Hercules Universal DJ comes with software that lets partygoers interact with you while you perform. This controller seems to be for the DJ who already has a variety of devices (laptop, tablet / phone), wants a consistent software experience on all of those devices, and wants hardware compatibility with all those platforms all in one box. The laptop + tablet multi-screen experience is fun to use for those “back to mine” parties. All in all, it’s a solid and innovative offering from Hercules.
First Impressions / Setting up
The Hercules Univeral DJ is a small and thin controller, just a bit larger than my 13″ MacBook Pro. It’s got an all-plastic build with a brushed faceplate, and the first thing you notice are the two chunky jogwheels – they remind me of the Traktor Kontrol S4’s jogwheels somewhat. The fader caps are made of rubber, and some DJs won’t like them, especially for the crossfader where it gets a bit “sticky” if you try to do fast cuts, but these aren’t deal breakers.
The volume and pitch faders are a bit stiff, unlike what you’d find in most DJ gear these days like Pioneer mixers and controllers, which may or may not be to your liking. Thankfully, the crossfader itself is loose in comparison.
There’s a 1/4″ headphone output jack in the front of the unit, and instead of a volume control knob for your headphone cue, this one has volume increase and decrease buttons (again, that Hercules penchant for quirk). Increasing or decreasing volume isn’t as smooth as a volume knob, as the level jumps in larger increments, but it gets the job done.
Behind the unit are two pairs of RCA jacks – one for the Master output, and one for an Aux In. The Hercules Universal DJ ships with an RCA to 1/8″ cable, which lets you plug in the headphone output of your mobile device if you want to play back a tune through the controller (more on that later).
I downloaded DJuced 40 from the Hercules website, plugged the Universal DJ in, fired up the software, and got spinning.
I’ve used a variety of DJ software through the years, but this is the first time I used DJuced 40. It’s simple enough to learn quickly, but the slightly outdated and cramped interface could leave some new DJs scratching their heads – a graphic overhaul (and slightly larger text) should fix that, but it’s not a deal breaker. I loaded my iTunes playlists, and was able to get DJing within a minute or two.
The jogs on the Hercules Universal DJ are pretty good. They’re raised quite a bit from the faceplate, so spinning the jog on its edge to speed or slow down a track was easy. The platters are responsive, and cueing up a track wasn’t a problem at all, and scratching on it was fun. I generally prefer larger jogwheel platters, but at this size I’d say they’re already quite large in comparison to the rest of the unit. All in all, they’re solid performers.
There are three EQ knobs here for bass, mid, and treble, and the knob beside the pad section doubles as a gain knob when you hold down the Shift button. A filter knob would’ve been a welcome addition, as it seems to be standard in most modern controllers, but this is remedied by what Hercules calls a “Magic” mix feature which we’ll get to in a bit.
For monitoring, you can listen to deck A or B in your headphones with the cue buttons, but noticeably absent here is a cue mix knob or button that would enable you to hear the master out in your headphones. That means you’re stuck with pressing the cue buttons for both decks A and B when you’re mixing from one song to the next.
The browse section consists of a large browse knob that dominates the centre portion of the controller, with buttons for loading on either deck. Above it are three buttons labelled Scratch (when turned off, the jogwheels just slow down and speed up tracks when you turn them), Rec which enables recording within DJuced, and Magic, which applies a high pass filter to the crossfader.
This means that while you’re moving the fader to the other deck, a filter is applied that gradually removes the low end from the track that’s playing, sort of like rolling off the low end when you’re executing a mix. This is a feature found on the Pioneer DDJ-SB too.
The eight pads at the top of either deck can be used for four different functions, selectable by a row of buttons marked Cue (for hotcues), FX, Sample (for triggering sounds in the DJuced sampler), and Loop, which lets you create loops from 1/16 to 8 bars. There are no Loop in / Loop out controls on the Universal DJ.
