REVIEW 2: Numark NS7II DJ Controller by Arkaei

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (1)

Foreword from the Editor

We at DJWORX do feel that 2 opinions are better than one, especially if they’re not the same. So when new teamster Arkaei threw an unsolicited Numark NS7II review at me without asking, I was surprised and chuffed to be able to offer a second opinion from an experienced and skilled DJ, but also one that has experience of being used for playing out too. Not only that — he’s got a long line of similar Numark models in his arsenal too that makes him ideally placed to offer expert and fully experienced opinion.

Be sure to check out the first NS7II review as well. But on with Arkaei’s review…


Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (5)

Introduction

Product launches come wrapped in hardcore marketing lingo – this is when I usually start looking for holes to poke into. Numark boldly advertise the revamped Numark NS7II as the “best DJ controller ever built” – so how does it hold up exactly? I’m used to working with Traktor Scratch Pro, turntables and custom-mapped controllers – but I’ve also owned the original NS7, the standalone V7s and the NS6, which allows me to look at the new unit from every perspective.

Build, feel, and quality

Due to its motorized 7″ platters, the NS7II is a massive beast. Even Pioneer’s DDJ-SX is a featherweight in comparison; Numark’s new flagship weighs almost three times as much. That’s the price you have to pay for a full-metal controller that looks like it could play chicken with a school bus. It’s clearly built to last, but forget about putting it in your gigbag. I’ve tried to get it into my Magma Root Pack XXL which is the largest DJ backpack I know of, and failed – until I removed the knobs on the front of the unit. In the words of Roy Scheider: we’re gonna need a bigger boat. Or Numark’s own flightcase.

The layout and quality of the controls have both been improved significantly. When using the original NS7, I’ve always felt like there was a lot of wasted space; the loop section had received far too much love, whereas the cue buttons were too small for quick and precise action and the unconventional mixer section required a bit of getting used to. For FX control, you had to buy an add-on controller. All of that has been fixed on the Numark NS7II – the controls are laid out logically and the handling is excellent. The pads located below the platter deserve special mention, as they have been taken straight off Akai Pro’s new MPC series. They respond very well and take serious abuse without a single hiccup. They are backlit, too, and the bright colours make it easy to distinguish which mode they’re operating in – more on that later. Everything is spaced nicely, so even a heavy-handed person like me doesn’t have to worry about triggering anything by mistake. The large shift and deck layer buttons are a nice touch as well.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (7)

The mixer section has been modelled after the NS6 with an additional big filter knob and – finally! – level meter LEDs for every channel (the original NS7 and the NS6 only had them for the master). This layout conforms to what most DJs are used to nowadays. A user-replaceable crossfader with an adjustable curve is something you’d expect from a unit with turntable platters, but the upfader curves can be tweaked from the setup panel as well – a rare feature on the controller market. The browser section offers a lot of control – you can change deck layouts, switch between panels (mix recording, effects, sampler) and access every playlist and file on your computer. Finally, you can even edit beat grids directly from the unit.

The 7″ platters feel like small decks without tonearms, because that’s exactly what they are. Taken straight from Numark’s flagship turntables, the motors deliver very high torque. The only thing turntable users will have to get used to is the size and weight difference of the records; a 7″ has a slightly different momentum than a 12″, so scratch techniques that require tapping/pushing the record (like lazers) will require you to loosen the grip and practice a bit. Thankfully, the slipmats are also replaceable – I have swapped them for a set of IDA flying plates, which helps noticeably. The resolution is excellent, too – 3600 ticks per rotation make a difference especially when performing slow movements (adjusting loops, performing slow scratches). There is no sticker drift either. You can adjust start and stop time and even turn off the platter if you’re in the mood for CDJ-style control. In addition to that, there are pitch bend buttons, located directly under the amply-sized pitch fader – but you can always choose to rely on the sync function.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (3)

MPC Pads

The pads operate in 5 modes – each mode has 2 layers with unique colour feedback, which makes them easy to memorize. Next to the pads, there are two buttons that control the parameters corresponding to that mode (loop/roll length, for example). The modes are as follows:

CUES
Layer 1 sets and triggers hot cues, layer 2 does the same but sets a loop simultaneously.

