Compact and capable, the NDX500 is an excellent addition to a modular set-up, particularly for mobile DJs who need to be able to play music from a variety of modern formats. Whether you are looking for media players as primary controllers for Serato or backup players capable of CD and USB playing as well as controlling your number 3 and 4 decks, I can sign off on these units. They’re great value and get the job done.
First Impressions / Setting up
Next to the obligatory warranty booklet (who reads that stuff, like ever?) and a multilingual manual, the NDX-500 comes with a separate power cord, a rather basic (and frankly pretty short) RCA cable (that I tossed in the bin immediately) and a very nice and rather long USB cable that seems to be of a high quality design.
The unit itself is built on a metal chassis. On the sides, back and front it is partially plastic, but it does seem to be a high quality plastic. It’s got a nice and shiny black metal front plate with white print and everything that you expect to see on a player in this price range is there. The front is curved with the CD slot in it and an LED that lights up when a CD is loaded.
It feels pretty heavy for such a compact player, which leads me to believe there’s been some serious consideration to the build quality of it. This definitely does not feel like a budget/low-end player.
After fighting to peel of the protective foil from the display (there is no “lip” or something, it’s all nails with the real opportunity of inducing scratches), hooking up all the cables and flipping the on/off switch, the display lights up a nice clear white-on-blue. Although some of the letters are a bit coarse, the overall resolution of the screen is nice and crisp and easy to read in dark venues. Although I haven’t been able to try it (it’s deepest, darkest winter where I live right now), I am guessing it is even well readable in sunlit situations.
On booting the player, the first thing you notice is the bright blue ring around the jogwheel. As it seems to serve no other purpose than cosmetic, I wouldn’t mind being able to either switch it off or at least dim to a third of its current brightness. It’s a bit of a distraction to me frankly.
The next thing, which I think is more serious, is that in a dark booth it’s just about impossible to read what’s on the unlit buttons (the loop buttons, hot cue buttons, platter FX buttons) Especially when you are new to the gear or use it as a backup (as is my primary goal), you don’t want to break out a flashlight to figure out where the reverse and brake buttons are, let alone just press something while it’s playing. Having the buttons backlight at a low brightness would be a good way to solve it, with the button going full brightness when activated. Reloop does this on many of its controllers, for instance.
There is a solid pitch fader with no centre indentation, so you can just slide over that centre point without a problem. Some people like that, others prefer the clear centre point. I don’t really care either way, although I do think that the ones that have that little “hump” in the middle (especially on cheaper gear) are less easy to fine-tune around the centre position of the fader.
What is lacking on the NDX-500 unfortunately is an LED that lights up when you are actually centred with the fader. Not a big thing, but would have been a nice touch. Obviously two pitch bend buttons are available as well: You can cycle through the 4%, 8%, 16% (an LED for each), 100% (all LEDs lit) and Pitch Off (no LEDs lit options with the pitch button at all). Finally here, the Master Tempo button is the equivalent of a key lock button and keeps the key the same as the pitch changes.
The main buttons play/cue are hard, with good tactile feedback (click when press) and clearly marked with text and two different colours. They sit at the front of the player and work as advertised. The rotary track selector knob is pretty long and sits unobstructed, making it a breeze to use, even for big fingers.
The cue/pause/play settings might be different than you are used to. Many of us grew up with play, then pause, then cue to the right point, then hit cue to set another start cue. On the NDX-500 it’s slightly different. You hit play, then pause, then cue up the right point. As soon as you hit play again it will automatically set a cue point at the last playback start position. If you hit the cue button it goes back to that position, rather than the beginning of the track. Once you get used to it, it works fine that way.
Right above it is a folder button that does what you expect it to do – let you browse MP3 folders on an MP3 CD or USB stick. There is no cover on the USB port which is a bit of an oversight in my opinion. Unless you always have a memory stick in there while in use (take it out before putting the flight case cover on!), this is a place that tends to collect a bit of dust. I’ll probably end up with a piece of black gaffa tape over it when not in use.
There is a clear eject button (for the CD, not for the USB!). And there are LEDs to show which of the modes you are operating in. Rather than buttons for each mode (like on higher end and bigger players), this is a single-button rotation system. It cycles through CD (LED on), USB (LED on) and then Midi (both LEDs on). This is totally acceptable I think. If your workflow on a media player is such that you need to switch faster/more directly, this player is probably not for you anyway.
