Review: Reloop Beatpad DJ Controller For iPad & djay 2
The iPad is a premium device, right? So why does it seem like most DJ controllers made to work with it are little more than flashy, plasticky toys? It's always puzzled me, because to me, the iPad is pretty much the perfect DJing platform; small, light, powerful, more durable than a laptop, and just - well - cool! I know not everyone shares my point of view, but to me, iPad and DJing are a natural fit.
Which is why we were excited to try the Reloop Beatpad at the BPM Show last autumn. Here's a controller that in looks, feel and performance (we ran an impromptu scratch test on it, and it passed with flying colours), seemed to tick all the boxes as a serious, pro controller for DJs who want to use an iPad rather than a laptop for their DJing,. And coupled with the big improvements made to Algoriddim's djay software in the latest version, djay 2 (which this controller is made for), we really couldn't wait to get our hands on one for a review. Well, that time is now!
It's a well-made, good locking, black box with two gorgeous, low-slung jogwheels and very typical Reloop styling. (Leave it alone without touching it for a bit though, and it throws a light show at you that somehow doesn't fit its sober looks...) A little narrower than, for instance, the Reloop Terminal Mix 4, but also a little deeper than many (it has a slot at the back for the iPad to sit firmly in place when in use, which is why), it looks and feels solid and up for the job. The edging is plastic, but the chassis and top-plate are metal, all the knobs are bolted down properly. The crossfader is nice and loose, the faders are long-throw... basically, it looks ansd feels awesome.
It's a two-channel controller, with the full gamut of lo/mid/hi/gain for each channel, and master, headphones, cue mix and aux knobs down the middle of the mixer section. The usual load, cue and track selection controls are right there in the middle, and four rubberised transport buttons sit underneath each of those big, low-slung jogs.
The FX/goodies area above each jogwheel is customised for Algoriddim's software, with "bounce loop" and "instant FX" accompanying the more usual cue, sampler, FX and looping functions (although again, the FX are a little different in Algoriddim software to the others). Four slightly unusual but pleasing square rubber backlit pads/buttons are employed to trigger these functions, and each channel has a two-knob effects section, a dedicated filter knob, and a loop size knob.
On the front of the unit are a mic thru with a level control and a dual socket headphones section, and the back has balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA master outs, and a single Aux input switchable for phono/line (rather unnecessarily seeing it doesn't go through a mixer channel, in my view). The usual connections for USB, iPad and power plus a shift lock switch and an LED dimmer control round off the inputs and outputs, and there's a Kensington lock hole, presumably to deter those who aren't content to just swipe your iPad!
As well as the Beatpad, the box contains a pretty large generic power brick with adaptor for EU, US and UK power; a utility CD containing a PDF manual and PC drivers; a standard PC USB cable; and the all-important iPad cables, with both Lightning and 30-pin variants present and correct - and no need for messy Apple camera kit USB hacks or anything like that.
Clearly as a self-respecting reviewer I'm not going to read any pesky instruction manuals before testing, so I simply plugged it in, connected up my iPad (which immediately began to charge: First test passed...) and hit the App Store to get djay 2. While this unit comes with the option to download an "LE" (read: cut down) version of djay 2, frankly for the pennies the software costs, if you've bought the controller, you should buy the software in its full-strength glory. DJing with an iPad is a little different from DJing with a laptop, but as long as you've got your iTunes collection on your iPad, it's also ridiculously simple to get going. The software instantly recognises the controller, and a tap on the big library button brings up your music. Hit the correct deck load button and the first track starts playing. So far, so good...
Once you're all plugged in, the Beatpad kind of complements the ultra-violet/cool blue colour scheme of djay 2, with pleasing and rather subtle backlighting as well as a really useful rotating LED ring to show transport. The lighting gets less subtle when you start to trigger FX, as you'll see in my video below! It's worth pointing out that this is a class-compliant Midi device and audio interface too; with the supplied USB cable you can plug it in to any PC or Mac and use it with other DJ software if you wish, mapping dependent of course, However, it is clearly designed for iPad use; it has a big fat slot at the back to make that clear, and that's what we're going to review it with.
And indeed, the iPad holds really very firmly in place in that slot, so using the onscreen touch controls for various software functions is fine; not as stable as the flat set-up at the heart of Numark's iDJ Pro, but nonetheless perfectly fine.
