Musik Messe 2009 - Can hardly wait!

Alright folks, it is that time again to for every music geek and gadget aficionado to head to Frankfurt for some nice sausages and some good gear ogling.

This annual trade show is the melting pot where international small folks and big wigs all come together to show case their latest and greatest offerings in the music industry.

And that means of course that controllers and related things can't be far behind. But of course, all the recent big releases - Stanton SC system, NS7, APC40, etc. have already been unveiled. So it remains to be seen if there are more controllers that everyone simply forgot about. Even the Otus is out from EKS.

Anyway, that is no reason for everyone to give this thing a miss. You are all forgetting the software giants of the music industry.

Serato has called a press conference for a big announcement. Well, that of course might sound like - "yeah yeah what ever...." but let me tell you that Serato doesn't usually call press conferences unless it is really important. So expect something big from them.

Also, Abletong has something to unveil and everyone is almost sure that it is the new Live 8. Of course, that might not be it at all.

If you have been following the industry recently, you would know that Serato made an announcement in the last quarter of last year, saying that it had teamed up with Ableton. While they did not reveal any other detail, it had the whole scene sitting up and taking notice.

So this might be something to do with that as well. What ever it is, you are sure to have more software to go with your latest MIDI Controller real estate.

Stay tuned to receive updates as more info comes my direction. This could be a yummy end to the first quarter of this year. Man, I'm getting hungry already!

As always, come back for more, right here on ControlMIDI. And do subscribe to the feed to stay updated! Later!

NS7 Released!

Yes folks, the wait is finally over. The dream controller for laptop dj-ing has arrived. Well the dream controller for those who are looking for a twin turntable-mixer setup. This would be the bomb to scratch with.

Comes with a high quaity 24bit/96Khz inbuilt soundcard, The platter is a high torque, low spin up type platter. The spinup can actually be changed between classic (slower) and modern (faster) feels.

They also have what they call the 'Strip Search', which is basically a touch sensitive strip which allows you to move through the track, achieving a digital equivalent of needle dropping, of sorts.

And the thing is actually a beast, with solid metal construction, heavy duty crossfader which is replaceable. Was built for Serato's Itch in mind. It gives off Hi-resolution MIDI for more precision control. Of course scratch DJs have not passed a judgement yet (i would like to see someone move them from their Vinyl).

With everythin going for it, this is really a mind blosing MIDI controller. Folks have been drooling over it for a long time now. And now it is finally here! Go grab it!

Numark NS7 DJ Turntable Controller with Serato ITCH Softwarenote: if you have just crawled out from underneath a rock - NS7 is the latest MIDI Controller from Numark, that is built with Serato's latest - Itch in mind. It is an Itch Co-branded product but will work with other Softwares as well (read Traktor Pro, which recently updated to include hi-Res MIDI), if you can map it properly. You don;t have to hold your breath. Custom maps would be available soon, no doubt

Numark NS7 DJ Turntable Controller with Serato ITCH Software

DJ MIDI Controllers - MIDI Controllers for DJs

Starting with this post, I am going take certain key areas and talk in great length about what is available for that area. I am going to start with what is closest to me - MIDI Controllers for DJs or DJ MIDI controllers. (and that is the mammoth Xone 4D under UV lights in the picture)

Now DJs are a specialised bunch of performers and they have specific needs from their MIDI Controllers. The main requirements are - realiability, sturdy-ness and ease of use in a dark environment of a Dj booth.

Now of course, when it comes to MIDI Controllers, the software being used is also important. For DJs using controllers, the software is usually Traktor or Ableton Live. There are some who use Virtual DJ, MixVibes and MixMeister, but most DJs use the first two softwares. Those who use timecode, go for Serato. But with Itch, even serato has gone into MIDI Controller territory. More on that as we move along.

Here, we come to a divide. Live and Traktor are two completely different beasts and have completely different approaches to the idea of live performace. Live is more of a 'make music on the fly' type software where you can really play around with music. Traktor represents the traditional approach to DJ-ing - 2-4 decks and a mixer and fx sections.

