For many living in the age of the computer, a performance mixer has gotten more useful, not less. It’s a no-brainer for DJs mixing records with digital, but it can be useful for other electronic musicians, as well. (For some of the readers of this site, that might mean mixing in hardware synths, multiple laptops, circuit-bent toys, Game Boys, and … well, you tell me.) What’s interesting is that, along with this change, the mixer itself is starting to evolve, integrating audio interfaces, control functionality for use with software, and other features. Gimmicks — or features that transform what a mixer does?

Today, Korg formally unveils its KM-202 and KM-402 mixers, each of which integrates a KAOSS touchpad. The KAOSS Pad becomes most powerful, of course, as an effects unit. Added to a mixer, that gets really interesting. (That’s one two-channel mixer with crossfader, one four-channel, in case you haven’t already guessed.) The new KM series boasts a number of nice KAOSS Pad features:

Funny. These goofy levels happen to be the same settings the blogosphere uses. I actually have one of these knobs in WordPress. But no “troll”?
  1. Integrated effects with X/Y touch control: Filters, phasers, delays, reverbs, etc., adding up to 100 effects borrowed from the new “pocket KAOSS” we saw earlier, the mini-KP.
  2. Loops and synths: Effects are already intriguing, but this also doubles as a real-time looper and synth.
  3. Route mic input for effects and even vocoding.
  4. Tap tempo for BPM sync.
  5. Per-channel assignments: Here’s where the mixer comes in really handy. A KAOSS button allows you to freely assign the KAOSS Pad effect to whatever channel you like.

The usual KAOSS Pad features apply: a release function so you don’t have to keep your finger on the pad if you don’t want to, plus assignable memory presets so you don’t have to scroll through presets. It’s in a somewhat cramped space, so controls are fairly minimal, but in this case that may be part of the appeal.

It’s shrunk a little, but there’s a full-featured KAOSS Pad stuck in the center of the mixer. Now we just need to wait to find out how much the whole package costs.

And, oh yeah, it is a mixer, too:

  1. Digital EQ: 3-band DJ-style EQ, but with six selectable EQ types — so you have different models from which to choose.
  2. I/O: Mic in, line, phono; master and booth outputs.
  3. Headphone/booth monitoring switch: Set up a cue mix, which is terrific as many computer audio interfaces don’t offer it.
  4. Adjustable crossfader curves.

I think this mixer could wind up being a huge hit with live laptop artists, or live performers with mixes of other loopers and sound sources but no laptops, as well as the usual DJ crowd. They’re still another piece of gear to tote, and many will prefer to stick to the laptop for mixing and effects, but there are a number of reasons these should at least warrant additional investigation. Here’s a look at why, plus a comparison with Korg’s recently-announced ZERO4 and ZERO8 mixers:

Worth Carrying?

For DJs, the appeal is obvious: instant effects, X/Y control, and all the basics needed for DJ mixing. But electronic musicians of all styles (and not just the “Dance” label applied by Korg marketing) have long been addicted to KAOSS Pads. By integrating them with the mixer, you can add instant effects, EQ, and even the occasional fingertip synth sound, all with instant-access X/Y control. That may sound like overkill given the sonic capabilities of a computer, but there’s nothing quite like having instant-on, full-mix effects when you’re in the heat of a performance. And I find DJ mixers are ideal for mixing in additional hardware sound sources — DJs .

Now the bad news: as with the mini-KP, there’s no MIDI. Unlike the mini-KP, however, I think the lack of MIDI is mitigated by the fact that this is integrated in a mixer; it’s more likely that you’d use this for hands-on hardware control over the final live mix, and worry about MIDI for all the more sophisticated computer stuff in your laptop.

Korg’s Mixer Lineup

The ZERO4 and ZERO8 mixers.

Korg is suddenly in the mixer/DJ business. The idea of the KM series is clearly to do a very simple 2-channel or 4-channel mixer with the built-in equivalent of the mini-KP KAOSS Pad. And that’s all they are: mixer plus KAOSS effects. The Korg ZERO4 and ZERO8 mixers also have mixing and effects, but with some additional features the KM lacks:

  1. Computer audio interface. Via FireWire, the ZERO4/8 can input audio and MIDI from a computer, with color-coded dials to tell you which input you’re on. (This is on top of level, phono, and “guitar” high-Z ins.)
  2. Controller functionality. The entire ZERO mixer will double as a MIDI controller for software. I hope to examine exactly how this works soon on CDM.
  3. 11 EQ curves to the KM’s 5, and eight channels on the ZERO8.
  4. Channel-independent tempo: This is something I haven’t seen before: each individual channel can have its own BPM, set by manual input, tapping, or auto-bpm sensing. (Not sure about MIDI sync, but I believe that’s possible, as well, though perhaps not for each channel.) Hey, Ableton, could we have this in Live, please?
  5. Integrated BPM sampler with dedicated controls. There is some sampling functionality on the KM, but there are dedicated loop-length controls on the ZERO series, and since you can sample from any channels, the ZERO8 has more complex potential.

