Monday, December 26, 2011

NEW FROM PIONNER: CDJ 850 k














Pioneer's industry-leading CDJ multi-player range is about to become even more desirable, with the introduction of new colour version of the CDJ-850.

The CDJ-850-K offer the operability and stylish design of Pioneer's high-end models, but at a more accessible price, with function as sound cards and support various media and music formats including CD, MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF, making them incredibly versatile.

The CDJ-850-K come bundled with Pioneer's rekordbox™ music management software. rekordbox™ analyses the BPM and beat position of songs from your computer, allowing DJs to categorise music by genre and create playlists before a gig. DJs can easily transfer songs and playlists to the multi-player via USB. For maximum flexibility DJs can edit playlists on both the CDJ-850-K -- a feature exclusive to players in this price bracket.

More info about CDJ-850-K here http://pioneerdj.com/

Track list
Are U Ready (Elements Remix) - Joachim Garraud
Umbungo (Original Mix) - The BeatThiefs

Sunday, December 25, 2011

NEW FROM PIONNER: CDJ 350 S












Pioneer's industry-leading CDJ multi-player range is about to become even more desirable, with the introduction of new colour version of the CDJ-350. The new metallic silver CDJ-350-S match any interior, making them ideal for playing at home and at parties.




The CDJ-350-S offer the operability and stylish design of Pioneer's high-end models, but at a more accessible price, with function as sound cards and support various media and music formats including CD, MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF, making them incredibly versatile.

The CDJ-350-S come bundled with Pioneer's rekordbox™ music management software. rekordbox™ analyses the BPM and beat position of songs from your computer, allowing DJs to categorise music by genre and create playlists before a gig. DJs can easily transfer songs and playlists to the multi-player via USB. For maximum flexibility DJs can edit playlists on the CDJ-350-S -- a feature exclusive to players in this price bracket.

More info about CDJ-350-S here http://pioneerdj.com/


DJ TechTools Traktor Kontrol S4 Mapping






FREE MAPPINGS AGAIN?

Yup, I changed my mind. We originally decided to charge for the S2 mapping and received a lot of flack for charging for something that has always been free. In 2008, when this site was started, I made a decision that digital goods would be free and we would charge for hardware. Even though I think our mappings are priceless, I believe charging for them costs us more in community goodwill then we make in hard dollars. DJTT is not in it for the cash, so I would rather stock up on goodwill in case we sail into rough waters.
Therefore, we are going back to the old system when mappings are all free.  That includes the S2 mapping, which is now free as well.
Did you pay for the S2 mapping? Well, thank you for the support, but I will be happy to issue a refund to anyone that feels they didn’t get $5 in value. Just hit up our support page (after January 3rd!) and it will be taken care of after the christmas break!

OFF ON HOLIDAY


Most of the DJTT staff is going off for the next two weeks to recharge our batteries. There will be new articles but we won’t be answering the phones much or shipping any products until January 3rd. I truly wish each and every one of you the happiest of holidays and hope to see you around these parts again next year!

GIVE US FEEDBACK ON THE MAPPING

This is one big giant monster of a mapping that we will be improving continually over the next month. Please report your bugs and questions in the forum.  Make sure you also signed up to get updates, as all bug fixes will be emailed to the list directly.
Here are the known bugs that will be fixed shortly
  1. The loop indicators dont work (Traktor does not support this functionality in custom mappings) – not cool!
  2. The Filter knobs dont turn on the filter, and just move them. (you need to manually turn them on once) – this will be fixed.
  3. There are some issues with older versions of Traktor. If you can, please upgrade to 2.1 or above – we are looking for a fix.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Review: Pioneer DDJ-Ergo

Pioneer’s latest controller is a departure from the strategy that they’ve adopted over the past 18 months, namely of putting big ticket prices on their first forays into controller and computer based DJ gear. The DDJ Ergo isn’t a budget priced controller, but it’s definitely in the realms of purchasing possibility for many first time buyers. Let’s see how Pioneer have managed to do it…

SPECS

Price at Review: £429/$599USD
Connection/Power: USB Bus Powered
Input Terminals: MIC x 1 (1/4 inch Jack)/AUX x 1 (RCA)
Output Terminals: MASTER OUT x 2 (1/4 inch Jack x 1, RCA x 1), HEADPHONE MONITOR OUT x 2 (front 1/4 inch Jack, Mini Pin)
Dimensions (W x H x D): 555 x 280 x 103 mm
Weight: 3 kg
Software System Requirements:
Windows
• Windows XP (SP3)/Vista/7
• Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon XP, 512 MB RAM or more
Mac OS X 10.5/10.6/10.7 
• Intel processor platform, 1024 MB RAM or more
• 50 MB or more free disk space
• 1024 x 768 screen resolution or more

THE GOOD

  • Distinctive look
  • Good layout for basic mixing
  • Decent onboard audio options

THE BAD

  • Maybe too distinctive look
  • Cramped EQ and FX/cue controls
  • Price (especially considering software)

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you love the look of Ergo, and especially if you’re not a fan of Traktor, it’s probably a good buy. That said, ergonomic bottlenecking and the fact that it doesn’t really offer anything, except looks, that other cheaper controllers do means that it’s by no means a stand out contender for any thrones.