So, let's just talk about the traditional approach and I will handle Live in a separate post altogether.

For Traktor, Virtual DJ, Mixvibes, etc. we need a MIDI Controller that emulates at least two decks - complete with transport controls (play/pause, cue buttons), pitch faders, etc. And we can choose between using an external mixer or we can use the virtual mixer within the software. Now there are pros and cons of doing either. So let's talk about them.

Going for an external Mixer is usually a good idea, but not if you are low on space in your booth. Sometimes, going for the software mixer is a good idea because you save space by mixing out of one single device (or two, if you are using an external sound card or audio interface). But when it comes to certain techniques, you are best off with a hardware mixer and that would obviously include scratching. Now I am not saying that you can't scratch with just MIDI controllers (heck, I scratch on my BCD3000 sometimes) but for finer controls and complex techniques, you are better off with a hi-res controller and a hardware mixer with a good quaity audio interface.

Going mixer-less will also free up controls on your MIDI controller, which you can then assign to other things, like assign chanel EQ controls to the FX section or the up-faders to some other parameter (get creative with this one!).

Going mixerless is a good idea for mobile DJs and DJs who travel a lot. With a good controller and audio interface, a club Dj can easily play gigs with just 3 items (laptop, controller, sound card/audio interface). It is easier to carry, less items to check at airports and many more. It might be limiting at times, but you can always add small secondary/auxiliary controllers to your set up to give you more freedom. I will write a separate post on that one. So don't worry, I am here to share right ideas with you. Just keep on coming back.

Anyway, so now that you now what you are going to do, you can choose between a MDI Controller with no soundcard or one with built-in soundcard. For controllers with built in sound, you go for the following: -

  • Behringer B-Control DeeJay BCD3000

    - a cheaper option, but sould last you for some time, given the price. Decent for beginners, casual and semi-prfessional djs.

  • Numark OMNI CONTROL DJ Control Surface

    - Good built quality, quite sturdy, metal casing.

  • M-Audio Torq Xponent

    - One of the first controllers to have a touch sensitive feature. It is tied with the Torq software, although it can be hacked into working with other softwares. You just need to find out the correct MIDI outputs to make the LEDs work.

  • Hercules DJ Console Rmx Controller

    - Hercules were the makers of one of the first MIDI Controllers for DJs. This one is their second generation offering.

  • Stanton SCS.1m Digital Mix Controller

    - Stanton's offering for professional DJs, the high quality SC System combo (SCS.3D notwithstanding). This one emulates a 4 channel mixer, with assignable controls. It features a hi quality firewire audio interface.

  • Numark NS7 DJ Turntable Controller with Serato ITCH Software

    - This gigantic Controller features twin spinning platter decks, integrated full fledged mixer section and builtin audio I/O's. It is a dedicated, Hi-res MIDI controller for Serato's Itch software.

  • Denon DN-S3700

    and DN s3700 - These are actually DJ table top players with MIDI capabilites. They also act as sound cards and have spinning platters. Pretty cool (and expensive to a point).
  • Allen & Heath Xone 4D - If you've ever felt like robbing a bank, you will feel like it now for sure. This is the big daddy, the overkill of a controller. It features the sound quality of Allen & Heath mixers and is as expensive as lemurs (okay, bit less than the Lemur).
  • EKS Otus - Touch sensitive Dj deck style controller. Do have a loot at it. Very futuristic.
If you are looking for controllers without built-in sound , you are options are many: -

  • Numark MixMeister Control

    dedicated controllers - The Dedicated Controller for the Mixmeister software.

  • Numark Total Computer DJ In A Box

    - Not the sharpest tool in the shade.


    - The soundcard-less version of the Omni controller.

  • Vestax VCI-100

    - Both are ruling the roost of digital DJs using controllers. Especially the VCI-100. The 300 is a Hi-res MIDI Controller tied to Serato's Itch software. The VCI-100 also has a special MixVibes Edition and an SE (Special Edition).

