Sometimes people get way too serious about gear and lose sight of the fact that making music should be a lot of fun. It's probably a trap everyone has fallen into a time or two — especially considering the price tags of all the latest and greatest 24-bit/192 kHz shiny silver boxes. So when a product comes along like the Korg Mini-KP, it can feel like a real breath of fresh air to just kick back a have some fun playing music again.
At first glance, the Mini-KP may seem more like a toy than a serious performance and recording tool, but in reality, it's a robust dynamic effects unit with plenty of pro features. The unit rounds out Korg's Kaoss Pad line, which of course includes the KP2 and KP3, extends into the video realm with the KPE-1 Kaoss Pad Entrancer audio/video processor and will soon include the newly announced KM-202 and KM-402 DJ mixers with built-in Kaoss pads. Essentially, the Mini-KP is a streamlined Kaoss that is directly based on the KP3 technology and squeezed into an ultraportable chassis, making it a perfect companion for DJs, laptop performers and even studio types who want some real-time effects without having to make a major investment.
TOUCH AND GO
Even if you're not familiar with the Kaoss products, the Mini-KP is so straightforward to use, you'll be up and running in seconds. The unit has one set of RCA stereo inputs and outputs as well as an ⅛-inch headphone output with a dedicated volume control. On the face of the Mini-KP is a simple three-digit LED with a peak indicator that toggles between displaying the current effect preset, bpm and effect depth; all of those functions are controlled with a single 360-degree controller. Additionally, the unit includes a tap-tempo button, Memory A and B buttons and an effect Hold button (which also has a corresponding indicator) located near the headphone jack. But the main event is, of course, the touch-sensitive control surface that occupies roughly half the face of the unit. The control surface is simply a smaller, nonilluminated version of the tried-and-true technology that has adorned the other Kaoss Pads, providing real-time x-y control over each of the included effect presets.
The Mini-KP is made from a combination of plastic and aluminum, and everything about it feels sturdy and well constructed. If the unit happened to tumble off a table or desk, it would most likely come through totally unscathed. The Mini-KP is powered by four AA batteries or an optional 4.5V power supply, and there is a simple on/off switch on the left side of the unit. The stated battery life is approximately five hours, which is fine for the average DJ gig, but if you happen to leave the unit on and go run some errands (like I did), it will more than likely be out of juice by the time you get back. Korg should really revisit the idea of making the power supply standard equipment.
With 100 included effect presets, the Mini-KP is designed to work with a diverse range of sources. All of the internal digital processing is at 24-bit/48 kHz, and the presets themselves run the gamut from simple to extreme. The unit has a full array of filters, LFOs, reverbs, delays, distortion, lo-fi/bit-reduction, pitch shifters, phasers, flangers, noise effects and more. All of the effects are stereo, and many of the delay-style effects make good use of the stereo field.
Overall, all the sounds are on par with any of the standard plug-ins that come with today's higher-end DAWs, and the x-y control surface allows you to deliver an expressive, musical performance. Many of the effects are tempo-synced, and once you have the bpm properly set or tapped in, the effects track very well. There is even an FX Release function that adds a touch of decay when you lift your finger off the control surface and disengage the effect. You can also engage the Hold function, which will freeze the effect at whatever location you last touched on the control surface. The only thing the unit really lacks is a way to dig in and make any real changes to the presets. You can set the depth and bpm, as well as assign two of your favorite presets to the Memory A and B buttons for instant access, but that's about it. However, with so many presets and so much available range within each preset, you've still got a deep set of effects possibilities to explore.
Like the KP3 it was based on, the Mini-KP has some synthesis capability as well. Ten of the presets include synth tones such as Square Bass, Square Synth, Saw Bass, Saw Synth, etc., in which the x axis adjusts the synth pitch and the y axis controls filter cutoff and resonance or some other parameter. Another 13 Looper presets combine various effects with looping, and a healthy stash of presets effect the incoming signal based on the low, middle or high-frequency bands. For example, there are the Mid Grain Shifter, Mid Flanger, and 3-band Delay.
I tested the unit in my home studio with an M-Audio FireWire 1814 interface. I sent an unused pair of outputs from the 1814 to the Mini-KP, and returned the signal on a separate pair of line inputs with hardware monitoring active. I ran a variety of synth and drum tracks through the Mini-KP and just cycled through presets until I hit on something interesting. Overall, the unit is a blast to use, and with the setup I was using, all I had to do was click on Record when I hit upon some sonic gold. That's probably the best part about the Kaoss line in general. The whole idea of these products is to impart an organic, improvisational feel to your music. For the money, the Mini-KP is hands-down the easiest way to make that happen.
MINI-KP > $250
Pros: Ultracompact. Great sounds. Effortless setup. Responsive control surface. Fun to use.
Cons: Power adapter not included.