Link: 4MidiLoop • Price: €1300
When we talk of MIDI controllers, the general assumption is one of VCI style 2 deck me-too devices. God knows there are enough of them out there and currently sell by the containerload to the new generation of digital DJs. But sometimes a unit comes along that defies convention and tries to be something quite different. The 4MidiLoop is one such unit.
In A Nutshell
The 4MidiLoop is a MIDI controller designed to completely tame the complexity of Traktor. It’s entirely USB powered, has no audio interface and no ins or outs other than a single USB port. It is essentially a dumb controller that totally depends on you using it with a laptop. So you’ll need an audio interface and for this review, I’ve hooked up the NI Audio 8 DJ for full 4 deck fun.
It does however give total and complete control over just about every element of Traktor – all 4 channels with hot cues, loops, all 4 effects slots and parameters and track navigation too. But being a MIDI device you can of course remap it any way you wish – either for Traktor of any other software with MIDI learn.
If we’re talking about the very first impression upon opening the box, it would be the big yet small nature of the 4MidiLoop. When I say big, I’m talking about the front to back size – it’s the same as a regular turntable in battle position, which does make the top controls feel far away. It’s at a time like this when you understand my mixers are on an incline.
And by small, I mean the physical height. It’s an inch lower than regular turntables. This is fine for standalone use, but if used with decks then some of the controls do become a little harder.
IDEA: 4MidiLoop official accessories – a 4MidiWedge and 4MidiBlock to make using it a lot easier. Or you could just make your own out of offcuts of failed DIY projects.
MIDI controllers generally have the word “toy” associated with them, if only for the almost all plastic construction. The 4MidiLoop however does away with all that and is hewn from a solid block of Aluminium. Think Apple Unibody but for DJ gear. The precision is ridiculous – the CNC machining allows for fractions of millimetres of accuracy. Indeed, when I flipped it over to take off the baseplate, it looks like it’s still one piece.
The controls however are more conventional and very Faderfox like. The knobs feel solid, with just the right amount of resistance and centre detent where necessary. It’ll be the buttons where people may have an issue. There’s nothing wrong with the quality – it’s a gentle click that never presses beyond the faceplate (so no stuck buttons) but it’s the size of them that is the problem.
In trying to squeeze so many controls into a DJ friendly space, the 9mm buttons may not find many fans, with people used to larger pad type devices. It does take a little getting used to, and the multicoloured buttons do give a quick visual reference, although an orange play button would be welcome though for non turntable users.
Aesthetically, the 4MidiLoop may be an acquired taste. It absolutely comes from the Faderfox school of functional rather than beautiful design. Looking at it, the designer in me cringed at the ill placed Helvetica wording and screened boxes. But that functional word is used for a reason – it does just work rather than attempt to be pretty.
I was sent the Silver Bullet edition, with the silver faceplate and tutti-frutti knob set. I suspect however that more traditional DJs will want the rather more conservative Black Pearl model. I have to say that despite my reservations about colour, I think the one I was sent would be the best overall to use. Because of the heavily populated faceplate, being able to pick out key controls by colour is very helpful. And I fear that because of the tiny size of the type, it may prove difficult to read the reversed out wording on a black model in a dark booth.
I’m sure it’ll be a matter of time before Styleflip gets on the case though.
Freeing the 4MidiLoop from its box, the first place I felt compelled to place it was between a pair of decks. It really gives off the aura of mixer rather than controller. And it’s only when you realise that it hooks up via USB do you begin to get into your head that it is just a MIDI controller with an identity crisis.
It is however completely at home as a standalone controller too. Decks are replaced by play buttons and a scratch knob – but then again, anyone using it without decks is unlikely to want any kind of traditional turntable feel or even jog wheel anyway.
Essentially, the 4MidiLoop can be whatever you want it to be. And you can use it with whatever you want to as well – you’ll still need an audio interface though, especially if you want to rock 4 decks.
I feel compelled to write a separate section about the faders. Normally, a mixer or controller is often let down by the manufacturers choice of fader. This is usually an economy measure, and generally is the Achilles Heel of a product. Not so with the 4MidiLoop. Inside is a full compliment of Pro X Fades – yes all 5 faders. For some, this is total overkill, but it does underline the quality of the overall product and also the mixed nature of its potential usage as well.
