Due to the overabundance of software effects available to DJs these days, external effect processors seem to get less and less attention. In fact, hardly anybody makes them anymore. Korg’s update to the Kaoss Pad 3 was a little disappointing, and as a long-time fan, I can only hope that wasn’t the last one from the legendary series. Pioneer, however, has been on top of the DJ FX game for a long time. It’s been a while since the successor to the EFX-1000 — the RMX-1000 — saw the light of day, but in my opinion it deserves another close look.
If you’ve never used an external effect processor, the layout of the RMX-1000 may seem a little intimidating at first. This unit clearly has a lot of things going on, but once you’ve played with it for a couple of minutes you’ll realize none of it is rocket science. This has always been true about gear with the Pioneer logo on it — the RMX-1000 doesn’t disappoint in that regard either. It even comes with a signal flow diagram on the back, making it easy to understand where each segment of the unit comes into play — but before we look into that, let’s start by hooking it up.
INTEGRATING THE RMX-1000
The RMX-1000 has two pairs of stereo inputs and outputs — both RCA and 6.3mm. A dip switch next to them lets you choose between two input/output gain settings (-10 dB / +4 dB) to suit different equipment configurations. There’s also a USB port which enables you to use the RMX-1000 as a dedicated controller for the RMX-1000 DAW plug-in and to manage advanced settings as well as edit samples using the Remixbox software, both of which we’ll look at later. You can also use it as a regular MIDI controller, which — paired with a really creative mapping — could enable interesting combos between your DJ software and the unit’s own effects, if you’re hardcore enough to use them together and your setup allows it. Otherwise, this feature probably isn’t going to be very useful.
UNDERSTANDING THE BASICS
The first thing you should look at before diving into the effects is the input/output section and the BPM/quantize controls. This is pretty self-explanatory — you can adjust the input and output volumes (ideally so that routing the sound through the RMX-1000 with no effects activated produces no change in the overall volume). The input/output LED level meters are helpful here, but in the end it’s all down to your individual setup, so use your ears. In my case, leaving both knobs in 12 o’clock position worked perfectly.
Afterwards, it’s time to make sure the BPM value is correct. I’ve found the auto detection to be quite powerful, handling both downtempo breaks as well as drum’n bass flawlessly. Of course anything in the straight 4/4 range around 130 BPM is no problem either, but that’s to be expected as this is what most people will need. However, there’s also a BPM tap button and adjustable quantization, should you ever need it. I haven’t had to use it at all, but it’s good to have the option.
CONTROLLING THE EFFECTS
The RMX-1000 has four distinct segments: X-Pad FX, Isolate FX, Scene FX and Release FX. By default, the incoming sound is processed in that order — but to understand the signal flow in detail, we have to look at the aforementioned diagram on the back.
The X-Pad section centers around a touch strip divided into 5 sections. It can be used to sample the input signal to create beat-synced, pitchable loop rolls — pretty much like Serato DJ’s “Pitch Looper” effect, but with much more fluid control. It can also fire off 4 internal preset sounds or 4 samples at a time. Moving your finger across the touch strip repeats slices from the sampled audio or re-triggers the last selected sound at customizable (read below) intervals. If you wish to keep that going even after you lift your finger off the strip, you can use the “hold” button to the right to free up your hand. The re-triggering stops when you hit “hold” again.
The RMX-1000 comes with four preset sounds: a kick, a snare, a clap and a hi-hat. Those aren’t samples — they’re generated by the unit internally. Additional samples (four banks of four samples with a total length of 16 seconds per bank) can be loaded from an SD card too, so it counts as another input source and has its own dedicated volume control. The Isolate FX section has two toggle buttons, allowing you to choose whether you want it to process the input only or include the X-Pad section as well. In practice, that means you can include the X-Pad as part of the effects chain or use it independently. This gives you a lot of flexibility depending on what you want to do — whether you want to create a buildup with effects but have the samples play unaffected, or apply effects to samples without messing up the incoming sound: both options are available.
Speaking of triggering samples, the X-Pad section features a nod to an old EFX-1000 trick popularized by James Zabiela. With that unit, you would use the Echo or Pitch Echo effect, set the depth to maximum for infinite feedback and capture a loop up to 2 bars in length. Afterwards, you could chop it up by hitting the time division buttons to create a simple stutter edit of what you just sampled and have that loop as long as you like. The Overdub function is similar — it allows you to record a 1-bar loop of whatever you do with the X-Pad. This can be a simple loop roll buildup from the incoming audio or a series of triggered samples (imagine playing a simple beat over a break in your track). All actions are recorded, so you can get pretty creative here. Individual samples can be muted or deleted from the captured material, too, so what’s going on under the hood is essentially very basic sequencing. Pretty cool, although the loop could be longer. You can always tap halftime BPM to extend it, but that is unlikely to be as tight at the auto-detect unless you’re really precise.
