Link: Electrix – Price: $399/£349
In the last few years we’ve had a huge amount of controllers fall into our laps for review. Most of them are based off of the same classic DJ setup. Once in a while we get something more exciting like the F1, X1, soon the Behringer’s CMD series, etc. that push the boundaries of standard DJ workflow, but their strictly modular setup can turn off the classically minded DJ. The Electrix Tweaker provides all of the open-ended power I (and others) look for in taking control of the power of software, but puts it in a simple workflow to entice the MIDI curious. Obviously, as the resident MIDI nerd here at DJWORX, this makes me very happy.
The Electrix Tweaker has been rumored for years and is finally ready for release (despite the best efforts of the DJWORX crew to destroy a working prototype at MusikMesse). Electrix, with the help of the super nerds at Livid, have produced a controller with all the open-ended workflow options, as well as plug-and-play capabilities with Traktor and Ableton (and SSL to come). In the interest of full disclosure, I am working with Electrix to program the LED feedback for SSL, but this review was written before any work was completed.
So how well does it work? How does it look? How easy is it to remap? And most importantly: how does it stack up against other options out there? Let’s dig in and find out.
Matching in design very closely with Electrix’s other product on my desk, the eBox44, this controller looks like a retro game console decided it wanted to break into the DJ market. Compared to the other controllers around my office, this one is by far the thickest by around a ½”. That’s not a bad thing, but it definitely caught me off guard.
Measuring around 10 ½” x 11” x 2” it isn’t a beast of a controller, but it is definitely an imposing presence on my desk. Say nothing else for this unit, it looks very unique on a desk full of blacks (and one glaringly white). The tame silver just explodes with color when it’s plugged in and you watch it dance along the boot sequence. Also, it is almost a complete square, which for a DJ controller is also different. The Tweaker is designed to stand out in a market of clones and copy-cats.
It comes with four screw-on feet that attach to the bottom of the unit. I love these things. They raise it high enough to sit flush with mixers and turntables, but just putting the back two on allows it to angle just right so I can see everything better and feel just as secure it won’t move, and screwing two on the front angles it so the audience can see what you’re doing.
The controller isn’t heavy, but it does feel like it’s made from real metal. The outside cover feels sturdy, like I could drop it on concrete and it’d keep on trucking (did not attempt… maybe once day). The recessed faceplate also feels like real metal, and makes me a lot more confident in throwing this thing in a bag for a rough gig. Oddly, that’s the same thing I said about the eBox. Good on you guys, Electrix.
The controls are pretty straightforward. There are 6 endless push encoders with a 14 LED ring, 2 absolute encoders, a large endless push encoder, two pitch style faders, and (shockingly) a cross fader. There’s a standardized browsing section, 8 large velocity sensitive pads, a 32 square buttons in an 8×4 grid and 6 utility buttons on the channel strips (3 on each side). Every button is RGB, but no the pads. This is a MIDI programmers wet dream right here.
Just off the bat, looking at this thing hooked into Ableton with a simple project, the LEDs are gorgeous. They are clear, the lights don’t bleed at all, and there are no hot spots where you can see the physical LED. In a club these lights will shine as bright as possible, and even in standard room light I can see what state everything is in.
The fader controls feel solid. There is very little wobble on the faders and the knobs feel bolted on. The crossfader isn’t anything special, but it works, and really that’s all we can ask for.
My first major complaint, right off the bat, though, is the large jog dial is not centered on the unit. When I turn it I can see it dipping just a little. That makes me a little worried that something might break or it’s going to start sending bad messages sooner than later.
I ran the pads into MIDI-Ox to look at how their response works. The corners were actually easier to get a reading off of than the middle of the pad. I think that since the sensors are in the middle (MPC style as opposed to the Pad Kontrol, whose whole pad is a sensor) the pressure from the corners exerts more force onto the center, whereas banging on the center gave me some lost signals if I didn’t hit it hard enough (what felt really hard). I’ll admit, I’m spoiled by my Maschine. These pads aren’t bad for the cost and the experience, though, just don’t go in expecting top of the line production pads. The LEDs also have more of a hot spot than the smaller grids, though, so they don’t look as nice.
The Tweaker comes with a Traktor 2, both Pro and LE, .TSI file, as well as an Ableton remote script created by the glorious nerds at Livid. One of the big complaints I could see coming across for a unit like this is that there is no silk screen of pack of overlays telling you what any of the controls do. Electrix has been kind enough to give PDFs for everything, and if you want to use the stock Traktor mappings I’d encourage you to read them. BUT I’d doubly encourage you to remap this thing and use their ideas as a guide.
First important thing to know about this mapping: there are a lot of layers. If you are not a fan of modality, and instead want 1-to-1 mappings, this probably won’t be the mapping for you. That being said, the layers are pretty logical. Personally, I see this controller in acting as a great utility controller alongside deck controllers. It can handle loops, beatjumping, EQ, browsing, basic mixing, but with all the crazy layers, remembering where you are can be difficult. Even with the different LED colors it can be difficult to tell what you are controlling, and it will require practice and studying the layouts.
