Gear Review: Korg Kaoss KP3 Dynamic Effect/Sampler

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Kaoss Pad
MSRP: $460.00

The Kaoss pad has been around now for over a decade – since 1999 – and the KP3 is the third generation of the product. The Kaoss pad is like a bridge between a regular sampler and a more-intuitive musical interface. Where it really moves beyond other samplers is in how Korg bills the product a “Dynamic Effect” box, and by this they mean the touch interface, which preceded by nearly a decade the recent public embrace of touch screens.

The Kaoss pad has also picked up a few notable fans over the years. Brian Eno has praised the device for its bringing sound back to muscular control, which he says, in an interview in Sound On Sound magazine in 2005, has been lost somewhat in computer recording.

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood also uses the Kaoss pad to sample and effect Thom Yorke’s voice on songs like “Everything In Its Right Place.” (Watch a video here of the band performing the song using an earlier version of the Kaoss pad from Paris in 2001.)

The most basic – and probably still the most fun – operation for the KP3 is simply plugging in an iPod, CD player or external sound source and using the touch pad to intuitively create effects. The back of the unit has both RCA line-in and line-out connectors as well as USB and MIDI compatibility.

Once you’ve attached an iPod, (most users will just plug their iPod in with a stereo 1/8″ cable to the RCAs), you need to select the audio input on the front surface. You can also connect a microphone to a 1/4″ input on the device’s front side, and toggle input selector back to the mic input. Volume control is managed with an Input Volume knob and mic Trim knob.

The KP3 houses 128 effects, which are scrollable on the top-right Program button, and subdivided into 14 program types like Filter, EQ, Modulation, Compressor, LFO, Delay, Reverb, Synthesizer, and Vocoder. (A full list of the 128 effects can be viewed here.) You can also assign eight favorites to the Program Memory panel, marked with buttons 1-8.

Korg has added a nice “Hold” button, which will keep an effect on even if you remove your fingers from the touch screen. There is both an FX Release fader as well as an FX Depth knob, the latter controlling the depth of effects applied and the former for transitioning smoothly from harsh effects back to a “thru,” or non-effected, signal. You can even record specific motions on the touch screen using the Pad Motion button, which will recall the movements automatically for later use as a loop and also as a reversed loop.

The KP3 has several ways to sync a song’s beats per minute (BPM). You can manually set your song’s tempo using the Program/BMP knob, use the Tap tempo button, or have the KP3 manually determine the BPM. The KP3 can also record a sample (or “resample” when recorded with the device’s effects) from your input source in 16 bit, 48 kHz. KP3 also has a built-in slicer and the 1-8 Program Memory buttons become sliced parts that you can turn on and off to shorten and slice the sample. You can also use an SD card to save data from the device’s internal memory or load data to the KP3. (Though the KP3 does not come with an SD card or SD card reader.)

The marvel of the KP3 is in it’s ease of use and also adaptability. It’s become popular with the DJ set, and the owner’s manual details a typical DJ setup for the KP3. But, the product fits just as well with experimental rock and pop, and watching Jonny Greenwood torture the Kaoss pad should provide plenty of inspiration of aspiring avant rawkers.


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Charles Bradley

Great Quotations: Iron & Wine