Ever had the thought that jogwheels are a bit unnecessary when DJing with digital music? Or dreamt of a controller that replaced them with functions more suited to digital DJing? Looked at technogeeks with their custom controllers and wanted in on the action? If so, the new Novation Twitch DJ controller may be right up your street.
We’ve had a Novation Twitch for review for a week now. We’ve devoured the manual, tested the features, and played a real-life gig using it. So we’re in a great position to answer the question: After all the hype, is this diminutive little controller the way forward, or a brave failure? Let’s find out…
Since the advent of digital DJing, DJs have faced a bit of a dilemma. The truth is, digital music files are not like records – they’re not round, and they don’t spin. Yet that’s what DJs have always done – spin things that are round. It’s something that’s proved hard to get away from.
So, back close to the advent of digital, digital vinyl systems (DVS) appeared, to let DJs use “real” record decks to control digital files. To some it was great – the feel of vinyl with digital music! To others, it was the worst of both worlds – none of the simplicity of playing real vinyl, yet you still needed all the old equipment for it to work at all.
To some it was great – the feel of vinyl with digital music! To others, it was the worst of both worlds…
Then, dedicated controllers came along. Over time they got better and better until the performance of the best of them pretty much matched vinyl, with convincing spinbacks, nudging, cueing and scratching all possible from their tiny little platters.
Since then, in search of better “feel”, and also to try to escape the “toy” appearance of many of these devices, DJ controllers have slowly got bigger and heavier (witness the latest batch – the jumbo Pioneer DDJ-T1 (US$926 / £899 / 1,019) and Pioneer DDJ-S1 (US$1,158 / £929 / €1,268), the not-much-smaller Numark NS6 (US$949 / £799 / €905), the Reloop Jockey III (US$699 / £599 / €686), plus of course the daddy of them all, the humongous Numark NS7 (US$1,274 / £1,149 / €1,314)).
In getting bigger, these units have at least partially sacrificed the portability that, on paper, is one of digital DJing’s great promises.
The controllerism underground
Meanwhile, a parallel scene has developed. From DJs using just laptops and keyboard shortcuts, to those hacking Midi keyboards or dedicated buttons and pad banks, to Ableton Live DJs performing radical sets with performance tools, a whole underground of DJs have “ditched the jogwheels” to prioritise different aspects of digital DJing in their sets.
The first mass-market DJ controller to recognise this was the Traktor Kontrol S4 (US$899 / £714 / €874), which shrank the jogs and pushed them to the top of the unit, replacing them with banks of buttons for controlling hot cues, samples and the like, and coupling this hardware to new features in software like sample decks and a loop recorder.
A runaway success, the S4 has proved that if you offer the right innovations, the DJ market will respond positively.
However, the S4 didn’t make as bold a move as to drop the jogwheels entirely. Also, to cram in jogs plus all of those buttons, it was big – borderline for taking in hand luggage on a plane, for instance.
So now, enter the Novation Twitch. A small, lightweight DJing performance tool, the Twitch takes the controllerism ideal – that digital is not vinyl, and shouldn’t try to emulate it – and develops it a stage further than most controllers, by ditching the jogwheels entirely.
Why should real world DJs have to hack together self-mapped DJ systems just to use digital’s most exciting features easily? This question must have been at the forefront of Novation’s designers’ minds as they put together the spec for the Twitch.
As we’ll see, here’s a controller which takes some of the most important elements of controllerism, adds in the essential parts of traditional DJing, and puts it all in a DJ controller that looks like a serious performance tool without taking up half your DJ booth or needing a trolley to move it around. Let’s find out more…
First impressions and setting up
The Twitch is a small controller – about the size of a 15″ laptop. It is given some gravitas by being raised on four moulded “feet” – a bit like a mini-version of the way the Pioneer controllers are engineered, although in this case, the front two “feet” contain the mic and headphones jacks, and the back “feet” have the inputs/outputs, a couple of settings controls plus the Kensington lock hole.
Looks like a serious performance tool without taking up half your DJ booth…
Novation makes nice gear, and this is no exception – the body is thick black plastic, and the top plate is a single sheet of 1mm-thick brushed black metal. Buttons and knobs are variously rubber and plastic, and lit (sometimes multiple colours per button) as necessary. The overall impression is that it is as big as it needs to be but no bigger, and that it’s a serious bit of kit – a pro DJing tool or a performance instrument, not a shrunk, toy-like version of two-decks-and-a-mixer.
The channel faders are nice and loose, but the crossfader is maybe a little stiffer than some scratch DJs would like – but a jogwheel-free DJ controller is hardly going to be appealing to scratch DJs anyway!
Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, there’s no stiffness in the knobs – on the review model we have, the EQs and a few other knobs had been overeagerly pushed too hard onto their spindles in the factory, but pulling the plastic caps up just a fraction of a millimetre solved the problem in a matter of seconds.
The Twitch is designed to be used with Serato ITCH, which is famously simple to set up and get running – you just install the software, and plug the controller in. No configuration, no options to set. How it should be.
So – software installed, Twitch plugged in to computer (it’s USB powered so no need for external power), and a DJ set dragged into the library and analysed, we’re ready to look at the features.
Let’s look at the stuff you’ve seen before elsewhere first, moving on to the innovations when we’ve covered these areas.
The Twitch is designed to be used with Serato ITCH, which is famously simple to set up…
It is a two-deck device, so it has a two-channel mixer. Each channel has its fader, plus gain (“trim”), low, mid and high controls, and headphone monitoring. VUs are 16-bar stereo master, switching to cue when headphones cue is selected. The LEDs are all red, with no peak colour to show clipping, although the function is identical – you just avoid pushing it all the way as you would with any VU monitoring system.
To the left and right of the mixer are two decks, each a mirror image of the other. However, above each deck the controls differ. Above the left-hand deck are the effects and mic/aux controls, and above the right-hand deck are the library and output volume controls.
The mic/aux inputs
You’re not meant to plug extra decks or CD players into this. It does, however, have a single aux input, which could have various uses – for a backup music source such as an iPod, or as a live source input channel for a sampler or the output from another electronic performer’s system, for instance.
The microphone input is mixed internally with the aux, and they’re treated as one by the system – both the aux (round the back) and the microphone (at the front) have small gain rotaries to get the balance right if you’re using both.
Meanwhile, there’s a master level for this combined input, plus on/off and headphone monitoring switches.
A nice feature is that you can run this input through the software, thus making use of the onboard effects (there’s a channel fader for it within ITCH, complete with three-band EQ), or you can feed it directly through the unit – better if using as a backup.
Clearly the Twitch doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive mixer like some larger DJ controllers. These inputs are a nice compromise between delivering enough flexibility for the Twitch to be taken seriously as a pro device, and keeping the focus on what the unit’s intended use is – a digital performance system.
The master effects
There are actually three effects unit on board, but we’ll get on to the others a bit later. The single master effect unit has 12 effects to choose from – reverb, delay, LPF, HPF, flanger, phaser, crusher, echo, tremelo, repeater, reverser and braker.
The Twitch doesn’t pretend to be a comprehensive mixer like some larger DJ controllers…
Your chosen effect can be assigned to either deck, the aux/mic input, or across the master output. Effects are tied to a factor of the BPM, and of course this value is user-changeable. As well as the wet/dry mix, there are one and sometimes two extra parameters to control.
It’s pretty standard ITCH effects fare, which means that there is a big bar on the screen to show you the controls of the effect you’ve selected, right between the decks and the library sections.
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