So you want to have a go at DJing but don’t want to blow hundreds on a controller? If it’s a hobby, a dabble, something you only want to do from time to time, it often really doesn’t make sense to spend lots on gear – and that’s where controllers like the little American Audio ELMC-1 come in. A compact plastic box with two relatively big jogwheels and apparently all the controls you need, the American Audio ELMC-1 appears to offer enough for a beginner to get going with, for a relatively low price. Let’s see how it stacks up.
First impressions & setting up
It’s clearly a budget controller, being a relatively lightweight black plastic box with silver plastic knobs pushed onto circuit board-mounted controls. However, the jogwheels are big and feel good, which is half the battle with any controller, and it’s sturdily made. It comes with a version of popular software Virtual DJ, that’s cut down (or “LE”), but that works fine for getting started, having all the main functions including the ability to record your sets – something such free-in-the box software often neglects.
Installing the software is straightforward, involving entering the serial number printed on the back of the CD sleeve as you install it. On plugging the controller in for the first time, for us, it was recognised immediately and we were off.
Now to make something clear: This is not an “audio interface”, which means there is no audio circuitry in the unit. You can’t plug headphones or speakers into it, in other words; it simply controls the DJ software. This is common on very cheap controllers, but it does mean that if you want to use your headphones for what’s called “pre-cueing” (hearing the next track before your audience does, an integral part of DJing), you need to take another step.
In this case, the easiest solution is to buy a DJ mono splitter cable, which gets around the limitation by using the left-hand channel of your laptop’s stereo output for headphones and the right-hand channel for speakers. Set the software configuration to “mono splitter”, you plug your speakers into one of the splitter cable’s two pseudo-stereo jacks and your headphones into the other, and you’re off. The overall output in both your headphones and speakers is in mono, but it’s firing on all channels and frankly it doesn’t matter at all for learning.
I don’t know why manufacturers don’t put these things in the box with cheap DJ controllers. Maybe because it’s a bit of a fudge? It’s true that the best solution is to buy a dedicated four-out DJ sound card, but one of those will cost you almost the price of the controller again.
Good things first. The jogwheels are really rather good. They are “dual use” (the top metal part is for scratching, and the side parts are for “nudging”, or fine adjustment of the mix), and due to their size and chunky feel, they’re fun to DJ with. It’s possible to switch scratch mode off if you prefer to only use them for nudging, as many DJs do.
There’s full bass, mid and treble for each of the two channels (this is a “two deck” controller”), which is more than some budget controllers offer. The rotary encoders give you rudimentary control over Virtual DJ’s (also rudimentary) effects, and by using the shift button and the same encoders, you can control Virtual DJ’s sample banks.
Virtual DJ’s “sync” function is good and works well here, and the buttons for cue, play/pause and loop are rather small and hard, but pretty responsive. The big central track browse button works well, and you can switch headphone cue channels by pressing shift plus the A or B track load buttons.
So what’s not so good? First, there are no channel faders. There are “gain” knobs, which do the same job effectively as channel faders, but technically they’re not the same, and it’s mighty weird to have gain controlled in the software and not the line faders. Second, there are no pitch faders (speed controls). This is got around by holding shift and pressing the pitch bend buttons up or down, but it’s an imperfect substitute, and impossible to get fine control over the pitch this way. Basically, if you’re a purist looking to mix manually and not use your sync button, this isn’t going to be the controller for you.
You can DJ fine on this, especially if you also invest in a cheap splitter cable to give you pre-cueing. Sure it’s not pro, nor is it meant to be. It gets you going, and if you don’t get the bug, you haven’t invested too much, and have gained some DJ gear to pull out on a rainy day.
For about $40 more you could buy the Numark Mixtrack II, which still doesn’t have a sound card, but is better equipped overall. Also, Gemini has some good budget models, of which the FirstMix I/O is cheaper and the FirstMix Pro $20 more – but both have built-in audio interfaces, which mean you don’t have to buy a splitter cable (and the audio quality will be better, too).
So there’s competition at this end of the market, and the American Audio ELMC-1 doesn’t do much of note to undercut or outperform any of it. But having said that, if this is the device in front of you and you’re wanting to have a dabble, it’ll do the job. You certainly won’t be making a mistake if you really can’t afford the extra for the lowest-price DJ controller we generally recommend, the Mixtrack Pro II; undeniably better though that controller is, the ELMC-1 is half the price. As an ultra-budget device to learn on, it is adequate.
Are you looking for a controller at this price point? Do you already use a budget controller, or do you already use this one? Is it possible to learn on such cheap devices, or is it always worth spending a bit more? Please share your thoughts in the comments.