Before I start, I want you to read this skratchworx article from just about a full decade ago to the day. Entitled “DISCUSSION: A call for standards”, I expressed my displeasure at how companies all do their own thing in their own sweet proprietary way, even to the point of faders and pots all having different shafts, and how if there were standards, a third-party customisation aftermarket could begin to bloom.
Fast forward 10 years and we’re in a scenario where much of this proprietary stuff still exists, but at least enough commonality occurs for entrepreneurial types to capitalise on the ability to produce a wide range of knobs to allow people to customise their DJ and performance gear.
Enter online retailer DJ Tech Tools. They have properly exploited this gap in the marketplace to create Chroma Caps, the multicoloured answer to your customisation needs. And hot on their heels is Coolorcaps, a very similar product that has ably managed to stake a claim for space in the same gap.
It’s worth pointing out that the existence of these caps is not just decorative. Some products are cramped, so the smallest Coolorcap would be a definite advantage for those with sausage fingers. Equally DJs that own hard plastic controls can now replace them with more tactile rubber coated ones. And certainly in the case of some products, being able to differentiate controls (EQs vs gain vs filter for example) is a big plus.
For the purposes of this test, I’m going to pass on Reloop’s caps, but they’re focussed on Reloop product. But if you want to know more, check out this tongue in cheek review from BPM 2014.
While some moves have been made to standardisation, there are still a few quirks and anomalies that must be navigated. Firstly, if you’re going to replace all the knobs on a unit, you’ve potentially got a lot of different types to deal with. Broadly speaking, you have fader caps, indicator knobs (like EQs that have a start and finish), and rotary encoders (that just go round and round). And within these groups are different fader shaft types, widths and heights, and for knobs you have to contend with not only pot heights, but also orientations too. So you can imagine that DJTT and Coolorcaps had a lot to deal with even in these more standardised times.
So you’ll appreciate that each company has to decide on just how detailed they go, and how much of a wide range they want to offer. And that’s before even thinking about colour options.
A WORD OF WARNING
Touching on the nightmare scenario laid out above — if your heart is set on redecorating your favourite lump of tech with a rainbow of new controls, I would suggest pulling some, if not all the caps off first to inspect the shafts, especially on older gear. Why? Because Chroma Caps and Coolorcaps only fit D-type shafts. So if you have any controls with say splined shafts, you’re out of luck.
Anyway, looks like we’ve got ourselves a good old-fashioned scrap brewing. Let’s start shouting “fight fight fight” and pushing them into swinging punches.
Being an established and successful maker of gear for a several years, you expect DJTT to have nailed the presentation element. And they have. The first impression (which really does matter to build a brand) is excellent.
You get a very sturdy sealed and resealable bag. So you do get somewhere safe to keep all the controls that you do change. The bag has a label with clear instructions on what to do and what not to do when trying to remove and fit the Chroma Caps.
The Coolorcaps experience is similar — maybe a little too similar name and logo-wise. They also want me to point out that they’re American made too. The packaging is a little less glossy and less robust, but comes with a very similar message about taking care when fitting. Site support is strong for both, so you shouldn’t have any issues should things go wrong.
This is where we begin to see the real differences between the products. Some commonalities — all controls are rubberised, with a choice of white (Coolorcaps are UV reactive) or black cores. Well when I say choice, the Chroma Caps’ core is based on the colour of the caps, whereas Coolorcaps offer a definite choice before buying. Coolorcaps are a harder rubber with more defined features, whereas Chroma Caps have rounder edges, more give, and offer a degree of extra comfort and grip.
Interesting side note — when I zoomed in on the images in Photoshop, it’s clear that the Chroma Caps are slightly stickier, as they were covered in microscopic chaff from being handled, something that the Coolorcaps did not exhibit. This could mean regular cleaning, especially on lighter colours. It’s the grip trade-off I guess.
Rather than spend time describing the other differences, take a look at the picture above for more detail.
So to sizes. Chroma Caps come in 5 types:
- Fader cap
- Super knob (e.g. for EQ)
- 90° super knob
- Fatty knob (e.g. for filters)
- Encoder (fatty but fully rotary)
The Coolorcaps do have a few more options:
- Rubber fader cap
- Plastic fader cap (called the scratch cap)
- Small indicator
- Small encoder
- Large indicator
- X-large encoder
The Coolorcaps indicators also come in 0, 90, 180, and 270° variants to fit a wider range of products (check this page for compatibility). One very useful addition is a number of fader post adaptors so that the fader caps will fit shorter shafts. And finally another useful tool available from Coolorcaps is the hilariously named (for UK people anyway) knob lifter, which makes removing stubborn caps a lot easier.
Handy hint — if you’re struggling to remove those stubborn knobs and faders, grab yourself a metal ruler or knife, push it as far as you can under the edge of the knob, and lift gently. I’d also suggest putting some tissue or cloth on the faceplate under the sharp edge of the ruler or knife. The lever action should be enough to release the control. But keep a finger on top of it or it will pop off into your face or down a hole in your floorboards.
Obviously, not everyone likes rubber coatings, and especially as far as Chroma Caps goes, scratch DJs might want to stick with Coolorcaps. Rubber does not work well with the finer points of turntablism.
I’ve seen complaints online about how the colours shown on websites don’t accurately portray the real colours. So within reason, I’ve done my best to get as close as possible without investing in a calibrated screen and a spectrophotometer.
The Coolorcaps range is good, with obvious gaps where the indicator is the same colour as the knob. A darker grey would be welcome too.
The Chroma Caps range is very similar, but lacks the choice of black or white cores, and desperately needs a white cap too. And when fitting out units in the Worxlab, it became clear that some of the colours weren’t consistent across controls. DJTT told me that while white caps were thought about but not included because they’d look grubby very quickly, they’re now being considered for the range.
