Flagship Numark four-channel controller, building on the earlier NSII with three high-resolution colour screens. Two of the screens provide moving waveforms, playhead, deck, and FX status. The third central screen gives a dedicated view of the track library. However, the central screen can also be switched to display stacked parallel waveforms. Otherwise its largely the same, a top of the range, premier four-deck controller for Serato DJ. Featuring an interactive control surface, the NS7 remains unique as the only controller with motorised platters. Its also class compliant, meaning no need for hardware drivers.
First Impressions / Setting up
The unit is practically identical to the NS7II, apart from the obvious addition of a set of screens. These clip on to the back of the main console, and although the three five-inch screens are encased in plastic, they feel firm once they’re attached. (For those of you unfamiliar with the NS7 aesthetic, think big, solid metal, heavy and extremely pro-feeling.)
Numark has tried this clip-on idea before with the Numark 4Trak, and having a part of your controller angled up towards you in that position does give a real feel of being at some kind of flight deck, controlling something really cool – which basically, the NS7III is! However, it does add an element of setting up and breaking down the unit, because I don’t think you’d really want to move it around with the screens attached.
To set the NS7III up, then, you clip on the screens, and do a bit of plugging in; you need to wire the screens to the main unit for both power and computer (ie USB). There’s actually a spare USB socket on the back of the screens, but don’t get excited: It’s not for DJing directly from a USB drive or anything like that. What it is is actually pretty useful, being a USB extension from the computer, so you can attach external storage, for instance – good if you’re limited on USB sockets.
Once you install Serato DJ (simple, as ever), and plug in, the three boot-up Numark logos disappear from the onboard screens and you’re faced with two decks left and right on the displays, and your library on the centre screen – albeit a truncated version of your library (files are listed by track name / artist / BPM only). You’re ready to go!
Loading tracks is achieved by using the big library scroll knob, and there are the usual crates/folders and loading buttons. This knob will switch to the library screen when you touch it if you’re not showing it already, which is a nice touch. You can open the prepare window in Serato DJ directly from here, and add tracks to that too, which is a nice touch. You can also sort by name, artist, BPM, key and album. (Why album? Nobody I know has albums in their DJ collection…)
When you load a track to a deck (there are four decks/channels, with big switching buttons for 1/3 and 2/4), its waveform loads onto its respective screen and you get various other bits of info too. But the magic happens for me when you hit the “view” button. When you do, the individual waveforms on the left/right screens are replaced by the Serato deck “platters” plus some other info, but importantly, the waveforms move to the middle screen. Load a track on the other deck, and bam! You’ve got parallel waveforms right there on the NS7III. Very cool indeed, and definitely the view I found myself DJing from the most.
So let’s cut to the chase, then, and talk about how practical it is to DJ on this without your laptop open at all. The small centre screen is just about bearable for library functions, although it’s definitely the weakest part of this onscreen library idea, just as it is with the Numark NV, and with Traktor’s take on it too. That aside, though (and it’s perfectly workable if you are playing from well-organised playlists), you absolutely can DJ with the laptop right out of sight – and indeed, it feels churlish not to. All you miss is keyboard search, which for some won’t matter at all, but for others (mobile guys, for instance) will likely be a dealbreaker.
Pretty much every other function going on here was covered in our comprehensive Numark NS7II review, but let’s go over them again quickly. You’ve got Akai Pro pads that are the most comprehensive implementation of Serato pads I can think of, as well as feeling great; all the functions from auto roll to slicer and the rest of ’em are all here, and properly colour coded so they become pretty intuitive in use.
You’ve got touch FX and EQs, so you can immediately engage your choice of just FX or FX plus EQ (the EQ function is instant kill) just by touching the relevant knobs, and in addition there are “filter-plus-another-function” features to play with, which I believe are unique to the NS7II/III (again, full coverage of these over in that NS7II review). You can control Serato Flip too, although the controls aren’t labelled (as it’s an add-on to the provided software).
Let’s just chat about the motorised turntables, though, because while not new to this incarnation, they’re certainly unique among DJ controllers. The platters are 7″, but apart from that the feel is uncannily like playing on Technics; the (adjustable) torque is just right, and they come with slipmats and real vinyl, too. The control is ingeniously via the “vinyl” being bolted to the spindle, which moves independently of the spinning platter. It all looks a bit kitsch until you actually use it – but once you have, if you’re used to DJing on vinyl, I guarantee at that point you’ll forget all objections and be smiling from ear to ear.
Other stuff to mention: Four independent channels for line/phono (two actually for phono), plus two mix channels (although these are switched vial one of the four Serato channels) with three-band EQ; big, fat, onboard filters; standalone mixer capability, even without a laptop plugged in… and the world’s best censor/reverse paddle switches.
They’re the best because “censor” just momentarily reverses the track with “slip” mode engages (ie it’s perfect for “censoring” profanities on the fly), but “reverse” permanently reverses that track – meaning the turntable actually starts playing anti-clockwise instead of clockwise! Have to say it’s a lot of fun. Another nice vinyl touch is the pair of deck start and deck stop speed knobs.
Controls overall are top-notch quality, the crossfader particularly feels beautifully loose. It’s worth pointing out that you can turn the motor off if you or a friend wants to DJ in kind of “jogwheel” mode, although you lose the scratch capability when you DJ this way. Also we did notice at times the cooling fans are quite loud. You’d never notice it in a club, but maybe DJing quietly or in headphones late at night in your home it’d be a bit more noticeable.
This builds on the NS7II nicely, although it is to all intents and purposes the same controller with screens added. That’s actually good news for NS7II owners, because you can buy the screens and retro-fit them, giving you practically the same thing we reviewed here.
That said, the NS7III is class compliant, meaning no need for hardware drivers, which is something the NS7II didn’t have; this means that you don’t have to wait for driver updates when new OS versions are released, and is an impressive step considering there are screens involved here, too. (By the way, Numark tells us updated NS7II drivers are now available, for anyone reading this who owns that model.)
This remains a great controller if the “feel” of DJing is important to you, and if you want that “vinyl” feel without going the full DVS route. Because while it’s bulky and heavy, it’s definitely not as much hassle as carrying two turntables and a mixer plus DVS stuff everywhere you go. It’s also a fair bit cheaper, and for your money you’re getting a beautifully made unit.
How good/essential are those screens? Well, I own an Apple Watch, and curiously, I think there are comparisons to be drawn. The watch stops me having to go to my phone for many day-to-day things, but I wouldn’t like the phone to not be there at all, because the watch is restrictive for other tasks.
Same here: The screens are great for stopping you looking at your laptop so much, but for some functions, the laptop still rules. Obviously keyboard-searching for songs is one, but also weird little things, like the segments for the slicer not showing on the main screens. I did miss being able to quickly sort a folder by genre, too.
So if you’re coming to the NS7 family anew, the NS7III is definitely worth going for because the screens do have lots of uses. If you have the NS7II, again, buying the screens would be a great upgrade. But it certainly isn’t worth selling your NS7II to buy an NS7III – because apart from the screens, the differences are trivial. That said, this remains a unique and fun controller, and it is still carving its own niche in the market place as the only controller with motorised decks for any software, anywhere.