Current status - epiphanies?

So back in the early days of this blog (not that long ago, really) the motivation within me was to try and figure out how to build the best, most effective, most fun, smoothest flowing way to blend dj mixing and live production.

I started with a basic premise: one cannot run Maschine and Traktor on a single MacBook Pro from 2015, at least not without a day in the studio followed by tons of bouncing to audio, processing, removing effects chains, etc. Basically if you neuter your project, converting it into all audio playback via clips (which can still be cool) you can make it happen. If you want to leave your kits loaded, effects chained live, retain the ability to twist knobs and record automation or sequences live - without CPU glitching, one machine won’t cut it. Well, at least the machine I started with.

I am always astonished by the setups (and the final product) of folks like Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, Chris Liebing, Icicle, and others.

Here’s an example:

Liebing running Maschine and Traktor in a single session

Liebing running Maschine and Traktor in a single session

To be fair, the big guys have a really high-end mixer at the center of their rig. These days they all seem to be on the Model1 mixer. I really want one, but the thing is (at best I can find) $2,400 new AND since it’s all analog, you must have a way to get effects elsewhere. So, you either run this very nice mixer AND a set of Traktor controllers AND some high-end IO (like the Antelope Orion) OR you buy very nice outboard effects modules to use as sends.

In either case, you’ve just spent $5k.

So… Since we are all normal humans here, I decided to NOT spend $5k on my Model1 setup.

This season Native Instruments released their S4 mk3. Now, I love the faders and screens on the S8. I love closing my laptop and running Traktor as if in standalone mode. I have a large library of files collected over nearly 20 years, all striped/cue’d/analyzed. Traktor is my home. The S8 was lacking jog wheels and pitch faders (for me) so it had to go. The old S4 units felt crummy to me, so until this new iteration I felt like NI did not have the perfect controller for me.

NOW perhaps they are barking up my tree!

The new S4 MK3: Not quite “S8 with jogs” but really moving in that direction…

The new S4 MK3: Not quite “S8 with jogs” but really moving in that direction…

I decided this year to disassemble my live analog/standalone rig and come back to center. The truth is, the workflow of Maschine and Komplete Kontrol - for live jams, and for starting projects I will later mixdown/master/tweak in Ableton (via Push 2) - is my favorite offering.

I only went away from it bc it crushed my laptop and I couldn’t work in the way I wanted to. I want to load a kit, then load some synth patches, record some patterns, then record some automation, then add more layers, more effects, maybe more drums, open some samples, tweak, mangle, and KEEP WORKING until I am satisfied. On my 2015 quad i7 MBPro that was not possible.

So, this year I decided to go with my gut. Apple released a new Mini with 6-core i7 chips, loads of RAM, and really fast/large SSDs. Awhile back I was watching an NI video of Traktor and Maschine performed together and they lifted the MacBook Pro from the stand to show that Maschine was, in fact, running on a hidden Mac Mini. That was my epiphany. I have since discovered multiple videos which, in the end, refer to their second Mac to run Maschine. Ah hah!

At the time, however, the Mini’s offered were not faster than my laptop. That all changed a few weeks ago.

Now a few bucks will get you a proper desktop!

Now a few bucks will get you a proper desktop!

I already own a 34” ultra wide monitor, Output Platform desk, etc. I just needed a better powerhouse than my laptop tethered via a Thunderbolt 2 dock. Now it’s a reality!

I used the funds from the analog gear to get the new Mini & the new S4.

My rationale: I love Maschine, if I can use it without running out of resources. I also love Traktor. I am optimistic they will use their new-found bolus of capital to continue to improve their lines, and integrate them more. Now I have a dedicated Mini to run Maschine/Komplete Kontrol/Ableton AND I have a dedicated 2015 quad core 15” MacBook Pro to “just” run Traktor.

If they release an S8 with 7” haptics, pitch faders, and the new features of the S4 mk3… while retaining the screens and faders for stems/remix decks, I’ll upgrade. In the meantime, $900 gets you four channels with effects and total control over Traktor, albeit with some minor compromises for STEMs and Remix decks (due to the lack of four channels of dedicated control on each side).

So, to sacrifice a load of analog gear I accidentally solved another issue. In the past year I’ve maintained my “production” laptop, which also Dj’d. Alongside that I’ve maintained my “live standalone” rig. Now my desktop production setup can double as my standalone/live rig in a way.

Let me explain:

I Black Friday hunted and picked up a Maschine MK3, Jam, and Collector’s Edition upgrade to go along with my S61 on the desk. I also added an Asus Zen Screen (USB C powered) to my Amazon cart. My production desk houses the S61 and the Push 2 as we speak. I’ll add the Jam and Mk3 to the desk on arrival, and upgrade to the CE version of K12 when it arrives. That setup will be on the production desk any time I want to have a session.

When I want to layer that session with my Dj session, I can put each NI controller, as well as my Mini, my TrackPad 2, and the Asus Screen all in a custom-adjusted DJ Coffin I have repurposed. My goal is to make my production setup work double-duty, and to create my own 2018 version of the “Open Labs Neko XXL

They really nailed it with this product. Sadly, they are no more.

They really nailed it with this product. Sadly, they are no more.

My version will be less pretty, but the Mini will hide under the Zen Screen. The keyboard will be in the same spot, but with my Magic Trackpad 2 either just to the right, or sitting on the keyboard’s flat surface far right of the knobs. The other spaces will be occupied by a Mk3 Maschine & Jam.

I am still noodling about, in terms of layout, but the project is ON. I took the flight case (coffin) apart the other day, as it’s sat in a closet for many, many years untouched.





Now she’s stripped. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use some 3D-printed plastic to create layers, versus custom wood, or just attach these three laptop stands via sturdy brackets. Time will tell!

Now she’s stripped. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use some 3D-printed plastic to create layers, versus custom wood, or just attach these three laptop stands via sturdy brackets. Time will tell!

Lots of ideas…

Lots of ideas…

So, the final layout is pending, but the products that will make up this virtual standalone instrument are all on the way. I own the MX1 and Push 2, but I am not sure if they will be used for this setup or not. Hopefully by next week all of the parts on order will be here and I can take them to a friend who is handy with welding and woodworking, to see what ideas he can come up with.

I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures!

Traktor S4 mk3 REVIEW!

My new controller arrived last evening and I was able to spend some time with it last night & this morning. I have some initial thoughts:

  1. Packaging - standard NI, completely perfect.

  2. Build - Much better than the old S4, in line with Maschine mk3 (which should be no surprise).

  3. Layout - Very intiutive, but with some changes.

Traktor Kontrol S4- MK3.jpg

First off, let’s talk about the biggest new feature of the controller - the JOG WHEELS! This new “Haptic Drive” technology is really, really cool. The sensation of dragging the platter over a cue point (in your fingers) is really something I never knew I would want - but now I am really glad to have. When scratching last night, it seemed exceptionally responsive, tight, accurate and controlled. When in vinyl (TT) mode, you can adjust the tension on the wheels to better emulate a turntable. I found this very helpful, but I wish they had more torque. My old decks are Technics 1210 Mk2 units, so when I place a bit of pressure on these spinning wheels I get more of a “stop” than a “slight nudge down” in tempo, which is likely due to their smaller size & the grippy feel of the wheels.

For full specs and info please visit the source:

I found that, in my use, the TT mode was helpful for scratching and for being mesmerized by the spinning light, but while actually mixing I moved it to “jog” mode so the familiar push/pull of the tempo occurred with my input. The only complaint? I think the sides of the jog mechanism should be metal and slide like a proper Technics, and would love them to be 7” in size. Still, I cannot really fault NI here. The tech is really cool.

When dragging across a cue point, you FEEL a little catch, which is really unique and useful!

The mixer knobs feel SOLID. No more “falling off the post” for NI controller knobs! The initial layer of FX (mixer FX) have larger knobs, with great feel, and they sound as one would expect. When used in conjunction with the other FX modules, one can create very cool sonic changes within the otherwise static beats in a typical house track. I purposely loaded 32 beat loops of techno tracks and tried to see if I could make interesting drops/stutters/changes/builds/reverb fills, etc on the fly, and it was really quite easy.

