Korg have followed up their diminutive Electribe analogue modelling synth and beatbox with another desktop product aimed at the dance fraternity — a sampling effects box with an innovative real‑time control surface. Chris Carter descends into Kaoss...
There's been quite a buzz since pictures and specification of the Korg Kaoss Pad were released, and I have to admit that I was a mite excited at the thought of getting my hands on one. Originally, the plan was to cover it alongside the Electribes last month, but the Pad turned up too late to be included. As it turns out, however, the Kaoss Pad is completely independent of the Electribes (see 'Electribe Dreams' box) and well worth a look in its own right...
The Kaoss Pad is, essentially, a cross between an effects unit and a budget sampler. It features 60 built‑in preset effects including filters, phasers, flangers, delays, reverbs, autopanners, ring modulators and a five‑second stereo looping sampler. The Kaoss Pad's main claim to fame (or notoriety), however, is its unusual user interface. The unit is designed to be controlled in real‑time using an illuminated, dynamic real‑time, X‑Y ribbon controller pad derived from that of Korg's high‑end Z1 physical modelling synth.
The Kaoss Pad's pad (?) is 3 x 4 inches in area. Covered with a plastic membrane, it seems to be well prepared for some heavy‑duty rubbing action, but only time will tell on that score. Underneath the membrane are large orange lights in each corner, with a red one in the middle that illuminates whenever you touch the pad. Having seen a few promo pictures of the Kaoss Pad, I was expecting a little more interaction and pizzazz than you actually get from the lights, although there is a 2‑digit LED that rapidly changes values as you caress the pad.
The entire unit is a fairly lightweight plastic affair, approximately 7 x 8 x 2 inches in size, and would easily slip into a small bag, although there's a substantial 700mA wall‑wart PSU that comes with it (and runs pretty warm, too), and as with the Korg Electribes, there's no option of using batteries.
The back panel of the Kaoss Pad is surprisingly busy for such a small unit (see page 220). All audio is handled by regular phono sockets; there are stereo pairs for line out, line in and phono in (for a turntable). There's a mono quarter‑inch jack socket for a microphone, with a tiny trim pot to adjust the input level, and a small screw‑type Ground terminal for the phono input. Additionally, there's an 'FX Loop' switch that will turn off the dry output signal if the Kaoss Pad is to be used in the send/return chain of a mixer. A MIDI Out socket is also included, and there's a headphone jack and volume control on the front.
On the top of the unit, there's an Input Volume control to the left and a continuous Program selector knob to the right. When not showing Pad values, the 2‑digit LED also shows the currently selected program. The Hold button 'captures' the current pad X‑Y position, and a dual‑purpose Effect On/Off — Record button activates the effects or begins sampling (if in sample mode); both buttons have associated LEDs. A useful three‑way rocker switch allows you to select which of the rear connections is to be used as the input, and above the pad are six Program Map buttons for storing your favourite effects (more on this later).
<h3>Genie In A Bottle</h3>
In use, the Kaoss Pad is simplicity itself. You just connect a source to the rear inputs, select an effect, turn it on, tap or rub the pad and have some fun. If an input source is playing and the Effects On/Off button is illuminated, the sound passes through the Kaoss Pad unaltered: it's not until you touch the pad or the Hold button that the current effect is introduced. This happens immediately, without any clicks, pauses or glitches, and if you know an effect program well you can (with a little practice) touch the correct part of the pad to give you exactly the type of effect modification you want.
For instance, Program 23 gives you stereo delay with feedback. Touching the left‑ or right‑hand sides at the bottom of the pad has no effect at all — however, if you move your finger up the extreme left side a short slap‑back delay is heard, with more and more feedback introduced as you rise to the top of the pad; if you try this on the right‑hand side you get the same increase in feedback, but the delay is much longer. By moving diagonally from the bottom left to the top right of the pad you start with a short delay with no feedback, and progress smoothly to a much longer delay with lots of feedback. So by moving your finger around you can match (by ear) the delay times with the tempo of your source, and you can even tap the effect on and off at different pad positions using two fingers.
When you've got a satisfactory setting you can save the pad X‑Y position by pressing the Hold button. Then whenever you press Hold again, the effect and same pad position will be heard without having to touch the pad. You can save up to six of your most used effects with the Program Map buttons above the pad. These will also remember your favourite pad X‑Y position associated with the saved effect. It's also possible to switch between Program Map buttons while you are playing the pad, allowing for some pretty wild jumps from one effect to another. These buttons retain their settings when you switch the Kaoss Pad off.
For a relatively budget‑priced preset unit, the effects sound surprisingly good, and most seem to be true stereo effects. The multi‑effects such as Distortion/Filter/Delay, Ring Modulator/Filter and Distortion/Voice Filter are very good for live rubbing and tapping manipulations. There are many other good effects to choose from, and your choice is probably going to be decided by the type of music you are treating. Many of the multi‑effects include delays, which always adapt well for use with rhythmic tracks (if you get the timing right). The reverbs aren't anything to write home about, but the stereo pitch‑shifter, although decidedly flangy, is great fun to use with the pad.
