Let me start this review by saying that I've been waiting for this mixer / MIDI controller for a long time, almost a year and a half. Ever since seeing the early prototype at the 2015 winter NAMM show I've been keen to get my hands on what looked to be a game changer for home and mobile studio set-ups. I've been a fan of Keith McMillen Instruments [KMI] ever since I was first introduced to the brand via their QuNeo MIDI controller a couple of years ago.
The K-Mix has got it all in one little unit, an audio interface, mixer and MIDI controller and all with no moving parts. The K-Mix looks and feels very "KMI" with its rotary style pads and LED glow. It looks like a mixer from the future with a familiar or more traditional mixer set-up, and the sleekness of something completely new.
The first thing I wondered about is how does it sound and the answer is very good. The mixer on the K-Mix sounds just as good as my high-end DJ mixer from Allen & Heath, which is an older Xone 92. The K-Mix's pre-amps also need considerably less power than a traditional mixer and require only 30mW making this a great mixer for your mobile studio or laptop rig.
The unit boasts eight inputs and ten outputs with the first two channels equipped with preamps for instruments equipped with XLR/TRS combo. The other six inputs are 1/4 inch TRS inputs. These extra inputs allow you to get creative if you are doing a performance with multiple DJs or need to have both CDJs and Turntables going a the same time. You, in theory, could have three DJ set-ups going all at once. Just think about what that could bring to a live performance... YES! You can also connect extra MIDI devices to the K-Mix using the optional KMI MIDI Expander to take your set-up to the next level. The Digital Signal Processors [DSP] are built into the mixer, so you don't need a computer to use these effects which are key if you are using analog gear like Turntables.
The built-in DSP effects include compression / limiter, noise gating, EQ, and reverb. So you really can get those filters going during a live or DJ performance. KMI refers to these DSP's as “Modes”. The rotary, or circular buttons, are used to control the four DSPs with LED indicator lights below to let you know what parameter is functioning. This design element helps to keep the mixer super compact, although it will take a little getting used for most DJs / Producers.
The K-Mix also incorporates graphics on the faceplate of the mixer as a handy reference tool as well, so you know what's what. In regards to powering the unit, you can either use the bus-power via the USB connection or connect it to an actual outlet.
The software for the K-Mix or Editor can control all of the buttons on the actual hardware as well as send and receive presets. The presets can be saved in the K-Mix Editor but only 12 can be on the actual hardware/mixer at one time.
To visually monitor your output levels you use the VU button on the bottom left of the faceplate. The master level is all the way to the right like it is on most mixers and gives you the standard stereo metering with LEDs. Where the mixer get's a bit tricky to use is understanding what button does what. On the left side of the mixer, where the VU button is, are three other buttons Shift, ByPs, and Fine. These buttons function much like a command key on your computer and take some practice using in order to get to where you need to be on the mixer. This confusing bit is one of the sacrifices you need to make with such a small multipurpose mixer, but most DJs/Producers should be able to learn these controls rather quickly.
The K-Mix packs an incredible amount of functionality into a small package at a very reasonable price. It's light, incredibly sturdy due to the fact there are no moving parts, and it can take the abuse of the road. It's fantastic for the compact home studio or for the DJ/Producer that wants to bring it along for the gig. If you are in the market for a new mixer, MIDI controller or audio interface the K-Mix is worth a hard look as there is nothing quite like it.
The only con is that it does take some getting used to in regards to overall usability. The compact size brings with it a series of buttons that need to be learned so you can properly control the mixer.
Cost $579 (MSRP) / More on the K-Mix on the KMI Website.
An Interview With Keith McMillen About The New K-Mix
What was the inspiration for designing the K-Mix?
KM: In the same spirit that other KMI products are small, potent and indestructible, I felt the strong need to have a mixer that met those same requirements, and I found many other people had the same needs and requirements. People at KMI really understand music and everyone has used mixers; it was a very exhilarating and taxing product where everyone contributed.
KMI is known primarily for it’s MIDI controllers, can you tell us what aspects of that tech you brought over to the K-Mix and why?
KM: Most of being rugged and roadworthy is the omission of moving parts. Knobs, fader caps; mixers are just accidents waiting to happen. Over the years we’ve perfected our smart fabric technology and using it for the functions of knobs and faders was a logical next step.
What are some of the big advantages of the K-Mix over the average audio interface?
KM: It is everything you need. It’s a control surface, it’s an extremely high-quality digital mixer with built in effects so you can process live audio before it goes to your computer and the interface between the computer is very flexible with high utility.
K-Mix has been in the works for a long time and has taken a while to come to market, did you face any setbacks while creating it?
KM: Setbacks… that’s a word we don’t really understand, it just takes time to make something perfect. Never did we have to abandon any effort or aspect of development. In fact, we added functionality such as RIAA curves so you could plug in 3 turntables, surround sound up to 8.1, assignable headphone monitoring – functions you never see on a mixer this small and affordable.
K-Mix was an exercise in refinement. That took longer than anticipated – you know the last few percent of performance took half the time. Most of that activity focused around the analog portion of the preamps. We couldn’t compromise. The preamps needed to perform at a very high caliber using almost no power, so we just kept analyzing designs and components, making significant but incremental improvements until the quality of our microphone preamps were, in our opinion, the best around.
What’s next for KMI in this space? Do you see a bigger K-Mix with more channels, etc?
KM: We will let our customers help us decide what to do next. Since you can use multiple K-Mixes simultaneously. We have linked 4 together as an aggregate device for a 32 input mixer (I believe you can chain 8 K-Mix’s at 96KHz without challenging USB). I think the need for more inputs will be satisfied through that configuration in the short term, but we’ll wait to see what the market wants.