Korg Kaossilator Pro Review

The Kaossilator Pro ($399) combines the one-finger fun of the original Kaossilator touchpad synth with the burly hardware of the KP3 Kaoss Pad effects processor and MIDI controller.
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The Korg Kaossilator Pro is a monophonic touchpad synth with four stereo loopers (plus a secret fifth one), audio input, and USB MIDI controller capability.

The Kaossilator Pro ($399) combines the one-finger fun of the original Kaossilator touchpad synth with the burly hardware of the KP3 Kaoss Pad effects processor and MIDI controller. It also adds one of my favorite microSampler features: continuous audio overdubbing. Having reviewed all three instruments , I was eager to check out this greatest-hits version.

Korg says customer requests drove the Kaossilator Pro''s design, and the company certainly nailed almost everything on my wish list. Loop time now goes to 16 beats (four bars), you get four loop pads, and there are twice as many sounds. You can back up loops and settings to an SD card and via USB, although transfers are slow. The Program Volume knob works as a third controller for the sound you''re playing on the pad, even transmitting its value over MIDI so you can edit your performance. However, this mode transmits notes as MIDI CCs, making editing awkward.

Some favorite features didn''t make it. Korg replaced the Kaossilator''s 50 galloping arpeggiator patterns with a slider that outputs only steady streams of notes. There''s no overdub-undo function, and unlike the KP3, the Kaossilator Pro can''t resample loops to free up pads or process loops with the internal effects.

Physically, the Kaossilator Pro is almost identical to the KP3, although several controls have new functions. The fader now has two modes, toggled by a switch on the back panel (a terrible place for a performance switch, but I''m glad Korg offered the bonus mode). In Speed mode, the fader retriggers the sound you''re playing in increments from half notes up to 64ths, with a few triplet values along the way. That lets you build quantized drum loops from individual drum hits, as well as create stuttering effects. In Time mode, the fader adjusts the decay time of the triggered notes, adding variety.

Dedicated Scale and Key buttons make selecting appropriate notes easier. As on the original Kaossilator, you choose a scale mode, starting note, and note range, and the instrument plays only those notes as you slide your finger horizontally on the pad. Vertical movements change parameters like modulation and effects depth. Small note ranges offer more precision; it''s easier to hit individual notes reliably (see Web Clip 1). Larger ranges generate real chaos, especially fun when controlling external synths over MIDI. (In External Control mode, the pad does transmit MIDI note numbers.)

The Kaossilator Pro offers 185 preset sounds, grouped into leads, acoustic simulations, basses, chords, sound effects, drum hits, and drum patterns. The acoustic sounds are still weak; I got more realistic results playing a General MIDI module from the pad. Most of the rest are truly wonderful (see Web Clip 2). You''ll find 15 effects programs, including 10 vocoder variants, that process the mic or line input. Now that you can set the starting note, the vocoder is much more usable than that of the KP3, although still not especially intelligible (see Web Clip 3).

Hold down one of the four loop pads, and it records what you''re playing on the X/Y pad and then loops it. You can overdub unlimited passes on the same pad with the same or different sounds, setting their initial level with the Program Volume knob. That''s a huge advantage over the original Kaossilator. You can also overdub unlimited external audio. I whipped up some amazing textures by singing through the delay and pitch effects (see Web Clip 4).

The loops automatically sync with each other, but if you''re synching to external MIDI clock, you''ll want to retrigger them at the top of each phrase for the tightest timing. Changing the tempo changes the loops'' pitch; there''s no time-stretching. One cool feature is that you can replace parts of a loop in real time if you hold the Erase Loop button while recording.

The Kaossilator Pro builds on the breakthrough features of its predecessors, becoming even more inspiring. How does it stack up in these days of multitouch, motion-sensitive iPad synths? See Web Clip 5. For me, the most important advantage is in sound quality and immediacy. Korg''s sound and effects programs are bold and animated, and you can flip between 200 of them instantly. You can''t customize those sounds, but the ability to control other synths over MIDI helps make up for that. The Kaossilator Pro is a powerful instrument that does far more than you''d expect.

Overall rating (1 through 5): 4