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

  • ibodog

    I think the idea is to insert this thing between your existing decks and mixer. Then you'd use the knobs to mix computer playback with the incoming decks and send that to the mixer channels.

  • cloudburst

    google 'rotary dj mixer' or somesuch, there are quite a few out there, and they do not have crossfaders. this seems to be the aesthetic m-audio is after.

    kind of a niche market though, and usually an audiophile type mixer, so how that translates into a controller?? i guess we'll find out.

    cheers.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, but if the whole idea is to route into your computer to add effects, why not include some physical control for those effects, and what would you actually be mixing on these knobs? I suppose the reality is, even though I was hoping for a control surface and M-Audio even files this product in their "controllers" category, it's really just an audio interface + software designed to complement a mixer. But that makes it even more unclear who would buy this, since there are plenty of other ways of doing that.

    And regardless, I still want a USB "DJ" controller, which I think would sell to all kinds of people, DJs or otherwise. Maybe one is on the way under the same label; I don't know.

  • http://www.planetdj.com Planet DJ

    I could use a USB 'DJ' controller as well and I agree with Peter, the market value would be much greater. Guess we all have to wait and find out.

  • http://www.seriousdjs.net al3x

    Great critical coverage, CDM. Manufacturers like M-Audio have got to start listening to their customers. I've been writing about the dearth of halfway-decent DJ controllers for years, and it's embarrassing to tell aspiring digital DJs that their options are still so limited, even in 2006.

  • slamm

    um i think that digidesign happened

  • http://notesuibit.edublogs.org/ dr.Zoiberg

    The two knobs on the Conectiv are used to mix two input sources on both outputs: let's say that you have two turntables connected to the M-audio interface, with the two knobs you only need to bring two cables to the mixer and you're still able to switch from phono to the laptop and back.

    This makes sense if you've used the Rane Serato Scratchlive, which needs 4 cables going to the mixer if you want to use both phono and the laptop as a source.

  • http://stevecooley.etsy.com steve cooley

    back in the old stone age of 2001, I made a 3d model of my perfect digital DJ mixer panel:

    http://earthorbitdesign.com/eod/3d/3/index.html

    faders for volume, crossfade, and 3 band EQ on each track… and that's about it. :)

    Sure, we know faders aren't as durable as poteniometers, but dang… since when does laziness win over ingenuity? Oh, all the time, I forgot.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I doubt that Digidesign was involved with this; it isn't really their area and I know some of the product managers at M-Audio — they've been pleased to get real freedom from Digi. That makes sense; that's why Digi bought them. At the same time, I'm sure someone wanted this or M-Audio wouldn't have spent the money developing it. But I still find it odd that a company specializing in products for computer users would build this sort of odd hybrid between a computer setup (with their own software, no less) and something that's intended to have a mixer as its core.

    Steve, I think we should just build your digital mixer panel. ;) And now's the perfect time, anyway; with the rise of Ableton Live use the old electronic musician/DJ divide is closing again, which is a good thing.

  • http://stevecooley.etsy.com steve cooley

    Agreed! I'm currently using dj1800 and a shuttleXpress, having gone through the horror of FinalScratch 1.0, it's better than nothing, and nice to be ultra portable, but… not anywhere close to ideal.

  • Mies van der Robot

    Frankly, I'm surprised M-Audio hasn't gone and snapped up a small company that makes a decent DJ-oriented controller.

    The Feena Electronics FMDJ9303 and the Kontrol DJ are not without their limitations, but a decided step in the right direction for true "hands off the mouse" control of DJ software.

    These are small companies working in a niche market, so their products are currently selling at a price premium. Part of me celebrates the small guy and doesn't want to see them get snapped up. But on the other hand, it's hard to see how in M-Audio's position you wouldn't at least make an offer to buy one or both of these companies and bring the product to a larger market at a lower price point.

  • http://strafejumpbogle.com SJB

    I actually really like the simplicity of this and I'm considering buying it.

    As others have mentioned there is a scene for "rotary" mixers that don't have a crossfader – think Urei 1620, Bozak, etc. – they are installed in many clubs around the world and have been since the 80s. And there is something to be said for mixing that way.