The sound coming from this unit is solid. I keep it dialed really low in my house bc my “living room” speakers are powered 1,000 watt QSCs with the 18” sub - so I was being nice to the neighbors while testing. Still, with my speakers on minimal volume & the mixer turned down quite low, I had a HOT signal. Headphone volume also seemed more than loud.


I know, I have some. Maybe you will not. We all have a background and preferences that are unique, so here goes:

NI’s goal to keep the unit compact is awesome, but I wish they had used the template of something like the new Pioneer DDJ1000… SO here goes:

  1. The buttons on the S4.3 are small. The mixer isn’t ”cramped” but it’s not “roomy either” really. I wish the jogs were 7” in size. The pitch faders are good, but not quite as long as those on my Techics, so the highly precise nature of songs these days result in really, really subtle changes to the tempo faders.

  2. I would love some more creative pad modes on this thing! I hate to reference it again, but the Denon Prime SC5000 players are a HOOT to use for mangling tracks & the s4 just has some limitations in that regard. For example, when in a loop on the Prime players, you can instantly trigger any one of the 8 segments of said loop with the performance pads, maintaining the spot in your phrase (or not) as an instant sampler.

  3. Audio routing - if you want analog signals to join the show, you must give up the main four channels - at least one. This unit has no “aux” input channel to add your live production gear to the 4-deck traktor set without sacrificing a channel.

  4. No standalone mixer features whatsoever. If you want to listen to old records on your Technics, this little box still needs to be tethered to a computer running Traktor - no exceptions. This seems a bit silly to me, but I am sure NI has their reasons.

Overall the little unit is really solid. I did a 3 hr set in the dark, my second time using the unit, and had nearly no trouble finding my way around. Sure, some color-coded channels would have helped, but you get used to the layout really quickly.

Traktor Pro 3 is not exactly game-changing, but it’s an improvement over the old platform & I had no complaints about TP2 (overall) so the current software is fine with me. I’m still not sure I’ll use most of their new effects, but the mainstays are still solid & allow the dj to get a bit creative with ease.

I have not yet played with sample decks, but their method for using STEMS without four faders per side is really quite slick in practice. I am hopeful the sample decks (with RECORD feature, presumably to record live sequences) will be a lot of fun. Watching the videos on the sample decks, it appears they have implemented the same workaround for the four volume faders (found on the S4) - the first row of pads correspond to samples, the second row is a mute row, and the two knobs handle volume and filter, per pad (channel). The sample decks also have “record” which seem to allow you to do a basic one-bar pattern step-sequence. It’s a start!

One perk for Traktor over Serato - you can enable the preference to “automatically save changes to sample deck file” - so you have a way to recall your sample sets. This feature should have been in all dj apps which offer sample / Remix decks last year.

I tried to just start fresh with TP3, to see how fast & accurate the new striping algorithm would be, and so far it’s a pretty clear improvement. I will still run the files through Mixed In Key 8, but this new version is MUCH faster and more accurate than prior iterations.

UPDATE = ran MIK8 and it added 8 cues to every one of the tracks in my 85,000 file library automatically. WIN!

For what it’s worth, last night I ran an Ableton session with TP3 on my 2015 MacBook Pro and had zero glitches. I ran Ableton through the Master 1/2 on the S4.3. I would have preferred routing options within Ableton or Traktor, for full control over that live layer, but it worked well. LINK was pretty good, but I ended up just manually matching the beats & had no CPU or RAM issues on either end. Nice job, NI!

It’s no SC5000, but it’s also under $1,000 with four channels and everything Traktor has to offer. It will absolutely do the job! I hope for a larger, more robust S8.2, but if that does not materialize I will be, for the first time since the initial S4, happy with this current offering.

If you already have a laptop that can be dedicated to Traktor, don’t hesitate. If you would need a new laptop to run Traktor well, then maybe consider the SC5000 players - but avoid that X1800 mixer until Denon gets it together a bit more.

Dj gear conundrum!

Well, I've done it. I have turned down more live gigs than I thought I would be offered this past year. Maybe there's a part of me that's just "over it" when it comes to live dj gigs. Maybe there's a part of me that is just too busy to care anymore. Or maybe I just really, really dislike the current state of musical tastes in the world overall. For example, the latest song by Pitbull or whomever else makes their way to Now! Music just does nothing for me. So, as I enter into a very busy race season and invest my time and money into trips and gear and training, the Denon Prime rig just sits on the shelf collecting dust.

I SOLD IT! There. I said it. To be fair, the kit is really just about perfect. I broke even on the deal, and that makes me happy. Honestly, a small part of me still wants to have the fully standalone capability, but the other part of me is VERY curious to see how Native Instruments delivers on their promise to update Traktor and their Traktor controllers this year. I predict an announcement within 6 weeks, with a release of hardware by October. Maybe they will hit early and surprise me. Maybe not. Either way, I just freed up my resources - just in case they revamp the S8 and add jog wheels, and/or do the other things requested by users for years to blow Serato and Pioneer out of the water.

The other item I am considering is the standalone 2-channel Pioneer unit. It checks off the boxes, albeit in a 2-channel compact box (and for under 1/3 of the price of the Denon rig). I am testing our spare laptop this week on Traktor - a MacBook Air, to see if I can get some stability with my Z2 and my Technics on a 2-channel DVS (old school for people who aren't actually old school) setup. If it works, I'll try the LINK button and plug my 15" MacBook Pro in with my Push2 alongside Traktor, and see how that works.

Should that dual laptop setup actually work well, I may consider putting the Toraiz SP16 and AS1 on the chopping block, to exchange the kit for a Rev2 Prophet. I'm REALLY loving my production room right now with just the Push 2, Minitaur, AS1, and Ableton. Perhaps swapping the AS1 for a poly version with much more control would be preferable to having a second beat box. If I can replace that analog drive/filter from the SP16 with something else, it just may happen.

Thanks for reading! What are your current musical meanderings? Have you any guesses regarding the news from Output that drops on June 12???????

Pioneer Nexus 2000 vs Denon Prime X1800

So this may not be a fair "apples to apples" comparison exactly, as the DJM-900 is really the mixer that fits the category, but here goes!

Pioneer released the Nexus 2000 some years ago, circa 2011, so they are due to hit the world with another mega release sometime soon (I hope).

Let's break down the mixer in the familiar review format:

1. BUILD - it's Pioneer. Solid. Done.

2. Fades - Not MAGVEL, but they'll do the job (unless you're a scratch junkie, then maybe look elsewhere for a thinner mixer with a newer fader).

3. Sound/connectivity - again, Pioneer. Solid. Adds ability to run four CDJs via pro-link, no ethernet hub needed. Also has MIDI on/off, and MIDI START. Sick.

4. Layout - here is where this mixer gets interesting. Watch this video to get an idea of this big section in the middle, and the layout in general.

They present this four channel beast in a specific way on this video because the single factor that separates this mixer from any other four channel offerings in this broad digital-mixer category is that kaoss-pad-esque touchscreen with built-in sampler. The fx available on the screen are fairly fun to play with, but not game-changers. The "mix" mode on the screen is also fun to play with, also not a game-changer. It's just a 7-channel EQ. It has a place, but will likely only be rarely used in my world.

Pioneer Nexus 2000 Dj Mixer

The SAMPLER is the thing that sets this mixer apart. You can record four or eight beats into the sampler, from any source you choose, and either play that sampled audio back on the same fader (channel) from which you recorded it, or you can send that new sample to a different channel. This allows you to layer a vocal sample over a different part of the same vocal track in realtime. You have the ability to then "remix" that sample via the touch screen, and you can record that remix if you choose. Think "serato flip" if that helps. It's really the same end effect - recording your "chop and slice" of a sample as data and looping it back live. 

Its really quite cool. Pioneer clearly made the choice to keep the CDJ's creativity to a minimum thus far - which is why they have never appealed to me. To get around this, the Nexus mixer has the creativity built-in. I have the SC5000 players, which are immensely creative and fun - and I have the SP16 which allows for slicing and sequencing of samples. Since I sold the DJS-1000, I lost live sampling mode until June 2018. This mixer allows for one or two bars of live sampling mode, which does fill a void for some users (maybe even myself). 

It is a GIANT mixer. The question is: are the additional processes in the center worth the extra 3 inches of width?

Well that's a personal question. Size does matter!

Here are my criticisms, bearing in mind that this mixer is from 2011, and my X1800 is from 2017.

