Updated: M-Audio says the X-Session Pro is in fact available now. No templates/automatic assignment for Torq yet, but it should be easy to map however you like to Torq, Ableton Live, and so on. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see it automatically mapped in Live in the future, as are a number of M-Audio pieces in Live 6.)

Take a close look at this piece of hardware, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of them around: the X-Session Pro is cheap, simple, functional controller hardware with a DJ-style layout.

Laptop musicians, DJs, and VJs/visualists have been seeking affordable, basic hardware with a crossfader for years. One of the only options had been the X-Session, a decent but unspectacular box with a crossfader and some knobs. M-Audio inherited the X-Session with their acquisition of its manufacturer, UK controller maker Evolution. But as a controller, it’s pretty limited. Enter the X-Session Pro:

M-Audio X-Session Pro [M-Audio Product Page]

There’s nothing fancy here, but you get all the basics: crossfader, four sets of EQ knobs, four vertical faders (for emulating 4-channel DJ mixers), a crossfader, and two sets of transport controls. I’m not going to throw out my Faderfox DJ2, which is a Porsche to M-Audio’s Ford Taurus as far as controllers (heck, it’s even German), but as a budget buy, the X-Session Pro is likely to become an instant blockbuster.

The controller appears to have the new, improved build quality and feel of recent M-Audio controllers, and the price is dirt cheap: US$129.

Compatibility is a no-brainer, too, as the device is fully class-compliant USB (no drivers needed on Windows, Mac, or Linux).

I have only two criticisms:

First, although this is to be expected, M-Audio describes this exclusively as a “DJ device.” Sure, DJs will love this, but M-Audio has long been a distributor for VJ software (ArKaos) and laptop performance software that goes beyond DJing (Ableton Live). I don’t expect it to happen any time soon, but some day music product makers will realize there’s a convergence going on between computer music, DJing, and live visuals, blurring the lines between these different markets.

Second, M-Audio touts the fact that the X-Session Pro supports “MIDI learn.” Woo-hoo!

The X-Session Pro brings DJ mixer-style tactile control to any software that supports MIDI Learn. … For example, you can easily assign the crossfader on the X-Session Pro to the crossfader within Ableton Live and add a new dynamic to your live performances or studio work. With a digital DJ application like Traktor, you can assign the various level, EQ and crossfader controls to the X-Session Pro. The possibilities are virtually endless.

Wow, the possibilities are virtually endless — just as they are with any MIDI controller. What M-Audio actually appears to be saying is that they didn’t bother to create any MIDI templates, so you can manually create your own by using the MIDI learn function in your software. I’m guessing that’s either a) laziness, b) not wanting to include a disc in the package (though they could have put them online), c) wanting to make plug-and-play compatibility happen only with M-Audio’s own DJ software, Torq, or d) a combination of all of the above.

But no matter: the layout looks great, the price is fantastic, class-compliance is a huge bonus, and I’m sure smart readers here will happily create their own template. I might even pick one up as an extra VJ controller.

In other news: for those of you who liked the X-Session, better try to find one now, as it seems M-Audio has discontinued the original.

Before the X-Session Pro, M-Audio shipped Evolution’s X-Session, now evidently discontinued. It could still be a good buy if you want a compact crossfader controller, and you could probably find it dirt-cheap.
  • Adrian Anders

    Damn, that looks very nice indeed. Alot better than the original X-Station, with the crossfader in just about the most awkward place for a DJ to get at. And finally we get a dedicated DJ Mixer controller that doesn't bother with jog wheels and all that other crap that isn't really needed on a *MIXER* MIDI controller. Looks like M-Audio is listening to the DJs and bringing the goods for real this time. I just hope that for once the crossfader is somewhat decent, instead of the cheap crap found on most. Why Vestax or Rane hasn't bothered to add midi controller options to their line of pro-scratch mixers is beyond me.

    ATA

  • http://www.fiddlyio.com/ justin

    I have an original x-session, which works well enough. However, it has about the worst feeling crossfaders I've ever used. They literally feel like they're going to fall apart any day, but have felt that way from day one. I'd like a little bit more of a solid feel. This new one doesn't look any more substatial.

  • BassTooth

    disapointing… with the lack of any kind of audio i/o. if this thing had a left/right master channel output or at least a dedicated headphone output for cueing samples then maybe i would be interested.

