Behringer has always had a reputation for making music gear that’s exceptionally well priced, and also came up with a couple of the very first DJ controllers many years back, the B-Control BCD2000 and BCD3000. However, the company has been totally quiet in this area ever since then, while other brands have taken centre stage. But to say Behringer is back would be an understatement: It has just simultaneously released seven new controllers: several modular devices, a micro all-in-one, and the device we’re reviewing today, the Behringer CMD Studio 4A.
The unit is quite large (about the size of a Traktor Kontrol S4, although not as deep, and slimmer), and also like the Traktor Kontrol S4, it is made of plastic, but with a black metal faceplate which means it feels nice to touch and use, while still being quite light. Compared to other units under $200, it looks extremely professional.
Because of its size, it is not in any way cramped, and the extra space has also allowed the designers to incorporate large (6″) jogwheels, really long-throw pitch faders, long line faders, eight hotcue buttons per deck, decent sized buttons everywhere, and lots of spacing between the EQ and FX knobs.
With the cue/master mix and headphones volume knobs moved to the front side of the unit (along with the 1/4″-only headphones socket, the only items on this part of the controller), all of this means a very user-friendly control layout overall.
The actual layout contains no surprises whatsoever; it’s totally standard, eschewing the current trend for big pads and sticking to hard plastic “click” buttons, all backlit in various colours. The FX are channel assignable, and big A/B/C/D buttons let you control four software decks, the scratch/nudge behaviour switched again by nice big buttons (the only round buttons on the whole unit in this case).
One pleasant surprise is the “kill” buttons (not often seen any more) in the mixer EQ section; however, I’d like to have seen the eight hotcues per deck be bigger and easier to press; cue juggling would be just about possible on this but they’re no way as good as many controllers nowadays. Worth noting here too that there are no external inputs at all; not even a microphone-through.
The back panel is very simple, with a USB socket for the computer, a DC-in (power transformer is provided), and a pair of RCA stereo outputs. The outputs are identical; both are controlled by the Main volume control on the unit, so in other words, the “second” output is neither a booth output with its own volume control nor a true “record” output (that bypasses the Main volume control).
The jogwheels have some weight behind them so they will spin freely for several seconds once turned, something I like because it potentially allows for more fun “vinyl” effects when DJing; however, when you push down with a little force on the edge of the jogs, they grate against the plastic casing underneath them, which gives a cheap impression. It won’t affect performance, but it doesn’t feel very nice. The knobs Behringer has used throughout, on the other hand, are really nice: kind of chunky, rounded and rubberised. Overall, the controller feels pretty good and certainly isn’t far off the build quality of something like the Traktor Kontrol S4.
There’s a very simple instruction manual in the box, and an important card containing details of where to go online to download Deckadance LE, the provided software, as well as ASIO drivers (needed if you’re using it with a PC rather than a Mac), and the all-important serial number.
It’s actually not quite that simple; to get the software you have to go to an Image Line hosted website (Image Line being the makers of Deckadance) and go through a long-winded and unclear process of registering (I hate giving across all my personal details just to get some software needed to make something I’ve already paid for work – I want that to be my choice), then downloading the software, then downloading a special file to get the software to work, then loading that file into it, then restarting it… it took me 15 minutes and I do this for a living. This could be made much easier.
Anyway, once you’ve managed all of that, you’re ready to go. The CMD Studio 4A comes with a power supply and power is indeed necessary for it to work at all, so you plug in the power supply, connect the controller to your computer via USB, launch Deckadance and you’re all ready to play.
The controller feels good on the first play thanks to the spacing, size of the controls and the high level of LED feedback from the software – the latter due in part to the fact that it is powered from a separate adaptor, not relying on power from the computer via USB. Any DJ who knows what they’re doing will pick up the basics almost instantaneously, and new DJs will find it a nice surface to learn on.
While it does what it does well in that respect, it is nonetheless a basic controller. The biggest omission for me is individual channel gain controls, but looping controls on the hardware are rudimentary too, and there’s no hardware control over the software’s sampler either. Also, lots of functions on the software have no mappings on the hardware; the software has filters per channel, but you can’t access them without using the mouse. A “shift” layer could have added much more functionality from the software.
The VU meters are accurate and the headphones volume level is plenty loud enough. Indeed, the sound quality overall is very good – as frankly is the case with the vast majority of controllers nowadays, even the cheaper ones. The VUs also monitor cue level rather than just master, which is good, although the lack of a gain control somewhat negates the usefulness of this feature.
Those long-throw pitch faders are pretty tight – I managed about 1/20th of a BPM adjustments easily enough with them. They seem to be locked to +/-16% pitch, and while I’d say they are plenty accurate enough for manual beatmatching, they’re not as good as those fitted to more expensive controllers, some of which have with shorter physical faders. The crossfader is a bit scratchy but loose enough, however, I couldn’t find a crossfader curve adjust (someone prove me wrong, but I did look hard!).
I found the jogwheel mappings to be only average. You can easily confuse the jogwheel (for instance, putting it into a scratch spin and holding it to pause the track at the end; the track lays on ignoring your wishes – it’s demoed in the video), and the jogs are woolly, even with latency set really tight.
