Another issue that some people have with ITCH units is that enabling effects can mean another hardware purchase. The NS7 needed the NSFX and the VCI-300 needed the VFX-1. The NS6 however has effects built in so no extra luggage or USB ports needed.
You can apply 2 effects at once, to any channel or to the master. But only 2 effects at a time, so that’s 2 effects on one channel, one effect on a channel and one on the master etc. Each effect has a wet/dry fader as well as a single parameter knob, the designation of which depends on the effect.
ITCH gives the NS6 12 effects – delay, echo, reverb, LPF, HPF, phaser, flanger, tremolo, repeater, reverser, braker and crusher. They’ve all been seen before and your skill set will determine how well they sound. I suggest much messing around with them to see what works and to come up with some crazy combos too.
The great news is that they’re all post fader, be it line or channel. Being an all in one, it’s nothing less than you’d expect really.
REALLY HANDY TIP: Owners of Vestax’s VFX-1 can hook it up to the NS6 and get extra effects functionality. So if you’re trading up from a VCI-300, it might be worth hanging onto the VFX-1 – if you own one that is. I don’t know if it’s officially supported but worked just fine in the v1.8125 release of ITCH.
Ins and Outs
Having established earlier on that the NS6 is a highly capable analogue mixer in its own right, let’s have a look at the actual connections. All channels have line level RCA inputs, with channels 1 and 2 being line/phono switchable. 3 and 4 are line/mic switchable with additional mic ports. There’s also a grounding post for those who want to link up their decks.
Outputs are very well serviced. Master output is via balanced XLR (which apparently you can thank me for insisting on their inclusion), as well as unbalanced RCAs. The most interesting output for many will be booth out – something that the DDJ-T1 and Kontrol S4 lack, much to the annoyance of end users. And for the record, this controller isn’t USB powered so expect to take the supplied wall wart everywhere. Don’t worry – it’s pretty small.
It obviously goes without saying that you get master and booth volume controls. But if I didn’t say it, someone would only ask.
Being a new ITCH controller, the software has been suitably updated to enable full ITCH functionality. Although we’ve walked this path many times before, let’s take a skim through ITCH and how it works.
ITCH is to controllers what Scratch Live is to turntables. It is the beating heart of the hardware, and it can be said that ITCH drives the hardware, rather than the hardware controlling ITCH.
It works in the familiar metaphor of having a library of music, organised in crates and subcrates, but also having the additional functionality of smartcrates, where a crate can automatically contain tracks based on a number of predefined parameters.
To prepare your tracks, ITCH works better in offline mode i.e. without hardware plugged in as you get a full screen with which to analyse and organise your tracks. Once your tracks have been analysed i.e. BPM, beat grid and waveforms created, you can set about sorting them however you want, and can predefine loops and cues rather than having to do all this while DJing. So you can do the important prep work wherever you are, even if it’s the other side of the world from your gear.
Once your library is all sorted (although you can just go at the NS6 with raw unorganised files), using the navigation controls becomes second nature as you zip around windows and crates with ease. Loading tracks is really easy, but you do have a few tricks in the preferences for good measure – things like playing tracks immediately when loaded and setting the play point to be from the first cue point are pretty handy.
While ITCH is very similar to SSL in looks, the layout is a little different, but still similar enough that you’ll feel at home if you’re transferring. And of course, ITCH shares the same library as SSL so changes made in one are reflected in the other. You do get some options as far as layout goes – waveforms can be viewed on the left, right or on the bottom. Having 4 decks does make things a little cramped, even on my 15″ screen, but I personally prefer the waveforms at the side, leaving more space for my library. ITCH v2 will feature SSL like views, but for those users who won’t use 4 decks, being able to switch them off completely would be a very good idea.
From my own point of view, the detail of ITCH is not as important as what it achieves. Instead of being focussed on my laptop, the screen is little more than a big library, with all the work being done on the NS6. And the 1 to 1 mapping symbiosis works perfectly. I know many controller users feel handcuffed by the closed nature of ITCH, but this is also its strength. Which leads me rather neatly onto…
Other MIDI Applications
One of the issues with making controllers acceptable to the masses is with the accuracy of the jog wheel. The NS7 and V7 absolutely nail the feel in ITCH, but translating that to Traktor for example has proved to be harder than most might expect. So when Numark announced that the NS6 would not only have full ITCH support, but also have Traktor and Virtual DJ support on day one of release (today as it happens). Numark have made the Traktor mappings independently of Native Instruments, and the Virtual DJ mappings come straight from Atomix.
Now I’m going to get something off my chest right here. Part of the reason that I love ITCH is because it is true plug and play protocol. There’s zero configuration and it just works. The same is true with NI’s Kontrol range within Traktorworld as well, so you can imagine how increasingly wearing it is to have to load TSI files and configure this option and select that option to get stuff to work. And heaven forbid if you have to go through the process of MIDI learn to make your controller do things that supplied files don’t do.
But such is the way of competitive implementations of proprietary protocols. And while buttons, knobs and faders are all pretty standard, it’s always the jog wheels and platters that let the side down when trying to map to other software. And this is the case with the NS6 too. Another thing that ITCH has over any other software is post fader effects, which for me is a bit of a deal breaker. This alone would keep me in ITCH.
Taking the Traktor mappings first – Traktor 1 and 2 are catered for, with a separate 4 deck and sample deck maps for Traktor 2. Obviously having 4 decks means a pretty complete map of the main functions, as well as compromises on mapping Traktor specific features to spare buttons, or just having to leave them off completely. For example, things like strip search became a filter. And while jog wheel response was good enough for mixing, I was only happy doing the very basics of scratch techniques. Traktor is known for complex effects, but due to a lack of buttons, only a limited feature set has been mapped. And switching between PC and line/phono had no effect – both play through each other. It’s at times like this when you realise why NI made a Traktor specific controller.
Virtual DJ gave me solid results too, and also offered the extra dimension of video mixing. Overall, I would say that I was much happier with the VDJ mapping, and when some smart user decides to make an NS6 skin, this is going to be a pretty tight user experience, and will certainly give people unhappy with ITCH an alternative.
In ITCH, everything works perfectly – controls do exactly what they’re supposed to and do it it ultra-tightly. And these MIDI maps in comparison feel like a compromise. But obviously each bit of software does things in different ways, so mapping controls to features in alien software is probably a matter of personal preference than anything. So I would take the available mappings as a starting point – something for the experienced mappers and MIDI geeks to get busy with and make better. These do work and work pretty well, and I feel that they’ll get better very quickly. And hopefully all kinds of different maps will become available to suit different uses, as well as expanding into other software like Mixvibes Cross, Avid’s Torq 2.0 and open source applications like MIXXX.