    Personally I prefer to mix using the knobs and haven't really used a crossfader in years, but I think it's ultimately dependent on the type of music you play. Knobs are great for long flowing blends and they offer more control than a crossfader in those situations, whereas a crossfader is necessary for styles like hiphop where fast transitions are more suitable.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, perhaps then supplemented by another control surface for controlling effects levels, cueing, and so on? Or would you intend to use it just as-is?

  • Adrian Anders

    You know me, I'm still waiting on the DJ Mixer MIDI Controller/Audio interface with a VST plug-in bridge. Think Virus TI but for DJs. Audio goes in the standard mixer inputs, the faders, pots, etc. are just midi controllers that send data to the mixer plug-in (or any plug in for that matter). Audio comes out the computer. Mixing wouldn't be done inside the controller/interface, but rather in the computer and whatever virtual mixing interface (modular plug-in, standalone, etc.) you want to put the signals through.

    The problem is that developers are still treating mixing as something that needs to be done externally, when it's quite easy to build a plug-in that does the same thing as a hardware mixer, but with greater flexibility (hell I've proven it could be done in Synthedit).

    I want there to be a day when a DJ could step up to a console and have the flexible choice of what kinds of EQs, fader curves, "color", etc. in the same way that producers have the choice of what kinds of virtual mixing desks they have at their command. Mix a "warm, musical" EQ with a surgical crossfader. Or have the latest and greatest glitch effects at one's command alongside the usual batch of DJ effects.

    I hope someone gets what I've been saying, because I've been championing it for years and I have yet to see the concept done right.

    ATA

  • http://notesuibit.edublogs.org/ dr.Zoiberg

    this is NOT a midi controller.

    The 2 knobs just blend two different audio sources (phono/line or USB).

    This is M-audio reply to Finalscratch and Rane Serato Scratch Live, which is what djs are using instead of heavy boxes full of records.

    This is NOT meant to replace a mixer, but to complement it.

  • http://strafejumpbogle.com SJB

    Peter I would use it along with my mouse and Traktor. I envision using the mouse for cueing and pitch adjustments while my other hand is using the knob to fade the song in/out.

    I do wish they would just take it one step further and have sliders for pitch control as well as a stop/start button and a cue button though. That would probably be my ultimate controller.

  • http://www.chromedecay.org Joshua Schnable

    I've not seen this mentioned here, but I think it's an interesting take on what we're talking about:

    http://www.rane.com/mp4.html

    If I'm not mistaken in my understanding of this product, the crossfader here is not being used as a MIDI device, but rather mixing two stereo audio sources from the PC. Thus, it doesn't really speak to what Adrian is envisioning in his post, but it is a far more professional alternative to what M-Audio is designing.

    The 1U rackmount design does sort of suggest that this isn't going to replace your main DJ mixer, but there are some nice touches here with being able to mix external audio sources, as well as having balanced outputs.

    The price may seem a bit steep to some (I think it's around $500 street) but I used to have a setup with a 6-output audio interface and a dj mixer – this is far more compact with (hopefully) a cleaner signal path.

  • ibodog

    I think most of the people in these comments missed the point that this thing doesn't have midi at all and doesn't send control info to the host… It's an audio interface to insert between your existing decks and mixer. You won't be able to use the knobs to crossfade between mixer channels A and B. Instead each knob will crossfade between what is coming into the interface with what the computer is playing out (4×4 interface, 2 stereo channels in and out).

  • http://strafejumpbogle.com SJB

    Wow! Ok, well no midi changes the whole thing then. I am now in the "this thing is silly" camp. It's also very confusing. Each knob crossfades an external source with the computer output? I don't even understand how that would be useful.

    It also lacks a ground for connecting turntables to it as far as I can see, which is strange.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I may have confused people; I was disappointed that M-Audio hadn't just unveiled a control surface for DJs, which would make more sense to me than this stripped-down audio interface.

    In fact, there is no ground connection. That doesn't make any sense, either; even if it's intended as a complement to a mixer, the M-Audio marketing materials make numerous mentions to using it to connect a turntable to your computer.