  • Vestax VCM-100

    Vestax VCM-600

    - The 600 looks like it is meant for controlling Live. VCM100 on the other hand is a perfect space saving controller and perfect for mobile DJs. It also comes with a rack (optional of course) for mounting your laptop.

  • M-Audio X-Session Pro

    , this is just the controls that emulate a mixer. Very basic and very popular.

  • Stanton SCS.1d Control System Deck

    - This is really the next level by now. It is a highly sophisticated MIDI controller with an adjustable torque spinning platter, with the lowest spin up time in the market (adjustable, as mentioned) and assignable controllers. My only per peeve is that they left out a soundcard to makes us buy the SCS.1m. But obviously, most will go for an audio interface coupled with a hardware mixer.
I could actually go on and on with DJ MIDI controllers, there are so many of them around. But i have to stop somewhere ( to eat, sleep, etc.). So I will stop here. For more information, drop me a line via the comments area and I will reply, either with a full post or a comment.

And remember to subscribe for your daily updates on MIDI Controllers! Available in two exciting flavors - Atom and RSS! :)

So till next time, keep on controlling! (is that better?) :P

Which MIDI Controller is right for me?

In this basic MIDI Controller information series, I aim to answer basic questions which invariably pop up during a hunt for a MIDI Controller. Most experienced users will know that there is no real answer to this question.

Although, that does not necessarily mean that you are in an ocean without a lifeboat. The answer to this question actually involves a lot of factors. So without knowing specific details, it is hard to give a proper answer.

So will do the classic thing of answering your question with more questions. But don't worry, these questions will help you understand how to purchase a MIDI Controller that is just right for you.

  • What is your budget? - In the current economy, money is at the top of everybody's mind. It should be at the top of your mind too when you are looking for MIDI Controllers. The best way to set a budget while hunting for a controller, is to do a comparative search of items on offer. Just go over the various online stores selling controllers. Note down the prices of the controllers you would like to buy. Then see what the average and the highest price is. Fix your budget somewhere in the middle of these two. But to do all this, you need to know the answer to the next question.
  • What is the purpose of the MIDI Controller? - This is a critical question and must be answered correctly. This is determine what type of controller you will be looking at. This will also, partially decide your budget. Because when it comes to certain categories, the average is higher than others. For example, if you are looking for a simple and decent MIDI keyboard controller, you can get away with a budget of $200. But if you want one that seamlessly integrates with your software (probably a co-branded one like the VCI-300), you will have to spend more than that. It is best to write down a list of things you want to do with your MIDI controller and then order them according to their priority. For example, if your main need is to trigger samples, then that should on top and the rest will follow based on how important they are to you. This way, you will end up with the perfect compromise between utility and price.
  • How much time do you want to spend setting it up? - This is also another important question. Some of the MIDI controllers out there wil have native support in the software you are using. Some will not have this and you will have to map them manually. Some special controllers need specific setup procedures to work with certain softwares. From practical experience i can tell you that the standard mapping will not take you far. You will have to custom map your controller almost always to get a setup that is more suitable to your style.
  • Which software will you using it with? - Making sure that your controller works well for your software is important (although, theoretically, all standard MIDI devices will work on standard MIDI applications). This compatibility should be both at the level of communication and design. The latter brings us to our next question.
  • What kind of layout are you looking for? - Even in similar MIDI controllers, the layout will differ. Sometimes there is a standard layout (like for MIDI Keyboards, DJ MIDI Controllers), but each product will have its own layout, which will be a variation on the standard layout. Think of the various MIDI keyboards in the market. They all have some basic common features but they vary a lot. So choose what you think will work the best for you.
  • Is it for live use or studio use? - Live use would include on and off-stage, some amount of travel at the least and some other things. Studio use or home use would mean that time is not limited (usually), a mistake can be fixed without too much damage, there is not much traveling with the equipment. Typically, for live use, you should choose a sturdy and good quality controller, that can survive traveling. Also, it helps to have the option for changing settings on the fly, in case of an emergency and having just the controls you need. No more and certainly no less. In the case of a studio, sometimes a less sturdy controller, with more controls might workout. But make sure that it won't fail after prolonged use.
  • Expandability - This is very important when it comes to your future plans. If you are planning to buy more controllers in the future and using them all together, make sure that your controllers support being connected to other controllers.
After you answer all these questions, you should be able to zero in on the controller that suits your needs perfectly. When looking for budget controllers, you can always use your priority list to see what you can and cannot live without. Best of luck and check back soon for more info on MIDI Controllers.

