When Korg introduced the Kaoss Pad in 1999, the company set a new standard for DJ-friendly effects units. The Pad proved to be so popular with DJs that Numark produced several DJ-mixer models featuring a built-in Kaoss Pad. So, when Korg announced that it was coming out with its own DJ mixer, the company upped the ante by including not only a built-in Pad but also a new and improved version of the beloved effects unit.
The KM-2 Kaoss Mixer combines a 2-channel mixer, an effects processor and a sampler in a single unit. Unlike the Numark mixers, which featured the Pad tucked off to the side or near the top of the unit, the KM-2 features the distinctive x-y axis touch panel front and center, where it begs to be fingered. Although the effects and sampling controls seem to dominate, the design does not impede the unit's functionality as a mixer.
YOU GOT YOUR MIXER IN MY EFFECTS UNIT
Basically a 2-channel DJ mixer with a slight lean toward turntablist applications, the KM-2's mixer functions are relatively straightforward and simple. Each channel features a 3-band EQ, a Trim knob, a level fader, separate stereo phono and line inputs and an input source switch (phono/mic/line for channel 1 and phono/line for channel 2). The crossfader's loose, low-resistance action shows that this mixer is designed more for scratch DJs and battle mixers than house, techno or trance beat blenders. Although the crossfader's feel may not be to everyone's liking, you can customize the response with the three-position curve-selector switch and a crossfader calibration function that lets you make separate adjustments for the points at which channel 1 and channel 2 start to cut in. However, the lack of a crossfader reverse or hamster switch keeps the mixer from being a truly serious contender for professional scratch applications.
In addition to the crossfader curve switch, the front panel features a balanced ¼-inch mic input, a tiny mic-level knob and a talkover on/off switch. A balanced XLR mic input is preferable, but most DJs probably won't use the mic input much anyway (unless they do wedding gigs), so Korg's cost-cutting measures in this instance are understandable. The headphone output is placed to the right of the front panel to keep the cord away from your hands while you're fiddling with the fader, playing with the pad or noodling with the knobs. Separate switches for channel 1, channel 2 and the master output make it easy to quickly select the sound source you want to monitor through your headphones. As an added bonus, you can press the channel 1 and 2 switches simultaneously to hear channel 1 in the left speaker and channel 2 in the right speaker — very cool.
The output controls are similarly streamlined and functional. The KM-2 has separate level controls for the booth and master outputs; an Ultra Boost knob for pumping up the master output's bass; an FX Insert switch that lets you apply effects to channel 1, channel 2 or the master output; and a 12-segment level meter that you can switch between a display of the left and right master output levels or the input levels of channels 1 and 2. All of the inputs and outputs on the rear panel (channel 1 and 2 line and phono, booth and master outputs) are standard unbalanced RCA outputs.
YOU GOT YOUR EFFECTS UNIT IN MY MIXER
Although the KM-2's mixer section may not win any awards for innovation, its effects section is a vast improvement upon the already beloved Kaoss Pad. Offering the same effects as the original Kaoss Pad (filters, modulation effects, delays, reverbs, sound effects and sampling), the KM-2 throws in a few welcome additions such as a bpm reader with a tap function, a sample bank that stores four samples, bpm synchronized effects and crossfader-function effects. You still can't write your own effects patches or customize settings, but you can assign eight of your favorite presets — complete with Hold on/off status, Hold position, bpm value and sample bank settings — to the Map keys for instant access.
The sampling section is especially DJ-friendly. Recording a sample is easy: Select the source you want to record (channel 1, channel 2 or master), press the Rec/Stop button to engage, hit the button again to begin recording and then press the button once more to stop recording. The KM-2 automatically selects a loop point; unless you have a seriously impaired sense of rhythm, it's almost impossible to capture anything less than a perfect, seamless loop. The sampling rate is preset at 44.1 kHz, and the maximum sampling time is 23.7 seconds — enough to record several measures from a song. Being able to instantly cut up a song into four loops; process the hell out of them; and create your own custom breakdowns, build-ups, intros and outros is empowering. Within a few minutes of using the unit, I was putting together instant remixes without missing a beat. Once you've tried this feature, it's hard to imagine doing a DJ gig without it.
The bpm reader is fairly accurate, although the auto-detect function works best with straightforward four-on-the-floor rhythms. When I tried this function on a 135 bpm song that features some rather busy Latin percussion, the reading varied from 131 to 138. Even songs such as the Chemical Brothers' “Star Guitar” caused the reading to drift over a 5 bpm range. But on songs with a consistent quarter-note bass-drum pattern, the bpm reader locked on the tempo before the first measure was completed.
TWO GREAT TASTES?
Most DJs will probably wonder why Korg coupled a great effects unit with a decent but mundane mixer, especially when it wants to draw attention to its new venture into the DJ-mixer market. Don't get me wrong; the KM-2 is a great mixer, but it's lacking a few key features that would have made it absolutely killer for turntablists (such as a hamster switch) or club DJs (such as master EQ controls and an additional channel or two). Hopefully, the company will introduce new models with added features or at least release a separate stand-alone Kaoss Pad with all of the KM-2's cool new features; it would be a shame to see the KM-2's powerful remixing features go to waste. However, if you can get by with only two channels, the KM-2 is an excellent choice — especially considering that it costs less than buying a high-quality 2-channel mixer, a stand-alone effects unit and a phrase sampler separately.
KM-2 Kaoss Mixer
Pros: Excellent DJ-oriented effects. Seamless auto looping. Crossfader calibration function. Low-friction crossfader for turntablist applications.
Cons: No hamster switch. No user-modifiable presets. Readings of bpm auto-detect function sometimes drift significantly.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4
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