Review: Numark iDJ3 DJ Controller
Hot on the heels of our review of Numark’s runaway success the Mixtrack, comes a look at the more intriguing Numark iDJ3 DJ controller.
A bit of history. First Numark released the iDJ, which was a gimmicky dock for two iPods, letting you mix from each. This was let down by one fatal flaw: Who has two iPods? This was followed by the iDJ2, which was a far more grown-up affair, which let you mix from one iPod, and had a cool colour screen for scrolling through your library etc.
The iDJ2 is actually a practical piece of kit, and I have seen mobile DJs with it flight-cased at the heart of their setups. However, it is a controller from the time (not really so long back) when nobody had got scratching right on jogwheels on DJ controllers, and it has two small jogwheels that aren’t very good for club-style DJs at all.
So to our Numark iDJ3 review. You’d think from looking at it that it’s a logical development from the iDJ2, allowing you to mix on two decks from one iPod but with the acclaimed styling and tactile feel of the Mixtrack. But looks can be deceiving. Let’s delve a little deeper…
It looks like wider Mixtrack
First thing to note is that the Numark iDJ3 looks like a stretched Mixtrack. It’s got the same style of controls, including the great jogwheels that make the Mixtrack so much fun. It also has the same cheapish feel to it, although once you start using these new Numark controllers you forget that – and they are keenly priced after all.
So what’s different about the iDJ3 over the Mixtrack? Three crucial things:
- It’s got an iPod dock
- It’s got a built-in soundcard
- It uses a different DJ program*
* Hang on, you may be saying, DJ program? I thought it was an iPod DJ station? Well it is and it isn’t… but more about that later on.
Features and controls
There are nice touches, like a centre light on the pitch controls to tell you when they’re set to 0; proper “kill” switches for the bass, mid and treble controls (that cut the frequency 100% when tapped, bringing it back up to where it was when tapped again – great for swapping basslines, dropping out vocals etc.); and handy autoloop controls to set up quick beatmatched loops for on-the-fly remixing (or just a loop at the end of the playing record while you quickly find another tune).
There are also deck reverse buttons, and scratch off/on controls to turn the platters from “scratching” behaviour to nudge behaviour, ie where you can nudge the track slower or faster to keep it in perfect time with the other one.
(Don’t worry, though, all you “I can’t beatmatch!” DJs – there are big sync buttons alongside the standard cue and play/pause buttons.)
The transport controls also feature stutter buttons which allow you to momentarily drop the track in from the cue-point for chopping up vocals etc.
Finally for the “normal” controls, there are little pairs of pitch bend buttons at the top left and right of the unit, for times when you have the platters in scratch mode and wish to nudge a track back into time.
It’s also worth noting here that there are no FX controls, so no filtering, echoing, phasing etc with this setup.
How the iDJ3 works with your iPod
OK… so about that iPod dock bit. This unit should definitely be seen as complementing the iDJ2, which I imagine will continue in production, as the iDJ3 does something different here than Numark’s earlier unit.
Firstly, you have to use this with a laptop (or desktop, if you decide to go that way). The iPod won’t even play through it if you don’t! So if you’re looking at this unit to let you DJ without needing a computer, the iDJ2 is for you, not this one. (That’s why, if you know the iDJ2 and had been wondering, there’s no screen built-in for the iPod this time.)
Secondly, look at that third volume fader. Yup, you got it right. That’s for the iPod. You can’t use the platters to mix with the iPod at all. You can’t use any of the controls for either deck to manipulate the iPod’s music – you can simply play it and mix it in to what’s going on on the platters using that middle volume control
No, this is not an iPod mixing station – it’s a normal laptop DJ system which happens to have an iPod dock letting you play music from iPods too – as I say, as long as the computer is plugged in.
So a few questions immediately – what’s the advantage of having that iPod dock? And how does this work with a PC? What software does it have? Is it any good? Let’s answer those questions, starting with why that iPod dock might be useful for you:
How you can use the iPod dock on the iDJ2
- You could have this with a laptop and speakers as your home stereo/DJ system – Thus you can listen to your iPod through it (remember, you’ll still need the laptop on), and mix tracks in as you wish. We don’t always want to be mixing but it’s nice to have music on in the background. Your partner can play their iPod through it too without filling your iTunes with their music
- You can record on the iPod- The system is such that you can use the iPod to record your mixes as you’re playing from the PC. So if the idea of recording your DJ sets on the iPod for listening to on your headphones later straight from your iPod with no fuss appeals, you’re catered for here
- You can download tunes to your iPod and play them immediately – Say you hear a tune in the car on the radio on the way to a gig. You can get on to iTunes, download it, and drop it into your set straight from your iPod in your gig immediately
- You can play upfront, exclusive, hard-to-find tunes from other people’s iPods when you’re DJing – Say you play every week at a bar or club and have a group of friends and other DJs who sometimes have tunes you’d love to play with them. You can just plug in and play straight away from their iPods
- It can be your iPod docking station for charging – If you have this set up in your living room as your main stereo as described above, you can (if you plug in an optional AC adapter rather than let the unit take its power from the USB which otherwise it is happy to do) use this as your iPod charging station
OK, so we’ve established the iPod bit is actually an add-on to a controller that is pretty much a Mixtrack with a built-in soundcard (learn more about DJ soundcards here, but basically, you don’t need one with this unit. One tick for simplicity). What about the software that comes with it?
MixVibes Cross LE software
The Numark iDJ3 comes with MixVibes Cross LE rather than Native Instruments’s Traktor Pro LE as with the Mixtrack. (The LE stands for “light edition”, by the way, meaning if you want all the features you have to upgrade to a paid edition. Pretty standard policy by most hardware manufacturers.)
While not as popular as Traktor, MixVibes Cross is a competent and functional piece of software, and has one feature (parallel waveforms, for easier visual mixing or “waveriding“) that I think is nice to have in DJ software. Plus, it has very tight iTunes integration, which is probably the reason for the choice by Numark, what with the iPod dock on the hardware unit.
The Numark iDJ3 is a strange unit insofar as you might expect it to offer full mixing capabilities from the iPod. Personally, I’d not want to do that as I much prefer the library and display features including waveforms that a proper laptop screen can offer me for DJing. But if you were looking for a unit that you could DJ from without a PC, this as mentioned before is not for you – look at the iDJ2 instead (unless you’re serious about mixing).
However, if you’re looking for a unit that gives you some intriguing possibilities with recording and allows you to drop the odd track in from iPods, and you don’t want to mess with a separate soundcard, and are either happy to use MixVibes’s software (or are actually seeking a controller that works natively with this software), then this could be the DJ controller for you.
Have you bought a Numark iDJ3 for your digital DJ set-up?? What are your views of it? Do you DJ with your iPod? what equipment do you use? Let us know!