AUTO / ROLL
Layer 1 sets loops at a fixed length based on the beat grid of the current track. Layer 2 does the same with loop rolls.

LOOP
Each layer controls a bank of 4 loops, giving you 8 loops stored separately from hot cues. The controls include manual in/out editing, loop exit and re-loop. Holding shift and pushing the parameter buttons moves the loop.

SAMPLER
Layer 1 triggers samples stored in Serato‘s internal SP-6 sample player. Layer 2 does the same with added velocity, allowing for more expression when playing. The parameter buttons cycle through four sample banks, giving you a total of 24 samples. While the controls for the sampler are very basic, you can assign the output to a free mixer channel and take full advantage of EQ, filter and effects. Serato DJ also remembers the samples used in the previous session, so you don’t have to load up your favourites every time you fire up the software.

SLICER
Layer 1 turns the pads into a small step sequencer that follows the beat grid of the current track, allowing you to trigger each slice (and looproll it) as desired. Layer 2 locks down the current loop.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (6)

Features

Like the original NS7, the Numark NS7II also has a touch strip that allows you to sweep through the entire track quickly and “needledrop”. The updated version features LEDs that visualize the playback position – along with the beat offset LEDs located above the mixer section, we’re looking at a possible remedy for the widespread “serato face” syndrome. For those of you about to yell “they stole that from Pioneer!” – no, they didn’t. Actually, it was the other way around: the NS7 came out way before the first CDJs that had a touch strip like this. While we’re at it, Slip Mode is also not a Pioneer thing – they just popularized it as a prominent feature of the CDJ 900. It’s not that big a deal anyway, I just needed to get this out – features are being “borrowed” all the time because sometimes it just doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel.


Slip Mode is very similar to Flux Mode in Traktor: it allows you to scratch as well as trigger hot cues and loops and even motor brake (hit play/pause with platter stop turned up) without affecting the actual playback position of the track. In addition to that, the NS7II also has a bleep/reverse switch right next to the platter. Reverse is self-explanatory – bleep, however, is unique to Numark gear (I remember it from the CDX which I used to own). It’s a simple but genius combination of reverse and slip mode: the track plays backwards until you release the spring-activated switch, at which point regular playback resumes where the track would’ve been if you hadn’t done anything.

Out-of-the-box functionality and integration are potential deal-breakers for people who, unlike me, are reluctant to mess with MIDI mappings. Fortunately, here’s where the NS7II really shines. The effect section seems very basic at first glance, but don’t let that fool you – you can do a lot of things without nerding out. The most beginner-friendly feature in my opinion is the filter knobs on the mixer section. They can operate in 3 different modes: as a regular two-way filter, a filter combined with a loop roll and a filter that sweeps the first effect in either of the two available banks (or both at the same time). The effect knobs are capacitive – they can respond to touch if needed; grab a knob, the effect turns on – release it and it turns off. If you like to work fast, this is pure fun – just combine effects and experiment. The same goes for the mixer section; the EQ knobs can be set to respond to touch, giving you an instant kill function.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (8)

Effects

This is usually the main argument Traktor users have against Serato: “the effects are inferior”. I was one of them – I love effects (admittedly, sometimes a little too much) and the ones in Serato Itch haven’t exactly impressed me – but Serato have been busy. The partnership with iZotope, manufacturers of superb audio processing and instrument plugins, resulted in an array of really high-quality effects that should silence all critics. Especially the reverbs are the best-sounding I’ve ever heard in a DVS. Serato DJ already comes with a decent amount of effects, but you can buy affordable expansion packs from within the software. The first expansion pack is free, and as I’m typing this there is only one other FX expansion pack available in the store (besides Serato Video, which also works with Serato DJ) – but there is a lot of potential here and I think we can safely assume there will be more in due time. Personally, I would love to see one dedicated to harmonic mixing – because unlike Traktor, Serato DJ has no Key Adjust feature. That being said, the effects available now should keep you busy for a while. Like with Traktor, they can operate in multi mode (3 FX slots per bank) or single mode (1 FX slot with detailed controls). You can also fully customize the list of available effects in the control panel – that way you don’t end up with a dropdown menu that takes up half the screen.