 JUDGING A BOOK BY ITS COVER


Ergo has a distinctive look. View it from the top, unplugged, and it’s a somewhat average looking black fascia with recognisable Pioneer stylings. From an angle, things start to get a little more space age. The gloss white, curved edges become apparent, and two back legs (that need to be unscrewed to be removed) put the entire unit at a shallow incline. Plugged in, that effect gets multiplied by a red and blue light show that makes the entire unit look like something from Back to the Future II. I’m all for designers pushing the envelope – heaven knows there are enough matt black, sharp edged boxes – but there’s a general resistance to too much flashiness in the industry, and when I asked a non-DJ friend what he thought, he said “it looks like a toy”. Pioneer have consciously gone after the consumer market with Ergo, and in doing so have seemed to go with what a layman thinks DJ equipment should look like, rather than going with the grain and designing something more reminiscent of the norm. This creates an issue, in that using Ergo is going to, for better or worse, present you in a certain light amongst people who have any frame of reference for what DJ gear usually looks like.

NUTS AND BOLTS


The Pioneer jog wheels are one of the big reasons for buying in to any low level Pioneer gear. Whilst these smaller wheels don’t feel identical to the larger ones found on the pro level CDJs they do have a degree of similarity that should make going through the ranks of Pioneer-dom easier to adjust to – it’s perhaps worth saying that I’ve never particularly been a fan of the feel of a Pioneer jog wheel, but they’re certainly the industry standard so what do I know?! They’re not hugely ‘spinny’, but there’s a feeling of momentum that’s quite pleasant and whilst they do have a slight blunt feel to them when it comes to positioning, they’re accurate enough to transcribe motions into fairly smooth manipulation of audio.
Pioneer are definitely keeping up their trademark feel elsewhere on the unit, with a light crossfader and heavy channel faders. The crossfader feels okay, it’s nothing to really write home about but the lag on either side of the fader is acceptable – at around 2.5mm – and there’s a smooth action. The heavy channel faders are just clunky though, and I wish Pioneer would start loosening them up in their new gear. The pitch fader is also quite stiff – completely different to Pioneer’s CDJ offerings – and has a central detent to help you find the middle.
The Pioneer play and cue buttons have been ditched in favour of a slightly different, curved bezel style that fits in better with the overall aesthetic of the Ergo, and the buttons for other features are stiff plastic which depresses only a very small amount before activation. Manufacturers in general are still undecided about how to ‘do’ buttons on new equipment, mindful of the fact that some of us like to map and remap controllers and use any button going as a potential performance control, but also that there is still a (presumably) much larger portion of the market that has a much more traditionalist approach to equipment and DJing in general and to ramp up the cost of a unit by dropping in top quality buttons on everything would be commercial suicide. I think that the style of button on Ergo is about my favourite way to do a cheap controller’s buttons, as the action is quick and there’s little to no ‘waggle’.
Knobs are made of very stiff plastic that has indentations all around the outside. Rather than use the high level caps from the big boys of the DJM series, it’s the budget range of caps that are on offer, and they’re both smaller and less comfortable to use; the deep indentations have a somewhat spiky feel that doesn’t really feel great on the pads of your fingers.
All in all, the build of the Ergo is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s a solid unit with decent jog wheels, crossfader, and well compromised buttons, on the other hand, the other controls on the unit are distinctly average.

THE FEELING


Ergonomics wise, Pioneer get brownie points for avoiding the temptation to design Ergo with horizontal symmetry. There’s a definite ‘deck’ design that’s duplicated on either side of the mixer, and generally all’s well when it comes to placement… at least for beginner level use. In reality, whilst things like loop buttons and filter are given plenty of space, the other performance controls are just a little too close together for comfort; the effects dials are nearly on top of each other, the buttons for sampler and cue are too small, and the EQ, gain, and headphone monitoring is awkwardly snug. The placement of the sampler and cue buttons atop the jog wheels is a pretty well accepted place to put them, but if you really bug out there’s a chance you’ll tap the jog wheel itself. It would probably have been better to have put the buttons, or at least some of them, below the jog wheel to facilitate cue juggling and so on. The dual layer four deck control feels a bit like a nod to the fact that four deck is the latest craze, and the Ergo feels a little behind the curve when considering other controllers that are implementing four physical channel faders into their design.


SOFTWARE

Included with Ergo is an OEM copy of Virtual DJ, which may turn some of you off but the truth is for basic performance VDJ can cut it. Ponying up for the full version of VDJ to allow all features – including expansion for extra controllers – is once again where it fails as a value proposition, though, as Traktor Pro blows it out of the water when it comes to included effects and general tightness. If you want software to grow with you and your setup, you’re going to have to think about adding Traktor (or a full licence for VDJ, Torq, or similar) to the shopping list.
The days of Traktor being included with third party controllers may be coming to an end now, as NI begin to use its inclusion as a USP for its own hardware offerings. Nonetheless Pioneer have included a Traktor mapping for the Ergo; as you’d expect Ergo gets mapped to Traktor fairly ‘straight’, and the jog wheels have the expected somewhat sloppy feel that third party wheels tend to when mapped to Traktor.
If you’re just after a no nonsense controller, Virtual DJ is fine, but much more exciting is the news that Serato Intro will very soon officially support the Ergo. Serato’s user interface is superb and the Serato way of handling scratching style playhead manipulation sounds much better than both Traktor and VDJ’s, and whilst it doesn’t have any upgradeability it should increase the value of the Ergo package a whole bunch.

