Saturday, January 30, 2010

Adhesive Foam Pads in the Kids Art section

My good old american made plywood & cardboard desk is falling into a sinkhole of its own. In normal words, there's no support in the middle of the desk and it's beginning to bend inwards. So that's causing my keyboard and my midi controllers to rock around when I press their buttons. It didn't irritate me that bad until I got my Akai pad controller. When I press on a pad, the unit rocks back and forth (making an annoying sound).

So I went to Walmart last night to try to find a solution. I looked at foam pads, looked for rubber tape, removable adhesives... everything in the tape, crafts, and picture hanging sections! I couldn't find anything! Just before I was about to give up.. I walked down the children's art section. Wow, what did I find here? Darice Foamies "no messy glue.. acid free.. just peel and stick!" stickers! I laughed at first, thinking.. wouldn't that be something if I put these little kids foam stickers on my equipment?

Then I noticed they had a package made in shapes of footballs, basketballs, volleyballs, and soccerballs. They're a little less than 1/8" thick, and they are about 1 inch in diameter. Perfect for my uses! The little volleyball stuck right onto the bottom of my Akai MDP24 pad controller's existing pad. Now it doesn't rock at all!!! I'll be saving these for many uses to come. I'm sure some cabinets could use some of these (after cutting them up).

Friday, January 29, 2010

Review: Akai MDP24 (MDP26) Pad Control

I didn't plan on getting a new pad control anytime soon, but I found a used version of the exact model that I wanted at a really good price. So of course, I couldn't pass it up! The Akai MDP24 (pictured here) has been discontinued, and its replacement is the MDP26. The MDP26 is essentially the same thing, except it has a black cover, 6 knobs instead of 8, a key note button, a swing button, and a tap tempo button. Aside from that, they are practically identical. The MDP26 sacrifices 2 knobs in exchange for a tap tempo (for setting BPM) and note repeat (with swing to adjust how often the note repeats). Note repeat is useful for emulating drum rolls and such.

Having said that, I purchased the MDP24 because the difference wasn't that important to me. The unit is very solid and feels like it was built with quality. The pads are a little squishier on the corners because they don't directly touch the sensor pads there. This can be considered a good or bad thing, depending on how you look at it.

There are over 30 customizable presets that can be named and controlled directly from the LCD screen. Each preset allows you to name it and change the parameters of each pad, fader, and knob. Pads can be used to toggle on/off mode, press/hold mode, and program-change mode (for changing instruments and such). Knobs and faders can have their minimum and maximum values setup independantly. Every pad, knob, and fader is capable of sending 0 to 127 bits of MIDI information, based on the amount the knob/fader is adjusted or how hard the pad is pressed.

The pads are not too squishy, but not resistant and hard either. They provided a nice rubber bounce to them when hit, and they are pressure-sensitive for sending lower/higher velocity (volume) messages. Each pad can be customized to signal certain notes (4 banks of 16, so a total of 64 notes). You can also assign aftertouch values to each pad, allowing the after-effect of holding down the button to be different from the initial effect of pressing the button.

The faders and knobs are both very responsive. Aftertouch can be setup with each of these also. The controller can also send play/stop/record/FF/RW messages to hardware that recognizes Midi-Machine Code.

One of my favorite features about this controller is that it is software-independant. It is truely plug-n-play compatible. The software is there if you want to use the included samples and VST plugin, or if you want to edit your presets via PC instead of the controller's LCD display. Other than that, the software is mainly used for updating firmware to the device. So any patches and changes made to how the controller works is downloaded from the computer and permanently stored in the device itself. What's so great about this? You can take this controller and plug it into any computer that recognizes USB 2.0 and Midi messages. No need for drivers! So there is no waiting around for drivers when the next version of Windows comes out.

Overall, great product! My only complaint is that the USB cord is way too short (about 3 feet long), but it can be replaced with a cheap A/B USB cable.

Review: Cables Unlimited USB-1870 USB 2.0 Hub

So what's so different about USB hubs anyway? They just split a USB connection into several other USB connections, right? Well, yes and no. Unfortunately, many USB hub designs lack proper power distribution, switching between USB 1.1 and 2.0, and a few other overlooked features. I am reviewing what I consider to be a very special USB hub.

USB 1.1 or USB 2.0?
Cables Unlimited USB-1870 is a HI-SPEED USB 2.0 hub (backwards compatible with 1.1 also) with multiple transaction translators, i.e. multi-TT. The transaction translator translates data from each of the ports on the USB hub to the computer's USB port. If you are using a USB 1.1 device, then the TT will send data at speeds up to 12 Mbps from the device to the PC. If you are using a USB 2.0 device, the TT can transmit up to 480 Mbps between the device and PC.

