With the DJControl Inpulse 500, Hercules has produced an ambitious two-channel controller for both its own DJUCED software and Serato, that bridges the gap between beginner and serious DJ. It’s a device that gets nearly everything right, and punches way above its weight. It’s a pleasure to DJ on, has some interesting unique features – and it looks the part too.
First Impressions / Setting up
I’ll kick off this Hercules Inpulse 500 review by saying that right out of the box this controller looks amazing for the money. It is relatively big for a two-channel controller, and so the controls are better spaced out than, say, those on the Numark Mixtrack Pro FX & Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX, and definitely more so than on the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 and Pioneer DJ DDJ-400.
It is quite deep, too, which adds to the feeling of a substantial device – and then you discover the feet! There are four fold-out feet underneath the unit which when put into operation, add a good couple of inches to its height. They are sturdy and grippy, and raise the controller up pleasingly to add to the feeling that this is a large, serious unit. There are even understated but cool white LED lights underneath. Top marks here.
While it is ultimately still a budget controller, this size, plus the metal plate under the mixer section, means it feels well built for the price. Indeed, such is its stature, you’d expect to find an outlet power brick in the box, but no, it takes its power from the computer’s USB – another thing that reminds you that it’s not really a mid-market controller, as its looks suggest.
The layout is pretty standard, with two identically laid-out decks and a two-channel mixer in the middle. The jogwheels are big enough, 5.5in (140mm) across at the bottom, 4.5″ (115mm) at the top, and they feel great, with just the right weight. Not quite as good as those on the new Mixtracks, but close.
Each deck has eight smallish RGB pads (rubberised, and they click when pushed), four pad function buttons, a relatively short tempo control, cue and play/pause buttons in the now-standard vertical position bottom left of the jogs, a push-to-click loop encoder with in/out buttons, a sync button, and vinyl, slip and quantise buttons (top left). All the buttons have neat little LEDs in the bottom-right corners to indicate if they’re activated or not.
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The two-channel mixer has a large library push encoder middle top (which doubles up as an “energy” knob – more later) with two deck load buttons, two channels complete with three-band EQ, gain, and filter/FX knob, selector buttons for four FX (again, more later on this), and headphone cue buttons. There are also some unique items here that we’ll look at in the In Use section, namely Assistant button and the Beatmatch Guide.
Down the left of the main mixer section is a vertical strip of controls for the external inputs. There are two external inputs – mic and Aux. The Mic input gets volume plug two-band EQ, and the Aux gets volume and, uniquely, its own filter.
Meanwhile down the right are the output controls, with a Master volume, and both a volume and a cue/master knob for the headphones.
There is generous VU metering for a controller at this level, with 9-bar master channel EQs, and a 5-bar stereo master EQ.
On the front of the unit are 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphones sockets, and from left to right around the back are the Master Outs (RCA and, curiously, unbalanced 1/4″ jacks), a balanced 1/4″ mic in jack, both 1/8″ minijack stereo and 2 x RCA Aux Ins, the USB socket for connecting to your computer, and a curious mini DIN socket for an unspecified “Hercules Add-On”. There is also a Kensington lock socket, with a thoughtful rubberised cover.
Hercules actually has its own DJ software, DJUCED, which has developed into a capable package, and you get it for free with the unit. But the unit is also compatible with Serato, coming with Serato DJ Lite (the “intro” version of the software), which is of course a giant compared to DJUCED, so it’s good that this option is available. In this case, though, to get the “full strength” version of the software, users have to pay an upgrade fee to Serato, which definitely needs to be factored in to the price.
It feels nice and refined to us. The way the buttons light up on the corners when pressed, in a rather understated but clear white colour is lovely, and despite the glowing light under the unit when the feet are up, the lit ring around the library knob (more on this later), and the Beat align lights, all of this is subtle.
The only criticism about the controls I have is the fact that the VU meters and pads are not very bright. They’ll be fine most of the time indoors or in dark parties, but playing outdoors or in very bright rooms, you’re going to struggle to see them. With the pads, some colours are fine, but some are definitely hard to see under those circumstances. Probably it’s because the unit has to take all its power from the computer.
One thing I really liked was the big, lit “1” and “2” numbers top-right of the jogwheels on each deck, to show you when the deck is “live”. This is a great feature, especially for the beginner DJ who is growing into playing in public (for whom this controller is intended), and kind of makes up for the fact that there is no lighting on or around the jogwheels at all to show you they are “moving” (ie that deck is playing).
There are backlit rings of light around the Mic volume and the Aux In volume controls, that glow red when the inputs are peaking, which is a great touch.
How the rest of the controller’s features work rather depends on what software you’re using, so we’ll look at all three options now.
With Serato DJ Lite
Free with the device, this is the cut-down version of Serato DJ Pro. You get Tidal and SoundCloud for music streaming, and enough features to get you going, although Serato really, really wants you to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro (which you should at some point) and you’ll be reminded of this often as a ‘Lite user.
