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Korg Konnect: A smart amp for small audiences

The $400 PA for Americana bands touring coffee shops.

Roberto Baldwin / Engadget

For large gatherings, PA systems keep you from just yelling at a group of people to share your message. For musicians, a PA is necessary to amplify your voice and instrument to an audience. On the surface, Korg's Konnect PA speaker does pretty much what every other speaker with a few mics attached to it does, make things louder so folks can hear them. But look a little deeper, and you'll see the Konnect takes what Korg knows about sound and performances and shoves it into a four-channel speaker. One you can control via a companion app that's surprisingly robust.

The $400 Korg Konnect is about the size of a boombox (ask your parents) with the usual volume knobs on the back. But it also has a voicing characteristics selector (male voice, female voice, guitar, etc.) to help fine-tune the sound. Plus it has a feedback suppressor button that reduces the annoying feedback whine that starts nearly every corporate get together and forces someone to run across the room to turn down the volume.

While the Konnect is good for public speaking, it's far more useful for musicians. Many a band (mine included) has had to do its own sound at a venue. That requires someone to leap off stage to make adjustments during songs if something goes awry. For smaller acts with one or two people on stage with a guitar, that's impossible without stopping the song. That's where the Konnect companion app comes in. You can just drag a slider on the phone to tame and offending sound.

During my tests, I could easily adjust the master volume and loudness of all the channels. You can also tweak reverb, voicing and panning among other things without any discernible latency -- all via the app. I could also add compressor, chorus or delay effects to each channel without delving into submenus -- something that would make the tasks almost impossible while performing.

It's worth noting that once the app is connected to the Konnect, it disables the physical buttons. I found this to be a plus that keeps a "helpful" friend or audience member that wants to "fix" your sound from actually making things worse. If you do have someone who knows what they are doing, just give them the phone with the app. They'll make you sound good without getting up to fiddle with the speaker.

The audio quality on the Konnect for voice is outstanding. It also produced good clean audio when I a plugged in an acoustic guitar. It'll also work with electric and bass guitars but I'd recommend bringing actual amps for those. I found that if your band uses guitar pedals or any real deep bass lines, you end up with muddy and distorted noise. But I was impressed at how well it handled midrange bass-guitar tones for something so small. Synths and drum-machine input sound very clean from the high to about the mid-lows. Like the bass guitar, 808 bass hits are better off being played through something larger meant for that low of a frequency.

For performances, it's loud enough to fill a medium-size cafe-type venue or medium-to-large church with a well-behaved crowd. Boisterous talkers in larger venues will more than likely drown out the Konnect.

But this isn't the PA you'd use in a larger venue with squealing electric guitars and bass-dripping beats. It's for intimate settings and pumping up the sales team on the third floor. It's more Shins and Elliot Smith than Sleigh Bells and RTJ.

The Konnect weighs only about 12 pounds, so it's easy to lug around from cafes to art galleries to the occasional small wedding. Plus, Korg will sell you a carrying case, and the tiny PA supports the industry standard speaker pole, so you can get it off the ground for better coverage at gigs.

The Korg Konnect is for a niche market. The small band or singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar that plays music you could share with your mom as long as she doesn't listen to the lyrics (we miss you, Elliott Smith). Or for the company that needs a PA system that's easy to manage and set up for the weekly meeting. Its $400 price tag is in line with the Freeplay portable PA, with companion app offering from Mackie. It's not for the Mastedon-influenced rock band doing the bar circuit. They'll have to play their sweet guitar riffs through something else.