down-with-built-in-soundcards

As time has gone on, the complexity of common features offered on DJ mixers has increased, giving us DJs so much more to play with. First it was faders, EQs, and channel gains. Then filters, kills, and effects processors. Finally, we’re at a stage where audio interfaces are all but ubiquitous in our setups (I’m more than happy to be given a history lesson on this if I’m wrong). All of these things have contributed to the complexity of the hardware, yet we’ve only seen a little increase in price. The inclusion of software and MIDI controllers has also helped massively.

Recently, we’ve seen a renewed enthusiasm for aspirational products: DJ mixers with price tags as exotic as the hardware itself. Don’t get me wrong, there are companies that have been doing this for years. Bozak has a long and prestigious history of manufacturing rotary mixers to die for. Rane had the MP2016. The plethora of boutique mixers floating around. Then I felt attitudes change slightly back in early 2015. NAMM, to be specific. Rane announced the MP2015 digital rotary mixer, and brought these aspirational mixers (and their price tags) to the mainstream consciousness. While previously, the likes of Pioneer and Rane were already manufacturing premium products (though I’d argue that Rane is truly premium, and not just expensive), these were for club installs and the scratch crowd.

One of the biggest leaps in recent times is the inclusion of an audio interface built-in to your mixer. And I’m here to tell you that it’s a bad idea.

DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING

I completely understand why people are attracted to buying a mixer with an audio interface built in. They’re much simpler to set up, and many of them add versatile routing options on-par with wiring up an external box. But mixers with audio interfaces in are short-termist. You end up paying out for a mixer that’s at the mercy of your OS, drivers and so many other factors. Probably for more money than the analogue equivalent.

A great example of this are the Rane MP25/MP26 and OS X. We’re now nearly 10 months in to El Capitan’s release and still no working driver. Whether this is due to technical issues or not, the fact that both mixers are discontinued has got to affect the decision in some way. Manufacturers can’t support drivers for discontinued products forever, and even with active products, there can still be issues (I keep hearing grumblings from Allen & Heath Xone:DB2/4 users about firmware issues, even after all these years). And you can’t blame them for stopping support. It’s going to happen.

My argument is to advocate that if you’re looking to have a premium-level club mixer, go analogue and get a separate audio interface. Both Serato and Traktor have their official hardware, and there’s so many other to choose from. DJ interfaces are built just as much like tanks as mixers these days, and what you lose in simplicity, you gain in flexibility and peace of mind.

ni-multicore-cables

The Traktor multicore cable — a bit cumbersome but they did the job.

If you’re using an external audio interface, it’s way easier to swap it out if something goes wrong or support stops without having a dead feature on your mixer constantly reminding you of the money you wasted. And how much does replacing a gammy cable cost these days? I just bought four 1m stereo RCA cables for £10 on ebay, which I’ll carry as back-ups, and those weren’t even the cheapest. Plus, you can take that to the club if you’re gigging, rather than swap out the house mixer for yours. It’s a bit of a shame that Native Instruments’ Traktor Scratch multicore cables never really took off. Those were handy.

The discussion I had with Mark sort of concluded with a thought from me: how would a Bozak club mixer hold up against something like the Rane MP2015 (which even takes its styling cues from classic mixers) after 25 years? There are mixers produced 30 or 40 years ago that are still going strong, but do you really think a digital mixer will not only last, but be fully featured after all that time? Hell, my Xone:62 is probably coming on to 15 years old and still fighting fit.

There’s another advantage of the simpler design of analogue: it’s easier and cheaper to replace components and maintain. You can always find someone to fix a single broken part, but you can’t easily (or, at all) hire someone to fix the firmware or drivers. You’re shit outta luck!

“But controllers can be expensive and have it all built in as well!” I hear you cry. Well… yes. But controllers also tend to be heavily tied to software, so you’re already at the mercy of the manufacturers/developers. And most controllers are barely pocket change compared to what you can spend on a decent mixer. If you go down the controller route, you’re already trading portability and simplicity for resilience. There’s a completely different mindset to the people who decide to own an all-in-one controller rather than separate hardware. I think the more affordable audio interface laden club and scratch mixers would fit into that category into that category.

CAREFUL NOW

I know it looks like I’m ragging on Rane throughout this story, but I’m really not trying to. Well, not specifically or on purpose. Rane is a just a great example to illustrate my point, mostly because as far as Mark and I can remember, they were the first to integrate an audio interface into a mixer (The now-legendary Rane TTM 57SL, I think)(OG skratchworker Professor BX tells me the Rane MP 4 had it a full year before and was the first — Ed). But, inadvertently, Rane also built the MP2016S/XP2016S, the first mixer I ever got to experience on a full club system. That was also the first rotary mixer I ever got to handle, and honestly, one of those memorable moments in my DJ life.

In the end, I’ll always know that buying a high end mixer is an investment. One that shouldn’t carry with it the anxiety of owning a partial product I’ve sunk a four figure sum into. I want to know it can grow old with me. If I sell it, I want to know its life will continue on until it simply won’t turn on anymore, giving joy to whoever owns it (which reminds me of a lovely message I got on ebay after selling on my Stanton C.324 CD decks from the mum of a budding DJ who won the auction). I don’t want it to get thrown to the back of a cupboard because it’s become obsolete…

And that’s why I’d always buy the Bozak AR-4 or Rane MP2016 over the Rane MP2015, any day.


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