Club Test

All of this sounds pretty good so far, but I decided to kick my review up a notch by taking the NS7II to an actual gig. Normally, I try not to play out with a new unit until I’ve stress-tested it to death, especially not when I’m given the peak time slot on a timetable – but after a week of messing around without running into serious issues, I felt pretty confident. Because my library is gridded for Traktor and there is no software tool that handles library imports reliably yet, I was a little worried about the timing of beat-synced effects and looprolls – until I made a backup of my library, swallowed hard and hit the “Analyze Files” button. To my surprise, Serato DJ handled it quickly and delivered impressive results: about 90% of the tunes I selected for that night (mostly drum’n bass) didn’t even require corrections – and for those that did, I was able to make quick adjustments on PFL while playing. I haven’t encountered a single problem throughout the set – and most importantly, I had a lot of fun. So much fun Numark may have to dispatch a SWAT team to pick up the NS7II, because I don’t feel like giving it back.

Of course, there are small drawbacks. Few clubs have DJ booths capable of accommodating a controller this size next to a regular setup, but times are changing and bringing your own gear to a gig isn’t that unusual anymore. In my experience, everything can usually be worked out if you send over a rider ahead of time. Be nice to tech guys and they’ll respond in kind! As an added bonus, soon as you roll into a club with this beast no one will dare call you a button-pusher anymore. Some may complain about having to lug around 50 pounds of gear – yeah, I get that. But remember, a few years ago it used to be 2 crates of records… you can’t have everything.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (2)

Nit Picking

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: there is no such thing as a perfect controller. Granted, the NS7II comes so close Numark can actually get away with calling it “the best DJ controller ever built”. It’s sturdy, works very well and is a lot of fun to use. But there are things that could’ve been better when you look at it from a controllerist’s point of view. If you’re working with the sampler, you will have to make all the settings on the Serato GUI as the controller has no buttons dedicated to that. It’s a shame because 2 MPC pads go completely unused – they could at least be made to cycle through playback modes (trigger, hold, on/off) and toggle looping for the current sample slot. Also, you can’t grab samples on the fly yet – but knowing the dedication Numark and Serato bring to the table, I’m sure this functionality will improve with a future update.

The large sync button is located close to the play/stop and cue buttons, while the slip mode button is tiny and too far away from the MPC pads to pull off really quick slip mode combos. It should be the other way around, as sync is something you probably won’t touch very often once you turn it on – and slip mode clearly is. It would help if the mappings could be edited, perhaps in a way similar to how control surfaces like Akai Pro’s APCs are handled inside Ableton Live: you can make custom mappings which override the functionality of the script for whatever control was remapped, leaving the rest of the unit in control surface mode.

Numark NS7II DJ controller review Serato NS7 II Arkaei (4)

Nerd Picking

The timing of the effects should be the same in single and multi mode. The latter only offers straight intervals (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2 and so forth) while single mode adds dotted and triplet timings, which is awesome for dub-style delays – the downside is, you have to sacrifice an entire FX bank just for that. I’m sure these advanced timings can be easily made available for both FX modes – perhaps with a dedicated option in the setup panel for people who aren’t as fond of syncopation as I am. This is obviously more of a software issue than one with the controller, but given their interdependence, it’s hard to keep things separate.

While the visual feedback on the unit is excellent overall, I’m missing an indicator for the current loop length. Besides loading tracks, this is the only time I ever need to look at the laptop screen because I use loops a lot. If I were to implement this without redesigning the hardware, I would probably visualize loop length on the search strip LEDs when the shift button is pressed – not perfect, but better than not to have it at all.

The mixer section could’ve been laid out a little better, too: the FX assignment buttons are located above the gain knobs while the channel source selector switches are right below the filter knobs. Considering their workflow priority, their positions should be switched. You’ll need both hands if you’re using Filter+FX combos and want to switch between FX banks at the same time. Finally, besides the MPC pads, there are also separate hot cue buttons next to the platters, which is cool – but there are only 5 of them, although there would be room for 8.

