DJs and mobile, laptop-toting musicians alike share many of the same needs, for live, controllable sound and beats. We’ve got software that recognizes that: Ableton Live. DJs and computer musicians pushed for many of the same features, and the result is a tool that appeals to a wide group of people because they can use it in different ways. So why do hardware developers not only fail to cater to this growing market, but actually water down the traditional DJ features, as well?
M-Audio has started a new DJ product division called SynchroScience, and have unveiled their first product, Conectiv. (Yes, that’s one “n”, one “v.”) The software end makes sense, even if it’s nothing new: play, cue, and mix AAC, MP3, WAV, and WMA files with effects, and use specially-encoded records to scratch from a real turntable. M-Audio has included features some of their competitors left out, like VST plug-in support and a built-in 16-cell sampler, and priced the hardware/software bundle at the reasonable US$250 level (though cheaper Windows DJ software could be combined with one of M-Audio’s own interfaces for less).
The hardware side of the product, however, is utterly baffling: two big mix knobs, no cross-fader, and no effects controls? And M-Audio still hasn’t designed their own USB DJ control surface for use with the software we’re already using? I wouldn’t be so confused, except that M-Audio normally makes products that make sense. Maybe someone can explain what happened?
The bundled controller/audio interface has two large mixing knobs, plus mic and cue levels, but no cross-fader, and no knobs for effects. Why make a piece of integrated hardware if the controls on it are going to be basically useless? Cross-fading with two knobs would be far harder than using a single cross-fader, so the “newbie-friendly” argument is out, not to mention you won’t have hands free to control effects (not that they included knobs for that, either). Our friend Wally notes that some techno and house DJs prefer knobs, but it seems to me that would be the exception rather than the rule, and it still doesn’t explain M-Audio leaving you to do a filter sweep with your mouse on a tiny on-screen control. I didn’t even get to ask for a scratch surface. M-Audio’s control surfaces are usually well-conceived, and I honestly don’t know what they were thinking here.
Worse, M-Audio has passed up the obvious opportunity: they distribute software that’s already a huge favorite among DJs and friendly to advanced and beginning users alike (Ableton Live), yet even if you want nothing more than a cross-fader controller for said package, M-Audio can only offer you the Evolution X-Session, shown below. The X-Session works, and it’s wildly popular because it’s dirt cheap and no one has bothered making anything else. But it’s badly in need of an update: M-Audio only sells it because they acquired UK gear manufacturer Evolution years ago and they’ve done nothing to improve upon it since.
I’m going to stop griping here, and switch to an open plea: M-Audio, please, now that you’ve got a DJ division, make a clever controller that we can use with any software, particularly with Ableton Live (but also open for use with everything from Reason rigs to VJ apps). No one else is doing it for an affordable price; we liked Behringer’s BCD2000 but few can get their hands on one, and Mac drivers are a no-show. It’s an obvious category for M-Audio to be in, so built it, and they will come. DJs will buy it. Musicians will buy it. I’ll buy it. All my friends will buy it. You’ll buy a new yacht. (Okay, this is the musical instruments industry, but at least a new pontoon boat.) Everybody’s happy. As for Connectiv, two knobs make us cry. See how sad we are? Now see us with a nice, portable cross-fader controller? See how you’ve made us happy? Do you want us happy or sad?
Updated: Obviously you want me happy, and MORE PATIENT. Here’s exactly what I described wanting. X-Session Pro