They’re not much worse than most Traktor mappings for third-party controllers (Traktor is only really mapped well to the Kontrol S2 and Kontrol S4), and Virtual DJ controller maps aren’t perfect either – but Serato DJ Intro is, and with controllers like the Mixtrack Pro and Mixtrack Pro 2 in the budget price bracket coming with Serato DJ Intro and so having excellent jogwheel control, the bar has been raised. Also, as mentioned above, the jogs are a little “budget” in feel, due to scratching easily on the housing if you push too hard on them.
All in all, if you think you’re going to want to scratch, this isn’t the controller for you, at least with the supplied software. Hopefully a future mapping/firmware update can fix that. To be fair, the Traktor mapping (available from the Behringer site) improves on Deckadance, and apparently the imminent Virtual DJ mapping is even better.
The effects work like this: The first of the four knob/buttons is wet/dry, or the amount of the channel’s sound that is effected, and the amount that’s clean. The knob’s button resets the knob to zero, which is a bit weird as the knob will still be physically set elsewhere. Meanwhile, the other three knobs control a single parameter of three effects that you can choose yourself from drop-down menus in the software (but not from the hardware). The effects are generally beat-synced, meaning turning the control knob speeds up or slows down the amount the effect cycles.
You get a delay, flanger, phaser, lo-pass filter, hi-pass filter, autopan, transform (gate), bitcrusher, distortion and reverb. They range from OK to excellent sounding; for instance, while the transform doesn’t cut cleanly which feels a bit strange, the delay and flange/phaser effects I found to be pretty convincing.
Filters don’t work very well in this paradigm as they don’t duplicate the filter effect most DJs want, ie real-time knob-controlled HPF/LPF intensity – these are beat-cycling only. Hardly surprising, as that function is dealt with in the software by dedicated filters, which as we know you can’t access from the control surface. Overall the effects are pretty good but the way to controls are mapped I found a bit weird.
More about the software
This isn’t a Deckadance review, but to summarise, overall Deckadance 2 LE is good DJ software, with some novel features; it certainly holds its own, coming with DVS support, VST plugin capability, programmable macro “smart knobs” and “GrossBeat” permutations, and more. The LE version (LE means “cut down”, basically) that comes in the box has some pretty crippling limitations, though (you can’t record which is always the big one, and there’s mo Midi mapping or editor for the “smart knob” and “GrossBeat” settings), which means that while it’s perfectly good for starting to DJ with, you’d want to upgrade at some point, to the full version of this or some other software.
However, if you did decide you liked Deckadance – and there is plenty about it to like – in this instance, the upgrade is US$49, which isn’t a bad deal at all. The first thing I would do is start to map some of its features to a small external controller (the sampler would be an obvious choice) – maybe even to one of Behringer’s new modular controllers.
While we’re bigging up Deckadance, you have to feel some affection to any DJ software whose makers describe it like this: “Deckadance has everything you need to elevate your DJ performances to the next level. Of course, if you suck as a DJ you will still suck, even using Deckadance, but you will suck better, faster, harder and more creatively than ever before.”
You can’t fault the value. For this price, the beginner is getting a decent-sized controller, some pretty powerful software (even in its LE version), and the chance to learn to DJ on something that isn’t massively far removed from models costing several times the price.
It has its shortcoming – no microphone or aux input, missing gain controls, no booth/rec out even though there are enough sockets there, average jogwheel performance – but again, for the price you have to expect compromises.
Throw in the extra $50 to fully unlock the software, maybe as your skills grow, add one of Behringer’s modular controllers doing a bit of remapping to customise stuff to your style, and you’ll have one seriously good value for money DJ set-up that’s also nice and powerful.
I am sure quickly enough decent mappings for Traktor and Virtual DJ, at the very least, will appear, although as always with such mappings the acid test is how good the jogwheel response is, but such mappings will hopefully give buyers of this the choice as to what software they want to run with if Deckadance isn’t for them.
Competition-wise, I’d say the Mixtrack Pro (if you can still find one) and Mixtrack Pro 2 from Numark are still strong contenders with their excellent jogwheels, albeit with fewer buttons and backlighting than you get here; also consider the highly underrated (but more expensive) Denon DJ MC2000, which is appreciably smaller but well-built and a good performer.
Ultimately, I feel that if Behringer had bundled more tightly mapped software (such as mappings seen with budget controllers running Serato DJ Intro), it would have been game, set and match to them – not so much with Deckadance, due to the average jogwheel mapping.
Even so, if money’s tight and you want to punch above your station, you should look very closely at this. You can always pair it with Traktor or Virtual DJ due to the alternative mappings that are out there (at extra cost, of course), and as Behringer offers a three-year guarantee on all its gear nowadays, you don’t have to worry about reliability (you may be using your guarantee if the decal rubs off as easily as it did on our review unit). Bottom line is you’re getting an awful lot for your money here – and that ought to mean the unit will sell well.
Scratch settings demo video
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Well, it’s been a long wait: What do you think? Good controller for the cash? What would you consider instead at this price range? Does it do most stuff right, or are there things here that would put you off buying this unit? Please share your thoughts in the comments.