Numark iDJ Live – A Fun Little Surprise with this iPad Djay Controller

March 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Numark iDJ Live

Last week I became slightly obsessed with finding a DJ control surface for the iPad. There was a possibility of hotel party on the weekend and I didn’t want to bring a computer or DJ rig.. but I really wanted to bring some music. The iPad itself is not an ideal dj interface; the lack of tactile control ruins the fun for me. Now you’d imagine that within the prolific world of DJ applications there might be more hardware controllers on the market for iPad use. But most developers have focused on the application side of the experience rather than the hardware.. and there’s really not much out there besides this piece of hardware designed by Numark that works with Algoriddm’s popular Djay iOS application. So I gave it a shot.. what the heck, right? Sam Ash has a 30 day return policy. But you know what? After a week of playing with this thing, I don’t think it’s going back.

Now I feel the best way to approach this mini-review is in Top-Gear style (if you’ve never seen Top Gear, they have what I’d call a reverse complement-sandwich approach) where I’ll begin with where this device falls short and why you’d never want to use it for a pro gig. I really didn’t think that I would like this device for the sake of it’s DJ-Hero style design and immediately upon opening the box I realized this interface lacked many features that I take for granted in other dj setups.

The initial groans happened when I realized that the headphone / monitor functionality of this program/device happens via a simple 1/8th inch stereo to mono splitter cable. This means you must run a mono output if you want to use monitor headphones. In addition there’s no headphone volume on the iDJ Live (a splitter cable gives you the headphone output). After playing around with the output options on different stereos I concluded that I could not deal with the sound of this split/mono signal. Some modern house tracks seemed to phase into the abyss without the stereo field. The next issue I found was that the EQ works fairly well but there’s no mid-band EQ, only Hi and Low (mid exists in the Djay app but not on the interface). The third thing I realized about iDj Live was – no pitch faders. The pitch faders do exist within the Djay application but they are therefore on your iPad – not the place where I want to find them. Upon realizing this I thought – well the sync better work.

And here comes the good news. The Djay application is actually a well-designed app that has been finessed to give you the feel of working with vinyl. The BPM detection and sync functionality are actually really good. Djay misread the tempo on a few of my tracks but for the most part it could detect and match the BPM of most house tracks I ran through it along with some dub, bass, techno and electro. Now an interesting thing about the sync feature is that it doesn’t seem to work the same way that Traktor does with Beat Grids. It does detect a Beat Grid, and to some extent it reads the timing / phrase. But it’s not always accurate. Strangely, this is part of why I started to like this device.

While Djay offers a beat-matching functionality, it’s not perfect and therefore you have to pay attention to the mix and adjust things as you go. With Djay and the iDJ Live I found I had JUST ENOUGH control over the mix that I could keep it running for a good three or four minutes. There are four buttons (two for each deck) at the top of iDJ Live and I found that a quick press in either direction could nudge a track back into the mix fairly easily. The platters on the device are actually a lot of fun in Scratch Mode, but be sure to switch modes when you’re using the EQ because a small bump can skip your record. I can forgive this because the scratch function is tactile and accurate. I found that I could drop a beat into a mix by hand and quickly get things in sync with minor adjustments.

As a DJ who came up on 1200s and CDJs, I like beat matching. I believe this love has a lot to do with the meditative side of the DJ experience. It also provides the gratification of training your ears and timing. When I am IN the mix I find more spontaneity in my mixing and choice of music.  When I’ve used Traktor I find that my mixing is often very structured and when the Sync button is depressed I get incredibly bored with the DJ experience. With the iDj Live and Djay app, two things happened that made me enjoy the experience. First, I had to ride the mix a bit (even with sync being used) and the control experience of the platters reminded me of turntables. Second, I got away from my computer. I spend far too much time in front of a computer monitor and I’m eager to get away at any chance. The iPad is not exactly getting away from the computer but  it’s different enough (and small enough) to make it feel like a different experience. Add to this the tactile control for scrolling through your music library with the Numark hardware, and it just feels better than a laptop.

One benefit of using the iPad as your music source is that you must decide what to put on it. By limiting my music selection to whatever fits on the iPad there is a back-to-roots sort of thing happening. It used to be that you had to fit ALL your music into one or two bags for a performance and you’d practice with those tracks. Today there is endless possibility for selection when you have a 3TB hard drive and I find that a lot of DJs don’t take time to create a flow with their mixes. I’ve always felt that art is best created with limits, and DJing is no exception. I’ve recently found a nice workflow of dumping all my new tracks onto the iPad and then later using the iPad and iDJ to sift through the music and find mixes. For some reason the experience is much more gratifying than dropping tracks into Ableton or Traktor. Being away from the computer allows me to listen differently and I can discern which tracks need to stay in the collection and which can go.

Currently iDj Live sits on a small shelf in my living room with the iPad plugged into a small Bose portable speaker. It sounds nice when the levels are set at 50% – just loud enough to rock out but soft enough to not bother the neighbors. I don’t use the splitter cable nor do I use headphones for mixing with this unit. I find that the waveform display allows me to cue up a track visually while using the platters and the bpm sync is usually close enough to drop the track in and use the + and – buttons to get things running in sync. The EQ is not extensive but if I find tracks that work together in this sort of setup they are guaranteed to work together in a pro format. And that’s part of the point of all of this. When I play professional gigs I’ll most likely use 1200s,  CDJs, and possibly Serato/Traktor. But I don’t have room for a massive digital DJ setup in my house (and I’d rather spend that money on synths these days).  I’ve been looking for a solution to this dilema and for $80, the iDJ Live seems to be working fairly well. It’s small, light, easy to use and a lot of fun to have sitting around for spontaneous mix sessions. I look forward to future updates of Djay as well. Algoriddm seems to be doing great things with this program.

Ps, Did I mention that my 14 month old LOVES it?

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Allen & Heath Xone: K2 Audio / MIDI Interface

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

A few months back Allen & Heath announced a new controller, The Xone K2, “an elegant, compact controller for any DJ software with no fewer than 52 hardware controls providing up to 171 MIDI commands across 3 layers – plus the ability to link multiple units. Xone: K2 has the power and flexibility to put you in touch with everything from the essential functions to the fine nuances of your chosen software.”

Allen & Heath have enjoyed incredible success amongst pro jocks with their  Xone: 1D and 2D performance controllers. They have a reputation for being able to take a beating at the club and still work the next day with great sound output. The K2 takes some of the form factor (layout, spacing) from the 1D/2D and applies it to a new lower profile design. The K2 looks very enticing, indeed. Small footprint, four faders, and assignable controls that could be used for DJ performance as well as DAW control. While the Traktor X1 does offer custom mapping (and I’m a fan of the mixer control template in particular), this new Allen & Heath device offers faders – a staple of may performers / producers’ needs. In addition the K2 boasts an audio interface and headphone output – making this this smallest dj controller with sound capabilities I’ve seen so far. If the sound quality lives up to the A&H legacy this should be a product worth checking out when it releases this spring.

More details on the Xone: K2 from Allen & Heath:

Xone: K2 has a high quality internal, four channel (2 stereo) soundcard.

Universal controller and is perfect for use with all leading DJ software, such as Traktor Pro, Ableton, Virtual DJ, PCDJ and M ixVibes. Xone:K2 can even be used to control lights or VJ software – if it can receive MIDI data it can take commands from K2.

52 physical controls – including 12 analogue and 6 endless rotary encoders with push switch, 4 linear faders, and 30 backlit performance switches – providing up to 171 MIDI control commands across 3 layers. What each control does is entirely up to you – with a little thought you can create a completely customised layout that perfectly fits the way you want to work. We also provide some sample maps and information on how to set up your own.

Latching Layers – By assigning controls to multiple layers you can give a single physical control up to 3 functions. You can configure all, some or none of K2’s controls to be linked to the latching layers system. As a quick visual reminder, when toggling through layers all switches assigned to a particular layer will illuminate in the appropriate colour.

X-Link – Two K2s can be linked via Allen & Heath’s X:LINK protocol, giving twice as much control capability. X:LINK uses a standard RJ45 connector and distributes power and data, which means two K2s can be connected to your software using only one USB port. X:LINK also allows connection to Xone:DB4 and Xone:DB2 mixers.

Case / Stand – Xone:K2 comes packed in a robust black padded case as standard. As well as keeping it safe on the road, the case doubles as a stand, bringing the K2 up to the same height as most pro DJ mixers.

(Originally published on Dubspot.com)

Livid Instruments CNTRL:R -Designed w/ Richie Hawtin + M_nus

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Livid Instruments CNTRL:R – Performance MIDI / DJ Interface

Livid Instrument’s CNTRL:R is a new MIDI controller that was launched just before NAMM this year with the enticing allure of “designed with Richie Hawtin” added to the tagline of this new device. Housed in a lightweight aluminum body, CNTRL:R looks to be a sturdy piece of equipment that offers knobs, faders and buttons for tactile control of performances. The device features high quality faders, push button encoders, rotary knobs, expression pedal inputs, and keypads backed with RGB lights for interactive performance. Livid is also offering scripts for Ableton Live and NI Traktor that allow the CNTRL:R to work easily with your software.
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Richie Hawtin, M_Nus + Livid Instruments

The package looks beautiful, indeed. But what we really want to know is – how was Richie Hawtin and theM_Nus team involved in development? As a label they are leaders in live performance technique and always pulling some new tricks out of the bag. We recently got a moment to chat with Livid’s Jay Smith who explained the development process to us.

Jay Smith: In late 2009 Rich was asking Nova Musik, who are one of our dealers Milwaukee about our products. Eric over at Nova sent Rich my contact info and we began to talk about building a completely new controller for live performance. Over the next few months we kicked some ideas around and came up with a basic layout for a new controller. The first prototype we created was pretty large, with a “step sequencer” layout that ended up on the final design but didn’t have the encoders and had a large 8×8 grid in the center.

Marc Houle, one of the Minus artists spent some time secretly playing out with this controller, and after a sit down with Rich at our offices in Texas we all decided it needed to be smaller and have a few more controls. Gareth Williams over at Liine (one of Richie’s other ventures) was a Code user, and Rich thought it would be great to integrate some of the controls from the code into our device. Rich also thought it was essential that it be small enough to fit into a backpack and be portable enough for a carry-on. We went back to the drawing board and created the device that is now the CNTRL:R

The collaboration we’ve had with Rich and the other guys at Minus goes well beyond a mere celebrity endorsement. We really set out to create something new with one of the most creative and influential forces in electronic music. It’s been a real pleasure to work with Richie, he’s one of the nicest and smartest person we’ve worked with, and his vision is definitely tightly integrated into this product. Expect more from our collaboration in the future.

Who else from the M_nus team has been involved?

Marc Houle and Gaiser have been very influential and hands on in the using and testing of the CNTRL:R. They’ve been secretly testing the various models over the past year and have been essential in final design of the device. We also have plans on releasing Live packs with the Minus artists over the coming months specifically designed for the CNTRL:R.

What were they looking for in a controller that didn’t exist elsewhere?

We’ve been creating grid based controllers since 2004. This was the first controller we designed with a sequencer layout. Surprisingly there hasn’t been any controller designed specifically for this. We both love sequencers and drum based instruments, from the Electribe to Dave Smith’s new Temepest. But until now there really hasn’t been a good MIDI controller layout designed with this in mind. Max for Live really opens the door up for expansion and customization. As far as drum controllers go Maschine is probably one of the most interesting devices so far, but we wanted to create some a bit more open and ever growing. We’ll be releasing new tools, presets, instruments, and packs for the controller monthly.

Is this being used currently for performance by any notable artists?

We literally started shipping CNTRL:R today so not many people have their hands on it. Marc Houle and Gaiser are currently using them in their setup. A bunch of well known artists have also pre-orderd it, so expect this to be a central part of a few DJs setups this year. (read more)

APC40 vs OHM64 – More details from Create Digital Music

June 5, 2009 § Leave a comment

ohmeditor-thumb

Thanks to Create Digital Music for this great breakdown of the Akai APC 40 and the Livid Instruments OHM 64. Like many of you I have been studying the specs on both machines, wondering which would work best for Ableton Live performances. Peter Kirin (of CDM) is one of my favorite bloggers and always has his finger on the pulse of technology and music. Below is a breakdown of the two machines, snipped from CDM. Read the entire article HERE.

So, you’ve been looking at that Akai APC40. And it’s appealing. It’s got lots of lights and a huge array of buttons for triggering samples or video or what have you, and plenty of knobs and faders.

Now the APC40 has some serious “indie” competition, though, in the form of Livid’s Ohm64. Let’s compare:

APC40:

  • Proprietary connection to Ableton Live
  • A proprietary handshake that ensures only a real APC is being used with Live
  • Fixed MIDI assignments – no MIDI assignment editor
  • MIDI only
  • No MIDI out jacks, so you can’t use it with outboard gear
  • No bus power
  • 40 buttons
  • Made in some factory somewhere we’ve never seen

Livid Ohm64:

  • Open source editor, partially open source firmware, open source patches to connect to whatever you want
  • Custom MIDI assignments, for use with whatever you want
  • MIDI for now, but the chipset supports open source solutions for OpenSoundControl (OSC) in the near future – and even DMX (for lighting) is a possibility
  • USB and standard MIDI jacks so you can sequence outboard gear
  • Bus power
  • 64 trigger buttons in a more logical 8×8 array
  • “Made in the USA by humans” – with a beautifully-crafted body
  • Free Cell DNA video software included

Both the APC and Ohm are class-compliant, so at least neither needs drivers to work over USB for MIDI on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

Sure, the APC is plug-and-play with Live. But just as lots of non-programmers use open source browsers like Firefox, the whole point is that the Ohm could wind up being more plug and play with more tools thanks to its more open approach.

Most important is the programmability of the Ohm64. You can make your own custom light interactions – or, if you’re not into that sort of programming, count on what may be a growing community of open source musicians and visualists doing it for you.

In fact, Livid is so committed to customization that in addition to the natural, blue, and red finishes, you can order it unfinished and stain or paint it whatever color you like.

The Ohm64 is also priced at just US$599, meaning it doesn’t cost much more than the APC40. And with future OSC support, hardware MIDI support, bus power so you don’t have to carry a dongle, fully programmable visual feedback and assignments, and open source editing software, the APC has some real explaining to do about what its long-term payoff may be.

The editor is currently built in Max/MSP with some interesting possibilities coming up in Max for Live, but I’m also interested in working on some editing and performance tools in fully open source environments. Stay tuned.

Now, mind, this isn’t a review – I’ll get my hands on the Ohm64 next week here in New York, and I’ve only had a brief encounter with the APC. But if I were a betting man, I have to say, the contest here isn’t looking like it’s in the APC’s favor.

Available now.

Livid Ohm64

http://www.lividindustry.com/culture/ blog with more videos

Updated: I should note, one issue is definitely that, in order to maintain bus power, there are some compromises. You don’t get quite as much interaction from the lights as you do on the Akai APC – I do like the APC’s lovely LED rings around its encoders. You can interactively dim the lights on the knobs on the Ohm, though, which would work nearly as well. More once I get my hands on the Ohm, and theoretically, I should have an APC for testing at some point, too, assuming I didn’t just make Akai angry. (Uh…. competition is good. Blogs are all about opinions. Don’t hurt me.)

By the way, if you aren’t convinced and think you can do better, Livid is also distributing the brains of this device – the MIDIDIY – so you can build your own creations. Other such solutions exist, but the MIDIDIY is distinguished in its ability to support a lot more contacts for doing this sort of more complex device.

http://www.lividinstruments.com/hardware_mididiy.php

Free Open-Source DJ Software – MIXXX

March 29, 2009 § Leave a comment

mixxx_screen11

I was impressed to find this today in the midst of researching new digital-dj software and hardware. While Serato, Native Instruments, Rane and company fight for top dollar in this software realm there are FREE alternatives that you can get right now that might do the same thing. MIXXX is one of these alternatives. Built on open-source code this is a nicely designed piece of gear. Graphically it looks a bit like Ableton, with bits of Native Instrument’s Traktor coming to mind with the waveforms and transient markers. This seems to be a solid piece of gear with great sound and full support for MIDI controllers. Check it out yourself.. available for most operating systems. Visit www.mixxx.org

VESTAX ups the ante for Digital DJing with the VCM-100 Portable Mixing Workstation – USB MIDI and Audio Controller

March 23, 2009 § 2 Comments

vcm100_45-1 vcm100_table

Part three in an exploration of technological advances with audio/midi controllers

DAMN that’s sexy. Finally someone (Vestax) has designed a laptop/dj interface that is designed like traditional gear (pitch adjustment, big volume knobs, eq, crossfader), but also works as a midi conroller, holds your laptop, and runs audio. Comes bundled with Traktor3 (not bad) and integrates directly with Traktor. All for about four hundred bucks. Say What!? Yes I want one too.. well it’s sexy.. but let’s investigate.

