The Analogue Mixer
First off, it’s worth stating here that the NS6 is as much an analogue mixer as it is a controller. You can plug phono and line level into the middle 2 channels and line/mic sources into the outer 2 channels. And all this can be done without ITCH running or your laptop plugged in too, and the EQs and fader curves operate independently of ITCH. You cannot however use ITCH’s effects on analogue sources.
This means that you have many options available to you. For example, I tested running Scratch Live with the SL3 though it (you always need Rane hardware to run SSL), and I could switch between ITCH, SSL and regular analogue without a hitch. It means you have to run SSL and ITCH at the same time, but given the relatively low footprint of both, it should be manageable to most users.
This is especially useful for existing SSL users who want to add a controller to their existing setup, as ITCH and SSL share the same library. So because ITCH doesn’t need an SL box, it’s simply a matter of taking the NS6 out, and leaving their decks and SL interface at home. I’d say that as long as you use a separate audio interface, you can run any DVS through the NS6. It is after all a mixer too.
It also means that should your laptop crash, you have a number of analogue options open to you. So rather than having to pray that the crowd doesn’t hang you for more than a few seconds silence, you can funnel that backup iPod of CDJ that might be hanging around through the NS6. Disaster recovery made easy.
The Digital Mixer
At its core, the 4 channel mixer section does exactly what it’s supposed to without trying to be too clever. It’s compact, but with plenty of space to manoeuvre between channels. The knobs are rubberised with a smooth but stiff action – not sticky stiff, but they’ll stay where you put them rather than move if brushed against. And where necessary they have a solid centre detent.
One thing about layout. Unlike 4 channel mixers, the NS6 designates the middle 2 channels as 1 and 2, with 3 and 4 being the outer channels and carrying red markings on the faceplate. I suspect that because the majority of users will focus on 1 and 2, this has been centralised, and even if external decks are used, this 3/1/2/4 layout makes the most sense. This is also mimicked in the ITCH layout too.
Below this are the channel switches. These switch between line/phono or line/mic and “PC” channels – essentially analogue or ITCH. In tests, there is the tiniest of audible clicks in your audio chain when using the switch, but only when you listen hard. So if you wanted to get clever with doubles in analogue and digital, then it should be smooth.
Then we come to the cue buttons. Bright and shiny, you can cue one at a time, and listen to them via a cue/master control. Thankfully in the potentially complex soundscape being weaved across 4 channels, Numark saw fit to include a split cue, something that I think is pretty near essential on 4 channel units.
The NS6 comes with 3 band EQ with gains, that operate from kill to either 6 or 12dB – it’s a software switch in ITCH. It’s a highly pleasing range that sounds great with the 3 EQs doing a safe amount of work without pushing their ranges too hard.
Sound-wise, the NS6 is really good. It’s a 24 bit interface but the sample rate is just 44.1kHz. For those who like high numbers, the magic 96 is missing. But not being one for numbers, and rather more being about how something feels or sounds, especially when it comes to sound. So if I were to describe it, I’d say that the NS6 exhibits a loud sound with a generous bottom and and bright highs, but importantly exhibits no digitalness whatsoever. Numark have always been good in this area to my ears and the NS6 continues to please them.
Now let’s tackle the somewhat thorny subject of meters. I say thorny because it seems to have been the one thing that people have been quite vocal about online. Being a 4 channel unit, DJs migrating from a 4 channel mixer are used to having a meter for each channel plus a master meter. The Allen & Heath xone:dx for example has peak LEDs to tell you when things are getting a little lively – but the NS6 has none at all. It only has master meters (11 part Red LEDs with the top 2 telling you to turn stuff down) and for some this is a step too far. Or not enough as it were.
I however am somewhat more comfortable than most, as I’ve used mixers for years that have only had master meters. That said, I’m long in the tooth, whereas the newer generation of DJs, especially those who are used to make more control over sound or come from a 4 channel background have every right to feel a little short changed. I guess you’ll be learning about levels the hard way and just making sure that the master doesn’t get too loud.
To help with this, there is a software limiter that kicks into play when things do get out of hand. It shows you on screen like a peak meter, but automatically keeps the volumes from maxing out the White LEDs all the time. The headroom setting in ITCH determines when the limiter kicks in.
IDEA: Perhaps ITCH could get some onscreen meters, even if it’s just a green, amber and red light. And make it an option as well as 4 channels takes up a lot of screen space.