Korg KR-55 Pro review

Portable drum machine and recorder make jamming and writing that much easier

Korg KR-55 Pro Rhythm Machine

In today’s music world, the beat is a leading factor in a song. Whether you’re writing a dancy pop-tune to get people up on their feet or a power ballad with a big build, the drums push the song to the next level. As a singer-songwriter, you might find it troubling to keep having to rely on your drummer’s schedule in order to write the drum parts to your songs or find it a nuisance to have to fire up your computer and load software just to get a beat going. Meet your new drummer buddy: the Korg KR-55 Pro.

Korg has been in the drum machine market for many decades. The Korg Rhythm 55d is the bigger, older brother to the KR-55 Pro and was a hit with many writers and producers when it came out in 1978. Despite its large footprint, the Korg Rhythm had a plethora of high quality rhythm preset patterns that were used by artists ranging from Jean-Michel Jarre, Trio and Depeche Mode. Revitalized in 2018, the new KR-55 Pro gives you the same versatility with a compact and light design. It’s equipped with even more options to bring your groove to the next level, and you can take it anywhere.

The KR-55 Pro features 24 different patterns including beats inspired by rock, jazz, blues, bossa-nova and samba, with all beats originally performed by real drummers. It even includes conga and cajon patterns for more diversity. There are two variations for every pattern, as well as two different drum fills and a unique song ending. No matter how fast or slow you set each pattern to be, they feel totally natural to play along with, and the sound quality is top-notch.

With the flexibility and versatility being virtually limitless, Korg pushed things to the next level by introducing the chain-playlist option. Here, you are able to combine your favorite beats, variations, fills and all to create the drum part to a song; hands-free. You can create 30 banks of chains (which amounts to 30 songs) with a maximum of 999 measures. You can pretty much kiss your drummer goodbye!

This unit also features a three-input mixer with one XLR and two ¼ inch jacks on the top of the machine along with a 3-band EQ, levels and reverb for each. This feature, along with the hands-free capability, is where the KR-55 Pro shines: it’s incredibly useful for a live acoustic singer-songwriter who wants to play along with premade chains in their show. The stereo ¼ inch output on the back of the unit makes it possible to plug directly in to any PA system, whether you have another mixer or just a powered PA speaker. There’s also a footswitch input, so you can run your whole show hands free. That means you can turn your focus on your performance and let the machine do the work, just like an actual drummer would let you do. Or you can choose to create and add live fills on the fly. There’s also a built-in tuner, so all you would need for a gig is just the KR-55 and your instrument. It’s as easy as that!

That mixer also doubles as an audio-interface for the unit’s built-in multi-track recorder, which is great for jamming and writing. Upon inserting an external SD card, you can record using the unit and no other bells and whistles. Of course those three separate inputs can be tracked at once, but you also can overdub on top of what you’ve already recorded. As a songwriter, it is super important to be able to record your ideas quickly, easily and efficiently and the KR-55 makes that possible.

I also found it very useful to able to load backing tracks or other types of audio on to the unit through the SD card. The tempo knob still works with external tracks, making it so you can practice along to your favorite tunes at whatever speed is comfortable for you. That makes this a great practice tool as well for further crafting your art as a player. In many ways, it’s very similar in concept to arranger keyboards that let you compose, record and store your material.

Upon reading the manual that is found on Korg’s website and spending a little time with the machine, it only took a few minutes for me to get comfortable with using the unit. Word of advice: do not skip this step! There is a lot of ammo available in the KR-55 Pro so spend time learning how to properly use it beforehand and you’ll be much happier. The interface is very user friendly and once you know all the functions of what the buttons do, you’ll be in business. Although it has a DC adapter that comes included with the unit, you can also power it up by 6 AA batteries, so you can take the unit anywhere.

Retailing at $299, you get a lot of “band” for your buck.; the KR-55 Pro makes you feel like you’re playing with an honest-to-goodness drummer and then some.