Kaossilator 2 retains the key concepts and features from 2007's original model, but expands these significantly with a wealth of new features—some of which have trickled down from the Kaossilator Pro, released in 2010—and an updated look and feel. Cosmetically, the new Kaossilator is strikingly different. The device is considerably less bulky than its square-shaped predecessor and looks, essentially, like a fat touchscreen phone. Gone is the rotary selection knob, having been replaced with an elegant ribbon controller. The main XY pad has also been revised, and has actually shrunk by some 20%. (Whether or not this is a concern depends largely on the size of your fingers.) Kaossilator 2 also features a new display which is far more sophisticated, conveying much more information than that of the previous model.
The device is powered by two AA batteries or an optional adaptor. The phono Line Outs from the original have gone, leaving a headphone mini-jack connection as the only output. However, Kaossilator now has the facility to ingest audio via a mic/line input (again, 3.5mm mini-jack), and features a new SD card slot, allowing loops and performances to be saved (and brought into other production environments). There are 150 patches in total (fifty more than the previous model), organised into banks—Lead, Acoustic, Bass, Chords, Effects, Drum Kits and Drum Patterns. Most of the acoustic sounds are instantly dismissible, but there is otherwise a decent range. Some patches include different reverb and delay treatments while others are dry. These effects are hard-wired: sounds cannot be edited in any way, except for real-time vertical movements on the XY pad. Typically this means either volume, envelope decay or tone/filter cutoff.
Horizontal movement on the pad controls pitch. Most patches have a 2 octave range by default, but this can be changed in the function menu from 1 octave to 8. Selecting a single octave makes it slightly easier to accurately "play" along the horizontal axis—with a range of 2 octaves or more I found that the slightest wobble of a finger would affect the note being played (this then became my playing technique). A number of different scales and modes can be selected to ensure that things stay broadly in tune; pitch quantize can also be switched off to create a glissando effect.
Like its predecessor, Kaossilator 2 features 50 Gate Arpeggiator patterns. The device (still) will not play arpeggios containing several pitches, as I'd hoped; instead the arpeggiator imposes a rhythmic pattern onto a single pitch. There's a greater degree of control here than previously, in that the Gate time can be altered (ie notes within a pattern can be played very short, very long, or anywhere in between) and a swing value can be applied.
Loop recording is the area in which Kaossilator has seen the most significant enhancements, and two Loop Rec/Play buttons now dominate the front panel. The ability to record two separate loops greatly expands the instrument's performance capability: each loop bank can be overdubbed, muted and deleted independently. In addition, the two loops can be crossfaded using the ribbon controller for DJ-style performances.
Holding down one of the loop buttons puts the device into record mode, and the phrase length is displayed graphically. This can be set from 1/16th note to 8 beats, depending on the BPM, and some interesting results can be generated by recording loops of different lengths. There is no metronome click to help with the timing of performances—users must keep a careful eye on a flashing LED (the loop button also flashes in time, but this is hard to see with a finger holding the button down). I found this method of timekeeping tricky to get the hang of, though in fairness it got easier with practice. Loops can be overdubbed using different timbres, so that each of the two loop banks can be layered to produce complex results. Sadly, the useful Undo function of the original Kaossilator is no more: if an overdub goes wrong and wrecks the loop, you're stuck with it. There is the option of a partial delete, but this is time-based rather than layer-based: specific beats within a loop can be deleted—leaving the rest intact—but this will delete all layers, leaving a silence in that section. Not ideal.
While recording I found myself craving a rhythmic quantize to put my performances better in time, although since it's audio rather than note data which is recorded, I can at least understand why none exists. I still feel that this would be a huge benefit, as would a simple volume control for each timbre. The cross-fader can be used to achieve a rough balance between loops, but no other volume control exists. One other drawback of the recording methodology is that reverb and delay tails are of course chopped off at the end of a phrase, creating a somewhat jarring effect at the loop point.
The facility to record via an internal mic or external mic/line input is the other major addition to the new Kaossilator. For this to work effectively the device must be connected to headphones or speakers, since enabling the mic mutes the internal speaker, presumably to avoid feedback. External sources can be overdubbed and combined with the onboard sounds limitlessly, and I had fun creating layered vocal textures over which to improvise with the XY pad. Changing the BPM after recording has the effect of time-stretching, which can yield interesting results.
Kaossilator 2 is leaps and bounds ahead of its previous incarnation in many ways, yet it has also lost a few valuable features, most significantly the ability to Undo an overdub. Use of SD cards helps to incorporate the device into a professional workflow, yet fundamentally it still feels like a stocking-filler rather than anything more serious (it's not designated as the "Pro" device, after all). My impression was that generating anything of real value is more down to luck than judgement, given the lack of accuracy and control over pitch and rhythm. That said, my "skills" improved the longer I spent with the instrument, and the potential for great-sounding accidents could generate creative ideas that wouldn't otherwise emerge. It's important also to say that Kaossilator 2 is a whole lot of fun to play with, regardless of the user's musical knowledge or ability.