The Wireless MIDI Controller Comes of Age
The best and worst things about working at DJWorx is I get to play with tons of gear. Like, way too much gear. In fact, I have to constantly rearrange my extremely tiny work space to be able to fit it (insert sound of world’s tiniest violin here). However, a lot of the gear I get to play with is… rather uninspired. There’s a lot of two and four channel DJ controllers, a few audio interfaces, some mixers, and not much else. Once in a while, though, I get lucky and I something completely different gets dropped at my door, out of the box and, frankly, cool.
Not only is the Orbit a classic workflow concept crammed into a new shell, but it is wireless. Wireless has been toyed with in the past, but the end result has always been something that gives very little advantage over having a wired rig. For example, having a wireless two channel DJ MIDI controller doesn’t really give me a huge advantage as I won’t be carrying it around the club. It’s just one more point of failure without any real advantages.
Numark, however, have given the whole concept of wireless controllers a shot in the arm with the Orbit. Sitting around the size of a PSP it connects to a wireless USB 2.0 dongle and via a mini USB cable. It fits in your hands just like a game pad, and has an instantly recognizable control scheme. In fact, once I picked it up I could already decide in my head exactly how I wanted to use it.
The controller has just enough controls to give you want you want. Smack in the middle is a really smooth jog wheel surrounded on both sides by 8 RGB pads (16 in total). There are 4 pad bank buttons underneath the wheel and 4 bank buttons above for the jog wheel, allowing for 64 button commands and 16 knob commands (four per bank). There are also two triggers, one on the left and one on the right, which activate X/Y control. You can lay it down on a table where it will rest and not move at all while you bang away on it, but this thing is built to be picked up and swung around for awesome FX control.
These LEDs are gorgeously bright, and when you’re flying through modes in the stock TSI they are clear as day to what you are doing. The pads change color once you activate the motion sensor and move to reflect your current state. Numark says we will also be able to edit the RGB colors of the pads in the banks, but it wasn’t available yet. The jog wheel has a super bright, super smooth LED ring around it to show current values, and can be used either as an absolute knob or an endless rotary. Needless to say, it’s really fun to just dig around with different FX combo’s and see what you can come up with.
Everything is spaced just far enough away from itself to be easy to find and not confusing. It takes you away from the screen and forces you to focus on what you’re DJing with as opposed to what you’re DJing on. It can be used as a primary controller, but you’d be selling this thing short if you did that. This controller is built to sit alongside any other primary controller and take all of the advanced FX and Flux controls over.
The unit boasts “multi-touch” which is a strange way to put it, but what it means is that you can attack multiple controls at the same time and it will react to all of them. You never need to worry about losing messages if you hit two commands at the same time.
The Orbit has 8 hours of battery life when being used wirelessly and can run for 24 hours on standby. Once the battery life gets low the LEDs will start flashing and you can quickly swap out the wireless dongle and plug in the cable and your computer won’t know the difference. There are 16 non-velocity pads, 4 pad bank buttons and 4 knob bank buttons, two triggers to activate the motion sensors (hold for momentary control and double-tap for toggle) and one big, non-touch sensitive jog wheel.
This is not meant to be a review, that’ll come later when a newer unit is provided with all the kinks ironed out, but seriously, this is something fun. In a day and age where controllers are just getting bigger, and mappings are getting strictly one-to-one, this is a breath of fresh air. This controller can do, effectively, whatever you want it to and can be mapped and used relatively easily.
I know there are going to be complaints about the pads not being velocity sensitive, but I really think that’s a feature people want but don’t need. This is not a controller for using drums, and it is not a good form factor for needing velocity sensitive samples. This is a trigger controller used for hotcues and sample cells, things that have no need for velocity sensitivity. And when you’re holding it in your hands and triggering away you can’t really get an accurate touch control. I would like the jog wheel to be touch sensitive, though, for that one extra bit of control for more advanced super knob stuff.
And the motion sensors are fun. It feels like it should be moved, and is in a familiar form factor. I don’t feel like I’m holding a box and swinging it around. It still needs some work, but it reminds me that sometimes I want tools for a specific job, and not everything needs to be crammed into one individual piece of kit.