Review: ION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System
The ION Audio Discover DJ System is a no-frills, cheap-as-chips DJ controller. A “taster” product for digital DJing, it’s been around for a year or so now, but looks set to be a big hit this Christmas with a street price of just US$55.
While clearly not meant to be a professional piece of equipment, it has all the essentials for basic digital DJing: it is certainly possible to DJ “properly” on this thing, and you CAN get decent results out of it. What’s more, you can record them. Ever told yourself that one day you’ll record that mixtape you’ve had in your head for years? This piece of kit will let you do just that.
The jogwheels (or “turntables”) and the crossfader are touch-sensitive and great for the price, and that means that anyone curious about the DJing experience, whether versed in turntables or not, will enjoy using this. It’s imperative to get jog wheels “right” on a hardware controller, or it ceases to be fun to use, and for the price, ION has. There is an autosync feature to match your songs’ beats; just as well, because whereas normally DJs have a fader to do this, this unit has buttons that aren’t as easy to use.
There’s also a browse button to let you flick through your music library, and all the usual controls for cueing, playing and pausing each track, as well as reversing them for added fun. A small button turns the “scratch” function on and off.
What they’ve not included for the price
It is, however, lacking in some of the basics. For instance, most DJ controllers have three types of tone control – bass, mid and treble – but this only has bass and treble, meaning there’s less ability to manipulate the sound of each deck. – especially too as they leave the midrange on the software stationary when you use them.
Also, these controls don’t make as much difference to the sound as I would have liked; really they ought to totally take out or greatly boost their respective frequencies.
More importantly, there is no sound card. One of the fundamentals of DJing is two separate sound outputs – one for speakers, one for headphones. It lets the DJ “cue” the next song. This controller, like most cheap controllers, doesn’t have one built-in, so the DJ has to cue without hearing the next track. It’s possible, but not ideal.
You can correct this easily enough by buying a DJ sound card. (You can read all about sound cards for digital DJing here). They’re only simple little things, but something like the Numark DJ-iO pr the Native Instruments Audio 2, which would be ideal to partner with this unit, will cost you as much as the controller again. Still, that would give you a complete DJ setup for US$160, which is really very little.
The software is a cut-down version of MixVibes, which is perfectly capable DJ software, if not one of the big names. It does the job just fine, although if you really get hooked, you may decide to upgrade or switch to another DJ program.
Who this controller would be good for
So plainly this unit is aimed at a certain niche, and I think it would be a good buy if:
- You are buying it for someone who isn’t sure if they like DJing – How can you go wrong at this price? It has everything you need for basic DJing, and if the owner gets hooked, they’ll be able to get some decent results out of it before outgrowing it and wanting something intermediate or professional
- You only want to play at home or at house parties – It’s great for domestic situations, but is not up to the standard needed to play out and about. You wouldn’t take your home stereo to a bar or club, and you wouldn’t take this either
- You want to buy something for your kids to try DJing on – This unit will be a lot of fun for anyone with a wish to try DJing, especially if they’ve been brought up on DJ Hero!
- You have a professional analogue setup and are curious about digital – If you can’t justify the space or the expense and just want the cheapest possible DJ controller to see if digital is for you, again, at this price it would make sense
- You only DJ occasionally – If DJing is just for fun, or you want to make a mixtape every couple of years just to “keep your end in”, you may not be able to justify the expense of anything more expensive that this. for you then, it would be ideal
It’s great to see products like this on the market. The more people who can have a go at DJing, the more will get hooked and progress to pro equipment, techniques and gigs. Even having said that, though, this is not a particularly good example of a dirt-cheap controller (the EQ mappings were the deal breaker for me). Yet when it’s this cheap, you can forgive practically anything.
Maybe people who whinge at this kind of kit do so because they’re secretly scared that the cat’s out of the bag, and their tired old techniques are about to be usurped by some 12-year-old on an ION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System, some kid who really doesn’t care if anyone says he looks silly! Bring it on, I say.
The ION Audio iCUE3 retails for around US$85, the Numark DJ I/O for US$87, and the Native Instruments AUDIO 2 DJ Interface for US$99.