- Arc, A New Design from monome Creator: After Grids, Encoders
You’ve just created the design that, more than any other, was the signature of electronic music making in the first decade of the 21st Century. What’s your second act?
Having made the monome grid controllers the biggest design hit in music creation in the last few years, then moved to a farm in upstate New York to do some … farming (really), monome’s Brian Crabtree now and Kelli Cain have made public what’s next. Think really big knobs.
The design makes some sense to me, intuitively, already. Livid tried the obvious solution of combining encoders with arrays in its Code, but having a big cluster of encoders, while interesting, seems that it’d have limited applications. It works for Livid, but given the widespread impact of the monome, you’d expect something more generalized, more universal.
Arc could be that. They’re large, “ultra-high resolution” encoders. The monome sacrificed sensitivity for quantity with an array of on/off toggles; Arc does the reverse. The idea is presumably that you’ll really care about these big knobs. Two– and four-knob versions are promised; the four-knob variant seems like it might have the greatest appeal, depending on the price difference. The visual feedback on the side are “high-density LED rings,” but they also have “variable brightness,” meaning that they could be more visually compelling than is apparent in still photos.
In addition to being knobs, each knob is a push-button. Unlike the monome, it’s hard to see this being the only controller you’d use. It is easy to imagine it used in conjunction with another controller, though, monome or otherwise. I’m imagine that as on the monome, you’ll be able to modify the design to add tilt sensors and the like.
Like the monome before it, the arc makes no sound. It requires computer software and the OSC (OpenSoundControl) protocol in order to control software, connected through a USB port. And so like the monome, you can expect that a lot of its value will be software inspired by the quality of the design and even the high-value construction of the item. If it’s like its predecessor, the arc will be an attractive window through which clever software designers imagine new musical contraptions.
The obvious comparison here is to the humble, US$45 Griffin PowerMate, a single metal control knob that used USB. This promises to have more precise visual feedback and be a whole lot better made and open; on the other hand, anyone who was fond of the PowerMate in theory may be quicker to buy into the notion here. (flight404 aka visual legend Robert Hodgin once did a whole live visual set with an array of PowerMates; he may prove ahead of his time if this catches on.)
Pricing, details, media due later, with “orders and shipping in February.” I can say it’s real; I saw some version on Brian’s workbench.
I think, having passed on a trip to Anaheim, that readers might like to get hands-on coverage of the Arc, and a serious look at whether the monome’s sequel will live up to the original. Do you agree?
Side note: People I’m talking to are already wondering what you would do with, you know, two big wheels. I refer you to Etch-a-Sketch (two wheels), your car (one big, necessarily high-resolution wheel)… I was initially skeptical of how the monome would work as an instrument with no velocity sensitivity, and was eventually won over by a combination of ingenious software and musicianship by its fanbase. I wouldn’t write off the minimalism of this just yet.
Update: stretta already has an app in the works for the arc. He mentions that in a blog post with an adorable illustration that, aside from being clever, suggests how many people will use this app. See the video after the jump – notice the PowerMate controller in the corner of the video? It’s apparently standing in for an arc. Getting the picture?The design already shows the attention to detail lavished on the monome. Photos courtesy monome.This is not an arc video, in a demo by stretta. But the PowerMate featured here could easily be an arc. (That also suggests any number of encoders you have handy could be a way of prototyping arc patches.)
- Fresh DJ Gear at NAMM 2011: A Master List
Since January is upon us, that can only mean one thing: Winter NAMM and a fresh batch of DJ technology guaranteed to produce buyer’s remorse and gear envy. We’ve got a crack team of writers and photographers embedded deep in the belly of NAMM working hard to bring you details on all the gear, including what’s good, and what’s not.
In this first post, we’ve compiled a master list of new DJ products at NAMM that might pique your interest. Then, in our follow up on Monday, we’ll compile a shorter “Best of NAMM” list, with in-depth videos and details on our favorites.
