Link: Source Audio | Price: $119/€99
There is always talk about stagnation in the DJ market. Most of the controllers we receive look and feel almost identical, and while there is a lot of market pressure on manufacturers to create another “me-too” two or four channel controller there are always pieces of kit which provide a different experience. I have a few controllers in my office that have eschewed jog wheels (Novation’s Twitch and Electrix’s Tweaker), or are built in a modular fashion (Behringer’s CMDs, Stanton’s SCS3s), or take advantage of motion control (Numark Orbit) but this is the first time I have used a controller that avoids any physical workflow.
We have all seen those tragically silly videos of DJs using Wiimotes, and I’m sure most of us have a good chuckle at them, but there are some great examples of motion control as well, such as Leapmotion. After watching the intensity of Imogen Heap’s motion control performance there was suddenly some legitimacy added to this kind of interface, but we all know that setting something like that up is extremely complex and time consuming. As a DJ, I know I don’t need a huge range of complicated modes and zones, but only an intuitive way to control my applications of choice with a simple and intelligent controller.
Much to our joy here at DJWORX, Source Audio hit us up out of the blue asking if we’d take a look at the Hot Hand USB, their MIDI motion controller. Just the next day I got a surprise package at my door, with a simple little box and an even simpler looking little sensor.
Beyond the basic documentation provided, all I found inside the box was the USB dongle and the Hot Hand itself. There really isn’t much to this little ring: it measures barely an inch long, and a quarter inch deep and high, with an adjustable rubber strap to wrap around your finger. The top of it has a bright blue LED, and the side has a small little button to turn it on and off. I charged it up, plugged in the dongle and installed the editor.
My major gripe right off the bat is the on button is a little difficult to see and access, and activating it feels like it would be frustrating in a club environment. The editor is far more refined than I am used to with other controllers I’ve worked with, and the GUI is very pretty and easy to understand. I was quickly able to update the controller and take advantage of its advanced feature set.
A basic Hot Hand mapping would send one message on an X, Y and Z axis, but you can dig deeper into the editor to create a more robust messaging structure. It can be programmed to send a different note on/off messages once it passes a certain threshold on any axis, and you can send both standard 7-bit as well as 14-bit Pitch Bend messages. The Hot Hand USB editor handles this using what it refers to as Processes. Each axis has a single process assigned to it by default, and you can change how each process responds to motion. Creating complex and useful super knobs in DJ software can prove to be a frustrating experience to say the least (Controller Manager anyone?) Using the Hot Hand editing software you to create some pretty responsive super knobs without needing to worry about programming anything advanced in your application of choice. The Hot Hand can handle up to ten different messages at once, spread across the three axis, including note on and off commands based on position. Setting these features up wasn’t very difficult, and every message can be solo’d to make it easier to build MIDI maps using MIDI Learn in your software.
The Hot Hand USB sensors are covered in a plastic shell and the ring is wrapped in a very soft silicone rubber. Source Audio expects the battery life to last 6 hours per charge (more than enough to get through an average gig) with a 1 to 1½ hour charging time. The addition of a micro-USB charger would have been great to minimize the need for extra cables, especially if I were to bring this on the road; less cables are always better. Once I got it charged and loaded up, though, I hooked it into my software and had a go.
The Hot Hand USB comes with an Ableton 9 demo and a Reason 7 demo available through their website. Needing to be different, of course, I loaded Traktor up and created a very simple TSI with their standard MIDI spec, loaded in a track and had a go with it controlling effects. The nice thing about this controller is its minimal nature. When manufacturers release a new modular or utility controller they have a tendency to try to cram every feature imaginable into it to cover every use case, which most of those units can’t handle elegantly. The Hot Hand USB is so minimal it can only do a few things at all, so it allows you to build a solid, powerful mapping.
My only frustration, though, came when I wanted to turn the effects I was controlling on and off. I can use keystrokes or MIDI commands sent directly to the Hot Hand to control it, which works great. I do wish there was a more intuitive way to either activate/deactivate MIDI from the hardware itself with a simple switch or button. This is far from a deal breaker, and it doesn’t detract from how fun the Hot Hand is, more choice is just always better.
I hooked it up to an effect bank in Traktor and thought it was very fun to use at my desk. The basic mapping was really intuitive, just treat it like any other knob. Using it the adjustable strap was very comfortable and while I always knew I was wearing it I never felt burdened by it. I dug a little deeper into the mapping engine to create a more advanced MIDI spec for my effects, and it was really simple to set up. I could put button activation ranges in, so if I turned my hand a little to the left or the right, or tilted it forward or back the effects would turn on and off based on its position. I could also narrow down the range of the knob which allowed me to create a really musical filter/delay combination very easily. The controls were very accurate, and I had great range on it. I have had it on for a few hours now and it shows no signs of slowing down.
If you were so inclined, you are not relegated to keeping the Hot Hand USB stuck on your finger. You could also either attach the Hot Hand to a controller, or put it inside of one for added motion control. Since you can control the entire MIDI spec from their editing software you don’t need any access to the controller to change any settings. For example, if you have any of the old MIDI Fighters, but not the 3D, you can open it up, secure the Hot Hand inside of it and you instantly have motion control added in.
I know it isn’t really the intended purpose of the Hot Hand USB but it could be a simple and elegant way to modify any controller or instrument you have. It would be a great addition if I could mount the Hot Hand as well, instead of just having the tie around my finger.
If this controller had one button, just a small simple MIDI switch, I think it would stand light years beyond most motion control. The only unit I have in my apartment that comes close to it is the Numark Orbit, and that’s not necessarily a fair comparison due to the Orbit have a lot more functions and the Hot Hand being a lot more fun. The Hot Hand USB is a much smaller, much more direct controller which you can easily dedicate to one, maybe two functions exclusively, and is still capable of controlling as complicated of a setup as you are willing to create.
The controller is very comfortable and extremely accurate. It was a breeze to set up and map into Traktor, and I had no problem understanding how to set up the advanced functionality to create a smart-knob (or finger?). The big question you need to ask yourself before purchasing something like this is whether or not you want to use it. It can definitely feel silly waving your hand around, but there’s something dramatic and fun being able to physically interact with the music you’re spinning.