  • frank line

    i think it's great. i don't think missing audio is important. don't we all have audio devices anyway?

    it's $100 or less street. and i don't think that's too much to pay for a device like this (espectially when you compare it to what it is replacing). it's the perfect solution for a simple 2 track live dj session or for traktor or whatever.

    maybe we'll see something with more "channels" from them later…something along the lines of the bitsream 3x (google it, you'll be glad you did).

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

    I agree with Frank … audio is unnecessary because the needs of different people can vary. You might want something like M-Audio's own Conectiv if you're using turntables, or a different audio interface if not. At $100 street, no complaints here. There are portable audio interfaces that do what you want, BassTooth, that wouldn't take up too much space/weight in your bag (echo indigo dj comes to mind, if you have a free PCMCIA slot, as it has both line out and dedicated headphones).

  • Adrian Anders

    Basstooth, you can set up a headphone cue with the X-session pro, only that instead of plugging your headphones into the dj mixer midi controller directly, you would be plugging it into your soundcard with a multi-output capacity (like indigo DJ). Then it would only be a matter of mapping the X-session pro's midi controllers to your program of choice's internal cue section, outputting to your secondary headphone output.

    Not quite as simple as a strictly hardware solution, but WAY more flexible, especially when one considers that you can BUILD your own custom mixer interface in a modular host like Bidule, Usine, Energy XT, Reaktor, etc.

    ATA

  • Gabe Knox

    I used the Evolution X-Session With an Ableton Live setup I was using for a while, but I never bought it myself because, you're right Adrian, that crossfader was quite awkward, and those buttons we really annoying to use in a dark club, so this is a welcome piece of gear, especially for those of us who can't afford anything fancier.

    I was, however sad to see that M-Audio decided not to give the "pro" version any memory. The great thing about all those UC controllers is that you could set each bank to a different MIDI channel, giving you ten times the knobs and faders to control all your software with. It's a shame that this one little feature would've gone a long way to making this convergence peter was talking about a reality

    …on the other hand, I suppose most DJs have little use for 10 banks of the same controllers…

  • http://lokeymassive.net lokey

    Most definately concur with the notion of a piecemeal, modular approach. With all in one solutions (the xone3d comes to mind), youre stuck with a single piece of hardware that tries to cover all bases, and sacrificies perfection because of this. If im already running an external turntable/jogwheel (ms pinky and an xp10 all the way), i dont need to shell for another pair of jog wheels banks of knobs and more unused rcas just to get a decent set of upfaders. I see this as a very sensible introduction. Now we just need to see a usb powered direct drive midi turntable, and i shall be on cloud nine.

  • frank line

    ok, gabe, but how do you deal with the issue of swithcing between channels after you've tweeked a knob? unless it's a endless encoder, then you get a "jump" thing going on when you switch to the old channel and move the knob again…or am i missing something?

    this thing is dead simple, but i think there are a lot of people lookign for simple when it comes to controllers (roland mid controllers, for example, are notorious for scaring novices off with all that complex programability).

  • http://www.jaymis.com Jaymis Loveday

    I've used the original X-Session too. I found the control layout cramped and the knobs were too small for live performance.

    This looks a little better but I can't really see who would use it. Anyone who's moved past basic DJing is going to need more controllers.

    Still, they're getting there slowly. I'm sure someone will eventually make a class-compliant midi dj device which feels great and has plenty of control options.

  • Gabe Knox

    It's true there was a jump. I guess my little solution wasn't perfect, but it worked ok for me…

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

    On the jumps problem: if you're using Ableton Live 6, this is no more. Turn on "pickups", and Live will wait for you to pass the previous value and pickup where you left off. It even gives you nice visual feedback.

    Of course, the best solution is motorized controllers, but we can't always have that. And endless encoders aren't always the best solution either, because you lose some tactile feedback and you can't have center indents. So solving this in software as Ableton has is a big plus.

    Jaymis, I see it as useful in conjunction with other things … for instance, for VJing or triggering music clips, I could see one of these next to a drum pad like the Korg padKONTROL. It'd be a good companion to other hardware, partly because it's bare-bones. Not having the jog wheels is an issue, though, unless you're using vinyl control.

  • Damon

    I love it. Looks more about home studio mixing than live performance. I am sure it would work well live, but the budget feel may not inspire live confidence.