    I'm back to my original question: why would you want this, particularly if the assumption is you already have a mixer that you're using for mixing and cueing anyway?

  • http://notesuibit.edublogs.org/ dr.Zoiberg

    I'd want this to play mp3s and control them with vinyls.

    I'd go to the club, connect only the turntable phono outputs to the Conectiv, and the Conectiv outputs to the mixer.

    Simple as that.

    Peter, you want a different product; this one makes sense to traditional djs who, for various reasons, prefer to use a good analog mixer and vinyl (almost every pro I've seen lately).

  • http://strafejumpbogle.com SJB

    So I guess what this really is is akin to the Serato interface that goes between the turntables and the computer, except it has some rudimentary mixing capability built into it. On the M-Audio page it says you can buy encoded records that work with the included Torq software for using it similar to Serato/Finalscratch. The lack of a ground would support this as they are probably expecting people to use the ground on the DJ mixer that this would be used with as you do with Serato.

  • J-chot

    duh.

    it took you a while to figure that out…

  • Mies van der Robot

    Right…I got that it's an audio interface a la Serato Scratch. MIDI or not, though, it IS a controller.

    Between Serato, Final Scratch, and Ms. Pinky, it seems like a crowded market for them to be going into with another vinyl-control solution, even if the price point is attractive.

    But after checking out their webpage for the product I suspect the niche they're really going after with this are the CD DJs. Their software supports timecoded CDs as well, and that's a technology that hasn't been as well established as the encoded-vinyl market. If M-Audio can set themselves up as the market leaders in that niche, then this product makes a decent amount of sense.

    Considering this thing supports VST plug-ins, it IS mystifying that they didn't throw on a few assignable pots. Unless you're using a MIDI-enabled mixer like the Ecler Nuo4, you're still going to be tweaking those VST parameters with a mouse.

    And I do still share Peter's confusion that they have yet to address the wide-open opportunity to produce a USB control surface for DJs that actually marries well with the functions of current DJ software. Seems like a no-brainer product for them to make.

  • Jean-Philippe Belang

    Ok, I think this video will help alot of you understand what it's all about and stop bullshi*** about a product you don't know. This thing does everything Serato Scratch Live does and even more, for under 350$ US. Swallow the pill dudies.

    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/shownews.cfm?newsi

  • Jean-Philippe Belang

    And please forget those knobs, apart for blending you ORIGINAL turntables/Cd players with the audio coming from the computer.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    The red pill, or the blue pill?

    Thanks for the great video, but my questions remain. It's cool, unquestionably, but software, plus this hardware that they still don't demo or explain directly, plus Ableton Live, triggered by a Trigger Finger? Other than trying to get us to drop more money on M-Audio, I don't fully understand. The truth is, once a lot of us get into Ableton Live, we wouldn't bother mucking around with control records PLUS another piece of software PLUS another piece of hardware. And yes, it does this for $350 — so do a number of other solutions, particularly on Windows (admittedly, they were demoing a Mac, which has fewer sotware options).

    Customers were left trying to guess what this is because M-Audio didn't accurately explain it on their website. What I hear from our readers is confusion over that, and a general desire for products that fill specific needs they have, rather than more and more of the same stuff that doesn't.

  • Mies van der Robot

    stop bullshi*** about a product you don’t know

    It's NAMM…that's all anyone can do for months afterwards until the product actually ships. Unless you work for M-Audio or got to physically touch the thing at NAMM, we're all in the same boat here.

    And if perchance you do work for M-Audio, you need to realize that all this chatter is not "bulls***", it's a marketing problem waiting to happen. Lots of products show at NAMM and musicians immediately get the message and say "Hot damn! I'm gonna preorder that!".

    If that's not the reaction they're getting, then they need to improve the message. Communicate effectively what they're on about.

    That video is a step in the right direction, but when there's a quote from M-Audio's marketing director on SonicState saying "all a DJ needs is a computer and set of headphones, and they’re ready to start mixing tracks any way they want," but the video is talking about turntables, Conectiv, Trigger Finger, AND Live, that's a pretty mixed message they're sending.

