NAMM 2013: DJ Controller Review
NAMM 2011 and 2012 saw the unveiling of a whole host of DJ controllers from some of the top manufacturers including Pioneer, Numark, Denon, Vestax, and even the illusive Native Instruments unveiled their Kontrol F1 at an off site location in 2012. NAMM is also the place where a lot of companies allow the public to play on their new designs in an almost faux test market to see how people react and then subsequently make a few last minute adjustments. NAMM 2013 was no exception in this regard but Numark was really the only company unveiling a high performance controller with the Numark NS7 2. Nearly every other DJ controller manufacturer was unveiling low cost, portable, and lets face it, entry level controllers this year. This may have come as a surprise to most of you expecting to see the latest and greatest improvements to the DJ controller world but for those in the industry, this was a rather obvious expectation when hitting the show floor.
Many of the popular designs that DJs find the most useful have already been, well, designed! This isn’t to say that there weren’t some cool new things coming from Electrix and Livid with their Abelton and controllerism focused DJ products (which I will go over), but the typical transport, jog wheel, mixer, and FX combination controllers looked about the same as what we have already seen with some slight functionality improvements. Not necessarily a bad thing considering the flooded market we have experienced within the last two years. Instead these are examples of companies who are beginning to focus their designs in an intelligent way rather than slap on a few extra buttons and give it a clever moniker with some letters and numbers. Behringer is the exception here as their highly anticipated (first announced at NAMM 2012) CMD controllers have very interesting designs and are geared toward the controllerist with a knack for creative MIDI mapping.
In this review we thought it best to recap what we saw on the show floor this year at Winter NAMM. We saw improvements to existing lines, some brand new designs, and some releases that left us a little flat. We will leave it up to you to decide which controller fits these sentiments. With so many different products on the show floor this year, here are the DJ controllers that stood out the most in our NAMM 2013 DJ controller review:
American Audio ELMC-1
At a glance the American Audio ELMC-1 looks a lot like if the Numark Mixtrack got squashed. A unique design reminiscent of some of the portable DJ controllers we have seen in the last couple years, the ELMC-1 looks to be best suited for the mobile, bedroom, or can’t leave home without a controller DJ. Nothing revolutionary here. You’ve got 3 band EQ, jog wheels for scratching, but this time we have rotaries for pitch control. There is an absence of faders for volume control which we found rather strange but it does save a tremendous amount of real estate. There are not any controls for FX and there is no built in sound card. While nothing new here, you can expect this to hit store shelves with a very low price point and ship with Virtual DJ LE.
American Audio VMS DJ
With FX controls, 3 band EQ, great feeling jog wheels, and a built in sound card with XLR outputs, this looks to be a serious competitor in the affordable and portable DJ controller market. The I/O is rather robust for such a small controller. One nice feature is the addition of an XLR mic input as well as RCA outputs. The layout is mirrored and there is enough spacing between the various controls while still maintaining a small footprint on a table or in the DJ booth. The VMS DJ also ships with Virtual DJ LE.
There was also a controller called the VMS Jelly which is laid out exactly like the VMS DJ but has glowing LED’s inside that pulse to the beat. All three of these controllers have talk of shipping later this year with some affordable pricing but no official announcement has been made. We will let you know as soon as we know.
Behringer CMD Controllers
Behringer gave us a sneak peek of their remodeled CMD controllers in October. Since then Behringer has been rather quiet about the CMD line in terms of pricing, included software, and an official release date. Many of these questions were answered at NAMM and it looks like we will start seeing the CMD controllers on shelves in the following months. Behringer also found a software partner in the company Image Line who are responsible for the popular Fruity Loops and Deckadance software. Developed in 2007 Deckadance has been a lesser publicized but still widely used DJ software. The Behringer controllers look to utilize the latest version of Deckadance, Deckadance 2.0.
