Review: Gemini G4V DJ Controller
Full Gemini G4V review: The Gemini G4V and G2V are the latest brace of digital DJ controllers from this long-established company. Certainly on the face of it, these two controllers appear to be Gemini’s best efforts to date by quite a long way. Coming in solid metal cases, with a modern layout and lots of pro features, the G4V (reviewed here) and the G2V fill a hole in Gemini’s product range, appear to offer decent quality for semi-professional or professional use, but without the price premium often commanded by such gear. Question is, has Gemini pulled the feat off? Let’s find out.
First impressions are good. The four-channel G4V unit is in sober dark grey painted metal, with lots of screws indicating a solid construction, and black paint behind the mixer section to break the facia up nicely. Pull off one of the knob caps and you can see that everything is bolted to the casing, which is the superior way of attaching controls, because it puts less strain on the circuit board within.
It’s quite a large controller (about an inch wider than the Reloop Terminal Mix 4, a device it shares a lot in common with, features-wise), and you’d struggle to carry it very far in a bag, due to its weight as much as anything else. Having said that, it would be nowhere near as difficult to transport as the Pioneer DDJ-SX or of course the humungous Numark NS7II.
The tempo faders are long throw which is promising for easy manual beatmatching, and the pads, while being simply on/off switches rather than velocity sensitive, nonetheless feel responsive, with a subtle click on pressing. The other buttons are hard and have a louder, hollower click; they’re not the best feeling buttons out there, but they’re not too bad.
The Gemini G4V has large, weighted jogwheels with the same style of mechanical switched top plates that the Traktor Kontrol S4 has, although these jogs are bigger, shallower and heavier. They have a lot of inertia too, unlike the Traktor Kontrol S4 or the DDJ-SX, both of whose jogwheels stop moving practically the second you take your hand off of them.
My only real criticism on initially inspecting the unit is that the four feet on the underside are simply stuck on with glue; I managed to easily knock one of them off when putting the unit onto our testing bench. It’s no big deal as you can buy packets of dozens of these feet for next to nothing in any hardware store, but it lets it down. Screw-on feet would have been far better.
Setting up is a case of registering it online, installing Virtual DJ LE (the supplied software) from the included CD, plugging in (there’s a supplied power supply but its use is optional), and opening the software… in theory, at least. Things are rarely this simple in practice…
It’s not actually necessary to register (step one of the above), however, if you’re using a MacBook Air or other computer without a CD drive, you’ll definitely want to take advantage of the offered Virtual DJ LE download instead of using the CD. Unfortunately, the URL didn’t work for me, taking me to an empty page on Gemini’s website. (UPDATE: Gemini has apparently fixed this now.)
Once I had the software installed, though, and the serial number entered, things got better. Gemini speak ominously about setting sample rate and bit depth, and getting Midi and audio settings right, but – on a Mac, at least – I plugged the controller in, opened the software, and everything just worked. Although Gemini says this is a “plug and play” device, no additional software necessary, I did notice PC audio drivers on the CD, so I am guessing some users may need these too.
Because of the nice size and the overall good quality of the controls, I found this a fun DJ controller to use. The jogwheels especially are excellent: I loved their weight, and the mechanical action of the top plate (rather than the more usual capacitive functioning) feels good. All the knobs are sure and smooth, the line faders have just the right tension. The crossfader – while certainly not perfect – is reasonably loose, if a little scratchy.
The eight pads for each deck are not RGB, or even two colour – they’re just blue when lit. This is a shame, as having each of their four functions colour coded would have made it easier to see at a glance which you have selected. However, they’re brightly lit at least, and the functionality is spot on, which counts for a lot. So, to those pad functions. Firstly, the hot cues are easy to use, and as with most controllers, holding down “shift” when pressing one deletes it. Eight per deck is generous. Next, auto loop sets the eight pads up to loop from 1/8 of a beat up to 16 beats. (But, no 32 beats, and no way of halving/doubling loop length to get a 32-beat – eight bar – loop either. That’s a shame in my book.)
Next, the sample option lets you trigger the first eight samples in Virtual DJ’s sample bank, and apparently you can use select sample banks too to multiply this up, though I couldn’t see how. And finally, loop roll uses the same loop lengths as auto Loop, but is momentary (ie it only works when you’re holding a pad down), and it also exhibits “slip mode” behaviour, with the track continuing to play underneath, ready to kick in again when your finger leaves the button. It’s really nicely implemented and fun to use.
There actually is a bona fide slip mode too (it’s called “flux” by Traktor, and it’s the same thing – the track “playing on” underneath your controllerism efforts, ready to play on when you’re done messing with it. Again, great to see that included. Having big chunky filter knobs per channel is a good thing, too, although the actual sound quality of the filters is not great. They’re software filters and it’s Virtual DJ’s limitation, not the controller’s. It would have been good if holding “shift” and turning the filter knobs could have controlled Virtual DJ’s “key” knob – as it is, if you want to use that function you have to use the mouse pointer.
