The Tuna Knobs are cool to have if you DJ a lot with your iPad for parties and small gigs, but it’s far from being a complete DJ controller replacement. Think of them as fun accessories that extend the functionality of your touchscreen, instead of being professional control hardware.
First Impressions / Setting up
The Tuna Knobs came shipped in a small envelope the size of a pocketbook, which is great news for folk who want to order their own set since these aren’t available yet in retail stores. We received a box of four Tuna Knobs that come with their own plastic carrying case, which can store up to six Tuna Knobs (you can order sets of four or six knobs at the Tuna DJ Gear website, as well as extra pairs of knobs if you want more).
The knobs themselves are made of plastic with a rubber grip and a tiny suction cup at the bottom for sticking onto your touchscreen device. There are instructions on how to do this at the back of the box, as well as a list of apps that are guaranteed to work with them, which basically mean that these apps have rotary controls that are wider than the diameter of the Tuna Knobs, which are the only two qualifications needed for an app’s control to be used with a Tuna Knob.
I first tried the Tuna Knobs with my iPad running Mixur, which is a Traktor template powered by Lemur. I’ve always liked this template and have used it for some house parties when I didn’t have a controller available, but to be honest I didn’t enjoy tweaking rotary dials on a touchscreen because I had to keep my eye on my iPad all the time, which gets tedious to say the least.
After firing it up, I stuck the Tuna Knobs onto my FX assign rotaries in Mixur by holding the knob in place and pressing the top of the knob to get the suction cup at the bottom of it to stick. Once I got all four on, I went to work.
The Tuna Knobs essentially act as a knob-shaped stylus, meaning the bottom of the knob has a small portion that acts as a stylus that “touches” your screen for you, and in order for that portion to make contact with your screen, you’ll have to press down on the knob itself because there’s a gap between the base of the knob and the suction cup that’s holding it in place. This may seem intuitive, but it’s not quite as natural as it sounds: DJs are used to twirling knobs, not twirling and pressing down on them.
It’s not a deal breaker since you just need to apply a small amount of downward pressure for the knob’s bottom to make contact with your screen, but this presents another minor problem with the way the Tuna Knobs work: If you press down too hard when turning the knob, you run the risk of accidentally moving the Tuna Knob away from the control that you placed it on. I’m assuming this is because of how small the suction cup is, so again there’s a bit of a learning curve involved aside from pressing and turning.
When you’re used to these quirks, though, the Tuna Knobs work like they’re supposed to: DJing a set with these knobs on my Mixur template was really so much more enjoyable than running a finger across an onscreen “rotary knob”. I tried placing them on the filter knobs in the template, and they were satisfying to use. I used them as EQ controls, and I didn’t to look at my iPad while I was turning them. At one point, I forgot that I was tweaking on a tablet because it felt like I was working with a hardware mixer.
The Tuna Knobs are cool to have if you DJ a lot with your iPad for parties and small gigs, but it’s far from being a complete DJ controller replacement. Think of them as fun accessories that extend the functionality of your touchscreen instead of being professional control hardware. I believe that the Tuna Knobs really shine in a home studio / production environment because it takes away the blandness of working with a touchscreen for whole bunch of parameters inside a Digital Audio Workstation.
I wouldn’t hesitate to use them for gigs where I don’t have my main set-up, but I would definitely recommend spending some time and getting used to how they work before getting behind the booth. They also look really cool on an iPad, definitely making your iOS kit look more like a proper mixer than a tablet.