Review: Behringer CMD MM-1, PL-1 and DC-1 DJ Controllers
Full Behringer CMD MM-1, PL-1 & DC-1 Review: Behringer’s collection of feature-packed stand-alone modular controllers promise extensive control over your DJ software at an affordable price, bringing choice, flexibility and portability to any set-up. But how easy are they to get to grips with for digital beginners, and do they stand up as an attractive option with so many well-priced and feature-packed all-in-one DJ controllers dominating the market? We get our hands on them…
Before we talk you through each of the units and their capabilities let’s talk about the full range, as we’re only looking at three of them here. We’ve chosen these three out of the full range as a typical user scenario – a jogwheel, a mixer, and a box of buttons. The point is that you couldn’t buy an all-in-one controller configured like this; of course, your needs may be different to our test set-up.
This is clearly one of the advantages of modular gear over all-in-one, and even if we haven’t reviewed the particular model that appeals to you in this range here, hopefully you’ll get an idea as to the quality and integration possibilities of these units. We will of course endeavour to cover other modules as soon as we have space in the schedule.
OK, a bit more about the range itself then. All of the modules are class-compliant, promising that you can just “connect and go”. They come with Deckadance LE software in the box, access to Traktor TSI mappings via the Behringer website, and the ability to be mapped to Serato, Ableton and any other Midi-compatible programs.
They all feel pretty light, with a slim tabletop design, but are sturdy with it. They’re all the same size, at 150mm by 305mm and 40mm high, helped by some grippy rubber feet. A clever feature is that they can all easily be fixed together by using the supplied recessed connector plate on the bottom of each unit; just a screwdriver and two minutes is needed to fix them together firmly in whatever configuration you prefer. Once connected the modules look like one sturdy unit and stay together reasonably snugly as long as the screws are tight; even with a few units connected they feel light and highly portable. All are fitted with Kensington lock slots for DJ booth security.
Let’s get my main niggle out of the way: The backlit “pads” or buttons. While there are plenty of them across the various different units (including 32 on the clip-triggering LC-1, which we’ll feature in a separate review) and most are sized well for their most obvious uses, they feel a little clunky and even creaky in use. Don’t get me wrong, they do their job, but you need a firm hand to ensure engagement and they just feel a little primitive. Rumours abound that Behringer improvements are imminent though, which is good news. Note that none are velocity-sensitive.
In contrast, the backlighting of the buttons is bright and clear and the faders all feel smooth and professional. The rotary encoders have a nice rubberised finish that’s easy to grip, with clear LEDs denoting whether the encoder is engaged and at what position. And with the brushed metal faceplates adding a sleek, cool appearance, the overall look and feel of all the units gets a big thumbs up.
The units on review
The CMD MM-1 is a four-channel mixer module with built-in four-port powered USB hub, the only one of the three we tested that requires mains power (the others are powered from this one, or from your computer). The unit has four smooth 60mm channel faders and a loose, flicky feeling 45mm crossfader. Each channel has a cue monitor button, and two numbered buttons that can be used as either crossfade assigns (as standard mapping in the supplied software, Deckadance) or to engage two separate effects units (in Traktor for example).
Moving up there are four rotary encoders per channel (filter, bass, mid and treble) and then a strip of controls along the top with rotaries for two outputs on the left and cue mix/volume on the right. Top-centre there’s a browse section with a rotary selector and “left” and “right” buttons, which change folder focus depending on your software. Finally, there’s a tall orange main output LED meter and a shift button down the centre. The MM-1 is clearly laid out and it should be obvious to any beginner what does what.
On the rear there’s an input for the supplied power source, four powered USB sockets and the USB connection to your laptop, plus a hook to tie cables around to prevent accidental removal – plus that Kensington lock slot to prevent, well, intentional removal!
The CMD PL-1 is a deck, transport and effects control unit, giving control of up to four decks. Centrestage is the four-inch high-resolution touch-sensitive platter typically for cueing, nudging and scratching, surrounded by buttons to switch on the key controls; “scratch” to toggle between scratch and jog mode, “tap” to lock in your beatgrids, “sync” for locked-in mixes and “deck” for the deck assign, which toggles through decks one to four with four backlit numbers just above the button to denote the deck you are currently controlling.
