Korg first introduced the Kaoss Pad, in the form of the KP1, back in 1999. The tactile audio-mangler immediately found favour with musicians, producers and DJs performing music across a wide range of styles. Spurred on by its success, Korg have tinkered with the Kaoss formula ever since, with a number of updates and offshoots including DJ mixers, video processors and sound sources. The most recent Kaoss Pad proper is last year's Quad, capable of four simultaneous effects. In 2007, the Mini KP was unveiled alongside the original Kaosillator. The two devices were ‘partners' with regard to their design and pricing; the implication was that they were literally made for each other. Five years on, the double act has been repeated: unveiled alongside the Kaosillator 2 at this year's NAMM was its sibling, the Mini Kaoss Pad 2.
At first glance, the Mini KP2 appears identical to the Kaosillator 2, albeit decked out in red rather than yellow. They are the same size and shape, the number and layout of the controls and connections is identical, and both require two AA batteries (rather than four as previously). In the interests of making the device as small and portable as possible, the Mini KP2's essential I/O connections have been changed to stereo mini-jack from the more professional L/R phono sockets of its predecessor. There is also no longer a separate headphone jack; the device now features an internal speaker, though its usefulness is questionable given its rather feeble output level and quality (similar to a phone speaker).
The LED display on the original Mini KP has been replaced by a much better OEL (organic electro-luminescent) display, which looks fantastic in all lighting conditions; and parameter values are now selected not with a rotary control knob, but via a ribbon-style controller (the Value slider) with incremental + and – keys at its edges.
Unlike the earlier model, the new Mini KP includes a microSD card slot which can be used to store performances as WAV files. More excitingly, audio files can be played from the card (and, of course, processed) using the device's MP3 player functionality, which makes the Mini KP2 the first truly self-contained Kaoss Pad to be released.
What's more, there is now an internal mic, allowing live vocals to be processed and mixed with the output. While this inclusion is a new and fun feature, I found it a little tricky to use: the internal mic input seems to run through a noise gate with a fairly high threshold (which cannot be adjusted), meaning that the user needs to shout/sing at quite a high level—and hold the device very close to their mouth—before the mic will engage. Another important aspect of the internal mic is that it overrides the Line In; in other words, the mic signal can only be mixed with audio being played from the SD card, rather than from an external device.
The Mini KP2 features 100 effect programs in eight banks: Filter, Modulation, LFO, Delay, Reverb, Looper, Vocoder and Synth. The effects on offer are a step up from the earlier Mini KP, with many inherited from the larger KP3 and Quad machines. They sound excellent, as you'd expect after over a decade of Kaoss Pad evolution. As well as generic effects—variable filters, reverbs and so on—there are many more unusual and distinctive programs. Of particular interest are some of the combination Looper and Slicer effects; I also had fun with the Vinyl Break program—inherited from the Kaoss Pad Quad—which allows "scratching" on the XY pad. The Synth programs offer a useful range of sound effects to be layered over incoming audio.
Many of the effects are tempo based, and BPM can be set in a number of ways: as well as using the Value slider or Tap Tempo functions, the Mini KP2 features an intelligent BPM Auto-Detect, which quickly and accurately locks onto the tempo of incoming audio. This new feature is very useful since, once engaged, it continuously analyses the incoming signal and adjusts itself accordingly. Of course, auto-detect relies on the incoming signal having a reasonably obvious pulse, but it worked very well during my testing with a range of material.
The documentation mentions that three programs can be stored as favourites. Sadly, control over this feature seems somewhat imprecise, and I was unable to get it working; all settings are lost when the device is switched off.
The audio player will handle mp3 or WAV files (which must first be copied onto a card using a computer), and has been designed with a couple of musically useful features. Firstly, a Cue point can be set within each audio file, adding an extra element of performance control to playback. Secondly, the pitch/speed of audio can be adjusted —up to 30% in either direction—using the Value slider, allowing audio files to be tempo matched to an incoming signal. The Value slider can also be used to crossfade between audio signals. These functions are extremely simple yet effective to operate, and form the essence of a complete DJ setup (of course, a separate headphone monitor out would be very desirable in this context, but would bump up the price).
I had a great time with the Mini KP2. Of the two new "Mini Kaoss" devices, I consider it to have the edge: it has the fun factor and immediacy of the Kaosillator 2, but goes far beyond this, with features which make it far better suited than the Kaosillator for use as part of an advanced performance or production set-up. The effect programs sound fantastic—benefitting from the R&D which went into the more expensive KP3 and Quad pads—and are extremely diverse. The audio player functionality is a first for any Kaoss device, and is well implemented: as much as the Mini KP2 is technically an FX unit, it could also be thought of as a highly interactive mp3 player, which allows users to record their experiments. For the price, it's a steal.