Programs 51‑60 handle sampling, with up to five seconds of stereo recording on offer — a reasonable amount, although it's only available in one chunk, and there's little editing or trimming to speak of. Sampling begins when you press the Record button and stops when you press it a second time. The Kaoss Pad isn't too fussy about loop accuracy; no matter how hard you try to hit the record button on the beat, it can be a bit hit and miss.
In some of the sample programs, the pad controller is mapped to the end loop point, with maximum loop to the right and shortest to the left, and volume controlled by top‑to‑bottom movement. With other programs, the sample will slow down as you reach the middle of the pad, then go into reverse as you glide across to the other side — a similar effect to DJ scratching on a turntable. There's a time‑stretching program that plays normally in the middle of the pad and does a pretty good job of stretching to the left and squeezing to the right. The rest of the sampling programs are different versions of these that go into auto‑record when they detect sound at the inputs, and also versions that allow you to sample and pan using the pad.
Korg have built up quite a reputation for innovation over the years, and the introduction of the Kaoss Pad will reinforce this impression even further.
The quality of the sampling is fine — at least as good as the wonderful Boss SP202 Dr. Sample, but not quite up to Akai S‑series standard! Also, because there's no battery option, you lose any samples when you switch off.
The Kaoss Pad's MIDI implementation is quite limited, with only a MIDI Out socket, but the unit does transmit various MIDI controller messages for modulating and affecting other MIDI gear. These include separate X and Y parameters, an X+Y (diagonal) parameter, Pad Touch on/off, FX Button on/off and Program change. The default controller settings and MIDI channel can be changed by pressing all six Program Map buttons simultaneously (not easy!); this puts the Kaoss Pad into MIDI Edit mode.
Korg have built up quite a reputation for innovation over the years, and the introduction of the Kaoss Pad will reinforce this impression even further; it's refreshing to see a completely new take on the well‑tried preset effects unit. The Kaoss Pad is being heavily promoted as a DJ effects unit, hence the phono and mic inputs, and in this respect a pre‑effect monitor option for the headphone output would have been useful for setting up effects and samples.
The ribbon controller pad is very easy and intuitive to use, either by rubbing or tapping. It's also great fun and, unlike the Roland D‑Beam controller, isn't adversely affected by bright lights or smoke, making it more predictable as a control source. The quality of the effects and sampling are all up to the usual Korg standard for a product in this price range, though lack of any real programmability is frustrating. The cost‑to‑features ratio may seem slightly lopsided, but that's the price of innovation and flashing lights. If you are still undecided, go to your local Korg dealer and give it a test drive — it won't fail to impress you.
- 50 effects algorithms.
- 10 sampling programs.
Sampling Time: 5 seconds, in stereo
- Mic — quarter‑inch jack, mono.
- Phono — RCA phono, L+R.
- Line in — RCA phono, L+R.
- Line out — RCA phono, L+R.
- Phones out — stereo mini‑jack.
- MIDI out.
- External 12V PSU.
While writing this review I tried hooking up the Korg Electribe EA1 analogue modelling synth and ER1 beatbox (see reviews in last month's SOS) to the Kaoss Pad's MIDI Out, just to see how well they integrated. To be truthful, however, it wasn't as successful as I would have hoped. I could change Patterns on both Electribes from the Kaoss Pad's Program knob and Program Map buttons, introduce Pitch Bend to the EA1 synths from the pad controller, but that was about all. I wouldn't expect much response from the ER1 (maybe some effects control) but part of the problem lies with the Electribe EA1's lack of MIDI modulation response, because I successfully managed to modulate a non‑Electribe synth.
Putting the audio output of either Electribe through the Kaoss Pad, by contrast, produced some wonderfully complex and rich combinations — but you would expect that with most decent effects units anyway.
I was initially under the impression that the Kaoss Pad was part of the Electribe family, but now I'm not so sure. It doesn't look like any of the Electribes, and if anything has a slightly (dare I say it?) bland look. That is until you turn it on — then it metamorphoses into a 1940s Flash Gordon prop...
- Intuitive pad control of parameters.
- Quality effects and stereo sampling.
- Versatile input options.
- Very easy to use.
- Lack of real programmability.
- No MIDI input.
- More effects would be nice.
- Mains power only.
A well‑implemented and innovative spin on a familiar product, offering top‑quality stereo effects and relatively long stereo sampling time. The illuminated X‑Y ribbon pad is very intuitive and easy to use, and is bound to draw comments — even crowds! Lack of any real programmability may deter some but this won't make much difference to its intended market, live remixing and DJing.