When most musicians see a Kaoss Pad for the first time, they usually tilt their heads and stare in wonder, and then they get excited like little kids.

Sample 1: Here, a simple drum loop runs through some of the different BPM Looper patches on the KP3. Most also have an FX Release delay set at about 65 percent.

Sample 2: The same drum loop from Sample 1 has been transferred it to the KP3's sample pad, where it gets destroyed using the some of the various sample-manipulation patches on the x-y pad.

Sample 3: Here, the author is surfing through the various Internal synth patches on the KP3, demoing the various sounds it can make on its own.

When most musicians see a Kaoss Pad for the first time, they usually tilt their heads and stare in wonder, and then they get excited like little kids. Something about using your finger on a pad to control effects parameters in real time is just base-level fun. Since the introduction in 1999 of the original Kaoss Pad, Korg's unique idea has continually made a huge impact on the DJ scene and has become a favorite for tech-hip musicians and producers as a powerful tool for rich, on-the-fly sound manipulation. The second version, the wildly popular KP2, brought new power and more visual feedback, which really delivered a deeper performance experience. With the new Kaoss Pad 3 (KP3), Korg has repeated that same feat with powerful new effects, expanded control options and heavily enhanced visual interactivity, which combine to make the KP3 a force to be reckoned with — especially in the realms of electronic styles.


The most visibly noticeable update on the KP3 — besides its all-black look — is the seriously cool 8-by-8 red LED grid on the touch screen. Whereas the KP1 lights up when you touch it, and the KP2 changes colors depending on your program and pad position, the KP3's 64 variably bright LEDs give you program-based feedback according to where you've touched the x-y pad. Sometimes there will be a small or large trail behind your touch point as you move your finger; other times, crosshairs will follow your touch for more precise movements. When using the Pad Motion feature (which can record complex touchpad phrases and loop or stutter them just like on the KP2), the appropriate moving visual cue loops along with the effect. When switching patches, the LED grid is used to run large letters across showing the patch name, which really helps in keeping a handle on things when surfing around patches. It also shows the held position when you release your finger, so you can easily return to the same place. For a touch of flair, the pad displays random, preprogrammed patterns or customized text messages while standing by.

Now with 128 patches, the KP3 features all the most loved patches from previous models and introduces a new set, including a compressor, decimator, grain-shifting patches, “analog” filtering with tube drive, the Talk Filter and more. There are also a bunch of updated variations on the KP2's BPM Looper, sample-manipulation, vocoder and band-EQ patches, which offer intuitive and well thought-out approaches to control and layout within the pad. Korg also included very usable internal synth and drumbeat patches — like the KP2. Using the 8-by-8 grid, the new synth and drum patches offer many more levels of complexity than the KP2's counterparts for really fluid and natural-sounding motions that bring the KP3 closer to being a tangible stand-alone instrument. While still operating on RCA inputs and outputs, the overall sound quality has increased, with a noticeably lower noise floor and higher resolution 24-bit effect processing; both help to make the KP3 a bit more professional quality. The eight Program Memory buttons are great for saving settings that you like, and they will remember the effect, Depth knob setting, your Pad Motion, Hold-button position and touch-pad position, making it easy to recall a bunch of sounds quickly.


Almost all of the patches are bpm-friendly. When an incoming MIDI clock signal is present, the parameters will automatically lock themselves based on the pad setting; most use an intuitive divided-pad layout where different sections of the pad choose different note values. In syncless situations, the large, blinking Tap button and the more precise BPM knob (which doubles as the Patch knob) make it pretty easy to dial in the correct tempo manually. The KP3 also boasts a cool Auto BPM button that can detect basic transient patterns between 80 and 160 bpm (with accuracy to the hundredth of a beat). That is great for quick beat matching of house/techno beats; use the Tap button to get it close, and then turn on Auto. Once the effects are in line with the beat, a whole world of looping, cutting, timed sweeps and other real-time, synced mangling becomes available. The bpm effects are fun to experiment with and make complicated effect motions a cinch to pull off live. Another interesting bpm-related feature is Korg's new FX Release, which adds a simple quarter-note delay to the mix as you release your finger from the pad. The volume of this delay is set by holding Shift while adjusting the volume slider on the left side of the unit. (This slider on its own controls the master volume for the four sample pads.)