THE WHOLE PACKAGE


Being an all-in-one, Ergo’s also got onboard sound going for it. There’s a mic/aux channel, TRS and RCA master outs, and two front mounted headphone sockets: one for 3.5mm and another for 1/4″ headphone jacks. Considering it’s an entirely bus powered interface there’s a decent amount of volume from the outputs, and because the actual mixing’s done in software there’s not so much worry about the headroom issues we’ve spoken about in previous articles. In any case, Ergo is pitched to house party DJs rather than super club DJs and it performs just fine for that purpose.
The fact that the Ergo is packaged only with Virtual DJ LE detracts from its value compared to, at this price, its main competitor: the Native Instruments Kontrol S2. Serato Intro will give it more weight, but in reality Ergo doesn’t really add much above and beyond controllers that are quite significantly less expensive like the Numark Mixtrack Pro or (and having not had more than a preliminary play I can’t vouch for it yet) N4 – both of which also have Intro. If the look is what you’re going for, then you’ll probably love the DDJ Ergo. If you don’t think it looks any better than the more accepted consumer focused gear, ie the more Fisher Price looking efforts from Numark and Vestax’s budget lines, then you’ll struggle to see where your extra money’s going.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Beatport Launches Mashbox, an iOS “Mobile Mashup Machine”

What happens when the largest internet music store for DJs decides to make an iOS app? This morning, Beatport announced a new iOS application for mashup enthusiasts, Mashbox. We take a closer look at how good the application is for performing and playing around, and Ean has his own editorial perspective to share on what this means for the future of stems and mashups. 

The Basic Overview

Mashbox is a surprisingly simple workflow, allowing the user to load and mash up loop packs of various popular tracks. The loop packs are divided into six different channels, “Drums”, “Percussion”, “Bass”, “Theme 1″, “Theme 2″, and “Sweetener”. Each channel can have a maximum single loop playing on it at a time, and is controlled with an awkward volume knob at the top of each one.  All of the loop triggering is quantized and completely synced, so (for better or for worse  your mashups will always sound clean and on-tempo.

In addition, there is a single FX unit that can be applied to one or many of the channels concurrently – we found that the delay was nice, but the distortion often overpowered a number of the samples and needed a significant volume decrease.
The interface essentially comes off as an extremely stripped-down Ableton Live styled in a cute-but-frustrating analog design. You can’t do anywhere near as much as in a real DJ program or DAW, but it does do what it claims to – building mashups on the fly – very well.


The application is free until December 31st, and then .99¢ after that – but it’s clear that Beatport isn’t expecting to make money off of app sales, but rather of loop pack sales. The application comes with just three tracks to mess around with- “Funky Cold Medina”, “C’Mon”, and “Party of Politics”. Each new pack (there are 12 to purchase at the moment) in the built-in marketplace costs $1.99.
What We Like
  • Free!
  • Wide Music Variety: while the selection is limited to 12 tracks at the moment, they’re from a number of genres – and Beatport is promising many, many more tracks.
  • Analog Interface Design: from the clever downbeat lights to the odometer-style beat counter
  • BPM Dial: makes this potentially a tool to mix in with other production work
What Needs Work
  • Design Defeats Function: As classic as it looks to have knobs over every channel, knobs suck on a touchscreen. Also, closing the marketplace window requires you to flip an awkward switch.
  • Track Player Design: Why put ugly spinning album art in a cool looking analoge interface?
  • Limited Playability: Only one clip active per channel may keep the mashups clean, but we get that feeling that we’re all just making the same combinations as everyone else in the world.
  • Single FX Unit: We want to use our effects intelligently and diversely, and only one FX unit limits that.
  • No follow Actions: It’s really challenging to create a steady progression through the loops.
  • iPad only: show some love for the other devices out there!
Even though the UI and general usability of Mashbox leaves a lot to be desired, Beatport’s new app is a very interesting development for the industry. Right now it’s arguably a novelty, but there is clear long-term potential for something bigger.
This is the first time a content provider of this size has attempted to produce a content interaction app in the DJ space. There are many examples of apps that allow you to remix songs or albums, notably Major Lazer and Richie Hawtin’s Plastikman app. However, no one has attempted to bring songs from various sources together in a seamless manner.
If anyone has the artist connections and library to make a stem based mashup tool actually relevant, it’s Beatport. If they can manage to gain traction, build a decent interaction experience, and build a large library of relevant song material, then it will be a very powerful platform. Beatport faces some significant obstacles to success:
  1. Many artists do not feel comfortable providing stems and parts to their songs fearing countless bad versions and bootlegs may pop up all over the net. In today’s MP3-hype-world, that fear may be counterproductive but it still remains.
  2. Beatport has a hard enough time getting labels to submit songs with proper tags and artwork. Imagine the trouble in trying to collect stems in a consistent format and then converting them down to a standard that always mixes each stem perfectly together.  At $1.99 and 30% to the Apple Store, is it even profitable?
  3. Is it worth all of the effort to bounce out and create these files when many artists can make more off their 2 track mixes in MP3 form on the old Beatport?  Possibly, especially given that the walled garden effect of  building this app for Apple’s iPad makes piracy non-existent.
  4. Do DJs really want to mute and unmute each part? Does the effort required create a result that is better than the sum of its parts? Most Ableton DJs I know use a significantly simpler layout  when playing live, so it can easily be understood and mastered. I wonder if DJs really want to remix songs at this level. Let us know below!
Ean’s bottom line: The app has some room for growth but the new format is what we have all been waiting for. The major question we’re wondering- when can everyone else get this content and use it with a great controller?

Filter VS EQ: Which, When, Why?


