Technology Tuesday: Korg Kaossilator

The Kaossilator is a small synthesizer device made by Korg that runs off of AA batteries or a power cord. Rather than playing with keys or strings, it is “played” by touching the pad. Manipulating the pad horizontally or vertically effects either the pitch or modulates the sound in another way. While a finger works perfectly fine on the pad, some users prefer using a stylus for more fine grain control. Depending on the effect desired, you can either tap the pad or move around it like a laptop track pad.

There are 100 built-in programs that include woodwinds, voice, brass, strings, bass, chord patterns, percussion and scores of other options. Once a particular sound is achieved, the user can record several bars and then continue playing on top of that, or continue recording unlimited layers.

The best way to really understand the Kaossilator is to see a video of it up close and listen to the extraordinary sounds that it can make. [Note, the uploader’s cheesy effects disappear after 35 seconds and allow you to better see the device]


As you can see from the video, the user is spinning the center dial to call up the many programs which are indicated on the LED display. Each program, 00-99, is preceded by a letter indicating roughly what the program is. Thus, the last ten programs are listed with a “P” and are percussion beats. Holding down the lower right button records and switches the program indicator to the beat indicator so you can lay down another recording exactly where you want. If you make a mistake, you can certainly undo a recording. In addition to the particular program, there are dozens of scale patterns to chose from and of course the tempo is fully customizable as well.

So how do I listen to this and is it an instrument or a toy?

The easiest way to listen and enjoy is simply through standard headphones or earbuds. Just pop them out of your iPod and into the headphone jack. In addition, there is a standard RCA out allowing you to hook into an amplifier for listening at higher volumes through your stereo or amp.

While the Kaossilator has been used by many bands in both live and recording environments mixed with other instruments and effects, it offers hours and hours of enjoyment playing simply for fun without any other effects or instruments. The Kaossilator affords the person, like myself, who loves music but without any particular musical skills, to jam out and enjoy some self-made music.

For the actual musicians out there, this is the perfect drum machine to create some interesting grooves and sounds. Then pick up your guitar or other instrument and jam right along with the beats you’ve already laid down.

[Outputs on Kaossilator]

Wow, the video looked cool and this sounds great, but what does it cost?

I got mine last year for $100 flat and you should be able to find one that price too if you shop around. The “list” price of $250 you will never have to pay. If you just want to be done with it, you can fetch it from Amazon for $124.

Despite this relatively cheap price for a professional caliber instrument, the build quality is quite high. The yellow is plastic and the silver over it is made of metal giving it a sturdy feel. The buttons, volume dial and knob on top all feel high quality and the touch pad is very responsive.

Is it tough to learn to play?

Getting to the Bach Remix level of play as shown in the video will take you a bit of time. But out of the box, and a little fiddling without even reading the manual, will give you some pretty impressive sounds relatively quickly. You’ll intuitively start remembering what each cluster of programs sound like and where to spin the dial to get there. Like any instrument, gadget, device or program, if you want to really master it and take advantage of all the features like the gate-arpeggiator, all the scales and even some of the hidden features, you’ll need to RTFM.

Any drawbacks?

There’s a few that bother me and likely many more for musicians who are going after a specific result rather that just jamming out and playing whatever comes to mind like myself. First of all, the device has no internal memory above and beyond what is recorded while playing. I’ve created some great stuff that I would have loved to have saved for the future. Once you turn the device off, your sounds are gone. Of course you can use the outputs and record to another device. But that defeats the portability and spontaneity of creating music on a park bench, at the beach, or killing time on a long flight.

While the 100 built-in programs and scores of different scales playable at any tempo initially feel like limitless possibilities, after a while, you may wish that you were able to add new programs. It would be nice to download new sounds and add to memory but unfortunately you are limited to what the device came with.

In a nutshell: An absolute blast to play and portable enough to stick in your pocket or take on a flight, the Kaossilator will give you endless hours of enjoyment whether you’ve never played an instrument before or are already an accomplished musician. As previously highlighted on our 2010 Holiday Gift Guide and roughly $100, it’s hard to find a better value-for-the-buck when it comes to creating music.


Hidden Track Technology Tuesday
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