Most USB Hubs are 1.1 and 2.0 compatible.. but not at the same time. In other words, if you have a USB 1.1 device and a USB 2.0 device connected to a single TT hub, your USB 2.0 device will only run as fast as 12 Mbps. This is something that most USB Hubs fail to mention. Instead they tell you to try not to connect USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 together. Who wants to worry about that? I certainly don't. With Cables Unlimited's multi-TT hub, each device can run at it's designated speed. There is a TT for each port, so USB 2.0 devices won't have to slow down USB 1.1 devices. Of course, if you have two very busy hard drives writing at the same time, you're going to have some slow down, since you are sharing one port on the computer. However, most other devices do not transmit that much data.

Powered Hub
It includes a power adapter that is capable of supplying power to 5-6 of the 7 ports at the same time. Most devices don't use the full power of a single port anyway, aside from hard drives and such. Most competitor ports supply half the power as this one, where only 3 of 7 ports have full power. If you require all 7 ports have power, you'll just have to find a higher current AC to DC power adapter.

Most hubs don't have power switches, and the PC's USB ports continue to supply power to USB devices even while the PC is off (since the computer's internal power supply is still on and supplying the motherboard with juice). Some hubs continue to supply power to devices once the PC is shut down also. Once you shut down the PC and unplug the included power adapter, all the attached devices turn off.

I honestly don't recall whether or not this USB hub functions as an unpowered hub or not. One of the primary motives for this hub is the power adapter. If you want convenience, you probably want an unpowered 4 port hub. If you want a hub that can provide maximum support for your devices, you want the Cables Unlimited USB-1870.

Physical Design
There are a lot of complaints on USB hubs because cords are managed poorly or the hub slides around too easily. This hub has soft footpads and just enough weight to stay in place. Of course it's not going to stay in places if you're jerking the wires around, but it won't move just because a cord is coiled up poorly. The hub is very compact, not wasting any space at all. 7 ports all come out one side, and the connections to the computer and power adapter are on the other side.

It has a red LED to show the hub has power, and the hub has a green LED for each port to show that those ports have power also.

Best of all: It's around $20 and it works!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Mixing Software Compared, Part 2

Earlier this month, I reviewed Atomix Virtual DJ, Native Instruments Traktor Pro, Ableton Live, and Serato Itch. The first review can be found here: Unfortunately, I do not have any experience with Serato Scratch Live, but it is a very popular software. Today, I'm continuing my comparison of popular mixing software with: Image-Line Deckadance, Mixvibes Producer, open-source Mixxx, and Mixmeister Fusion.

Image-Line Deckadance

Deckadance is my second-favorite real-time mixing softwares. Traktor still has me won over, but not by much. Deckadance incorporates a lot of what's great about Virtual DJ and Serato Itch into a more complex solution, such as Traktor. It is very easy to program multiple midi controllers to this software and overall very user friendly in most cases. The interface overall is simple to get-around and very user friendly. The interface is colorful and fun, and the waveforms are displayed in multiple formats. The waveforms are displayed like Traktors, but in the middle they are displayed like Serato Itch's (one waveform on top of the other with different colors to represent frequencies). I believe it only supports two decks, as I did not see an option for four decks, but I may be wrong. I had a difficult time toggling between vinyl and cdj jog-wheel modes, but I believe this is due to lack of experience. The scratching sounds were decent, but the MIDI-controlled vinyl-emulation was sub-par to Traktor's in the couple hours worth of time I spent with this software. This is the main reason that I still prefer Traktor. I would look closer into this software if you are on the market.

Mixvibes Producer

Mixvibes is an attractive, functional real-time mixing software that does its job. I liked the way the large waveforms are displayed, in addition to the overlapping waveforms at the top. There are a lot of included presets for midi-controllers, but it is not an easy process to program your own midi controller preset. This is my largest complaint, aside from the scratching sounds not sounding all that great. This program seemed "average" to me. There is better software out there, but this is functional.

Mixxx (open-source, free to use)

Mixxx is a free, open-source mixing software developed by the DJ community. It does not contend with the more costly commercial DJ softwares, but it is a great piece of freeware! Since it is open-source, anyone can learn to program and change the program as he or she wishes. If you want to put a LOT of time into making your own CUSTOM DJ software, this is definitely a great starting point! Mixxx has a lot of good customization options, such as crossfader curve, skins, midi-learn, and a lot more. I have had a difficult time using the Midi-Learn function to easily program some of the functions on my midi-controller, but I'm sure it's possible to do. The main thing that I don't like is that the software only accepts one USB port at a time. I.e. no pad control + scratch control + separate usb mixer. I have not tried a USB hub with this software, but I doubt it would fix this issue. I also do not like the cheap look of the interface or how files are managed in the library. The library is very basic, and I'm having a hard time permanently removing songs in the library that I deleted from my computer. If you want your own custom software or if you just want something free to work with, download Mixxx! If you have some money to blow, I'd recommend Deckadance, Virtual DJ, or Traktor.

