One of the most popular DJ controllers among our readers, the Mixtrack Pro II carries the flag raised by the original Mixtrack in some style. The Mixtrack Pro 2 is a good successor to the Mixtrack Pro. It’s well built for the price, it looks nice, the jogs remain excellent, it’s easy to use, and it’s now more tightly integrated with the supplied software. The addition of a simple sampler and drum pads are a welcome nod to current trends.
First Impressions / Setting up
The box contains the Mixtrack Pro 2 itself, a few small paper user guides, and a USB cable for connection to your computer. You’ll need to provide an audio cable to connect an amp and speakers to its RCA outputs, a pair of headphones, and a Windows or Mac laptop.
There’s not even any software in the box – you’re expected to get online to download it. This is actually fast and easy, and there’s no need to register a licence or anything like that. Once the software is downloaded and installed, you plug in the unit and open the software (Serato DJ Intro) and you’re ready to go. It is truly the simplest setting up procedure out there, and credit is due to Serato and Numark for making it so.
The unit itself is attractive. Still a practical size and grounded on four sturdy rubber feet, it’s appreciably slimmer than its predecessor. And while it is still made of plastic and clearly built to a budget, its appearance is a lot nicer. The brushed black surface and metallic-painted casing make it feel more expensive than it is. The new, lower-profile bevelled top and curved bottom appear almost Apple-like, and the jogwheels are sturdy and attractive, albeit slightly smaller than those on the original Mixtracks.
The backlit rubber performance pads feel excellent, and appearance-wise the unit’s budget status is only really given away by the cheap plastic fader caps and knobs. As far as inputs and outputs go, it has two headphones sockets (1/8″ and 1/4″), an 1/8″ microphone jack socket with independent volume control, a USB, and twin RCA outs for amp and speakers.
The headphones and microphone sockets are on the right-hand side of the unit, which is unusual (they’d normally be on the front). It’s not a big deal, but I’m curious as to why they chose to put the headphones socket on the right-hand side rather than the left, as most headphones are wired from the left-hand ear cup, meaning your lead is more likely to dangle diagonally across the controller in use.
The top of the unit maintains the original Mixtrack Pro’s curious use of three upfaders, one for each deck, and a master volume up the middle. There are no individual channel gain controls or VU meters (the software has autogain anyway, but still…), which again is as the original Mixtrack. Each channel has just a three-band EQ, cue buttons for headphones and a load button.
Up the middle of the mixer are headphones volume / headphones mix knobs, and a stepped rotary encoder with a control button for library browsing. Small LEDs indicate whether you’re browsing a file or a folder. The jogwheels are capacitive. This means they’re touch-sensitive on the top for scratching, a behaviour that can be switched on and off using the “scratch” button. Meanwhile, the edges work for nudging, or fine-adjusting. playback.
Under each jogwheel are four main buttons for transport. There’s the ubiquitous “sync” button, a cue button, a play/pause, and a “stutter” button, which is a variant of cue (sometimes called “CUP” on other controllers). Each deck has a rather short pitch fader, topped with CDJ-style + and – pitch bend buttons. There are four knobs at the top of each deck, which control the effects, and eight dual-colour backlit performance pads, which are used for cues, samples, loops and effects.
Finally, each deck has a “shift” button, and these are used simply to offer another “layer” of control, doubling up what some of the buttons and knobs do.
It is always worth remembering that DJ controllers such as this, apart from offering two audio outputs so DJs can separate headphones and speaker outputs (essential for pre-cueing tunes), are basically interfaces for DJ software. So really, how well a controller performs is to a large extent a factor of the software provided with it. In this case, the software provided – Serato DJ Intro – is perfectly OK for basic DJing, and will serve any new DJ well for the time it takes them to get to their their first few performances.
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There’s an upgrade path on offer for US$129 to the full-blown Serato DJ program, but for the purposes of this review, we’ll use Serato DJ Intro as provided.
