Review: Hercules DJ Console RMX2 Controller
Hercules was one of the first companies in the digital DJing arena (the first DJ controller review I ever wrote was of one of its products, nearly 10 years ago). But the Hercules DJ Console RMX was the model that really put the company on the map. Like the Vestax VCI-100, it was a controller that helped digital DJing get established. And now we have the DJ Console RMX2 (US$296 / £253), its direct replacement.
A lot has changed in digital DJing since that first DJ Console RMX came out, and while the original model was well-built, reliable and won many fans, it was also clunky to use and had poor jogwheels. Can the DJ Console RMX2 put those problems right, and compete in today’s crowded market? Let’s find out…
They’re good. The unit comes in a cardboard box of course, but inside the box, it is contained within a black nylon, messenger-style carry bag – I can’t think of any other DJ controller that comes with a bag too. Inside that bag is the DJ Console RMX2, fully enclosed in a polystyrene wrap, plus second polystyrene mould containing the USB cord and a power adaptor with US, UK and European adaptors (it needs external power to function).
So now to the DJ Console RMX2. It’s definitely staying true to the DJ Console RMX ethic. The RMX2 about the same size, still made of brushed aluminium with a steel chassis, and overall it feels like Hercules’s designers have started where they left off, rather than with a blank page. This is a good thing; the original DJ Console RMX was a distinctive controller, and the DJ Console RMX2 remains so. Overall it’s compact, weighty, well-built and inspires confidence.
The first immediately obvious change is that the jogwheels have been replaced with a vastly superior type of wheel, a type that Hercules has been using in its controllers for a while now, and which I really like (more later).
Another immediately obvious change is the inclusion of four rubber performance pads for each deck. This is of course a nod to the controllerism scene, but in the DJ Console RMX2, these pads are actually more important than that. As it’s a small controller, the designers have decided to allow these to be switched between four functions: cue points, sample triggering, loops and effects. So they’re actually pretty essential for basic controller use.
The sync, cue, play/pause and shift buttons across the front of each deck are the same size as all the other buttons on the controller (ie a bit small), but the buttons have overall been improved from the RMX – on the RMX, they were truly clunky and quite hard to push down, but now they’re rubberised, with a firm “click” that takes only a little pressure to activate.
It’s good to see “kill” buttons for all EQs, but not so good to see the same type of buttons used for library navigation – a knob is easier to use than up/down cursors for navigating music lists.
The crossfader is replaceable, and all the other faders are – like the original RMX – quite short, as befits the controller’s small footprint (it’s really no bigger than a laptop, albeit deeper). The knobs are all rubberised and high quality, with the EQs having a centre click. There are two “infinity knobs” (stepped knobs that “go round forever”), one on each side attached to the pads and their associated controls.
The unit has not one but two headphones sockets (both 1/4″); one on the top panel, and one on the front – indeed, the headphone socket is the only thing on the front. There’s also a microphone socket on the top, which is one of those combo sockets that lets you plug in an XLR mic or a 1/4″ jack-style mic lead. The microphone has its own volume and on/off, but no EQ. This is a two-channel controller, with no “layer” mode for switching between decks for pseudo four-channel mixing; the Hercules DJ Console 4-Mx is your go-to controller if you want this feature.
There are two external inputs, which can take line-level sources (CD players etc) or record decks. Each of the two channels has a gain and a source button to allow you to switch out a software channel and switch in an external input, which will be routed through the software. Note that the microphone channel is independent of the two extra audio inputs, so can be used without switching one of the main channels out.
So round the back is where you’ll find the RCAs for plugging your optional decks or CD players in (with two ground poles for earthing your decks, too). Here’s where you’ll also find pro balanced XLR outputs, as well as standard unbalanced RCA outs, and a booth output (although see later – booth behaves a little strangely on Hercules controllers).
Of course there’s a USB port for connecting to your computer, and there’s also a power supply input with a small on-off switch. A nice touch here (and one that makes the unit look for some reason way cooler by its addition) is a chrome hook for winding your power and USB cables around to prevent accidental disconnection – this is similar to that found on Native Instruments higher end audio interfaces, where it also looks pretty smart!
Hercules has always included its own utility to control certain aspects of its controllers, and so it is with the DJ Console RMX2. So as well as the DJ software (more in a second), you get the Hercules control panel app. Installation is all handled for you from an installer, which also lets you choose which of the two supplied DJ software packages you want to use (the Hercules-exclusive DJUCED 40º is the default software). However, in my case, the installer installed every single Hercules control panel except the one for the RMX2! I had to go and do this manually. I had a pre-production unit so maybe there was a glitch. It was easy to fix, but it might trip up a beginner if it’s an issue that’s carried across to shop units.
