Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 Review

DJ Equipment Review
December 12, 2016

Pioneer DDJ-SB2 2-channel Controller Review

When you want to up your game you need to find a piece of gear that can bring you to the next level. Pioneer does just that with the entry level professional DDJ-SB2 controller. It’s very beginner friendly but the features quickly set it apart as a professional DJ controller. As you get used to the device you’ll quickly find out that it’s above it’s price point. To take an audio term, it’s essentially a prosumer model. If I was interested in a high end professional controller I would take a look at the DDJ SR. With exceptional sound quality and an easy to accustom to layout you’ll quickly learn to use it to it’s fullest potential. The quality of the materials is to be expected of a mid tier controller. It’s made of plastic but has a feel of Pioneer quality and feels more like a portable piece of equipment than a permanent install.

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Deck Swapping and other Features

The DDJ-SB2 is a four deck controller and two decks share real estate on the device. It has two buttons on it to switch between the first and second deck on each side. This allows you to Cue up three different tracks and manage four at once. This alone pulls it out of beginner territory as it essentially doubles the complexity but also triples the capabilities of the controllers ability to create. With the four deck control it heavily outclasses competition at the price point.

DDJ SB2 ReviewThis isn’t totally unrestrained control though. The only issue found with this feature is that you can’t adjust both deck 1 and deck 3 (Or decks 2&4) at the same time because they share the same jogwheel, library, transport and mixer interface. The only thing you can adjust separately is the volume levels of each deck. Meaning you have to do some juggling and this adds a bit of a learning curve for new users. The real art happens once this toggle is mastered.

Another interesting feature is the pad trans. This is a decent feature for the price point but common. Hot Cue lets you set PADs to a point and returns the track to that point, you get up to 8 on a deck. Auto loop lets you set a seamless auto loop for different beat amounts. Roll which allows you a momentary loop while held down. You can also set up a manual loop. You can also set up a sample bank for easy access to 8 samples. Letting you create and experiment with new beats in the moment.

Included Software

The DDJ-SB2 comes with the Serato DJ intro software which is a trial/limited capability software intended to get you started. This is one of the most important aspects of this purchase for customers. The software itself is a light software and an additional cost is found here. So in addition to the device you’ll need to buy an upgrade to get the most out of the hardware.

In order to get the full use and capabilities of the SB2 controller you’re required to do paid upgrade to full functionality software. At the time of writing the full upgrade to Serato is $129 USD. This full upgrade solely works with the DDJ-SB2. Or you can opt for a subscription of $10 a month. Another option is the Serato DJ Suite which works with all supported hardware that’s a controller that can be mapped. This is the premiere program of the company and it costs $299 or 14.99 a month. So if you’re intending to do a more complex studio or show build you’re going to want to go for a full license multiple hardware program, whether that’s Serato or another one.

It’s highly recommended to use Serato and Pioneer with the device because it’s difficult to map to another program but if you have the technical skill you can easily do so and the SB2 integrates with DJay Pro (Mac), Licensed Vitual DJ8, Deckadance, Tracktor Pro 2, Algoriddim, Rekordbox. Most DJ programs can be mapped and have their own mapping templates set up for the DDJ-SB2 because it’s so popular. You have to download drivers for your laptop to integrate with the device allowing you to connect.

Controller Hardware

The DDJ-SB2 hardware is excellent for it’s price range. At these ranges you’ll usually find hard plastic buttons. But this piece of gear has rubber pads which are much more responsive, quiet and durable than the hard plastic buttons found on cheaper controllers. High durability aluminum jog wheels mean it won’t break from overuse. These jog wheels are low latency and high accuracy, a perfect combination. They’re very easy to scratch with and they work great. The software and hardware communication is next level, meaning that even back-spinning and beat juggling sound professional.  This also sports high and low pass EQ filters to filter out frequency bands on inputs. Allowing you to filter fade and easily control the volume and bass filters for mixing. The Numark Mixtrack 3 is comparable in these regards, but the SB2 keeps the crown.