The Nexus 2000 lacks dedicated filter knobs. It relies on the sweep/color fx section to the left for all features, so to get a LPF you must select that feature, and then twist. Same for HPF. The Denon (and the newer mixers overall) have a separate LPF/HPF combo knob AND the color/sweep fx. This allows for things like Dub Echo, which the Nexus 2000 lacks. Again, it's a different era.

The live sampler works with any signal incoming, timing is good. HOWEVER, the BPM engine for the bottom half is separate from the BPM engine up top. So, you can let the mixer determine the BPM automatically for the main fx engine up top, which it does superbly, but that info is not sent to the sampler. You must select "manual tap" and then tap the tempo. It picks up the tempo very quickly (and accurately) with just a few taps, but they did leave the two units apart. I suspect this is to encourage users to get the CDJ units, which send tempo data over ethernet to the sampler AND allow the sample to be sent back to the CDJ instantly for scratching. 

Does that make the CDJ worth the investment? Not to me. I prefer dual layer and the mega-performance pads on my Denon Prime SC5000 players. I have no trouble tapping tempo once in awhile.

I have a long post about the Denon mixer on this blog already. Here is my short note:

Really the X1800 should be tested alongside the DJM-900 nexus 2... but I do not have this mixer in my shop at the moment. The effects on the Pio are still superior, as is the detection algorithm for BPM data (IMHO). 

Really the X1800 should be tested alongside the DJM-900 nexus 2... but I do not have this mixer in my shop at the moment. The effects on the Pio are still superior, as is the detection algorithm for BPM data (IMHO). 

The X1800 is more modern. Dual Usb sound cards (Pio has one), dedicated filter knob + fx knob, lights on each channel to show which channel has fx routing applied to it, the little touch-strip to change beat grids for fx, addition of dub echo and a few more modern effects. The X1800 also has dual microphone inputs - also found on every other 2018 digital mixer I'd ever consider owning.

Still, the effects on the Pio sound better (to me), keep tempo easier (auto-detect on Pio just works), and I can live without the "light guide" features that the Denon integration provides.

I have both in my hands at the moment. The next test - see if the Pio sends "MIDI START" as the unit indicates! The Denon still fails to do so.

If Denon would release a firmware update to improve the effects unit, and the detection system for BPM - to apply to the effects) I think I would stick with the X1800. The sampler is great and I'll find a way to use it in my set. It's frustrating that the Prime mixer is "so close" but not 100% there yet, for me anyways.

If you compare the DJM900NXS2 alongside the X1800, the difference to me is in the effects/BPM section - and that alone would be worth the swap (given the current builds). Even though the Denon sends "active track status" and the engine connect sends tempo, I'd trade those things for the DJM900's proven build, effects, tempo detection, and such.

Experimenting further!

I am still on the hunt for the perfect setup and I am starting to notice a few emerging patterns. One - I am really digging standalone gear. I do not care if the circuitry is analog or digital (necessarily), only that I do not need my laptop to make the music happen. I keep bringing the Push 2 out to the desk, firing up Ableton, and adding those layers to my live rig, but I think my ultimate preference will be to get the perfect flow from Ableton creation to bounce to stage on hardware. 

The Pioneer boxes I've bought in the past year (throughout this hunt) have proven to be SOLID, really fun, sonically pleasing, and well thought out. I sold the AS-1 and SP16 to a friend months ago and picked up a DJS-1000 to test. Shortly thereafter, I re-purchased the SP16! I couldn't help myself. The thing is just brilliant! I love the DJS-1000 as well, but it is currently online for sale. I decided I would rather have muscle memory for only one Toraiz GUI, and that the analog filters on the back-end were much more pleasing than the sounds coming out of the DJS. Also, symmetry makes me happy. I can't help it.

So, I made something on the SP16, loading samples, then mixing/mastering a bit, then sequencing. I used the SC5000 players (two players, one layer each) to jam out vocal samples on top of my sequences. The X1800 mixer affects are still lacking (in my opinion) but I am attempting to integrate them into the setup. More on this in another post. Do leave some feedback on my live, DAWLESS jam, if you would! 



Pioneer Toraiz SP16 vs Pioneer DJS-1000

Alright, after many days in front of the computer with Maschine and my Komplete Kontrol keyboard, I decided to try a standalone sampler. I love Maschine and I love Komplete Kontrol. I even upgraded to their Komplete 11 Ultimate for the Thanksgiving sale & finished my collection of Maschine expansion packs this fall. It's 50% off, so why not!?!

That said, I am still working on stability with that setup. The odd third-party .nks plugin will throw the CPU meter. Running the wrong third-party effect on the master (limiter, compressor, maximizer) will throw the CPU meter. In fact, my testing shows that while my laptop is only using 30% of the CPU and roughly 30% RAM, the meter in Maschine is through the roof & I hear audio issues. My setup is maximized and my buffer is at 512... So, needless to say, I still wanted something a bit more reliable and smooth for the live setup. 

In my great adventures in music gear recently, I ended up with the standalone DJ rig from Denon Prime (as you all know). While fiddling with my other computer-based gear, it seemed really obvious that the only component of my setup which just "worked" lately (and required zero configurations or investigations online to sort out bugs) was the Denon Prime. Standalone is superior in some ways!

I owned the SP16 and AS-1 for a time and I loved them. I sold them to a friend who wanted to start his own little music-making corner. So, for this round I decided to try out the new Pioneer DJS-1000 standalone sampler and sequencer.

Here's the comparison:

The front face of the SP-16

The front face of the SP-16

The face of the DJS-1000 - see the similarities?

The face of the DJS-1000 - see the similarities?

So, the DJS 1000 is quite similar to the SP16, which is a very good thing. Pioneer retained the familiar layout, fast and simple interface, and extreme playability. They removed the "track select" button, opting to add "hot slice" mode instead. When the four buttons are unlit, the default mode is now "track select" - this just allows one more feature mode without an extra button.


SP-16 perks:

1. 8 (1/4") outputs in the rear

2. Dave Smith Instruments analog filters (sound like buttah)

3. Arranger mode

Multiple outs on the SP-16 make it really nice for the studio setup.

Multiple outs on the SP-16 make it really nice for the studio setup.

DJS-1000 lacks the extensive IO of the SP-16, but we get an input and a through/output 2 on the rear, which means it should be plenty of IO capability for the intended purpose.

DJS-1000 lacks the extensive IO of the SP-16, but we get an input and a through/output 2 on the rear, which means it should be plenty of IO capability for the intended purpose.

Perks of the DJS-1000

1. Tempo fader - YES, you read correctly! It's now possible to beat-match the sampler (real-time time-stretch) with your live rig. The nudge feature now has a dedicated button as well. I found matching to my turntables (or Maschine, or any other signal) to be dead easy. I tapped "sampling" and then hit an empty pad, and the unit recorded from the assigned signal, immediately looped back in realtime, ready to slice and mangle.

2. Live sampling mode - This device behaves much like Ableton live, albeit with a 4 bar limitation and only 16 pads per scene (ableton would be "session view").

3. Loop playback mode - The DJS-1000 behaves like Traktor's Remix Decks when in this mode. The vertical rows choke one another and every loop can be quantized in various increments to maintain synchronization. I set the  quantize to 1 beat for looping mode, and it allows me to trigger the next clip with repeat enabled (to get a buildup, for example), and as you slide up the touch strip you can increase the repeat rate until it's just hammering - release the strip, tap the pad again, and it drops in time with your project. Nice.

Both units have the AS-1 channel functionality and both are amazing units. The specs are not clear by any online searching, but my testing shows that the effects, sample limits, project limits, and other rules/features not discussed on this post are essentially identical. I could only find the feature set differences mentioned in points 2 and 3 above.  

I see that we will eventually have 3 fx per slot, as my unit has three boxes (two of them discolored/disabled currently). 

Another small complaint - One cannot apply FX to the master send, except in the "performance FX" paradigm. This means no compressor or glue or anything else across the entire scene, which I would like to see implemented. They need something to make up for the lack of analog overdrive and filter on the SP-16.

The analog filters and overdrive on the SP16 destroy the digital effects on the DJS-1000, hands-down. The extremely dj-friendly layout of the DJS-1000 with live sampling and loop "remix deck" mode wins on the DJS-1000.

