Hercules DJ Control AIR Review
A few days ago Hercules stopped by the office to drop off a 4-MX and DJ Control AIR for us to review. The Hercules DJ Control AIR is a two deck DJ controller which stands for “Adjustment by InfraRed”. It retails for under $200, so aspiring DJs can pick one up and try it out without breaking the bank. At first, the AIR struck me as a DJ’s toy but I got to put my hands on it for a few days and dive in deep. When I came out on the other side, what I found was a controller that was actually quite delightful to play (with) and a knowledge of a DJ software that, until doing this review, I had no idea even existed.
Our resident DJ specialist, DJ MadfFlip, wrote up a summary of its performance to present to us at a pre-production meeting. Scott came with pretty glowing reviews. The jogs, we were told, felt good, and the looping and effects were really cool; but he was most impressed with the software saying that it had more features then one would expect for being included in the box. The only hitch was that no matter what we did we could not figure out how to get the AIR’s infrared (IR) sensor to work. We wanted to make a video about the controller because the IR feature is only found on this controller. Although it may seem gimmicky it had potential to be awesome, simply because it was new. We put the controller to the side, and made it a mission to figure the IR out, and first write up a review of how it performs as a DJ controller. This is that review!
Hercules DJ Control AIR Overview UniqueSquared
CONSTRUCTION and LAYOUT
First off, this controller is tiny, I mean, its really small. It almost has the same footprint as the 13 inch MacBook Pro, and that’s really rad because it means it’s book bag friendly. Book bag friendly is important for controllers like the AIR because the people buying them most likely also own book bags. The body is made of black plastic that’s glossy in the middle and matte on the sides. The paint scheme of the controller makes it look really sexy. Before I get any deeper, let me first say that this is not a pro controller. If you’re a pro looking to replace your turntables with this controller, it’s not gonna happen. This controller is not meant for professional use, and I’m not saying you won’t have a good time, just know what you are getting into.
For being so small, Hercules did a really good job of ensuring the layout felt as good as the controller looked. The buttons are spaced nicely apart and I really like how Hercules moved the sync button to the top. Being that there isn’t much real estate on such a small controller, it’s cool to see Hercules wasn’t content with jamming a bunch of buttons on the bottom of the controller; just because all the other DJ controllers do it. This innovation permeates throughout the controller as it has some nice touches to its design. Even the matte black on the outside is nice because in a dark environment, a DJ can just feel there way around the controller. This saves time and grief because the little design features really do impact the way you perform live. Anything that helps make it easy to navigate without looking gets big ups in my book.
Buttons: Buttons on this controller are a mixture of beat pads and hard plastic buttons. The beat pads are used to control your looping, effects and sample decks. Their function can be modified by pressing the effects, sample or loop buttons which are conveniently located right above your software navigation section. Most DJ controllers have the effects at the top and the transport section (start+stop) at the bottom, this controller sticks with those vibes which is cool with me because it keeps it on par with what the rest of the DJ market is doing. That being said, if you have been mixing on something else the transition to figure this out is really easy and you should be up and mixing in no time.
The beat pads are made of a special material that feels softer than the ones on NI’s Maschine, but harder in regards to the actual depression of the pads themselves. This is really nice because there is little to no wobble when you press down the pads. It makes it easy to get expressive on this unit and bang out some serious sample drumming.
Just next to the beat pads you will find the sync buttons conveniently located in the upper corners of the controller with the pitch bend buttons just below them. I really like that Hercules isolated the sync button like they did, but every time I used a pitch bend feature I felt like the sync button was mocking me and vice versa.
Other than my paranoid delusions of an evil sync button the only other buttons in the corner areas are two small scan buttons just above the jog wheels. These buttons are the same hard plastic that makes up the play/cue button and are nicely backlit. My favorite buttons are the ones in the middle with a sexy black gloss finish and sweet blue backlighting. The buttons are smooth and easy to use as they are grouped by functionality.
Mixer Section: On the mixer, the knobs are a little cramped but they have some small touches that set them apart from the rest. There are long notches built into the knobs which give you more real estate to feel and identify them without looking. On most DJ controllers you have to feel for the notch on the side of the button but on the AIR, the notch runs from the bottom of the knob to the middle of the top, something I haven’t really seen in the market thus far. Tapered edges will meet you at the top of the knob which actually make it easier for the end user to get their fingers on them and adjust them in such a cramped area. I like that because I have big fingers and without the ability to grip the top half of the knob so securely, I would be changing other channels as I mixed in and out.
