Review: Gemini FirstMix Pro / Cross DJ LE 2
The Gemini FirstMix Pro has been around for a little while, but it’s arguably just come of age. Because for the new lower street price of just US$129, you get a DJ controller with all the essentials on it, plus decent DJ software – on paper, amazing value. That’s a “proper” DJ controller (ie with decent-sized jogwheels, a sound card for your headphones and master output), and software that has everything you need to get going on it, including the ability to record your sets.
Choose the Gemini FirstMix Pro instead of the Numark Mixtrack Pro (the previous lowest-priced DJ controller we’ve been able recommend), and you’d have enough left over to buy a decent pair of headphones (or copy of our How To Digital DJ Fast video training) as well! So in theory, there’s never been a cheaper way to get going in digital DJing. That is, of course, if we think the FirstMix Pro is a good buy. Let’s find out in our full Gemini FirstMix pro review and video…
Inside the box is the controller, plus a bag containing a program CD, a serial number on a card, and a USB cable to connect the unit to your computer. You’ll need your own audio cable, as there isn’t one included. The unit itself is compact and made of two tone black / silver plastic, and it has a pleasing weight to it. The jogwheels are its best feature, being substantial, weighted and closer to CDJ jogwheels than most controllers out there, at any price.
The faders, on the other hand, are all shorter than ideal, apart from the crossfader, which is actually longer than most scratch DJs would ideally like. And while the hard plastic backlit buttons are reasonably spread out, the knobs and encoders (of which some are rubberised) feel cramped due to the unit’s overall pretty small size. The front of the FirstMix Pro has a 1/4″ microphone jack socket, an 1/8″ headphones socket, and two small, stiff volume controls for mic and headphones respectively. Meanwhile, round the back are a USB socket and 2 x RCA outputs for the master out.
For the first time ever in one of our reviews, we set this up on a Windows PC (after all, I suggest most users will be using a Windows laptop at this price point). Now Windows PCs are generally harder to set up DJ gear on than Macs, due to needing audio drivers to work with DJ sound cards, but this had it all done in four clicks including driver installation. The hardware wasn’t recognised on first plugging in, but on unplugging and plugging in again it was. This was a recurring problem, but it’s not limited to this controller – it’s common from my experience, but luckily is often solved by doing the above.
The next problem was that none of the controls on the controller moved any of the controls on the screen. A quick quit then restart of the software sorted that out – but this is not the most intuitive of starts. (I have to say, this kind of thing is again very common – overall, as far as set-up procedures go this one was actually relatively straightforward). Anyway, the end result was that despite a couple of little glitches, we were up and running in just a few minutes.
In use – the software
DJ controllers are only ever as good as the software they control, and the provided software here is MixVibes CrossDJ LE, which is a cut-down version of the company’s paid-for software. It’s two-deck (but with two sample decks as well), and is pretty well featured – certainly it is far closer to the “full” version than, say, Serato DJ Intro is to Serato DJ.
The biggest plus point is made clear right there in the middle of the FirstMix Pro – a big “Record” button. Being able to record your sets from software is a really important part of DJing, and too many “LE” (ie free) software versions don’t let you do this. In fact, the only big limitation of the software is that you need the FirstMix Pro plugged in to use it. That means if you ever change your controller, and want to keep using it, you’ll have to buy the full version of the software. It also means you can’t use it just on your laptop, for those times you want to practise away from your controller.
The library integration is good, with iTunes playlists easily accessible, and a file browser too for playing straight from hard drive. MixVibes wants to import your music into its own “collection” when you analyse and play it, which is OK and pretty standard with DJ software, but I’ve always found that overly complicated, so I just let it get on with whatever it wanted to do in the background, and played out of my iTunes lists. Point is, the choice is yours.
There’s a handy keyboard shortcut (F7) for making the library view dominate the screen, and down the right of the library is a preview option; by selecting a tune with the “browse” encoder and then pressing it, the tune can be previewed without loading in onto one of the decks. This was somewhat limited in our tests, though, as I couldn’t work out how to get the previewed track to come through my headphones!
The software has two big, clear Traktor-style decks, although in this case they are coloured yellow (left) and red (right). It has a switchable upper section with parallel waveforms, something Traktor doesn’t have. Like Traktor and Serato, many of the other functions are modular; you can switch an extensive but pretty standard sampler in/out (it gets two extra channels, C & D along with faders that you need to use the mouse to operate), and you can also show/hide an FX strip with two effects engines, containing a generous 14 effects, including all the essentials.
Of particular note in the software are the beatgridding (best in the business, even better than Serato’s elastic beatgridding, and streets ahead of Traktor), the clever keylock mode (it can “gracefully fail” when you’re pushing it too far), and the intelligent sync mode, that respects bars as well as beats and has a decent choice of snap and quantise options. With eight hot cues and eight sample slots per side, a decent amount of configuration options (including French, Dutch, Spanish and Italian languages), the ability to record in four formats (although MP3 isn’t one of them), and crossfader curve adjust to facilitate scratching, CrossDJ LE holds its own against many paid-for DJ software packages. As bundled software, it’s excellent.
No complaints, and a good move for Gemini to get this in the box; presumably the licence was cheaper than one of the better known packages, thus contributing to the low price point.
