For Hercules and its market, this is a good, if quirky, controller: It’s Serato. It’s got the best jogwheels Hercules has ever put on a controller. And it crams in an awful lot of features including some unexpected extras (the visual feedback on the jogs is excellent, and the “beats” counters are welcome). Short throw pitch controls and some fiddly workflows let it down a little, though.
First Impressions / Setting up
It looks immediately like a Hercules controller. The company has always had a certain quirkiness to its designs and this unit is no different, with an indent at the front to keep the mic and headphones controls flush with the overall dimensions of the unit, slightly oddly placed performance pads, and a curious mixture of the good (the jogwheels are stars of the show, weighted and jumbo-sized) and the not-so-good (short-throw pitch controls, for instance).
Basically, it’s a compact, brushed plastic box with huge jogs, a two-channel mixer, and a reasonable selection of inputs (including a single 1/8″ TRS aux), outputs (booth as well as master, but unbalanced only), and controls (which are reasonably high quality mostly, for instance the buttons have LED backlit “slits”, very similar to those on Native Instruments controllers, which give the unit an air of class). It has “Air” effects (something the company has tried on its very cheap controllers), which is another “first” for a Serato controller: we’ll let you know how they work out in the next section, and demo them in the video.
It’s a Serato controller which means absolutely no messing to set it up, install the software as instructed and plug it in, and it all works. It comes with Serato DJ Intro, the capable but stripped down version of Serato’s DJ platform, and of course if you want to pay to upgrade the software to Serato DJ, you are free to do so, to unlock the more advanced features of that platform.
As with all Serato controllers, it works smoothly and does the basics perfectly well. That is to say, you can load, sync, play/pause, cue and mix tracks in exactly the way you’d expect. But as with all Hercules controllers, it has lots packed in, and isn’t scared to be a bit quirky where it wants to. Some of it works well, some not so well.
Firstly, the jogwheels. They’re going to win this controller a lot of fans. They’re pro-feeling, nice and heavy (maybe even too heavy!), and the internal lights are pretty useful, the outer ring showing rotation, the inner ring how far through the track you are, reinforced by green / yellow / red track marking LEDs to the edge of each jogwheel. They have vinyl/nudge controls so you can set the behaviour as you’d wish, and overall, get our thumbs up. The big browse encoder likewise is really nice, which means both loading and controlling tracks with theDJControl Jogvision is a pleasant experience – apart from the short-throw pitch faders, which although accurate if you’re very careful, definitely let down those lovely jogs for manual beatmatching.
The transport controls work as expected and like all the buttons, are a nice, rubberised design with a backlit LED strip to show status. The RGB performance pads are a bit quirky (they control cues in two banks and samples across all four banks, but not looping, loop rolls or slicer like most do), and of course there are only four per side – again, this is unusual. There are tiny lights to show what function they’re set to, but this is where the RGB comes in too, because they’re colour coded, so as soon as you get used to them, you should find them intuitive.
This is a two deck controller, and so the two-channel mixer has no layer switching or anything like that. It’s in fact quite simple, with bass / mid / treble (no per-channel filters), and per-channel VU meters (no master VUs, though). The gain controls are weird; you hold down “shift” under the channel whose gain you want to alter, and turn the big “browse” encoder to turn the gain up or down for that channel. It actually works OK, but I’d have preferred to see normal gain controls. There are also really nice “beat” LEDs here, that count the “1, 2, 3, 4” beats of each bar for you, which is a great way to tell at a glance if you’re in phase (assuming your tunes are correctly beatgridded, of course).
The area above each jogwheel is reserved for looping and FX, and is unnecessarily complicated, although it works OK when you get used to it. A button decides if the main buttons control FX or loops. In loop mode, there’s an on/off button, and half and double length buttons, the latter buttons’ functions duplicated by a loop size rotary encoder, for no apparent reason. In FX mode, the buttons turn the FX on or off per engine, or allow you to select the effect if used with “shift”, and in this mode the encoder become the wet/dry.
A single/multi FX button changes the actual FX mode in Serato from one effect with multi-controls to the simple FX, and the fourth button here turns the “Air FX” on and off. So what is “Air FX”? Basically, hold your hand above the IR control top of the mixer and you can control the filter, the amount being shown by six LEDs close by. It’s at first a bit gimmicky, but we actually got into it after al while, and Hercules clearly believes people like it, because the company has used it on several controllers. It works as advertised.
Other features worth pointing out include full control over Serato’s views and library areas (good to see), keylock (which is expected nowadays) and Slip mode (again, good to see), and simple but workable mic and aux channels (straight through bypassing the mixer, with a volume control and on/off for on the mic) plus a headphones output, that has both 1/4″ and 1/8″ jacks, and buttons instead of a knob for cue/mix. Curiously, there’s no master volume, you can get around this by plugging into the booth out and using its volume control, if you need to.
For Hercules and its market, this is a good controller. It’s Serato (very good). It’s got the best jogwheels Hercules has ever put on a controller (also very good). And it crams in an awful lot of features including some unexpected extras (the visual feedback on the jogs is excellent, and the “beats” counters are welcome).
The only real limitation I can see is that it simply can’t control four decks of Serato at all, so it’s not for you if you want more than two deck control. Apart from that, my “not so good” points concern usability and design: I would have liked to see better pitch controls, a more standard performance pad layout with looping pushed down to that part of the controller allowing the FX to be mapped more clearly, and per-channel filter and gains; the former it could be argued are compensated for by the Air FX, the latter is not so hard to work around with the system they’ve implemented, but again, I find it unnecessarily complicated.
The controller has a good audio interface on board though so it sounds great, and would be fine for public performance due to the aux through (for backup) and the booth out (for having monitor speakers near you in set-ups where there’s no external mixer to take care of that for you). And it certainly feels more expensive than it is, solely because of those excellent jogwheels. So like most things Hercules that we’ve liked, it’s curious, it’s quirky, but on final analysis it’s pretty decent. It ought to do well, especially among fans of the brand, of which there are many.