You can monitor and make transitions in your headphones with LED level indicators. It has tempo controls, and trim/gain controls. Has on controller metering for levels. While these may seem like trivial additions, they make for an extremely easier time. Trim pots allow you to set the level of the loaded track. Sometimes DJ software gets this wrong and this lets you fix that issue before it even hits the board. With the LED metering you’re capable of seeing exactly where your tracks sit and most controllers at this price point don’t have this capability. Note that these are for inputs and the songs running on their own. This doesn’t relate to the master output through the RCA ports on the back. That said it’s a huge plus and fixes the clipping problem before it starts.

This controller is USB MIDI. The only issue with this is you need to be careful if using a USB hub because of Power Splitting. But as far as region compatibility this means it can work in both 110 and 220v power regions as long as you have a laptop because it just plugs into the laptop USB. This device only communicates with the computer through the USB, there are no ports to stick flash drives to bring portable media solutions.

ddj-sb22The onboard soundcard is an excessively high quality high bitrate 24 bit 44.1kHz sampling card. It has a standard 20-20kHz frequency range and a very impressive 90dB SNR. With an almost imperceptible distortion. The only thing that limits your sound quality on this piece of equipment is your recording software and the quality of the files input into the computer. It has a mic input but it’s a balanced 1/4 inch input over a standard XLR connection meaning you need an XLR to 1/4″ Cable. This means you can have one input into the device. You won’t be able to use it like a sound mixer with multiple channels. The mic input itself has trouble balancing without reaching feedback, so proper speaker placement is a must. For output it uses an unbalanced RCA. The main RCA output is for the signal. These cables are not included and need to be purchased separately. It has two headphone monitors, a 1/4 jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Only one output can be used at once disabling the second port. There is no master output volume on this guy which is difficult for gain staging and adjusting to the right output level.

Bottom Line

Pioneer did a home run with the DDJ-SB2 at every metric. The price point alone for the quality and the features makes this the top choice for controllers in it’s price range.

Pros

  • An outstanding top of the line soundcard, only limited by files and sources.
  • User friendly and good introduction to professional DJ controllers
  • Trim Pots and metering for media ingest
  • Four Deck capabilities

Cons

  • Mic input is not standard XLR? Also hard to control to not create feedback.
  • Requires a software upgrade for integration with most software.
  • No USB Data Stick integration.
  • No metering on master output.

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Numark Mixtrack 3 In Depth Review

DJ Equipment Review
December 10, 2016

All aspiring DJs will need to give themselves freedom to spread their wings. Their equipment may be restrictive or it may provide them with an endless amount of freedom to experiment and manipulate their music. The Numark Mixtrack 3 is certainly an excellent DJ Controller that does just that. It will give the DJ the ability to ply their trade with very few restrictions, if any. This is Numark’s mid range model, they also have a premium version of this controller called the Numark Mixtrack Platinum. For the price, the DJ controller is a great bargain, but additional purchases may be necessary. Below, you will learn about the pros and cons of this device.

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Numark Mixtrack 3 Review

It should come as no secret that beginners will be better suited with a more user-friendly DJ controller, while veterans will want something a little more advanced. This right here is the best of both worlds. The Numark Mixtrack 3 will prove to be a great investment for beginners, who do not mind making a few additional purchases. Also, their computer will need to be compatible with the controller. In order to utilize this device with your laptop or PC, you will need access to two USB ports. The controller does not include a sound card. Therefore, the buyer will also need to be willing to invest in an external audio interface.

Unfortunately, investing in an audio interface will increase the overall cost and this may make the product unreasonable for some newbie consumers. For established users who have the additional gear this device is a beast. The DJ controller does not offer headphone monitoring and therefore the user will need to monitor their beats through alternative audio sources. Nonetheless, the Numark Mixtrack 3 is undeniably fun to use and it is downright perfect for beginners, who are just getting into the hobby.