Out of the box, the crossfader has a 4mm lag (distance from the edge of the fader to 0% volume). This however can be tweaked internally via the brass wheel adjusters on the fader to around 2mm. The crossfader curve can be handled internally inside Traktor, but for software without curve control, the 4MidiLoop has a system mode where curves can be set directly on the hardware for cross and line faders. No channel reverses though (you could flip the faders inside the case though), but using the crossfader assign buttons offers a reverse functionality there.
And preempting the question – an Innofader physically fits, but is a tad too deep to be a permanent fixture. It’ll need a hole cutting into the baseplate to allow permanent fixing. And sorry – I’m not about to try connecting it up and risk potential damage to an extremely expensive controller. Seeing as the PXF is a standard fixture, I expect the Innofader will work just fine. But don’t quote me.
Being 100% targeted at Traktor, it makes sense for the 4MidiLoop to closely follow the on-screen layout of Traktor – well as close as is practical anyway without compromising usage. Practicality is enhanced by the shiny red shift button, that gives access to lesser used features on the same buttons.
I’m not going to get into the nuts and bolts of every single feature and button – you can get all that kind of info in the manual. This is after all a review of the controller and not the finer points of Traktor.
Starting at the top are the 4 effects controller sections. This gives you full control over all parameters, on/off/, wet/dry as well as direct access to your favourite effects presets too. This also works with Traktor’s chained (3 different effects per channel, less control) and advanced (4 global effects with more control over parameters) modes. The one thing that the 4MidiLoop can’t handle is send effects – everything is an insert, so no post fader delays with this. Unless I’m missing something fundamental.
Sandwiched between the effects sections are master and browser. Master mimics Traktor’s on-screen global layout middle section layout, giving access to snap, quantise, CD mode, LFO reset, cruise and tap. This is where you control master and cue volumes.
The browser section achieves quite a bit from 4 buttons and a rotary. Shift does come into play a little for the fullest experience, but you get to navigate tracks, tree, favourites as well as loading into the preview player. The actual loading of tracks is done further down in the crossfader section. Makes sense rather than having some focus based effort of 4 extra buttons.
A quick note about System Mode – while the 4MidiLoop handles Traktor features easily, System Mode handles a few things at a hardware level. Pressing Load and Prev will allow you to change MIDI channels, line fader and crossfader curves as well as LED brightness. It’s nice that these little things can be adjusted.
Back to business – the EQ section. For those that don’t know, Traktor offers not just 3 band but also xone 4 band EQ. So if 3 band is enough for you, there’s a spare knob for you to map. But you also get the key lock and filter controls, as well as FX selector buttons. Add to this a gain control and a quite small LED meter and you have a complete mixer section.
Below this is a crossfader section. It’s small but quite important as it defines the crossfader assign (either A, b or not at all), loads tracks and also switches the channel to cue. As mentioned previously, the left and right buttons are essentially fader reverses too – just the crossfader though. Perhaps System Mode could also do line fader reverses too at some point.
Next up – 2 big knobs (oooeeerr) that aim to emulate controls that are quite different to standard convention. The seek knob does just that – scrolls through the currently loaded track. Fairly normal practice really, but when you press it, it technically becomes the smallest jog wheel in the world. You’ll appreciate that it’s not exactly accurate or capable of anything more than baby scratches with heaps of practice, but for people using the 4MidiLoop without decks, it does at least mean a modicum of cueing is available.
The pitch control works just like a pitch fader – turning adjusts plus or minus to the Traktor preset, and pressing and turning adjusts in smaller amounts. This however conflicts with the latest v2 TSI that zeros the pitch when you press the button. Having no zero point on the pitch control makes the zero press mandatory, so I hope this can be addressed in the next TSI file. Or you could add pitch bend to a shift control. Speaking of which, shift and pitch gives you a master pan control.
Now we get to the real nuts and bolts of creative usage. Auto looping is activated with the blue button and defaults to whatever Traktor is set to. You also get the usual expanding and crunching controls and can also move the loop around too. Shift gives access to manual looping as well as being able to shift the loop in much smaller amounts.
Hot cues are where the real fun is at in Traktor. The 4MidiLoop gives you access to all 8 cue points as well as the means to define the cue point type (yes Traktor has types of cue points) and delete them, and to switch between different modes as well. And importantly, all this happens with no apparent latency too. You press a cue button and it triggers immediately. Just like it should do.
