Review: Novation Twitch
The Novation Twitch DJ controller caused a real stir on its first public outing at the Musikmesse Show as reported by Digital DJ Tips earlier this year, being the first major controller to offer DJs an alternative to jogwheels in an all-in-one controller. On Friday I went to Sonar Barcelona 2011 with the main aim of getting my hands on the new Novation Twitch to see if it’s as good as Novation’s Twitch YouTube video suggests. Here’s my review:
Layout and build quality
The unit is a bit smaller than I expected, though it’s not fiddly (and I have big hands); the pads are well spaced-out as are the EQ knobs and faders. The only issues I had were minor ones. Firstly that the line faders seemed quite loose, which I was assured was down to the fact that this was a pre production unit that has been used to death on every demo and testing process they’ve done (in which case the fact that every feature was still working perfectly is promising for build quality). My second issue was LED brightness, but this was in the middle of the day in a very bright white tent, so all the controllers in there were struggling under the Spanish sun. I later saw it in a demonstration indoors and the LEDs were plenty bright enough.
I spent a couple of hours talking to Simon from Novation, who’s brand manager for the Twitch. We spoke a lot about the Twitch’s development, and what became abundantly clear is that they have put a lot of time and effort into mapping this to ITCH, both in terms of firmware and software, and it works extremely well. I was a little worried beforehand that the touchstrip might be unresponsive and that fine adjustments would be difficult, but as it turns out it responds to movements as fine as a fingertip rolled across it.
Of note to those of you who might be interested in creating a Traktor mapping of your own is the fact that not only the pads but also the touchstrips have different Midi messages depending on which of the four performance modes you’re in. This will make complex mappings a lot easier without the need for so many modifiers. Most of the features are clear from the videos in the previous article, but of course there is more complexity to them than can be explained in the time they have in those short clips.
Slice and dice
The slicer, which is the feature a lot of people are raving about, is a lot of fun. It’s very adjustable with the touchstrip, which effectively becomes a double parameter control in slicer mode, and once you’ve got to grips with it it’s quite intuitive in use and is a nice advancement on the classic loop roll. There’s also a feature in one of the needle drop modes whereby the LED lights up in the middle and placing your finger anywhere to the right speeds the track up and anywhere to the left plays the track backwards, with speed depending on how far your finger is from the middle. I can’t think of a way I’d use it in my workflow, but I’m sure someone can!
The use of rotary encoders in place of pitch faders is, in my opinion, a very good solution to tempo control on a software controller.The problem many of us have often had with traditional pitch faders on Midi controllers is the lack of parity between the hardware and the software, where the physical fader ends up in the wrong position and we have to rely on either using the fader in relative mode (a problem if you’re at the end of its travel) or with soft takeover (the fader being unresponsive until it’s in the same position as the one in the software), which can be a nightmare. Apparently the rotary encoders were initially designed simply as a space saving measure, but in my opinion they are a much better solution to the problem. In ITCH, the sensitivity and acceleration of the encoders is very good, and you have control down to 0.01 BPM should you need it.
The effects available in ITCH aren’t as varied as those in Traktor for instance, but they’re of high quality and are quite easy to use. The fader FX mode à la VCI-100 is also very good, enabling fast and expressive use of effects. That said, with those pads available, to me it’s crying out for an instaFX layer, like the DJ Tech Tools Midi Fighter has. This is something I mentioned to Matt, who’s head of Novation hardware, and he seemed receptive to the idea. I’m not expecting anything like that to appear for the Twitch itself any time soon, but they’re definitely aware of the Midi Fighter, so there’s a chance it’s something to look out for in future Novation products.
ITCH’s sync has been criticised in the past, and admittedly I only had a few tracks to play around with on the demo laptop, but it seemed very accurate to me. In fact the sync button on the Twitch has to be shift-pressed to be disengaged, which leads me to believe that the developers have confidence in ITCH 2.0’s sync capabilities. As I mentioned before though, the touchstrip swipe and tempo encoders are very accurate and for anyone unhappy using sync, beatmatching manually is definitely an option, especially with ITCH’s parallel waveforms.
I went to Sonar with high expectations of the Twitch, and in general it delivered. Its mapping with ITCH is excellent, giving the user a great out-of-the-box complete solution. Its built-in audio interface is high-quality, and the ITCH software has unlimited lifetime updates, so it matches up to the Native Instruments S4 in several regards. However, it’s more portable than the S4 and for me, more suited to hardcore controllerism. It’s definitely a good all-in-one for those who aren’t interested in having permanent use of four decks, a camp which I certainly fall into.
For Traktor users there is a mapping provided (along with an overlay), but I don’t feel it¡ has taken proper advantage of the unit’s potential. However,with the community of mappers out there for Traktor, I’m quite sure that a mapping will come about that really exploits it to its full capability. So – want one? There’s still no still no specific date, but I was told that there had been a delay in manufacture due to the project manager insisting that some encoders were changed. I think this is a positive, since Novation is clearly trying to ensure that build quality is top of the list of priorities. The latest news they could give me was that the first batch could arrive before the end of July…
• Jon Hersom is a DJ from St Albans, England, currently residing in Barcelona, Spain.
Are you waiting with bated breath for this controller? Could you see yourself happily DJing without jogwheels? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…