None of these things are show-stoppers though – just the difference between an awesome controller and a perfect controller. I’m sold anyway.

PROs:
Sturdy build & great handling
Motorized platters
MPC pads
Near-perfect software integration – most features are accessible from the unit

CONs:
Size, weight and matching price tag
Limited sampler controls

  • Rob Swierczek

    Roy *Scheider

    (yeah, i’m gonna be THAT guy)

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      thanks for being “that guy”, you’ve made sure I won’t misspell his name in the future :)

      • Rob Swierczek

        i’m the worst. excellent review ;)

  • kishore

    Is there any soft case on the market for this ns7 ii

    • DJDwizl

      it’s the same size as the original NS7 & will fit into any case made for the original. SKB has a proper soft case

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      Remember I *did* manage to get it into that Magma backpack in the end without even stretching it. Popping off six knobs is no big deal. But I think it’s safe to assume we’ll see something designed specifically with the NS7// in mind very soon.

  • DJDwizl

    Proper review! Above all else, what I like most about the review is that he pointed out the fact that Pioneer “borrowed” certain features because quite frankly, i’m tired of correcting ddj sx fan boys who ramble on how Numark bit this, that & the 3rd when in fact it’s the other way around!

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      Completely pointless, isn’t it… I really don’t get gear superiority arguments. To be fair, that wasn’t always the case (we all take some time to grow up) but in the end, all that matters is the result. A talented DJ will rock a crowd using a rusty tape deck :)

      • DJDwizl

        Truth! Once upon a time I had a belt drive with a nickel taped to the “head shell” & a rack system tape deck & a GLI mixer. All these bells & whistles nowadays are a bonus to me…what boggles my mind is that w/ all these bells & whistles some still can’t mix to save their lives.

  • http://www.ali.dj Hedgehog

    Great review, Ray. I’m really excited about the unit and hope I can pull off the Traktor-integration for these units by the end of this semester.

    Did you just use a performance table in the club or set it up on top of some other gear (crushing it under the heavy weight) ?

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      thanks for the kind words!

      NS7// in Traktor… yeah, we all know why it’s not supported. trying to fix that is a Sisyphean challenge, but I like your tenacity :) I’d love to see your hack – but the problem with solutions like this is that once the software you hacked receives a significant update, the functionality you so painstakingly built either dies completely or – best case – gets affected. don’t get me wrong – it’s a cool project I’d definitely help you test given the time, but not something I would want to rely on when playing out. especially since I can say with full confidence that Serato DJ is getting dangerously close to Traktor in every aspect. I don’t feel like anything is missing, except of course key adjust – but that’s just my unique (and slightly weird) use case and a feature I can live without for now.

      as to the gig: yeah, they gave me a proper stage table. but I’m used to that because I always bring my own gear ;)

    • UoPoko

      I’m really glad that you’re still trying to carry on where DJ Quartz left off. And I can kinda see what Arkaei is saying… seeing as how the only reason that Quartz was able to get smooth integration between the NS7 I and Traktor was because he had some fancy unreleased beta. But then once they moved on from that beta, whatever bit of magic in there that let the platters be read right disappeared. I understand Serato and Numark are business partners, but when they say “the NS7 is open to any software that uses Midi” and they have proprietary tech inside that only Serato can make use of, it kinda makes that sound like a blatant lie. It’d be like M-Audio making a keyboard they claim is “open to use on any DAW” but then they form some un-written pact with Propellerheads so that you can only pitch bend when you’re using it in Reason… lol.

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  • Royce

    Bought one saturday. Had my share of controllers (also wrighting reviews) but this definitely beats them all for the moment.

    You say you are missing an indicator for Loop-lengths. But isn’t that visualised with Auto-loop Pads? Haven’t got the unit in front of me now, but when you use the Roll with the Filter, you see the loop changing in Auto-loop on the Pads. Or do you mean when no Loop is loaded in the track?

    Sync is also not working properly, or I’m missing something. Serato still misses a Quantize function right? This is my first experience with Serato, but as I see it now, you’ll have to push Sync after you hit Play. Also the Hotcue’s do not react in Sync. Maybe I have to look into my settings or the manual of Serato again..