On the opposite side you find all the other buttons you’d expect like Time, Single and Prog. The latter is semi-interesting as you can create an impromptu playlist of sorts. I never use those as they involve pressing and holding a button then pressing another button; too much hassle. But hey, if you need a toilet break, being able to play two or three tracks back to back could save the day! My advice would be to have a nice mix CD handy and just play that.
There is a loop function, fully manual. Hit loop in to start the loop, loop out to set the end point. Hit loop out again to stop looping and hit reloop to – duh – restart the loop.
The unit has three hot cue buttons. On the left sits a smaller rec button that you press to record a hot cue. You can overwrite them, but there is no way to delete them. Also the hot cue is not deleted when you load a new track. So your new track, that has no hot cues, will still show a lit hot cue 1 button. Bit odd frankly. Then again, I never set cue points on CD tracks, so no real bother for me. The display shows a diminishing bar representing the remainder of the track, no waveforms though. Also the hot cues are not shown relative to the track “bar”.
There are four buttons around the jogwheel for brake, reverse, scratch and search. Overall they do what they say they do. Brake time can be adjusted. Unfortunately it automatically means that you have a start delay too! I’d personally prefer just a brake, with no start delay if you can’t set both independently. I’ll use a brake on occasion as an effect, but I never ever use start delay (does anyone?).
Finally the jogwheel. It’s decently sized at about five inches. It has a slightly coarse top surface with a dark grey metal middle and a more rubbery outside ring. With all buttons off it’s all pitch bend. With scratch button on the top is scratch/vinyl, the outside ring still pitch bend. The search button pressed makes it into a quick search wheel. If not touched for 20 seconds or so, the search function is automatically turned off again. They feel firm and seem pretty tight and responsive, both in CD/USB mode as in Serato mode.
Ah yes, Serato mode. I hooked up my two NDX-500s to my Pioneer DDJ-SX, set channels 3 and 4 on the controller to PC, set the 500s to deck 3 and 4 respectively (just press eject while in Midi mode and it cycles through deck 1 thru 4, very nice) and fired up Serato. Switch to four-deck mode and presto! Turned the selection knob on the left NDX-500, selected a track, pressed play and there was the music. Also the scratch buttons came on by default, which is good in my humble opinion. One nice touch is that track info appears in the display of the player. All in all, it’s trouble-free operation, and kudos to Serato and Numark for making it so easy.
These are very nice players in their price range. Build quality is good, features are good, they support CD/MP3/USB and Midi and they are Serato accessories approved. Either used with a regular analogue or Midi mixer or hooked up to a four-channel controller to operate decks 3 and 4 in Serato (no mapping for my trusted Mixvibes Cross yet, alas), they will be welcome companions.
Although I could not find specs on the audio card, I am assuming it’s minimum CD-quality and that should be enough for most circumstances. Apart from the few quirks like the unreadable unlit buttons, the missing 0% pitch LED, the blue jogwheel ring, no stop/eject button for USB and no dust cover for the USB port, there really isn’t much more to fault, especially at this price.
There is one more thing to nag about though. When you power down the units and then power on for next time’s gig, all settings are gone. So you have to go through the entire process of setting source, master tempo, platter behaviour, pitch range etc again. It would be nice if the unit just remembers the settings you ended with last time, with perhaps a key to hold when booting that returns it to factory default or something.
Who would buy these?
So ultimately, why would you still buy a media player with a CD slot? First of all, the only media player that has USB stick and Midi, but not CD is the new Pioneer XDJ-1000, which at a price of about €1000 is about four times the price of these Numarks. As a mobile DJ I still run into weddings and (higher age) birthday parties, with people showing up with CDs to use with sketches and what have you. So, I don’t mind having CD slots. And they are not in the way.
USB stick capability is good to have, people do show up with USB sticks and for yourself it’s easier to bring in a couple of USB sticks (no link feature so each player needs its own stick) than a big case of CDs. (There is no library software (like rekordbox or Engine), so make sure you have your tracks organised in such a way that you can easily find them).
At end of the day though, whether you are looking for media players as primary controllers for Serato or backup players capable of CD and USB playing as well as controlling your number 3 and 4 decks, I can sign off on these units. They’re great value and get the job done.