Review: Reloop Jockey 3 Remix
The Reloop Jockey 3 Remix is that rarest of things nowadays: A new DJ controller for Traktor made by someone other than Native Instruments itself. In today's review, we'll look at the journey from Jockey 3 to Jockey 3 Remix, what this particular controller sets out to do differently to Native's own controllers like the Kontrol S2 and Kontrol S4, and how well the Jockey 3 Remix ultimately succeeds as a Traktor controller.
This unit is, hardware-wise, similar to the Reloop Jockey 3. A controller that itself only came out last year, the Jockey 3 came at a time when Traktor was changing, with Remix Decks suddenly all the rage, and all controllers - the Jockey 3 included - instantly looked out of date, not least because to fully control Traktor's Remix Decks, you need to use the Traktor Kontrol F1.
Maybe unsurprisingly, all went quiet on the third-party Traktor controller front, and the Jockey 3 Remix is the first major-brand controller released for Traktor since then. Or at least, it's the first one released with a version of Traktor actually in the box. That means it's possible for a beginner to buy this and without any further purchases, set up and start DJing with Traktor.
The version of Traktor the box is LE ("lite" or "limited" edition), and I'd strongly advise eventually upgrading to Traktor Pro - it's necessary for all the functions of the Jockey 3 to work properly. It doesn't make much sense buying a flagship Traktor controller and not using the corresponding best version of the software, so factor the (relatively low) price of a copy of Traktor Pro 2 in when working out what this set-up will cost you. If you do choose to use the supplied Traktor 2 LE, bear in mind that you'll be limited in the number of decks you can use, the effects control available to you and hot cue use.
So what's different about the Reloop Jockey 3? In a nutshell, it is the first real attempt by any major manufacturer to rethink the way hardware should use Traktor. The Novation Twitch did it for Serato followed by others, and there are boutique customisations out there of course (maybe the DJ Tech Tools firmware / mapping / rebadging of the Vestax VCI-400 being the best known of those), but nothing from a third party designed from the ground up to offer something a little different - until now.
The Jockey 3 does this by taking a bit of what the Kontrol S2 and indeed the Kontrol Z2 mixer do well (two channel mixer, but with optimisation to control two two track decks plus two channels of samples). It then adds a dose of extreme controller mapping, with a special control layer that turns pedestrian jogs, faders and buttons into performance controls for pre-set combinations of effects - "macro effects" if you will. Basically the controller tries to pack some pretty cool performance features in, that work "out of the box" (although you can remap them to your heart's content should you desire).
The way this effects layer and indeed the sample layer are controlled is designed for easy switching between them, and the presence of rotary master volume controls for the sample decks (that therefore won't always require you switch the line channel to their deck in order to control them) is what makes the unit similar to the Traktor Kontrol S2 or Z2; in that respect it's kind of a "2+2" channel controller. So - all good on paper. how is it in use?
Straight out of the rather stylish box, this controller looks and feels lovely. Compact but not cramped, it's heavy, being all-metal cased. In black and silver with flashes of blue, it sports two medium-sized, low-profile, weighted jogwheels that spin smoothly and have mechanical jog drag adjusters. The knobs and buttons are all rubberised and feel of high quality, and the replaceable crossfader is nice and loose.
The line faders feel great, although the pitch faders are rather short. Both the jogs and the faders are smaller / shorter than the Terminal Mix 2 and Terminal Mix 4 , for instance. There are old-school toggle switches for inputs above each of the two channels, and a big, stepped, weighted track selector knob dead centre, at the top. The four rotary encoders for FX etc at the top of each deck are ringed with 16 LEDs each.
The front of the unit has microphone (1/4" jack) and headphone sockets plus a few configuration controls including crossfader curve, and round the back are a pair of line/phono RCA-ins with ground terminal, master (jack balanced and RCA unbalanced) and booth outs, a few more configuration controls (including an LED dimmer pot), and the usual power on/off, power input and USB input sockets.