Are you looking for something to ride alongside your DJ rig for live sampling, remix decks, and live sequencing? The DJS-1000 is probably the ticket.

If you want something to primarily run in the studio, with the ability to feed your productions into/through the analog filters (and overdrive), with the ability to perform "most" of the functions live - the SP-16 is probably for you.

I'd really like one of each!

I do not own the Pioneer Nexus products, but the DJS-1000 slides alongside my Prime players (SC5000) perfectly. They all look nice together & they function perfectly. I have the Send/Return routed to and from the X1800 and the DJS-1000. In this way, I can turn the "effects send" knob to any channel I wish, which sends that audio temporarily to the DJS-1000 for sampling. I can either sample and mangle that audio signal, or simply leave a pad as "audio thru" on the DJS-1000 and apply some effects to that signal, so that on return to the Denon mixer it's now processed externally in some interesting ways. For example, the "ducker" option on the DJS-1000 mimics side chain compression... This leaves room for some really fun creativity. Imagine the possibilities!

They're almost the same depth.

They're almost the same depth.

Despite the difference product lines, they do fit nicely together. Would I love them to communicate over LAN? Sure. Is it worth $2,199 for each layer on the Nexus CDJ, and the loss of the awesome features the 8 pads on my SC5000 allow? NO WAY! I'll just beat match :)

Denon Prime x1800 SC5000 Pioneer DJS-1000

Looking really nice, right?

Houston, we are ready for launch...

Houston, we are ready for launch...

Denon Prime Series Review!

I don't know why it took me so long to do this, but here is my write-up on the Denon Prime! As my blog previously mentions, my MacBook Pro used to be tasked with Traktor and Maschine duties. Two screens on two controllers with two programs that EAT CPU and GPU. It wasn't sustainable. I ended up with standalone production/performance gear and a Serato / Roland box for dj'ing. I didn't jive with the Dj808. 

This thing is really nice. The analog drum machine, combined with the ability to step-sequence your samples, is really amazing. Still, it has quirky limitations and it's Serato-based. That last point really stuck with me in a bad way.

This thing is really nice. The analog drum machine, combined with the ability to step-sequence your samples, is really amazing. Still, it has quirky limitations and it's Serato-based. That last point really stuck with me in a bad way.


A buddy sent a video of him playing on the SC5000 Denon Prime Player and I wondered "what in the world is this thing?"

My personal opinion of CDJs (historically) has been quite negative. Sure, they play files and they have digital tempo control, so they are superior to DVS/vinyl in some ways. That said, they lack ALL of the creative remix capability of controllers like the Traktor Kontrol S8 from Native Instruments or the DJ808 from Serato and Roland.

I just couldn't get excited about a simple CDJ interface when controllers offered 8 magic pads for remixing and getting weird.

My favorite controller was the S8 - and I would probably still own this controller, but I really needed faders for tempo control & the screens used a lot of GPU.

My favorite controller was the S8 - and I would probably still own this controller, but I really needed faders for tempo control & the screens used a lot of GPU.


The Denon Prime series appeared to be a standalone DJ rig which provided all of the creative remix capability of the flagship controllers today, but with even more features! Did it deliver?


WHAT? The best parts of the S8, combined with the best parts of a CDJ, in a totally STANDALONE package? They really made something special here.

WHAT? The best parts of the S8, combined with the best parts of a CDJ, in a totally STANDALONE package? They really made something special here.

The eight buttons along the bottom seem really simple, and obvious, but this unit is the first to add them in the CDJ footprint. The SC5000 has the features of Traktor that I love (key match, loop, roll, slicer, beat jump, etc) and the footprint is perfect! I can grab the virtual vinyl with the jog wheel (and even adjust the weight of the wheel), grab my pitch faders, activate slip mode, TOUCH the screen to jump about my file (to add cue points, for example) and it runs in a very stable package!

ONE player can run TWO tracks at a time, so my pair of SC5000 players gives me 4 layers to mix - just like the DJ808 or the S8, but with NO LAPTOP required. My computer is now only responsible for running Maschine MK3 and my S61 MK2 keyboard - which is WAY NICER!

Oh, after my thorough testing of the players (connected to my Z2 mixer), I decided that the mixer should be next on my list.

My first test run on Prime. I brought the laptop with my Z2, just in case! A solid four hour test resulted in only minimal quirks, all of them now addressed in the first firmware update.

My first test run on Prime. I brought the laptop with my Z2, just in case! A solid four hour test resulted in only minimal quirks, all of them now addressed in the first firmware update.

On my first set, I realized within 5 mins that this setup worked precisely how I wished. I was dancing and mixing and having a blast. My lady commented "now he looks like he's having fun, and he SOUNDS LIKE BOBBY AGAIN!" - She was there for the great gear swap of 2016-2017 winter which included the Dj808 and Serato debacle.

The X1800 Prime Series Mixer completed the set nicely. 

So much GREEEEEN! 

So much GREEEEEN! 

The mixer checks a few boxes. It has built in FX on the right, which are all per-channel selectable and controlled via the dedicated knobs. "Sweep FX", if you will. Along the right side is a whole different bank of FX, which you can assign to individual channels, paired channels (A+B) or C+D), master, cue, and others. 

The best part? In the DARK, everything on this mixer is where you would expect to find it & the lights guide you if there is any doubt to the routing. The blue and white you see above each channel fader tells you which channel on the SC5000 (which layer) you are affecting. The white tells you if the tempo-based (BPM) FX are mapped/activated on said channel. Everything is interactive and the lights/layout are PERFECT. The touch strip - far right bottom, allows you to divide your BPM FX in different intervals with your fingertip, on the fly. Very cool to run 1/4 beat pattern on your flange and quickly swipe to a longer/shorter interval. 

The FX on the mixer are all great. A bit of utility digging allows you to drop the RES on the filter from 15 down to 5, or 6, for a sweet spot. All proper/relevant settings on the mixer are adjustable.

All of the units talk to one another, so changing the color of layers on the SC5000 players will result in the colors mapping to the mixer accordingly. You can change the way the mixer and the players assign layers to channels, for further customization. I adjusted my filters to "kill" or "iso"mode to get a more traditional EDM sound out of this thing & now when I mix I can truly say it feels and sounds like my past setups (in a good way). The FX and such, combined with the loop/roll/slicer and such on the players add up to a Dj rig that really can compete with the likes of Traktor in many ways. Sure, Remix Sets and STEMs aren't really there, but if you have a groovebox/sampler next to your now-more-compact Dj rig, you don't need those things.

This setup changed my perspective on things, in a good way. Now I have a fully standalone DJ rig that just STOMPS the competition. The custom Odyssey Vulcan cases are amazing and my setup couldn't be better. 

Thanks DENON!

Thanks for reading! 

New Maschine MK3 thoughts:

Let's start off by sharing the full info, right from the source, Native Instruments.

Here are my impressions:

I appreciate that Native Instruments adopted the design of the Push in some ways, specifically the buttons. The prior models were fine, but now every button sits lower in the chassis and has a backlit function inset into the buttons. I have said many times "the Push 2 HARDWARE is superior" and now they are addressing that very issue. The screens seem to be improved from those on the generation one Studio, to also put them on par with Push 2.  I have yet to see videos of them live sampling into the Maschine mK3 to compare to the fantastic way the screens update in Push as you record audio, but I suspect they will have similar function/capability in that regard. The layout is also more PLAYABLE, based on the videos I have found thus far. 


It looks like they really thought about the real estate on the old units, and tried to integrate as much of the Jam's playability (Chords, Arp, etc) into this unit as possible. They've added dedicated buttons for things like Keyboard mode, pad mode, chords and step sequencer - so no more SHIFT + click actions. This matters ENTIRELY when you're playing live. They added a large note repeat button, dedicated buttons for plugin, sampling, mixer, arranger, browser, and MACRO - and now you can quickly and easily assign macro knobs in seconds with a quick combination of buttons, followed by a TAP on the new knobs. Oh, and the knobs are now touch-sensitive with enhanced functionality. 

Workflow ehnancements include pat input mode buttons (described above), lock button (for parameter lock, to create build-ups and other such things), macros, note repeat, TRANSPORT section, fixed and 16 velocity mode button, updated file management (you can save projects without leaving the MK3 box - no mouse!), and better controls sections.

