This thing is so cool. There, I did it; I gushed at a pro-sumer iPod DJ gadget. Having been deeply involved in digital DJ technology for the past five years, sometimes things get so techy that we forget in the end it's all about music. The iDJ2 seems to step aside, give you just what you need to mix and let you enjoy playing music. Several times I completely forgot that I was writing a review and just really enjoyed mixing two tracks together. For a DJ that learned the ropes on vinyl more than a decade ago, that was very refreshing. If you want to cut, scratch, beat juggle and drop insane loops and effects, then the iDJ2 is not for you. However, if you just want to seamlessly blend together your digital music collection without needing a laptop, your search may be over.
At 6.5 pounds, the iDJ2 is light but not flimsy. The matte black finish and brushed silver trim give it a high-class look that promises to stand up to regular abuse. In terms of size, it's roughly the width of a 15-inch laptop but with an extra three inches tacked onto the length. That makes it too big to fit into your average DJ bag, but it would not be a stretch to assume it could be carried in a slightly oversize backpack. Overall, it's safe to say that it would not be too hard to carry the iDJ2 around to gigs, and it won't take up too much space in a DJ booth.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
The iDJ2 aims at being a very usable piece of gear and not just a cool concept embodied in physical form. To help achieve that aim, Numark provides all of the outputs and inputs you would need for many typical DJ scenarios. Let's say you're a mobile DJ; the balanced XLR outputs can run long lengths directly into a pair of speakers, and the built-in microphone input on the front means you won't need an extra mixer. With a Record output (stereo RCA) for posterity and two sets of line inputs (also both stereo RCA) for backup CD players (in case your iPod crashes), this powerful package could feasibly give you everything you need to rock any wedding from a single iPod.
If you're a club DJ and you simply want to incorporate MP3 files into an existing vinyl or CD collection without investing in a laptop, you have two easy options. First, you could run the RCA master output into the club's mixer and blend the iDJ2 into the mix like a third CD player, or you could even use the iDJ2 as the master mixer, running both turntables and CD players into the onboard 2-channel mixer. Although it doesn't have all the bells and whistles of many modern club mixers, all the basics are here, including 3-band EQ, gain, mic input, headphone cueing and a smooth crossfader with adjustable curve.
Even though Numark may not have built the iDJ2 with pro DJs like myself in mind, I can't help but think of all the great applications for the concept — for example, the casual DJ invitational. Many times friends will invite you down to a midweek party, a loft or even their home to spin a short guest set. You always want to accept the invite, but that means carting — at the very least — a laptop, or in my case 40 pounds of gear. Imagine being invited over to spin and having to bring only an iPod. That invitation is impossible to turn down.
SCRATCH AND LOCK
The good folks at Numark have tried to keep all of the basic DJ functions available, including scratching. The fact that scratching was even offered with an iPod at this price level was impressive, so I was not expecting a Q-Bert-like performance. Not surprisingly, the iDJ2 is not ready for ITF competition yet. Although backspins and basic wiki-wiki are possible, the jog wheels suffered from significant sticker slip and a pronounced ramp up that made cueing on time difficult.
Even though my expectations were equally low, Numark really surprised me with the key lock performance. For those that are not familiar with this feature, here it is in a nutshell. Most DJ programs, CD players and even some turntables offer the ability to change the speed of a song without affecting the pitch — you can radically speed up files and not get the chipmunk effect. Not to be outdone, the iDJ2 includes key lock on each deck, which can require a lot of processing power to sound good. I was pleasantly surprised that it sounds great even when pitched to extremes. The low end stayed strong when pushed into the range where poor key lock systems would start to break apart and show their flaws.
A LITTLE EXTRA
The iDJ2 comes with a 128 MB USB memory stick equipped with some bonus songs and a comprehensive manual. Sure, the flash drive may not be worth much, but it underscores two important points. One, rather than waste paper, Numark gives you the important information in a modern way. Two, you can use flash drives (or USB hard drives) in conjunction with your iDJ2 through two USB ports on the back panel. That's a great feature that has a very commonplace use. Let's say you're hosting an iPod mix night or you have a series of DJs playing after each other, all with iPods. How do you switch between DJs? Even the leader in digital DJing, Serato Scratch Live, can't offer an in-house solution to that problem. With the iDJ2, all you need to do is load a few “transition tracks” into the supplied USB stick and mix the next song directly off the flash drive. Then swap out the iPods, and the next DJ is on — no cable swapping or awkward silence required.
The iDJ2, like most digital DJ programs out there, offers the ability to analyze and display a rough view of what each song looks like sonically. That gives you the opportunity to visually scroll through a track and easily find crucial points in the song faster. Although the iDJ2 can perform the analysis itself, Numark also provides a software librarian so you can harness the power of your computer to plow through large collections. Once the program has analyzed each song, small information tags are attached to the files, so the iDJ2 can always pull it up when loaded.
Yes, when mixing off an iPod, one can't get too nitpicky, but there are a few things to know before buying. Before playing a track, the iDJ2 loads it into internal memory for fast, accurate and reliable playback. In order to ensure instant load times, you must build profiles for all your tracks with the librarian software and then update it as you add new songs. That can take all day for loaded iPods. Otherwise, longer tracks can take up to 20 seconds to load.
On-the-fly looping is turning into a must-have for most digital DJs because more and more performers want to create extended edits of songs on the fly. Numark wisely includes the ability to loop sections on each iDJ2 deck, but it turned out to be difficult to use effectively. Technically, there is nothing wrong with the feature; the problem was more a case of reviewer error. Unfortunately, I think most users are also going to find it hard to drop loop in and out points perfectly every time. The iDJ2 advertises “seamless looping,” but in my testing, I had to be very precise with the loop placement; it felt like playing Russian roulette with the timing of a mix.
MIXING IN MOTION
Did I mention this thing even plays video? Yes, don't let that iPod video go to waste; you can directly stream video out of the S-Video port on the back of the iDJ2. Before you get too excited and start conjuring up images of scratching and mixing music videos, there is a limit to what you can do with video and the iDJ2. For starters, only Deck A can play video — Deck B is disabled for it. Additionally, all of the DJ functions — including pitch bending, tempo adjustment and scratching — are disabled. Don't lose hope entirely, though. Numark chose to build the iDJ2 on the Linux platform and provided the source code on its Website. Theoretically, some really motivated coders might be able to come up with a way to get the iDJ2 to actually mix and blend videos in the future. Speaking of iPods, with no less than 16 versions out there, you may be wondering if yours will work with the iDJ2. To answer simply, if you own an iPod nano, Mini or 4th-generation or later standard iPod, you will be able to take full advantage of iDJ2. Other iPods support certain features, but you should check the complete compatibility list at Numark.com
Technology seems to move forward in baby steps — quickly, but still at one short interval at a time. Sometimes a product makes a bigger leap forward, combining several developments and redefining the way we look at technology. Just as the iPod did for music, the Numark iDJ2 may also mark a big jump forward for digital DJing. Not ironically, it's built around the storage device just about everyone has or has access to at this point, possibly solving the problem of a universal product. The jury is still out as to whether the public will accept this new concept in DJing, but the potential is there for the product to make a big impression.
iDJ2 > $599
Pros: Plays two songs from one iPod, with tempo adjustment and key lock. Fully integrated controller/mixer/iPod dock. Effective design. Two USB ports for reading flash drives, hard drives and other iPods. Video output. Direct Mode allows playing AAC tracks from the iTunes Music Store (with some limited functionality).
Cons: Poor scratching response.