Okay, if one was better than the other, top flight mixers would only have one – right? Yet it tends to be the cream of the crop that feature both. Why is this, and when should you be using which?

BACK TO BASICS

Not to confuse you, but EQs are a form of filter. The bottom line is that a filter takes a sound input, applies a rule to it, and then outputs its modified version. Whether that’s an EQ/tone, low pass, high pass, band pass, notch, or any number of others, filter is as filter does – but when we talk about filters on DJ mixers we just mean that single knob that sweeps across the entirity of the track.
The image above represents a low pass filter’s frequency response. A DJ filter, when integrated into a mixer, is almost always, nowadays, a dual mode affair; the central detent is the off position and a clockwise and anti clockwise motion respectively take care of high and low pass filtering (the Vestax mixer in the header is an uncommon exception… but it’s a very pretty mixer so we thought it was worth the confusion. Allen & Heath have also traditionally used filters that switch modes with a button). ‘High pass’ and ‘low pass’ are pretty well termed in that they, as they are ramped up, have a progressively smaller guest list, so to speak, and the frequencies allowed through are whittled down until only the very lowest/highest are allowed past.
EQ, on the other hand, tends to have three ‘bands’ – think of them as areas of influence over frequencies in the track – but sometimes have two (ala the lower end Vestax PMC mixers) or even four (the Allen & Heath Xone 62/92, for instance), and the most notable thing that a DJ filter doesn’t do that the EQ section does is boost. All the filter does is reduce the amplitude of frequencies; turn your EQ clockwise and it will make the frequencies in its domain more powerful.
One of the big advantages to a filter is the way that there’s just the one knob to worry about. Mixing with a filter can be really subtle, because of the smoothness with which frequencies are added to (or taken away from) the mix.
Mixing with EQ brings with it the advantage of a high level of control, at the expense of the sweeping smoothness of a filter. Whilst it’s difficult to create a smooth sweeping frequency effect with channel EQ on account of the reality of dealing with a knob for every EQ band, it’s not only simpler to pinpoint a specific problem point or sweet spot with EQ but is the only way to isolate the mid range of your audio as well as both top and bottom end.

CHARACTER WITNESS


If all filters were born equal, then there’d be no arguments over who had the best – and we all know that’s not the case. A good DJ filter isn’t completely flat; a good DJ filter has character over and above simply ‘turning the sound down’. All the things that make one filter sound different to another are actually quite involved so we’ll leave the nitty gritty for another day,  but two of the big ones are steepness and resonance. The steeper a filter’s cutoff is, the harder frequencies are attenuated when they pass the threshold. An exceptionally steep filter will completely kill frequencies more or less as soon as they fall outside the cutoff point, whereas a gentler one will attenuate the frequencies smoothly as they’re cut out. This steepness curve is measured in dB per octave, and typically speaking DJ filters are quite, but not ruthlessly, steep. Resonance (often called Q) is the amount by which, just at the cusp of the cutoff point, frequencies are actually boosted with a little hump before they’re cut out. The more Q a filter has, the more of a warbly, ‘singing’ sound it creates as it’s turned, and this characterfulness creates two camps: those that love it, and the more the better, and those that hate it.
The smoother a filter, the more clinical and precise it is and thus the more accurate for using as a blend control, but at the same time the less musical it tends to sound. Different manufacturers and software developers give their filters different characteristics – and in this digital age, many are building in the opportunity to choose the style you prefer in settings.

TECHNIQUE


If you’re DJing with only the biggest, boldest, brightest confirmed dancefloor destroyers, and especially if they’ve never been out of the digital domain, using EQs for technical rather than creative reasons might be a foreign concept. If, however, your selections are a mixed bag of different eras, genres, formats – especially vinyl – and top-secret work in progress dubs, you’ll know that a little EQ goes a long way to bridging the gaps between how two tunes are mixed (and I mean mixed in the engineering sense here), and this is definitely the area in which EQ shines.
The ‘highs for high hats, mids for vocals and lows for bass’ mantra that many a DJ spits out whenever EQ is mentioned is a pretty big over-simplification, but it’s not one without foundations. Matching the levels of not just the general volume of the tracks you’re playing, but also their composition, will make for a smoother mix. Got some 80s house that just doesn’t thump as hard as 2011’s sonic pallet? Perhaps some bass is in order. The sound coming off your records a little harsh compared to the digital smoothness of your latest Beatport wavs? A little tweak to the mids should sort that out. You may even be the kind of perfectionist that, armed with the power to twist, stretch, and massage tracks, always has a hand hovering over the EQs to smooth out any changes in the tracks. But with all this technical tweaking, your EQ dials resembling the London/New York/Sydney world clocks in a high end board room, how do you fit in the creative frequency fiddling without losing your consistency? You guessed it.
DJ filters are, I’m fairly sure without exception, post-EQ (please let us know if you know any otherwise!). Whatever those EQ dials are doing, they’re doing it before the sound gets into the filter. This means that the filter’s effect on the track remains consistent no matter what’s going on up there, and so you can use the EQs to dial in the perfect character for the track – the setting at which all your tracks match each other tonally – and leave the filter to provide the artistic flair and frequency led mixing and blends.