In use – hardware
The unit sits steadily on a surface thanks to its wide rubber feet, and is generally easy enough to use. Loading tracks is simple with the rotary encoder and the use of “deck A” or “deck B” buttons to choose a deck, and the “sync”, “cue” and “play” buttons are responsive and clear in use due to their hard plastic material, firm “click” and backlighting.
The jogwheels work well and feel great, but they do have a bit of non-standard behaviour. When in “Scratch” or “Vinyl” mode, this type of jogwheel usually has a dual purpose; touching the metal top part is the vinyl behaviour, but manipulating the rubberised outside part “nudges” the playing tune.
With this controller, though, the whole wheel does what it’s set to. Set to nudge, and turning the wheel anti-clockwise slows the tune down, and clockwise speeds it up. In “Scratch” mode, the metal part scratches, but the rubber rim does nothing at all. This is an opportunity missed, and although you can do rudimentary nudging when in “Scratch” mode using the “-” and “+” buttons above the pitch controls, it’s not ideal. (Gemini has told us this shouldn’t happen; however, we can only test what’s in front of us.) Having said that, the jogwheel mapping to the software is excellent, and although there’s a tiny delay between touching the top of the jogwheel and getting a response from the software, the jogs would be fine for beginner to intermediate scratching. Indeed, because of their weighting and vaguely CDJ-like feel, they’re better than many.
The rest of the controls work well, within the confines of a small controller. The pitch faders are good to about 1/10th of a BPM (or slightly better when set at 4%), which is OK and you wouldn’t really expect any more from faders so short. Hardware control of FX is limited to select, on/off and amount, but you can optionally switch in a parameter control from the software, to be controlled with the mouse. There are both beatmatched and manual looping available, although no loop shift function. There are a generous six of the eight software cue points per side available from the unit, cues 4, 5 and 6 being accessed using the shift button; to delete cues, however, you need to revert to the mouse.
The mixer rotaries feel lightweight despite being rubberised, and are cramped, but they do their job, and it’s nice to see real gain controls (there are no VUs on the unit, rather they appear in the mixer on the software). The three-band EQ doesn’t quite cut to kill, which is a shame, but it does cut very low nonetheless. There is a one-knob filter for each channel that sadly doesn’t appear in the hardware controls at all, but you can always leave the FX units set to one of the filters and use that rotary instead. Not perfect, but better than nothing. There is no hardware control of the sample decks at all.
The unit sounds perfectly decent for the price, the effects are pretty good, and the headphones volume was OK for a USB controller; if you’re using it in a very loud environment, though, definitely make sure you’re using decent closed-back headphones with it. Output level was again fine from the RCAs, certainly comparable to similar units at this price point. The microphone doesn’t feed anywhere near the software, it simply going to the master outputs, so that’s pretty rudimentary (but again, usual at this price point). That means no feeding the mic through a spare software channel, adding FX to it etc.
Taken together, the FirstMix Pro with CrossDJ LE is great value for the price. The controller’s only big flaw is the lack of true dual-action mode on the jogwheels, but it just necessitates a change in the workflow if you want to use it for scratching, and it’s not a deal-breaker (note again: Gemini says this is a one-off thing, but buyer beware). Apart from that, it’s pretty good; it’s got many of the strengths and weaknesses of any controller at this price point.
Weaknesses? Lack of overall controls means there’s much on the software the unit doesn’t even attempt to control; size of some controls means fine degrees of adjustment aren’t possible, something particularly noticeable with the pitch faders; and the overall built-to-budget feel means it won’t stand up to a hammering. Oh and input / output options are stripped back to the basics.
Strengths? The jogwheels, notwithstanding what I said above, are excellent – much better than you have a right to deserve for the money – and being mapped nearly flawlessly to the software also means you can genuinely scratch a little on the thing. That’s amazing, really, for the money. The software is very good, and there are lots of features on it to keep you happy as you get past first base and want to learn a few more tricks. (Around this price point you often find much poorer bundled software options, and even Serato DJ Intro, which is very good, is far more limited than this.)
Overall, the story here is value. It is perfectly possible to learn to DJ on this system, and to reach the stage where you’re actually playing out at parties etc, and putting in performances indistinguishable from those done with gear that costs multiple times more. For US$129, that makes this package exceptional value. Sure, you may want to upgrade the software in order to start adding extra or better hardware in the end.
But if you’re just starting out and you don’t really know what you want, the Gemini FirstMix Pro would be a smart move, because even if you decide DJing isn’t for you, you won’t have wasted much. And if you do decide to get serious? As I say, this’ll do you way past starting to play outside of your bedroom, and even if you upgrade, I suspect you may just want to keep your FirstMix as a backup or second controller.
No-frills, cheap-built controller. Nonetheless it has good-feeling jogwheels, great free software and everything you need to learn the basics of DJing at a bargain price. A good way to see if DJing is for you without spending a lot of money - just don't expect to play in pro venues with it.
- FirstMix Pro DJ Controller
- From: Gemini
- Price: $129
- Reviewed by:
Do you own the FirstMix Pro? Would you consider this as your first DJ controller? Please share your thoughts in the comments.