DJ Controllers For Your iPad
The iPad has become a powerful resource for DJs, and there are many excellent DJ-oriented apps available. Some of these, like GrooveMaker from IK Multimedia and RJ Voyager, offer to create new sets of loops and beats, but most are intended just to play back existing music files in a familiar two-deck-plus-mixer format. Some of these DJ apps work incredibly well and a personal favourite is Air Scratch HD, which offers a beautiful simulation of two vinyl decks with easy access to tracks through iTunes, volume meters, varispeed, tap tempo, beat matching, looping, equalisers and filter effects.
Adding a physical DJ-style controller to the iPad when its existing touch-responsive screen display might appear pretty much up to the ask could appear counterproductive, but many hardware DJ controllers are now appearing and most of them will certainly give improved access to the various facilities of DJ apps.
IK Multimedia offers the DJ Rig app which again is a dual vinyl deck simulation, running on either iPhone or iPad. Just launching at the time of writing is the company’s iRig MIX ($100), a compact hardware mixer with two audio inputs, crossfader, bass and treble EQ, cue switch on each channel to preview in headphones, and the ability to work with either one or two iOS device sources (with a single device, its sound will be split into dual mono so advance cueing is still possible), or indeed with MP3 players or other sound sources. When used with the DJ Rig app, automatic tempo matching and beat syncing are available.
iRig MIX is also aimed at solo musicians other than DJ’s, since it offers an extra guitar/mike input maybe for guitar processed through the company’s AmpliTube app, or a voice processed through their VocaLive package. Audio outputs are RCA phono stereo line outputs, so the iRig MIX – the same length as an iPad, or about twice the size of an iPhone – offers a compact way to interface to any conventional sound system. Power is from batteries, mains transformer or USB.
Numark’s iDJ (sometimes know as the iOS DJ, $90) is a very affordable hardware DJ controller which mounts an iPad (or an iPhone or iPod) vertically about its dual simulated vinyl decks. Algoriddim’s djay is the recommended app, although others will work too, and the hardware/ app combination simply accesses your iTunes library offering scratching, looping, crossfade and EQ abilities.
The hardware looks a little toy-like and a major criticism is that it’s powered from the iPad, draining its charge quickly. However, this could be a very affordable entry into iPad-based DJ work. Ion’s IDJ2Go ($70) is smaller but looks more substantial, again intended for Algoriddim djay on the iPad (though it has an app of its own too) but physically not much wider than the iPad itself and needing no external power.
Numark, of course, has some much more upmarket models such as the $400 iDJ3 which mounts a single iPhone or iPod, various USB or MIDI-equipped controllers, and decks which mix one or two iPhones, but a new pro quality iPad-oriented model is just coming on the market. The iDJPro ($500) mounts an iPad flush with its aluminium top panel casing, and although still oriented towards the use of the same djay app, it offers much higher quality controls and extended functions. Your music library is now scrolled through with a dedicated knob and the unit’s compatible with AirPlay, so you can play out to wireless speakers. Balanced XLR master outputs mean that connection to much more professional sound systems can easily be made. www.numark.com
Several other companies offer DJ-oriented MIDI controllers, Vestax, for example, having many models in their VC, TR and Typhoon lines. Most of these have two deck controllers and all the usual mixing facilities, the smaller Pad-One offering just drum pads and an XY pad controller, the VCM models just offering mixing without deck control. All these are USB-equipped controllers intended for use with DJ software such as Serato, but using a MIDI interface – such as the VMIDI from Vestax. www.vestax.com
Another company with a very wide range of MIDI controllers including keyboards, DJ and drum pad controllers, guitar and mike inputs for iPad (iPlugG and iPlug M) is Icon, based in Italy. The company offers two-, three- and five-octave keyboards, small pad controllers similar to the Korg Nano range, and an unusual multi-purpose light matrix controller called iCreative which can play notes, arpeggios or drum events. It’s not specifically iPad compatible but like most MIDI controllers should have something to offer in conjunction with any Core MIDI apps. www.icon-global.com
The iPad is undoubtedly becoming a more and more serious resource for DJ’s and VJ’s, and many more DJ-oriented deck controllers can be expected to appear in the near future. A list of keyboards, controllers, synthesizers, audio inputs and other devices thought to be compatible with iOS devices, together with some discussion of the latest developments can be found here: http://iosmidi.com
The range of keyboard and other controllers which can potentially be used with the iPad is extremely large, but some apps designers need to put more effort into ensuring that controller movements are responded to in some musically useful manner. In the world of MIDI music, there are many unusual types of controllers available, including pitch ribbons and pressure sensitive pads, but since the touch screen of the iPad itself is a superb control surface which works well with theremin-type apps like MorphWiz, there’s perhaps less incentive than there might be to develop unusual physical controllers for the iPad.
Excerpt from Mark Jenkin’s iPad Music.
Mark Jenkins is a writer for Melody Maker, Keyboard, and Music Week; a musician performing in the UK, USA, France, Holland, Germany, Brazil, and China at venues including the Royal Festival Hall, London Planetarium, and National Theatre of Brazil; and author of Analog Synthesizers (Focal Press).