Overall, the impression is of a professional, portable, well-built DJ controller, that ought to last for a long time, and that contains all the essentials you need for straight-up DJing in a pro environment. The only thing against it in my mind is the weight: it's great that it's all metal, but truly, you wouldn't want to carry it too far in a backpack. It feels almost too heavy! Aluminium would have kept it sturdy, but made it a lot lighter.
Often with Macs, you don't need drivers, just installing the software itself, but in this case you need to install a Reloop driver for both Mac and PC. So, from the CD the new user will first install the driver (follow the instructions in the instruction booklet if you're on a PC; no such luck if you're on a Mac - you're on your own there), then install Traktor 2 LE.
I won't go on about installing Traktor and getting everything going too much, but it's usually a pain and it didn't disappoint this time. Two hours later I am ready to start putting this thing through its paces, but that's two hours I'll never get back, and I've been doing this stuff a long time.
Once you get past the buggy, mandatory Traktor "helper" software (the Native Instruments "Service Center"), you can then have a go with the software/hardware integration. Despite a wizard to make things easier, you'll still probably have to manually configure the audio routing, which was only actually possible for me after restarting the Traktor program (you couldn't select the right options first time).
This single step alone generates more "how do I do this?" emails to us here at Digital DJ Tips than any other technical problem, and we can only hope at some point Traktor's installation process becomes as easy as Serato's, which is as close to plug and play as we're ever likely to get on computer-based DJing systems.
So, set-up hurdles jumped, and we're ready to go! Load the first track and... Traktor won't load it because it's "missing, corrupted or DRM protected". Turns out installing Apple Quicktime and rebooting fixes this extra, final hurdle which is an issue with .m4a (AAC) files. Finally, finally we're at first base.
So first things first, most of the basic functions work fine here. More than fine, in fact; it's nicely laid out, the controls are all high quality, and my only real concerns that I had before testing it were the pitch fader and the jogwheels. I thought the relatively short pitch fader might not offer a fine level of adjustment, but actually, it's really good; 1/100th of a BPM is easy to achieve, and you can't ask for more than that. Not quite such good news with the jogwheels though; I've yet to come across any Traktor controller not made by Native Instruments that has 100% perfect jogwheel control of the software, and this one is no different.
Don't get me wrong; with the latency set low on a decently powered PC (which is what we tested it on), you can get very close to perfect, but there's still just a little bit of wooliness, a little bit of lag. You notice it most when stopping a track dead using the jog; the music takes a fraction of a second more to actually stop. It's like driving an SUV against a car with sports suspension; the sports car simply hogs the road that much better. Traktor is definitely in the SUV category when used with all non-Native Instruments controllers we've ever tested. Our Scratching for Controller DJs tutor Steve says it's perfectly possible to scratch on it and adapt to it, but it's something to bear in mind for the scratch pros who may be considering this.
Another niggle is the inability to get the VU meters to show anything other than the output level. They're useful for making sure you're not pushing a distorted signal out of the unit post-mix, but that's all, as you can't also use them to set the gains on individual tracks when cueing. What often happens when controllers have only one set of VUs is that when you press the headphones cue button for a channel that's out of the mix, the VUs switch to monitoring that channel instead, allowing you to quickly visually check the gain. I would have liked to have seen something similar implemented here. The good news, though, is that i spoke to Reloop about it and they promised to make this improvement in a forthcoming update, that will be downloadable from their website for all users.
So far then, it's a good controller for basic DJing. Individual channel filters are good to have, the EQs kill to nothing (they call them "intelligent kills", not sure what's intelligent about that...), sound quality is excellent, the toggle switches at the top of each channel to switch jogwheel control between four decks or two external sources are of high quality, and the main transport controls manage to be highly responsive and pleasingly textured, finished in rubber rather than plastic.
Backlighting across the unit is excellent, with brightness adjustable via a small control on the rear of the unit, that adjusts the "off" brightness, which makes sense in that it ensures the controls that aren't turned on are still visible to you in a dark booth. The microphone and two external inputs can be set to feed through software if you wish, using Traktor's third and fourth decks as "live decks", but also set to come through the Jockey 3 Remix as standard, standalone analogue sources.