As with all Serato DJ Lite controllers, you only actually get four performance pads, because the bottom four are glorified transport controls, in this instance giving you reverse, slip reverse (censor), and scrub back and forwards. Meanwhile, the pads control hot cues, manual loops, auto loop, and sampler – the two looping functions duplicated by the separate loop controls anyway.
There is a ring of light around the Library select knob, which flashes according to the beatgrid on your track – it flashes red on the first beat of the bar, and blue on the other beats. More usefully perhaps is the “Beatmatch Guide”: Press this button, and you get a little arrow under each jogwheel, telling you whether that deck needs to be sped up or slowed down for the beats to align. It’s a useful guide for beginners who are trying to learn manual beatmixing.
The filter knobs are just that – filters – unless one of the little FX buttons is pressed. When that is the case, FX1, FX2 and FX3 turn on Serato DJ Lite’s three effects consecutively and the Filter knob controls the effect. you have to select the effect you want with the mouse pointer on the screen, though.
It does’s matter whether you turn the filter knob left or right, it increases the intensity of the effect depending upon how far away from 12 o’clock you are, which feels a bit weird. The fourth FX button does nothing: I’d like to have seen this one cycle through the Beats values for the effects engine.
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Of the three controls top left, the Vinyl button switches between Vinyl (“scratch”) mode on the jogwheels and CDJ, or “nudge” mode, but the other two – Slip and Quantize – don’t work, instead triggering one of the prompts to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro.
Basically, the Inpulse 500 controls Serato DJ Lite just fine. Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the effects implementation, I guess you’d get used to it, and at least you get the chance to change what the effects do, which is more than is possible on the rival Numark Mixtrack FX controllers.
DJUCED is Hercules’s own DJ software, and it’s come on nicely to be a pretty full featured package. It’s roughly equivalent to Serato DJ Pro, about which more in a second. It’s free with the Inpulse 500.
While this isn’t a software review, it’s worth pointing out the differences between this and Serato DJ Lite: You get four decks (although you can only control two with this controller), there’s key detection for harmonic mixing, it has Beatport and Beatsource as streaming services (against Serato’s Tidal and SoundCloud, at the time of writing), but you also get French streaming service Qobuz too, which doesn’t appear in any other DJ platform.
You can record your sets, and you can also choose to output directly to either SoundCloud or Mixcloud, which is cool – RTMP would be even cooler, mind. And here’s where the Inpulse 500’s “aAsistant” button works as intended, because pressing it suggests tracks to play next, based presumably on key and BPM. (In both Serato mappings, this button toggles Autoplay.)
The pads come into their own too, with Hot Cue, Loop, Slicer, Sampler, Tone Play and Pad-controlled FX among the options. While I’m no expert on this software, it did seem pretty capable. Here, the Filter knob controls four effect plus filter – echo, flanger, gate and reverb – which sound pretty good and apparently you can change them in the software, too.
Some more notable points about DJUCED: I liked the way the waveforms split when you’re in Slip mode (like they do on the Denon DJ Prime gear, for instance), and the Beat Align functions work here, too, to help with manual beatmixing.
Instead of the light around the library knob flashing with the beat, this time it can be used to select the required “energy” level” of your next track; push it in and turn it and the ring changes colour to dial in the “energy level”, and the tracks in the Assistant panel are meant to be chosen to match the level. Definitely a gimmick too far for me.
With Serato DJ Pro
Upgrade Serato and you gain all of Serato’s features such as key sync, full effects engine, recording and so on.
I guess most importantly you get proper pad function, with Tone Play, loop roll, slicer and so on all present and correct. It keeps the rather cool flashing beat and bar lights on the library knob, which I liked, and the effects work exactly the same way as with Serato DJ Lite, albeit with Serato DJ Pro’s much wider choice.
There’s a lot to like about the Hercules DJControl Inpulse. Overall it looks the part, being well-sized and with that metal mixer plate, and the feet are a masterstroke. I liked the generous mic and aux channels with their EQ, filter and peak meters, the decent (if dim) VU meters, and I also think people will appreciate the two sets of outputs (useful if you’re using an audio interface for streaming as well as outputting to speakers, for example).
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The Beat Align feature to help beginner DJs level up their skills is moderately useful (not so the “Energy” feature, for me), and the choice of software is something unique to Hercules, too – if you want a “full blown” DJ package, there’s one in the box, albeit not a hugely popular one (DJUCED works fine, though).
Quirks or bug bears? I found the FX implementation strange, and couldn’t really get my head around it on DJUCED, although it’s perfectly usable and you’d get used to it. The short tempo controls will put some off, and the dim LEDs will be a pain when DJing in daytime or out of doors. And there are no controls on the unit for tempo range, key lock and key sync, which I’d like to have seen.
Of course there is stiff competition at this price point, with the cheaper Mixtrack FX controllers particularly going directly for the same market, but the Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500 has enough going for it to turn heads nonetheless, and I think it will do well for the brand.
• At the time of writing (June 2020), people who buy from Hercules directly, Thomann or Bax Shop in Europe/the UK can get Serato DJ Pro for free with this controller.