The integration of audio dj mixer and midi controllers has come a long way (with Allen and Heath still running the game in the pro spectrum.) This step in the evolution is quite appealing – an all-in-one, hands-on tool for pitch control, crossfade, and dj performance. The downside? Looks like it’s 2 in 2 out, traditional dj setup with standard RCA jacks for output. (No 1/4 inch?) Makes me wonder about the sound quality although Vestax is known for good sound in their mixers (depending on which series you buy.) You can re-assign midi on this sucker and although it doesn’t have many channels to work with the setup is really nice. But the question comes down to – how many tracks/knobs/buttons do you want to drive at once? Personally I want more. The more the better.  For these reasons I might consider the OHM64 or the APC40. Great looks on this Vestax piece, I can’t wait to get my hands on one for a test-drive. (If you have had experience with these please drop me a comment!)

Specs and info from Vestax:

The VCM-100 is a compact USB MIDI & audio system, designed with Vestax’s mechatronics technology developed in the past 30 years. Despite its compact size, the VCM-100 comes with 4in4out(Stereo x 2 in/out)connection, headphone output and high quality mechanical parts placed in the control section.

  • 60 parameters of various software are assignable to the VCM-100’s control section via USB MIDI IN/OUT.
  • The DATA SEND LED provides clear visual of the current status to assist in an authentic play mode in real time.
  • Monaural 4 in/ Stero 2 out (Master out L.R, Monitor/Booth out L.R), Headphone output. The VMC-100 provides a high definition sound, thanks to the audio codec IC designed with a built-in hardware sample rate converter, delta-sigma conversion 20bit stereo D/A converter and 18bit stereo A/D converter.
  • Support for ASIO 2.0, CoreAudio and MME / WDM, MAYA44 USB is compatible to all major music and DJ and DAW applications.
  • ESI(Ego systems Inc) designed ASIO driver apllied for its proven high reliablity.DAW application software and DJ application software work with the driver at a valiant low latency rate and high performance. (Windows will identify the VCM-100 as a 2in2out USB audio device when using the standard Windows WDM driver. Use the ASIO driver when using multi input/output with DTM application software. )
  • The VCM-100 provides simple plug & play features working with Apple and Windows computers.
  • The power source is selectable from USB bus-power and the exclusive power adaptor(not included). (For best performance and stable operation, please use the power adaptor if the computer’s power capacity is low or if using a USB hub)
  • There are no issues if you don’t have any software to operate. TRAKTOR LE (Native Instrument Inc.) is bundled to the VCM-100 with exclusive control assignment files.
  • Compatible with all software that allows MIDI control assignment. 3 versions of firmware can be selected to have the best match with the software. Each software’s samples of MIDI control assignment files will be available at http://www.vestax.com soon.
  • The compact metal body is thin but highly durable, and convenient for transportation

Ableton Live controller wars: Akai APC40 vs OHM64 (two very badass machines)

March 21, 2009 § 5 Comments

64animated apc40_web_med

Technology seems to be moving so fast these days that before I can fork over the cash for new gadgets another one comes out that catches my fancy even more. For instance my craving for a macbook air suddenly turned into adoration for the Asus eeePC (more on that later.) More recently I had been drooling over the Akai Apc40 and plan to pick one up when budget allows. But then today I saw the specs and site for the new OHM64 with it’s fancy wood paneling and nice layout and started to reconsider this one instead. The Akai Apc is selling for around $400 US while the OHM 64 price has yet to be announced (the original OHM sold for around $699.) Both controllers offer visual feedback and a plethora of buttons and sliders to perform with. The difference seems to be that the APC40 has been engineered for and with Ableton to be specific to that software. That means that there is NO config the thing just works, with buttons for switching through scenes and the promise from akai that you can perform “with no mouse.” OHM seems to be offering similar things but the setup probably won’t be as easy. The upside to the OHM64 is open-source software and options to rig this (beautiful) thing out to do whatever you want. I can’t wait to get my hands on either as they seem to offer sexy new ways to performance. Donations being accepted now! Check more at the following sites: LIVID INSTRUMENTSAKAI

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