The pads are bigger, more sensitive to subtle finger drumming, and they've apparently enhanced their "song" or "ideas" mode to be a bit more like... Umm... What's that program again???? ABLETON's Session View. THANK GOODNESS! I've said it before - if Jam would behave like Ableton when firing clips, I'd be a very happy man.

They've added their acclaimed smart-strip as well, and now the knob on the left (previously three knobs) can do a multitude of things based on the buttons surrounding it. They realized that two of the prior knobs were hardly used, and adjusted accordingly. 

The new box looks to be more in line with the hardware on Push 2, which I welcome. If the new Jam MK2 (whenever that comes out) has pads which are on par with Push 2, and this new button layout, it'll be my new favorite 64 pad controller as well. 

AUDIO INTERFACE! - Yes, you read that correctly! They added an audio interface to the unit! It's no standalone box (like the MPC X) but now you can take it on stage with only your laptop, run a set of 1/4" outs to your mixer, and this thing is ready to go! It puts the MK3 more in line with on-stage instruments than before, where it was strictly a midi controller. Yes!

After typing this, I learned of WAY MORE benefits to the new MK3 hardware. I'll just let you watch the video. Basically, the new hardware has caught up to the software developments!

The gripes:

Native Instruments clearly put a lot of thought into this unit. I have but a few gripes, before I can actually try this thing out in October. HOWEVER, I must complain:

1. No USB hub on the back

2. The built-in IO lacks PHONO inputs

3. The legs in the video are 3D printed and, so far, do not seem to be integrated with the retail version of MK3.

So, with all of the time spent in the designing process, they did not listen to their users in these small, but significant areas. I feel that a set of phono inputs on the back of anything closely resembling a sampler is a MUST, especially when you can just throw a set of RCA inputs on the back with a switch, versus just the 1/4" inputs on the back of the Mk3. OVERSIGHT?

The USB hub makes perfect sense to include because this thing is going to be used with Jam and/or the S-series keyboards quite often. Why not make it a single-usb to the computer situation? My MacBook Pro has but two USB plugs by default. Thankfully, my DJ rig is Denon Prime (fully standalone) so I have the two plugs free, but what of the Traktor S4 users? They have a USB dedicated to their DJ rig and now they have to use hubs, adaptors, or other  messy solutions to run the MK3, S61, and Jam into their laptop.

This could have been avoided by making the unit thicker - maybe by default the box angles up 15 degrees towards the user, making room for the USB hub and extra PHONO inputs? By doing this, the legs would be unnecessary and the unit would sit flush with the keyboards. Hmm.

In my mind, creating this box to simply run with your laptop and a set of audio cables, and expanding the back to allow for the other MIDI boxes (keyboards, jam, etc) to just run INTO THE MK3 seems far more clean, far more badass. OH well. Perhaps the next gen will address this... Studio MK2 2018 anyone?


Despite my above complaints, I will be on the pre-order list for the first batch of these controllers. The price is right - $599 new, and it seems to bring the Maschine "standard" unit more in line with other hardware, but retains/maximizes the things that NI does better than the competition.

I've heard no word about the CPU/GPU hit one will take from those screens, but I will keep hunting. The new keyboards also adopted the screens, which combine in ways to allow you the use of both for various things simultaneously, such as mixer view on the keyboard and plugin view on the Mk3. Cool stuff, but possibly a GPU/CPU bog on your system, so beware!

Buy or no? If you have the Studio unit, I'd hold off and use what you have. If you own MK2 and you have the budget, my recommendation is to sell it NOW and get on the pre-order train for this unit. The best parts of the old Studio box are here - the screens! Browsing for plugins without them still puts your face in the computer. When you have these little guys, you hardly look away from the controller. That's what's up!

Stay tuned, this post will be edited with more images/videos in the coming days. Thanks for stopping by!




Toraiz scene/project management

In response to the comments left by Bean, I think it's best to fully explain the differences between the Toraiz and the other boxes, in terms of scenes/patterns/project management.

First, the limits:

Toraiz can only play back 16 channels at a time, meaning that at any one time you can only play back the sounds of a single bank of 16 drum pads - a SCENE, in Toraiz lingo. It's not like Maschine, where you can use bank A for drums, bank B for synths, etc. You can, but you cannot play them all back at once on the Toraiz. Rather, you organize the 16 sounds as if they are the complete "track" or "live jam" you want to perform. The next "scene", which would be drum bank B on Maschine, is where you load the next major change in that same song project (to mix or transition to a different vibe) or an entirely new song. You could also just load up 16 vocal samples to bank A, then some other cluster for bank B. The point - while playing the 16 sounds in the first scene (drum group) you can't play the ones from any other. It 16 channels of output at a time. If you think it's a strict limitation you can't live with, check out this video: 


Copying patterns and scenes on the Toraiz is fine. Advanced editing of patterns is also possible, as seen in this tutorial: 

The limits fall in line with the "one FX slot per drum pad" things that initially bothered me, but you can always resample to a new pad, add more FX, resample, etc.

I have not explored copy-paste patterns yet. I still need to dig into the more advanced features of this thing, and some of the basics as well. Scene copy/paste exists and works smoothly. Not sure on patterns.

I can say that when you load a pattern and select the length of one bar, the Toraiz will automatically copy that pattern out to 2-3-4 bars when you select a different length (bottom right buttons). That's pretty SLICK!

I'll dig into pattern copy/paste and other things next week & get back online. Thanks!

MPC Live vs Pioneer Toraiz SP-16 (My opinion)

As mentioned in prior entries, my issue has been simple: Try to accomplish a four deck dj set plus a live performance layer (drums, synths) on a single setup with one computer. My first attempt is mentioned in a prior entry, as I moved the live performance portion to analog gear and left the DVS part to my laptop. 

As part of my "offload live performance" mission, I purchased the MPC Live. It promised to be the answer to all of my wants and needs, and nearly was! I spent 5 months on the device and ended up returning it to Sweetwater for a midi sync bug, but had it not been buggy I think I would have still sold the unit. Here is why:

Mission 1: Offload CPU duties. I attempted to accomplish this by way of the AIRA line + MPC Live

Mission 1: Offload CPU duties. I attempted to accomplish this by way of the AIRA line + MPC Live

First off, if you are an experienced MPC user, you'll probably LOVE this thing. If you're not, you may hate it. The architecture of the MPC DAW environment is not like Maschine or Ableton. Their philosophy has a separation of ideas. What I mean is: In Maschine you can work within a single 16 pad bank and load, say, 11 drum sounds. Then on pad 12 you can load a Massive patch and it'll play melodically with the tap of a button - keyboard - and you're now sequencing your notes on the synth - in the same bank as your drums. The 8 Maschine knobs will edit the parameters of the synth while you play notes. Flip back to pad mode and then you're sequencing drums again, in the same drum bank. The same goes for audio tracks (pads). You can load pad 13 as an audio in (live sampler input) pad and record your audio, and then hit "slice" to send that data to a brand new drum pad group OR just play it within the same 16 pad method as if it were a keyboard patch. You can tap the pad in the normal "drum group mode" and it'll fire off the entire sample (if it's a one-shot mode with the right ASDR settings) or you can hit the pad, hit "keyboard mode" and it'll play 16 slices up the pads. Easy.

In MPC land, your drums and synths and audio samples are all in SEPARATE PROGRAMS. So, you can load a drum kit into pad bank A (program A, in MPC world) and then when you think 11 drums is enough and you want to add a synth patch on pad 12, you have to load A NEW BANK OF PADS (or program, in MPC world) just to load that synth. The same goes for recording (sampling). You need to open separate programs for separate things every time, no exceptions. i found this extremely frustrating. The MPC Live is a SOLID piece of hardware. It's the only piece like it, when you look at the specs, multi-core system, the battery onboard, and the internal hard drive bay. It's a TANK and I wanted to love it. I just couldn't wrap my head around the workflow. 

I should clarify - I made sounds. I made songs. I just didn't love the experience of doing so. It's more like this: You know precisely what you're going to load into the drums kits and synth programs and sample banks, you spend time making each program and loading up, then you sequence. In Maschine, you load drums and make a pattern or seven. Then you think "now what do I wanna add?", you browse for things, you add them, you sequence. It's more organic to me, more spontaneous. And, the reason I bought the MPC Live was for LIVE PERFORMANCE. It was to replace my computer-based beat machine duties - Push or Maschine replacement.