Mixmeister Fusion

Mixmeister is in its own league. Its focus is not real-time control, but it's not quite as advanced as Ableton Live. I'd have to describe this as a software to pre-plan your sets, although it could be used for similar functions as Ableton. Prior to playing music, you set which songs you want to play and when you want them to start. You can adjust the length, volume, EQ, pitch, and more. You can setup the automatic mixing method also, so that the software automatically mixes songs together for you. This is good for someone with a more systematic approach or someone who wants to remove human error from his or her set. Personally, it's not for me because I like real-time, hands-on mixing more. And when it comes to planning out a perfectly recorded studio set, I prefer Ableton for its advanced functions and capabilities. Mixmeister is a nice compromise between the two if you know what you'll be playing for awhile, and you don't care much about jamming out in real-time.


My favorite real-time midi-controlled mixing software is still Native Instruments Traktor Pro, but I may be swayed by Image-Line Deckadance in the future. Deckadance and Virtual DJ are similar products, and I'd look at both of them if you are interested in either one. As far as pre-planning and removing human error from sets is concerned, I recommend Ableton Live. Mixmeister is a nice, simple solution to pre-planning a night of music ahead of time, and it doesn't require you spend the whole night focusing on what you need to do next. This would be great if you are DJing your own event, such as your own wedding, because you don't have to pay any attention to it during the event.

Friday, January 22, 2010

How To: Fix Dented Woofers on Speakers and Monitors

There are thousands of posts on the internet about fixing dented dust caps (middle part of woofer cone), so why did I write about it on my blog? Because I tried most of the methods out there, and the many of them didn't work for me. First of all, a dust cap is the cap in the middle of the woofer. It is the black circle inside the yellow woofer cone in the picture to the right. On to describe the problem..

It is fairly easy to dent dust caps and tweeters (the smaller one above the woofer in the picture). I haven't had to fix a tweeter yet, but I've heard it can be fixed similarly to a dust cap. Just make sure to be gentle and use a lot more caution, since tweeters are usually easier to rip. I bought a used pair of KRK Rokit 5 (1st Generation) studio monitors, but one of the dust caps were dented in. Since this did not make a noticeable impact on the sound and I found them at such a great deal, I bought them anyway. The dent took up over 3/4 of the dust cap's surface area, and it measured close to an inch in diameter. It had four square-like corners to it, and it was about 1/4 inch deep.

The dent didn't bother me for awhile, but it kept staring at me at my eye level a few feet away. It eventually got on my nerves, so I browsed the internet for a couple days trying different methods to fix it. Let me first say that each dent may require a different fix. I will begin with the safest method of fixing it first and work my way to the least safe method. Fixing the dent is not worth breaking your speaker's sound. Some of these methods may damage your speakers, so use caution before applying too much force.

  1. Sticky Tape - This is the first thing I thought of, and it did absolutely nothing for me. It should work good on very flimsy dust caps and tweeters though. The strategy here for stronger materials is to stick the tape in the dent as much as possible without further damaging it, then quickly jerk the tape to the SIDE of the dent. For flimsier materials, such as tweeters, you may not want to jerk it quite so hard. The tape just came off on my dust caps, as they are fairly rigid. Be careful of which kind of tape you use. Some tapes may be too sticky, others may not be sticky enough, and some may leave residue or even rip! Duct tape will probably leave residue, so I would avoid it. Packaging tape (be careful of rips), masking tape, and clear sticky tape have been safe in my experience. Even though a tape may be in the same classification, its stickiness may vary.

  2. Vacuum - Shop Vacs are preferred, but I did not have one. I tried a handvac and a full size home vacuum, but neither got good suction to my particular dust cap. The strategy is to use an extension tube to fit over the dent. Before turning the vac on, make contact, but don't push in. Turn it on and leave it on for a few seconds, then turn it off. After the suction has stopped, pull the tube back. Try different tube sizes. I have read where applying a hairdryer's heat beforehand might help. It did not help me though. Instead of a vacuum, you could also try an empty toilet roll, straw, or a handpump of some sort to apply suction. The first two didn't work for me, and I didn't have a handpump.