TOP TEN TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL SOUND SCULPTURE


  • Don’t forget your gain when you EQ!
  • Use filters to allow you to make creative sweeps to the track and still be able to go back to the tuned EQ setting.
  • Experiment with the filter Q types available to you to find your favourite.
  • If you use a chunky Q, ride it rhythmically to get the track to ‘sing’!
  • If you don’t have filters available on your gear, practice using your EQs to get a sweeping effect by twisting the high, then high and mid, then mid and low, then low down to the bottom (or vice versa).
  • A filter sweep to bring a track in can sometimes sound a lot more natural than fading it in with the volume fader.
  • If you mix out by using filters, be wary of the filter not totally closing the track out; always finish a mix with a volume fader to avoid issues.
  • If your mixer doesn’t have mid EQ but you need some mid-range adjustment, try boosting high and low while cutting gain or vice versa.
  • Use filters for creative effect; ‘pump’ the filter rhythmically to make tracks wobble much more than an EQ tweak.
  • Remember: mix the overall sound of the tracks together with EQs, and then use filters to perform sweeps and blends.

Ableton DJing: Battle Style Effects Processors!

Ableton Live is a remarkably powerful DJ tool, but people usually associate it with complicated layers of effects and loops. Those DJs that are more familiar (and possibly more comfortable) with a two decks and a mixer paradigm need not be afraid. Today’s article covers a very creative way to set up Ableton Live in a two deck fashion with two effects processors (in this case, Korg Kaoss pads) as your “decks” with a standard DJ mixer in between them.

Two FX Tables and a Microphone


As you can see above, I have a two channel sound card from Native Instruments. Each channel is routed into a Kaoss pad and then back out into individual channels on the mixer. All fading, pre-cuing, and EQ happens in the analogue domain which gives this setup a familiar and decidedly analogue feel.

The focus here is on the hardware, each “deck”, and how they mix together. The laptop is no longer the focus.





The benefits of such a setup are two-fold:
  1. Combining the strengths of digital and analogue in an easy-to-master 2 deck layout with real mixer controls.
  2. Using external effects processing to fatten up the sound, and layering interesting results in a zero-latency environment.
The internal effects in Ableton Live are incredibly versatile and expandable, and a crucial part of most production work. But when it comes to live performance, I’ve decided against using MIDI to control my effects and  instead I’ve chosen Korg’s Kaoss Pads ($399) as my go-to tool for manipulating live audio signals. Check out my full demo routine using two Kaoss Pads here!

There are tons of options when it comes to external effects processors. Whether or not one is better than the other is completely subjective to the style of the DJ. For me, the most impressive parts of the Kaoss Pad are its interface, the large library of effects, and its lucrative sampling capabilities. Another very popular model for DJ processing on the fly is the Pioneer EFX-1000 ($899)

“The Kaoss Pad is particularly interesting because it can also be used as a MIDI controller to trigger your Ableton clips”

WHY GO WITH EXTERNAL FX?


With a program as robust as Ableton Live, why would anyone want to use an external hardware processor? Well there are several reasons:
Increases CPU Performance
  • Probably the biggest assets of utilizing external audio processing is that they eliminate the taxing demand of MIDI assignments and VST usage on your CPU. Back when I used MIDI for live performances (with my trusty MPD26), I used up to ten tracks, all with different types of effects loaded onto them. Even with 8GB of RAM and an i7 processor, my laptop was having trouble keeping up with all of my MIDI assignments. I even slimmed the number of tracks down to two (see below), and although Live ran noticeably smoother, it still wasn’t as punctual as I wanted it to be.
  • Universal Audio illustrates this concept with their optional ‘hardware accelerators’ for their digital effect suites. In an effort to ease processing demand, they use these aluminum boxes that essentially help your processor crunch more numbers, making them ideal for mobile recording and mastering.
Little to no Latency
  • Relating to CPU usage, hardware effects have virtually zero latency. Two big factors in audio latency arise from input and output issues, specifically DSP and DTA conversion. Digital Signal Processing (DSP), in the case of a hardware effect processor, converts the incoming analogue audio from your sound card to a digital signal so that it can be fooled around with. In regards to the output, DTA conversion does the opposite, converting those 1′s and 0′s back into an analogue signal, allowing you to plug your effects processor into your DJ mixer or a house mixer.
  • Case in Point: External effect units are designed to handle these operations quickly and efficiently so that your computer doesn’t have to.
Software Effects can get Corrupted
  • The number one reason that Live crashes on me is because of a bum VST (especially for naughty people who steal software effects). Having your computer crash on stage is very embarrassing, and I found it much relieving to rely on a stable piece of hardware for effects, rather than relying on software. After all, regardless of what external effect processor you use, you’ll be rest assured that it was designed for one purpose: manipulating live audio signals.

Conclusion

Using two external effects processors along with a analogue mixer not only simplifies Ableton’s potential for complexity but it provides a familiar look and layout for both the audience and performers. For those looking for a unique sound, many of these hardware processors contain great presets that are rarely heard. Globetrotting beat-boxer, Beardyman (above), relies on his voice and a bevy of analogue synths and effects to craft a totally original sound. Sometimes, going analogue might be one way to make a digital setup work.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: Native Instruments Maschine Mikro

Native Instruments had a bit of a sleeper hit with Maschine. It started off slowly but in the two and a half years since its release it’s managed to cause quite a stir. Now, Maschine Mikro is the new kid on the block; is a cut down version of the beat making machine a DJs dream?