  • http://web.mac.com/thompsotd/iWeb/ Tim Thompson

    Just got some good use out of my x-session tonight on a six-channel live processing piece. The number of controls per square unit of footprint is one thing that is very valuable when I'm sitting in an auditorium seat with my laptop on my lap and a controller rested on the seat beside me. The crossfader, while it feels pretty cheap, is large enough to use to ride main levels.

    The crossfader on the new one looks shorter–not good. And I don't know why they can't add four faders without removing four knobs from the original design. But I am truly upset to see them come out with a new model with still no endless pots! Perhaps that would drive the cost up too much? It seems like a no-brainer to provide at least four endless encoders on any controller…

  • Vertigo

    This looks pretty cool. The problem that I see with endless encoders for live performance is that you really dont get any visual feedback from the controller, you still have to look at the screen to see parameters. Im loving the endless encoders on my Axiom for studio work, but for live use I dont want to have to look at the screen.

  • http://web.mac.com/thompsotd/iWeb/ Tim Thompson

    I look at it this way: first, I'm probably going to look at my screen anyway most of the time if I want to be precise about the value; but more to the point, like with any live music making, I rely mostly on my ears. Endless pots have the obvious advantage of moving the value from whatever its current state is without jumping, but also the advantage of arbitrarily high precision. If I want to change a delay time from 325 to 333 ms on a regular MIDI pot, if the scaling is say from 0 to 2000, there's no way I can be that accurate.

    Different tools for different jobs, no? That's why I think the best controllers have faders, MIDI pots, endless encoders, and buttons. Oh yes, buttons! The new X-session lacks the keypad. Those buttons are also great for toggles and triggers!

    Tim

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

    I agree, Tim — endless encoders + pots = best solution. I could easily see an X-Session Pro plus the ReMOTE SL (Zero if you don't need a keyboard). That way you get everything you need. Also, the high-end alternative to the X-Session, the Faderfox DJ units, has both center-indent pots and (two) endless encoders, and is compact enough that it could easily complement another device.

    Lots of possible combinations. The fact is that, beyond the basics, people really differ these days in terms of which controls and layout they want, so choice is good.

  • http://www.musik-service.de Musik-Service

    It's just 99€ here: M-Audio X-Session Pro

    Cheers

  • http://www.djalfred.se Alfred

    Two of the four faders are pitchbends. Here is a photo from above:

    http://www.musik-service.de/images/ProduX/3957577

    Offcourse you could route the faders to whatever you want.

    The three extra knobs in addition to the EQ is really perfect for traktors filter!

  • Shaan

    What would I need to get started with this controller, besided a computer?

  • Pingback: Naik’s News » M-Audio’s X-Session Pro Lets DJs Rock On

  • http://www.egry.de Marten

    @Alfred

    It may be made for pitching, but the good thing of midi is that you can assign anything for everything you like.

    So it can be 2 additional channels as well.

    I think this controller looks quite pretty and in combination with a trigger pad and a decent soundcard you will get good results for mixing

  • RAZ

    sorry for the ignorance, but how do you beat mix with this thing? Does the software do it for you?

    I just woke up from the seventies and cleaned the dust from my 1200's…

  • fourth

    I read somewhere that it uses USB 1.1, why didn't they make it USB 2.0.? Wouldn't that affect the speed?

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

    It's a controller, only, not an audio interface. USB 1.1 will be just fine. (Think mice, keyboards, etc.) You're not sending enough data to need the additional bandwidth of USB 2.0.

  • Pingback: Create Digital Music » Hands-on with the M-Audio X-Session Pro USB MIDI DJ Controller

  • SImon

    Just a thought.. I've been using the standard X-Session controller for a while now.. and the two things I wish it had were: Sliders for pitch/volume (Thanks for releasing the Pro!) and the other thing (I don't know the technical name) is to have the knob controllers with no specific midi level, just Increase/Decrease the levels without a physical limitation (ie: move to the right = keep increasing the level untill the soft-limmit has been reached). This is helpful when the controls on the PC aren't matched to what's on the MIDI controller. As soon as you touch the knob, it jumps to the position of the midi controller and the audio is also affected. I'm constantly having to move the controlls prior to making it the active audio source.

  • http:// 

    May I simply say such a help to discover someone who essentially realizes exactly what they are sharing on the internet. You actually get experience to bring an issue to light and enable it to be vital. Even more people should read it all and understand it all aspect of the story. I can't believe you aren't more popular as you clearly have the gift.