Plenty Of Features

While the Numark Mixtrack 3 is affordable in its own right, it still includes a wide assortment of features. In fact, the device’s features easily parallel those offered by a much more expensive DJ controllers. This is why it’s a perfect device for advanced users who want to add it to their setup. This specific device comes with 3 channel EQ filters. At this price range, it is nearly impossible to find another controller with this type of functionality. The Numark Mixtrack 3 also includes 100mm pitch sliders and convenient dedicated filter knobs for each channel. Many other affordable DJ controllers only offer a 50mm pitch slider. This may seem like a minor feature on the surface but it’s amazing. With more space to make adjustments it allows for fast, seamless and fine tuned adjustments you can never get with a 50mm slider.

Therefore, this device offers more mixing freedom, while also ensuring your beats will remain in perfect sync. The product also comes with sixteen multi-functional performance pads and a Prime Loops remix tool kit. On top of that, you’ll also be blessed with multiple FX manipulation possibilities. Truly, there is little you cannot do with the Mixtrack 3. The device is very versatile and you’ll really be able to let your imagination run wild.

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Additional Purchases

 

It is important to note that the Numark Mixtrack 3 does not come with a sound card, which means that it will require an additional external audio interface. The device will allow your laptop or computer to transmit audio data to a third-party device, such as speakers or headphones. Many DJ controllers are not embedded with a sound card, but they are a necessity for all professional DJs. You will need to purchase an additional sound card, be sure to invest in a reputable brand.

The DJ system’s sound quality will definitely depend on the quality of the sound card. This controller won’t change your sound quality due to this. The external sound card is embedded with audio ports, which are compatible with speakers, surround sound systems, CD players, headphones, microphones, MIDI keyboards and joysticks. Determine what you need to hook up to and check out our audio interface guide for more information.

Another thing to note is the Mixtrack 3 includes Virtual DJ LE software, which will suffice for mixing at home. This program is the bare minimum to get started on mixing beats. However, if you perform live in front of a large group, or make meaningful beats you may want to upgrade to the Virtual DJ Pro. This upgrade will provide you with more options, but it will require a bit of practice to perfect your skills and adapt to the updated version.

Surprisingly Durable

 

When utilizing the Numark Mixtrack 3 for the first time, you will likely feel of the plastic knobs and form the misconception that the device isn’t going to last. The truth of the matter is that this DJ controller is enormously sturdy. It is manufactured with the highest-quality plastic. The device weighs just a little over 4 pounds, but it is still built to last. The knobs and sliders feel plastic and slightly cheap, but they’re very durable and they can certainly take a beating. This is one of the main reasons the Numark is a good investment for beginners.

And of course, the jog wheels work exceptionally well. Scratching on the wheels can be immensely fun and the device is very responsive. Even the slightest moves will be translated to your computer and into your sound.

Some Limitations of the Numark Mixtrack 3

While the Numark Mixtrack 3 Controller is certainly a great product, it does have a few minor limitations. As mentioned above, the device does not include a soundcard. You have to fully rely on the connected computer for sound control and monitoring. You should also remember that this product will not work with tablets or phones. A USB input is still required for the external DJ interfaces. And finally, you need to know that this device is not compatible with audio streaming services, such as YouTube or Spotify. In order for you to play your beats, the audio files must be present on your computer’s hard drive.
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Notable Specifications

  • Weighs right around 4 pounds
  • Measures in at 9.1 by 21.7 by 1.2 inches
  • USB powered
  • Features dedicated filter knobs for each channel
  • Includes 16 performance pads
  • Metal jog wheels work exceptionally well
  • Offers numerous FX manipulations
  • Comes with a Prime Loops remix tool kit
  • Includes a multi-functional Touch strip

Overall Assessment

When it comes down to it, the Numark Mixtrack 3 USB DJ Controller will prove to be a great option for most beginners. However, it is essential to remember that this will not be the only purchase you’ll make. If you really wish to utilize this device to the fullest, you’ll need to buy more and spend more. As long as you’re willing to do that, this product will provide you with a fun and convenient way to learn how to DJ. If you want a more complete package, you should consider looking elsewhere.