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Types of MIDI Controllers - Part 2

So here we are, back again with Types of MIDI Controllers Part - 2. In the last part we discussed about the more commonly used types. In this post we are going to talk about those controllers that aren't mainstream. The picture above is of Tenori-on.

That means you either will never see them used (because only one exists) or will see them very rarely (because they are either very very expensive or serve a very niche crowd). These controllers are usually really experimental or really focused on serving a specific purpose.

Anyway, it is eally hard to differentiate between them because they tend to be unique in themselves. So I will losely base the classification on manifacturing process and large clusters that they can fall into. But by no means will that mean that two controllers mentioned under one heading can be each other's replacement. Usually, it will be far from it. Remember, opting one over other is not the same as choosing a replacement with similar features.

  • Boutique controllers - These are Controllers that are produced on a small scale and usually sel out quite fast. There is usually a order queue. They are preferred by highly professional artists or people who can afford it and have a specialised use for it. But some of these are really versatile, so they can be used in many different places. So the choice lies with the end user - how much effort you want to spend to get a custom setup with unconventional controllers. Examples would Jazzmutant's dexter and lemur, the monome project, mawzer modular controllers, etc.
  • Matrix Controllers - These contain button matrices and are very useful for on the fly sequencing. These would include the Lemur again (it actually does everything you want, so it will basically be everywhere), monome, tenori-on, etc.
  • DIY Controllers - These are home-brewed projects that are made by enthusiasts and inventors. there are many famous projects around. And they are bascially anything you can imagine and have the know-how to create. Some are meant to be general purpose, some are meant for DJs, some are just plain experimental. A very famous project is the MonoDeck.
  • Experimental controllers - Okay, this is really a relative term. So the defination will change from person to person. But it generally means that it is a highly conceptual controller that is still in the stage of development and hasn't had much of adoption, and that is probably because only one exist. Examples are  - the scratch controller [a personal favourite of mine], touchscreen turntables [a design student's project], siftables [these do many things, only one is controlling]
So those are the broad categories that may contain these unconventional yet brilliant controllers. The fact is that these are just ideas that are waiting to get commercialized to full scale. And experiments that are waiting to get produced on a larger scale. With due modifications of course. So in the mean time, we can sit back and use our controllers to create amazing music.

And I will keep you updated on the latest in MIDI controllers. This current series is only just a starter to cover basic grounds. We will soon take flight into MIDI controller skies. Check back soon for more and stay connected by subscribing to the feed.

Types of MIDI Controllers - Part 1

So now that we know a bit more about MIDI and MIDI controllers, it is time to discuss the different types of MIDI Controllers that are available (and those that are not).

As I have mentioned before, MIDI Controllers come in many different shapes and sizes and colours. They have a large and varied range of uses in sound and a/v [audio/visual]. They are found everywhere - on stages, inside studios, on the go, at homes, clubs, bars, with live shows' crews, everywhere.