HEAVY DUTY PAD CONTROL
Product Name: Pad One
Release Date: Early Spring
Key Feature: Heavy-duty milled aluminum chasis
Downside: Heavy and Expensive for this controller class
- 2 color backlit pads
- Nice feel and bounce to the triggers
- Poor detection of low velocity hits
- Shows each pad’s MIDI value on the LED readout
VMS FOR TRAKTOR
Manufacturer: American Audio
Product Name : VMS-4 (Traktor Edition)
Release Date: Late March
Key Feature: Ships with a 4-deck version of Traktor LE
Downside: Ships with a 4-deck version of Traktor LE
- Same hardware as the original VMS-4
- New black skin looks nicer
- Modified controller labels that match Traktor
TORQ 2 LATE
Product Name : Torq 2.0
Price: $49 (Existing 1.0 and 1.5 owners) $249 (everyone else)
Release Date: February
Key Feature: Track Morph creates very unique crossfades that do complicated blends for you.
Downside: The UI appears to have been designed as a visual maze intended to confuse the user or possibly as a educational example of how not to layout a DJ interface.
- No controller dongle required
- Will work with all controllers
- Track Morph effect is very creative and innovative
- 4 decks with independent levels, EQs, headphone cues
- Multi-Effect stacking features
- More info on the Torq 2 product page, and a demo is also available
- 2.0 is now finally out after a long delay– is it too late?
Key Feature: Touch-sensitive jogwheels (a first for Hercules)
Downside: Wobbly and poor platter action
- 2 stereo ins and 2 stereo outs over built in USB audio interface
- Ships with Virtual DJ LE
- Green or red backlit jogwheels
- Switchable into 4 decks (2 deck mixer)
Product Name: MP25
Release Date: March 2011
Key Feature: 12 stereo ins and 10 stereo outputs via USB
Downside: Not Serato Scratch certified mixer
- ASIO/Core Audio drivers
- Multi-client drivers mean that you can stream audio from multiple applications on one computer simultaneously
- USB loop to VST on a host and back
- 1 USB port
- 5 stereo multi-channel tracking to DAW
THE SL BOX YOU ALWAYS WANTED
Product Name: SL4
Release Date: April 2011
Key Feature: 2 USB ports supports a dual laptop setup
Downside: ASIO/Core Audio drivers but no Traktor Scratch support
- Switchable channels from phono to line
- 5 stereo in and out via USB
- 96khz or 48khz
- Aux input and output
- Through indicators per channel
BT IN YOUR DAW
Product Name: Stutter Edit
Price: $249 ($149 preview until February 14th)
Release Date: Available NowKey Feature: Instant beat mayhem available across a MIDI keyboard.
Downside: Requires a VST host like Ableton
- Endless presets and one press stutters that sound great right out of the box, including patches created by BT and Richard Devine
- Very playable combos and effects
- More awesome information and a trial can be found on iZotope’s site
- We’ll be posting an awesome video of Stutter Edit in action soon!
*ENTRY LEVEL USB MIXER
Manufacturer: DJ Tech
Product Name: X10
Price: $349 (MAP)
Release Date: Available Now
Key Feature: 2 stereo ins and outs over USB and 2 port USB hub
Downside: Small, unknown quality on the faders
- Ships with Image Line Deckadance
- Booth output and master output
- Curve adjustement for cross-fader and input fader
- Reversible faders
- Mix input
A GREAT ITCH CONTROLLER?
Product Name: NS6
Release Date: June 2011
Key Feature: 4 channel analogue mixer + software control
Downside: Only 1 stereo output via USB; lighter than the NS7 - but still very heavy (approx 15 pounds)
- Strip search with LED location indicator
- Large 6″ jog wheels are substantial, but not heavy
- Good looking and well spaced layout
- Too large for any standard bag, this controller is more portable but far larger than the S4
- Check out the complete stats at the Numark product page
NEW CANS IN TOWN
Product Name: Red Wave
Release Date: Febuary
Key Feature: Flexible top makes it easy to form to your head
Downside: We’re wondering what the audio quality is actually like in the club
- Special “breathable protein-leather” (anti-sweat) leather keeps your head dry and cool
- Detatchable cord
- Closed-cup, noise isolating design
IPAD DJING GOES HARDWARE
Manufacturer: iDJ Live
Product Name: Numark
Release Date: March
Key Feature: Can control a DJ application on an iPad, iPod, or iPhone
Downside: Ships with no software; single stereo output or dual mono for cueing.
