Zomo MC-1000 Controller Review


Price : £258/€299/$399  – Link: Zomo

Introduction

It doesn’t take a genius to divine the design inspiration for the MC1000. Zomo wears its affection for Pioneer styling on its sleeve, to the point that if the Zomo branding was removed and images of the MC1000 popped up out of nowhere I’m sure the internet would be abuzz with ‘new Pioneer controller’ speculation. The primary use case for the MC1000 is clear: bring a DJM series mixer kicking and screaming into digital DJing contention.

In a Nutshell

The Zomo MC-1000 is a MIDI controller and four channel audio interface that connects to your computer with a single USB connection, ships with Virtual DJ LE and is ‘optimised for Traktor’. It’s designed to look and feel like an extension of a Pioneer mixer, but give you control over your digital DJing setup.

What’s Included

In the box is a copy of Virtual DJ LE and a couple of Traktor TSIs – one for use with a single MC1000 and one for a pair. The manual covers usage pretty well, but frustratingly there’s no MIDI spec chart for the controls on the MC1000 – a nuisance when it comes to creating your own TSI. Having said that, of course, the MC1000 is designed as a 1-1 controller and there’s not a great deal – certainly as far as the LED portions of the controller go – that you might want to remap.

Controls

By far the best feeling part of the controller is the play/pause button. It’s silky smooth and feels just as good as any of the Pioneer buttons it’s obviously modelled on. The small load and browse buttons feel really good too, but unfortunately the same can’t be said for the rectangular buttons used for cues, effects, and sync. They feel quite grainy, and poke out of the fascia by just a millimetre or so making them a bit too awkward to feel just right.

The knobs are a mixed bag too, but the bar is somewhat higher. The actual caps on the knobs are brilliant, with a soft, grippy rubber and deep divots on the sides that begs them to be twisted. The filter has a central detent that clicks into place just-so, succeeding with balancing being too light and allowing you to over-turn the filter past zero (an evil that many controllers are guilty of), and too heavy, requiring a displeasing amount of turning force to come out of the blocks.

The loop and FX select dials are push button encoders, with the same soft rubber as the pots, and it feels like two different designs were used for each. The FX select knob exhibits a loud clicking when it’s turned, despite not feeling any different to the still clicky but less intrusively so loop knob. In practice this didn’t really prove an issue as long as volume was high enough to drown it out (and, of course, in a club it will be), but at a guess I’d say that there’s a cost saving measure in there somewhere. The larger, plastic nav wheel is a push button encoder too, and the glowing ring around it helps to centre the unit in the dark

The deck switch controls and pitch bend are easy to grab hold of, the pitch bend being sprung whilst the deck select snaps from point A to B. I was expecting a gradient for the pitch bend, but it simply activates a single MIDI message for each end of its action. This is a shame, as in lieu of any platter control (or analogy of such), the ability to finely tweak the speed of a track is diminished. Sync’s all well and good, but I feel like Zomo dropped the ball here because the actual physical control is really good and I feel it’d lend itself perfectly to a smooth, accurate pitch bend.

Worth a final quick mention is a little switch on the side of the unit that allows you to put the MC1000 into one of three ‘states’, essentially three layers of mapping capability. It’s not a performance function, as the switch is situated underneath the main fascia by the connection bay, but instead it’s designed to allow two MC1000s to be plugged into a single computer without confusion.

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, the MC-1000 is well thought out and has obviously been road tested. The main issue with the design is that it doesn’t lend itself to particularly adventurous fiddling, as everything just feels a little bit cramped. The effects knobs are a little too close together, which makes adjusting adjacent knobs a pain, and more worryingly I knocked the deck select switch when adjusting the effects knob close to it on more than one occasion. The larger size of the loop and FX select buttons make them an even tighter fit, but considering they’re unlikely to ever be used simultaneously I can forgive that – loop and filter is a much more likely combination and to that end the FX select knob acts as a handy breakwater.

The previously mentioned graininess to the buttons means that cue juggling and button activated effects are pretty much a non starter, but I get the strong impression that the MC-1000 is designed with a more straightforward DJing use case in mind than one with any hectic controllerism aspirations. Use it for what it is and the MC-1000 feels really good, and the play/pause button is both a real pleasure to use and, thanks to the multi-colour LED ring surrounding it, a great indicator of what’s happening to your decks.

Optional Stands

In order to get the most out of an MC-1000, I think you need to invest in one of Zomo’s custom stands. They make three, each of them designed to fit around a Pioneer DJM800 (and by extension, more or less any standard 12” four channel club mixer): one that raises the unit flush to the fascia of the mixer, one that raises it so that the rear edge is flush and the unit angles down slightly, and one that’s designed to sit above the mixer, which is probably the most handy. I don’t have any in to test, but using them at NAMM and MusikMesse proved that given its own space the MC-1000 feels very much like an extension of your mixer. Best still, they’re pretty reasonably priced at €39 – it’s probably best to buy one straight off the bat to get the MC-1000 to make the most sense.

