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DJ for Less — Holiday Roundup

By Avi Pesses

This holiday season, you can give and/or enjoy the following budget-friendly ways to DJ—ready for action right out of the box. Like modern DJing, all of these devices are separable into two primary categories — analog or digital. Subsequently, you will notice that the first unit (by Numark) is exclusive to digital workflow, and the rest have relationships with both analog and digital configurations. One isn't inherently better than the other — just a matter of multi-factorial preference. Bear this in mind, and you will undoubtedly make the right purchase.

Numark Stealth Control

This unit is a pure-bred USB controller—no audio passes through it. Instead, the Stealth Control is used to control parameters in your favorite DJ software, while replicating the experience of having a traditional analog mixer and two turntables or CDJs. The tracks of audio you are playing and manipulating in your software are internally "summed" into a master stereo left/right track, which is then routed out of your software and to your audience by way of your computer's sound-card (and digital to analog conversion).

Stealth Control highlights include 20 knobs, 5 faders and 31 buttons—all of them fully-assignable to any parameter in your DAW of choice. This means you can, for example, assign a fader on the Stealth Control to control the volume/level fader in, say, Ableton Live. Or you could assign a series of rotary knobs on the Stealth to manipulate your favorite EQ plug-in. Soon you will have every frequent DJ function assigned exactly where you physically want it—and that's when the fun really starts!

Numark also throws in two fully-capable editions of DJ software to kick-start your performance: Tracktor LE and MixMeister Fusion Live. Tracktor is, as many are aware, a wildly popular DJ platform (and for good reason), but I would, as an aside, interject that while not many people have necessarily heard of MixMeister, it is, in my experience, a terrific piece of software for the beginning DJ, boasting super-intuitive and powerful control.

If you, however, wanted roughly all the Stealth Control's features but additionally demanded the ability to connect two turntables, or one turntable and one CDJ simultaneously, then you should look at the Behringer BCD3000 for about the same price. As such, the 3000 makes for a comprehensive and inexpensive "mainframe" unit on which you could try out all styles of DJing (turntable, CD and laptop). You can also connect and EQ a dynamic microphone, should you need to verbalize. And like the Stealth, the BCD3000 comes bundled with Traktor LE DJ software, for instant satisfaction.

Now, what if you like the BCD3000 but wish for even more professional attributes, such as a sturdier build, balanced outputs (for longer and cleaner cable runs), grounded connections (to eliminate potential "hum" from turntables), the flexibility of CDJs or turntables on one or both channels, and a third channel-level-fader? Then you would be in the market for the capable Hercules DJ console RMX. Furthermore, it arrives with Virtual DJ software, and will cost you roughly 1.5 times the BCD3000.

Mobile DJs looking for a rack-mountable solution should consider the Cortex HDC1000. This device is super compact, and designed to control media streaming from any USB type-A connection: i.e. an iPod or a thumb-drive. (Note that the iTouch, iPhone and Mac Classics do not work with this—or just about any other—model). Even cooler—a USB hub will support up to 4 devices at once. This all makes for a super-convenient way to DJ. The only potential downside here is that you will still need to send these signals to a separate/external (presumably, also rack-mounted) analog mixer—which you may very well already own.

This solution will cost you about the same as the first Numark and the Behringer, so your decision will, in large part, come down to how you prefer working. Do you want only to laptop DJ? Do you want to be able to laptop DJ and DJ from turntables and/or CDJs? Or would you like to run everything from what are essentially external hard-drives in a rackmount configuration? These will be your first questions with these aforementioned pieces.

Finally, our last piece of gear pertains to the ever-popular 'how do I digitize my vinyl' question. Usually, those asking have good sound and small budget in mind. Meet Ikey Audio's iConnex.

The Ikey Audio iConnex is a straightforward hardware interface with one (RCA) stereo phono input, one (RCA) stereo line input and one (RCA) stereo line output, with level control. It, in turn, constitutes a complete and compact (a fifth of a pound and the size of a small wallet) solution for any would-be digitizer.

Beginning with the input side, there is first the aforementioned stereo phono input. This is where you would connect your turntable. As you may already be aware, turntables operate at "phono" level. Simply put, this is a weaker signal than the "line level" most electronic gear operates at. To ensure the voltage being sent from the turntable can be 'used' (in this case 'digitized' from analog), it must first be amplified to line level. This requires a "pre-amplifier" and the iConnex's has one built in. In sum, if you are digitizing from a turntable, you will be using these phono RCA inputs.

Conversely, with the stereo line input you can incorporate into your recording chain an external pre-amplifier that you may already own and like. Specifically, you could connect your turntable to an external hardware pre-amplifier's phono level inputs, at which point it would then be amplified to line level and output into the iConnex's stereo line level input, where it would subsequently be transcribed into digital binary code.

Either way—phono or line—once an analog signal makes it into the iConnex, it can then be converted and recorded into virtually any DAW (i.e. GarageBand, Sonar, Pro Tools, Logic, etc), in a Mac or Windows environment. Your purchase also comes with Audacity recording software, should you need it.

A couple of final notes on the input side include the ability to sample up to 48 kHz and to "ground" your turntable. The former enables you to use your digitized sounds in post-production work (where 48 kHz is the standard—as opposed to the 44.1 kHz musical standard) and the latter eliminates the 60Hz hum that, as a vinyl owner, you have certainly heard before. Both are "small" but very significant features that iKey did well to offer at this impressively low price point.

Turning to the output side of this unit, you will discover you can play back all the vinyl you have just digitized through the (RCA) line outputs. You could, of course, also play back through your computer's sound card, but chances are it won't sound as good.

My one feature-wish, however, would be to see an additional stereo output for headphone cueing. This would satisfy laptop DJs who need one output that everyone hears (main out) and one output that only the laptop DJ hears (to cue). Otherwise, you will hardly miss the iConnex's purchase-price and will, no doubt, be pleased to reunite with your favorite vinyl in today's digital world.

Happy Holidays 2009


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