The line faders are small and feel like cheap plastic with a fair amount of lateral wobble when shaking them left and right. This may not be good when carrying it in a book bag because I can definitely see them getting bent if stored somewhere improperly. It’s worth noting that there is a decent amount of resistance in the line faders which, in a controller as cost worthy as this, is unexpected.
Crossfaders are finicky things and I wish they had used a slightly larger slider to help distinguish it from the line levels. This is cool though because this controller isn’t really a scratch controller (even though you can do custom x-fader settings in the software) and it won’t bring you down unless you’re scratching. If this is the case then you will find your crab scratches falling off of the fader’s small landing surface; but most people will find that for mixing it’s great because it does what it has to do, crossfades smoothly. The resistance in the crossfader is very light so it’s a breeze to whip the cross back and forth with no issues of snagging or catching on anything.
Jog Wheels: Jog wheels, for me, are the make or break point on most controllers and these hold up to the rest (at this price point). I like that in order to activate them you press down ever so slightly to engage them. I am a Traktor S4 owner, so this feature won me over immediately. The jogs are always set to nudge mode but by clicking the scratch button (looks like a CD and rests just above the cross fader) they work like normal jog wheels. This is a really nice feature because having a controller that easily turns on and off scratch will save a lot of heartbreak for the new guys by not stopping tracks mid mix. The jogs feel nice to play around on but scratching is too hard to do on this controller outside of basic scratches. If you can already scratch, you wouldn’t want the Hercules DJ Control AIR to practice on.
Pitch Sliders: Just above the jog wheels are the pitch sliders, which are constructed the same as the cross and line faders. The resistance is about on par with the line faders but what makes these a “win” is the locking action that occurs when you get the fader back to the middle. When the pitch slider is in the middle, the track is playing at it’s original tempo and key. Having a built in locking point halfway makes it easy to lock into 0% in the dark. I have used other professional DJ controllers that don’t have this and it bugs me (cough, S4).
Cueing: Other cool things worth noting are the headphone cueing, since the controller comes with an 1/8 to 1/4 inch converter right out of the box. This is great because even if you haven’t invested in good solid DJ headphones yet you can take what ever you have, plug in and be good to go. The cueing is handled with buttons for CUE and MIX settings with headphone volume being controlled with plus and minus buttons on the front of the controller.
Beat Grid: Yes the IR feature is cool but the real winner on this controller is the built in beat grid. Hercules DJ Control AIR has two rows of four lights stacked on top of each other, labeled A and B. These lights blink in time with their corresponding deck’s track in time. This means that you can tell if you are mixing on a downbeat without listening to your mix or looking at your computer. I really wish my controller had that feature, I’m just saying.
ADJUSTMENT BY INFRARED
This wouldn’t be a proper review if I didn’t touch on this functionality because it’s the major selling point of this controller. The IR sensor is wired to MIDI so it responds to your hands proximity over the controller and used to adjust your effects. As I said earlier we didn’t know how to get it working right out of the box and there were no explicit instructions anywhere on the web or in the box. I kept reading that it was a MIDI control and looked everywhere for a place to assign MIDI commands but soon realized that I was working too hard.
After watching the AIR promo video I soon figured out that you have to hold down the effects button, THEN manipulate its parameters with the AIR’s sensor. That being said I found that my hand was too wide to comfortably fit between the EQ section without bumping knobs. This is a bummer because the Zero setting for the effect registers when your hand is right above the sensor but to get there you risk putting your mix off. It’s a really cool concept and should be used to adjust effects in the future after more development. As of now, quick moves above the sensor can cause lag with the manipulation, which is to be expected though. When was the last time you activated an LFO by waving your hand? Yeah, thats what I thought. With more time and development, I think that this feature could be utilized properly on future DJ controllers, and be amazing.
The software that comes bundled with the Hercules DJ Control AIR is not one of the major ones out in the market but gets the job done, and pretty well. It has a layout that makes sense, and isn’t cluttered.
If you are just getting started DJing or want a cool toy to play with in your bedroom, pool parties, or some clubs then this is for you. Its not pro by any means, but it does have the tools to help you develop your skills, and is a full featured controller. When I first saw it I didn’t like it, but after mixing on it and really going in deep, I have no problem recommending this controller to you. The software is really tight and easy to use and understand. The controller is tiny and ultra portable, and it’s full of enough nice features to keep you surprised and delighted during it’s operation. If you have any questions or comments regarding the Hercules DJ Control AIR, please leave them below.