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?

Understanding Audio Effects

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

An Overview of Audio Effects

This week we’re taking a step back to the basics in order to give our beginner readers an overview on audio effects and how they work. If you’re just starting out on your audio production journey, you’ve most likely come across effects in your gear or software. These might be delay, reverb, distortion, compression, phase, flange, pitch-shift, ring modulators or filters. This article aims to get you familiar with these terms and what these devices do. In future installments of this series we will get a bit deeper on specific types of effects (as some subjects such as reverb require an article of their own.) For now we begin at the beginning…

What are Audio Effects?

Audio effects are devices (analog or digital) that are used to intentionally alter how a musical instrument or other audio source sounds. Effects can be subtle or extreme and they can be used in live or recording situations. A good example of audio effects are the “stomp-boxes” that many electric guitarists use to realize their desired sound. By chaining together many different types of effects units a musician can sculpt a unique tone. Almost all popular music benefits from creative use of effects, the only exception being an all-acoustic show (and even then there are usually effects involved). All commercial music is enhanced with effects and electronic music makes liberal use of these devices. With proper use they can really enhance your sound and take the listener to new sonic spaces.

A Brief History of Audio Effects

Modern day effects are all a result of the evolution of technology and the advent of recorded sound. Around the Mid 1940’s recording engineers started to use reel to reel tape machines to create delays, echos and sound effects. In addition to tape, microphone placement and movement were found to create sounds that had not previously been recorded. In 1948 Harry DeArmond, creator of the first guitar pickup, created the first stand-alone effects processor called the Trem-Trol by running the electric current of the signal through liquid to create a tremolo sound. This device was used by Bo Diddley and  led to more development in the guitar industry of the 1940’s and 50’s where guitar amplifiers started to introduce vibrato and reverb effects. Reverb was initially created by driving an electrical signal into a metal plate or spring to create multiple echos or reflections of a sound.

Back in the studio, recording engineers started to use echo chambers to create echo effects or a unique tone to their recordings. Echo chambers were usually long, low rectangular spaces made from sound-reflective materials such as concrete. They were fitted with a loudspeaker at one end and a microphone at the other to create an echo effect that was used on many recordings to enhance vocals. As they were often custom-made, these echo chambers became the sound signature of a given studio at that time. As technology developed, many reverb devices allowed for electronic re-creation of the echo chamber effect. Equalizers and compressors arrived in the studio in the 1950’s and 60’s with the Pultec equalizer which defined the sound of many recordings of that era.

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Hardware and Software Effects

Today audio effects devices come in both physical and digital form. Audio signals in electrical format are processed with physical (analog) hardware whereas audio signals in binary format (digital) are processed mathematically by software. Both methods can achieve similar results. In the physical world, effects are usually rack-mounted devices that have cables running to and from a mixing board or they can be something like guitar effect pedals which receive signal from the instrument and alter the signal as it flows to a mixer. On the digital side you can find effects in most music recording software packages. DAWs such as Ableton, Logic, Cubase and ProTools all come with audio effects built-in. Other software packages likeReason, Maschine, Traktor, Audacity, Peak, and Soundforge also come with audio effects. Audio effects are often simple devices that do one specific thing to a sound, although multi-effects processors are also popular for those who want many different effects in one package. It is also worth noting that many instruments (especially synthesizers) come with effects built-in to the machine. (read more)

Mobile Music to Go – Portable Production Options

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

As humans living in an adaptable, mobile time, it’s natural to desire that our music be available anywhere the moment strikes us. Add to that the growing number of cloud-based, instant-streaming options and you can see that we’re in the midst of integrating our social desires with sound. How many times have you been at someone’s house, a club, a park and you have the desire to create? This week we examine the options for on-the-go creation with some suggestions for building a mobile studio to capture those impromptu moments. As with our last article on building a home studio, we are assuming that you already have a computer and software of choice to start with. We’ll be looking at interfaces for sound and performance as well as some hardware-based music options that let you take a break from the computer. (read more)

Konkreet Labs to release Performer iPad app in January 2011

December 2, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’m truly excited about this app. Check out the beautiful combination of graphic interface and sound control. Information from the Konkreet Labs website:

Konkreet Performer is a control instrument for live music performance. Its unique and intuitive multi-touch interface reconnects the musician’s actions directly with the music.

Taking full advantage of the possibilities created by the latest multi-touch technology, Konkreet Performer delivers a revolutionary new way to control your DAWs, synthesizers, samplers (anything that receives MIDI/OSC).

More than a studio controller, Konkreet Performer has been designed from the ground up to be a superior live performance instrument, bringing the dynamic audio and visual connection between the musician and the audience to the stage. It will be released as an iOS App at the beginning of 2011.

Great CDM post on SoundPrism iPad App – Visually Organizing Tones and Harmony

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

 

“The idea for SoundPrism is quite old actually. About 22 years ago Gabriel’s father found that organizing tones of keys in a circle of thirds makes it very easy to understand basic harmonic theory because the visualization ‘just makes sense’. Back then he taught it to his two sons, Gabriel and David, and from then on they passed all music school theory exams with flying colors. He tried to convince their teachers that this method was far better for teaching children but they didn’t listen to him at all.”

Read more at Create Digital Music

 

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