There are four modes in the stock mapping, each independent to Decks A and B (i.e. you can control Loops and beatjumping on Deck A while controlling Pitch on Deck B). The pads are always effect controls, which I found I liked the more I used i. They inverted the controls for the D/W of the FX banks (the pressing the pad lowers the D/W) which was weird at first, but I realized I almost always wanted the D/W at 100% unless I was mixing with effects, and then pressing down to mix the whole effects bank out was useful.
The decks have 4 layers: Transport, Loops, Effects and Pitch. Pitch is reached by pressing the Shift button and the mode button together. This was a strange decision to me, because you have to cycle through the other three with the mode button, but you need the shift button for pitch. People may always need pitch quickly, I guess, but I would have liked it to just be part of the cycle.
The pitch fader and EQ knobs are all tied to the modes. They packed a lot of features into these and it is pretty elegant. The knobs’ LED feedback changes based on the modes, and the function of the pitch fader switches around. While the layers made sense, I think they should have tied some of the grid to the modes as well. For example, when I’m in Pitch mode I don’t need buttons to pitch bend, but I would like access to loops or beatjumps or something. I think with all of the LED colors, there was more they could have added in to give the user a better experience.
That being said, if someone wants, they can go through and make it do all of those crazy things themselves. I think the mapping gives a lot of options in an elegant little package with tons of pretty lights, and with some focus any competent user could start adding on to it for their workflow.
It is very rare I get a controller to review that has an Ableton script to load in that isn’t Ableton branded. By very rare I mean it’s never happened. I have to give Electrix and Livid props for putting something together so simple yet so necessary.
They have created the “red box” that we all love, except they created two. Not only do you have the large grid of 3×7, with track stop and scene launch at the bottom and far right respectively, you can scroll between them for two deck control of individual tracks. If anyone from Ableton is reading and possibly gives a shit about DJs, this is awesome. It means I can have control of 7 tracks at once to launch clips, but only need to worry about the active two for mixing. And it works really smooth.
They’ve tied the pads to a drum rack, and you can scroll through the whole rack with them. Once again, well done. I wish major manufacturers would think like this and invest the resources in users when we all know the software developers won’t.
While this isn’t necessarily remappable, to put this between more complex controllers that you’ve MIDI mapped would be awesome. This is actually a perfect Ableton transport and launch controller, which allows more feature-packed controllers to be dedicated to more epic things. It also has a small footprint, so it can sit on a cluttered desk as a center for other pieces of gear.
I do wish, however, that there was a shift mode or something to make it send raw MIDI, so I could have it communicate with VSTs or other parts of Ableton and hop right back to where I was, LED feedback and all. That would have kicked ass.
So one of my favorite parts of this controller is being able to use both MIDI and the Tweaker Editor to change the way the controls interact with software. You may not want the three endless encoders to act as absolute knobs on your channel strip, you may want 3 endless encoders, and you may need the LEDs to update differently. You can load up the Tweaker Editor and type it in, and save it as a preset you can quickly load (though it must be done without the software open) or you can send messages to the unit using MIDI (via software like Bome’s MIDI Translator).
This was easy and painless to put together. If you have a more advanced head around MIDI and want to make this unit dance, it’s pretty easy. And they provide all of the necessary documentation to make using it easy. I wish certain manufacturers who release open ended types of gear provided that for general public consumption *cough*Stanton*cough*.
This controller has a similar retro look to the eBox44, but has a really futuristic feel and appearance with all of the colors. Most of the default colors are white which, if I do say so, looks beautiful. One more request for other manufacturers: white looks a lot better than amber.
Most of the controls feel solid but, unfortunately, that’s not universal across the entire controller. It feels heavy and secure and I think it could take a beating, though I didn’t want to risk it.
If you are more interested in plug ‘n play, this might not be for you. The controller works out of the box, especially with Ableton, but the real strength comes from being able to break it down control by control and make it do whatever you want. Though, it would sit very nicely in between deck controllers as a virtual mixer.
Anyone who’s a MIDI nerd like me will enjoy this. Anyone who is interested in being a MIDI nerd could really start out with this and learn how things are put together. Any Ableton DJs could have a lot of fun with this controller, as it makes a lot of elegant sense to be used by a DJ with the mapping they provide.
If you enjoy modality and like being able to take control of your hardware for your own workflow, this is perfect. If you want a DJ controller for Ableton that works out of the box with more control than a Launchpad but smaller (and better organized) than an APC40, this is perfect. If you want to learn more about MIDI and how to control controllers, this is perfect. If you want a standard two deck mixing solution that does exactly what it says and nothing more, you should look elsewhere.