Digital DJ Tips has been closed for the last week. In Europe, that is. The whole office debunked to Los Angeles to set up shop in an Anaheim hotel that hastily became press room, video room, studio and office for a whole week, as we brought you our daily coverage of NAMM 2012.
We're now back on our side of The Pond, and having had a transatlantic flight to think through all the stuff we saw, filmed, wrote about and played with on the NAMM floor, here are out top five things that we think every DJ needs to know about from NAMM 2012:
1. The One DJ Software
The more we think about it, the more we rate this new take on DJ software. The One keeps just enough of the usual way of working (you have waveforms, you control the decks using normal DJ controllers with jogwheels) to allow you to DJ the way you are used to, but adds in some exciting and brand new extras.
Within each waveform, you can instantly remix your tracks. You can take an eight-bar loop, copy and multiple paste it to later on in the track, and mix it into itself. You can then chop up other elements (a riff, a vocal line) and do the same. You can basically remix the track on the fly, in advance, and then treat your remix as if it were a single track. You can add effects and cue points. And best of all, you can save your instant "remixes" for use again.
It would be perfectly possible to take a whole DJ set and remix it in advance, and then when you turn up at your gig, just play your "remixes" instead of the original tunes.
Nowadays, because everyone has access to pretty much everything, it's the DJs who do something different with the same material who are going to stand out from the crowd, and The One makes it easier than any other software we've seen to do that in a natural and crucially, in a repeatable way. We begged for a beta but they want to get it 100% right before letting us test it - as soon as we can, we'll show you more, as it's easier to show than explain. But trust us - this is a big step forward.
Further coverage: The One DJ Software Officially Announced
2. Traktor Kontrol F1 and Traktor 2.5 Pro
Like Apple not being at CES, Native Instruments weren't at NAMM, but just like Apple, their influence was everywhere - and they chose to launch this just down the road at the same time.
It's Native's ability to release software and hardware simultaneously that gives it a big advantage over every other DJ tech company at present. It can incorporate features in its software that its hardware alone can control - and so it has done here.
So while Serato's The Bridge was the first to bring the Ableton Live concept into DJ software, allowing one computer running both Ableton Live and Serato Scratch Live to "play" a whole Ableton Live project on a Serato deck, clips and all, treating it as just another track, it is Native that has taken that concept, simplified it and incorporate it right into the heart of its DJ software, releasing a slimline controller (the Kontrol F1) for controlling it as well. You get four tracks and four sample slots in each of the two improved sample decks (now called "remix decks"), all colour coded. You can chop up tracks on the fly, or pre-prepare them.
Load one onto a deck, and not only can you use the Kontrol F1 to trigger the samples (much as I described for Ableton Live above) in order to "jam" with prearranged components, but you can also then treat the whole project as just another track on one of your Traktor decks - so you can use your normal transport controls to play, pause, cue, temp adjust, scratch and loop it, while mixing it with alongside your "normal" MP3s.
We're not sure how easy this will be to use or how many DJs will find creative uses for it, but it is definitely an advance on sample decks and we can't wait to try it out.
Further coverage: Kontrol F1 Hardware & Traktor Pro 2.5 Software Announced
3. Behringer Modular DJ controllers
DJ controllers and DJ booths often don't mix. Sure there are DJs getting away with it the world over, but at the end of the day, sometimes turning up and setting up a DJ controller when a DJ box already contains decks, CDJs and a mixer is less about creative expression, more about "this is the only thing I know how to use". Club and venues owners, often quite rightfully, are telling their DJs to use what's there, and if they can't, they'll find a DJ who can!
Hence the all-round love shown to the Traktor Kontrol X1. DJs can turn up, use the existing mixer and decks, adding their slimline X1 and a laptop (and sound card if necessary) to give them control over loops, effects and so on, and keep the manager happy while still DJing the way they want.
Often, DJs find they don't even have to use the club's decks, being quite happy to trigger pre-beatgridded music from the X1, using only the club's mixer alongside it. It's sleek, it's less disruptive it's professional, and it works. Modular often rules.
So Behringer's new modular controller series is timed right. Here is a slew of controllers to suit all DJs, and all DJing styles, all software, and all venues. Want a simple deck controller to add laptop music to a DJ booth where you usually use CDJs? The CMD-PL-1 has you covered. Looking to add effect and looping control to your digital vinyl setup? Try to CMS-DVS-1. Want to bring Ableton Live clip triggering into your standard workflow? The CXMD-LC-1 is for you. Want to add scene and effects control for Ableton? The CMD-DC-1 has your back. And finally, if you want to combine any or all of the above into a 100% digital controller set-up, there's a four-channel mixer, the CMD-MM-1, which can work alongside them. There was a palpable sense of unease among the personnel from some of the other companies nosing round the Behringer stand...