- includes iPad stand
- will work with iOS Core midi aware applications
COMPACT MIXVIBES KIT
Product Name: U-Mix Control Pro
Price: $369 MAP
Release Date: January 30th, 2011
Key Feature: Robust build quality
- USB-powered MIDI controller
- 4-channel audio interface (2 RCA in/2 RCA out), microphone jack input, 2 headphone jack outputs
- touch-sensitive jog wheels
- includes CROSS DJ software
TRAKTOR PRO KEYSManufacturer: KB CoversProduct Name: Traktor Key Overlay
Release Date: Available NowKey Feature: Matches the default Traktor Pro keyboard shortcuts
Product Name: Golden Dicer / Launchpad / Rane 68
Price: Not for sale – see below
Release Date: Golden Tickets come with every Serato interface purchase
Key Feature: Chance to win gold versions of a Dicer, Launchpad, or Rane 68
Downside: There are only 25, 5 and 1 of each gold controller, respectively
- More info on a special Dicer contest on here on DJ TechTools in a few weeks!
MASTERING/MIXING GETS EASIER
Product Name: VRM Box
Release Date: Available soon
Key Feature: 108 DB range (MacBook output is about 20 db less); simulated multi-speaker sound
Downside: Only one output (headphone)
- allows you to listen to your mix in the headphones as if you are sitting in a studio
- VRM technology emulates all major studio speakers so you can “hear” your mix on various systems without bothering the neighbors or investing in a huge studio!
*1 BAD ASS MIXER
Manufacturer: Allen and Heath
Product Name: DB4
Release Date: Available now in the US
Key Feature: Customizable onboard FX system
Downside: Only 1 USB port
- Fully digital mixer
- Matte black aluminum looks amazing
- Same technology, sound quality and converters as I-live system
- Features Quad FX Core DSP engine, meaning each channel has it’s own effects unit
- EQ zone is flexible (can select as a filter or as one of two types of EQ)
The Top of the Rock BottomManufacturer: BehringerProduct Name: DJX-900
Price: $299 Retail
Release Date: Q2 2011Key Feature: spectacularly affordableDownside: USB in/out is limited to one stereo channel
- magnetic cross-fader (adjustable crossfader)
- 4-channel mixer, 1 mic input
- over USB interface, 1 stereo-in / 1 stereo-out
PIONEER GOES CONTROLLERIST
Product Name: DDJ-S1
Release Date: March
Key Feature: Sleek laptop integration, jogwheels are smooth and solid
Downside: No joy for Serato Scratch Live users; designed for 2-channel use
Key Feature: Effects design mirrors Traktor setup, 4-channel support
Downside: Missing features from S1 – strip search, VU meters.
Again, we’ll be posting more NAMM details, including in-depth “Best of NAMM” articles on our favorite new DJ gear. Keep track of when we post new articles by following us on our Twitter or liking DJTT on Facebook.
- Wire to the Ear’s Winter Namm 2011 Picks
Dave Smith Instruments Tempest. An all new analog drum machine. Awesome. If you listen carefully the demo goes from all the way from 606 to 909ish with some nice Simmons tom emulation and synth stabs. There are a lot of specs but does it matter? A lot of buttons and analog stuff. $2000. link
Avid Torq 2. I secretly always liked Torq better than Traktor. I don’t know why I’ve keep it a secret. It’s just more fun to use and I like the flat interface a lot. I’m not sure 4 decks is better than two. Can you say tiny things to see in a big display? The new Traq Morph feature “blends music tracks in exciting new ways by intelligently applying audio effects during crossfade.”. That could be cool right? Lastly, the software is decoupled from any hardware so you can use it stand alone or with any controller. $250 link
Akai Synthstation 49. I want my car dash to be an iPad. Just the same let’s make my keyboard interface and sound source and iPad too! It’s from Akai so a few MPC pads are included. This will win or loose depending on quality. link
Alesis Studiodock. Professional audio and MIDI I/O for your iPad. Oh… and composite video out. I’m getting very close to being able to play an entire live show off my iPad! link
Izotope Stutter Edit. I love plug-ins like this. Stutter, a Stutter Matrix, Buffer Tricks, Bit Reduction, Pan, Gate, Delay, Filters and more take normal audio and mess it up. $149 link
Arturia Spark. I’m going to tell you right now that this new drum machine from Arturia won’t sound as good as the DSI Tempest. Your going to pay a lot less though and it does have a super fun TR style roll by sequencer. All drum machines are awesome. All of them. $600. link
Rob Papen Punch. I sense a theme at this year’s Namm. I remember it used to be work making killer electronic drum sounds, loops and patterns. Boy to kids have the toys today! If your not an analog purist Dutch Papen’s new VST punch could be of use to you. Will it compete with products like uToniq? Time will tell. link
MORE UPDATES TO COME. I will be adding things I find worthy to this post as the weekend continues.