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      Yeah, the pads do that, but only when they’re in the proper mode and the function is in use – plus, there are more loop length settings than there are pads. When mashing in looproll mode, it’s damn near impossible to remember which loop length was the last one used before you release the pad. If you want to use the cue+loop function (hotcue layer 2) or the slicer afterwards, you won’t know which length your loops will have – and here, you’re forced to look at the screen if you can’t PFL it. The Serato GUI could be a little better in that regard, but the controller could handle that too: that’s why a shift layer for the search strip LEDs would make sense to me.

      Regarding the sync function: you can sync-arm a deck before pushing play (load track, cue up, push sync, then start playback) which should start the track right on time. I admit I haven’t tried it, but you own an NS7// so you could do it on yourself and report back :) I would take care of it, but I’ve got an entirely different and slightly complicated mess of cables covering my desk…

      The hotcues are not quantized in either of the sync modes (simple or smart) as far as I know, but I’m a little biased in that regard so I didn’t explore it fully. Why? Well… I don’t WANT everything to auto-sync perfectly. I like it the way it is. I don’t have anything against Sync as such, but if everything happens on time… where’s the organic character in a live performance? I know I can’t always pull off 100% tight cue drum patterns – sometimes, yes, but not always. But what we need to realize is: no one can. Before you say “Araab Muzik” or “Jeremy Ellis” depending on which company’s marketing worked better on you, I’ll repeat myself: NO ONE CAN. And that’s OK. We’re human. We make mistakes. A lot of great musical compositions started out with something going completely wrong ;)

  • lazysoul

    Sampling rate : 44.1 kHz :/

    • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

      Look at the audiophile! Please enlighten us by pointing out the audible difference between 44.1kHz/24bit (NS7// specs) and higher values on a club sound system. I’d like to see you try.

      • lazysoul

        Hahaha ! Thanks for the over reaction !
        The difference is not the sound you hear but the sound (or frequencies) you feel . And yes , that makes a difference.

        • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

          Oh, I never said it didn’t. I just said I’d like to see you try to point out the difference between 44.1/24 and, say, 96/32 in a club setting :) This is a moot point, especially since most digital DJs spin 44.1/16 material anyway.

          • lazysoul

            are you telling that I can’t or that nobody can’t, because me and other fellow dj’s who where sharing the same booth in different clubs heard it several times (and we are not really audiophile nerds). But as you know i won’t take a plane to prove you wrong ,please , keep on trolling me!

            • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

              Trolling? Far from it. You voiced a concern, I challenged it – and I still do. Just show me a label that releases digital tunes at a higher quality than 44.1/16 uncompressed. Using an audio interface capable of 96/32 or even better won’t magically add in material that isn’t there in the first place. You could just as well bounce a 320 MP3 to WAV and claim it sounds better :) We could argue about the quality of the D/A converters, which is what really matters – but it’s all shot to hell anyway once you plug your controller’s output into the club mixer.

              • lazysoul

                and you are never encoding vinyls ?

                • http://www.arkaei.com/ arkaei

                  very rarely, since most tunes are available in a lossless digital format anyway. why bother ripping vinyl when I can get the digital master :) of course, every once in a while a gig comes along where anything but vinyl would be an insult to the sound engineer – in that case, I just spin records.

              • Myself

                Why would many club mixers output rate at 96/32? What about the quality of the EQ? Yes the source material is 44.1/16, but what about the processing inside the mixer? I’m trying to understand…

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  • Jose Bee

    nice review, the loop lenght indicator is my biggest gripe after coming from an s4. Also the hot cues at the side of the platter are in an awkward position for fast trigger as no.1 is so far away from the fader and in a pretty tight space, the pads mitigate that though I suppose!

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  • djtorchMusic

    This is a nice review. But, I wish there was some sort of segment on the sound quality of the mixer in itself and compared to other controllers. Even if there was some comparison to a certain mixer numark makes or someone else makes.

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  • sandeep

    @arkaei:disqus good review !
    Should I feel sad for getting the s4 mk2 :)

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