Firstly, this thing just “works”, right out of the box. Lord knows learning to DJ can be complicated enough without worrying about technical set-ups and endless configuration pages. (Serato DJ Intro has one, very simple config page, that you probably won’t even have to look at). You browse using the big central knob (it integrates fine with iTunes, so all your playlists and songs are “just there”), hit “Load A” or “Load B” to put a track on a deck, and hit “Play” to start it playing. The jogs are responsive and tight, the transport controls simple and reliable, and the volume, EQ and faders all do exactly what they should with no surprises.
It’s definitely worth working through the manual to get the low-down on each control, because even this basic stuff is not all obvious to beginners, and some of the stuff that follows won’t be obvious to anyone. But take it from me – Mixtrack Pro 2 with Serato DJ Intro makes it as easy as anything else out there.
Before moving on, one thing I noticed about the jogwheels is that one rotation of a jogwheel is not quite the same as one rotation of the deck representation on the screen, which actually surprised me as I don’t see why it should be that way. It’s not a big thing, but it may upset beatjuggling DJs using the onscreen decks to get back to a point of a track rather than using their headphones or the waveforms, as they’d have to learn to compensate for this.
The performance pads
Of course, performance pads are all the rage right now, with controllers from the new Numark NS7 II to the Vestax VCI-380 to the Novation Twitch all packing big, jumbo rubberised pads as part of their specs. The first thing to point out about the Numark pads is that they’re basic. They’re not velocity sensitive, they’re not multi-colour (they actually just have two colour states – on and off – which are pretty dim in daylight, too), and they don’t give you eight identical controls over any individual element of your performance as you might expect.
The fact that they’re lumped together in banks of eight is actually more a product of aesthetics and of copying the look of performance pads on more expensive controllers, than of function.
On other controllers, the pads usually control complex-sounding performance features named things like “slicer”, “loop roll”, and so on. But with the Mixtrack Pro 2, their use is more pedestrian. They are basically controls for cues, samples, loops and effects – all things that any decent controller nowadays has anyway. That’s not to say that they’re not an acceptable way of controlling these things – just that they’re not fully blown performance pads in the sense that those on an Akai MPC controller or a more expensive DJ controller are.
Let’s look a little more closely at what can be achieved with the pads.
In the software, the effects panel is opened by clicking a small button. There’s no way to do this from the Mixtrack Pro 2, which is a shame but is also something I’ve not seen on any Serato DJ Intro controller, so I think it’s a software limitation. The effects are “pre-fader”, meaning that when you cut the fader to the other channel, an effect stops, even if it’s an echo (which you may want to fade out naturally).
The effects are controlled by the top four performance pads and the four silver knobs immediately above them. The first three knobs/pads turn an effect on or off for that deck, the knob controlling its single parameter (shift plus the knob lets you choose an effect for that slot – nice). The basics, like echo, filters and phaser effects, are all covered. They sound good, and can be “daisychained” (ie you can run the signal through multiple effects in a row). The fourth knob controls how often an effect modulates, as a factor of the current BPM (good for echoes in time with the music). If the BPM is not accurate, the fourth top pad lets you “tap” out the correct BPM.
I think the effects strike the right balance between simple, good sounding and fun, and would say that Numark and Serato have got it right here for the kind of user this controller is pitched at.
Looping is where you set a piece of a track to repeat over and over again. There are two types of loops on offer: manual and automatic. Manual is where you state a start and end point. The Mixtrack Pro 2’s bottom four pad buttons handle this, allowing you to choose these points in real time, fine tune them using the jogwheel to move the start and end points on a (temporarily-static) waveform display, jump back to a pre-set loop (“reloop”), and finally halve or double the current loop length (bottom-right button).
Automatic loops are those that loop on the beat, or a fraction thereof, and are handled by the top four pads for each deck. The pads loop 1 beat, 4 beats, 8 beats and 16 beats respectively, from left to right. It would have been nice to be able to loop lower and higher than that – 32 beats is a common loop length, and “loop roll” effects beloved of trance and pop-house DJs require loops down to 1/32nd of a beat – but again, this is a limitation of Serato DJ Intro, and the Mixtrack Pro 2 is just towing the line here.