For live performance, again, you can't just smash on a bunch of drums and then hit pad 13 to start playing keyboards. You have to select a different program to access the synth patches. Not as fast, not as smooth. You have to hit main, select program mode, select the program. In maschine, Ableton, Pioneer - just tap the pad with the synth (or the drum) and play it.

Then I thought, maybe I'd use it to sample live, slice to pads, and re-arrange tracks from my DVS on the fly. Cool. Simple, right? I'll let you watch the video explaining how to live sample, then send to a pad bank (program) and then trigger the slices live to remix a song: 

His video is the "lazy chop" which is arguably faster than the standard method. I'll give you a hint: you gotta push a bunch of extra buttons to get the newly recorded sample into the bank and then to be in focus so you can remix. It's not instant, by any means. Using the lazy chop, you still have to do some work before just firing off slices live.

Even on the demo jam below, you can see that, at times, Andy is using the knob to decide which program he wants to be in for performance/sequencing. In Maschine or Ableton world, you just tap the pad and select the mode - or you select a different drum bank (program) with the dedicated buttons and it works. 

The default behavior for the MPC is to load everything in the new program to the first bank of pads. So, rather than bounce between bank A-B-C-D-E-F-G-H up top (like maschine), if you just follow the MPC flow as it's set, you end up with 8 programs of info and each one is on bank A, respectively. So, tapping bank B-C-D (etc) only sends you to empty banks. It seems like a really funky choice on their end, and one that I couldn't fall in love with.

What I wanted was a standalone Maschine-esque groove box I could use to take half-cooked projects from the studio to the stage. Something playable, fun, easy to use, and not necessarily a complete DAW in a box. What I bought was a DAW in a box that is immensely powerful, but also a bit clunky (to me).  I envisioned using it as the controller on the computer, loading synths, bouncing them to audio, unplugging the box, and taking that project on stage to WOW the crowd! I ended up being frustrated with it. A few simple things I've taken for granted are as follows: 

BUTTONS for different MODES! When performing a track/project live, I really enjoy tapping the "MUTE" or "SOLO" buttons (combined with SHIFT) to lock the maschine into those modes. You can sequence a complex 16 pad pattern and, while looping, use mute and solo to creatively turn a single pattern into a track that moves and flows on cue. It's really fun, and on the MPC Live you must go into MAIN and then select PAD MUTE MODE, for example. You always need to leave the mode you're in to get to the next mode. Oh, and then you can't mute the synth while muting drums because they're in different programs. It's just a separation of church and state I can't accept.

Maschine MK2 puts performance elements at your fingertips, and when combined with JAM, it's pretty hard to beat for live performance - unless you're PUSH 2 ;)

Maschine MK2 puts performance elements at your fingertips, and when combined with JAM, it's pretty hard to beat for live performance - unless you're PUSH 2 ;)

Aside from the obvious fact that my computer is required (which does not solve my first mission of offloading live performance away from the CPU) this workflow is just stupid, sick, awesome.

In comes the TORAIZ SP-16. As I grew near to my final decision to sell or return the MPC Live, I decided to pick up a used Toraiz SP16 on a whim. It's specs are pathetic in comparison. 256MB RAM, no internal battery, 16 gig onboard sample drive only, one FX per pad/channel slot, only 16 banks (scenes) max, and the list goes on.

HOWEVER, in my hunt to get a portable/standalone maschine-esque box, the Toraiz may have hit the mark! Sure, the specs are low and the functions are limited... But the things that Dave Smith and Pioneer implemented on this little box are just what I needed.

Note the buttons - Mute, Track, Slice, Scale...

Note the buttons - Mute, Track, Slice, Scale...

For example, when performing live, I can tap the MUTE button and all of my pads instantly become muted when I select them. I can drag across 4,8,12 pads and make the synth solo happen instantly. I can hit "shift" and tap a single pad and it solos that pad. To undo this, I tap the pad again... This opens up all 16 sounds again instantly. So you can build up, let down, re-release the song with your hands LIVE on the fly instantly, as if you were in Maschine or Push. 

Want to record a sample live and instantly slice it up on the fly? Cool. So on a pad 16, you tell it to be an audio in channel (pads are channels in Toraiz world, and pad banks/groups are "scenes" in toraiz world). Once the pad knows it's listening to an input on the back of the Toraiz, you just, well... here's the video!

So, when recording to a pad, you just save the recording and then hit "slice" on the face of the box to instantly start playing back 16 slices of the new sample. Record. Hit save. Hit slice. Perform.  Yes, you can move into the menu and edit those slices, get weird, get awesome-r, but for the basic performance you can INSTANTLY go from sampler to slicer with ease.

AND THE FILTERS... Guys... If you're really into something to use for LIVE performance, this Toraiz clicks the buttons. The filters are smoooooooth, rich, and right at your fingertips. The mixer is also a quick button tap away, so you can view all 16 channels of audio on the screen as you wish, to do quick mixes/edits on the fly. These things are missing from the MPC Live and they are missing from Maschine MK2. 16 mixer channels on one screen and REAL analog filters to do sweeps and other fun stuff ON THE FLY = the Toraiz is the winner in my world. Oh, and it's cheaper than original MSRP. I paid $1100 with a deck saver for a used kit. Now you can find them NEW online for less.

Pricing as of August 25, 2017

Pricing as of August 25, 2017

The Toraiz has no battery, no expandable internal drive for samples, only one FX slot per pad (channel), and a host of other limitations. BUT it is extremely playable, it's FUN to use, EASY to learn and it sounds great. I looked at a few videos to answer specific questions, but in my first 5 hours with the box I think only 30 mins were spent researching how to do things. Compare this to my 8-10 hours of MPC videos and it's clear which one was more fun. Besides, when setting up a DJ rig, you need a power strip anyways... So the battery thing isn't that important. I already have an empty slot on my Fuhrman, so the Toraiz can plug right in.

One of the big kickers to the DJs reading this - NUDGE. Toraiz SP16 will sync via MIDI to whatever gear you wish (and the MPC actually failed at this numerous times, by the way). But I actually don't even hook up the MIDI cable. I run the audio into my mixer and define the tempo to match my dj set. I hit play on the drop beat and when it's clear that my timing is a bit off, I just hit the NUDGE button on the Toraiz and the damn thing BEAT MATCHES MANUALLY like any good sampler should. Who knew, someone finally put a method on a sampler! I have wished for a tempo slider for years, but I'll take the nudge button. Nice work, Pioneer!

After two hours on the Toraiz, starting from a blank slate, I came up with this:

Pardon the poor audio and video quality - I just propped my iPhone 7Plus against a coffee cup and recorded my quick jam. As you can see, with only a few hours of use, it flows nicely.

Another neat little thing I learned about the Toraiz unit: It plays nicely with their AS-1. Once I decided to sell my AIRA stuff and my MPC, it occurred to me that I really liked having an analog synth (in general), so i thought I'd try the AS-1. I found a deal on a new unit for well under retail and plugged it into the Toraiz SP-16. The AS-1 sounds mean for such a small box, but I won't get into detail about that during this post. I do want to discuss the one cool performance feature I discovered. In the SP16 you can select a "AS-1" channel input for any pad. No biggie, except when you dig into the menus you discover that you can tell the SP16 which patch to load on the AS1 automatically, each time you load that pad bank (SCENE, in Toraiz world). So, you can effectively load 16 SONGS of your own creation into the Toraiz and each song can have a single patch on the AS1 which will load with the scene, and that patch will change with every scene you load later. Does this make sense? So when programming for a live show, you can make 16 songs with 16 dedicated AS1 patches as a part of each song (scene), and when you move to the next song (scene) your synth will automatically pull up that pre-determined patch. this allows for the synth to be played back LIVE with your song, or via a pre-programmed midi pattern via the pads on the SP16 (your choice) and also allows you to manipulate the FX, filter, parameters of that synth patch separate from the sounds on the SP16. By using both together, live jams happen. See the video above! PLUS = Pioneer and Dave Smith were smart enough to include a "ducker" effect in the SP-16, so you can side chain the AS-1 to your kick (for example) with ease. It instantly gels with your project.