  • http://xfader.com Regend

    Peter, I understand that there is a market of people that use Live with a USB or Midi controller but this product is not for that market. If you've used Serato Scratch Live it would make sense. This is directly for DJ's who use vinyl and want to manipulate MP3's using existing setups like technic 1200's and their Rane, Pioneer, Vestax DJ mixer (for scratching, juggling, and current setups at clubs that have pro mixers.) This does have an external controller option however…for trigger finger etc. So, as an upstart DJ division, they are banking on converting the many DJ's still using vinyl to convert as this is a cheaper option…and then eventually sell them on Live and other controllers.

    I own Serato and it's rock solid for all my DJ gigs on a PIII 900mhz 256 laptop. Serato currently holds the crown when put up against Final Skratch (with Traktor) or Ms. Pinky or the ASIO digital DJ solutions that use coded vinyl. The huge difference here is price. Serato is almost 600 bucks. The M-Audio package is half the price and the software seems to add more than Serato ver 1.5 which recently added loops. Serato however is only controllable by time coded vinyl or cd's or your mouse/keyboard.

    I do blame M-Audio for not explaining their product. I had to show a M-Audio rep my Serato setup and they had never seen Serato in action and were blown away with the Serato features and reliability. They ensured me the Torq software would fill the needed gap as the time coded vinyl controls other things within the software. Numark also has a version of this hardware/software and uneviled it at winter NAMM.

  • http://strafejumpbogle.com SJB

    It's a weird approach to marketing this that they have chosen. Why not focus on the whole package rather than put the emphasis on this interface which is really insignificant as far as the system goes. The interface should be the least emphasized element.

    I guess that's a "hardware company" mistake. Someone should teach the old dog's marketing department a new trick.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    I understand these different markets, at least to the point I can being more on the musician side than the DJ side myself. I mentioned Live just because it's in the video. And I love Live; it just sounds like an awfully complex setup. If I had those turntables, this wouldn't be my first choice for how to integrate them with software. That's why I wonder if I'm missing some part of M-Audio's vision. Hopefully they can explain. In the meantime, what is the Web for if not bulls***ing? :)

    Incidentally, being AT NAMM usually makes this even more confusing, because you're trying to talk to product managers over the din of a zillion people (and if you're really unlucky, trombones), and rarely get hands-on. It's part of why I didn't go this year. It's fun drinking with people from the industry, but other than that I'd probably be even more clueless than I am now. (Drinking with them usually gives you more clarity. Or, better, you just talk about something else.) SonicState was at January NAMM and I have no idea how they managed to shoot video, only that several people I tried to talk to started to yell at me that they didn't want to talk to me because they were afraid I'd have a video camera. Wait, no, that was just Eric from Metasonix, and I think he may always be like that. ;)

    That said, the one thing I like about M-Audio's idea here is that, even if I don't fully understand where Conectiv fits in, it's got plenty to appeal to my gear lust. Turntables … and a DJ mixer … and control records … and Ableton Live …. mmmm. Got to shake myself.

  • http://www.300dj.com dj

    I am dj , my sic is the house clach.

  • http://www.corporation.tk corporation

    At first – based on the info here, I thought the conectiv box was strictly a midi controller type piece….

    But after seeing the video – i realize that its a direct competitor to:

    SSL

    FinalScratch

    MS.Pinky

    Numark Virtual Vinyl

    Mixvibes

    all i have to say is wow. I want it!

    It has Control Vinyl! it has MIDI capabilities!

    I can bring just one turntable, a mixer, my TF, and my comp. and rock a party!

    for less than SSL.

    I just hope stability is good.

    VirtualDJ

  • http://www.berettamusic.com Keith Kemp

    my .02.

    look at the Conectiv set-up this way:

    encoded vinyls/cds are 2 types of "controllers" of the new M-Audio software.

    to be used in a somewhat standard dj-type scenario.

    the audio interface is a hub, not a dj-mixer. the knobs are for volume input and/or output, essentially the "gain" of the audio source(s), functioning as a soundcared, obviously…..signals to be then sent to standard dj mixer, or any kind of mixer for that matter.

    support for other types of "controllers" via usb….midi mapping of all sorts…sample bank. third party VST plug-ins.