That said, the ZERO4/8 don’t just lack the KM’s nifty KAOSS touchpad: they also have far fewer effects. The ZERO’s also have some tough competition, though we expect it to be more expensive, in the form of Ecler’s Italian-designed EVO5, not to mention their previous NUO4. If you’re interested, let us know, and we can arrange a shootout.

I’m very interested to look closer at the ZERO series, and I expect they may work well for a certain audience. The control layout looks clean and friendly, the displays and color-coding are really lovely (not to mention the strangely retro master meters), and I do like the concept of “live control” mixers and consoles.

But it’s really the KM series that I find appealing. Minimalism is something sorely lacking in this business, and that’s what this line really promises. It also looks like a mixer that could easily complement a computer live.

I hope to crash Korg HQ out on Long Island next month, so stay tuned.

Pricing/Availability

ZERO4/8
Pricing US$1300 street (ZERO4); ZERO8 unknown
Availability: May/June
ZERO 4 Product Page
ZERO 8 Product Page

KM 202/402
Pricing: TBA
Availability: June
Not yet on the Korg site at press time; see press release

  • http://stirhouse.com Mark Strauss

    Hmm, i was under the impression that the Zero8 *does* have a touchscreen Kaoss interface?

    Also, Kaoss pads integrated into mixers is not really anything new.. Numark had one in their EM-460:

    http://www.djzone.net/pg/0101/gr01001.shtml

    (I had one of these back in the day)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    The ZERO8 has a touchscreen interface with KAOSS effects, but not a KAOSS Pad. Somewhat confusing marketing. And from what I can tell, the ZERO has fewer effects. The touchscreen is cool, but having an actual X/Y touchpad is another story — where it's an actual FX controller — is very nice.

    I had completely forgotten about the Numark EM-460, though. Looks quite similar in capabilities, in fact, but with a bigger pad. The novelty wore off, I take it?

  • http://stirhouse.com Mark Strauss

    Yeah, actually I believe they started falling out of favor because the touchscreen was quite prone to cracking (as mine did, faithfully).

    I hope the touchpad has been beefed up since then, because I know the Numark series was pretty much too fragile to travel with.

  • http://beatfix.com beatfix

    I have a hard time imagining people performing live with a mini-KP. While it's great for quick 'n' dirty effects, I find even the regular KP touchpad to be a bit cramped at times for true musical expressiveness. The KM-202 is certainly clean and attractive though, and there's a lot to be said for intuitive layouts in a live setting.

    I'd be interested to learn more about the ZERO4, even though I won't be buying one anytime soon – I'm still breaking in my NUO4. In particular I'd like to know if the ZERO4 can process incoming audio and send MIDI simultaneously from the same controls – a feature that is essential for A/V mixing, and sadly missing the NUO4 (except for the crossfader).

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I haven't had any trouble with Korg-branded touch products, or known anyone who has, but hardware can always vary from unit to unit.

    And yes, I agree — these touch surfaces are generally most effective for simpler gestures. This isn't the full KP touchpad here; it looks closer in build to a laptop-style touchpad. (The Novation keyboards have something similar.) For many of these effects, though, that's fine I think, and for me can be quite expressive.

    I'd love to hear how your NUO4 works out, beatfix!

  • http://mateomurphy.com Mateo

    While the builtin kaospad is nice, I think having one for each channel would be far more interesting. It's common for me to want to effect each channel seperately, simultaneously, which has always been a source of frustration for me with mixers that have built in effects. Which is precisely why I'm looking forward to the ZERO series; having each channel function as a midi controller hooked up to Ableton Live will allow all the flexibility I could every want. The fact that the ZERO series will also support traktor scratch is a big added bonus.

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  • phillip

    did i miss mention of the original korg branded km-2 mixer? that failed miserably thanks to cheap faders, bad build quality, and noisy output. i wonder if these will be just as gimmicky.

  • http://www.egry.de marten

    I could touch all of these mixers at Music Messe in Frankfurt and I have to say, there is nothing cheap build. Everything is rock solid and reminds me a bit of Urei quality even though, the potis are much thinner

  • Jason

    Hi, can anyone advise me on buying a macbook pro 2.16 machine with 1 gig ram, and 100 gigHD for the sole purpose of running logic 7.2, and other soft synths, reverbs etc. Or would i be better off with a G5 desktop?

    Help!

    Jason

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    Jason. Try the Forums, there's a strong possibility your question has already been answered.

  • magnetight

    @ beatfix re: audio & midi processing

    I think the zero4 and the zero8 can both process audio and midi at the same time. One of the input selections at the top of each channel is 'audio + midi' and reserves the three left hand knobs and faders for audio, while the three right knobs act as midi.

    the zero8 is a beast and I'm definatly getting one as soon as they land in england. There both official 'traktor scratch' mixers, meaning you can run Final Scratch without any other sort of pre-amp/processor. Hopefully (maybe with some clever send/returning) I'll be able to use this with Ms. Pinky!

  • magnetight

    blimey, that sounds like a sale pitch. I don't work for korg, I promise!

  • tb

    you are mislead

    first, no vocoding(no real as it won't take a separate L/R input as source only the internal synth

    2 the zero8 has MORE effects(111 programs, 3 processors, 2 being KAPSS on the touch screen)