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The feature below is Playlist house DJ Lisa Rocket's in-depth review of Numark's all-new iPod DJ mixer, the iDJ. She lives this stuff, so we have been looking forward to testing this mixer.
iPod nano review - Playlist Club's review of the iPod nano.
The HP Djammer - an exclusive interview with the HP team developing the next "must-have" digital music device.
iPod DJ advice - Playlist resident DJ Lisa Rocket offers her advice for iPod DJs - an essential read.
Subversive Sounds - Tamar Newton takes a look at beatmix and mash-up culture.
At first glance I thought there was nothing I could do with the iDJ that I couldn't do with my usual set-up of two iPods plugged into a house mixer - I was wrong!
After a few hours working with it I realized how useful it can be for any iPod DJ.
The iPods sit in built-in docks and are controlled by large blue neon-lit buttons and a scroll wheel that mimics the functions of the music player on both channels.
Each channel has a volume slider and there is a crossfader to move between the two. There’s also the usual treble, mid, bass and gain knobs for each channel, and a master gain for both. I have a few reservations about the longevity of the knobs and the fact that most of the unit is made in plastic, but the flipside of this is that it's a lot lighter and more portable than most mixers.
iPods sound better
I have also noticed a little more warmth to the sound that comes out of the pods using iDJ. There’s a reason for this: the sound doesn’t come out of the headphone connection, oh no - that wouldn’t be elegant enough. What iDJ does is suck the sounds out using the iPod’s Dock connectors, which makes for a better bandwidth of sound - so it’s richer, warmer and more defined.
Illuminate your music
In a nice touch, Numark has assumed you will be working as a mobile DJ in set-ups with a pair of decks where you want the iDJ to be. Basically, working on top of record decks that can't be moved. This happens to me a lot, so it’s thoughtful that Numark has put a hole on the bottom of the mixer that will fix it onto the spindle of a record deck - and stop the iDJ getting knocked over by curious clubbers! (There’s a Kensington security slot, too.)
When you are in that dark DJ booth with the mixer all linked-up to the PA, those large illuminated controls are perfect. You still have to set your backlight to 'always on', so you can see the iPod’s screen properly, but you don't need to conserve power as both music players are constantly charged in their docks when the mixer is switched on - so no more unexpected silences when the batteries drain down. And you get to see what you are doing.
The mighty cross-fade
For me, the very best feature is the fader start button. This keeps one ‘pod on pause when you have your next track selected, and automatically unpauses it as you move the crossfader across.
This feature can be disabled if you want, but it addresses the main problem I’ve had DJing with iPods (apart from the obvious beatmatching, or lack of it), which is ensuring smooth transitions between songs and mixing tracks together. Without the Numark, you have to unpause the pod as you are crossfading on the venue’s mixer, (leaving you needing 3 hands if you want to control volumes!) - and if you use an iPod you know the pause button doesn't always work instantly.
Most of the tunes I play start a bit into the song, because I doctored the ‘Start point’ in iTunes to make transitions between tracks better. Now I'm now going to have to go through my tunes and undoctor them all!
Mixing by ear? It’s all about “selection”
The iDJ can be used for basic fade in/out transitions, but with a little practice advanced users will be able to mix two tunes together beatmatching by ear. As the iDJ scroll wheel replicates the iPod’s, you can click the enter button on the unit and scroll to wherever you want in the track to create some clever drop-ins mid track, but the mixer is only as good as the pods are: I find that mine don't scroll through the tracks second-by-second but tend to skip through the track. If the pods were better at this the mixer would enable you to do very accurate drop-ins.
Having said that, I did achieve some basic mixing success within a few minutes of working with the iDJ, using good track intros and dropping them into a tune, then skipping back to the beginning and doing it again using the previous track button. You must beware, though, because if you press the previous track button more than once you'll end up back in the main Menu, which can be a bit frustrating. (More a user error than a mixer fault though!)
The one feature I had hoped to see in the iDJ was a pitch control for beatmatching tunes. It’s not there yet - but I have hopes that useful feature may appear in a pro unit in future.
The cue mix and cue gain knobs are on the front of the mixer next to the headphone jack, which takes a bit of getting used to as they are usually above the sliders on a standard mixer. The cue switch moves between both channels and has a mix function so you can hear them both (the master mix) at once. Most pro mixers I’ve used let you listen to the playing channel in one ear of the headphones and the cueing channel in the other. This one doesn’t.
Got to get yourself connected
Every DJ needs to know their ins and outs, and connectivity options on the mixer are: Two headphone sockets, one for a minijack (1/8 inch) and the other for phones with a pro sized jack (1/4inch). There’s a mic input (1/4 inch jack) on the front of the mixer and two knobs for gain and tone next to it. There’s two USB connections (USB 1.0 and 2.0) to link to a laptop or other so-equipped gadget, but we didn't test whether you can use the computer to add samples to the mix.
You can also phono/line-in other devices, including record and CD decks, MP3 players, or tape players and use it as a 'normal' mixer too. It would have been nice to see four channels on the mixer to have multiple inputs running at once for more scope to your potential mix. But you can connect up to two additional inputs and flick between them, though most pro mixers I’ve used carry four working channels.
Numark - let me keep it, PLEASE
Numark must have guessed the iPod video was coming out as there is an S-video output to connect the unit to a TV, monitor or projector. This function only works with the iPod photo and (we assume) the new iPod video.
Finally, for mixtape fans, the iDJ hosts a stereo record out so that you can record your mixes to a CD burner, tape or a computer. I found this very handy and have just made my first mix!
Since we got hold of the iDJ I have spent days entertaining our neighbours with music mixes into the wee small hours. We’re taking it to a club I DJ at tonight to give it a proper test in a live environment, but I’m already loving this machine. Hey, Numark - can I keep it? Please?
The big test!
Any worries I had about changing my DJ set-up just to test the Numark iDJ went out the window as soon as i plugged it in. I had to connect the iDJ into one channel of the desk i usually use, and had been a little worried about loss of sound quality due to the sound having to go through an extra mixer.
My iPod set-up with two pods into the desk, using minijack to stereo digital leads doesn't always get a great sound due to the mixer being a typical 'house' mixer (old and a bit knackered) and the venue having a sound limiter.
Pump up the Jam...
The sound output of iPods is a lot quieter than vinyl or CD decks and working in a venue that doesn't understand this means that they are reluctant to turn up the amplifier beyond a certain point for fear of the limiter kicking into action. I have previously had to really push the desk to get as much volume out of it as possible.
Numark have obviously thought about the low output from the headphone socket and that's why the sound is taken through the dock. Having never heard a 'docked' pod going through a PA I can't really compare the sound handling capabilities of the mixer for that kind of set up, but I guess they've got some sort of booster tucked away in there, which is delivering the added power.
I didn't have to push the Numark in the way I have to with the existing venue desk, in fact the the sliders hardly went over half all night, it was louder and I still received the best sound I've ever had in the venue.
It's logical, Captain!
I was really impresses with the warmth of tone and sound quality the Numark iDJ gave me in a live environment. It really helped to get the party going. Interested clubbers were peering over the top of the DJ booth asking questions and making comments of 'Beam me up Scotty' all night!
So that's it then! The Numark iDJ is much easier to use than a traditional iPod DJ set-up, it delivers better sound handling capabilities, looks like it's come off the USS Enterprise, allows me to mix and record sets.... and I for one definitely want one now.
Our friends at German website, iPod Fun, have released a short video clip of the iDJ in action.
please explore our site.