The lower section has super-large cue and play/pause buttons, plus scroll back/forward and tempo nudge up/down controls. The top half of the control surface is taken with eight rotary encoders with LED position indicators, eight cue buttons, a long 14-bit pitch fader (also with LED feedback), and “load” and “lock” buttons. The rear panel has just the USB (to connect either straight to your computer or to the MM-1 depending on configuration).
For me (and for this as an example modular set-up), the CMD DC-1 is where things start to get interesting. It’s a “pad” (or more accurately, a “bug button”)-based module, with effects and navigation control. There are 16 large backlit buttons, eight encoders for controlling effects (all with LED visuals Midi feedback) and another eight buttons for effects assign or cue points and so on. At the top is the complete transport section with a large rotary push / turn control and eight buttons for navigating track libraries and scenes and loading tracks and samples.
So, we’ve chosen three modules that we think offer an interesting mix of functions for our hypothetical user who can’t get what he wants from any of the typical all-in-one controllers out there; now let’s look a little closer at getting them working.
Setting Up & In Use
Of course controllers like this are screaming to be custom-mapped to within an inch of their lives, and frankly if you’re chomping at the bit to do exactly that, you probably identified the units for you and have them mapped in your head already! But for the less expert user, crafting custom mappings isn’t going to be something possible immediately, and so this kind of DJ is going to be more interested in how these units work “out of the box”.
So here, we’re going to focus on the “connect and go” Deckadance software, and the Traktor mappings that are downloadable from Behringer’s website and forum. (Note that you can also get Ableton scripts for all but the CMD PL-1, again from the Behringer site).
First, we had a crack at setting up the CMDs with the supplied Deckadance LE software, via the website link provided on the card in the box. The whole process took about five minutes from connecting the units up and downloading the software to getting the first tune playing. Rather impressively, on both the mixer and deck transport modules everything just worked. Fair play: Behringer has delivered on its “connect and go” promise, with intuitive controls mapped to the supplied software. With the PL-1 deck control and the MM-1 mixer unit, it was pretty easy to work out what was controlling what, with only a small piece of detective work required to deduce that the top row of the PL-1 encoders give control over one rack of effects on each deck and the bottom row over basic looping.
The jogwheel integration on the PL-1 is poor in Deckadance, with a noticeable latency making precise scratching a tall order.
It was a little more tricky to understand how the DC-1 is mapped out of the box, but after a quick visit to Behringer’s YouTube channel to check out the tutorials, we learned that the transport section is (predictably) mapped to give you total control over navigation, loading and the preview player, while the encoders and dual assigns per channel are mapped to control the “Smart Knob” functionality in Deckadance. This is where you can link a single knob to any number of effects and mixer interface targets (there are a plethora of fantastic presets in Deckadance 2 LE with user-programming available if you upgrade). The 16 trigger buttons are mapped to Deckadance’s sample slots.
The Deckadance software is feature-heavy and could seem pretty overwhelming if you’re new to digital, requiring time and patience to learn how to creatively harness its capabilities. Luckily, the online user manual is great, and the CMD units are perfect to get you started, with intuitive mappings and the supporting online tutorials from Behringer meaning you can quickly be having fun and mixing tunes.
Next, we moved on to trying out the standard mappings for Traktor Pro 2. These can be accessed from the Behringer website. This was not without its problems; the website was mostly slow and at times totally broken (update: this has now been fixed). Next you need to load the TSIs into Traktor’s complicated controller manager, and in all honesty this is not an “out of the box” experience; the Digital DJ Tips support inbox is proof as to how much Traktor’s mappings configuration baffles beginners! We did eventually get all three TSI’s imported and working…
The PL-1 is more useful in Traktor than in Deckadance, mainly because the two rows of effects encoders are mapped to control one effects bank each, with the dry/wet on the left and the three effects controls alongside just as it is in the software. The push-down engage works well and there’s a red LED to indicate that the knob is engaged, with further LED indicators all the way round showing the current value. One feature of the standard mapping that seems odd as missing is the effects assign for each deck, because you can’t enable the effects with the controller if you only have a PL-1. The eight buttons below control cue points but are not really big enough for precise cue-juggling (more on this when we come on to the DC-1).