Anyway, the control panel lets you do things like set master volumes for main and booth outputs, attenuate the input channels (two line level plus a mic setting), adjust the master headphones output, set crossfader curve, microphone talkover level and a few other bits and pieces. It’s fair enough to have it, but I’ve never liked the way control panels for all products are also installed by default.
Once you’ve got your DJ software installed, you can get on with playing. There are two DJ packages to choose from – DJUCED 40º and Virtual DJ LE. DJUCED 40º is a complete package that’s optimised for immediate use with the controller, while Virtual DJ LE is a cut-down version of Virtual DJ Pro, one of the big DJ software packages.
(There was actually no serial number for Virtual DJ LE in the review sample I was loaned, simply due to it being pre-production, so I tested it with Virtual DJ 7 Pro instead, but I’ve allowed for the differences in the section below that covers this software.)
First, though, let’s look at some of the general features of the controller, that apply no matter which software package you choose to go with.
I’ll start with those previously mentioned, vastly superior jogwheels. Unlike most manufacturers’ jogwheels (with the notable exceptions of some Pioneer controllers, and Native Instruments), those provided on the DJ Console RMX2 are mechanical. That means that to engage the scratch mode, you push down, and a switch activates the mode (rather than electrical detection of your fingers on a metal area on the wheel).
However, Hercules has gone its own way with how this works – the whole wheel pushes down, not just a switch on the top of it. That means the wheels are wobbly and rattly by nature. But rather than being annoying,instead it turns out this encourages you to abuse them a bit and not treat them with “kid gloves”. This is a really pleasing way of DJing, and I’ve said in previous Hercules controller reviews, I like these jogs. You may want to check them out in our accompanying video though before buying, as they won’t be to everyone’s taste.
I liked the individual VU meters next to each channel fader. They are six-bar (four blue and two “red”), and allow you to quickly set the gain correctly for any incoming tunes to ensure equal volume when mixing and to stop things hitting the red. However, there is no master VU out, which means you’ll have to keep an eye on your master volume level to ensure no distortion further down the line – if the PA you plug into to DJ when you’re out and about has its own metering, that’d be where to check you’re out of the red.
It would be nice if the DJ Console RMX2 control panel had little VU meters on it, as that’s where you can set master volume levels over and above those available to you in your hardware/software.
The pitch faders, although tiny, are very accurate. At +/-6%, they were easy enough to adjust by just 1/100th of a BPM, which is great and I’d expect no more from any controller at any price.
I didn’t understand at first how the booth output works, but with some help from Hercules, I’ve got it worked out. The RCA output labelled 1-2 Booth plays the same signal as the XLR outputs 1-2 Main. In the RMX2 control panel, you can chain or unchain the main and booth volume controls. If you keep them chained, the volume button labelled Main on the Rmx2 controls both XLR and RCA outputs. But if you unchain them, the volume button labelled Main on the RMX2 controls only the XLR, not the RCA outputs. So you can use the RCA output, with no volume control (so you set the volume on the speakers) as a booth output with an independent volume setting from the master output.
It’s not booth output as most controllers do it – effectively, it’s a “record out” rather than a “booth out” – but as long as your booth monitor speaker has a volume control on it, it’ll work fine.
One of the limitations of the controller is an almost inevitable consequence of it being a small unit, and that’s the cramming of loop, effects, samples and cues into four pads, a mode buttons and a single rotary encoder. Aside from the fact that you need to switch between these functions and so can only be controlling one at a time (so for instance if you wanted to exit a loop while slowly using a filter, you couldn’t), there’s also only a single knob to control your chosen effect.
The way this works is that you choose one of the effects slots (the pads are basically switches between them, and work slightly differently depending on the software you’re using), and then turning the infinity knob is your wet/dry, or holding shift and turning it controls a single parameter of the effect.
So to apply an effect (this is how you do it in DJUCED, as an example), you would switch to effects, select the effect (using mouse/keyboard, you can’t do it from the hardware), turn the effect on with the pad, turn the wet/dry, then hold shift and continue to turn the infinity knob. This is more involved than with controllers that have extra controls for this stuff – although there are pad-specific ways of modulating the effects (more in the DJUCED section).
It’s also worth noting at this point that there is a short-cut for the filter, where the bass EQ doubles up as a filter when shift is held.
A good thing to mention about the pads is that they are velocity sensitive, which means the harder you hit them, the more they can potentially do whatever they’re set to do. This feature shows in sample volume, for instance, as well as in a “macro effect” setting in DJUCED (more below). If you don’t like this behaviour (and many DJs don’t like velocity sensitive pads), it can be turned off in the Advanced tab of the DJ Console RMX2 control panel, to make them simple on/offs.
One area where Hercules has upped its game over the original RMX is the audio interface. The audio interface here can now go to 24-bit/96kHz which is good news for audiophiles. To an extent it future-proofs the unit, if all of a sudden higher specified music files/formats become the norm, for instance.
I thought it sounded pretty good in Virtual DJ, but I wasn’t so impressed with the sound from DJUCED (which may or may not be linked to an audio lag issue I experienced – see later). I can’t say I was blown away by the sound quality from either program, however, but I can say it’s a significant improvement over the original RMX.
Most of the rest of the controls work as you’d imagine, the only other area of note being the external sources, which are switched through software – so you tell your software you want to use an external source on one or both channels, and the waveform disappears and you can now play your external source instead, allowing you to use effects, EQ etc as normal.
This is good because you can use your effects and so on (obviously you can’t start looping or adding cue points to external sources though). But it’s bad because it means the Hercules DJ Console RMX2 isn’t a true standalone mixer, despite requiring mains power to work (normally, this is so the unit can work without a laptop powering it). In this instance though, it’s no laptop and DJ software, no go.
The carry bag
It’s nice they’ve bundled a bag with it. The bag is perfect when the unit is in its polystyrene case, and has a zip compartment inside for small leads etc, but if you were to wear out or break the polystyrene, the unit rattles around a bit in the bag.
However if you wrap your DJ controller in a cloth or even a sweater before putting it inside, it’ll still stay nicely protected. And as the alternative is often to throw the controller under your arm or into an ill-fitting backpack (and as this bag is free), it gets the thumbs up from us.
Using it with DJUCED 40º
DJUCED was a new package in Hercules controllers a couple of releases ago, and while it’s not made by the company, it doesn’t appear with any other controllers. So far at least, then, it’s exclusive to Hercules. It is a full version, it’s free, and it’s the default installation – so it’s probably the first of the two provided programs that a user will try out. And it’s… OK.
It’s definitely improved from earlier versions, being better laid out and more attractive, although there’s still some wasted space around the discs.
It has some nice touches: A sampler that is also a rudimentary sequencer; a neat BPM line-up system involving little beat triangles and a colour codes strip to show your your tunes are aligned; and colour coding for genres plus a “compatibility” percentage to show you which songs supposedly mix well together and which don’t. The way DJUCED handles the jogwheels is something I found weird. Jogwheels nowadays tend to have two modes, vinyl and, erm, not vinyl. In vinyl mode the wheels are used for nudging like with CDJs (ie they slow down or speed up the track just a little) except when they’re pushed, in which case they switch to “scratch” mode (ie they stop the music and respond to how fast or slowly you move them backwards and forwards).
So far, so standard. But here’s the thing: When you’re paused for cueing a tune, the wheel is in scratch mode permanently (again, usual stuff). But bizarrely, you still have to push it down to hear the tune! Of course, hearing the tune is essential when choosing a cue point, and so I found this a bit strange.
In “non vinyl” mode, when paused the jog becomes a really fast scrub, allowing you to move quickly through your tune. I would rather it just had the scratch functionality as most controllers do (minus the inaudible non-pushed-down “feature”), with fast scrub mapped somewhere else.
You can click the deck letter (A or B) to switch to sampler, sequencer or external source for each deck. The sequencer is a nice touch (although it comes loaded with a terrible rock drum kit), but the sampler is limited compared to most DJ software. I also found the sampler laggy. (iI fact, I got audio glitches quite a lot using this software, and that’s on a 2009 iMac with nothing else running, which should have been fine. Apparently it’s when the software is analysing your music, and an update due soon will improve this.)
In the library scrolling to choose a tune, I found a bug where for some reason the first track I played would appear multiple times in any list where it appeared once – I was playing from iTunes playlists so I’m not too sure why that occurred.
• UPDATE (Oct 30 2012): DJUCED has been updated which may cure some of the issues with it. Get it here.
Squeezing it all in
The effects, while showing a little bit of innovation (there’s a velocity-sensitive macro effect that wet/dries every effect at once depending how hard you press the pad) I found a little limiting. There’s no delay or reverb, for starters, but the limitations are due as much to the hardware as the software.
You see, to squeeze everything into such a small unit, the designers have had to make compromises. One of the big ones is using those four velocity pads and a single infinity encoder to work cues, loops, effects and samples. Now, to be fair there are some innovations here: The velocity pads make it possible to modulate the effects directly on the pads, thanks to an after-touch function: Shift and pad lets you set the level of the effect set on the pad (once you reach the appropriate level, you release the shift button to fix the level). But still think it would be easier to have extra knobs for this.
So these functions are all here, they all work, but if you want to DJ relying heavily on any of them, I am guessing you may get frustrated with the RMX2 and DJUCED 40º. However, to be fair most DJs, most of the time, aren’t using effects, and samples, and a lot of them never really bother with cues or even loops.
