Korg is a name best known for producing some of the best synthesisers that have ever been made. Almost every producer who grew up in the '80s will remember watching Top of the Pops or MTV with their favourite bands playing on stage with synths bearing the Korg name.
Thankfully Korg are still in business, and still making fantastic hardware synthesisers for electronic producers, like the MS-20 and the newly announced ARP Odyssey. But part of the reason they have survived this long is their ability to keep up with the times by releasing products such as their Legacy collection in plug-in format for DAWs, their rather excellent collection of apps for iOS devices, MIDI controllers, hybrid pianos, drums and percussion instruments, and even consumer audio devices to name just a few of their vast areas of expertise.
DJs haven't been left out either, with a great range of very innovative effect units available in the Korg Kaoss and Kaossilator range, which consists of nine different products aimed primarily at the DJ market, which have won high praise and gained large amounts of support over the years.
Korg have been suspiciously quiet in recent times when it comes to DJ products, and it turns out the reason for this silence is because they have been busy working on a brand-new product ready to spring onto an unsuspecting market of DJs. That product is the Kaoss DJ, which marks Korg's first foray into the ferociously competitive world of DJ controllers.
Put simply, the Korg Kaoss DJ is a compact DJ controller with an inbuilt Kaoss pad, and is compatible with any DJ software that supports MIDI, but is designed primarily with Serato DJ Intro in mind, which comes included with the price of this controller. Korg have taken portability to extreme levels and this controller is exceptionally small and lightweight but still manages to cram a surprising amount of features into such a small package.
Because of the all-plastic construction the Kaoss DJ only weighs 730 grams and measures a mere 31cm x 16cm, so it is hardly noticeable when being carried in a bag, making it perfect to take to parties and other gigs.
Despite this very small footprint the control surface is anything but light on features, the controls are nicely spaced and on the whole supremely useable, with a few notable exceptions such as the mic gain found at the rear, which is terribly fiddly for most normal sized fingers, and the lo frequency knobs on the mixer which are located perilously close to the top of the channel fader's slider knobs. However, given the target market of party DJs and casual mixers, these small trade-offs are unlikely to make owners fall out of love with this controller, especially given the large amount of features lurking below the surface of the Kaoss DJ.
The control surface, and the rest of the Kaoss DJ for that matter, is a sombre grey-on-black affair which looks slick and professional. While the knob caps are a little plain and cheap-looking, they certainly get the job done, as do the LED backlit rubberised buttons and short throw faders.
The LCD screen at the centre of the control surface is basic but functional, with a three digit red display giving feedback on the Kaoss Pad programs. The Kaoss DJ is bus powered, eliminating the need to carry an external power supply, and has a built-in audio interface complete with two stereo inputs, a microphone input as well as a main stereo output and a headphone output. In addition to being a MIDI controller the Kaoss DJ can also operate as a stand-alone mixer with the ability to apply Kaoss Pad effects to external sources, which is a very nice touch for such a compact controller, and adds to the versatility of the Kaoss DJ.
Korg has taken a rather interesting approach to the deck sections opting to go with a touch-pad style interface rather than jog-wheels, and the Kaoss DJ bears more than a passing resemblance to the ill-fated and dare we say it, ahead-of-their-time Stanton SCS.3D controllers.
In addition to a large circular touch-pad there are touch-strips located above the jog-pads which have three LEDs back-lighting them. Transport controls are located at the bottom of the deck sections with backlit rubberised buttons for start/pause, sync, cue and shift on offer. Further buttons located at the side of each deck section are dedicated to loop, FX and cue engage.
The pitch faders are small and not a lot of use for old-skool beat mixing duties, but this controller is not likely to be used for that sort of thing anyway. The sides of each deck section also double as UV meters which are very pleasing indeed, and a lovely innovation from Korg providing clear feedback as well as looking pretty damn cool.
The mixer section of this controller is a sparse affair, with each channel having three knobs for EQ and a channel fader as well as gain controls. The mixer controls, while functional, are somewhat confusing in the way Korg have laid them out, but this is more of a quirk than a major bugbear.
Of course the most interesting thing about the Kaoss DJ is the unique Kaoss Pad that sits in the middle of the unit, and possibly the number one reason DJs will have to buy this controller over any number of other compact two-channel controllers currently available from other manufacturers.
The Kaoss Pad at the heart of this controller has over 120 effect and synth programs available, putting one-touch control at DJs' fingertips with a no-fuss interface. Auto BPM detection ensures that effects are neatly in time with the currently playing track, and features like FX Release, which adds a delay to the effect once fingers are removed from the touch-pad, adding an additional level of slickness. Other nice features include the hold function which latches effects on, and scale/key setting modes, which allow the synthesiser lines to be played without the risk of hitting bum notes.
Overall the Korg Kaoss DJ is a very capable controller with some extra lovely touches and unique features, especially given the tiny size and weight. For DJs who love Kaoss Pad effects, purchasing the Kaoss DJ will be a no-brainer, and we are sure to see more than a few around being used as additional controllers and effects units for DJ sets in big clubs and festivals.
For DJs who are mainly looking for a DJ controller with effects as a nice-to-have add-on, the Kaoss DJ might not be their perfect match given the stiff competition on offer at this price point, from some other seriously good controllers, especially as the Kaoss DJ does not have proper jog-wheels. The Korg Kaoss DJ is certainly innovative and definitely a whole lot of fun — we are sure many will find loving homes in the coming months and years.
BUILD QUALITY 7.5
EASE OF USE 8
VALUE FOR MONEY 7
SOUND QUALITY 8
Built-in Kaoss Pad with Kaossilator programs, on-board soundcard, standalone mixer, and super portable.
One or two of the controls are a little fiddly, and the choice of touch-pads over jog-wheels will put some potential owners off.
Korg have created a super fun, super compact DJ controller that is unique in the fact that it has a built-in Kaoss Pad. This controller will find favour with DJs looking for a capable and versatile effects unit, as well as casual mixers and party DJs.