    SO-play/trigger/drum/dj/footpedal, etc….your mp3/wav/aif,etc……songs/loops/snippets/drum samples, etc….the M-audio software is the center, or core if you will.

    make sense?

    sure, they could have designed a really sweet dj mixer style controller like the Hercules or Ecler, or something in between…maybe they might.

    maybe after heads get into this concept, they will suggest where M-Audio should go from this initial offering.

    maybe the whole thing will suck..

    my bet is that it will be cool as fuck, integrate with Live, video clips..whatever…

    i'm freaking excited.

  • http://notesuibit.edublogs.org/ dr.Zoiberg

    The knobs do not control volume, but a mix of two inputs (analog or usb).

    VST plug-ins will introduce a lot of latency.

  • Thomas

    Peter missed the point entirely. This is meant to work just like the Rane Serato, WITH existing turntable or cd player and mixer.

    I don't work for the company.. but from what I can see it's way better than serato. Check this demo.

    http://www.sonicstate.com/news/shownews.cfm?newsi

  • http://xfader.com Regend

    I got a sneak preview of the Serato Killer aka Connectiv Torque by M-Audio…here's my initial thoughts.

    It will kill Serato unless Serato developers figure out a way to use effects, implement ASIO (which i think they already got down), load VST's, implement master BPM sync, auto time stretch/pitch correction, trigger/loop and skratch samples, use external controllers via USB or Midi and implement auto learn for triggering and knob turning.

    Imagine having LIVE and Serato all in one package. That is Torque but you use your existing vinyl or cd player to control many of the features or hook up a midi/usb device for extended controls.

  • DoD

    Even with Serato and Final Scratch you use your existing Dj Mixer, so I don't see where they have "killed the crossfader". The rewire functionality of this device alone makes it interesting to me over the others on the market right now.

  • djflow

    I agree with everyone that the hardware end of the dj revolution is lagging and slowing the entire evolution of the artform.

    Here's what m-audio should do!:

    In their buy up of other small companies they should make an offer to the Spanish "Kontrol DJ" company. From all the forums I have read, this device simply rocks! Yet it is too expensive for people outside of Europe to import it as their are no distrubutors in, say, north america.

    djflow

  • http://www.djalfred.se Alfred

    Hi, those knobs aren't for mixing, they are for choosing either the inputs on the back or the usb-channels (look on the text on the surface input-A, usb-A and input-B, usb-B).

    This make some sense if you already got an CD or vinyl setup (not enough inputs to run both though).

    Now then SynchroScience has released the X-session Pro it makes further sense. One part audio interface and hearphone prelistening and one part midi-controller.

    Pros are that if you already own one of the two "parts" you can buy the other. Then you also can upgrade one part if you like in the future. Cons are that you have to carry two different boxes.

    I would like to have one combined product. As I don't have either any controller or external audio interface. Perhaps the next release from SynchroScience is just that?

  • http://www.myspace.com/oneselfproductions Todd Lambert

    You guys I think fail to realize that the trigger finger can work as a interface as well as a sampler. As far as sratches go and live control they have a version that lets you use digital cds or even vinyl , and actually works better than stantons final scratch version. Not to mention you can always hook audio outs to a DJ mixer duh ! I think this guy just looked at this thing and stated his claim.

  • Chris

    Your article is stupid – you didn't understand the product and you've done a lot of hurt to a decent system.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Chris,

    Please read through the article.

    This was a preview, not a review. I was disappointed as were my contributors with the lack of a control surface. M-Audio later responded with not one but two control surfaces (X-Session Pro and Xponent), BOTH of which I covered.

    We're working now on a new review of the full system.

    Peter

  • Chris

    Peter,

    It's good that you're doing a new review of the full system, as I believe that anyone surfing in for information would be misled by your preview article.

    My comment was a bit rude and for that I apologise. However it stands that your preview article is misleading, as it misses the point that the Conectiv interface is designed for use in conjunction with an traditional DJ mixer – thereby negating the point of having it's own crossfader.

    Thanks,

    Chris