  3. Push it out with your fingers - It's one of the more risky methods, since you have less control of where the dust cap bends with this method. The strategy is to gently press sideways (and in a little) towards the dent. Do this while gently pressing all the way around the dent. Focus on the corners of the dents, as this will have the most impact. You could try using two fingers at once. Hairdryer heat is suggested to help this also (see suggestion #4 for details). This method ALMOST helped me. I saw some progress, but it dented back in since I could not get all of it out this way. Be careful, if there are any small cuts or holes in the dustcap, this method may worsen them.

  4. Hairdryer + Sticky Tape - This is what fixed mine. I tried it with three different tapes, and only one of the tapes worked. It was a clear sticky tape that was stickier than the cheap tapes and packaging tape, but less sticky than duct tape. First, turn the hairdryer on as hot as it goes.. let it heat up, then put it very close to the dent in the speaker. Leave the hairdryer there for around 1 minute before turning it off and setting it aside. Quickly, but gently, stick the tape to the inside of the dent and apply the same strategy as suggestion #1. The first try with the right tape worked. I just stuck it, set it there for a second to seal good, then jerked the tape to the side, and the dent popped right out! The heat causes the adhesive to stick a lot better, which allows you to pull more on the dent without the tape coming off. Pull sideways, not directly back. This may take several tries. The hairdryer may damage some heat-sensitive materials, such as thin plastic.

  5. Hairdryer + CO2 - This will really put your speaker to the test. This is a method for removing dents from metal, such as in cars. This probably won't work on your dust cap unless it is metal. Nothing else was working, so I gave this a shot after the vacuum. This could be very damaging to some materials, as it could cause pressure cracks. Fortunately my dust cap could handle it (a few times). Heat up the area with a hairdryer for a minute on high, then quickly take a can of CO2 air spray (not hair spray!) and turn it upside down. Quickly spray the area for a couple seconds. The quick temperature change from high heat to ice cold may cause the dent to condense on itself and pop back out. I watched a video of this on a car dent. This didn't work on my dust cap, but it was fun and did not damage it thankfully. Be very careful, the drastic temperature change may break some speakers.

  6. Hot Glue Gun - I haven't tried this method, mainly because I don't have a hot glue gun lying around, but I've seen it suggested several places. Heat glue onto the dent while applying a string, wooden dowel, or something else narrow. Let the glue dry to the dent and the object (about 30 minutes). Gently pull the object away from the dent (sideways would be the best option if you have a string, but directly away may work). If you are brave, try tugging harder or faster.. but be careful not to rip the dust cap! Once the dent is removed, tear the dried glue off. If it does not come off easily, try using nail polish remover or something similar. I've read where some people reported to superglue even, but that is too much for my liking.

  7. Poke a hole in it - I don't recommend this method, but it's there if you absolutely must fix it. Bend a very fine sewing pin at a 90 degree angle and poke it into the middle of the dent. Turn the pin such that it grabs the inside of the dent and gently pull it towards you. Don't accidently poke a second hole from the inside. After the dent is fixed, work the pin back out. I've read that you may have to do this in several locations. There are a lot of mixed feelings of this method out there. If it leaves noticeable damage, you may consider using a thin layer of nail polish to paint over it. Any change in the speaker or the speaker box will change the soundwaves reflection, although you may or may not notice it. I personally didn't try this method, as I'd rather look at the dent than worry about damaging the speaker.

If none of those work, you'll just have to live with it, replace the woofer, or tear apart the woofer and hope you can repair it. You had better know what you're doing before attempting the last one, or you may end up resorting to replacing the woofer. Personally, I don't think a dented dust cap is worth replacing a woofer over. Even though I pulled the dent out, it left four very small unremovable dents where the big dent's corners were. You can only see one or two at a time, depending on how the light hits the dust cap. I tried the above methods on these small dents, but they seemed pretty permanent due to the long-term bend in the material. I hope this helps!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Review: Pioneer HDJ-2000 Headphones

After careful comparison of headphones in the $200 range, I went with the Pioneer HDJ-2000 because I found a good deal on them. Most headphones in the $200 range are "durable plastic" with great sound quality and a few other perks (replaceable parts, etc.). The big attraction to these is the metal construction. Due to the noticeably rugged exterior of these, I would buy these again for $350. Every headphone has its flaws, including this one.