- Wild, Colorful Controllers for Guitarists and Ableton Live Users, from Starr Labs
Kids today. They just love their Ableton Live and their Rock Band and their alternative tunings and their Live triggers and touch controllers stuck to their far-out new boutique controllers and high-end MIDI guitars.
Starr Labs has a line of MIDI controllers for Rock Band gamers and musicians on a budget, real guitarists (that’ll be the pro MIDI guitarists, not the gaming ones), and a novel new controller designed especially for Ableton Live. We saw their wireless line earlier today, which interoperates with these; here’s them exploring control.
Gaming and serious musicianship have some surprising overlaps here. Look at the new Ztar, the ZS-XPApros, which is a MIDI guitar – complete with advanced features for hammer-ons, sensitivity, and programmable zones – that also can manipulate Ableton Live right out of the box. Triggers are pre-mapped to Live control layouts. Like the game Rock Band, there’s cheery color coding to match what’s on the screen to what’s on the instrument. Unlike the game Rock Band, you’re playing an actual guitar and controlling advanced music software at the same time. (Show that to the next Xbox gamer who thinks they know it all.)
If you don’t play the guitar, there’s also the airPad, a wireless controller for Ableton with pots, X/Y pad, nav control, and 4×4 light-up pads.
The Ztar Z6S-XPA and Z7S-XPA are advanced MIDI guitar controllers with “the industry’s only zero-latency, 6-string x 24-fret touch-sensitive keyed-fingerboard.” (I actually think that’s not hyperbolic; this is the only one I know of.)
Each string trigger has its own tuning, so you get what amounts to a combination between a sophisticated MIDI guitar and an alternative key layout. It’s a controller singularity, as if an alternate-tuning keyboard and a MIDI guitar had a love child.
6 Velocity sensitive, Zero latency String Triggers
4-Way programmable Joystick and programmable Mod Wheel
24 fret touch sensitive Ableton Live color-coded fingerboard
Ableton Live control layouts and set-up templates
Ribbon Controller with 2 touch pads (Z7S) / six touch pads (Z6S)
Unlimited String and Fingerboard Tunings
32 Mappable Zones
Programmable Chording System
Arpeggiator & Sequencer
Volume Pedal Port & Sustain Pedal Port
MIDI and USB i/o
The Z6S-XPApro adds six pots.
Scott Caligure has more on the updates to the Ztar.
“The Z6S-XPApro and Z7S-XPApro are newer/updated versions, with improved sensing, latest drivers, multiple sysex ‘layouts’ for various software not only Ableton Live, color coded fingerboard soon to be led-illuminated. We are currently working on the instrument to be a class-compliant device.”
I would call this more like an keyboardaraaytrixocontrollatar. I’m not sure the music this instrument plays has been invented yet. (Microtonal breakcore psychedelia?)
Ztar Rock Controller
The “Rock Controller” is marketed partly for use with the Rock Band 3 Pro Mode, but it looks to me to be just as practical as a MIDI instrument – maybe even a little more so for some users, as it’s a bit simplified in contrast to the Ztar. With USB and MIDI connections, it’s just as happy to be plugged into your computer as an Xbox or PS3, and Starr are quick to say it’s not a toy. With zero-latency string triggers, a four-way joystick, five-way knife switch, muting, and two pedal ports, it’s still out there controller-wise.
And like the others, it has actual strings (to make absolutely certain this isn’t just a toy). But it might be a more down-to-earth alternative if the Ztar is a little too alien or pricey for you. It’s also a huge leap up in quality and versatility from the (also useful) MIDI guitar controllers designed for the game.
airPad for Ableton Live
It might seem a bit out of place here, but the airPad is a more traditional Ableton Live controller. It does boast a novel control layout, and it’s wireless, working in the 2.4G ISM band.
