Korg is starting to resemble Bubba Gump with this Kaoss Pad thing, serving it up in every way possible short of a Kaoss Pad gumbo. Besides the flagship full-featured KP3 and the tiny Mini-KP, Korg has installed the popular touchpad technology in DJ mixers, performance mixers and video processors. Now, the latest Kaoss steps onto the scene making a helluva lot of noise.
The Kaossilator (aka KO-1) takes on the same ultra-portable form factor of the Mini-KP, weighing about a half a pound with the two included AA batteries inside. Externally, the only ways the Kaossilator differs from the Mini-KP is its yellow and silver color scheme (as opposed to red and black) and that it doesn't have audio inputs; instead, it has only stereo RCA outputs, an 1/8-inch headphone output and global volume dial for both outputs. But the Kaossilator concentrates on expanding the synthesis capabilities that Korg touches on with the KP3 and Mini-KP Kaoss Pads, rather than effects.
This diminutive Kaoss Pad harbors 100 synth programs run on a marvelous-sounding synth engine based on Korg's recent modeling synthesizers. The sounds include 20 synth leads, 10 acoustic instruments, 20 basses, 10 chorded patches, 20 special effects, 10 drums and 10 drum patterns. You choose one with the Program/Value dial. On the touchpad, the x axis determines the note for most of the patches, so moving the finger horizontally changes pitch. And the y axis determines a single or a combination of parameters depending on the patch — for instance, the filter cutoff, LFO speed and combinations such as echo time/feedback. Some of the patches incorporate effects, but the emphasis is on creating sounds, not tweaking effects.
The Kaossilator plays one note at a time, so if you hold one finger on the pad and then press another finger down, the note will pitch up or down. The pad's response is fast enough for you to execute little finger rolls with as many as four fingers to get some interesting results, and the more you practice tapping and gliding fingers over the pad, the more adept you'll be at “playing” the Kaossilator.
BUTTON TO BUTTON
After a couple hours of focused goofing off with sounds, I examined the other features of this surprisingly versatile synth. The Gate Arp button on the front turns on the arpeggiator, and if you hold it down and turn the dial, you can choose from 50 arpeggiator patterns; a handy reference card shows you the rhythms of each arpeggiator, which loop continuously as long as you're touching the pad. With the Tap/BPM button, you can tap or dial in the tempo to an impressive range of 20 to 300 bpm.
The reference card also shows the 31 scales available, which play back across the pad's x axis. Pressing and holding the Scale button, you can scroll through them with the Program dial. Choices include Chromatic, Ionian, Mixolydian, major blues, minor blues, three Raga scales, Spanish, Gypsy, Arabian, Egyptian, Hawaiian, Japanese, five intervals and more. Even if you're not sure how best to use them, it's fun to pair the Electric Sitar patch with the Raga scales, for instance, or the Flute with the Japanese scale. Turning the scale to Off can also cause some cool effects, such as a piano that bends and twists like it's playing back on an erratic tape machine.
In addition to scales, you can dial in any key you like, so if you're improvising over your band's songs or DJing (provided you know the songs' key, of course), the Kaossilator can keep you in tune. There are 25 key selections, starting with a low C, moving through a middle C (the default setting) and ending with a high C. I really enjoyed that feature because when trying to do some wacky things while DJing key-labeled tracks, it helped give me controlled Kaoss, if you will.
Kaossilator's final trick is phrase recording, including overdubbing parts. Hold down the Loop Rec/Play button, and when the three-character display goes blank, start recording any performance on the pad, whether it's a drum pattern, a bass with an arpeggiator or any other sound with or without an arpeggiator. The default phrase length is eight counts (two measures). You can shorten that, but unfortunately, you can't lengthen it. After recording, the performance loops and you can stop/start it with the Loop Rec/Play button or erase it with the Loop Rec/Play and Scale buttons together. With a loop playing, you can select any other sound with any arppegiator, scale or key and play over top the loop. You can also then hold down Loop Rec/Play and record overdubs. I was able to record eight full overdubs; by that time, it was usually sounding too busy anyway, but that's an impressively full sound from such a simple device. But I do wish that you could extend the phrase to 16 counts.
Besides possessing a huger sound than its size suggests, the Kaossilator is surprisingly versatile. It's a lot of fun for improvising over songs during a performance or for experimenting with sound design in the studio. With its patterns, arpeggiator and phrase recording, you can create quick sonic beds for scratching over, custom-bpm loops to mix records in and out of, background music for radio spots and more. It's also a perfect complement to the Mini-KP. Feed the Kaossilator into the Mini-KP's inputs for the tiny wonder twin powers to unite.
KAOSSILATOR > $250
Pros: Surprisingly versatile. Fun. Excellent sounds sourced from Korg's synths. Inexpensive enough for an impulse buy. Comprehensive selectable keys and scales.
Cons: Recorded phrases erase after shutdown. Short phrase-recording time.