As the name suggests, the Isolate FX section centers on a 3-band isolator which can operate in 4 different modes: Isolator, Cut/Add, Trans/Roll, Gate/Drive. All effects are tempo-synced according to the current BPM value. Except for Isolator mode (think EQ on steroids — more gain per band), the knobs work 2 ways — turning them left applies the first effect, turning them right applies the other with the effect tempo increasing the further you turn the according knob. So for example in Trans/Roll mode, turning the knob left applies a transform effect to the selected band, and turning it right applies a loop roll. Cut/Add is a combination of a high pass filter when turned left, and a delay when turned right. Finally, there’s Gate/Drive. Turning the knob left controls a volume threshold — anything below that threshold gets muted, everything else gets though — you can use that to isolate the transients. So for example, with dubstep, you could emphasize the snare by applying a gate to the mid band. Turning the knob to the right distorts the selected band, adding a little grittiness to the sound.
The greatest part about this section is that you have much more control over the sound than effect units usually give you — for example, adding a little delay to the mids or highs only is cool, so the bass can roll on unaffected. Of course, one can argue that things like that are possible with DJ software as well, but they require some tweaking — it’s not like Traktor, Serato DJ or any other DJ software comes with a separate EQ/isolator for the effects section, although it doesn’t seem like it would be a tough thing to implement. In my setup, I can use Ableton Live for effects when DJing, and the flexibility in that really beats every hardware unit — but using the RMX-1000 gives me most of the things I would want without too much of a hassle.
After passing through the Isolate FX, the chosen source (the input, the X-Pad or both) gets routed through the circular Scene FX section. This one is built around a large, backlit center knob with 5 buttons above and below it. This, along with a 2-colour backlight (red and blue), underlines the separation into buildup and breakdown effects. Overall, there are 5 types of echoes (highpass, lowpass and bandpass-filtered, bit-crushed, regular) as well as a noise generator with several presets and 4 special pitched reverbs/delays — two rising and two falling each.
Turning the large knob clockwise activates the effect and changes its intensity — basically, this works like a macro mapping would inside the DVS or DAW of your choice. There are two additional knobs below the Scene FX ring that allow you to further tweak each effect’s parameters. Although ten effects may not seem like much compared to the ever-growing list of effects in DVS software, I’ll say the same thing I’ve said when I reviewed the Korg KP3+: instead of 100 effects, give me a handful that sound cool.
At the end of the effects chain lie the Release FX, controlled by a large flip trigger switch. There is a vinyl brake effect, a vinyl backspin effect and an(other) echo fade. The effect selector is directly above the trigger. Those effects are pretty straightforward in their operation — the trigger has three positions: you can tap it lightly for a long fadeout, then push it further down and finally all the way down for quicker ones. A thin LED strip to the left of the switch indicates how far it’s been pushed. Since the Release FX are designed to finish a build-up or combo, triggering them also deactivates all other currently active effects — you don’t have to worry about resetting the unit. This is accompanied by a cool-looking LED sweep from left to right, getting faster the further you push the trigger. Once you release the trigger, the unit’s backlights return to normal.
GOING DEEPER WITH REMIXBOX
One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is a seemingly insignificant switch in the upper right corner of the unit labeled “setting”. It’s used to switch between default and user mode. The latter ties in with Pioneer’s Remixbox software — a desktop application used to manage samples and change detailed effect settings that are not accessible directly from the unit itself. Remixbox, just like the device driver and the DAW plug-in we’ll look at later, is available from the Pioneer website without the need to create a user account or any other bothersome stuff. The installation is as straightforward as can be: yes, next, finish, thank you. The unit itself can handle USB 2.0 as well as 3.0 ports easily. Yes, those are usually downwards compatible — but some older pieces of hardware just don’t play nice. The RMX-1000 definitely does.
Now, when I say “detailed effect settings”, I mean DETAILED. EFFECT. SETTINGS. If you’re a sucker for messing with sound like I am, there’s no way you can afford to skip this step. Using Remixbox, you can customize the behaviour of every single control and effect the RMX-1000 has to offer and basically create your very own presets which can be stored on the unit as well as transferred to an SD card and recalled from there. I won’t list everything in detail here — just give a few examples, because we’re not in the business of copying instruction manuals.
On the X-Pad, you can adjust the behaviour of the loop roll (there are three modes which affect which slice of the incoming sound is material is being sampled and triggered) and choose the tempo divisions for each of the 5 parts of the touch strip from a simple drag’n drop edit window. Besides the standard straight tempo divisions from default mode, Remixbox also offers odd values like 1/3rd or 1/12th beat which can be combined in any way you wish to create your very own loop roll patterns. In the same section, you can tweak the four preset sounds and manage samples for all four banks, then transfer them to an SD card — the editor is practically self-explanatory.
In the Isolate FX section, the behaviour of every single effect can be changed for every frequency band independently. For example, you can have different patterns for the transformer and roll effect depending on which band you tweak, different intensities for the gate and drive effects and so on.
The Scene FX can also be heavily tweaked, significantly changing their characteristics. All of a sudden, having five separate echo effects starts making sense because you can make each one sound radically different, with adjustable frequency ranges for the filters and different offsets for the delays. Same goes for every other effect on the list.
Finally, the Release FX are also highly customisable. Depending on which one of the three you use, each can have different timings for every position of the trigger switch. You can also choose if touching the trigger actually resets the other effects or not — after all, you may not want this to happen, or to only happen when you use a specific release effect.
