Well, you have to give some credit to NI – they’re teasing a new product on a day when people’s attentions may be turned elsewhere, electronics gadget speaking. The “sneak preview,” in the fashion of some previous previews, actually reveals a whole lot about what they’re doing. It’s a 2-channel mixer that can evidently operate as a standalone mixer, but also doubles as a control surface. That puts NI in competition with the likes of Pioneer, Denon, and Allen & Heath, moving the software company more squarely in a horse race with manufacturers associated with the physical stuff you see in a DJ booth.

It also makes it clear that NI’s products will keep adding color LEDs.

The mixer itself is happily not hugely wide, from what you can see in the video. Beyond that, it offers a range of visual feedback, control of standard channel mixing options, what appears to be four decks with loop controls and the like, and effects.

NI is also doling out effects the way an ice cream shop might offer tasty flavors, putting the DSP geekery of their developers to work fo a wider audience than, say, people who make strange instruments in Reaktor.

But there’s a deeper question behind all of these mixers and control surfaces: what, exactly, is a DJ doing these days?

I think it’s actually difficult to design a mixer/controller to please everyone.

For the edge cases of the DJ market, two channels may actually not be enough. In fact, I’ve heard DJs recently complain that what they want is mixer/controllers with more I/O – so they can combine lots of live performance hardware with computer control. That would move live dance music performance away from “controllerism” as advocated by the likes of press outlets like DJ Tech Tools and artists like Moldover. That is, in the controllerist model, hardware is just a remote control for the vast sound-shifting powers of a computer. But as some people keep hardware around for live performance (see the next video in my inbox for an extreme example), the computer is just one noisemaker among others.

The other fundamental question to me is whether NI’s gear will be as effective with other software (cough, Ableton) as with Traktor, as the controller/mixer audience may not only want to use that particular DJ app. In fact, if this device did do a good job of controlling various software, then the need for lots of external I/O would be significantly less.

(And I do very much hope this works as a standalone mixer without a host computer; the hardware platforms on which devices like Maschine are built don’t allow that, which is why Maschine doesn’t work as a MIDI-only controller without a computer.)

Keep in mind, neither of these arguments is especially relevant to the DJ customer who just wants a one-product solution, or is just thinking about Traktor. But… you can probably read about that person somewhere else.

On the upside, I can think of some advantages to the 2-channel approach. It could save space (rivals can take up a lot of room in luggage and in DJ booths), and we have yet to hear a price. And while I’m interested in how this would work with Ableton Live (and a lot of Live users buy NI hardware), it’s also possible to do a set in Traktor that’s more “live” than Live. It’s all in the performing artist’s hands.

It seems time to take a fresh look at how all of these tools are converging, and how you’d actually use them in practice. As it happens, various DJ and producer friends of mine have of late been turning their eyes to this question. So I’d love to ask readers: what sorts of products would you want to see tested? What sorts of live music scenarios (DJ or otherwise) would you want tested?

To answer that, I hope to look beyond just my own perspective and invite in other performers and DJs, to get a broader view. But I’d like your views, too.

Let us know. Heck, it could help distract you from waiting around for Apple announcements.

For another take on this, speaking of DJ Tech Tools: The Traktor Kontrol Z2? Native Instruments Previews Standalone Mixer

  • duncan speakman

    for me this controllerist movement keeps pushing DJs towards the fictional kind that appear in stories by Jeff Noon, where the music becomes truly liquid in their hands as the tools to mold it in realtime become ever more flexible . . . if you haven’t read it i totally recommend ‘needle in the groove’ for an incredible vision of the future of music, including a beautiful liquid recording medium . . just shake to remix and the stickier strands of the music cling together . .
    ( NI keep putting those cool realtime waveform overlays on their promo videos that look like they’re on the hardware. . hopefully they’ll add them for real to their kit at some point . . not really an especially useful feature . . i’m actually a fan of feeling an instruments rather than watching them, but it would be pretty cool ;) )

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That’s beautifully put – and yes, time to revisit that writing.

    • andrew

      Couldnt agree more. Vurt is also an excellent example

  • NI sucks donkey

    fuk u NI

  • jyanisko

    I love what Serato has been doing, integrating LIVE and a sampler – integrating it with hardware that is a mixer / software controller. I invested in a TTM57SL when the bridge came out in order to have this real dual function (the software read all of my hardware movements…and saves it all as a Live set).

    I also LOVE that NI has been bringing in the same concept, but expanding on it – so that it sits inside its own software – not relying on anything else. Their controllers are wicked, and their other softwares are amazing. I hope to be able to check out their software soon….

    What I would like, and I just started looking into this today, is a DJ mixer that works for BOTH DJ softwares out of the box. My expensive TTM 75SL that works great with Serato does not currently get me anything with Traktor. I would have to buy an in between interface – which would defeat the purpose of getting an ‘integrated’ mixer with software controls.

  • SCREW NI

    NI SUCKS

  • http://www.facebook.com/hermann.groger Hermann Gröger

    I fell asleep (after good lunch) watching this video, hmmmm……

  • VJzoo

    Looks like it might be a re-branded DJM-T1 from Pioneer with the coloured LEDs http://www.pioneerdjusa.com/gear.aspx?product=DJM-t1 it will be interesting to see what the cost of the unit is.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chromatouch Leon Trimble

    shit how long til it won’t work without one, i’ve always thought traktor was amazing because it didn’t need a mixer. i thought they were supposedly going to announce they were opening up the remix decks to controllerists…

    • http://www.facebook.com/chromatouch Leon Trimble

      notice it’s function one all the way in the video. house club standard.

  • Dundrow Pommes

    I stopped supporting developers that abandon their cool products after I integrated them in my setup. Native Instrument is one of those. Remember KORE? PRO-53? B-4? Simply horrible! I will never buy anything by NI again.

  • http://twitter.com/regend REGEND

    Definitely looks like a re-branded Pioneer. We’ll have to see when the turntablists take it apart to try and fit an innofader in it.

  • sanbaba

    Hey Peter, sorry for reviving a zombie thread but I read your site mostly via RSS and have been letting thinga pile up. I wanted to reply to your closing question here because I find it really important and know you have a lot of contacts. I’m definitely an odd usage case but I would really like to see a movement away from “dj” controllers – or at least some middle ground, which incorporates some dj interfaces with some synth performance features directly in the device. Ideally, for me, this would include some or all 2-source (more is ok) mixer functions, but rather than a collection of trick/automap effect and function buttons, a collection of pressure-sensitive MIDI note buttons (probably better as minipads). Automap is fine, let those buttons ordinarily access a dj-friendly mission set, but also allow us to use them as expressive controllers. Don’t make me choose one or the other or lug gigantic dedicated instruments. The 32+ buttons featured on most dj controllers would make a badass drumkit or bass synthesizer interface which would enable a great range of original work to be improvised with live backing tracks. It makes me so sad to see, day after day, new instruments released with tiny banks of mostly useless (or one-trick-pony) buttons. I occasionally take the time to reprogram the buttons on my apc40 (which afiak is one of the most flexible options) but really wish they were pressure-sensitive and generally more dedicated to usage like a real instrument (ergonomic, musical layouts). I wonder if I am the only person who thinks this way (and who has never programmed an arduino)?

    • sanbaba

      nvm… just saw the Livid Base! :D