Numark iDJ Pro review: Ever since the iPad first appeared, tech-savvy DJs and musicians have looked for ways to use it in their performances. But there’s always been an awkward question as to exactly how it should be used – as a screen for a piece of hardware? As a fully contained DJ surface? As a third “deck” or sample bank?
Truth is you can use it in all of these ways, but Numark is the first company to come up with a DJ product where the iPad actually slots right there into the unit. While the iPad gives you a gorgeous interactive screen with innovative control over certain functions, the iDJ Pro simultaneously acts as a secure iPad stand and a set of hardware controls for your DJ software. In that way, the Numark iDJ Pro is quite unlike any other DJ controller out there.
The Numark iDJ Pro is quite unlike any other DJ controller out there.
Since then, Numark has worked hard with the software provider Algoriddim (this unit works best with Algoriddim’s djay for iPad app, for which it has a special version – more later) to refine and improve the iDJ Pro, and the good news is that the final production unit has now arrived and is shipping.
I’ve spent quite some time in solitary confinement with my iPad and one of the first units out of the factory – and I have to say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it! Here’s my full Digital DJ Tips review and video demo…
The iDJ Pro shares the same design bloodline as other more expensive DJ products like the Numark Mixdeck Quad or the Numark NS6. The touch-sensitive jog wheels are similar to those on other recent Numark controllers (albeit without any flashing LEDs), so their generous size and response makes scratching a breeze.
The curved edges immediately make the unit feel feel friendly, while the brushed metal surface gives a quality feel to the build, although overall the quality is “good consumer” rather than “professional”. The colour scheme of ice blue and fresh green LEDs give the iDJ Pro a visually futuristic style.
Having rotary volume controls instead of faders for each deck will no doubt have some experienced DJs spluttering, as most mixers and controllers feature volume slider controls positioned close together for a reason (so you can fade down both tracks with one hand). Admittedly, I was taken aback too at first – but I have to admit that after seeing the green LEDs light up as you turn the dials it was hard not to smile and picture yourself commanding a spaceship!
Inputs, outputs and fittings
The iDJ Pro has a pair of balanced XLR outputs as well as stereo RCA output connectors at the rear of the unit. A Kensington security lock connector is also present, so you could lock the iDJ Pro to the booth ensuring that no-one reaches over during the night and walks off with it. I guess it wouldn’t stop them whipping your iPad out though…
If you’re using an iPad 2 or third generation iPad then some velcro adapters ensure for a tight, snug fit.
The rear of the unit features a snap-shut hinged section which allows the iPad to be slotted (gently) into the central part of the iDJ Pro. The iPad is placed into the unit with the “Home” button furthest away from you (at the top); this is so the iPad can be hooked into the unit via the short 30-pin connector cable. When the hinged section is shut, the 30pin connector cable is hidden inside the unit.
If you’re using an iPad 2 or third generation iPad then some Velcro adapters ensure for a tight, snug fit into the iDJ Pro. I was initially worried about ventilation, however Numark has designed the unit to ensure sufficient circulation around the iPad during use.
Apple often tinkers with dimensions and specifications between the regular versions of its hardware; for example, it’s rumoured that the company will be phasing out the 30-pin connector. However Numark assures us that should that happen, adapters will be available.
The different fitting options and “upside down” arrangement plus the promised availability of cable adaptors should therefore mean that forthcoming iPad models will fit into the unit and be connected up without issue. Of course it’s always going to be a bit of a question mark when new hardware from one manufacturer is incorporated into older hardware from another, but it’s good to see that Numark has at least thought about this and done all it can to future-proof the unit.
The front panel provides a microphone input with simple gain and tone control alongside stereo auxiliary inputs (also with a gain control). The auxiliary input could be used for adding a further sound source (like a drum machine or sampler) into the mix; however without an EQ or crossfader assign option here it would maybe too risky for some. I would be inclined to use it as a means for a quick and effortless DJ switchover.
Firmware updates will be delivered to the unit via the docked iPad…
There are two different-sized headphone sockets with a master/cue mix and volume control. It’s worth noting here that you do not need a stereo splitter cable for use with the iDJ Pro; all audio routing is all handled within the unit. While both headphones and master outputs are technically currently in mono due to a limitation of iOS5, it is worth remembering that iOS6 (expected on September 21) could be bringing stereo cueing and stereo master outputs using multiroute audio.
A clever feature of the iDJ Pro is that firmware updates will be delivered to the unit via the docked iPad, either through the djay app or possibly a dedicated app from Numark.
So should this happen, Numark can remotely update your unit for you in a hassle-free way to take advantage of this and any other iOS developments.
All of the buttons, dials, sliders and both jog wheels on the surface of the iDJ Pro are sending Midi messages to the iPad via the 30-pin connector cable. The cable also sends audio back to the iDJ Pro, and charges the iPad at the same time – no worrying about battery life during a gig!
Because the controls are sending Midi messages it means that the iDJ Pro could be used by other DJ apps; in fact, we understand the makers of some have already approached Numark with this in mind. The main consideration for the app developers would be to ensure a useful portrait interface design of their software (most DJ software runs best in landscape mode) and that their iDJ Pro versions make best use of the controls available.
As it stands though, Numark has developed the iDJ Pro in close partnership with Algoriddim and in particular that company’s djay software, to ensure the iDJ Pro is paired neatly to the functionality offered in the djay app. In order for the iDJ Pro unit to excel, the app taking centrestage needs to make the best use of available space, which is why Algoriddim has redesigned its DJ interface into a portrait view (it flips automatically). However, this is much more than just a simple orientation adjustment.
In order to best spread functions out across the touchscreen window and the hardware, Algoriddim has altered what is visible on the screen:
The pop-up window that’s used to access features like loops, cues, FX and EQ that exists in “standard” versions of the software has been removed. EQing is taken care of via the high, mid and low rotary controls at the top of the iDJ Pro, so no need to duplicate effort on the iPad view either. And the cue functionality (main cue plus three additional hot cues) is all handled via the cue buttons at the lower deck part of the iDJ Pro.
So what is the screen used for? Well, the top of the screen shows waveforms (not parallel, though) and track playback detail, the “note” icon next to the BPM display being how you’ll trigger the keylock function. Underneath this are three buttons for each deck (as well as the Settings button):
- FX – There is a drop-down list showing five effects that you can choose from. The chosen effect will be used when you press the “FX” button on the iDJ Pro (situated alongside the loop controls). With the button pressed the effect will be continuous until the button is pressed for a second time. During this period you can adjust a parameter of the effect with the rotary dial above the FX button
- Loop – This button shows the current loop length which can be adjusted via the loop buttons on the iDJ Pro
- Waveform – Pressing this button will display a permanent zoomed in view of the waveform during playback. This is something that has been requested as a feature on the djay app for some time now, so good to see it here
The centre of the screen is dedicated to the deck view with a swipe gain control in the middle. I found it tricky to adjust the gain with any great reliance or accuracy, mainly because the spot you need to press is so small and seemed to be slow to respond to movement.
The lower section of the screen is specifically for FX, whether it’s an X-Y pad or one of the six instant FX buttons. The redesigned interface means some of these controls (such as the FX pads and buttons) are larger and much more useable than on standard versions of the software.
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