Written by: DJ Jimmy
In life, I am very much a creature of habit. When comfortable with one method of doing things, I tend to stick with it. This lifestyle also applies to DJing. I began in 1986, and unless a track or mix was unavailable on vinyl, I exclusively spun records well into the 2000s. I only switched over to CDs when carrying up to eight crates to every gig became unfeasable due to the wear on my back and smaller booth sizes.
Over the past few years, I’ve repeatedly had an increasing amount of friends question when I was going to begin using a controller. I always cited multiple reasons – unpredictability, unreliability, and a general uneasiness with the format.
It’s one thing when a record begins skipping or a CD player freezes up – just switch to another. Even with those few inevitable “Boos!” from the crowd, one can usually recover pretty quickly. But there had been occasions where I witnessed fellow DJs using a controller and their PC froze up. After a few moments of sweat and scrambling, the DJ would have to reboot. By the time the restart had completed and the software was running again – the dancefloor momentum was usually lost. Twice I experimented with a controller live, I encountered a similar experience. “Never again!” I thought.
More recently, I’ve begun to observe an overall stability with controllers. And hearing rookie PC DJs outmix me was becoming more commonplace. There’s almost nothing as uncomfortable as following up a brand new DJ, on their second or third gig, rocking mixes that I couldn’t hope to achieve manually on my battle-worn CD players. Given the combination of these factors and the time-consuming search through my ever-increasing catalog of CD-R compilations – I thought it might be time to give laptop DJing another try.
While browsing for my first controller, I hoped to meet particular criteria. One of my major qualms for many was the plastic construction. I don’t want to feel as I’m playing DJ Hero. I’m rather uncomfortable with anything that feels like a toy and doesn’t have solid metal casing. For instance, my previous weapons of choice were the Technics SL-1200MK2 and the Pioneer CMX-3000 with DJM-3000 mixer. These have all been low-maintenance workhorses and have served me very well.
After a bit of research, I learned a few units had incorporated ‘elastic beat grid/mapping.’ This operation, with a bit of preliminary effort, basically quantizes the beat of any given song for mixing. Since two of my regular gigs involve playing songs that have live drumming and/or irregular BPMs – this would definitely be a key function to take my mixing to the next level.
Very soon, I’d like to begin incorporating videos and images within my sets. If I’m going to invest in a unit – it needs this ability. I want a set up that will allow me to grow in this direction and will have little desire to purchase another one when I get to this point.
“Keep it simple!”
As previously stated, I’m relatively new to the laptop DJ concept. I like pretty, glowing buttons as well as the next guy, but I don’t want to be confused by an overabundance of flashy options. I don’t need ten different buttons that can play a track – I just need one for each deck. Basically, I need it to be laid out in a fashion that I’m familiar with.
With careful consideration to these criteria, only a couple of units stood out. After discussing these options with my good friend, DJ Ron Slomowicz – he suggested that I try the Numark NS6. Considering his longtime experience with laptop DJing, I was confident in his recommendation.
Initial Set Up
After my aforementioned experimentation with controllers, I was apprehensive about setting the NS6 unit up at home. To be honest, I was actually a little frightened. How confusing would it be? Would I be able “get it” by myself? Even with the other controllers I tried, I had the guiding hand of another DJ.
My worries were completely unfounded. The supplied manual is simple to understand and the Serato ITCH instillation to my MacBook Pro went very smoothly. After downloading the recommended controller firmware update – I was completely up and going. I created a virtual crate of approximately 100 current dance tracks and was taking requests from my girlfriend without missing a beat! Did I mention that this was all within 30 minutes of opening the box?!
I wanted a solid, metal build and I got it! Whereas most other controllers are encased in plastic – the NS6’s overall appearance is completely professional and of mostly metal construction. It looks sturdy and is built like a tank! This is about as far away from a “toy” as it gets!
The layout is very intuitive. To me, it’s an excellent combination of an actual turntable and your standard CD mixers. The large, sensitive platters have a great, natural response, with near vinyl performance and the extra long pitch controls seem like they pulled off a brand new 1200. Of all controllers that I’ve personally touched (and I shopped around for awhile) – this comes the closest to a real turntable and makes it a very easy transition from vinyl. This is a high selling point for me.
Two other great NS6 features are the ‘Strip Search’ – which is essentially a laptop touchpad-style search. Where instead of having to fast-forward through a track, you can simply drop into sections by using your finger. Another nice feature is the ‘Pitch Bend’ +/- buttons. With this you can give a song a very slight nudge in either direction. With past CD mixers, this was a function I used excessively, but most manufacturers seem to have phased this out of their products.