The KP2 introduced two short-sample banks that were great for grabbing short phrases but rather clumsy at creating usable loops. For the KP3, Korg upped the number of sample pads to four and proceeded to revamp the entire approach; instead of trying to line up the loop points manually, all looping is done using bpm syncing. Simply press the Sampling button, use the Program knob to choose a bar length (1, 2, 4, 8 or 16), and the KP3 will use the current bpm tempo to line up the start and end points of your loop. This choice by Korg does hold a few pros and cons for looping fans. For use outside of a MIDI-sync environment, there is really no way to record a quick looping phrase without first setting the bpm manually, and even then the actual looping must be done without a click; doing arbitrary or out-of-time ambient loops is not possible. When working with dance music or other styles that maintain a steady pulse throughout, however, the possibilities become exciting and pretty impressive. The original Kaoss Pad was indeed intended as a DJ instrument, and its focus in that direction has definitely been increased despite Korg's decision to remove the phono inputs. You can also record one-shot samples at any length, but for those used to Ableton Live, beware: All samples will re-pitch as the bpm changes. The KP3 also features resampling, which not only allows your sample to contain your pad moves (regular sampling will record only the input dry), but it also allows sampling/looping of the internal synth and drum patches. Pressing the Shift key along with one of the sample pads brings up a cool new sample editor that allows you to use the touchpad to adjust the sample's gain and the eight Program Memory buttons to slice the sample into equal parts and rearrange them. That is a quick way to create wildly interesting samples out of ordinary sounds; on vocal loops, it was simply stunning.


To facilitate the KP3's use as a sampling/looping tool, Korg included two key new features: a Secure Digital (SD) memory card slot and a USB 1.0 connection. The card slot is a no-brainer; once formatted, it is easy to use the Shift key with the eight Program Memory buttons to get card information, save samples to the card and load them back into any of the four sample pads. I used a 1 GB SD card that worked perfectly the first time and took forever to fill up (sampling is done at 16-bit/48 kHz).

The USB connection works well too; Korg's KP3 Editor for Mac and Windows worked on my PowerBook without any trouble. Within moments I was moving samples between my computer and the KP3, and although transfers are not superfast, there are a lot of options. Samples that are currently saved on the physical unit may be individually exported to your hard drive as WAV, AIFF or a custom KP3 file (KPS). The contents of the eight Program Memory buttons may be backed up to a file, and you can also choose to export the whole thing as a KP3 “ALL” file. Loading any samples, Program Memory banks or ALL files is just as easy (although can take upward of two minutes with long samples). I had fun trying out some of my homemade loops from Live 6 on the KP3's sample pads, and taking weird resampled loops I had made inside the KP3 into Live afterward was just as rewarding. Also, the card that is in the KP3's slot will appear on the computer's desktop when the unit is in USB mode; using my Mac, I dragged-and-dropped one of my own AIFF samples onto the card's image, turned off the unit's USB mode and then loaded that sample into pad A without a hitch. The KP3 Editor allows you to set the outgoing MIDI notes/channels/CC for the touchpad and buttons for customizing your own MIDI-controller layout, and it provides global settings like MIDI Filtering, Pad Message Text and Scroll Speed.

For anyone creating modern, rhythm-based music, this tool will become an absolute must-have. While I still have a few wishes for the KP4 (¼-inch stereo I/O, XLR mic input and non-bpm looping), there is no denying the power, fluidity and flexibility of the KP3 for professional creative types and amateur newbies alike.


KAOSS PAD 3 > $460

Pros: Awesome-looking touch screen. Endlessly fun to use. Sampling, looping, built-in sounds, effect processing and MIDI control in one box. USB and SD memory cards slot.

Cons: RCA ins and outs still a bit low grade. Looping constrained to bpm syncing. Mic input ¼-inch. No master output knob.



Mac: OS 9.0.4 or later; OS 10.3.9 or later PC: Windows XP