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Korg KAOSSILATOR Dynamic Phrase Synthesiser
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: July 2008 • Price: $199/€145/£99 • Link: Korg

Introduction

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

Great things come in small packages, and this has never been truer than with Korg’s dalliance with KAOSS pad based boxes. The miniKP wowed us (and just about everyone else), packing more goodness into a red and black plastic box than expected - and for just the merest dent in your bank account. Obviously having shifted crateloads of the things, Korg have seen that small and cheap is good and have spewed forth a new KAOSS based unit - the excellent and most aptly named KAOSSILATOR. Essentially, it’s a pocket synth - totally standalone but packed with a huge range of sounds and features. So let’s get on with it.

First impressions

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

Like the miniKP before it, the KAOSSILATOR has the same tiny footprint and construction, but this time the colour scheme is yellow and silver. The yellow case is well protected by the seriously heavyweight silver metal cover, so the KAOSSILATOR should be quite rugged. Just as well really as it’s likely to be thrown in and out of your DJ bag all the time.

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

It’s battery powered (and does last for quite a while), but can also be used with a 4.5v AC adaptor (not supplied) for those who don’t want to lose juice part way through a set. Other than the power input at the back, you only have RCA and headphone output with volume control, but that doesn’t change the master volume.

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

The large central knob is your main controller and feels solid in your hand, as do the handful of buttons and the KAOSS pad itself. Basically, the KAOSSILATOR is a rugged unit, that should take quite a beating in the hands of even the most aggressive of users.

The Sound

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

Inside the KAOSSILATOR is a mini world of synth-based sounds, broken down into basic groups:

Lead: 0-19 - Main synth sounds - lots of Trance in here
Acoustic: 20-29 - Real instruments like pianos
Bass: 30-49 - Like a trip through the early years of dance music
Chord: 50-59 - Like lead, but chords. Different sounds though
Sound effect: 60-79 - all sorts. 68 is the original space invaders!
Drum: 80-89 - Single drum sounds
Drum Pattern: 90-99 - as above, but if kept pressed, run preset beats

The manual breaks down what they all are, but needless to say it’s hard not to find something familiar in the sound bank. Casually turning the wheel and tampering with the pad, it soon becomes apparent that the KAOSSILATOR is a seriously powerful and immensely fun piece of work.

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

The KAOSS pad is your little square keyboard, platter and bashing button all in one. You press the pad, wiggle it around and all kinds of audio madness happens. The pad is monophonic and not velocity sensitive, but does react differently to which ever sound is enabled. For example, for most single sounds, moving left to right moves the note up and down the scale. Moving top to bottom effects the parameter built into that particular sound - it could be a high pass or low pass filter, delay, or in the case of drums, changing from bass to snare drum. It’s a matter of experimentation.

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

And all of this is linked to BPM as well. By default, the KAOSSILATOR fires up at 120bpm, but the range available is almost limitless. You can adjust the BPM in 2 ways - manually tapping it in to the tune playing, or pressing the Tap/BPM button and turning the Program knob until it’s at the right BPM.

That actual quality of the sound is awesome as well. Everything is crystal clear and knocking out some stomach churning lows though my monitors and glass breaking highs too. And it’s all in stereo to, so some of the sounds pan as they decay. Nice touch. If you didn’t have this in your hands, you’d swear something much bigger and way more expensive was making the sound - yes, it’s that good. Korg’s analog synth heritage shines through here.

Scales and Arpeggiating

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

The KAOSSILATOR has scales - shedloads of them - 31 to be precise. Randomly picking some out of the list - Chromatic, Aeolian, Spanish, Phrygian etc etc - for the real musicians out there. If your need is for much simpler basslines then 3rd, 4th, 5th and OCT are very useful, simplifying the pad into a smaller number on notes. This is incredibly useful because hitting the right note on the pad is tough, especially with big fingers. I found myself wanting to draw marks on the pad itself so that I had a better chance of hitting the note I wanted.

This is complimented with being able to turn the scales off completely. It’s a pretty cool effect where you can for example play a piano note (21) but without fixed notes so it’s like a slide piano if you get my drift. Awesome.