But NS6 isn’t simply a controller; it’s also an analog mixer. Don’t feel like mixing MP3s? Want to have an iPod connected just in case your computer crashes? Or are you feeling old school and want connect your turntables? No problem! There are two inputs (with ground) for turntables and externals. There are also two additional inputs for microphones and other various lines. All of these can be run, with fully-functional EQ, without ITCH running or your computer plugged in.
The four-channel mixer is compact, but not enough to impact your ability to move from channel to channel. The hard plastic, backlit buttons are very bright with a good reaction time and are made to take a beating. The rubberized knobs provide a pleasant grip and the separate channel volumes don’t have that loose, cheap feel. Meaning they will not move if accidently bumped.
If that wasn’t enough, the NS6 includes both master and booth outputs. Each channel has its own dedicated three band EQ with gains. Other great features include balanced XLR inputs, fader start, and headphone split cueing.
Serato ITCH Software
The Serato ITCH software included with the NS6 (also downloadable) is also very user-friendly, easy to understand, and works perfectly with the controller. There is little to be confused about. Most minor bumps that I came across were quickly overcome by repeated use. Any additional questions were addressed by simple, straightforward answers on the Serato website. It’s truly surprising how uncomplicated Serato’s troubleshooting is. Every time I found my answer, I thought to myself, “Wow! That’s was all there was to it?!”
ITCH Library and Navigation
The ITCH software also is an excellent tool to organize your music library. As my CD-R compilations grew, it became increasingly difficult to find songs “on the fly.” Now I can find any track I need within seconds and create ‘virtual crates’ to categorize different genres and playlists. You can also set up parameters and the software will automatically fill crates based on these specifications.
The NS6 has built-in track navigation for the ITCH software. This function decreases track selection and loading time considerably. It also keeps your attention focused on the gear itself rather than your keyboard. If you have your files set up properly, you won’t even need to touch your computer after the initial pre-gig set up process.
ITCH Manual Beatgridding
Currently, most DJ software (including ITCH) has fairly reliable beatmapping/gridding for 4-on-the-floor modern dance music, but what if a song doesn’t have a constant beat? With many older tracks or those that have live drums, the tempo can be completely unpredictable. If you’re one to use the sync function, these fluctuations basically render it useless. And there are a number of tracks that are honestly impossible to mix for any extended amount of time without basically quantizing it. Using Serato and the NS6 you have ability to keep any beat steady throughout a mix. Since I DJ many events playing ‘70s, ’80s, and vintage remix services – the manual beatgrid is a very welcome blessing. This is another major selling point for me!
Mixing with the NS6 and Serato Video
Being fairly new to the concept of video mixing, there’s honestly not much I can say about this. You will need the Serato Video plug-in (which a fully featured demo version is available for download), but mixing video with the NS6 is just as effortless as mixing MP3s. All utilities, including manual beatgrids, function exactly the same. I was creating perfect mixes, without stutters or flaws, within five minutes of downloading the Video plug-in.
Overall, the product exhibits impressive sound with bright highs and a full bottom end without any marked digital distortion. The amped headphone output is also very pleasing.
Minor Downsides: Effects and Volume Meters
I have yet to encounter any DJ product that is absolutely perfect and, unfortunately, while it’s close – the NS6 is no exception.
Perhaps I was accustomed to the effects on my Pioneer DJM-3000, which I’ve been using religiously for over ten years, but one of the only real struggle I had with the NS6 was figuring out how to properly utilize the effects. After a bit of online research and experimentation – I resolved this dilemma. Past this, another great asset of the NS6 is the ability to assign two effects at a time to any one channel.
The real drawback I came across was the lack of separate meters for each of the four channels. This seems to be common complaint with the unit, but for many is not even the slightest of problems. I guess it depends on the user’s background and experience level. In my situation, I’m transitioning from using components that have separate meters for each channel – so it’s a little awkward. To address this, the current controller firmware update contains a “fix” that allows the user to hold down headphone cue and that channel’s level will display on the main (and only) meter. Making sure to analyze your current library also significantly cuts down on drastic volume differences.
The unit is quite large and slightly heavy. If you’re doing a mobile gig where your station is small, the size could present a problem. Each of the four venues I DJ’ed at during my evaluation were able to easily accommodate the dimensions. But if you’re searching for a small controller to throw in a backpack – this may not be the product for you.
The Bottom Line
Many fellow DJs gave me grief for not immediately jumping on the Traktor bandwagon. While witnessing the NS6 in use – their attitudes utterly changed and one even stated, “Wow! That is actually pretty cool! You should go with one of those! I really like it!”
After testing various units with little satisfaction, my experience with the NS6 was exceedingly positive. If you’re transitioning from vinyl and CDs or searching for a solid, all-in-one unit, you should absolutely consider the NS6. With its turntable feel, numerous features, simplicity of use and excellent sound quality – I feel Numark NS6 is an outstanding value and product. I’m confident in stating that I’ll be purchasing one in the very near future!
Review posted May 2013.