Going to trade shows as I do, I get to ask a lot of people a lot of questions. I do this to gauge the tone of the industry, and just how good or bad things are. Not necessarily from a financial viewpoint, as every business will say they’re doing well – they’d be mad not to. But there was an overall message coming across, and that was “it’s hard out there”. This has lots of different meanings of course, but the prevailing message is that in a market flooded with me-too controllers, it has become increasingly hard to put out something that you can differentiate from the rest of the market.
So this got me thinking about what sells, what doesn’t and how the market is shaping up. What we seem to have is a split, with cheap two channel controllers at one end, and very high quality multi-channel units increasingly crammed to the gills with all manner of nextlevelness at the other. But then I thought of the mighty Technics – a very basic but supremely high quality turntable that did enough to keep people happy and went on to own the DJ scene for decades.
To me, the core needs of a DJ are simple – 2 decks, a crossfader, 3 channel EQ and transport buttons. You could if you wanted throw in some loops and some cues and have the basics of what most digital DJs really need. The other stuff can be added on as modular extras as and when new features come out. Add a USB hub in there a la Kontrol Z2, and you have a core unit that can be added to. The vast majority of the market would be happy with this.
So this would allow for a really high quality base unit, perhaps a unibody, or at least something engineered to a very high quality, that would last for a very long time to come and serve the core needs of DJs for ages. Let’s face facts – when the latest and greatest comes out, we all clamour for all the goodness that’s on show, but it generally means replacing our old and still good unit with the same but with a few extras. And while we all oooh and ahhh about units like the Pioneer DDJ-SX, in 12-18 months time, they’ll be old hat with similar units vying for your attention and cash too.
Given that controllers have reached a tipping point where it’s actually difficult to add anything else and keep them to something smaller than a mixing desk, it must be time to rethink how controllers are made, and the workflows they create. I have always envisioned a point where DJ gear is a real pick n mix thing, where you can decide if you want jog wheels, motorised platters or just pads – where you can decide on your components and have choice as to who supplies what. I want DJing to be like putting a mountain bike together, be it entry level or stratospherically complex and expensive.
While Technics maybe long gone, their method of stellar build and KISS principles works. And I for one think that manufacturers should give serious thought to breaking the cycle of cheap all in ones, and offering high quality building blocks. God knows we’ve got more than enough all-in-ones that increasingly fail to inspire. And adding more channels doesn’t make them more exciting either.
These are obviously my own personal ramblings, but what do you think of the idea of perhaps turning current practices on their head and making a core unit that ticks as many boxes as possible by does so in with a build that will last for years? Would you be happier adding extra controllers if and when you need them or do you really like all-in-ones? Do you share my conviction that controllers can’t get any bigger and still remain usable? I reckon that a Numark Mixtrack built like a tank might do very well indeed.