SPECS

  • Width: 320 mm / 12.6″
  • Length: 195 mm / 7.7″
  • Height: 55 mm / 2.2″
  • 1.2 Kgs / 2.6 lbs
  • Black and white display 64 x 128 pxs
  • 16 illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch
  • One master knob
  • 28 backlit buttons
  • USB 2.0

THE GOOD

  • Sturdy build
  • Excellent software
  • Sensitive pads

THE BAD

  • Absence of knobs and faders
  • Price

THE BOTTOM LINE

If you use Mikro as a groove box and integrate it into your set that way, then it’s great value providing you have the horsepower to run the Maschine software alongside your DJ software of choice. If you’re just planning to use it as a MIDI controller, it’s a bit of a waste of money.

TO GROOVE OR NOT TO GROOVE?


There’s a very important point regarding Maschine: it’s not a controller, it’s an ‘integrated solution’ in that it’s a software groove box with a bespoke piece of controller hardware. It’s not too surprising, then, that the pure DJs and controllerists amongst you haven’t really jumped on the ‘full fat’ Maschine seeing as it costs twice as much as a pad or button controller that can do just as much if not more with your DJ software.
Regardless of what some people would have you believe, it’s not a prerequisite to make music to call yourself a DJ. Music production and DJing are two very different skillsets – albeit with some overlapping qualities – but that’s not to say that a groove box should be outside the realms of  the DJ booth, so let’s take a look at how Maschine Mikro fits into the DJing paradigm…

BUILD

Mikro is a sturdy little piece of kit, with a metal faceplate and good quality plastic bodywork. If you’re precious about keeping your equipment pristine then it’s probably a good idea to invest in carry cases and maybe even an overlay, though, because the black topcoat on the faceplate scratches quite easily to reveal the metal underneath.
The menu and function buttons on Mikro are squidgy and don’t click when they’re pressed; they’re not the best buttons for assigning to things you want to go nuts on, but their slight springiness means they’re not the worst either. The pads, on the other hand, feel great. They’re velocity and pressure sensitive, and sensitivity is constant across most of the pad. At the very corners of the pads there’s a tendency for them shift in the housing rather than trigger, but they’re large enough that that’s not really an issue. The pads don’t depress much, and the rubber’s very firm so there’s not much bounce – just enough to be kind to the pads of your fingers whilst rocking out a heavy handed cue juggle. The sensitivity is such that when set to max, poly pressure is actually triggered with a hair’s touch, and note on takes just a little bit more to register. This is probably a ‘safety’ feature incorporated by NI as you can literally trigger poly pressure messages on other pads when your shirt sleeve (in my case comfortable cardigan) touches them whilst pressing another.
Mikro’s solitary rotary encoder doubles as a push button. To those of you who’ve used NI’s Kontrol X1: more of the same. Those that haven’t: it’s got about 20 clicks per turn, feels just right, looseness wise, and the button press sits just right between being too easy to accidentally press and being tough to get when you actually want it.

GROOVE BOX


The Maschine software itself has become incrementally better featured in its two and a half year time on the market. It started out as a simple, closed off groove box and now it’s happy to play with other software by syncing MIDI signals, using plugins, sending multiple outs, even being a plugin itself while it does it. If you use something like Ableton Live or Torq to DJ then you’ll be able to drop Maschine in to your rig as a plugin, or if you’re a Traktor user then you’ll have to sync the software behind the scenes. Once that’s done, though, you’ll be able to trigger loops, samples, and effects in perfect time with your host with way more power than, for instance, Traktor’s sample decks.
The Maschine software (at 1.7 at the time of this review) has so many features, some of which aren’t that relevant to DJ use, that going through them all would take an age and wouldn’t really leave you any better informed as to whether or not it’s got a place in your setup. That in mind, here’s a list of the killer features that make Maschine potentially great for DJs:
  • 128 sample pads. The eight groups of 16 pads means you have a huge 128 samples available, and every one of those samples can be played at any pitch – with a couple of button presses turning the pads into pitch mode – and have its own effects applied to it. Considering they’re also velocity and aftertouch sensitive, there’s a lot of creative possibility.
  • Loop slicing. If you want to import a loop but also want the ability to get creative with it, Maschine has built in slicing to allow you to chop up that loop and place it on the pads automatically. Use a group to get each pad playing an 8th note of a two bar loop and go nuts!
  • Sequencing. Maschine is a sequencer at heart, so when you’ve loaded in a bunch of samples – be they drums or a chopped loop – you can program in your own loops to trigger and blend with your decks, and easily switch between patterns on the fly.
  • Step editing. One of the best looking features of Maschine is its step edit mode. As a pattern plays, the pads become a representation of the 16ths in a bar and will light up in a cycle depending on where the playhead is, as well as showing where hits for each sample lie in the pattern. You can use this to please the crowd as well as as a fun way to edit loops on the fly.
  • Huge library. Maschine comes with over 6GB of sounds to play with, which equals a massive amount of preset kits and every single kit has at least one pattern; just load up a kit you like and go!
  • Great effects. The effects in Maschine are designed to be used in real time, and they all sound great; they’re more flexible than Traktor’s and there’s space for three per sample, another four on top for each group, and four on the master as well.
You can also load in VST/AU effects and instruments to Maschine, send 16 separate outputs, and a whole lot more besides. All this functionality does come at a cost, though, and much like software like Ableton Live or perhaps Torq, whose more open nature means that there’s more of a need to test things on a per-project basis, you can’t guarantee you’ll be able to add things ad-infinitum (and it’s definitely not a great idea to test out a brand new idea on the night).