This isn't a review of djay 2, but suffice to say that especially when the software is in waveform mode (which looks a lot like the vertical waveforms beloved of Serato users) its styling and functions complement this controller pretty well, and overall it's become an accomplished piece of DJ software.
The controller has been designed to take advantage of many of djay 2's distinctive functions. So hitting "instant FX" triggers four macro-style FX combos; pressing "sampler" take control of four sample slots (hold "shift" as well and it opens the sampler window, giving you the chance to trigger them from the screen too); and touching "bounce loop" turns the pads into a slip/loop roll function.
There are also the more usual cue points (four per side on the pads) controllable from here, as well as options to turn the jogwheel from standard nudge to nudge/scratch and to jog seek. For many of these functions, the jogwheel lights up for effect/indication of function. It's not subtle! There are no channel VU meters on the unit, but each channel has six-point on-screen monitoring with peak indicator.
The jogs are as fantastic in use as you hope when you first peel off their protective plastic cover on opening the box, and scratch performance is tight, sounding convincing. Physical movement of the jog and waveform movement onscreen appear tightly tied; no wooliness going on as with some software / hardware combos. Combined with the customary smooth animation of the iPad, and it all feels very slick.
Sound quality is generally excellent. I could make the music "click" slightly using the filters, but it's not hugely distracting. The headphones were loud if not overly so; for anything but the biggest, loudest nightclub I think you'd be fine.
There's a bit of a learning curve in order to get used to what you can do from the hardware and what you need to use the screen for, but overall it's pretty intuitive. Just now and then you find yourself wishing you didn't have to go searching for a small screen button when maybe some method of achieving the same thing could have been found on the hardware. But overall the controller has got lots of goodies going on; there are key combos for things like censor, brake (a pseudo-vinyl effect), slip mode, fader start, beat jump and more. It's worth taking the time to work out how to use these functions to get the best from it.
You get a few choices when it comes to configuring the library, which is good; you can have it as a small popup, or a full screen, and you can alter the background colour to suit your environment.Unless you have more modern iPad, though, there's no way of displaying key information / analaysing harmonic info, which is a shame. A record button right there in the middle of the hardware lets you instantly record your sets, though, which is great.
There's lots to like here. The hardware is great; really well made and definitely good enough for playing out on. The iPad thing of course is its selling point, and if you (like me) are sold on the idea of using an iPad for DJing on, you'll probably need little persuading of its merits.
The very best desktop / hardware combinations have become so slick as to feel like they're made for each other (and in the case of Native Instruments's gear and software, they are), and the combination of djay and the Reloop Beatpad, while good, isn't 100% there; having a virtual crossfader mimicking your movements on the screen feels like an oversight, and while the screen is useful for controlling the X/Y FX options (similar to Traktor DJ), those X/Y pads weren't actually that big for clumsy fingers. But in an afternoon's mixing I didn't find any real dealbreakers; more a learning curve than anything else. Seasoned DJs will probably prefer the waveform view to the admittedly eye-candy "vinyl" view, though, as I did.
The thing that I realised irked me most (apart from the lack of a key info in my older device), was the fixed iPad position. I am really particular about how I have my laptop positioned on its stand when DJing (it turns out), and not being able to alter than angle or position of the iPad at all felt restrictive.
If you have the controller at a decent height in the first place it's not so bad, and that's basically it; when controller and screen are fixed together as these are, it's important to have the controller at exactly the right height and position not just for your hands on its controls, but for your eyes on the iPad. The leads supplied aren't long enough for you to liberate the iPad from the dock and plonk it on your own stand, in any case. Just something to bear in mind.
Overall, I think this is an awesome controller / software combo. If you've been holding out for a pro-built iPad DJ controller, with a decent built-in iPad stand, good features and functions, and tight integration with a capable DJ program, this is it. Especially if you buy into the Apple/iTunes ecosystem, it's a mighty smart way to take the best of all of that (you can even buy tunes directly from iTunes from within the software), and combine it with high quality controller DJing, done properly. From scratching to mobile DJing, I can see many iOS-lovin' DJs completely falling in love with the Reloop Beatpad.
Are you a Reloop Beatpad owner? How has your experience been of it so far? Is this the way you'd like to go with your DJing, or do you think the iOS thing is a dead end? Please share your thoughts in the comments.