While these controllers ship with Deckadance, a lot of controllerist DJ’s will revel in the freedom to develop creative mappings and utilize the power of Ableton Live. These things are certainly built with the controller enthusiast in mind and there is so much potential for expanding DJ control and performance techniques. Nothing new to report hardware wise on the CMD controllers that we didn’t previously cover in our CMD preview in October, but it is nice to know that these controllers will finally be hitting the streets soon. We will likely do some video overviews and in depth blog reports when we get a chance to try these out so keep checking back with us.
Right away this resembles a controller made specifically for Ableton. While that’s not a far off assumption, the Electrix Tweaker actually ships with Traktor Pro 2 LE. Not only does it come with Traktor but included are mappings that allow for all kinds of functions like using the encoders for EQing as well as beat jumping and FX control. You can also use the pads for FX control, triggering cue points, and engaging loops. In addition to Ableton and Traktor you can also use the Tweaker with Serato Scratch Live. Traktor users have had Native Instruments Maschine and the Kontrol F1 at their sides for additional control, and now SSL users have another comparable controller to integrate into their rig.
The Tweaker also comes packaged with the Tweaker software which allows you to change the parameters and controls of the various hardware functions as well as how the Tweaker communicates with various software. The absence of a sound card shouldn’t bother many of you as this is more of a compliment to your current setup. The Electrix Tweaker is available now.
If you don’t have the cash to shell out for the Pioneer DDJ-SX or the Vestax VCI 400, then you may want to consider looking at something like the Gemini G4V. Its got 4 decks of control, a total of 16 pads for controlling loops, cues, and samples, and a full EQ section with dedicated filter knobs and gain control for each channel. The I/O is none too shabby either with balanced XLR outputs, RCA booth, master, and record outputs, an auxiliary input, 1/4 inch headphone, and 1/4 inch microphone jack.
This was just a prototype when we saw it at NAMM so we didn’t get a chance to really dive into the features but we did find out that it will be shipping with Virtual DJ LE. No word from VDJ on when Virtual DJ 8 will be coming out but we agree with the hunch that this will likely be released to coincide with the latest VDJ update. No official release date set but we were told to look for it in April. More details to come as we find them out.
Gemini GMX Pro
Don’t have a laptop? No problem. With the Gemini GMX Pro you can use the controller with a laptop and the included Virtual DJ LE software, or you can plug up a USB drive and mix without a computer. This is especially appealing to the mobile DJ who may have a smaller gig that doesn’t require the demands of having a laptop with their entire library. Its low profile design makes it perfect for those wedding or birthday gigs where space is often limited. All of the usual suspects are here control wise as well as long pitch faders, reverse button, and dedicated filter knobs. The LED back lit screens provide you with all of the information you need like BPM, time clock, track titles, and waveform displays. With a projected retail price of $299, our guess is you are going to hear a lot more about the GMX Pro this year.
Livid Instruments Base
It’s as if someone took the Keith McMillen Instruments QuNeo, Ableton Push, Native Instruments Maschine, the Traktor Kontrol F1, and jammed them all together into one controller, which frankly looks and feels awesome. Livid have been on and off the radar of DJs and DJ controllers (especially when compared to the top dogs) but they consistently put out new and innovative products for Ableton based DJ performances. On the Livid Instruments Base you have 32 velocity sensitive pads, nine touch sensitive faders, and eight touch sensitive buttons. Don’t let our photo fool you as the there are plenty of colors to pick from on this fully customizable controller. With a combination aluminium and rubber construction this looks like it can stand up next to other popular performance controllers in the same price range.
It is currently available for pre-order for $399. No official word on the exact release date but as always we will keep you guys posted.
Numark Mixtrack 2
This sequel is definitely better than the original. The Numark Mixtrack 2 has all the same functionality that we have all come to love on this incredibly affordable controller design but this time around we have MPC pads for controlling loops, cues, and samples. Just like the original Mixtrack, the Mixtrack 2 does not have a built in sound card but this also puts it at a lower price point than the…
Numark Mixtrack Pro 2
The Numark Mixtrack Pro 2 was one of those controllers we had to stop and take a gander at. With so many people still buying the Numark Mixtrack Pro because of its robust functionality at such a low price point, we had to see what the next generation Numark Mixtrack Pro had in store. Much like the Numark Mixtrack 2, the jog wheels, buttons, and overall construction have gotten a bit of a face lift. Features such as the faders and knobs however have been ported over directly from the previous generation of Numark Mixtrack controllers. This is not a total loss considering that both the Numark Mixtrack 2 and Numark Mixtrack Pro 2 will follow in the footsteps of their older siblings with a low retail price. Both of these new Mixtracks will ship with Serato DJ Intro which has proven itself to be a rather useful software even at the entry level version. Look for both of these guys to be out later this year.