In this instance, the two external sources can be controlled by the two channels of the unit, while the microphone goes straight through to master (it has its own small volume control). All work without a laptop attached, although obviously you need to leave the power on; in this set-up, the Jockey 3 is basically acting as a standalone mixer. That means it would be perfect for analogue DJs wanting to switch to Traktor but wanting also to keep their decks for playing vinyl on. (If you wanted to use it as a DVS, ie digital vinyl, controller, you'd still need an Audio 6 or Audio 10 Traktor box though.)
There are lots of useful extra controls for mixing. The four small buttons above the main four pads let you jump forwards and backwards through a track by 1, 4 or 16 beats depending on how you use them with "shift"; looping includes a loop shift function and is done well using encoders, shift functions and push-to-click; the FX encoders are exactly as you'd expect with a Traktor controller, (in this mode anyway...) but have four useful presets that you can quickly select and redefine as you wish. There are even a pair of old-school CDJ-style nudge buttons for the jogwheel-wary - or, as we'll see, for when you're using your jogwheels for more exciting things...
Roll, mash and sample modes
There are six little buttons top left and top right of the left and right jogs respectively. Two of these are for track scrubbing and engaging scratch mode. There's no nudge vs nudge/scratch choice here, by the way - disengaging the scratch button seems to turn the jogwheel off totally, while engaging it gives you scratch on top of the jog, nudge on the edge. Normally, there's a way of making the whole wheel a nudge-only control.
The other four buttons are for more interesting stuff. We'll cover Remix Modde below, and the other three here, the first of which is "Roll". Roll turns the four big pads into loop roll control pads; "1" loops a single beat, "2" half a beat, "3" a quarter and "4" an 1/8th. It works in the flux/slip style, so the track carries on playing underneath, ready to kick back in when you've finished. It's fast, intuitive and fun.
"Mash" meanwhile is like a slicer on some other controllers. It drops a marker when you activate it, and splits the next bar into four beats that can be individually triggered with the four pads. As far as I could work out, you're stuck with this length of affected area, and thus the length of the four "samples". When activated, the track plays as normal; as soon as you "play" the pads, it jumps back to the part of the track that pad corresponds to. It's good, but not as good as, say, the slicer mode on the Novation Twitch, which has far more options (and has been widely copied).
Both the above modes turn the pads purple to show you one of them is engaged. "Sample" mode, though, turns the pads blue whenever a sample is loaded into one of the slots, and also lights the buttons under the FX rotaries to indicate their function in this mode. (This use of lighting to indicate the buttons and functions available in the mode you're in is carried throughout the mapping; it's well thought out and is useful in a performance situation to keep you on track and suggest improvements to your mix on the fly.)
Anyway, sample mode basically offers decent control over the "sample decks" of Traktor (ie the first slot in each of the deck's four sample banks, as opposed to the full multi-sample control of the the "Remix Decks", which are still the sole preserve of the Traktor Kontrol F1). You can select, play, pause, mute, filter, etc, with controls over individual samples and the whole deck. There's a master volume per sample deck, so you don't have to engage the sample deck with the toggle switch at the top of its line channel if you don't want to to alter its overall level. If you do, though, you also get access to the EQ, line fader and - crucially - the jogwheel so you can scratch the deck (plus, you can then use the crossfader for those sample deck transformer scratches). This stuff has been shoehorned into non-NI Traktor controllers since the sample decks first appeared, but the Jockey 3 Remix maps it properly from the ground up.
This is the mode that the big fuss has been made about. There are two elements to what it offers. The first is the spreading out of FX, traditionally controlled by the four FX knobs top left and right, out to different areas of the controller. The second is making those new FX "macro FX" - or a number of effects tied together on one control. So you get a stutter effect by moving the pitch fader, that gets quicker the lower the fader is. It's great fun, and the thing to note is it's more than just a gater (as it gets faster it gets more extreme too). It's really expressive for things like acappellas and breaks, and works well. I found myself using it a lot.
By holding down the loop encoder for your desired deck, you get a "freeze" effect (where the track stops playing and you get an echo of the last beat). In slip-mode fashion, this cuts out when you take your hand off the push-down encoder, the track then playing on (you can adjust the length of the freeze with the other loop encoder) - nice for instant transitions.
