Like most of the DJWORX thinkpieces, this article started as a debate in the worxlab. These (often lively) talks inevitably end with the words “we should write an article about this”. So here I am, arguing the toss about why manufacturers keep sticking piddly jog wheels on their controllers, and whether the time has come to look at a workflow without them.
The fact is, that for a very long time DJs and turntables were completely and undeniably intertwined. This is why it seems that jog wheels are almost always used as a marketing technique for new gear. Videos from the likes of Vestax and Numark show scratch champions and scratch performances more than straight up mixing, even though a tiny fraction of the DJ community would incorporate any into their sets. Yes, one could argue that scratch routines are more interesting than videoing a DJ set, but the 502,117 subs on Boiler Room’s YouTube channel (including mine) would disagree. Those videos do more to show ‘real world’ use of DJ gear than manufacturers could ever hope for.
The case for jog wheels
Let me get one thing straight here… I’m not saying jog wheels are completely irrelevant. Rather, when incorporated into a controller, they take up a huge amount of space when there are already great workflow alternatives. There’s obviously going to be a use-case for platters when done right, as shown by the amazing hardware of the NS7 II or Pioneer’s current flagship DDJ SZ, but why do all controller makers feel the need to add them to everything?
One of the most popular pieces of DJ controller hardware in the world, the Traktor Kontrol X1 (either mk1 or mk2), has all the necessary transport functions without nary a pitch fader nor jog wheel. The X1 can often be found in pairs, allowing control of four decks, which, with the help of the dreaded ‘sync’ button, is the staple of Traktor DJs all over the world.
The other notable platterless controller is the Novation Twitch, a two channel mixer/transport/cue surface which kinda introduced touch ribbons to DJs. It’s a decent bit of kit, but never really took off, perhaps simply due to being too ahead of the curve. Personally, I think it’s owed a revisit, perhaps with a four channel version. In fact, there must be a market for what is essentially two Z1s and two X1s as a single unit… Traktor Pro 2 is practically begging for it.
I had a thought the other day that if I was asked to DJ a friend’s wedding again, I’d probably just take my Z1 and X1. Last time, I had my full Traktor Scratch Pro 2 setup, including my trusty 1210s and a X1. This was visually impactful with the crowd, particularly the older party-goers, but I literally never touched the pitch and only used the platter for cueing.
As far as industry precedent goes, there’s no shortage of evidence that jog wheels are no longer essential, particularly when you move away from commercial music. From the likes of Dubfire, to Richie Hawtin and any number of Traktor and Ableton DJs, there are so many alternative ways to play your music.
UK Techno heroine, Gemma Furbank, who is probably the most famous professional I know, took some time to give me her take on this. Gemma uses a VCI-400.
“The reason I don’t use them as jogs, is because I use Ableton which of course isn’t set up like a decks mixer. I have mapped the whole thing from scratch to give me 4 channels with EQs and FX mapped to each channel. My jogs I have mapped more FX to, one for A and C channel the other for B and D. If I used Traktor, I would 100% use the jogs, but I haven’t fallen in love with Traktor.”
Gemma did concede that, much like myself, she does miss more traditional mixing and has done recent gigs back on CDJs.
Hell, Felix Da Housecat even made a promo video for Native Instruments showing off how he uses two X1 mk2s, the way Hawtin pioneered (pun sort of intended).
JOG WHEELS ARE COOL BUT…
There’s no denying the tactile advantages of jog wheels, but for a basic controller, I’d argue the advantages of going jogless mostly outweigh the disadvantages. One advantage of not having jog wheels is how much easier they can be mapped to Traktor. It’s well known the HID layer of interactivity is blocked to the user and only available to approved devices. You can get a more compact controller with better use of space.
Another advantage would be to get rid of deck “layers”. Stuffing four channels into a controller with just two jog wheels and then adding a button to switch layers is just a massive fudge, and brings about a whole host of issues, not least with the pitch slider and any deck-specific settings. There would be plenty of space for four deck control without them.
And there are certainly alternatives that can make better use of the space. Touch strips have started to become fairly common on DJ hardware. From the CDJ2000 Nexus, to the X1 mk2 and NS7 II, all manner of gear has them.
I even had a thought about what could be next: why not a curved touch strip that simulates the edge of the platter? With LED feedback, the strip could double as other functions, much like you get already. You could even make use of the space inside the curve for some other controls.
As a conclusion, I completely understand the joys of traditional mixing, but that on the whole, controller jog wheels are woefully inadequate for the job. Recently, the likes of Pioneer and Numark have pushed the boat out a bit and provided larger platters to play with, but those are reserved for the high-end hardware that’s out of most of our reach. Manufacturers need to explore other ways of controlling the music that take into account the needs of the 21st Century DJ.
Most control platters are kind of just “does the job”, which is simply a detriment to the user. I’d rather see some work done on stripping them out and providing more specialised hardware with them, or finding other ways to simulate the way we did things with turntables. Companies can then create specialist “scratch controllers”, be it as single-deck addons or completes.
OVER TO YOU
Do you use your jog wheels for more than just cueing? Are they little more than coasters or beer mats? Or will jog wheels always be an essential part of your setup?