Looking at all the options available here, with the RMX-1000 you don’t have to worry about things getting stale anytime soon. If the default settings are too simple for you, you can nerd out to your heart’s content — absolutely fantastic, no DVS offers that level of customisability. Traktor users will argue that the level of effect control they have is similar — and yes, Traktor effects are indeed amazing. But it’s not like you can pry them open and tweak their insides.
EVEN DEEPER: THE RMX-1000 DAW PLUG-IN
Working with hardware effects processors in a DAW like Ableton Live is tempting, but also a huge pain — because when it’s the hardware that does the processing and you want to include it in your production work flow, you’re going to have to record its output onto an audio track — automating its actions would require a separate MIDI channel to talk to the unit, and so forth. The RMX-1000 is different: here, it’s the plug-in that does the processing — the hardware serves as a controller only, and the plug-in doesn’t even require the hardware to be connected at all. The only time you’ll need to hook up the unit is during installation, otherwise everyone could just download the plug-in and use it for free — obviously, Pioneer doesn’t want that.
Using the plug-in means that you can have as many virtual RMX-1000s as your computer can handle, and integrating them into a live set becomes incredibly easy. With the hardware, you would have to set up an external effect routing — here, you just drag the plug-in onto the track you want to use it on and you’re done. When you hook up the unit, you can choose which instance you want the hardware to talk to directly from the plug-in’s GUI via a button labeled “link on/off”. The hardware link is exclusive, so activating it in one instance will automatically deactivate it in the one you were controlling previously. One detail I like is that when you go between instances, the controls go into soft takeover mode — which means that if a knob is turned up in one instance and turned down in the other, when you switch instances and touch that knob, there is no change until you turn it to the position it is at in the instance you’re currently controlling. In short: there are no unexpected parameter jumps, ever.
In a live situation, it would be a little more comfortable to be able to skip through the instances using the controller so you don’t have to touch the computer at all — the “link on/off” buttons aren’t MIDI mappable either, so you can’t use another controller to achieve that. However, that’s really the only drawback — because every parameter of the plug-in itself is MIDI mappable. This means you can use a controller like the APC40 (which has dynamically assignable controls) and create macro racks for every instance of the plug-in, creating complex controls that would require more than two hands when working with the actual hardware. Then, you just select the instance of the plug-in by highlighting the track that holds it, and tweak away. Of course, every instance of the plug-in can load a different user configuration created with Remixbox as well, so the creative possibilities are downright insane — and you can still use the RMX-1000 in your DJ setup because you don’t really need the unit for this.
Out of all the DJ effectors I’ve tried so far (which is a lot), the RMX-1000 is by far the most customizable and nerd-friendly without being overwhelming for beginners. The hardware is very well designed in terms of work flow and can take a proper beating, too. No flimsy knobs and buttons, excellent tactile and visual feedback — I’d go as far as calling it “DJ-proof”.
Of course, as always, I’ve found things that could’ve been done better. The RMX-1000 doesn’t have wet/dry controls at all, so you can’t really control the mix ratio — but to be fair, the effects aren’t too obtrusive once you’ve gotten a feel for dosing them appropriately (as you should). However, it would be really cool to be able to apply the isolator to the entire FX chain and not just the tempo-based Isolate FX – by that, I mean for example being able to apply any effect to only one frequency band (the EFX-1000 did this and it was great). The Scene FX have a release tail, and when you go from an active one to the next, that tail gets cut off and doesn’t fade out naturally — so just like with the KP3+, you have to wait for that to finish if you want a clean transition. The Overdub function could offer a longer loop recording time (maybe up to 4 bars instead of 1). I also miss the pitch shifter effect (“ZIP”). The RMX-1000 doesn’t have the standard flanger/phaser combo, but that’s actually great — I’ve really had enough of people overusing those. They can be used to great effect on individual parts of an arrangement, or scratches — but please, not on top of an entire track, that’s disgusting. The last minor gripe is the lack of MIDI sync — while auto BPM detection is very good, it takes a while to adapt to big tempo changes. If you use the plug-in, you can sync the RMX-1000 to the DAW host — but it has to remain linked to a plug-in instance for it to work, which limits the unit to being used as a controller in the first place. You can’t send MIDI clock from your DVS to the RMX-1000 (well, you can — it just does nothing), so in a setup like mine it’s actually most useful to control the plug-in with another controller and keep the physical unit for the DJ-set, like I suggested earlier.
Despite the Pioneer label, the RMX-1000 doesn’t break the bank — and you don’t just get the hardware, but also a pretty powerful plug-in for your DAW. Unless Pioneer drops a RMX-2000 this year, I’m looking to get one myself — unlike Korg’s KP3+, it has aged well and still offers a lot of bang for the buck.
Highly customizable and actually useful effects
Logical work flow
Durable “DJ-proof” construction
DAW plug-in that works without the hardware attached
No flangers and phasers (yes, that is a PRO)
Comes in black, white or “platinum” for those who love the shiny
Short internal loop recorder
No global wet/dry controls