and would like for customers to be able to load all of them at the same time, you might not be able to meet that goal. As of System Version 2.0.0 and later, the only program banks that don't have Korg System preload data in them are U-F and U-G. And since RADIAS programs must be in a separate bank than EDS programs, if any one of your sound sets uses both RADIAS and EDS programs, that bank alone is using up both of the available banks. For example, depending on how many programs each sound set has, you might be able to do something like use slots 000-063 in both banks for the programs from sound set A, then use slots 064-127 for the programs in sound set B, even if both sound sets use a combination of RADIAS and EDS programs. As this example shows, if you want to enable a customer to load up more than one of your sound sets at the same time, you need to plan your program assignments carefully to ensure that everything will fit into your only two available program banks.

    And if your sound sets also include custom multisamples, you must ensure that all the multisamples will fit into the RAM that is left over after loading largest possible KEP file (the Korg-produced EX-USB-PCM data). This gets especially tricky depending on whether the customer has installed an EXB-M256 card or not. It gets even more tricky if you want the customer to be able to load two of your sound sets at the same time and both sound sets have custom sampling data, because not only do you have to ensure they'll have enough free memory to do so, but you also have to educate the customer to load the first sound set's PCG and KSC file in the same load operation, and then to load the second sound set's PCG and KSC file in the same load operation and to select the Append option so that all the multisample slot mappings are updated properly for the programs in the second sound set. And you have to ensure that the PCG file, KSC file, and the folder that contains the sampling data for the KSC file all have the same exact name. (By now you can see why it's probably easier to package your sound sets to be used only one at a time.)

After the first installation, create a new customized PCG file for the sound set

Note: Before you ever load your first 3rd-party sound set into your M3, it's a good idea to first create a PCG file (and KSC file if you have sampling data) for your "personal sound set" (thereby saving all your important current data) in essentially the same manner as described below.

After you carefully installed the 3rd-party sound set and verified that it's all working properly, you should save a new version of the PCG file for the sound set and delete the original PCG file. When creating this new PCG file:

  • Give it the same exact name as the KSC file for the sound set (if any) and put it in the same folder as the KSC file. This will enable you to load both files in one simple operation as described in a preceding section of this article.
  • Select every program bank and combi bank and drum kit bank that is not used by the system default data. (Why? because until you become a data management jockey, mixing and matching sound sets on your M3 can be a difficult endeavor.) For example, if you have System Version 2.0.0 or later and an EXB-RADIAS in your M3, then the banks that should be saved into your new PCG file are:
    • Program banks U-F through U-G (all other banks are used by system preload programs)
    • Combi banks U-A through U-D, and U-F U-G (all other banks are used by system preload combis)
    • Drum Kit banks U-A through U-G (the Int-A bank is a system preload bank)
  • In the bottom area of the Save PCG Data dialog, you should also clear the Global Setting checkbox and the RADIAS Formant Motion, but select the Drum Track User Pattern checkboxes.

    Note: Most people never create new RADIAS Formant Motions. If you actually do create your own RADIAS Formant Motions, then you should also select the RADIAS Formant Motion checkbox for all your sound sets to ensure that when appropriate, the system preload formant motions are overwritten or restored.

Following these guidelines for your custom version of the PCG file for the sound set will ensure that you can safely and quickly swap out this sound set with any other sound set. When finished with this process:

  • You should have your custom PCG file, your sound set's original KSC file, and the associated sampling data folder all sitting in the same folder on your external media.
  • If you have created songs with this sound set loaded in the M3, those songs should also be saved into this same folder. If you have a lot of such songs, you can put them into a subfolder to make it easier to find the PCG and KSC files when you need to load the sound set into the M3.
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