The best bit? These are all priced upwards of US$99, with nothing more than US$199. Add in the sound card of your choice, and you've got a completely modular, built-to-spec DJ system to suit your DJing style, venue and music.
Not only have these innovative controllers stripped DJing back to its components to allow pros to choose where they want to add extra control, but they've exposed how overpriced some other manufacturers' gear is. There was a palpable sense of unease among the personnel from some of the other companies nosing round the Behringer stand at NAMM 2012, and quite rightfully too: Behringer is onto a winner.
Further coverage: Behringer Is Back With 7 New DJ Controllers
4. Numark IDJ Pro iPad DJ Controller
Now let's say this right from the off: We don't think this controller is perfect. It feels cheap (especially those rotary volume controls). What are they going to do when the iPad 3 come out and is a different shape? The iPad 4? But nonetheless, Numark is the only company with a controller like this, which deserves credit. And what's more, with Algoriddim's djay software on board, you can be sure it's going to all work really slickly.
What the iPad gives you is a screen to rival that of any laptop, right there in the device. No need to have a separate laptop, no need to have to worry about mappings, and audio interface, and extra power supplies, and leads... it's all there, in the one unit. Just slot your iPad in and you've got the ultimate all-in-one DJ controller.
But it gets better. The software it uses (a supercharged version of Algoriddim's djay) is truly cloud compatible (note, cloud means synced to the cloud, not DJing from the internet, which would be too unreliable). You can run versions of the software on your iPhone and MacBook too. That means you can buy tunes anywhere, tag them anywhere, beatgrid and cuepoint them anywhere, and they just show up, ready to use, everywhere else. Download a tune on your iPhone having Shazam-ed it, add some cue points at home on your MacBook, and when you next plug your iPad into your Numark IDJ Pro, it's there, alongside the rest of your collection, tags and cuepoints intact. That's slick.
What's more, with a touchscreen right there in the unit, things like X/Y effect and multitouch gestures for other functions are easy to incorporate. Expect full use of this to have been made in the finished product (what we saw was just a mock up). Finally, this layout will allow Numark and Algoriddim to engineer out replication - the touchscreen will do what it's meant to (give extra control, allow easy library access), while the hardware takes care of jogs and mixer functions - no need to have these on the iPad software, because Algoriddim knows you've got them on your DJ unit.
For the party / semi-pro mobile / enthusiastic home DJ who doesn't want the fuss of a traditional digital set-up and is ready to embrace the cloud, this has a lot going for it.
Further coverage: Exclusive Video: Numark IDJ PRO DJ Controller For iPad
5. Keith McMillen QuNeo
We can't wait to review this one. It's an iPad-sized, practically unbreakable, thin controller with one lead out of it. It contains dozens of rubberised, multi-backlit controls: These are touch-sensitive and each control contains lots of sensors so depending upon where you touch it, it can trigger different Midi signals. Furthermore, each control has red, green and yellow LEDs for instant feedback of what you've touched.
As an object, it's gorgeous. It may be flat, but the pads and "sliders" are raised or lowered to make it tactile, and they feel lovely to use. It may be plastic, thin and cheap (US$199 or thereabouts), but it's professional and designed to last (think Launchpad but utterly shrunk. You're only a quarter of the way there.)
As a concept, it's mindblowing. Keith McMillen has pedigree in designing innovative musical objects, but this is its first DJ-oriented controller, designed to work with Ableton Live or Traktor (although it will be fine with any Midi DJ software). It comes with an overlay program that lets you map controls from your software to its functions, and when you're happy, you can click a button to "upload" the mapping to the unit. Then, you plug it in to your computer and it works straight away with the software you've mapped it for. Really slick.
We can see this one unit being used as a mixer, pad controller, pair of decks, effects controller and loop device, and anything else you want to map to whatever buttons you have left over, all in one.
The best bit? It looks amazing in use! The "channel faders" can be programmed to act as VU meters, flashing, green, yellow then red for peak. The pads can flash in sequence to the beats or give you feedback on how hard you've hit them. It will fascinate your crowd when they stare into your DJ box to see what you're doing, or you can hold it up and show them.
It may be pocket-sized, but it's going to make a big impact in the DJ box. It's truly original, and for that it deserves the success we think it's got coming.
The next 5...
Honourable mentions go out to:
Now that it's all over, what has excited you most from among the dozens of products we've reported on from NAMM this year? We'd love to hear your thoughts below.