The jogwheel integration is fantastic with Traktor, among the best non-Native Instruments controllers we’ve tested, but the main gripe with the PL-1 (which is the same no matter what software you are controlling) is that the deck assign indicator is tiny and has very dim backlighting. This means that the most important piece of information you will need when approaching the unit (ie “what deck am I just about to control?”) is not easy to see at all, so a cowering squint and perhaps a secondary glance is required to ensure you are not just about to make a major error.
It’s a shame, because the flexible deck switching on this unit works brilliantly and I found that as a DJ who likes to manipulate the jogwheel (and do the occasional bit of scratching) with my left hand, the fact that all four decks are controlled with the same hand is a real bonus in my set-up. You can decide for yourself which hand works best for you for jog manipulation (or effects control for that matter) and position your unit accordingly.
The MM-1 is again perfectly mapped, with the numbered 1 and 2 buttons above the cue engage switching the effects banks on or off for each deck. The faders feel nice and perform well.
The DC-1 is provided with three possible Traktor mappings. First, there’s a “standard” one where the large pads / buttons replicate the first four cue points assigned on each deck, making cue juggling much easier than the smaller buttons on the PL-1, with the two buttons above toggling the filter and keylock functions and the encoders controlling the key knob and filter knobs respectfully.
Further mappings control looping and Remix Decks, which should make a lot more sense than the standard mapping for this unit in Traktor – but after three failed attempts to get these from the Behringer website to test, we decided that life is too short and gave up (again, the Behringer ninjas seem to have done some site updating, and as we go to press these seem to be all present and correct).
This kind of set-up is not a “first” controller. For most digital DJs, most of the time, an all-in-one controller is going to be the smartest choice. There are some extremely capable all-in-one controllers out there that also come with built-in sound cards, something none of these modules do. You can snag some units like this for roughly price of just a couple of the Behringers.
However, there are definitely use cases where a modular set-up becomes interesting. If you’re a “laptop” (in the truest sense of the word) DJ, who has been happily mixing with keyboard shortcuts and maybe a small external sound card for your headphones cueing, you may be quite happy doing it the way you’ve learned, but still yearn to break out some of the software’s functions into hardware control (As Digital DJ Tip’s scratch tutor, my money would be on adding a PL-1 and an MM-1) Pick your unit or units, and there you have it! Then, of course, you can expand your set up as and when you want.
Conversely, you may be an all-in-one controller DJ who is frustrated by the lack of control offered by your unit, and have developed a workflow that screams for something more custom. In my case, I loved having a single jogwheel in this choice of devices, and having it on the left, as that’s my “scratching” hand, and it still gave me control over four decks – with all the hotcues I could wish for on the right-hand controller.
Also, taking one or two of these into the DJ booth means a smaller footprint than most DJ controllers – especially, actually, if you don’t bolt them together. Ditching the CMD MM-1 mixer module, for instance, and plugging from your sound card directly into two channels of the club’s mixer, one or two of these modules could give you pretty in-depth control over any aspects of your software you like.
Of course, DVS users – in particular those who use record decks – will see the benefit in having modules for some of the controls missing in a barebones DVS system – an alternatives to Novation’s Dicers or the buttons in Reloop’s new RP-8000 Midi-enabled turntables. The out of the box mappings work well for both Deckadance and (more importantly) Traktor, and it’s clear from the online forums and community mappings that these bad boys are highly adaptable; already they’re proving to be a godsend for creative DJs looking to tune-up their dream controller configuration at a sensible price.
Apart from the rather hard buttons the units are well made, the powered MM-1 makes a useful USB hub for more complex configurations, and by and large I think these can be judged a success. You just have to be sure you’re the kind of DJ who wants, or is ready to step up to, this kind of more complicated set-up over the ease of use and value of a suitable all-in-one unit.
Are you tempted by any of the modules in this range? Do you already own one of them? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments!