Sonic LAB: Kaossilator Pro Review

Its Big, Bold and Loopy      24/02/10

No flash plug


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Korg's knack of releasing new hardware that gets people excited doesnt seem to have diminished. The new Kaossilator Pro being one of the few items that generated any excitement  at  2010 Winter NAMM.

 

The original Kaossilator joined the family of Kaoss products - the Kaoss Pads 1, 2 and 3 and the Mini KP and made a palm-sized forray into hand-held music making with its four bar loop recorder and 100 synth engine. Myself and others were wooed and the price was nice too, making it more of an affordable musical toy, the hardware equivalent of a decent iPhone app. However it was not all roses, the tantalizing glimpse of what was possible - Gary Kibler's entirely Kaossilator produced album (The Yellow Album) was quite rightly applauded. But in reality, its shortcomings made it hard to achieve meaningful musical results.

 

The Kaossilator Pro aims to address all that - hey it has the 'Pro' label and is much more substantial. Modelled on the Kaoss Pad 3 case and size, the X/Y pad is much larger as is the display and - praise be! There are buttons and knobs, MIDI, USB and an SD Card slot for saving recordings - bring it on!

 

Layout
At its heart once again is the XY pad, backlit and beautiful, to its left, the Gate/ARP slider for riffing rhythmic patterns - a discrete switch on the back panel enables you to change beat divisions.
Below, are the four Loop bank buttons, backlit, green:muted, yellow:playing, red:record. To the right are the tap tempo, scale (think of this as the pitch quantize setting), Key, erase loop and REC buttons.

 

Each of the four banks can record up to 16 beats which continuously loop in sync once recorded. Recordings are made from performances played using the XY pad and internal synth engine (200 presets) OR audio taken from either the Mic or Line input. Each phrase/loop can be overdbubbed as much as you like with as many different sounds as you like, though you can't deconstruct them once recorded. The synth engine is monophonic in terms of trigger, but some sounds are multi-voice with some control over the intervals of the voices. Once recorded, each loop can be muted and mixed.

 

Connections are: RCA (phono to us Brits) stereo io, 1/4 mic input, headphones (with own volume) MIDI io and USB, standard 9v power input and switch. There is no master volume control, but a dedicated input volume and current program level enable a certain amount of mixing internally. Parameter access is handled by a rotary encoder with a push function for entering data.

 

8 quick sound access buttons (which double as edit modes using the shift key) enable you to store favourite patches for quick recall - invaluable if you want to repeat any performances for live. 
Kaossilator SD Card Files
These memories can be stored to the SD card for later recall. Speaking of the SD card, its 2GB maximum (not included) and as far as I can tell, really rather slow to load and save - about realtime in my experience - four loops of 6 secs =24s. I mean thats not too far off floppy drive speeds - c'mon Korg! Both internal and externally recorded sounds can be saved to the card, though if you want to import these into your DAW, you'll need to editor (free download) to export them as .wav or .aiff
Filenames are non descriptive 00.KOP, 02.KOP.

 

 

Many of the 200 presets (not editable in any way), as well as being pitched in the L-R or X axis,  have additional control in the Y axis (Up/Down) such as filter or timbre change. Many also have additional tempo based effects. The sounds are arranged into 8 Banks:



L000 ->039 Lead 
               A selection of synth filtered and effected lines
A040 ->054 Acoustic
               A variety of real/mechanical instrument sounds             
B055 ->084 Bass
              synth, organ and real bass voices
C086 ->114 Chord
              keyboard, pads, arpegiated sounds with different voicings in the Y axis
S115 ->139 SE (Special Effects)
               synth and sound effects
D140 ->159 Drum
              acoustic and electronic drums and perc single hits
P160 ->184 Pattern
              mainly beats with some nice kits
V185 ->199 Vocoder
              using the external input as the modulator, plus some more Kaoss pad like audio effects.



There's around 30% of the original Kaossilator voices in there, with the rest all new programs. Some are great and highly useable, some are more er, specialized - Jazz Guitar - anyone?



MIDI
Kaossilator Pro Midi
Our unboxing video seems to have stirred up quite a lot of interest  - I was able to figure out a way to plug a MIDI keyboard and 'play' the internal sounds using it - which makes the playability fantastic and opens up a whole realm of new possibilities. The bad news is that this is not something you can do out of the box - I had to translate the MIDI note information to from my keyboard, with the help of Logic Pro's transform functions, to exact MIDI controller values which corresponded to the relevant CC values on the X axis (pitch). For me, Korg should really consider making this a standard feature, as it makes the playability a much less challenging prospect. I have no idea wether they will - just sayin....

 

There is also a EXT CTRL mode [Shift 8] which turns it into a MIDI controller, but disables the sound engine. In this mode, the X axis transmits note information based on how the Scale and Key functions are set.

 

Sync
This one has me puzzled, enabling EXT sync on the unit means that any MIDI clock received - in my case from Logic Pro via the USB connection, and means that it will adjust the master tempo based on incoming clock signal. Thats great, BUT and this is a big one - Sir Mixalot would be proud, there is no clock sync - meaning they aren't locked to play at the same time. I dont understand how this can be of any use - if the Kaossilator could respond to start message then the loops would begin playback at the same time as the Master clock source - job done. But it don't.
Note: In the manual it says:

TIP: This function will not synchronize sequence
data with the KAOSSILATOR PRO’s rhythm pattern
programs. If you want to synchronize sequenced
data and the KAOSSILATOR PRO’s internal rhythm
patterns, you will either have to insert a Touch Pad
On message into the beginning of each measure of
your sequence data, or touch the touch pad at the
beginning of each of the KAOSSILATOR PRO phrases
to start the pattern.


TIP: If you want the KAOSSILATOR PRO to receive
Timing Clock and Touch Pad On messages, go to
MIDI Setting (→p.20), and select “Applying the MIDI
message filter” (→p.21) so that these messages will
be received
.

In Use

Flicking through the sounds in the unit and you have instant inspiration - in no time at all, you can have a four part riff with a fifth playing over the top live from the XY pad, plug an external sound source in and you have even more. Get a MIDI keyboard hooked up - and it gets even better, albeit with some jiggery. With external audio, one trick I did discover when working with external audio, is that you can record a guitar say into the Left channel of a loop slot, then plug into the right and record something else - monitor the Kaossilator in mono, L or R by muting one channel (assuming you have two mixer channels available) and you have double the loops - L or R.

I had no problem creating loops in my DAW and bouncing them to the SD card, although you are limited to around 850k filesize - the Kaossilator will just load as much of a larger file as it can. Ditto with saving ideas and riffs onto the SD card - easy peasey - apart from the time it takes. 

 

End
Even though this is a giant leap forward after the Kaossilator original, at £355/$460 and the 'Pro' label I would have hoped for just a little more - useable sync, faster load/save and MIDI keyboard live input mode, but even without its going to fit the bill for a whole lot of people.

 

Pricing and Availability
 Available in stores real soon at £355/$460 RRP

 

 

 

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