Saturday, February 5, 2011

Digital DJ'ing - The ShadeEffect! way...

Q) What does it take to be a Digital DJ ??
A) At first - any computer, & access to any freely downloadable DJing software...

All good till you realize, that there is more than one software out there..
And then there are controller's aplenty to manipulate them, (bye bye keyboard & mouse!)
Yet each come with its own caveats and crowns...

So along my 10 year journey, I've been through infinite software installs & uninstalls, changes, upgrades, alternatives & downloads.... a madness that barely managed to dent my wallet...

But the hardware ???
Sigh... once the box was opened, it always went downhill from there.

By the time I research the "perfect" hardware & software & get my hands on it, something better is out - and my controller seems outdated or lacks the "knobs & buttons" I really wish it did for the money I spent... and hardware's got no Uninstall/Upgrade options!!!

Now with the Traktor S4 has been by far an outstanding pacifier for our Digital DJing madness... but then at a 1000US$ how many of us can just throw in our wallets & give it a "try" ??

I decided to give it a try for a hand's on feel to see if its worth the money.
From what I saw - It was almost perfect!
1) 2 In/ 2 Out
2) Mic In, Phones Out
3) Midi In/Out & a Foot-switch In
4) 4 channel mixing & swappable (A-C & B-D)deck control
5) Traktor S4 Software - with loops/line-in options
6) Access knobs/buttons with feedback LED's to almost every visible feature of the current version of Traktor!
Now... this is a real good All-in-One, and if I got it as a gift, I'd be elated !

Ok get real!

How many of us are going to use ALL the above features or miss then if they weren't there ??? And what if something newer or better comes by in terms of Hardware or Software??

So before I throw in a 1000$, I start to do what I do best.. research into what else it can do...
Can it be tweaked ? NO
Can it be re-mapped ? NO
Can we use other wares? NO
Do I have options? NO
Do I have time-code? NO

Ouch! A 1000$ Digital system, and I'm being limited to whats in the box?
Maybe I don't need all of what it offers, or maybe I need a little more flexibility.
What if I feel that I need a few more knobs or buttons or some re-mapping??
And what if I got my own software of choice, or something I already paid for???
Can I have my money back and the option to make a choice? YES!

So I started backwards, and from the bottom - to what I need, and split them apart so that I could get the best options if ever I needed to upgrade - and here's what I came up with...

The base - your computer:
1) Windows XP or 7 (don't even mention Vista if your living in the real world)
2) Apple MAC (and if you go the money to splurge on one, why bother even reading this post! :P )
3) Linux - simply isn't there as yet... so stick with the above

A MAC isn't the norm... it's just an option, and an expensive one! And I don't much like it...
I've tweaked my Windows for extremely low-latency so that I can effortlessly DJ on it.
Take a look at the latency for yourself (WinXP has 9µS, & Win7 has 93µS)

DJ Software:

1) Virtual DJ 7 - with 99 deck supports that I can use as loop-decks (My backup)
2) Traktor Scratch Pro - 4 deck , CD & Vinyl support
3) Traktor S4 1.0 - 4 deck or 2/3 deck + 2/1 sample deck toggle
4) Ableton Live - If ever I do end up messing with this alongside Traktor
5) Fruity Loops - we all stock a DAW of sorts for our own little re-edits don't we :)
6) NI Kore Player - or the likes, for those additional sounds you could always use.

Audio Hardware:

I'm sticking with what I like, and not all the options available
1)Audio2DJ - The sweetest little pocket solution with 2 audio outputs
2)Audio4DJ - 2 Audio In, 2 Audio Out (Almost the same thing that the S4 has), and the option to use Time-code Vinyl or CD's. (Which you can't do with the Traktor S4 as of now)

DJ Controllers & Midi Keyboards:
The list as of 2011 is jaw-dropping & endless but like I said, I'm building my system up using the best available basic hardware, not all the possible options.
1) Numark Mixtrack (not the pro)
2) Akai MPK Mini (drumpad+keyboard)

Any cups that suit your fancy & your ears (I got the Pioneer HDJ-1000)

Alright then!
The damages for the gear (Assuming you got your laptop & software already)
1) Mixtrack 150 US$
2) Akai MPK Mini 100 US$
3) Headphones 50 US$
4) Audio2DJ 100 US$
Basic Hardware Cost 400 US$

Now as I said our hardware is BASIC... I still chose to buy a separate audio card so that I can use it for anything, standalone and to keep the upgrade option open.

The Mixtrack lacks the knobs & buttons to control most features of Traktor Pro or S4, but what is has is worth the more than 150$
However it can be extensively re-mapped to control 4 decks (like the S4) and the rest is for you to decide....

But hey, guess what! Multiple MIDI inputs is possible and its been done as below:

So now in comes the Akai MPK Mini - giving you 8(x2) velocity pads + 8 knobs + a 25 key-board.
All the functions that you wish to additionally control can now be mapped to it!

I choose to use the MPK Mini for:
1) Cue-points (4+4 on the pads)
2) Loop deck(Traktor S4) (4+4 on the pads - 2nd bank)
3) Effect parameters - the 4+4 knobs
4) Effect activation - (4+4 on the pads)

Once your done, the 3 FX knobs on the Mixtrack can now be assigned to control the Filter & Gain and the buttons for anything from Selecting/Activating effect to cue-point juggling... you decide!

The 25 Midi keyboard can be used to assign anything you like.... or to control a different software.

You could have gone with the cheaper Akai-LPD8, but this is future-proofing your investment.
When your decide to, your MPK Mini will work perfectly for your DAW or for other audio tools.
Best of all is the freedom from software or hardware lock-down's!

As new things come out, all you need to do is add or swap the part of your rig or software that you wish to upgrade, not all of it.
Once you get comfortable with your Midi Hardware, you could even play along some virtual instruments live while DJing!
You decide....

Think of it, in my world the possibilities are endless, and so are my choices!
Dj Shade5