Meanwhile, down on the mixer the line faders give you a crusher/distortion effect. Starting from the top (dry), it gets progressively more intense towards the bottom (wet), where there's some high pass filter to keep things scratchy rather than overpowering. Finally, there's a preset jogwheel effect chain, that's pre-determined - a mix of Traktor's LoFi, Delay and Filter92LO. It would be good if this could be switched for your choice of the four presets available when you're not in Remix mode.
So is all of this just gimmicky? Maybe to some, but the point is they're all there, they're all pre-mapped, they're all one button away at any one time, and they save having to go through the usual process of selecting an effect, selecting a deck, turning the effect on, modulating the effect, etc - just click and hit the knob, fader or jog and you've got a bit of extra something. Of course, there's absolutely nothing stopping you from getting your shirt sleeves rolled up and mapping your own favourite combos - the point is, that this layer has been put aside for this kind of stuff, and dedicated to fun! The concept is a good one, and it will be interesting to see if Reloop develops the idea further in future mappings, or if the user base comes up with its own.
No amount of stardust would rescue the Jockey 3 Remix were it a bad controller. Luckily, it isn't. It's a solid, professional, great sounding DJ controller that covers most of the basics excellently. Sure it's got its imperfections (better VU metering is coming, but unless they can improve the jogwheel mapping it will never be perfect for hardcore scratch diehards), but it's fun to DJ on and I think most Traktor DJs would take to it very well.
Past the basics, it implements samples well, albeit in the Sample Decks flavour, not full-blown Remix Decks (the latter still being proprietary to NI), but then again if you never bought into the Remix Decks thing lock, stock and barrel but would still like to take a step in this direction, this will do you fine. Roll mode is again a simple, well implemented performance mode that I suspect you'd find yourself using a lot - less so Mash mode, which I found a bit restrictive due to the inability to alter the length of the area coveredand lack of decent visual feedback on the waveform.
And Remix Mode - while not massively groundbreaking (after all, this stuff has been done since DJ Tech Tools's VCI-100 mappings years ago, and mapping effects to controls is hardly new anyway - it's kind of what mapping were invented to achieve, after all) is nonetheless well implemented here, with the distortion/filter combo and the gater on the line faders my particular favourites. I could see myself using those a lot - as well, in fact, as the "freeze" mode for getting out of one track and into others fast. Combine some of these effects with a few loops and acappellas and you'd soon be building up a nice little live remix show all of your own.
Against the competition? Compared to the Traktor Kontrol S2 and S4 it is solid metal for a start, although it lacks the loop recorder and extra channels of the S4. Compared to say the Denon DJ MC3000, it is less cramped, and implements advanced features better. The MC3000 would be a better mobile DJ controller, but this would have the edge for controllerists. And compared to the Novation Twitch, some of the loop and slice stuff isn't so good here, and the Twitch somehow feels overall a bit more fun for controllerism, but it's not as well made, and is limited to two decks (and, currently, to Serato ITCH if you want an excellent mapping, as the Traktor mappings are not the best for that controller). None of these except the Kontrol S4 and this can take two standalone external decks like the Jockey 3 Remix can.
Overall, if you're looking for a solid, dependable, professional, versatile controller that can handle external decks, work as a standalone mixer, exploit most of the power of Traktor, and have enough up its sleeve to keep you happy if and when you want to start introducing some "live remixing" into your sets, you should have the Jockey 3 Remix on your list. It's that rarest of things, nowadays: A Traktor controller not made by NI that's manages to pack some surprises.
This well built controller introduced a lot of fun in its Remix layer, and the mapping has lots of depth overall. Unless you edit the mapping, you're tied to the preset FX combos in Remix mode, and you'll need to upgrade Traktor LE to unlock full potential. Plus, it does need the promised VU meter upgrade. Overall, though, it's a winner.
- Jockey 3 Remix
- Manufactured by: : Reloop
- Price: $613
- Reviewed by:
• There are some Reloop training videos for the Jockey 3 here.
Do you like the look of the Jockey 3 Remix? What's your view on "macro FX" and the Remix Mode? Please share your thoughts in the comments.