MIDI FUNCTIONALITY


Whilst Maschine is 1:1 mapped to its own software, you’re quite welcome to use it as a MIDI controller too, and switch between modes by holding Shift and pressing F1.
The Maschine Mikro controller editor is really simple to use. It allows you to decide whether you’d like to use the group mode of the pads or have the group button as an assignable button, as well as allowing you to create at least 40 (I got bored adding them by that point) different pages for the knob, F1, F2, and F3 buttons that are switched with the left/right navigation buttons. All the buttons can be set to hold, toggle, gate, and even incremental directly in the hardware, and setting up the LED behaviour is simple.
One disappointment with the editor is the way that the blue LEDs can’t be utilised in MIDI mode. I suspect that only the top eight pads (the ones used for group selection) have the multi colour LED, but it would still be nice to have the option to use them.
Whilst you can use Maschine simply as a MIDI controller, and it’s great to have the option to do so (especially as you can switch on the fly), it’d be a really daft idea to buy one just to map to MIDI software. In doing that, you’re shouldering the development costs and licence to the entire software side of Maschine that make Mikro cost more than competitors’ pad/button controllers that have more, or at least more relevant to DJs, controls. (the Akai MPD32, Korg PadKontrol, and the DJTT Midi Fighter spring to mind).

FINAL WORD


Maschine can be a dumb controller, provide loops and samples to augment your DJ set, and even moonlight as a capable music production tool when you’re away from the decks. The thing is, it’s only really great value when you want to do ALL these things. It’s good value if you want to do a couple, and not so great if you only want to use it as a MIDI controller. It’s definitely better placed to augment a setup than its big brother though, whose imposing size might not easily find a place amongst your existing equipment.

Upgrade your Kontrol S4 with the Innofader (Innobender)


When Native Instruments released the Kontrol S4 last year it quickly set the standard for all digital controllers that came after. Today the S4 continues to offer a substantial amount of functionality and unmatched integration with the Traktor platform. There are however a few trade-offs, one being the somewhat limited MIDI customization opportunities in the S4 along with hardware omissions such as booth output and a replaceable crossfader. In this article we are going to show you an option for solving the crossfader issue using the Audio Innovate Innofader.

For the scope of this article you will see use of the “Innofader” and Innobender interchangeably. Innofader is the overall product line and the Innobender is the specific edition of the Innofader for the S4 (amongst others). If the whole subject of faders is new to you, be sure to check out  Fader Technology: A Primer.
Disclaimer:  If your Kontrol S4 is still under the manufacturer’s warranty this upgrade will void that warranty. If you have purchased additional third party coverage, check the policy before undertaking the upgrade referenced in this article. DJ Techtools is not responsible for any damage or warranty issues that may result in this upgrade. Ok, that’s the lawyers dealt with, lets get on with it.

IS THIS UPGRADE FOR YOU?

The Innofader upgrade is squarely aimed at those who know they are going to push their crossfader to its limits on a regular basis, namely scratch DJs. For DJs using the crossfader primarily for mixing this upgrade might be worth considering but it won’t be as much of a game changer.

THE S4 STOCK CROSSFADER

The S4 is clearly aimed at the “Digital DJ” and “Controllerist” market and the stock S4 crossfader performs pretty well for the large majority of that demographic. Just a quick scan through NI’s catalog of promotional videos and you can see that most of the turntablist action is executed with one of the units in the Audio range rather than a controller like the S4. The S4’s crossfader starts to feel less ideal when you plug in a set of decks and begin hammering through a variety of crabs, chirps and flares. The fader lacks that “buttery” quality most scratch DJs look for and there is no option to adjust the cut-in and curve management in Traktor preferences which doesn’t make it as usable as it cold be.

 THE AUDIO INNOVATE INNOFADER

The Innofader has found fans across the board due to its performance, the ability to adjust cut-in, curve, tension in the unit itself and its durability (you won’t be replacing this unit any time soon). You won’t have to clean the Innofader anywhere near as regularly as many other faders on the market. So, it’s win, win, win for the Innofader, as long as you don’t mind the $160-$170 price tag. For some, this may be an upgrade that is just financially tough to justify, after all, it does represent nearly 20% of the cost of the entire S4. On the flip side, you can convert your beloved MIDI controller into a fully equipped scratch unit without needing to invest in a new mixer. Value for the Innofader is clearly in the eye of the beholder.
What we like:
  • Performance
  • Configurability
  • Durability
  • Low Maintenance
  • Technical Support and Expertise From Elliot Marx
What we don’t like:
  • Online Instructions/Documentation for Installation
  • Bewildering Array of Installation Components
  • Price

MORE ON THE S4 WARRANTY

If your S4 is still under NI’s warranty then you will need to weigh up the pros and cons of this upgrade as there’s no getting away from the fact that you are on your own once you pierce the sticker to get that screw out.  Many S4 buyers have also purchased additional coverage from third parties such as the retailer they bought the unit from. Third party coverage often differs from NI’s standard warranty so be sure to read the fine print carefully. You may be covered for accidental damage but that’s unlikely to help you if you damage the unit taking it apart. I did contact Guitar Center’s Pro coverage hotline here in the US and asked them if they would honour the warranty on a unit where the crossfader had been replaced. The response was essentially “we don’t know”. So, if you have ANY kind of warranty on your S4, proceed with caution and understand the impact of opening your unit.

DO YOU HAVE THE SKILLS?