Since there aren't too many unbiased reviews on this headphone right now, I'll try to be as unbiased as possible with this review. I'll start with its design flaws first:

The mini-XLR cable has a very solid connection, perhaps a little too solid. Its connection to the headphone is quite difficult to remove. It's stuck on there pretty tight! I pushed the unlocking button in while tugging on it several times before it finally came undone. The plastic unlocking button on this mini-XLR plug doesn't seem like it could handle a whole lot of abuse. I don't plan to remove it again unless I need to replace the cable. The headphones can be folded while leaving the cord in, so there is no reason to unplug it regularly anyway. You're just going to wear it out.

The slider is made of plastic, which may not be a flaw at all. The slider feels just as solid as Ultrasone's plastic slider. The reason I listed it as a flaw is that some headphones have been reported to crack here, such as the Denon DN-HP1000. This one seems very unlikely to crack, since it is much more rugged than the Denon. Pioneer also said that their headband is reinforced with metal, so metal may be in the slider.

The earcups don't swivel 180 degrees, just 90 degrees. This is not necessarily a flaw, but it would be nice to have for more flexibility. I don't have any use for the extra 90 degrees of rotation, so it is not a big deal to me.

It does not offer anything competitive with Ultrasone's S-Logic technology. No surround sound, no hearing protection outside of standard isolation, and no protection from electromagnetic radiation. Even though the pioneer does not offer anything like this, their isolation is noticeably better than the Ultrasone DJ1 headphones.. so it makes up in the hearing protection area. So really you're just losing out on the EM radiation protection and the surround sound. I don't think headphones output high enough frequencies to worry about EM radiation though.

Honestly, nothing bothers me about the headphone; I just had to be a critic for the sake of an unbiased review. I love this headphone more than anything else on the market! A list of the pros:

The sound quality is amazing - the only competitor here is the Ultrasone DJ1 in my opinion. The bass and high frequencies stand out a little bit more than the mids, but not by much. The highs are not irritating at all - they sound quite pleasant, and the bass is punchy. The mids sound really good, but the Ultrasones mids are a little bit better. The bass is better in these than the Ultrasones, and the highs are about the same in each. The Xone 53 and Denon DN-HP1000 come nowhere close to this kind of sound in any aspect - they are just loud and fairly clear. The Pioneers are just as loud as the Xone 53 and Denon DN-HP1000, but the HDJ-2000s have much higher isolation.

The isolation on these is ideal to me. They are not like earpads for the firing range, aka Sennheiser HD 280s, but that is too much for me. You can have a conversation with the music playing without taking these off, but you can just as easily ignore sounds outside of the earcups. There is only a slight echo when tapping the headphones. When wearing these on both ears, I have to turn the volume DOWN to mix with music outside the speakers. The isolation is better than the Ultrasone DJ1s and a little better than the Xone 53s.

The headphones can go very loud also. I held them at an arms distance at max volume with my cell phone connected, and I could hear them as clearly as computer desktop speakers. You could certainly damage your hearing if you played these at full volume all the time. I keep them down as low as I can while still hearing the music. Since the isolation has a nice balance, you can always wear both earpads and listen to the music through them. This method works out very well, and I have to turn the volume down very low inside the headphones.. so it saves your hearing a lot!

The coiled cable is very solid and has a good amount of flex to it. It is not too springy, but it is springier than a telephone cable. The included bag is ok. The coiled cable and earcups are both replaceable. The cable is around $30 to replace, and the earcups are around $50 due to their more rugged synthetic leather design. The earcups feel much more like leather than any other headphone I've used. They are very soft and cool on the ear. If the room is warm, your ears will get quite warm still. The memory foam is amazingly comfortable! Imagine a light weight memory-foam pillow ring around your ear. The earcups gently rest around your earlobe. Very comfortable, and I've had no problems with anything but the earcup touching my ear (i.e. no metal or speaker hitting it).

When you flip the earcups, they gently lock into place, and they can easily be unlocked just by flipping them back. After the earcups swivel 90 degrees, they gently swivel back. It is not a whipping motion; it's very gentle. The wide, metal construction around the joints is extremely well built, lightweight, and comfortable. The headphones gently rest on your ears without much pressure. Honestly, I can barely tell they are there, aside from feeling those warm comfortable earpads. They simply fit like a comfortable pair of earmuffs.

The headband is very rugged, although it appears to be a plastic/rubber with metal reinforcement. I had my doubts about this part of the headphone at first, but it does its job very well. It is very flexible and sturdy at the same time. The padding under the headband is just enough. i don't really notice the headband being on my head at all.

I've worn these headphones for 2 hours with no discomfort whatsoever. When the room is fairly cool, my ears stay at a reasonable temperature. When the room is fairly warm, my ears start to get warm due to the enclosure. Overall, I haven't found a more comfortable pair of full-enclosure headphones.

