So you want to be a producer, DJ, remixer, recording artist, digital musician and/or live performer? Well, look no further than the Korg Zero8 Live Control Console. In case you're not familiar with the Zero8 concept, Korg's official statement calls it “an all-in-one core station designed for live-performance artists, remix producers and serious computer musicians providing a digital mixer, audio I/O, MIDI controller and effect processor in a single unit.” Now, those who know me or my background know that I am the last to believe any claim on a piece of gear until I get my hands on it and kick it around for a while. For those who don't know me, I have been a producer, recording artist and DJ for more than 25 years (since I was 15). I have owned just about every piece of gear ever made — good and bad — and most don't hold up to the claims that the companies make. But the Korg Zero8 is a diamond caught in a sandstorm of bad gear, and I'll give you the real deal on the mixer.
When Korg finally agreed to send me the Zero8 to test (after a lot of begging and crying, made easy with the handful of onions), they asked if I wanted the Zero4 ($1,700), a smaller 4-channel version most suitable for the live DJ setup, or the Zero8, the 8-channel version suitable for live P.A.s, DJing, studio use and remixing setup. I chose the full-blown Zero8 so I could really put the concept through its paces. I stared at FedEx trucks driving by, counting the days until the Zero8 arrived. When it did, I found that the mixer is actually smaller than the box makes it look, which is a good thing.
Like many producer/DJs, I have always had the problem of having both a multichannel mixer for all my gear hookups and a DJ mixer for scratching, sampling and mixing records. The Zero8 can combine the functions of the multichannel and DJ mixers to leave you with a lot more space in the studio. Don't be fooled by the Zero8's DJ crossfader; you have full control over the fader curve via the visual touch-panel LCD. It's perfect for the scratch DJ because the fader is optical and has no fader noise. I was surprised that the Zero8 fit between my two turntables (in battle mode) on top of my DJ coffin; my studio setup was shrinking by the minute.
The first things I noticed after turning it on were the two VU meters at the top and a well-lit LCD screen loading the internal system software, and then I had to turn off all the lights to watch the cool orange and blue knob backlights scrolling across the board; now that's an intro. I jumped right in plugging in my turntables, mic, etc. There are so many connections on the back of the Zero8: both ¼-inch and RCA input jacks for all eight channels; two Mic sections with both XLR and ¼-inch inputs, as well as preamp gain and phantom power; an instrument-level Guitar jack, two pairs of ¼-inch stereo sends/returns; Booth outputs; Master outputs; two FireWire 400 ports; coaxial S/PDIF output and MIDI I/O. You also gotta love the dedicated Phono section with three stereo RCA phono inputs.
NOTHING IT CAN'T DO
You can have as many as 16 input and output channels of audio running from 44.1 to 192 kHz (the number of I/O depends on the sampling rate). An input selector knob at the top of each of the eight channels is straightforward, allowing you to choose which of the nine available inputs (Phono 1-3, Mic 1-2, Guitar, Line, CD/Line, FireWire) to route into the channel. Use the A/B buttons for the channel to assign that channel to the left or right side of the crossfader. The Zero8's built-in FireWire audio interface allows you to connect the mixer to your computer to record and play back digital audio, as well as send and receive MIDI. For FireWire, you can choose by channel if you want that channel to control just audio, just MIDI or both audio and MIDI; the backlights for the knobs of that channel light up orange for audio and blue for MIDI control — a good visual heads-up for the live DJ/remixer using the Zero8 to control software or external MIDI gear.
This mixer even comes with tons of built-in effects, all assignable via the cool Kaoss Pad-type touch screen, and 11 separate EQ settings for achieving different types sounds. The EQs sound great, and you can set each channel independently with its own EQ curve.
This thing does everything; maybe I can stop buying gear and finally save up for that Lamborghini. Let's recap: I can save money on buying a separate audio interface, DJ mixer, effects processor, preamp and EQ. Hmm…I can see that Lambo getting closer every minute, and there is still more the Zero8 can do. I use a laptop when touring for my DJ sets and live shows, so I plugged a FireWire cable into the Zero8 to see if it really could replace my digital audio interface. I use Propellerhead Reason and Ableton Live on an HP dual AMD Turion64 laptop running Windows Vista. Zero8's CD comes with documentation, FireWire drivers, FireWire control panel, the Zero8 Editor and Ableton Live 6 Korg Edition. For the record, there were no Vista drivers available for my test, but that never stopped me from trying. I performed all the same tests on my Windows XP laptop also, and everything was solid. I really wanted to see if I could get the Zero8 to work under Vista with no drivers because all the new computers are shipping with Vista only. To my surprise, it worked. You need to run the FireWire driver install CD that comes with the Zero8 in Windows XP compatibility mode, and the Korg ASIO ins and outs will show up in Reason and Ableton, ready to use. There was no latency whatsoever when I recorded audio or played back multitrack audio, which as we all know is not the case with most audio interfaces. (Note: Korg told Remix it is currently developing Vista drivers for Zero mixers.)
The coolest thing is that the Zero8 is also a MIDI controller. Using the MIDI Controller Bank section is very slick; there are eight push knobs that can be used to send MIDI and four banks for saving assignments for each knob. You can also use the touch pad to control MIDI, similar to how the Korg Kaoss Pad works. The Zero Edit software allows you to assign MIDI info to almost any knob, button, fader or toggle switch, making this one of the most versatile mixers I have ever seen. You can even edit fader settings and audio I/O settings from the software. I just may have to keep this mixer, and with my new Lambo, they'll never catch me!
SECOND TO NONE
I'm always a little concerned with the “what goes in may not be what comes out” theory, meaning that some mixers have a tendency to change the sound of music. I want to hear exactly what my music sounds like, and the Zero8 does the job. I love heavy bass kicks and synths, and some digital gear either cannot handle the frequencies or cuts them off when playing back or mixing, making your music sound too “digital.” The Zero8 can handle bass and a lot more with no noise or distortion. So this mixer can replace at least five pieces of audio gear in my setup and actually do a better job than my other gear for less money; you gotta love that. If you are a mobile DJ or performing DJ who does a little remixing on the side, I recommend the Zero4 mixer. It is smaller, will fit in a standard DJ configuration and is great for scratch DJs. But if you want the whole pot of gumbo, get the Zero8, especially if your primary function is live performance, remixing or producing. It will give you everything you need to create hits.
At this point, it may sound like Korg paid me to do this review: They did not (nor do I get a free mixer). However, I can assure you that so far, this mixer is rock-solid with no problems at all. I used it for a month on a new album project with not even a glitch.
I hope this bit of info will help you make up your mind on your next purchase. I'm off to figure out how I can keep the Zero8. Kneepads for begging? Check. Onions for crying? Check. Picture of Lamborghini Murciélago? Check.
ZERO8 > $2,450
Pros: Combines a FireWire audio interface, analog and digital mixer, MIDI controller and Kaoss effects. Clever, efficient design. Eleven EQ types selectable per channel. Fully customizable through software. Tons of connectivity. High sound quality.
Cons: No dedicated Windows Vista driver at the time of this writing.