The pads themselves are very responsive and have a bit of give; I prefer stiffer pads for finger drumming ala Maschine or Akai Pro gear, but these are fine for general use. There are no other knobs to control FX parameters aside from the Dry/Wet knob beside each of the pads (it works as a Gain knob when Shift is pressed), and the pads function as effect on and off switches, nothing more.
The three modes
There are three versions of DJuced software that works with the Hercules Universal DJ: First is the company’s own DJ software called DJUCED 40, which runs on a Mac / PC. Next is DJuced Master, which you can download for free on iOS and Android. It works as a remote, letting you control DJuced 40 using your tablet or phone. Lastly, there’s DJuced App, which is a standalone tablet version of DJuced that you’ve got to spend US$4.99 for.
The much-touted feature of this controller is that it works on different devices via three modes: Laptop mode, which uses your standard USB connection and DJUCED 40 on your computer, Multi-screen, which uses both your laptop (main screen) and an iOS / Android device running DJuced Master connected via Bluetooth (remote and effects), and Tablet mode, which is the standalone again uses Bluetooth to connect to your iOS / Android device running DJuced App (basically the tablet version of DJuced 40).
Multi-screen mode is at the heart of what Hercules calls “The DJ Party 3.0”. It’s basically a way for partygoers to interact with you by voting for songs in a playlist that you’ve shared with them or sending you a message through a proprietary web app that they can logon to. All these are accessible through DJuced Master which runs on your tablet or phone.
Now it may not be clear at first, but the requirement here is that you’ve got to be DJing with DJuced software in order to get the most use out of this controller: Only by using the DJuced laptop software and the DJuced Master app on your phone or tablet will you be able to use Multi-screen mode (and rocking The DJ Party 3.0), and only by using the DJUCED App will you be able to use the controller with your tablet in Tablet mode.
This basically means that you’re diving into the entire Hercules ecosystem of hardware and software. If you wanted to use it with, say, Virtual DJ 8 (it works beautifully) or djay Pro (the mapping’s out and works great, but the jogs are smoother on VDJ), the Universal DJ then just turns into another two-channel controller with built in interface because you can’t use the Multi-screen mode. There’s a video floating around on YouTube of someone using the Universal DJ on his iPad running djay 2 and connected via USB, but it’s not officially supported by either Hercules or Algoriddim as far as we know.
It sounds strange, but the biggest strength of the Hercules Universal DJ is also its most polarising: Those who are looking to use its multi-platform modes with their own choice of software won’t be able to (at least not easily). But make no mistake – Hercules has done a great job here to tie in an entire DJ user experience on all touch points.
If you’re willing to get into DJuced (assuming you’re just getting into digital DJing or wouldn’t mind the switch in software) and are keen on integrating Hercules’ The DJ Party 3.0 concept, there really are a number of cool social features in the DJuced Master app that make it great for bar gigs and house parties – your guests can vote online what song to play next (the democratic version of DJ requests), and they can send you messages too, if they’d rather not tweet or approach you personally.
The controller itself is decent, the build quality feels solid for an all-plastic controller, and the jogwheels are good – not otherworldly great, but you’re not going to complain about them in use either. My main gripe with it is a lack of knobs: I would’ve loved to see dedicated filter knobs here and separate Dry/Wet and Gain knobs, ala Pioneer DDJ-SB2, which happens to fall in the same price range.
This controller seems to be for the DJ who already has a variety of devices (laptop, tablet / phone), wants a consistent software experience on all of those devices, and wants hardware compatibility with all those platforms all in one box.
At under US$250, the Hercules Universal DJ achieves that – you’ve got different versions of DJuced and, apart from forking over US$4.99 for the tablet version, comes free with the kit ready to be used. There are many hobby DJs who want a turnkey solution like this, and this will tick boxes for them. However, if you’re a DJ looking for a second controller to use with software apart from DJuced, or a something to use at home to practice on when you’re not gigging with club kit, there are lower priced alternatives that eschew the multi-platform functionality. All in all, it’s a solid and innovative offering from Hercules.