The mono/stereo switch is a nice addition that keeps me from having to change my settings in DJ software. The mono obviously doesn't sound as high quality as the stereo, since everything is mashed into one channel, but it is the best sounding mono I've ever heard. It is definitely good enough for mixing. Both earcups output the same mono signal, so you can listen with either ear.

The flexibility of these headphones is very nice. You can easily wear them around your neck and quickly lift them to one ear to listen. They fold up very nicely, although it takes another couple seconds to do so. The earcups are big and fit in a small space when the headphones fold, so it takes a second to fold them right. Not a problem though.

The headphones look HUGE in pictures, but they are surprisingly small. The earcups are the only thing big on these headphones. The earcups are circular and are just big enough to cover your full ear. I'd say the Xone 53 earcups are a little bigger. The headband is fairly thin in comparison, about an inch wide.

Overall, I'd give them a 9.5 out of 10 because everything has room to improve. The other headphones I've tested would be a 9.0 (ultrasone), and the rest would be 8.0 and below. Haven't tried Sennheiser HD 25 1-II's because I don't like the build, sorry Senn fans. If you want a smaller headphone, consider the Sennheiser. If you want a full-coverage can that will last, go with the HDJ-2000.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Laptop and Midi Controller Sleeve

I don't know about you, but I don't like the idea of scratching and dirtying up my gear. Recently, I've been covering my Midi Controller with a t-shirt when it's not being used. Then when I was at Target the other day, I saw a neoprene sleeve for laptops, and I thought, "pffft how useless...". Then I realized how handy it would be to have a little sleeve cover like that for a laptop, or even better.. my midi controller! It would offer more protection from scratches, and it wouldn't look as pitiful! Midi Controllers tend to be about the same size as laptops, but you might want to measure yours before buying just any sleeve.

There are all kinds of laptop sleeves out there, from zipping to folding. I thought to myself, "Wouldn't it be great if I didn't even have to pull the midi controller out of the sleeve?" Ideally, you'd just have to unzip the sleeve on 3 of the 4 sides and flip the top of the sleeve back behind the controller/laptop. Since neoprene is flexible, you could fold it up underneath too!

The bad news is that I have had no such luck in finding one designed like this. The only one that I've found has been a velcro & unfold all 4 sides model. This model takes up a lot of space when unfolded, and it looks rather cheap. I am going to look into modifying one of the existing sleeves into the 3-side zip sleeve. I may even add a rubber mat for support and a pocket to hold the cords... we'll see! I'm hoping that Mrs. Van Draken may be able to sew one for me.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mixing Software Compared, Part 1

If you're looking at different software options, you're in luck today! I know the web isn't exactly flooded with head-to-head DJ comparisons, so I'd like to contribute my personal experiences. Like everything, mixing software has its pluses and minuses. If I were to compare every detail of these softwares, I'd have to dedicate an entire blog to it... so I will be limiting this comparison to what I consider to be important aspects of each. What I do not compare in this article will be covered in another in the future. First:

Serato Itch (Version 1.0)

It is free software designed to be used with Serato's integrated software-hardware solutions. Serato has integrated with a select few midi controllers, including Numark NS7 and Vestax VCI-300. The software interface itself is known for being very stable, simple, and fast to use. The DJ is expected to pay more attention to the midi-controller hardware instead of the software, since Itch mostly displays just the songs, waveforms, time, pitch, and BPM. The controllers display volume, cue points, and other options. It is very important to select the controller layout you like best, since you will not be reconfiguring any button layouts in Itch. It comes as-is essentially. It's best known for it's ease of use, stability, and accuracy. This is a great software for anyone just getting into DJing with the computer. Itch and its corresponding controllers are not very compatible with anything else, so I would avoid this software-hardware combo if you are interested in customizing your hardware or software setup to your liking. It is the Mac of the DJ world - works great, but its options are limited and exclusive to the manufacturer.

Atomix Virtual DJ Pro (Version 6.0)

Virtual DJ Pro is a favorite amongst many digital DJs, although it is not my personal favorite. It is stable and laid out nicely. I personally like the flare of the spinning records, and the waveforms are easy to beatmatch, since the beats of each track are marked on top of one another. You can zoom in on the waveforms in this software, which can be tedious at times but a welcome feature! The waveforms are displayed as Peak Amplitude (zero to positive peak), instead of the traditional Peak to Peak amplitude (negative peak to positive peak). I don't care for the lack of high-resolution full screen skins, but some are downloable on the forums. The number of effects that are available are limited in comparison to Traktor, but they are more than enough if you are not an FX junky. The software can save multiple cue-points in memory too. The thing I like the best about this program is the Sample Player & Recorder. You can record your own sound samples to throw in on top of the mix, so you can throw in a siren in parts of the song and increase/decrease the volume of the siren. This software is great for a beginner-intermediate DJ because it is very straight-forward and easy to use. It is compatible with most midi-controllers, although you will have to configure the button layouts. If you are new to DJing or are looking for something that's not too simple but not too complex, this is a great program!