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

And for the musicians again is the arpeggiator function. For those who don’t know, an arpeggiator automatically steps through a sequence of notes, but you get to decide on the sound and the scale. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” is a classic example of an arpeggiated bassline. But it also serves as a gate - turning the same note off and on. The sound selected dictates how the function works. Pressing the button at the base of the KAOSSILATOR engages the arpeggiator, and you get 49 different programs to choose from across a range of time signatures and lengths. But while the manual doesn’t list them all, you do get a handy swing card that you could tie to your KAOSSILATOR showing the scales and pattern lists.

Looping

Korg Kassosilator review

As if all the previously mentioned goodness wasn’t enough, you can also record loops, or layer samples, bars or whole loops over each other. We’re talking 8 beats of sampling craziness here, so you can construct actual songs on the fly. And you have all the sounds available to play with as well.

Basically, the KAOSSILATOR is a realtime sampler - hold the Loop/Rec/Play button while playing the tune on the pad and it records it - including your mistakes. And you can layer sounds as well, many times over as well with no apparent loss in quality. I quite happily layered bass drums, snares, hi hats, bass, synth lines many times over with no issues or apparent sound degredation at all, other than my huge lack of skill.

It doesn’t round it up or down to the nearest beat though, so you need to be sure that it’s right. But you can however delete sections of the most recently recorded loop selectively so if you hit a bum note, delete and re-record it. Nice. Powerful. I want it bad.

Rather than watch my half arsed old man attempts at Rave or Acid house, check out Tim Rideouts wonderful KAOSSILATOR demos. These will give you a real feel that the KAOSSILATOR is a whole lot more than just a cheap touchy feely box of gimmicks. When watching them, remember that they're being done entirely on the KAOSSILATOR - nothing else is being used. The second one in particular shows how you could rock a crowd armed only with a KAOSSILATOR.

Summing Up

Korg KAOSSILATOR Review

Unlike the KP3 and miniKP, the KAOSSILATOR is entirely independent i.e. there’s no MIDI or USB connections at all, so you can't update it, put anything into it or save anything out of it other than recording audio. It’s a totally self contained unit that you treat like an instrument - you make music on it and when you turn it off, it’s gone. So people expecting MPC like features and using it as some sort of recorder will be disappointed. But those people have dedicated gear for that type of thing anyway, and that level of functionality shouldn't be expected of a unit costing such a paltry sum.

For everyone else, the Korg KAOSSILATOR is a yellow and silver box full of utter wonderfulness. You switch it on and start having fun, either on it’s own or as part of your wider setup. I’d say that the target audience is more likely to be the dance massive as the beats and sounds are much more suited to that style. Just flicking through the sounds, you can hear certain favourites coming through loud and clear - Acid, Rave, Old School, House, Trance etc. Not much for the Hip Hop guys, but scratchers could have fun knocking up some heavy beats - either booming slow dirty style or faster minimal electro beats. I’d love to see what a group of people all armed with KAOSSILATORS could come up with on the fly - real band possibilities with these.

Korg KAOSSILATOR review

It's worth underlining that the KAOSSILATOR won't sit well with people who want automation, MIDI syncing and other features. This is for the real hands-on DJs and musicians who want something extra to add to their sets. I could see this working incredibly well for a DJ wanting to add extra noises and synth lines to build a whole new track or just to sit on top of a blend. People will wonder what those noises are - it's your dirty yellow secret.

Ultimately, the KAOSSILATOR is on the surface just a whole world of fun, but digging a little deeper, you’ll find some serious features and creative options for everyone. For th emoney, you have nothing to lose.

Ratings

Build Quality
Polished and rugged. It might be garish yellow plastic, but the metal case makes it one tough cookie.

Sound Quality
Considering this is so cheap, the sound is outstanding. Turning up my Stanton monitors with some of the drum sounds made me queezy in my gut, but in a really good way.

Features & Implementation
It does a lot more than you might expect. And even with the limited controls, it does it very well.

Value For Money
Worth every single penny, cent or whatever currency you pay for it - and then some.

I Like...
• The price
• The sound library
• The sampling and looping

But not so keen on...
• The fact that it has to go back
• The lack of USB and MIDI. That would have been the icing on the cake.

If this is your kind of thing, you might want to check out...
Well there's nothing like it on the market. It's a small melting pot of lots of bigger units. The Korg miniKP is about the nearest.

The Bottom Line

For me, I’m in awe of the KAOSSILATOR. It's a true wow factor product that you will love the moment you turn it on. Just get an AC adaptor because it'll be permanently switched on.

Gallery

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