The dawn of the live remixer is here. These cutting-edge performers are not content to build mixes by simply segueing between tracks like a traditional DJ. Instead, they get into the act of actually making the music live by adding their own sonic elements to their mixes. Integrating samplers, synthesizers, drum machines, and laptop computers with DJ CD players and turntables, they can draw from an extremely diverse palette of sounds during a performance. However, in order to deliver all these sounds as a stereo feed to a club's sound system (or a 2-track recorder) and have DJ-style cue control, they must have a DJ mixer with lots of channels.
But it's a chore finding a solidly built DJ mixer, at a reasonable price, with balanced outputs and at least four channels with discrete EQ on each one. In my ongoing search to find such a board for my live remix setup, I discovered Numark's DM1720X Stereo Mixer. With all the previously mentioned prerequisites, in addition to many other noteworthy features like a mic channel with built-in ducking and a dedicated zone output fader, this $399 unit definitely warrants a closer look.
The DM1720X is not a flashy board — it has no bold paint-job or eye-catching graphics to woo potential buyers. Its appearance is understated and functional — a plain matte black finish with white labeling (a little color is provided by the blue Numark logo). The mixer is solidly built, however, which is much more important than having attention-getting looks. And plenty of LEDs light the face of the DM1720X, along with a BNC jack for plugging in a 12-volt gooseneck-style lamp for extra illumination.
The mixer is a standard 19 inches wide. But its 10½-inch height requires some serious vertical rack space (figure on using at least eight spaces — six spaces for the board plus another two spaces to allow room for making rear panel connections). It comes standard with big rubber feet, so you may decide to just set it face up on a table. In this configuration it sits about four inches tall (including the rubber feet). Note that the rack ears are not removable.
Power is provided with an IEC Type II cable. Kudos to Numark for this design. This kind of power cable is easy to replace should you lose it, and you can remove it easily any time you want to take the mixer out of a rack to make wiring changes. On the board's face is a small push-button on/off switch that feels rather flimsy compared with a typical rocker-type switch. Next to the power button is a power-indicator LED that makes it easy to tell whether the unit is powered up.
INTO THE UP CHANNELS
All the line and phono inputs are standard RCA jacks. Channels 1, 2, and 3 offer one line and one phono input each, and channel 4 has two line inputs and a mic input — a ¼-inch jack located on the unit's rear panel.
Channels 1 through 4 all have identical controls: trim, three bands of EQ (hi, mid, and low), pan, a toggle switch for selecting the source input, and the up fader. The trim range is from 0 to -20 dB, providing ample control over input levels. The EQ sounds good and gets the job done, offering ±15 dB at 80 Hz and 12.5 kHz and ±10 dB at 1 kHz. The EQ knobs feature a center detent for lining up a flat EQ setting, which is great if you're working in dimly lit clubs where you often need to adjust knobs by feel alone. Numark's toggle-style input selectors can take a little getting used to, especially if you normally work with knobs or buttons. But once you get the necessary flick-of-the-wrist motion down, the toggle switches work well (though they aren't exactly suited for making beat-accurate mutes and source changes). The up faders are a bit stiff for my taste, but they feel hardy and their stiff action makes them easy to adjust to a desired position.
The panning knobs found on each channel are a nice addition. Many DJ mixers lack panning controls on the channels, probably because traditional DJs generally work exclusively with stereo sources. However, the pan control is a windfall for live remixers and more adventurous DJs because it provides control over the left and right blend of a stereo signal. For example, with the board's master output set to mono (the DM1720X gives you a choice between mono or stereo operation for the Master L/R and Zone outputs), every channel's stereo input acts like two mono sources. If you have two of a sampler's individual outs plugged into a channel's stereo inputs, you get two independent sound sources (assuming you have a different sample issuing from each of the sampler's outputs) by simply panning hard left or right. This feature effectively doubles the DM1720X's potential simultaneous inputs — very cool.
A fifth channel labeled DJ-Mic is fed by either the ¼-inch jack located on the mixer's rear panel or the Neutrik combo connector (which accepts either ¼-inch or XLR) on the front panel. The same EQ and panning controls found on channels 1 through 4 are also included on the DJ-Mic channel. This channel's toggle switch offers three positions: Off, On, and Talkover. The Off and On settings are self-explanatory. The Talkover position engages the channel's built-in ducker. The amount of ducking is fixed at 14 dB, which is acceptable for most situations. Having a mic input with a ducker is certainly a handy feature, and it's great for making announcements and getting the crowd's attention.
The Master L/R and the Zone outputs both have dedicated up faders. And though the source for both of these outputs is identical, it is nice to have a separate fader to control the Zone level for applications such as sending your mix to a separate room. A toggle switch above each fader gives you the choice of either mono or stereo operation for each output. The Master L/R output features professional-quality balanced XLR jacks. The Master L/R meter is a stereo, 12-LED string, but there are no meters for the Zone output.
A headphone jack is on the bottom right of the face of the mixer — exactly where it should be. And Numark was thoughtful enough to provide a right-angle adapter (¼-inch stereo male to ¼-inch stereo female) to help keep your headphone cable out of the way. Next to the headphone jack is the headphone-level knob.
Your cue source can be either PFL (a channel's prefader level, post trim, signal), PGM (the master L/R mix), or a blend of the two. These sources are controlled with a crossfader labeled Headphone Mix. Push the crossfader all the way left to hear PFL, all the way right for PGM, and in the middle for a mix of the two sources. This is a great feature because it lets you hear through your cans what the audience is hearing over the mains — sweet. A mono PFL meter (one string of 12 LEDs) lies just beneath the Master L/R meter. And near the bottom of each input channel is a push button for sending the PFL signal to cue. Red LEDs next to each button illuminate when a channel's PFL is enabled. Numark definitely knows how to design a cue system for working DJs.
ACROSS THE FADERS
It's possible to crossfade between any of the DM1720X's four line/phono channels, but not the mic channel. On both sides of the crossfader is a knob for selecting the channels you want to crossfade between. For example, if the crossfader's left knob is set to channel 1 and its right knob is set to channel 4, those are the two channels the crossfader will control. If you don't want to crossfade between any channels, you can easily disengage the crossfader using a push button. The crossfader feels smooth and is removable so you can replace it quickly and easily with a Numark RS-45T Replacement Crossfader (about $29) should it wear out.
After spending countless hours looking for a sturdy mixer with enough channels to accommodate my live remixing gear, I'm happy to report that the DM1720X fits the bill. I have used the mixer for several gigs over the past few months and am pleased with its performance. The crossfader setup is great; the cue system perfect; and the dedicated mic channel with the ducker is an excellent bonus. My only real wish is that the board was more compact. I've had problems fitting the unit into my gig rack along with the rest of my gear, and in some cases I just ended up using the mixer on a tabletop. The mixer is dependable, however, and very reasonably priced. If you are searching for a DJ mixer with four-plus channels that won't clean out your piggy bank, be sure to check out Numark's DM1720X.
Erik Hawkins remixes live with his friends in the progressive-trance collective Kinetic Theory. You can hear this project and visit his indie label and personal-studio resource Web site at www.muzicali.com.
DM1720X Stereo Mixer
PROS: Panning knobs for controlling a stereo signal's left and right mix. Mono mode available on Master L/R and Zone outputs. Ability to crossfade between any two channels. Dedicated mic channel with built-in ducker. Excellent cue system.
CONS: Small, flimsy power on/off button. No meter for Zone output. Large size.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4