Hercules DJControl Compact USB Controller Review

DJ Equipment Review
December 9, 2016

djhercIf you consider yourself to be an aspiring DJ, you’ll want to quickly equip yourself with the most reliable equipment. Over the years, DJ turntables have evolved substantially, thanks to an abundance of technological improvements. The Hercules DJControl Compact USB Controller is an innovative virtual turntable, which will give you precise control over your beats. While the product is lightweight, compact and very affordable, it possesses an array of excellent features, which allow it to parallel much more expensive alternatives. This specific USB controller will be explored in greater depth below.

Lightweight And Compact

It is undeniably true that DJs are always on the go. They’re forced to transport all of their items to each venue. Suffice to say, a big and bulky turntable would be unrealistic and cumbersome. The Hercules DJ USB Controller will make your life substantially easier. The device measures in at 13.4 by 3.9 inches and weighs just 1.2 pounds. The combination ensures you’ll be able to load up your equipment and transport it to the club without a great deal of effort.

USB Powered

Another excellent feature of the Hercules DJControl is the device’s USB connectivity. Not only does the device connect to your computer through this cable, but this is also how the controller is powered. This ensures you do not have to carry along any extra cords. And, all modern computers have USB ports. This means that the device needs to be connected to an audio interface/external soundcard. This is a required purchase to play your mixes outside your computer. You also have to monitor through your computer speakers/headphone jack.
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Two Jog Wheels

When it comes down to it, the jog wheels are most important for the artist. They’re the component that allows the DJ to ply their trade, create their beats and have fun along the way. With the  USB Controller, the user will be able to take advantage of two jog wheels, with each being 2.95 inches in diameter. The jog wheels work fluidly with the computer and perfectly replicate a vinyl record. If you prefer a digital upgrade, but still want the nostalgia of scratching on a vinyl record, this USB controller will prove to be a great addition to your arsenal.

Ergonomic Design

The Hercules is unique in so many ways, making it stand out above the competitor brand. One unique feature worth mentioning is the ergonomic design, which allows the controller to adapt fully with all laptops. The mixer controls are conveniently located in the center of the unit, with separate deck controls on both the right and left side panels. This keeps everything neat and organized, so you can perfect your sounds without fumbling around looking for the controls.

djuicedDJUCED 18 DJ Software

Every DJ wants to standout above their competitor, by integrating their own mix into their audio tracks. Of course, this is no easy task, but with the included DJUCED 18 DJ software, you will be able to customize your sound with effects and loops, then save the finished product to your laptop. The greates part about this is that the software is completely free at full functionality with the purchase of this controller. Most other entry controllers for DJs are only come with a lite version. Though the software itself has less features than most of those paid DJ softwares.

Bottom Line

While the Hercules USB Controller is definitely small, it still delivers a bold performance and an abundance of features. The device is equipped with 10 control buttons, 2 equalizer potentiometers and a single volume potentiometer. At the same time, the deck includes 4 modes, such as Loop, Samples, Cue and FX. Truly, there is very little you cannot do with this USB controller. You’ll be able to create loops, while adding an endless amount of effects to your music. The possibilities are enormous with the Hercules USB Controller.

Notable Specifications

-Device is USB powered, requires a soundcard.
-Weighs just 1.2 pounds
-Measures in at 13.4 by 3.9 inches
-2 Jog Wheels with each being 2.95 inches in diameter
-Includes 4 modes
-Equipped with 10 control buttons, 2 equalizers and 1 volume knob

All in all, the Hercules DJControl USB Controller might be affordable, compact and lightweight, but it will still deliver a big performance. The device is certainly suitable for beginners and even advanced DJs. Whether you’re interested in creating your own beats at home or playing in the club, this USB controller will prove to be a great investment!

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Gain Staging and Gain Structure

Guides
December 1, 2016

As a broadcast engineer I frequently work with professional radio hosts who’ve been trained on proper leveling of equipment chains. They pretty much need this skill for job security as stations are broadcasted to hundreds of thousands and the show needs to sound good. But to be honest it hurts to go out and watch live shows of underground and local bands and DJs. It’s very common that their sound set up destroys the very music they’re wishing to play, plummeting quality and creating a loud mess. Due to the nature of the room acoustics the performers can’t even realize this without outside help.

