Strong like Hercules Universal DJ
Hercules, a manufacturer with a longstanding history in the field of digital DJing, has unveiled the latest in its line of budget-friendly controllers, aimed squarely at aspiring professional DJs and hobbyists. Described by the company as “an exclusive ecosystem designed for the digitally connected DJ,” the Hercules Universal DJ combines the familiar two-deck layout of traditional DJ controllers with tightly integrated software that offers three distinct connectivity and mixing modes.
We’ll explore these modes in detail and discover what this unique system has to offer for today’s digitally savvy DJs and music enthusiasts.
Like most digital DJ hardware that follows the familiar two turntables and mixer paradigm, the Universal DJ features a typical array of per-deck controls, including touch-sensing jog wheels, pitch and volume faders, and rotary knobs for the three-band EQ. Track navigation, selection, and cueing are all handled within the controller’s center panel, which houses a browse encoder, as well as dedicated track load and cue buttons for decks A and B. In common with traditional DJ mixers, the crossfader predictably appears at the bottom center of the panel. Add to this eight performance pads per deck for triggering samples and loops, all ergonomically placed and clearly labeled, and the layout is sure to make any DJ, digital or otherwise, feel right at home.
The Universal DJ not only offers a clean, compact hardware interface for the included DJUCED 40° software, but with its built-in audio interface, represents a versatile all-in-one solution for DJs. With its complete set of connections—USB (for connection to a computer or tablet), stereo RCA outputs, auxiliary stereo RCA inputs, and a 1/4" stereo headphone output—all that’s needed to set off your next block party or impromptu warehouse rave is the controller, a laptop containing your music library, and a pair of powered speakers and headphones.
The Modes and the Social Element
On the face of it, the Universal DJ’s familiar complement of hardware controls and convenient built-in audio interface would appear to make it just one of dozens of similar products targeted for digital DJ use. But Hercules’ ace up its sleeve is the controller’s deep integration with the DJUCED software, a system that encompasses the main software running on a laptop Mac or PC, downloadable iOS- and Android-compatible apps running on a tablet or smartphone, and three different modes for using either software or apps or a combination of both.
Laptop Mode is made via a USB connection to a Mac or PC and takes full advantage of the included DJUCED 40° software in direct control by the Universal DJ hardware. In this mode, you’ll find a one-to-one relationship between changes made on the controller to a corresponding result on the software’s GUI. Twist the browse encoder and you’ll see a scrolling list of tracks ready to be loaded onto a deck, to be cued up and ready to play. Cue and scrub tracks with the jog wheels and find the perfect moment to drop the next beat. Adjust the volume faders and EQ rotaries and create dynamic changes to the mix with a flick of the crossfader. This mode is by far the most straightforward and will likely be comfortable territory for any DJ who’s used a pair of turntables or CDJs and a mixer.
Tablet Mode uses a Bluetooth connection to wirelessly pair the controller with an iPad or Android tablet running the DJUCED app. Tracks can then be played back either through the tablet’s built-in speakers or Bluetooth-paired external speakers. The app, which is downloadable for either platform from the Apple App Store or Google Play, is ostensibly a pared-down version of DJUCED 40° that contains the essential functions needed for more basic DJ sets, with the added benefit of being able to control the GUI from both the controller and directly on the tablet. Clearly, this mode has its limitations at larger gatherings, but it could be just the thing for smaller parties or sharing music with friends.
If you happen to desire a more customized mix within Tablet Mode, a “Split” function in the app allows you to preview upcoming tracks by using the tablet’s headphone jack to feed the Universal DJ’s auxiliary audio input.
Finally, Multiscreen Mode offers the most flexibility and control of all the modes by seemingly hijacking all your digital devices in service of the almighty beat. Combining the deep integration of Laptop Mode with the added flexibility offered by tablets and smartphones as control surfaces, Multiscreen Mode extends the functionality of DJUCED 40° by offering yet another app, DJUCED Master.
"...an exclusive ecosystem designed for the digitally connected DJ."
When used alongside the “mothership” software on your laptop, DJUCED Master adds extended control options that can be performed from wirelessly paired tablets or smartphones. This enables XY pad-style control of effects such as delays, filters, bitcrushers, reverbs, and even real-time looping—all excellent ways to add dynamics and build anticipation and excitement in your mixes. The app even offers a remote function, allowing DJs the freedom to leave their station and retain full control of the mix. For social butterflies and party animals who also happen to be making music selections, leaving the isolation of the DJ booth can only be a good thing!
The social element, indeed today’s digitally connected one, appears to be a central component of the Universal DJ ethos. With ever more music discovery happening online and through social networks, the DJUCED ecosystem attempts to tap into the stream by allowing DJs to share playlists and let party guests vote for their favorite tracks through the DJUCED Master app. While such depths of audience interaction might not appeal to everyone, music fans and DJ tastemakers with an ear tuned to the ever-shifting winds of media consumption in the 21st century will surely reap the benefits of such deep app integration. Whatever your stance may be on the pervasive influence of digital media in our daily lives, forward-thinking products like the Universal DJ might be offering a glimpse into how we’ll be partying in coming decades.