Hercules takes the sync ethos in its own direction with the P32 DJ pad controller, a grid pad controller with a two-channel mixer and sound card thrown in. Each deck consists of a 4×4 grid with assignable function buttons, loop controls, as well as filter and effect knobs. It’s made entirely of plastic, with a smallish footprint by modern DJ controller standards. Easy to use and very portable. Worth a look particularly for those looking for loop, sample, or Ableton Live clip based style performances.
First Impressions / Setting up
Think of it as a grid pad controller with a two-channel mixer and sound card thrown in: each deck consists of a 4×4 grid with assignable function buttons, loop controls, as well as filter and effect knobs. It’s made entirely of plastic, with a smallish footprint by modern DJ controller standards. It’s got a 1/4” headphone jack, USB port, and pair of RCA outputs for the master channel.
At the bottom of each deck are the transport and sync controls, as well as the Shift button which you’ll be using a lot if you plan on operating DJUCED 40 (the included DJ software) straight from the P32 DJ which we’ll see later.
The pads themselves are soft and rubbery, which is fine because they aren’t velocity-sensitive pads. They’re fun to mash and responsive, so you won’t have problems triggering one shot samples or loops with them.
The mixer section consists of three-band EQ controls per channel and two plastic volume faders and a crossfader, which are rather stiff – that’s fine, you won’t be cutting and scratching on this controller anyway. There’s a library browse knob at the top as well as load buttons, a record button, Slip mode button (I’ll explain this later), and headphone cue and volume buttons (Hercules loves volume buttons for headphones instead of knobs…)
DJUCED 40 is the DJ app of choice for Hercules controllers, and a new version rolled out at the same time as this controller, which lets you take advantage of the grid pad Sampler decks for playing loops and samples “Remix Deck” style alongside more traditional DJing (ie mixing one song to another).
I downloaded DJUCED 40 from the DJUCED website, hooked up the P32 DJ to my laptop and a pair of speakers, and got going…
First off, the updated DJUCED 40 is getting pretty slick – while the graphics themselves haven’t changed, it runs a lot smoother now. The interface is still a bit cramped (think Traktor, less Serato), and is especially so with the addition of four decks mode, which displays two standard decks (A and B) along with the new sampler decks at the bottom (C and D).
Controls and mapping
You can control all four decks using just the Hercules P32 DJ controller, and I was impressed by the thoughtful mapping – on their own, the mixer, transport buttons, and EQs and filter knobs control decks A and B, but when you hold down the Shift button they all do double duty as controls for your sampler decks C and D. It just works well, and holding the Shift button feels almost second nature if you want to tweak parameters in the sampler decks.
There are four effects knobs per deck, with four buttons each. On their own, they control three effect slots and one dry/wet parameter, and the buttons serve as on/off and macro (all turn on) switches. When you’re holding down Shift, the four knobs act as volume controls for each column in the sampler deck, and the on/off buttons let you scroll through the built in effects one by one. You probably won’t be using it that much because it’s quicker with a mouse, but it’s there if you prefer to keep your hands on your controller when choosing effects.
Mixer and loop section
As mentioned, the mixer consists of two line faders, a crossfader, headphone and cue controls, and a three-band EQ section. These are not hardware EQs, they’re just knobs that control the EQ section within DJUCED 40 (or whatever DJ app you’re using and have mapped the P32 DJ to). The filter knobs are push rotary encoders, meaning you can turn the filters on and off by pushing them, and rotating the knob clockwise engages a high pass filter (removes all low frequencies), and anti-clockwise eagles the low pass filter (removes all high frequencies).
The loop knob is also a push rotary, which lets you set loop length and activate / deactivate loops, and there’s a loop size display window beside it.
There’s also a Slip mode button. Slip basically tracks the position of a track that you’ve got playing, so even if you were messing around with it as a loop or jumping cues, it snaps back to where you left off and continues.
Grid pad functions
The 4×4 grid pad for each deck works in four different ways thanks to its four mode buttons: Hot Cue mode lets you place up to 16 hot cues in a single track, more than enough for any controllerism routine you can think of.
Loop mode divides the grid pad into two types of loop functions: The top half becomes momentary loop buttons, letting you trigger loops from 1/16 to eight beats whenever you hold any of the pads down. The bottom half becomes standard loop buttons, which you let you place 1/16 to eight beat loops that keep repeating until you press them again (think loop on/off buttons).
Slicer mode “slices up” a portion of music and divides them among eight pads on the grid. You can specify the length of the portion that gets sliced, from one beat (which will make each pad a 1/32 note slice) all the way up to 32 beats (each pad will then become a four beat or one bar slice).
In both Loop and Slicer modes, the Slip function is a handy feature to have because it lets you “play through” a song even while you’re mangling it with loops and slicer performances, ensuring that the track is still playing as it normally would without you messing around with it.
Finally, Sampler mode is what the grid pads are made for, letting you trigger loops and samples in decks C and D of DJUCED 40. When Sampler is enabled, pressing on any of the pads launches the loop or sample that is assigned to that pad in DJUCED 40. Holding the Shift button and pressing the pad again stops it from playing.
It’s very easy to launch these loops and trigger one shots even though you’re playing a normal track in decks A or B because they play in a quantised fashion – that means that even though you press the button a little too early or too late, it will always “snap” and play to the next most logical beat.
You can even set how sensitive this snapping is if you want more accuracy, from 1/32 note all the way up to one beat. Of course, you can turn snapping and quantisation off for performances and triggering where you won’t be guided by the software.
Leave it to Hercules to come up with a DJ controller that’s more mad science mixed with quirky good fun instead of a straightforward “me too” controller clone – I like it! It’s easy to pick up and fun to use, and fits entirely in my rucksack. I think the addition of some pitch faders and a touch strip, such as on the Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2, would make this a more popular option for controller DJs, but of course that would mean bumping up the price as a tradeoff.
While Traktor and Virtual DJ mappings have been promised on the site, I still haven’t been able to use them with these apps, but DJUCED 40 has made great strides in becoming a totally usable app in a live performance setting.
I also like how Hercules basically distilled the Remix Deck concept of Native Instruments into something super simple and easy to use thanks to the P32 DJ layout, plus again DJUCED 40 has improved by a large margin – this bump in software performance is crucial because without it, the controller would be just another grid pad device.
Probably won’t be your main or go-to controller anytime soon, but do check it out if you want to try something new.