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Korg Kaossilator 2 review
What is it?
A portable gadget for musical doodling.
It's immensely powerful and can effectively imbue you with the ability of a superstar DJ.
The screen is a little small and the user interface makes working through the myriad options slower work than it could be.
The bottom line
If you enjoy music, the Kaossilator 2 offers a fun way to be able to create it - even if you're not the musical type.
Not too long ago, buying a musical device as powerful as the Korg Kaossilator 2 would have cost you a couple of grand and half the space in your living room. What's more, you'd have needed to be pretty sharp at playing the keyboard to get anything remotely musical from it.
But legendary synthesizer company Korg has been shrinking and simplifying things for quite some time now. Back in 2007 it released the Kaossilator, a portable touchpad device that made it easy (and fun) to create loops of electronic music.
Since then, the Kaossilator Pro and iKaossilator app for iPhone have followed. This update on the original Kaossilator makes the controls more user-friendly than before, nabs a few features from the models that have appeared since and is presented in a compact package that is genuinely pocketable.
Its neat size is accompanied by a similarly unintimidating price tag (£129), which makes this a fun gadget for anyone who wants to play around with music making. Korg says you don't need musical training in order to make electronic tunes on the Kaossilator 2 and, from our experience with the device, that's true.
Even those with the musical ability of a tone-deaf squirrel - such as this reviewer - can get genuinely impressive results. Novices should keep their expectations in check, however - this is not a device you're likely to use to create entire songs. It's a 'dynamic phrase synthesizer' - the idea is that you use it to create and build up loops of sounds, which are then saved as wav files on the bundled microSD card. For the uninitiated it's the musical equivalent of doodling, and it's both fun and addictive. Those with talent will get much more from it and could find this a useful additional tool to their music making.
The device itself is a handheld unit that bears a resemblance to an overweight smartphone. It's lighter than you might expect and fits comfortably in the palm. There's an electric yellow plastic cover on the back, underneath which is space for two AA batteries (it can also be run via an optional mains adapter) and a micro SD slot.
On the front is a tiny screen, six buttons and two touchpads. The side of the device has a volume rocker, a button for switching the internal mic on and off and a power button. At the top is an input for the mains power, as well as inputs for headphones and an external mic. There's an internal speaker, too.
The lower, square-shaped touchpad dominates the unit and it's this you'll use to make music, tapping and sliding your fingers around the pad to play the selected instrument sound. Sliding your finger from side to side affects the pitch, sliding up and down adds effects to the tone. Choose a drum sound, and you can tap on the pad like a tiny drum kit. It's a genuinely intuitive way to operate the device and, since the Kaossilator 2 automatically keeps everything in key, it's a simple way for anyone to make impressive-sounding music.
The 'ribbon' touchpad above it is use to interact with the device's options, including choosing the sound you want (there are 150 to choose from). You'll also use this to access the Kaossilator 2's gate arpeggiator feature, which offers the quickest and simplest ways to create loops in a number of different ways. Spend a bit of time playing around with that feature and you'll soon have convinced yourself that making music is actually a piece of cake.
Once you've come up with something you like, you can save it. Holding down one of the two large buttons enables you to record a loop of up to eight beats in length. With that loop recorded, you can add further sounds on top - some bass on top of a drum loop for instance. You can have two loops running at the same time and use the device's fader to switch between them.
You're not just limited to the device's supplied sounds, either. The internal microphone means you can record vocals and other sounds, while some of the more advanced settings offer even deeper control.
If you're a musical novice, you'll find the Kaossilator 2 is a fun, diverting gadget that might inspire you to learn more. It's designed to be simple to operate and easy to explore. The tiny screen means it can be a little slow to get around the options - especially for those used to the elegant simplicity of high-powered smartphones - but the touch operation of the unit does help with that.
There's plenty more depth, too, for those who want to take things further. Check out the introductory videos on the Korg website for some excellent examples of how versatile this piece of kit can be.