Replacing the crossfader in a mixer that supports replaceable crossfaders is normally a straight forward process; remove all the knobs and fader caps, remove the face place and swap out the crossfader unit. The S4 is also surprisingly simple given it is not marketed as having a replaceable, or at least “user replaceable” crossfader. The process only requires you to assemble some fitting and insulation components to the Innobender itself, remove 20+ screws from the underside of the S4, 2 screws for the cross fader and maybe the application of some electrical tape for those inclined.

TOOLS FOR THE JOB

  • Your Kontrol S4
  • The Audio Innovate Innobender (note there are multiple Innofader models on the market)
  • A Phillips Head Screw Driver
  • A Hex Screw Driver or Allen Key
  • Something to cushion the top of the S4 as you work on it
  • Plenty of time, space and light
The time required to execute the upgrade will be largely dependent on your skills and confidence. I took a couple of hours which included a few minor missteps and plenty of fiddling around with the camera etc.

THE INNOFADER KIT

If you have watched any Innofader videos online you will know that Audio Innovate provide A LOT of different components with the fader. At first blush this can be somewhat overwhelming. The good news is that the S4 install process is one of the simpler processes and many of the pieces provided in the kit are not needed. Audio Innovate has however included some items that do show how much thought they have put into how their customers will use this product. For instance, you will find a tiny eyeglass style screwdriver that is used to change the tension, cut and curve settings. You will also find a small bottle of lube for servicing the fader in the future. In case you miss the note later on, DO NOT LUBE YOUR INNOBENDER WHEN YOU INSTALL IT. The lube is included for future cleaning and maintenance. More on this later.

INSTALLATION

Install the Innobender’s insulation and fitting components onto the Innobender itself. It’s worth checking out this awesome video walkthrough I made as well!
The black insulator card fits under on the underside of the Innobender.
 Securing the mounting bracket to Innobender also secures the insulator card
Connect the 90 degree attachment to the Innobender’s fader stem

Remove the underside cover of the S4.
Another "This will void your warranty" warning. You will need to take out the screw under the sticker in order to take off the cover.

Remove the stock S4 crossfader mounting screws.

Remove the stock S4 crossfader.
Once unscrewed, the crossfader lifts straight out. Don't throw away the original mounting screws.
Disconnect the stock S4 crossfader connector from the board connector.


Attach the S4 connector cable (provided with the Innobender)  to the end of the Innobender’s standard connector cable.

Connect the Innobender’s S4 cable with the board connector.

Mount the Innobender and screw in using the same screws for the stock crossfader.
Use the original crossfader mounting screws.
Leaving the S4 cover off; start Traktor & Set the Tension, cut-in and curve options to your taste
1. Cut-in 2. Curve 3.Tension (crossfader stem must be in the middle to expose the tension adjust screw)
Refit the S4’s underside cover.


Apply Innofader sticker and begin scratching like the world is going to end.


 PRO TIP: PUT DOWN THE LUBE!


Before undertaking this upgrade I asked Elliot Marx of Audio Innovate for his number one piece of advice. This was it:
“The only tip I could give you is don’t lube the fader yet, wait until it gets sticky and then use one drop – as little as possible – and work it in. You would not believe the number of Innofader returns I see that literally look like they were dipped into a deep fryer filled with lube. Overlubing just makes things more sticky and attracts dirt.”
This may be contrary to advice given on other faders but the Innofader is fairly unique in its design.

BUT I DON’T OWN AN S4

There are various Innofader products that are designed to be installed in a wide variety of mixers and controllers.  The Innobender version of the Innofader that we have used here has been tested for the S4, Vestax VCI-300, Pioneer DJM-400 & 350, Stanton m.207 and Mackie d.2 but that’s not to say it won’t work in your unit. There are several different versions of the Innofader so it’s worth checking Audio Innovate’s compatibility page here and if your unit is not listed, contact Audio Innovate directly. Generally you will be asked for some photos and measurements (of your mixer/controller) and they will let you know if there is a way to install one of the Innofaders. Audio Innovate is working on a smaller version of the fader again which may open up even more possibilities  (I’m thinking MidiFighter Pro).
A QUICK WORD WITH ELLIOT MARX – THE INNODADDY

Elliot Marx (left) with Troubl
You mentioned  the development of a mini-Innofader, can you tell me what you hope the next product accomplishes that the current product line does not?
We are developing the mini-Innofader because there are still many DJ mixers and controllers with replaceable crossfaders that don’t have enough space for the Innofader. The Innobender addresses several of these products, but there are still others which require a mini-Innofader. We also are developing the mini-Innofader as a lower cost part to make it easier for manufacturers to include it as a standard part in their products. Samples of this part will be available at NAMM 2012.
Which units are the most popular in terms of Innofader upgrades?
Vestax PMC mixers are by far the most popular units for Innofader upgrades. With the Innofader Pro the Rane TTM-56/57 and Pioneer DJM-800 are also popular mixers for Innofader upgrades.
Other than not over-lubing what other tips do you have for the long term maintenance of an Innofader?
No other tips frankly, the Innofader is designed to require minimal, if any maintenance. We’ve had DJs use it for years without even adding lube.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There is no denying that the Innofader is in a class of its own and much of what you are paying for is the research and development that goes into the product rather than just the sum of the parts.  While this is a relatively expensive upgrade, it is certainly more cost effective than buying a new mixer in order to get superior scratching capabilities. If  you decide this is something you want to do, be sure to weigh up the pros and cons of any warranty loss and get some help if you aren’t confident in taking things apart (and ideally putting them back together).