Oh, and the footprint of the SP16 + AS1 is much smaller than the footprint of my prior setup = System 8, MX1, MPC Live.  Since you can route the AS1 into the SP16, you don't need a submixer (like the MX1 for AIRA). You can just send the Sp16 into your dj mixer and the synth tags along.  It may not seem like a giant thing, but fewer boxes to/from shows means fewer things to break. Less time spent on user manuals means more time making music. The closer you live performance box gets to your computer-based groove machines (Maschine or Push, for example) the less time you spend figuring out how to accomplish the same goals on stage with no laptop that you'd accomplish in the studio with all of your bells and whistles.

For me, with this crazy busy life, simple and functional are at the top of my list. The Toraiz is simple, and really functional. It's FUN to make music on this thing. It's also extremely easy to port projects from your computer setup into it, or even use to browse samples, load them on the browser, sequence them loosely, and save that to your computer as a TORAIZ scene. You can then load that to a flash, plug into the Toraiz, and your stuff is ready to go. Really cool stuff.

The pads feel great & the 16 steps below the pads are really convenient as well. I liked sequencing with the 16 steps on the roland, but wished it had a way to also play drums live. This thing does both, and does it really well. You can step-sequence modulation as well, just not in the same "live, on the fly" way as computer based solutions. Again, limitations, but not deal-breakers.

I know it was a long post. Thanks for reading!

Traktor Vs. Serato

I tried guys. I really tried. I went to the Roland AIRA mixer (DJ808) in attempt to run the Roland AIRA gear as my standalone live production gear alongside this mega-beast of a mixer/controller. This unit is so SOLID. However, it has one fatal flaw: It runs Serato.

The AIRA lineup in full swing on my desk. System 8, MX1, Dj808. 

The AIRA lineup in full swing on my desk. System 8, MX1, Dj808. 

So, my general problem with music and gear moving into 2017 was simple: I have but one 15" MacBook Pro to run everything through. It's fast. Blazing fast, in fact. I have the top spec model sitting here and there's really not a large collection of portable computers that will stand toe-to-toe with this thing. That said, I still had an issue. For now, Native Instruments is keeping Maschine and Traktor separate from one another, meaning we have no "Maschine Deck" functionality. If we had this, it would be like a "NI version of the Bridge", but we do not. So, moving into last winter I owned the S8 Controller and the Maschine studio. Turns out both of them run a specific video process for their screens and it BOGS DOWN the processing powers of most portable computers. Combine the two, and you take a serious CPU hit. This killed my flow, as my perfect scenario was to run the S8 with 4 decks and then use a second sound card to run Maschine next to it all, so that I could jam out live on top & mix in/out of my projects in Maschine. TOO MUCH WORK for the laptop. So, the choices were simple: Move CPU from live performance to a standalone solution, or move the DVS system to a standalone. Given that only a handful of standalone Dj boxes existed in December of 2017, and I did not love any of them, I decided to run this AIRA line.

I should also note my only other gripe with the S8 - no jog wheels. It's all sync button, unless you don't mind pairing it with a set of CDJs or my old Technics 1210 decks. By the time you add turntables, your dj rig is four feet long and worth over $3,000 - and good luck replacing my printine decks for anywhere near the $1,000 per set I paid back in 2001. When playing for weddings or certain clubs, the mixed-genre thing is needed. Tempo matching like a real dj is important in those settings, and the S8 left me constantly wanting jog wheels. EVERYTHING else about the controller is laid out precisely how I would like. 

If you've watched the videos of KiNK online with the AIRA stuff, I know you're impressed. It's really cool to see how much you can do with a hardware drum machine (4 voices), a synth/pad line on the deck playing back in time, and a few slots of your sampler loaded and sequenced live. Really cool stuff! So, after being a life-long Traktor user (yes, I had Final Scratch 1.0) I decided to switch. 

The build on the Roland DJ808 is insane. The hardware alone almost won me over 100%. Sure, the drum machine sequencer function has weird settings (like auto-quantizing my sampler slot jams, even tho really I'd like that bizarre 1/64th pattern to come through as-is), but it's cool. I did find that syncing between the TR-S (the drum machine up top) and Serato was not 100% smooth, and at times I really wished I had a nudge button. I had to beat-match manually by twisting the tempo  knob on the TR-S to keep in time with the rest of my set, which left a bit to be desired.

The jog wheels - INSANELY good. I can't stress enough - the HARDWARE aspect of this thing is just beautiful. They really did knock this thing out of the park. IT's loud, clean, mean, and people often come over from the dance floor just to watch the crazy lights. It has a lot of stuff happening under the hood, so if you're capable of mixing four decks at once, with FX and live drums/samples, you'll get on with this thing fine IF YOU LIKE SERATO.

GRIPE: The FX knobs are really close to the jog wheels, so when you first start with this thing you'll accidentally tweak FX knobs as you grab the jog wheel, or vice-versa. A bit snug there, guys.

So, my first attempt was simple: Spend a ton of cash on the AIRA stuff, use the synth and MX1 to jam over top of my dj sets live. Port the beat machine portions to the sampler in serato (combined with the built-in TR-S) and have only the four decks of DVS play over the MacBook Pro.

This plan worked, in many ways. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the shining stars of this setup were the System8 and the MX1. Roland really has some darn cool gear running in this lineup, and it all connects with USB together so you can sync and send/receive audio over the USB cables. Nice job, guys. Nice job.

BUT - the DJ808 runs SERATO, which is the topic of this thread. There is no comparison. Traktor analyzes files in a way that actually detects BPM and (mostly) gets the drop beat right. Serato does NOT compete in this area. Most of my tracks were off, even standard techno *4x4* tracks. Sure, you can edit the grid live on the fly, but that's no fun when playing a mixed-genre set for four hours live on a new mixer. Sure, take time to fix the grids as you go, and still mix like a champ. I gigged with this thing three times, collected my money and praise each time, but walked away frustrated with the software every single time. During my sets I was frustrated over and over again with the silly way Serato does things. The creativity is extremely limited, there are no remix decks or stems, limited FX to select from, and the sampler is cool - but really archaic.

For example, you can save 8 slots of samples times 4 banks, and move between them. Cool. Now what if I want to save my sample slot info as a "sampler set" or something and recall it later? Nope. Not gonna happen. The software saves ONLY the sampler data for the current 32 slots. No recall. Also, if you're on bank A and you have settings specific to the 8 slots (ASDR info, loop vs one-shot, etc) it does not save this per bank. So, when you bounce to the next bank, those slots have to be edited if you don't want them to play back just as the first bank of 8 did. Make sense? It's super archaic and does not in any way compete with remix decks. 

After three gigs, lots of wasted time re-striping and manually gridding lots of song files, I gave up. No Serato for me. This is the second time I attempted to switch sides, the first being when Ableton and Serato announced "the bridge", which was also a flustered, clunky, malfunctioning mess. 

So, Native Instruments - you guys still WIN in the world of DVS. Congrats! Now make a controller that competes with the functionality of the Dj808... No, better yet, make Maschine Decks in Traktor an option AND make an S8 with JOG WHEELS so that people like me don't switch!

Trying it out with Push 2, Maschine, and any other gear I own. Looking for the perfect setup.

Trying it out with Push 2, Maschine, and any other gear I own. Looking for the perfect setup.

First day with Jam (Jam vs. Push 2 - part 2)

So the Maschine Jam unit arrived last evening, right on time. I was able to un-box the device last night, activate, and fiddle around for a little while before bed. Today I spent an hour with it, and I have some very preliminary thoughts.

The packaging and build quality are great. Honestly, the Push 2 seems to have a slightly "higher end" built, but the price is nearly double. The screens on the Push are fantastic. I thought I would miss the screens while playing with the Jam, but I did not. The implementation of multiple modes for the touch strips takes care of many audible functions on the Jam, and I did not find myself looking for screens or knobs up top. 

Let's break down the components separately.

Browsing & transport: everything you would want to access right away is available on the controller. Some functions require a shift-click, but i found the desired functions with almost no loss of time or concentration.

Clip triggering: Very similar to the Jam, minus one major difference. In Ableton world, when you want to silence a row of clips (channel), you may hit "stop clip" for that channel OR you may simply tap an empty cell slot in that channel's row & it'll just stop playback. Magic.