Native Instruments Traktor Pro (Version 1.2.3)

Traktor Pro is an updated version of Traktor 3, and Traktor LE is the limited edition (can't record, only 2 decks, fewer FX, etc.). Any Traktor version can upgrade to Pro (for a price). This is my personal favorite in-the-mix mixing software. It is not as much fun to look at as Serato or Virtual DJ, but it is well organized and has many good options. It is a stable, professional software that offers 2 or 4 decks to mix between, more effects than you'll ever need, and lots of customization options. It is not an overwhelming software, such as production software, and its accuracy is heavily dependant on the user. Traktor's auto-beatmatching is OK by default, but it will screw your mixes up if you rely on it. Obviously you can beatmatch by ear, but if you really want to auto-beatmatch.. the beatgrid is just for you! You can adjust the overlaid beatgrid so it lines up with the beats - this is tedious, but you can auto-beatmatch just about anything with this method. Another method is to use the built-in Tap BPM counter. Traktor Pro saves many cue points, and multiple effects can be chained onto each deck. All of the mixing is done in the software, and it is compatible with most (if not all) midi-controllers. Traktor LE is GREAT for a beginner because it just gives you the basics to work with, and then you can upgrade to Pro once you are comfortable. This software is not overly complicated, but it is not extremely straight-forward either. I wish Traktor would give more options for viewing their waveforms, such as including more colors and a zoom function.

Ableton Live (Version 8.0)

Live can be used as a studio production tool or a live mixing tool. Beatmatching is fairly automated, and LIVE will match the music bars of two audio tracks for you, which makes it difficult for the user to mess up when bringing in another piece of audio. It is great for mixing instruments, loops, and vocals together to produce a complete song. Also included is a large library of audio loops and tracks. This software is great if you enjoy clicking/punching buttons and turning knobs, but you do not want vinyl emulation for scratching or song scrolling. It's great for electronic music production and remixes! If you have a band, it's a good software for producing your personal music also. I must admit that this is not the easiest software to learn, since there are so many options, but it can be very fun. I recommend investing in a Controller Pad instead of a DJ Midi Controller for this software.


As always, it comes down to personal preference and the user's needs. For someone converting to digital DJing from vinyl turntables and cds or a beginner with a large budget, you may want to consider Serato Itch or Scratch (not reviewed here). If you want something that's customizable and easy to use, you may want to consider Atomix Virtual DJ. If you want something to be customizable and is a bit more complicated, Traktor Pro is for you. Finally, if you don't care about spinning the jogwheels/platters on a DJ midi-controller and you want accurate music production, Ableton LIVE is for you!

LIVE from Serato!

Ableton and Serato have formed a partnership to create one software that (hopefully) does it all! Well, it won't do everything... but it certainly will be something new to build on! (Source: .)

Ableton is famous for their on-the-spot music production with LIVE! and Scratch is famous for its digital vinyl emulation for Live DJs. Ableton is more of an automated studio process, whereas Serato is more of a manual process. Both require skill to make good music of course. I consider Ableton to require more planning, whereas Serato is more about going with the flow of the music (and some planning of course).

It will be interesting to see how their new product competes with Native Instruments Traktor. If I hear anything about the new software from NAMM 2010, I will be posting it here.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

My Chosen Phone

Well, I've finally reached a decision after a couple days of deciding between the headphones listed in my previous post. I read and watched reviews for hours on end, looking for information that applied to what's important to me. Although the Xone 53s sound great and are very durable, they have many reports of becoming painful to the ear after an hour or two. Who wants to be distracted from the fun of a mix by the pain in your ears? Not me.

The next to be crossed off my list was the Ultrasone DJ1, mostly because I liked the DJ1 Pro's offerings better. The Pro is essentially the same headphone with larger earpads, extra earpads, an easily replaceable cord, an extra cord, and a rugged carry case. There is a noticeable tuning difference between the two phones also, since the DJ1 Pro is a remodeled Ultrasone Pro 550 and the DJ1 is a remodeled HFI 580. has the results from testing each of these models, and the results differ in almost every test.