Finally, it’s the transport controls – you know, play and all that. Play, cue and a stutter mode called cup are catered for, as well as being able to load the playing track into any of the other decks perfectly in sync. Speaking of which, you engage sync here and also have a sync meter to give you a visual reference for beatmatching – if you need such a thing that is. Software will never replace my ears thank you very much, although it gets me there quicker.
So without analysing the hell out of each and every function and shift button combo, the supplied TSI file works extremely well with the 4MidiLoop. It’s not perfect yet, and I’m sure many different TSI files for different purposes will appear in time. But the great thing is that is can be changed to suit your needs, unlike a regular analogue mixer.
Not Just For Traktor
Having shown that the 4MidiLoop is aimed fairly and squarely at Traktor users, this doesn’t mean that other software need be ignored. Being a MIDI controller, you can configure it to work with just about any MIDI software that has MIDI learn. And I expect that once enough of these units make it out into the real world, then direct support will be built in for true plug and play operation.
It’s also worth pointing out that the shift button isn’t used that often, so a lot of extra functionality is waiting to be MIDI mapped to suit your needs. And in addition to this, if the new Kontrol S4 functionality is rolled into future versions of Traktor, the 4MidiLoop may well be lacking a few functions, so expect some more shift mapping to appear.
I threw Ableton Live and Virtual DJ this review unit and had the basics configured within minutes. Keep visiting the 4Midiloop website as well as software specific support forums for files in due course.
The Bottom Line – the price that is
When word first hit of the 4MidiLoop, there was a universal “want one” cry – until they read the price. €1300 is a seriously hefty price tag – you’ve got to really REALLY want, if not need one if you’re prepared to drop this kind of cash on what is nothing more than a dumb controller. Granted, it’s a controller on a scale never seen before, and coming in a highly flexible mixer or standalone configuration, and a full 4 channels too.
But when all is said and done, no matter how pant wettingly awesome a product is, it more often than not comes down to price. And to be frank, I think it’s too expensive. Generally speaking, I see a 1K ceiling for any controller. We must bear in mind that it has no sound card, and that’s something that people have to buy on top of the controller. But even though I would have a hard time justifying such a purchase, having used one I probably would dig deep to find the cash.
When approaching a review for a MIDI controller, it would normally be a standalone test – plug into laptop and play. But because of its schizophrenic nature, I found myself using this more as a mixer than a controller. And in this respect, I’d have to say that it’s the best mixer for Traktor on the market. The Korg Zero4 works better with effects because you can send effects through it, but you’ll still need to find a way to manage the hot cues and loops.
Yes I know it’s not a mixer per se, but it certainly feels like one. Having everything at hand in one place feels so much better than plugging in a chain of add on MIDI accessories, which frees up USB ports and makes you focus in one place instead of having to reach across your gear to where the other boxes are. And of course, the functions are entirely up to you.
As a standalone controller however, the 4MidiLoop will be more a matter of personal preference. Having 4 complete decks at your disposal is amazing. Granted it takes some getting used to, but once you do, Traktor stops being a complex beast of a program and instead becomes the engine driving the hardware. You’ll spend less time glancing at the laptop screen and more time getting busy with the music.
But when all is said and done, the bottom line with the 4MidiLoop is indeed the bottom line. Given the total Traktor focus of the unit, and just how well it tames the power but also embraces the flexibility of controllerism and DVS use, there’s a lot going for it. The quality is certainly there too, but you’ll have to decide for yourself if your wallet is quite deep enough to covet the 4MidiLoop, especially as you still have to buy software and an audio interface to drive it.
Solid high precision Aluminium and full of Pro X Fades – yes, build quality is high.
Not relevant – that’s entirely down to the audio interface you choose.
Features and Implementation
Having mapped just about every function to a hardware button, it’s almost a 1:1 style mapping. But you can change it whatever you like.
Value For Money
It’s very expensive but is high quality, totally harnesses Traktor and can be used as a standalone controller or pseudo mixer. It entirely depends on if you’re prepared tp break the 1K barrier or not
The Bottom Line
For Traktor Scratch Pro users, it’s hard to imagine a better mixer. And there’s a hell of lot to offer controllerists as well. But everyone will need to save hard to afford one.
Mainly shots from the worxlab, but a few very quickly staged studio shots.