It’s well worth a visit to the Starr Labs site; they make an array of controllers and guitar electronics, including some fascinating alternate keyboard arrays. Makers like this make me wish I’d cashed in on some Web startup boom with an inexplicably-successful idea so I could squander part of my fortune collecting these designs. And for someone, I’m sure, they’ll find a real musical place in performance.
- Virtual DJ Controllers: New Hardware for Serato, Traktor from Pioneer, Numark
What should digital DJing look like? It’s an open question. If you aren’t willing to contend with the (potentially-unreliable) combination of real vinyl control records with computers, the question becomes what DJing technique hardware should embody. Writing for CDM, Ambivalent of Minus Records was most enthusiastic about advanced hardware mixing in Allen & Heath’s Xone:DB4. Boutique manufacturer Faderfox focuses instead on advanced, four-deck effects and control, minus the big, record-mimicking platters.
The big players, though, are focused on a kitchen-sink approach that combines turntable controllers with integrating mix, effect, and transport controls with software. We saw Native Instruments’ Kontrol S4, integrated with their own Traktor software, in August. Now, Pioneer and Numark are showing up to the NAMM trade show with their own entries. Numark has one dedicated to Serato; Pioneer is actually releasing two devices, one for Serato and one for Traktor.
Here’s a snapshot view of that hardware. Interestingly, while other manufacturers (inexplicably, I think) try to time all their announcements for tomorrow, Pioneer and Numark seemed eager to get out ahead of the other announcements.
Pricing: US$1599 suggested retail
Software: Serato ITCH
Availability: March 2011
- Two-deck design (perhaps a demerit, but I think nonetheless likely to be popular, as four deck operation is far from a given with most DJs)
- Inputs for two mics, one aux (RCA)
- Balanced master outputs (2x XLR, 1x RCA)
- Plug-and-play USB connection
- Effect controls, deck controls
- Library navigation, including an LED that shows you position, search, and slip playback (and needle drop-style transport, as on the Numark)
Availability: February 2011
Specs are similar to the S1, but with:
- Four deck operation
- Less visual feedback: in exchange, you give up the LEDs with position, VUs. (Personally, I like the four decks, but more of this will break down to preference for Traktor versus Serato.)
Smartest marketing pitch: Pioneer touts that the design and audio fidelity both come from pro Pioneer DJ equipment. That could be a strong selling point, and a draw for people who have been loyal to Pioneer hardware who haven’t yet made the leap to the computer – even if the Numark is cheaper and does four channels of mixing.
Good analysis elsewhere: DJ Tech Tools has extensive practical analysis of both designs.
Pricing: €999/£799 (not sure on US$ price)
Software: Serato ITCH
- 4-channel DJ mixer with standalone operation
- 24-bit audio interface with balanced XLR output
- Touch-sensitive, illuminated wheels with 3600 ticks of resolution
- Effect controls, deck controls
- Library navigation
- USB connection, sends standard MIDI messages
Tasteless product branding award goes to… “Strip Search,” a handy feature (emulating needle drop onto tracks) that unfortunately recalls enhanced security at airports. Bad. Worse, on the NS6, it’s “enhanced strip search.”
Good analysis elsewhere: Skratchworx has some smart insights, including the likelihood of Traktor and Virtual DJ mappings and a competitive price. They actually give the nod to Numark here on price, build, and having two extra channels.
What about the jog wheels? And what about NI? Pioneer and Numark may both face stiff competition from Native Instruments. NI frequently emphasizes to me the quality of the wheels on their Traktor Kontrol S4, which use eddy current breaks so that as you rotate them faster, resistance increases, making the feel more natural for the control scheme. And speaking of NI, they have announcements coming this week, too.
What about space in a DJ booth? Even in some pretty high-end, spacious clubs, DJ booth real estate is at a premium. It’s hard to imagine comfortably pulling off what Numark has in their screenshot at top. Pioneer has designed their controllers in such a way that they fit over top of the keyboard on your computer. (See image below) Advantage: Pioneer.
Is this really the kind of DJ controller everyone wants? This is my big question. Integrating with DJ software in this way certainly looks practical. But I can’t help but wonder if these designs won’t change over time as DJing is no longer about turntables. That could make unique new touch interfaces or Ableton Live controllers or unusual assemblages of looping hardware something that differentiates DJs.
I think the Pioneer units are prettier. I’m sorry. I’m shallow.
What do you think? Let us know in comments.