I narrowed it down to the Ultrasone DJ1 Pro v.s. the Pioneer HDJ-2000. My chosen phone is the Pioneer HDJ-2000. I fully expect the Ultrasone DJ1 Pro to be more entertaining to listen to (the surround sound is really crisp, clear, and fun), but there were a lot of good reviews on the HDJ-2000's sound quality, isolation, and volume levels. I've yet to see a single complaint about anything on the HDJ-2000, aside from the price, even if its sound supposably doesn't match up to the Sennheiser HD25 or the DJ1 Pro. These phones are going to last me a long time, the mono/stereo switch is nice, and they look awesome.

So what was the main deciding factor? Value for the dollar. I found HDJ-2000s, which are metal and look professional, for the same price as the DJ1 Pros, which are plastic and look like a toy. When it all hits the fan, the reviews are just a guideline... and the final decision always comes down to what you want when you look at it. That's why I didn't even consider the Sennheiser HD25s, I can't even picture using or wearing them because I dislike the physical design. Sorry Senny lovers.. Pioneeru, I choose you!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Hooked on Headphonics

I feel hooked on headphonics right now; I'm having such a hard time deciding which new headphones to buy. I've been to the store to try them on several times now, and by the time I narrow it down, I find more headphones that I like. At the time of this post, these headphones are in the $200 price range on the internet. I am taking the following factors into account:

  • Durable: I don't want to break them under normal use.
  • Comfortable: Minimum pain after several hours of use.
  • Sound quality: Crisp, clear sound separation of Highs, Mids, and Lows.
  • Hearing Protection: Isolation from outside noise.

Pioneer HDJ-2000

I unfortunately haven't tried these on yet. The Pioneer HDJ-2000 is commonly regarded as the most durable DJ headphones on the market, since much of its construction is made of metal and the cord/earpads are both replaceable. They supposably have very good sound quality, but not the absolute best. They apparently provide good isolation and are very comfortable, due to the leather and memory foam. These also have a mono/stereo switch. I hope they are more than just hype. The hearing protection & comfort are my main concerns with this pair.

Ultrasone DJ1

I have tried on the Ultrasone DJ1, and they feel and sound absolutely amazing! They don't put much pressure on your ears, and they really produce surround sound, which helps the sound clarity and quality. They are targeted to protect your hearing by not requiring as much volume. They are all plastic, so I have my doubts on durability. The cord is also not replaceable, and I am unsure of the earpads. However, I have not seen a viable complaint of quality from any users, and many people have owned these for 2-3 years without any problems at all. The plastic material & lack of replaceable parts is my main concern with this model.

Ultrasone DJ1 Pro

I have not tried these on, but they have rave reviews. The DJ1 Pro is extremely similar to the DJ1, with the exception of a few technical specs. Overall, I've heard that this model is more "pro" with finer tuning, a hard case, replaceable earpads, and replaceable cord. The durability is the same, the hearing protection is the same, the sound quality is very similar, and the comfort is similar. Supposably your hearing is as good right after a gig as it is beforehand when using these cans. My main concern is the size of the earpads - they are a wider, circular shape instead of the DJ1's thinner oval shape. They might get hot or slide around on my head.

Allen & Heath Xone XD 53

I have tried this on, and they were comfortable, but not quite as comfortable as the Ultrasones. They are very durable, and I have yet to see a problem with these breaking. These are plastic with metal reinforcement inside. The sound quality in these were very good, but very loud. The isolation was good, and the headphones were comfortable at first. I have read where they begin to hurt after an hour or so. The sound volume began to hurt my ears after a few minutes. My main concerns with these are the comfort, the cord is not replaceable, and hearing protection. Please note that these are very similar to the Denon DN-HP1000 in structure and particularly sound. However, the Denon's lack the metal reinforcement, and Denons have more swivel. I would be glad to hear any comments or experience you've had with any of these headphones. I am leaning away from the Xone 53.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Ich bin DJ Van Draken. Thanks for visiting my first blog! I love reading feedback, so do not hestitate to comment. I'm in my mid-20s, and I am a newschool DeeJay. I love mixing music of all genres, as long as it has a good rhythm. Just because you dislike a certain music genre doesn't mean you'll dislike the mix. I will get more into that later. Just be happy it's Friday!

I'm inspired by german heritage and european dragon tales... hence my name. I love the grace, power, and mystery of the dragon. Similarly, I love the shroud of the unknown, the mystery of a cloaked wanderer... the shadow of a figure unseen. It's the mystery that I like so much.

Mixing is not my career; DJing is just an interest of mine. In the future, I'd like to host music entertainment at local events in Jacksonville. For now, I'm keeping to the dragon's den. Until another time...