What is weird is that the loop double/halve button will only double a loop up to eight beats, even though the software can handle up to 16. I think this is a bug.
There is no way of shifting a playing loop, and no way of saving favourite loops, but the basics are here, and more or less they’re done OK – with the exception, as I say, of the rather stingy omission of that DJ’s favourite, the 32-beat loop (and anything below 1 beat).
Cues are points, pre-set in your tracks, that you mark so you can jump back to them easily. The Mixtrack Pro 2 offers three per deck – or rather, per track, as they save and recall with your tracks. The cues share the bottom four pads with loops (and with samples – see below). To switch to cue mode, you hold down shift and press the third-in lower pad, marked “Cue”. A little light below the pad illuminates to show you that the bottom four pads are now in “cue” mode. (You actually need to do this for loops, as spoken about above, too, using the same action with the first button, but this is the default behaviour.)
Once in cue mode, the bottom first three button set three cue points, and touching the fourth button then one of the other three deletes that cue point. Note that actually, you have four cue points per track, because you can set a temporary cue using the “cue” button underneath the jogwheel.
Pressing the shift button and the second of the bottom pads enters sampler mode (again, a little LED below the pad confirms this). Now, the four bottom pads trigger a sample each. Samples can be loaded onto one of four corresponding “sample decks” in the software. You can view the sample decks by clicking the little sampler button on screen; again, as with effects, there’s no way of doing this from the Mixtrack Pro 2 itself.
The sampler in Serato DJ Intro is limited, basically just letting you play samples, although it is at least possible to play samples from pre-set cue points, so you can load a track with three cue points set and trigger samples from any of these. Thus, by this method, some basic cue-point / sample juggling would be possible. An upgrade to Serato DJ would be needed for more complex sample control, though.
I could see no way of stopping samples playing from the Mixtrack Pro 2’s controls; you’ll need to revert to the mouse/screen for that (for instance, if you’ve got a whole song on a sample deck).
This is a basic controller. It’s only two decks; the software doesn’t let you record what you’re doing; there are no external inputs except a rudimentary Mic thru; there’s just a single set of RCA outs; and despite having been designed to look like some of the more expensive DJ controllers with their velocity sensitive, multi-faceted control pads, this controller uses its pads as just another way to cover basic functions.
But overall, it does what it does well. The audio quality is fine for the market sector. It’s well built for the price, it looks nice, the jogs remain excellent, it’s easy to use, and it’s now more tightly integrated with the supplied software, the addition of a simple sampler being a welcome nod to current trends.
The implementation of the functions on the performance pads makes sense (as long as you take the time to learn the key combos to unlock their various uses) and the pads are nicer to use than hard, small buttons would be. It’s a shame the backlighting isn’t brighter on them, though, as it’s hard to see whether they’re on or off in daylight. Also, having cues, samples and loops sharing the same four buttons will mean some deft fingerwork at times.
Other niggles? The headphones socket would have been better on the left. There’s that bug in the halve/double loop length function. And the pitch range adjuster doesn’t seem to work, so you’re stuck at +/- 8% on the pitch controls, despite the manual saying something different (another bug, I think). But really, these aren’t deal-breakers. Having cues, samples and loops sharing the same four buttons will mean some deft fingerwork at times.
Overall, the Mixtrack Pro 2 is a good successor to the Mixtrack Pro. You could easily upgrade the software to correct some of the limitations I’ve outlined, and Serato DJ software also lets you map external Midi controllers, so by making the upgrade and adding an extra small controller somewhere along the line, you could take better control of, say, the sample decks, while keeping the Mixtrack Pro 2 for everything else. (Indeed, you could use the Mixtrack Pro 2 with other software too; I’d expect Traktor and Virtual DJ mappings soon enough).
As mentioned in the intro, the plus points of the original Mixtrack Pro were good jogs and a good price. Assuming the street price of the Mixtrack Pro 2 drops below the suggested recommended price of US$299 (which if it were the actual price would be too high, in my opinion), the Mixtrack Pro 2 will retain these advantages, while being simpler to use and packing more features than its predecessor. Oh, and it’s much better looking too. I expect it to do well.