MIDI controllers are used in various areas: -

  • Djs use them, in many different ways
  • Live PA acts use them (Daft Punk and their setup!!!)
  • Audio and Video studios use them (DAW control mainly)
  • Vjs use them (somebody get me pics of Ohm being used live!)
  • Musicians use them on stage for live performances, this includes Solo artists, bands, projects etc.
  • Composers and producers use them at work, at home, everywhere they possibly can.
  • Live A/V acts use them for live manipulation of video and audio (Max/MSP and a crazy guy using hand gestures anyone?)
  • I am not entirely certain, but I think live lighting control is controllable via MIDI. Correct me if i am wrong though.
So as you can see, it pretty much covers every area where there is music and many areas of video and a/v as well. So what are the different types that we are talking about here?

Well, MIDI Controllers can be classified in many different ways. It can be based on the softwares that are used, people who use them, areas in which they are mainly used, etc. But I am going to talk about them in terms of form factor or physcial design.

This sort of classification will be immensely helpful for studying the purpose of each of these devices. It will also help us to judge their usefulness to specific people. Now, remember, each of these types can have entire pages devoted to each of them. So I am just trying to be concise and specific here.

Of course, that doesn't mean that I won't be making full posts on the more common types ;-); so keep this site bookmarked, get the feed or check back frequently. Just make sure you keep on coming back for daily posts and updates.

Okay, so let's start. I realised that this will be a long post, so i divided it in two parts (hopefully, I won't need more). I will post the more common ones in this post. And tomorrow, I am going to post on the more uncommon ones. There is another problem that I would like to mention before i start. Some devices make appearances in more that one category. But usually, they have one main purpose. So I might categorise it differently than some expect.

Ready now? Here we go:-
  • Keyboard MIDI Controllers - Keyboards are originally responsible for starting the entire MIDI revolution. In their MIDI Controller form, they can be anything from simple and focussed to complex and versatile. They can range from the simplest ones with just the keys, two wheels and a few controls to really large and expensive ones with pots, faders, clocks and much more. The simple ones are usually used for playing virtual instruments during songwriting, composing, etc. The really complex ones are usually for studio environments, which need a lot controls. And for live use, it really depends on the artist.
  • DJ Controllers - These have really become popular in recent times. Most of these controllers are in their 2nd or 3rd product cycle at max. Some are brand new offerings. The general rule is simple - just throw in twin jogs, up and pitch faders, a crossfader, mixer controls and some buttons. Most of the compact controllers go for what is often referred to as the [Vestax] VCI layout. There are also controllers that are 'single deck', ones that emulate just the dj-mixer. There are also bigger format controllers like the XONE series from Allen & Heath. These also have audio interfaces built into them. The VCI series doesn't though. The latest crop is now trying to emulate a tuntable, complete with spinning platters and real torque. These mainly used by, ahem, Djs. But people always fine myriad uses for almost any MIDI Controller out there.
  • Pad Controllers - These are constituted mainly of pads and may and a few other controls. Most of these instantly remind you of Akai's legendary MPC products. But there are also those that bend the genre and redefine it. Take Zendrum for instance! They are an amazing work of craftsmanship, each and everyone of them. These are commmonly used to trigger samples, cues or play drums. They are commonly designed to be used with fingers.
  • Foot Pedals and switches - These are usually used in conjunction with other devices to gain extra functionality. This can be a sustain or an expression pedal on keyboard controllers or an entire board full of foot switches to be assigned anyway necessary.
  • Faders or Knobs only boxes - Exactly what the category says, these are just boxes with loads and loads of Faders or Knobs on them. Best (and in some cases the only) examples are from Behringer. Even Daft Punk uses a few of these. They do have a few other types of controls, mostly buttons.
  • Hybrid Machines - These are machine that seek to converge, bring together the features of multiple devices into one, much like some advanced mobile communications devices. For example, the XONE 4D. It it is a high quality audio interface and mixer with MIDI Control surfaces. Or this similar but different purposed tascam product. One if for Dj booths and the other is for studios. And then there is the DN-HS5500 and DN-S3700 from Denon.
That will end this part of my post. Come back tomorrow for more :) and don't forget to subscribe for regular updates from ControlMIDI! Available both Atom and RSS, two delicious flavors for feeding your apetite!