No, most of the time, DJs are playing tunes and mixing between them. And DJUCED, weird audio glitches notwithstanding, lets you do that that fine. Overall, this a good basic package, and it gets you going fast, and it’s free – just don’t expect the bells and whistles to be even close to pro DJ software.
Using it with Virtual DJ 7 LE
The version of Virtual DJ supplied is “LE”, which means cut down. As I said above, I had to test with Virtual DJ Pro as I couldn’t activate the supplied Virtual DJ LE due to no serial in the box; for sure this was a one-off due to my having a review model.
Note also that it’s Virtual DJ 7, not Virtual DJ 8 as originally announced – Version 8 of the software is still a way off. However, buyers of the RMX2 get a free upgrade to Virtual DJ 8 LE when it arrives.
The good news is that you can record your sets using the version of Virtual DJ LE that’s supplied (some LE versions don’t let you record). However, you won’t be able to alter the mappings (mappings are the instructions that tell the software how to react to controls on the hardware), the effects will be limited, and you won’t be able to use Virtual DJ’s excellent video capabilities.
The original DJ Console RMX came with Virtual DJ LE, and the company behind Virtual DJ is skilled at providing stable, effective mappings for DJ controllers that bundle its software. Personally, I’d rather DJ with Virtual DJ LE on this unit than with DJUCED. Maybe it’s just familiarity, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. I experienced non of the lagginess, none of the audio glitches, and fewer of the little annoyances of DJUCED with Virtual DJ LE (that final point probably is to be fair simply due to familiarity).
Jogwheel control was good, and I found the mappings for the loops, effects, sampler and cue points to be more logical, albeit still limited in the same way these controls are for DJUCED, due to the small number of physical controls available. In particular, the way effects work is poor (it just doesn’t suit the pad/knob/button layout, at all), so you’d probably want to look at this and do some remapping yourself to make it work best with the effects you use a lot – assuming you decide to upgrade to Virtual DJ Pro, of course.
Bottom line is you have a choice of software in the box, and while neither is perfect, choice is always good.
Using the DJ Console RMX2 with other software
Finally, as we’re talking software, it’s worth mentioning that as this is basically a Midi controller, you can map it to anything you like. Traktor, Algoriddim’s djay, MixVibes and so on. Indeed, there is already a Traktor 2 mapping; MixVibes is going to incorporate a RMX2 preset file in the next release of CrossDJ; and djay, Deckadance and Ultramixer will have native mappings soon.
Finally, the RMX2 is USB Midi and audio class compliant, and so accordingly to Hercules it is possible to use four-channel audio with iOS6 (two preview and two master), but we haven’t had the chance to check this.
Hercules has lots of fans, and has always done things its own way, and for many of those people, the DJ Console RMX2 is going to be a great controller. It’s only two-deck, but it has successfully updated its workhorse predecessor where it matters, adding much better jogwheels, improved sound quality, better knobs and buttons, and a nice nod to controllerism in the shape of those velocity-sensitive pads.
For simple DJ sets, where effects, loops, cues and samples are kept to a reasonably small part of the performance, what’s provided is more than enough. What’s more, just like its predecessor, this controller is built excellently. The all-metal casing, the decent quality balanced outputs and the provided carry bag all point towards a unit that’s designed to be used by working DJs.
As far as the software goes, I suspect users upgrading from the RMX will already be running Virtual DJ and will just switch hardware (DJUCED wasn’t available or bundled when the original DJ Console RMX was released) so making that choice won’t be even a consideration for them. For others, you have the luxury of two packages to try out. Personally, I prefer Virtual DJ and would pay the extra for it.
If you’re wanting to practise full-on controllerism techniques, I think this won’t be the controller for you – even with the addition of those velocity sensitive pads. All that switching between loops, samples, effects and cue points would be too much hassle in the long run.
But if, on the other hand, you’re looking for well-built controller that will let you perform DJ sets across a variety of sources, getting on the microphone every now and then, and plugging into a variety of sound systems, direct to PA or through a house mixer or the like, the Hercules has enough pro features to do you proud.
I’d like to have seen some kind of emergency through for an iPod or equivalent just so you can easily switch in an analogue source should your laptop crash on you, so it’s worth considering how you’d do this if you’re planning on using this often in performance situations. A big plus point, as with the original DJ Console RMX, is that it is compact enough to fit in a bag you can throw over your shoulder, a bag which the company has thoughtfully provided for you.
Overall, while the Hercules DJ Console RMX is not a revolution in digital DJing as its predecessor was, it’s definitely a solid upgrade, and unlike many of the toy-like, plastic DJ controllers around today (including, it must be said, some in Hercules’s own range), this one is built to last.
Are you an owner of the original Hercules DJ Console RMX? Would you consider upgrading to this? What are your thoughts on those multi-function pads? Are you already a user of this, and if so, what are your impressions? Please share in the comments.