Great music vendors think alike? Denon also aims for the all-in-one DJ market, and those ready to drop a grand on one piece of kit that solves everything. Photo courtesy Denon.

This week, DJing is in the spotlight as DJ Expo, a significant trade show, hits Atlantic City, New Jersey. So it’s a good time to check in with some of the leading trends in DJ gear. We also get a chance to find out more about Native Instruments’ Kontrol S4, which judging my comments, split readers in terms of interest around its all-in-one design.

Native Instruments isn’t the only vendor aiming for a four-channel, all-in-one DJ solution at a price point of just under US$1000. Denon DJ this week unveiled their own entry, the DN-MC6000. Whereas NI is pitching a controller + audio interface + software combination, Denon’s offering is a standalone DJ mixer + (2 in, 2 out) audio interface + MIDI controller.

In other words, what the Denon gives you that NI doesn’t is a built in mixer you can use without a computer. That to me makes it worth comparing to the NI solution, even (or maybe especially) if you already own a copy of Traktor. Like the Kontrol S4, the Denon is also a “Traktor-ready” piece, it will also do up to four-deck control, and interestingly for AV performers, it has a selectable video/audio crossfader feature. What you don’t get relative to the NI kit is a full-featured DJ app in the box: the Denon comes with stripped-down versions, either Virtual DJ (Americas) or Traktor LE (Europe/Asia), though that’s moot if you’ve already got your own software. I’m also unclear on how the jog wheels compare; Denon says their jog wheels are “high-resolution,” but that’s dependent in the real world on the quality of the hardware.

It looks like Denon doesn’t have the specs up on their site, so see the press release and high-res panel image, or their audio interface + controller for Serato ITCH, the 5000.

Skratchworx has some great coverage of the new 6000. I agree with commenters that this would have been more impressive if the USB audio interface had four channels. On the other hand, I can see it being useful nonetheless with a combination of outboard gear and MIDI control.

Going for just one deck makes something more compact, easier to port, and cheaper to buy – which raises the question why we haven’t seen more things that look just like this. Photo courtesy Denon.

Skratchworx also picks up on a really adorable single-deck controller that breaks off just one deck for US$299. For all the hype around the Traktor S4, the DN-SC2000 could be fantastic if the feel is any good. I could imagine its appeal extending beyond conventional DJs to live electronic and visual acts, since it’s cheap, totable, and could be coupled with other, non-DJ-style controllers. Hopefully someone I know at DJ Expo will get their hands on one and report back.

In other DJ controller news…

DJs Talk Kontrol S4

More than a controller, the Kontrol S4 is also an audio interface. Image courtesy Native Instruments.

NI’s Traktor Kontrol S4 controller was undoubtedly the announcement that caught everyone’s attention, as seen yesterday here on CDM.

As spotted by readers, DJ Tech Tools has some additional details on the Traktor S4. There’s a reason they’ve got the inside track: editor Ean Golden was involved in the design.

Ean notes a couple of interesting details. The jog wheels can be used as fader effects controllers, based on a feature Ean developed for the Vestax VCI, and the new jog wheel “magnetic force technology” sensing allow for greater sensitivity. To me, it’s really going to be the quality of those jog wheels (and those of competitors) that make or break the design, more than anything. If you’re concerned about a reliance on power bricks, an “emergency” USB bus mode reduces headphone volume and LED brightness but allows you to run without a power supply. (I wonder how many people will wind up using that as the default mode.)

Native Instruments clarifies to CDM just how those jog wheels work. The technological solution here to me is fascinating; I look forward to actually trying them out. (Even though I’m not the target audience by any means, this certainly tickles my inner hardware engineering nerd – and it addresses a concern the target market has had with jog wheels as inputs.)

They don’t merely “allow you to adjust sensitivity” – due to the nature of the eddy current breaks inside, the resistance on the S4 wheels actually increases naturally with rotation speed. This means that the jog wheels are nearly resistance-free for minute movements (which is what you want to set cue points precisely), but build up natural-feeling resistance gradually (due to the magnetic induction) as you move them faster (which is exactly what you want for scratching or back spins).

So other jog wheels typically have a fixed – or best-case: user-adjustable – resistance, while the S4 wheels essentially have dynamic resistance in a way that makes total sense for this kind of control element.

DJ Shiftee at Dubspot, the guy you see in the launch video, lists his favorite five features on the S4. A lot of these features do have to do with software as much as hardware. Sample decks and loop recorders, naturally, top the list (and I’d weight those two more heavily than the other three).

Dicer, Ultra-Compact Tool, Now Available

The Novation Dicer, at the minimal end of the design spectrum. Image: DJ Tech Tools.

From the very large to the very small (and dropping a zero on the price)…

Ean Golden was also involved in the design of Novation’s Dicer, a cute little cue and looping controller that seems destined for stocking stuffer status this winter. It’s basically just a piece of kit that fits in the corner of your deck and adds some trigger buttons, but with clever mapping, that becomes fairly useful. The Dicer may not seem like news – it was revealed back in June – but it’s actually only shipping this week, with integration with Serato Scratch Live or Traktor Scratch Pro. (Serato was involved in the design of the integration.)

Ean talks about his inspiration for the design and the evolution into a product:
Novation Dicer Revealed [DJ Tech Tools]

What’s most amusing to me is that the Dicer and Kontrol S4 earned a couple of direct comparisons. I don’t know that that makes a whole lot of sense, but it does suggest that customers aren’t always looking for all-in-one solutions to jobs; small, cheap tools have a place, too.

Tools, Tools, Tools… Just Don’t Forget to Practice

Image courtesy Dubspot.

Checking out new gear is always fun, but the most compelling DJ story I’ve read recently comes from DJ Shiftee, who has begun talking on the Dubspot blog about practice sessions.

We dealt recently with the question of dividing up time to focus on tasks, an issue I’d like to revisit soon:
Brains, Computers, Focus: How Do You Stay Productively Creative?

In this case, Shiftee plans out practice time, and even though music is “creative” time, he does actually time that effort, with the help of a cool online stopwatch. The image above (he apologizes for his crude handwriting) comes from sessions in preparation for the 2009 DMC competition, which he won.

So, beyond any tool, spending time actually practicing is something significant. If nothing else, it could increase your own satisfaction. And that raises a point – live PA, live electronics, whatever you call it, for those of you who aren’t “DJs,” per se, but also don’t have a conventional instrument, how do you practice? Practicing keyboard skills or guitar is one thing, but how do you practice “computer”?

Here’s the first in Shiftee’s series for Dubspot:
DJ School 101: p r a c t i c e > practice > PRACTICE