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 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