Numark NS7 2
The Numark NS7 and Numark V7 were among the first DJ controllers to feature rotating vinyl platters into a DJ controller. Since then many other controllers have incorporated this like the Stanton SCS.1D and the Denon SC3900. Those familiar with the NS7 or the popular V7 controller will feel right at home with the feel and control that comes from the Numark NS7 2. Numark has added some serious features to this DJ controller that look to make it a popular option for fully functional DJ controllers. In addition to the rotating vinyl platters you have MPC pads for cuing, looping, sampling, and slicing. In addition you have 4 deck control, 3 band EQ with dedicated filter and gain control for each channel, as well as the ability to touch the knobs for a full EQ kill. The obvious concern here is the sensitivity of the touch sensitive knobs and how that works when grabbing a knob for EQ control and the potential for killing that EQ unintentionally. The Numark NS7 2 was in demo mode when we saw it so we can’t really comment on how sensitive or not that control is. With no official release date set from Numark, the NS7 2 will be shipping with Serato DJ and carrying a price tag of $1499 when it hits the streets.
How many times have you wanted to step away from the booth to get a drink, go to the bathroom, or flirt with that special someone you’ve been making bedroom eyes at all night? Well you can leave the DJ table with confidence if you have Numark’s latest controller the Orbit. This 16 pad controller syncs to your laptop via a USB dongle and has a built in accelerometer for doing really anything you want it to do. We see this feature at its best being used to control FX parameters but the beauty of the Numark Orbit is that you can map the pads to any function. The wireless range is boasted as having connectivity from a few football fields away. Why you would ever be that far from the decks is anyone’s guess (unless you’re Steve Aoki) but the strong signal strength is certainly a plus.
With 4 different pad banks you really have control of up to 64 pads that can be mapped to any function within popular DJ software like Ableton Live, Traktor Pro, Virtual DJ Pro, and the new Serato DJ. No word on what software this will ship with if any. Our hunch is on no software included as it will hit shelves with a $99 price tag. Look for a release later this year.
This is of course not a review of every controller at NAMM. NAMM is often a place where companies bring out their flagship products of the past year to put on display to a very large (seemed more busy than ever this year) and eager crowd. Companies like Pioneer, Denon, Vestax, and a whole host of others had every controller we have seen in 2012 on display, or in the case of Pioneer wrapped in platinum and gold. This brings me back to the point at the outset of this DJ controller recap. There is very little in the way of NEW controllers because most of the designs have already been engineered and implemented to a borderline point of nausea.
In fact this is not just a symptom of the DJ controllers showcased this year but a symptom of many of the products at NAMM 2013. From LAX to the hotel room to the very first day of NAMM I am as giddy as a Trekkie outside a Shatner meet and greet, but this year something was missing. The hole left by seeing the NS6 for the first time or hearing that the Kontrol F1 was being showcased at a private party, couldn’t be filled by walking the floor and seeing either smaller versions of innovative gear, or a rehash of the same technology I have seen in years past. I love NAMM and relish the opportunity to visit Anaheim for the annual gear head nirvana, but after arriving at home and coming down off the show floor high, I am left feeling a little flat and under whelmed.
My own personal hangups aside, this was truly the year for affordable, high performance DJ controllers. If you are still unsure about which DJ controller to get, which one is best, which one is good for a beginner, I hate to tell you your decision will only become that much more difficult every year with more and more DJ controllers hitting the market. There will always be something better on the horizon so just pick something that has the features you need to perform, has the I/O you need to get hooked up, and get in the mix.