Audio Interface

The MC-1000 isn’t simply a controller: it’s an eight output audio interface too. This is a definite value adder for the device, although one of my main uses for the unit was to act as effects control and a simple deck three and four for my existing DVS setup – for which I already have an audio interface.

The internal workings of the audio interface are fairly good, and can facilitate pretty low latency, but strangely enough the interface seems to (on Mac, at least) identify itself as a 7.1 surround sound consumer card – instead of ‘Channel 1 L’, ‘Channel 1 R’, etc, you get to choose from ‘Front L’ ‘Front R’, and confusingly, ‘Low Frequency Effects’, ‘Front Centre’, and so on. Whilst every manufacturer and their respective dogs are focussing on 24bit sound nowadays, the MC-1000‘s sound is 48/16, and this does present itself in the form of lower clarity than competition. Output volume is pretty low in comparison to competition, too, although it’s still well within the realms of pro DJ gear and some boost to the mixer input gains can sort it out. The MC-1000 seems very cheap for its specs, and I think the, honestly speaking, lacklustre audio interface is probably the reason. I’d probably have preferred two options for the MC-1000 – one at a lower price that was a pure controller and another at a higher one that had a better interface.

Summing Up

The MC-1000’s greatest strength is the niche that it fills. Its greatest weakness is that it’s a pretty small niche. If you use a Pioneer DJM800, or other 12” mixer that doesn’t already include an audio interface, the MC-1000 could be just what you’re looking for to upgrade your mixer without breaking the bank – especially if you consider yourself more a ‘standard’ DJ, more concerned with keeping the party rocking than performing magic tricks behind the decks. If you have your sights set on adding some button bashing flair to your sets or you don’t need audio, there are potentially better options – NI’s Kontrol X1 and A&H’s Xone X2 spring to mind.

Ratings

Quality: A bit of a mixed bag. Build is solid – the unit itself feels like it deserves to be paired with a pro mixer –  and play/pause and caps on the dials are excellent. The cue and effects buttons and the FX Select knob are noticeably lower quality than the rest of the unit, though.

Features: The MC-1000 does a lot for what it costs – a four (stereo) channel audio interface and controls for all the major functions of your DJ software. The quality and implementation of the audio interface is a bit of a weak link, but it does work.

Value For Money: Put the MC-1000 side by side with other units that do similar things and it does very well on paper. You will save money by getting it to be an audio interface and a controller, but if you just want control then the audio interface adds unnecessary expense.


A Second Opinion from Mark Settle

We have a new feature in our reviews – something that you won’t see on similar sites. Wherever possible, we’ll offer an alternative viewpoint – a second opinion. This isn’t intended to be a full review, but simply to offer an little more. We may pretty much agree, or alternatively we might have completely differing viewpoints. But 2 opinions are better than one no matter what they are.

Clearly, Zomo have their sights set on offering Pioneer DJM-800 users something that they don’t have now – the basic MIDI functionality necessary to tame Traktor and other MIDI DJ software. But it also offers basic audio interface features too.

But aside from this oh so obvious target market, it also makes a really good addition to any DVS user’s setup who wants to add convenient loop, hot cue and effects control to a regular setup. As Chris says, 2 versions may have been better, especially as most DVS users will probably have Scratch Live or Traktor, which do rather depend on having specific hardware rather than this generic audio interface. And without the audio interface, this would have been a much slimmer unit too.

Build and Features

Build-wise, I have zero complaints. The MC-1000 is made to the same standard as a high end mixer. Then again, if it hadn’t been, it wouldn’t look right against a £1K mixer.

Chris is right on the money with the buttons. The play buttons are among the best I’ve ever pressed, but the others could do with a little more tactile feedback. There’s a minor click but hardly any travel at all. But this is mostly for more casual clicks than advanced button bashing.

It’s laid out more of less logically – think regular controller minus the jog wheel and pitch and you’ve got it. I didn’t suffer from the control claustrophobia that Chris did. I do have small fingers which might help. But I didn’t like the way the loop, FX and filter knobs hampered the effects buttons.

In Use

Simply as an addition to a 4 channel mixer or DVS setup, there’s little to fault the MC-1000, bar the small usage problems detailed above. And if you wanted to use it with an agnostic DVS package like Cross, then the interface comes in rather handy too.

The ideal location for the MC-1000 is at the top of the mixer, but you’ll absolutely need to raise it up. The optional stands are ideal for this, and should be considered an essential purchase. Well… one of them should be (PMK1, PMK2 or PMK3) because at £39 each, buying all of them is a costly business.

You can of course use it just with a laptop and your favourite software, but you’ll find yourself somewhat hampered by the lack of jog wheels and pitch control. Some remapping will turn an effects knob into a makeshift pitch control though.

But it does work well. Once you get used to it, much of the “leaning over to check your mail syndrome” is removed. How useful is down to your setup – the complexity of your mixer, your existing controller setup etc. But if you have a DJM-800 and use software like Traktor, you’re very likely to find a new friend.