In Jam world, when you tap an empty cell on the grid, it activates that new cell for recording so that you may input new MIDI data. This is really frustrating if you're accustomed to using the session view/mode as a live playback/performance tool or to sketch beats in new arrangements with existing MIDI data. For me, I tend to be in "record clips" mode and then I go into "now let's mix things up with new random clip combos" mode. This part, to me, is a failure on the part of NI to keep things simple. That's all for now.

Maschine Jam - thoughts.

So this week Native Instruments announced their new product, Maschine Jam. I am personally excited to try out this new piece of hardware. However, some are not. As I browse the Native Instruments forums I noticed quite a trend of negativity surrounding the new controller. For example, it was referred to as just a face-lift on the same old Maschine controller. Some folks claimed it added nothing new to the existing Maschine world.

I disagree.

Background: I own the Ableton Push 2 control surface, with the full Ableton Live Suite.

Ableton knocked it out of the park with this controller, but it still left me wanting something similar to my S8 workflow in Traktor DJ, with a twist.

Ableton is a full-powered DAW and they really broke the mold with their session view, which allows for deep manipulation of audio and midi files live, on the fly, and with seemingly endless possibilities. Their take on sequencing removed the traditional linear approach completely, instead opting for a sketch-pad of improvisation. If this makes little sense to you, I encourage you to watch the videos for the Push 2 controller online.

I also own Maschine Studio. I love this piece of equipment, however this setup still has some very obvious, and significant limitations. For example, with the Studio controller, quickly moving about with different clips to create variations on scenes is not really an option. Sure, you can change scenes & you can change patterns with the 16 pads & the shift button, but this means you can only actually change one pattern/scene at any given moment. With something like the Push, or the new Jam, you can suddenly put hands on 8 different audio clips at once, changing the upcoming phrase of music completely into something new and interesting. 

This controller is quite comprehensive for STUDIO applications, but lacks the playability of Push 2.

The issue for me has been the duality. I own Push 2 because Ableton destroys Maschine in terms of their session performance capabilities. I own Maschine because it is a really fun, and smooth, way to create music. When combined with the Komplete Ultimate bundle & their S-Series keyboard, the only excuse for not making good music is laziness. So, I am fully immersed in the Native Instruments Komplete/Maschine world, but I own Push 2 because of the Maschine sequencing/performance limitations. Maschine Jam promises to fill the gaps for someone like myself, which has the potential to simplify my setup even more.

Clearly Maschine Studio and Push 2 met at a bar, they had drinks, one thing led to another... And they had a little black baby. Did Maschine "borrow" too much from Ableton, or did they just get with the times?

Prior to their release, I stalked the LIvid DS1 on the internet, as an attempt to gain tactile control over my musical ideas in Ableton. I know the Push 2 controller is really intelligently designed, but I play my own music live as I would a DJ set, thus I am quite accustomed to using EQ/Send knobs to achieve specific sonic goals to build my tracks live. With Push 2, or Maschine Studio, you can do this to a point. However, you cannot control all of these parameters quickly, and simultaneously, because you are simply missing the external controls.

This unit looks awesome! Livid discontinued the product and failed to respond to my email inquiries regarding their plans for the future. It made my DJ-to-producer brain quiver nonetheless.

So, I may be stubborn, but to this point neither Push 2 OR Maschine Studio gave me precisely the workflow I want for live performance of my musical sketches. I yearned for the controls I have over Traktor with my S8 control surface, but within the Maschine or Ableton environment. The Jam unit implements advanced FX controls via the touch strips, and allows for shift-functionality which gives tactile control over pans and sends. So, the single touchstrips can handle volume, sends, pans & then performance FX as well. The guys at NI did not add 3-5 knobs per channel like my S8, rather they made the single touchstrip capable of performing the same feats as the 3-5 knobs per channel. This is a really interesting take on things. When paired with the Studio controller & S-series keyboard, the possibilities seem endless. For example, one could use the 8 knobs on the Maschine controller to specifically manipulate parameters of a bass synth patch. The 8 knobs on the S-keyboard could control the parameters of the lead synth. Jam is then used for volume & toggled to FX performance mode. It becomes obvious fairly quickly - NI really is progressing towards an exciting ecosystem of musical equipment.

This piece of gear, combined with Traktor, is really the ticket in digital Dj'ing. If you want to truly push the boundaries of live production and manipulation of your audio while mixing, look no farther. I know Serato claims to be advanced, but they are woefully under-gunned in the areas I value most.

Yes, the buttons are click. No, this is not as awesome as Push 2's touch-sensitive inputs. I hope NI is reading this someday and realizes they need to release the 8x8 grid which is at least as high-quality as the Ableton offering. No, they did not add 8 knobs. I somewhat wish they had, but fully realize their extensive thoughts and programming regarding the touchstrips were a direct attempt at avoiding the 8 knobs. Maybe this will prove a success, maybe not. Without the unit in my studio, it is only a guess at this point. Still, I applaud them for trying to think outside of the box here. This controller has a small form factor and is bus powered. Likely both are accomplished because of the lack of screens and knobs. It will fit in my small backpack, so I can easily bring it along on trips which the Studio controller will not fit. My Push 2 surface is packable, but the A/C adaptor sometimes results in that piece staying home. If I am flying, I cannot always access a power supply.

Perhaps in future adventures I can pack my laptop & my Jam unit, with the simple Audio 2 Dj I/O, so I can at least get a couple of sessions under my belt wherever I may roam. 

Maschine is still not a full DAW. Native Instruments surely must realize their consumers want a full DAW from them at some point. I assume they are working on this as we speak. In the meantime, incremental changes to the Maschine software are coming, and they are all for the better. As Maschine approaches the playability of Ableton, it becomes more tempting for users like myself to fully abandon Ableton Live. The NKS standard works flawlessly. The keyboards have a solid build. Maschine and Traktor controllers feel solid and, for me, have lasted for years of abuse. Their software runs smoothly on my Macbook Pro each and every time I load up. The samples, instruments, and FX in Komplete Ultimate are fantastic.

If you want a streamlined, and very powerful, music production (and performance) setup on your desk, I think Maschine Studio, Maschine Jam, and the S-88 are just about as good as it gets. If you want to take your Dj-ing and production brains and mash them together, just add the S-8 mixer and a turntable (or two) to the equation, and mash away!

Native Instruments still needs to add a formal communication portal between Traktor and Maschine, so users can forget about the remix decks and focus on "Maschine Decks" instead. This would eliminate the internal midi clock sync issues entirely, omit the need for any 3rd party internal audio routing apps, and simply (FINALLY) allow users to accomplish what the Ableton Bridge promised so many years ago. Only, this version would actually be stable and would actually allow you to push the musical boundaries. I was an early adopter of the Bridge, and it was disappointing. A great idea, but poorly executed. I sold the very pricey SSL interface/software, kept Ableton, and went back to Traktor. That was quite awhile ago.

I hope NI was watching the web at the same time. I hope they said "we will do our own version, and it will be amazing, but it will take some time." Perhaps that time is now. The fall is near, and this means updates to software and hardware. Your users are waiting and ready. Additionally, you should implement a way to record not only the audio from our Traktor sets, but also the midi inputs (like the Bridge) so that we have that amazing functionality. Just allow that to be saved as a rather large file which can then be opened in Ableton or Logic.

You could also just make Traktor compatible with Link, thus Ableton would sync alongside my turntable-guided BPM variations smoothly and without a glitch. I just think you need to do something to address an actual, solid, stable, native midi-sync and inter-app playability. 

Allow us to finally prove to others that your Traktor/Maschine environment can (and will) finally put Serato in their box. They are simply the preferred method for scratch Dj's. Electronic Dj's who primarily mix house music (or similar) only use Serato these days because their friends are already on it. This is because the club has a Serato interface plugged in, and that is only the case because once upon a time Traktor was not as stable as Serato.

Of course now Traktor is stable, and infinitely more capable, but you guys must fix this bias one DJ at a time. Connect the two apps. Continue to implement Ableton-like functionality to Maschine, or just outbid Serato for the Ableton relationship. 

We will show others what can now be done. They will want to accomplish similar musical feats, and your controllers will replace those SSL boxes one at a time.

Thanks for reading!