The best shave in the world — for me — comes from an unlikely combination of a very cheap disposable razor and a really expensive shaving lotion. Having tried just about everything else out there, this dynamic duo just plain works the best for me. I feel the same way about DJ products, especially with all the choices that have cropped up on the market lately. Some are more complicated or expensive, some have more features, and a few will work with many different soundcards. So when you're searching for the right combination of hardware and software, try to remember that just because it's the most expensive does not mean it's the best for you. Perhaps a really inexpensive piece of software and a high-end soundcard (or audio interface) with very low latency will do the job. You never know until you try; so don't pass over the little guys without giving them a shot. And that brings us to the product in question: MixVibes DVS Pro. This software/control-record combination comes with a low price tag because it doesn't require its own proprietary soundcard.
CHECKING OUT THE SPREAD
A quick comparison of features between MixVibes and some of the major competing products reveals that MixVibes could offer much more bang for your buck. At nearly $400 less than Serato Scratch Live or Stanton Final Scratch and boasting an impressive list of features, MixVibes might be a great entry-level product to try digital scratching without pulling out the plastic. One thing the price comparison fails to take into account is the soundcard you will need to purchase for external vinyl or CD control. This type of setup is barely possible with a single stereo in and out; for the optimum experience, you'll want a dual-input/dual-output soundcard. That places us in the realm of external USB and FireWire soundcards or interfaces that run from $200 to $800. Factor in that additional cost, and the price distance closes significantly. Nonetheless, the fact that you can choose your own soundcard or use one you already have is a big plus and makes this system more financially accessible to those looking to explore the digital-DJ world.
You should note, however, that using your own soundcard can bring with it a host of configuration and installation problems, depending on which one you use. On the flip side, it can bring low latency and high-quality multiple outputs if you are willing to pay the premium in cash and set-up time. That is one of the main gripes with some of the existing vinyl-emulation systems, where you are stuck with their sometimes less-than-desirable interfaces. Then again, some folks prefer the guaranteed performance of a plug-and-play, software/hardware combination.
The MixVibes DVS Pro retail box contains five pieces of timecoded vinyl, two timecoded CDs, four sets of RCA cables, the software CD and a manual. I moved on to installation, which is fairly straightforward and worked as expected. There's a handy auto set-up guide for making the integration of your personal soundcard less difficult. Although the software's GUI was a bit confusing and cluttered at first, it does allow for almost complete customization. Users can hide or show what aspects of the program they choose and place them in the area of the screen that best suits their needs. That customization, and the fact that the program is fully skinnable, is a big plus for those wanting complete control over the look of their software. It's worth noting that the skins are not just color changes but complete interface design changes, each built to suit a specific type of DJ need.
TABLES SET FOR THE MAIN COURSE
Loading a song into one of the virtual players is simple, with drag-and-drop or through the internal music manager choices. You have the option of a hard-disk file browser or a native music manager; the latter option left a lot to be desired. As with most digital-DJ programs, MixVibes analyzes the audio file upon loading to create a waveform overview and to determine the song's bpm. The analysis was surprisingly fast — quite a bit faster than most of the other systems I've tried. The default waveform overview is a bit small, but several of the optional skins offered larger and more visible displays. Unfortunately, the zoomed-in view on all skins suffers from a distracting redraw wavering, which made focusing on the transients difficult.
One thing that did come in handy was the way the decks automatically cue to the first transient or potential first beat of a song. Although that can't be relied on 100 percent of the time, it was accurate on all the songs tested and could save a lot of cueing time. Another success was the bpm detection. A notoriously error-prone feature, especially when dealing with anything other than electronic music, the MixVibes bpm detection performed well. That is also improved by the fact that you can dial in your bpm range preferences to further reduce the opportunity for error. Even on low-tempo hip-hop, MixVibes nailed the bpm perfectly on all of the songs tested.
With a few songs loaded successfully, it was time to play around with the many MixVibes features. The long list includes a 16-cell sampler, native effects, support for VST effects, video scratching, MIDI support and the ability to use as many as four turntables/CD players to control the software at the same time. What I was wondering was whether it's truly practical to use four players at once on a single computer.