The main culprit I’m talking about is audio distortion and it’s main cause in the live music scene is audio clipping from improper gain setup.




Gain is the amount of amplification of an audio signal. In a perfect world it’s a 1 to 1 ratio and the whole signal gets boosted uniformly and without issue. The problem is equipment has limits to what it can do. The peaks of signals can often be amplified until the point where the system no longer registers them. It’s just “Loud” and no longer notes. The most important thing to note with this is it happens with all gear. This isn’t just a software problem. It happens with mixers, audio interfaces, and sound systems. Here’s a quick video showing the effect on an audio editor:

With this in mind we can see how improper gain management can ruin the quality of a show, and we won’t know how bad it is until it’s playing. Even worse is it provides strain and starts to damage and weaken your equipment. So you have to follow some guidelines to determine how to properly set up the gain in your system. With proper organization and planning you can create a setup that not only removes this issue entirely but is extremely easy to adjust, even with multiple pieces of gear!

So here we go, how do I fix gain matching problems and how do I gain stage? Easy! The first thing you need to do is stop clipping on all your gear. If you have lights showing levels on your EQ meter you’ll immediately have a visual representation of the problem. Just adjust the volume/gain so you’re no longer maxing out. The last level should always flicker at the most. This prevents you from distorting the audio with this piece of equipment. Never go past this point and your audio will be fine. Now if you want to gain stage and you have multiple pieces of gear the best thing to do is max (without clipping) all of your equipment except for your last piece of gear that can set gain. This way you can easily adjust volume levels with just one piece of equipment. The rest of the gear in the chain is outputting the most it can without audio distortion and the last control will adjust the total volume output from the system.

Dangers Of DJ USB Hubs

Guides
November 28, 2016

There’s a big issue that people may not realize if they use a Laptop to power all their DJ peripherals. When people use electricity they’re used to the robust electrical systems of buildings. They don’t understand the actual strain that it places on electrical systems to plug in lots of equipment into a power bar or daisy chain extension cords. In a home a fuse just breaks. But laptops don’t have fuses, they just adjust the current output on a USB port. that can handle daisy chaining and plugging in large power bars. This is where the DJ USB hub comes into play and if you’re planning on loading one up you need to understand the rules to properly utilize this.

Lots of DJs tend to go for Macbooks and other laptops based on the specifications of the hardware for processing and their operating system. But oftentimes the amount of USB ports goes under the radar when making purchasing decisions. This turns into a problem later when you have more devices  than ports when you want to hook up to your laptop. If you have two ports when you need three the first thing people tend to do is look for USB splitters or USB hubs to open up new real estate. This appears to solve the problem but a lot of unintended issues can arise from a lack of understanding of the technology.

Laptop ports have a maximum power output. Voltage may stay the same but what gets affected is the power output and current running through the devices. If you have a 3W port and plug three devices in, each will get 1W of power. DJ USB interfaces are designed with the intention of only that device being plugged into a USB port. The device expects a certain level of power. Splitters and hubs cut off that supply to the device by sharing it with the rest. As the current flow diminishes in the device it loses vital processes. Some stray currents that were kept in check at full power may damage circuitry. The gear may randomly shut down or act weird as well.

The most important thing is to figure out where your dj equipment gets it’s power from. If it plugs into an electrical outlet it’s safe to assume that it won’t require power from a USB port and the port is just used for communication instead. These devices are safe to plug into a splitter or hub. Never place more than one USB power dependent piece of equipment on the same port into your laptop. If you find that you don’t have enough spots for USB powered gear you need to look into a powered USB hub.

A powered USB hub plugs into an electrical outlet and takes all of the load off the laptop. They power each port as it’s intended to be powered. This allows for all the connected equipment to get all the electrical needs met and work without failure. It’s a must have gear upgrade if you’re using USB powered gear, otherwise you’ll be at risk of damaging your dj gear. They’re only slightly more expensive than a regular USB hub and it protects your extremely expensive investments.

With all this information you know how to keep your gear safe.