Written by: Scott Nelsen
Since the turn of the century, DJ technology has changed at an amazing pace. Vinyl and the Technics 1200 turntable were the standard, but CD turntables were just making their way onto the market. Compared to the CD turntables of today, the early models were primitive and clunky. Now, with the proliferation of DJ sites that sell mp3s, the availability of inexpensive and durable laptops, and some really good MIDI controllers and DJ software, the CD turntable may be going the way of the turntable; they will always be used in some form or fashion but will eventually be pushed aside in favor of something smaller, cheaper, and more flexible. Clubs, even in the smallest markets, are starting to accept and even embrace the fact that DJ technology is changing again. If you are considering making the jump to laptop DJ sets, there are a lot of products out there for your consideration.
I’ve been contemplating this transition for about a year now. Although I have looked at a few other products in stores and watched some online demonstrations, I have not found anything that interested me enough to make that jump – until I got my hands on the Numark Omni Control.
The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the Omni Control is that it is built like a tank. It is made of high-grade aluminum that wraps all the way around the device, except for the front and back panels. It has durable rubber feet as well as two rubber inlays (on the left and right sides near the bottom) for extra grip when setting it down or picking it up off the table/DJ booth. At first it feels a bit heavy, but not much more than lugging around a bag of 400 CDs and definitely lighter than a case filled with 12″ vinyl.
All 5 faders (two pitch faders, two volume faders, and one crossfader) are as solid and smooth as I would except from any club-standard mixer or CD turntable. The knobs are smooth but tight, offering just the right amount of resistance, with the Global and Effects sections having “infinite scroll” knobs. The EQ knobs do not have quite the solid feel as the rest of them; however, they push down to kill the treble, mid, and bass frequencies. The rest of the buttons for transport, looping, loading tracks, and engaging effects all feel quite sturdy as well. In the heat of a set, the last thing one needs to worry about is to gently press a button or lightly grab a knob for fear of breaking it.
They have placed the headphone jack and microphone input on the front panel. Normally, I do not like this in a mixer design but I can see why Numark did this: the top of the Omni Control is quite crowded, and this would just add to the congestion. The back panel has two outputs (RCA), a USB port, and a 16v A/C adapter input.
Connecting to the Computer
The Omni Control ships with Native Instruments Traktor LE. When installing the software, the user is prompted to select which controller they are using (if any). Every button on the Omni Control maps to the identified function in the software; the QuickStart guide is very brief but concise about what each button/knob does. The Omni Control also includes a USB cable to connect to your computer; the 16v adapter is an optional purchase. It requires USB 2.0 to use without the A/C adapter. If you try to use with a USB 1.0 port without the A/C adapter, only output 1 will work. I loaded Traktor LE, installed the Omni Control driver, connected it to my computer and within about 10 minutes, I was able to load two tracks and start mixing. When the Omni Control is plugged in, the lighting from the buttons is enough to see the general layout of the controller but not quite enough to read the silkscreen on the face. The light from the laptop LCD provides enough light, however, to see well enough until you learn all the knobs and buttons.
I have been using Traktor Pro for about two months, so it was a bit of a “downgrade” for me to use Traktor LE. Although Traktor LE is not as flexible or powerful as Traktor Pro, all of the buttons on the Omni Control are mapped properly to the software. It will take some custom midi mapping in Traktor Pro to get the Omni Control to function as thoroughly as it does with Traktor LE.
The basic transport function of Traktor Pro – set cue, play, load track, EQ, pitch, volume faders, etc. – all map so without any custom MIDI mapping, so you could still use its most basic functions with Traktor Pro “out of the box” after loading the appropriate TSI file from Numark’s website.
The Omni Control as has a built-in audio interface, saving the need for an external device. The RCA outputs are located on the back of the Omni Control; output 1 is recommended for sending audio to the main system and is controlled by the Master knob on the front. Output 2 is controlled by the headphone volume and is recommended for sending audio to the booth for monitoring. Unfortunately, this means that the headphone volume AND the booth volume are controlled by one knob. You can somewhat compensate for this by using the Phone Mix knob to control the ratio of main signal to cue signal in your phones; however, you do not have independent control of the booth and headphone volume.
Although it is possible to “scratch” on the Omni Control, a DJ with these skills would find it very frustrating. The size of the “platters” (really just jog wheels used to scroll through tracks) and the proximity to the cross fader would be very limiting.
I could find only two issues with the Omni Control – the first is real estate. In the interest of making a controller that is compact yet packed with the standard features you would find in a setup consisting of a mixer and two CD turntables, a lot is packed onto the face of this controller. Anybody with average to large hands will have to be careful as to not bump other knobs or faders. In fact, while mixing a set for this review, there were several times that I accidentally bumped the jog wheel/platter or hit the pitch fader, consequently messing up the mix. I don’t have huge hands, but I still found myself barely grabbing the knobs with the end of my thumb and forefinger in order to not bump anything else.
The second issue is the lack of discrete knobs to control the booth and headphones volume. Many times in a club, your headphone level is not going to be the same as your booth level and you end up manipulating the volume of these independently. Also, the DJ typically does not have access to the amp that powers the booth speakers in order to adjust the volume. I think Numark would be wise to figure out how they could incorporate just one more preamp/knob into the Omni Control for this purpose, likely putting the headphone volume knob on the front of the Omni Control near the headphone jack. Just this one small addition and the Omni Control would be the perfect all-in-one DJ controller, giving you everything that a mixer and two CD turntables provide at just a fraction of the cost.
The Numark Omni Control is a very durable, well thought out MIDI controller. It sounds good, looks good, and maps perfectly with Traktor LE. The design and layout is very intuitive, making for an excellent combination mixer/digital turntable that includes all the standard features of a ‘traditional’ mixer and two turntable/CD player setup (and then some well-placed extras). Any DJ with experience on CD turntables and a basic understanding of DJ software could step up to this controller with their drive full of tracks and be spinning a set in no time at all.
Review posted April 2009.