Some may find beat-matching difficult to accomplish with MixVibes using only internal controls. Although you can set MixVibes to automatically match tempos upon loading a song, it's not very easy to pitch bend the song once it's playing. The hot keys for pitch bending work well enough, but the onscreen control is a small platter, which requires you to click-and-drag forward or backward. Although the action is meant to emulate the top of a CD jog dial, it falls short in terms of usability. Triggering songs with the GUI or hot keys also seemed to be a bit latent, and cueing on time was difficult. Once in the mix, MixVibes promises “seamless” looping for instant remix action. It did work fairly well but only after I set the preferences for seamless looping. With the seamless-looping option checked, loops of multiple lengths were easy to drop with a single-click. Re-clicking on the loop-action button also continually shortened the length of a loop for that instant mega-house effect producers seem to love so much.
One of MixVibes' advertised selling points is latency as low as 1 ms. In my experience, anything under 10 ms is very hard to differentiate, and unless you happen to be a DMC champion, chances are you won't be able to tell the difference either. That being said, there is a reliable way to test the realized latency of a vinyl-control system through a sequencer. Using that test with a fairly high-performance laptop and a midrange soundcard, MixVibes came in at around the 10 ms mark. That's comparable to a system like Serato Scratch Live, which MixVibes felt similar in response to. One feature that sets MixVibes apart, however, is multiple-turntable control, although it would be nice to have immediate tangible access to adjust the timing of more than two decks. While it's physically impossible for one person to scratch four turntables at the same time, a DJ tag team might try it out. That, however, does require an even more intense audio interface, something in the range of the RME Multiface II, which can run about $700. Overall, the turntable response was good, as the MixVibes team has gone through several generations of timecode and software updates. With this latest release, MixVibes seems to have found a solid performing combination.
DASH OF DELAY, SIDE OF SAMPLER
I wanted to make my loops a little more interesting, so I turned to the effects bank. There, you find the standby effects and a few welcome extras. One nice aspect is that many of the effects have optional LFOs to automatically spice up, for example, a normally mundane filter sweep. You can layer as many as six effects per track, with three of them having direct access from the GUI. Flexibility is a big selling point here. You have the option of layering effects in any order you want and having onscreen access to the effects you most commonly use.
Trying to emulate an extreme-but-possible scenario, I mixed four decks with two effects each and did not notice any deal-BREAKing drain on the system. Do keep in mind, though, that this test was run on a brand-new Intel Centrino Duo with a 1 GB of RAM. Results are guaranteed to vary depending on your processing power.
With a loop running, it's easy to then employ the use of the internal sampler. That wins my choice for innovative feature inside the program. It holds a 16-slot sampler that you can load directly from the decks. With a 4-count loop or sample running in deck B, a simple “send-to-sampler” command will load that sample into one of the sampler slots and cut it to perfect length. From there, the sample can be replayed at will using the internal pads or a connected controller such as the M-Audio Trigger Finger. Each sample can be further manipulated with its own individual effects, speed and key controls. If you had a unique effect running on a deck that was giving the loop a particular sound, that effect and setting are also copied over to the sampler for further manipulation.
One of MixVibe's weak points: MIDI control. Many DJ control surfaces and all MIDI controllers are supported, and nine so far (including the Trigger Finger, Kork PadKontrol and Vestax VCI-100) even have dedicated mapping files available. But actually assigning controllers is a less-than-friendly process. Some frustrated users have described the process as “scripting.” Although it's not as bad as writing code, it's also a far cry from the straightforward usability of a MIDI-learn system. You are required to hand type the name of the MIDI CC number and desired control in a scriptlike environment deep within the preferences.
If you already own a multi-input soundcard/audio interface or can get one for less than $200, then MixVibes could be a good, inexpensive way to try digital DJing with turntables. The flexibility of the overall system may be a big selling point for many aspiring DJs. Over time you can add more bells and whistles to your set or upgrade the soundcard as needed without waiting for a paid software update. Many users have complained about a lack of customer service and the accessibility of a French company, but MixVibes claims to be opening a U.S. support line in March. Also, it told Remix it will add iTunes support in the next update and Mac compatibility sometime this summer. For entry-level users or bedroom DJs who don't require a high-end system like Serato Scratch Live, MixVibes DVS Pro could be a much more fun program to play around with in your spare time. Along with the effects, sampling and more decks for your dollar, there's lots of room to grow within the program without needing to shell out a lot of cash in advance.
DVS PRO > $299
Pros: Supports multiple control inputs from turntables and CD players. No proprietary soundcard required. Multiple VST and native effects per deck. Built-in sampler.
Cons: Poor MIDI interface. Foreign-based tech support (but U.S. line coming soon). No iTunes support (but coming in next update).
PC: Pentium III/1 GHz; 512MB RAM; Windows NT2000/XP; ASIO recommended