A special mention must be made for DJTT’s hard glow in the dark Chroma Caps. It’s available across all the range and adds a real fun element to a setup. And it’s the only way at this time to get a hard fader cap.
It’s clear that neither will fit everything every made, but both Chroma Caps and Coolorcaps do a great job of covering the most popular units out there. DJTT has done a little more homework on their website though and has considerably more ready-made kits than Coolorcaps though. From an ease of use perspective, this is a real plus point.
Obviously, having full 90° rotational variants gives Coolorcaps the edge in fitting as many units as possible.
TEST UNIT — TRAKTOR KONTROL Z2
When requesting caps for this review, I decided on the Traktor Kontrol Z2 as the test unit. Why? Because it has the most diverse set of controls, which as it turned out managed to highlight the pros and cons of both products perfectly.
It’s a given that both sets have the core components of EQ and fader caps. But even at this point, the differences begin to show. Obviously I chose orange caps to try on the decidedly dark monochrome slab that is the Z2, and hit the first aesthetic wall. The Chroma Caps orange has a white core option only, and for my tastes wasn’t a good match. You however may feel otherwise.
The next issue, and certainly relevant for scratch DJs is the fader cap. Chroma Caps are all rubber, but again the Coolorcaps have the hard plastic Scratch Cap option. Crab scratching with rubber caps is painful — it hurt my fingertips in a very short time and compromised my technique. And I also worry about longevity of rubber on fader caps too, and that goes for both products. DJTT points out that their hard plastic glow in the dark option exists, and that their caps satisfy the majority of the potential market.
Now to the rest of the controls. Filter controls are becoming a pretty standard feature on mixer and controllers alike, and my preference (one shared by a lot of people and manufacturers too) is to have a fatter indicator that offers a tad more control. This is where the Coolorcaps fall down. Yes you can put their large rotary cap on there, but there’s no indicator on it. So Chroma Caps wins in a fat indicator environment. But there’s nothing to stop you putting a regular EQ size indicator knob on there though.
NI made the unusual choice to use a slightly smaller knob for the channel gains, and this is where Coolorcaps has another edge. Again, you can use a regular sized cap, but this example shows that Coolorcaps are better for some products than other.
The only real finding I have for this test is that both Chroma Caps and Coolorcaps can fully fit out a Z2, but for my personal preference, Coolorcaps do a cleaner looking job. I prefer the sharper lines and consistency of colour.
Summing up this test — Chroma Caps need a hard plastic fader cap, a small EQ knob, and the choice of black or white cores for all colours. Coolorcaps just needs to add a large indicator knob to be complete, which I’m told is planned. The reality is that both sets can complete most popular DJ products to some degree or other.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Individually: $2.99 with stepped discounts to $1.00 for 1000 of more.
Kontrol Z2 kit: $50.70 plus shipping (discounts applied at checkout)
It’s with mentioning the risk free guarantee too, so that if you speculatively buy some knobs and they don’t fit, DJTT will fully refund you.
Individually: $2.99, with stepped discounts to $1.83 for 40 or more.
Kontrol Z2 kit: $52.36 plus shipping (current sale price)
Enter “CUE” at checkout and get a free knob lifter.
So there’s very little, if anything, to choose between them from a buying point of view. For around $60 delivered, you can fully pimp out a Z2. Head to head, the price is more or less the same. I’ve read some chatter about these caps being too expensive, but completely transforming an austere mixer for $60 is cheap in my book. And the more you buy, the cheaper it gets.
AN OPEN MESSAGE TO THE INDUSTRY
We’re very grateful for your efforts in making things easier for people to put their mark on their setups. But you do have a little further to go to make it truly easy. I know you’re in the hands of your suppliers, but please try to make all shaft sizes a standard, and do the same for orientation too. It’s these little things that make your customers like you that little bit more.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE NEAR FUTURE
In this head to head piece, I’ve identified things I like and don’t like, but what about the immediate future? Coolorcaps has clearly taken inspiration from Pioneer DJ’s once a year limited edition steez, and working with 12 Inch Skinz will be putting out gold and silver caps. They’ve also confirmed that a fat indicator knob for filters is in the works. No ETA on that though.
As for future Chroma products… well as you might expect, given the fierce competition in this sector, nothing was forthcoming from DJTT in any detail, just that things are in the works. But Ean Golden did provide this feedback:
“we are very open to any ways in which the product can better serve our djs. I set out to design a great knob for Dj’s, and there will always be more room for improvement. Very happy to take feedback and requests on new product ideas or ways that the line can be improved.”
And feed back I did. If I were able to buy caps, plus matching USB and audio cables, I would drop money for a full set in a heartbeat, if only to satiate my suppressed control freak.
I sit writing that having already pumped out the best part of 2000 words. About coloured knobs. But the differences are important and do matter, and is the whole reason for this head to head test. I want both products to be utterly brilliant, and my honing in on seemingly irrelevant details is done simply to help Chroma Caps and Coolorcaps be the best that they can be.
There’s no denying that the colours are a matter of taste, especially how you implement them. My Instagram timeline is littered with equal amounts of vomit-inducing colour clash nightmares, as well as tastefully implemented chromatically pleasing splashes. So don’t just throw caps at your £2000 hardware thinking that it’s going to look cool. But if thought about, both Coolor Caps and Chroma Caps can make all the difference.
I feel that it depends on your needs. If for example you must have white caps, then Coolorcaps are the only option. But if the feel of larger rotary encoders and indicators is essential, then Chroma Caps are a better choice. And while both are excellent for the task at hand, for my money, for all the reasons listed above, Coolorcaps just has the edge right now. But should DJTT work on the points I’ve raised, then the differences will come down to personal preferences.
Finishing up — study the differences, and make a choice. Both are really good options.