One good thing is that the four crossfader select buttons, perilously close to the crossfader for those who like to attempt heroic scratch routines, actually require “shift” to be held down in order to work: A wise move by the mapping designers.
I liked the metering – the channels each have their own 5-bar VU so you can visually trim the gains to balance tracks before including them in the mix. There’s a master VU as well to check your mix isn’t pushing into the red. Too few controllers, including some from names that really should know better, have partial or non-existent metering; not so the Gemini G4V.
Other functions that I liked? Loop Move is on its own knob, which is nice. The long-throw tempo controls are pretty accurate (they’re not hi-res though). Both FX parameters have their own knobs, although Virtual DJ’s inbuilt effects are poor. I enjoyed have CUE and CUP buttons, a function only slightly let down by the fact that the transport buttons overall could have been higher quality – for such important controls I found them a little small and hard.
Like the aforementioned Reloop Terminal Mix 4, you can’t feed the single Aux input through any of the channels, nor feed the mic into software either. Instead, these inputs have their own volume controls on the front and that’s it, so no EQing them, for instance. For occasional voice use and for a back-up “thru” in case of laptop failure these external inputs are fine, but if you’re looking for proper standalone mixer capability, or the ability to add a couple of record decks or CDJs, or a decent EQed mic channel for those long wedding speeches, the G4V falls short.
The unit fares better on the output side, though, with properly balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA outputs for the master out, and a separate booth output (RCAs). This could equally be used as a record output, letting you set a separate recording level than the volume in your studio or venue, should a booth output not be required.
Speaking of recording, Virtual DJ LE as provided can record, which is always good to see in LE software (“LE” means “Lite Edition”, by the way), and is often not the case (stand up, Serato and Traktor). But there are limitations, such as no way to adjust the jogwheel sensitivity in software as you can with the “Pro” version, no way to adjust the crossfader curve (again, possible in the pro version), and no way to add FX plugins to replace Virtual DJ’s sub-par selection. If you get serious and decide you like Virtual DJ (and many DJs do), you’ll want to look to buying the upgrade. It’s not cheap, though.
Alternatively, you can use this controller with other DJ software such as Traktor, although there don’t appear to be any mappings available officially for this. Gemini is missing a trick here; get a decent Traktor mapping done with half-decent jogwheel control (always the sticking point with non-Native Instruments Traktor-mapped controllers), and get it prominently displayed on the website, and the G4V could win a lot of fans from people who don’t want to use it with Virtual DJ. (Of course, no Serato mapping would be possible due to that software’s closed architecture.) (UPDATE: Gemini says this is coming.)
Finally, I’ve no idea what the audio spec of this is, but pushed through a pair of Reloop Wave 5s loud, or listened to through a pair of AKG / Tiesto K267s, the base sound quality was fine. Filters and FX let it down, but as I stated earlier, this is a Virtual DJ thing, not a Gemini G4V thing. As an aside here, Virtual DJ 8 is surely due soon, and that software has improved in all fo these areas, so while these aren’t big issues today, Virtual DJ 8 will make the G4V even more attractive.
The Gemini G4V looks the part. Really nicely built, with great hi-res jogwheels, sold metal construction and decent knobs, pads and finish, only only slightly let down by hard, clicky buttons. It is also well specified. The pads control hot cues, autoloop, loop roll and sampler, and alongside flux mode and various other refinements, overall it offer a genuinely impressive level of control over the software. Four full channels, with decent VU meters, add to the impressive spec.
The budget nature of this controller does show, though, despite this: The pads are only one colour, there is no standalone mixer capability, and Virtual DJ LE is creaking a little as we wait for Virtual DJ 8 to drop. A Traktor mapping would really have been nice and I suspect widened the appeal of the unit considerably.
But let’s level here: This thing costs US$399. That’s around half the price of Traktor or Serato controllers offering a similar spec. Sure, you’ll want to upgrade the software. But if you’re already a Virtual DJ Pro user, this is likely to look like a complete bargain. The Mixtrack Quad – another four-channel Virtual DJ controller, but a complete world apart in build quality – appears to be retailing for $349. You’re getting an awful lot more for your $50 with the Gemini G4V.
Overall, we liked it. Factor in the Pro software if you’re serious, which will add a whopping $299 to the price, so you’ll need to be sure Virtual DJ is the software for you in this case. Otherwise, prepare to map it yourself to your software of choice. But in terms of pure hardware, it’s a really good controller for your cash. If you’re a Virtual DJ fan who has jealously eyed the features available to Serato users with their DDJ-SXes and their VCI-400s, here’s your “in”.
Well made, well featured, fun to use and decently priced, the Gemini G4V for Virtual DJ does a lot of things right. It's not as refined as the Serato high-end controllers that have similar feature sets - but then again, it's half the price. If you're a Virtual DJ fan looking for a bargain, you'll almost certainly love this controller.
- From: Gemini
- Price: $399
- Reviewed by:
Are you tempted by the Gemini G4V or G2V? Do you already own one, and if so, how do you find it? Please share your thoughts in the comments.