For many DJs — beginners and professionals, alike — selecting the right DJ mixer can be an intimidating and frustrating experience. Just as many guitarists cycle through guitars, looking for that axe that offers the perfect tone, DJs often don't become comfortable with a mixer until they've purchased a number of units, looking for the one that combines the right tech specs with an ergonomic layout that's comfortable and intuitive.
It's a tough choice to pick the right mixer, but Numark is angling to make things a bit easier with the PPD01, an all-digital 2-channel performance mixer that incorporates technology perfected by Numark's new partner company, Alesis. Is the PPD01 the holy grail of performance mixers? Probably not. However, it is a capable piece of gear, and it provides all of the basics necessary to get the job done. It also kicks in a few interesting extras such as an all-digital signal path, crossfader-activated effects, adjustable line/phono switches and a 3-band EQ section, making it a solid choice for a midtier performance-style mixer.
If there's one thing that Numark has managed to nail throughout the years, it's slick design. Like its TTX turntable, the PPD01 is a serious looker: The black and silver chassis is enhanced by chrome-finish knobs, and when the unit is powered up, blue LEDs complete the futuristic look, making this one seriously eye-catching piece of gear. The dampened-steel construction is solid and gives the PPD01 a substantial 9.5-pound heft, leaving you with the impression that this is the kind of mixer that can move from gig to gig without much fuss.
The PPD01 is pretty plug-and-play and as such doesn't require a lengthy manual, but even so, the one that comes with the unit is fairly anemic. The 12-page leaflet (including front and back cover) provides only the most cursory overview of the mixer's features and omits deeper tech specs and application notes. This wasn't a big deal, but a more in-depth look at the PPD01's special features, like the effects section, would be welcome.
HOOKING IT UP
The back panel features pretty standard fare for most 2-channel mixers in the PPD01's price range. Two pairs of RCA inputs provide connectivity for decks and CD players. A switch above each pair of inputs allows the phono jacks to be switched over to line-level inputs, increasing the number of usable line inputs to four. This is a convenient feature and could be quite useful for DJs running a lot of line-level sources like CD players, MP3 players and computers in their rigs. Two ground posts with threading holes are provided, and the screw tops are secured in such a fashion that they can't be removed — a nice touch that will keep you from losing the top of a ground post in a dark club.
One extra pair of line-level inputs is provided as a convenience and routes into a simple auxiliary section, which is separate from the faders, on the front of the unit. The controls for this extra input aren't spectacular — just a volume knob and a bass and treble control — but it's a great place to connect a computer or another source that needs to share speakers with the DJ setup.
Booth monitors are driven by a set of RCA outputs, and both RCA and balanced ¼-inch plugs are provided for the master output, providing an easy way to send signal to the main system and a recording unit simultaneously. One superior benefit that the PPD01 offers, which you won't find on other mixers in this price range, is digital output. The PPD01 is a 24-bit, all-digital mixer; therefore, both coaxial and optical outputs are provided for easy connection to most digital recording formats like MiniDisc, DAT or audio soundcards on computers. If you plan to record your sets to a digital device, this could make the PPD01 a lot more attractive than other mixers in this price range.
FROM THE TOP
Basic front-panel controls are straightforward: two vertical faders for each channel and a crossfader for mixing. All three use Numark's proprietary D-Type faders, which the company claims feature special algorithms that increase performance and fader life span. All three faders are user-replaceable (as well as interchangeable) if they ever fail.
Two Reverse buttons are provided to flip each channel's fader direction, and a third Reverse button flips the positions of channel 1 and channel 2 on the crossfader. For all three faders, there are Slope controls that tuck away. Toggles above each channel switch between line and phono inputs, and as with some other battle-style mixers on the market, these switches can be user-rotated to eight different angles to accommodate a variety of styles. Headphone and mic jacks are conveniently located on the forward bottom panel of the unit.
Above the fader section is a standard array of knobs for gain, dual-mode EQ/filter and cue control. A small section to the left controls the microphone gain and doubles as a volume control for the auxiliary line input. The right side of the upper section contains Booth and Master level knobs, along with cueing facilities.
Cueing is a breeze on the PPD01, thanks to its crossfader-style cue section. I've always found it easiest to mix when the level of each input source can be adjusted independently in the headphones, and the PPD01's minicrossfader makes it easy. The fader is about half the size of the main crossfader, feels a bit flimsier and doesn't travel quite as smoothly, but it gets the job done. The manual makes no mention of this crossfader being replaceable.
A nice touch in the cue section is the inclusion of a Tone control, which provides some basic EQ for the phones. If you prefer mixing to the kick, simply rotate the knob left: Bass tones are enhanced and highs cut. The opposite is also true for DJs who prefer to mix on snares or hats: A twist to the right, and snares and hats pop out while basses and kicks are muffled. It's a handy tool and could potentially aid club situations in which loud sound systems tend to drown out some of the detail in headphone cueing.
ALL EQs ARE NOT EQUAL
The EQ section on the PPD01 is a bit curious. The dual-mode controls (Numark's latest innovation) show great promise on paper, but, unfortunately, some strange design decisions render the EQ and filter difficult to work with.
The greatest flaw in the EQ/filter section is that both share the same set of knobs. It saves a lot of space and seems like smart design, but the reality is that people tend to want more control — not less — and a separate set of knobs for the filters would provide far more flexibility. Each of the controls includes a software detent or “dead space” (in place of the standard hardware center detent) that nulls the EQ when the knob is set to the 12 o'clock position. Numark designed this to make filter sweeps easier, but I'll wager that most DJs will be using the EQ a lot more than the filter, so it seems pretty strange to drop a standard design element like this just to make filter sweeps a little smoother.
At first glance, there also appears to be no way to get the EQ to remember its settings when using the filter section. When I perform a filter sweep, I usually end at either the very top or bottom of the filter's range, which means that the Cutoff knob is turned fully left or right. This isn't a problem on mixers with separate knobs, but on the PPD01, the filter cutoff just happens to share a knob with the bass EQ — which suggests that when the filter is disengaged, the bass EQ suddenly jumps to wherever the knob is! After closer inspection, however, it became clear that this issue was already addressed with the inclusion of the Hold to Preset button. This feature allows users to turn the knob back to the desired position without affecting the EQ; simply hold the button, turn the knob and release, and you're back to where you started.
Nevertheless, the EQ section does have some highlights: All bands offer 100 percent kill, turning their respective frequencies off completely when rotated all the way to the left. The knobs are also well-sized and evenly spaced, offering lots of room for heavy tweaking with both hands. The shiny chrome knobs can be a little slippery to handle with sweaty hands, but, thankfully, they're large enough that it's not much of a problem. Frequency boost with the EQ is decent and offers plenty of gain that works well for enhancing sounds in the mix. The slope on each is a bit broad and sometimes enhances a little more than you'd like, but, overall, the sound is good, and the full-kill nature of the EQ is quite useful. The unit also includes integrated compression and limiting on each channel, which prevents the user from overloading the signal path.
Located beneath the crossfader is perhaps the PPD01's most interesting feature, the crossfader-actuated effects section. The effect controls are angled down from the front panel about 25 degrees and feature a rocker switch that selects between seven digital effects: flanger, bandpass filter, auto pan, auto cut, lowpass auto cut, phase shifter and varicut. A pop-up dial determines the crossfader's control of rate or depth of the selected effect.
At first glance, this appears to be one of the most promising and exciting features about the PPD01. All-digital effects, integrated in the mixer, controlled right from the crossfader — what's not to like? The effects are indeed interesting, and some DJs will doubtless find them to be useful tools in expanding their sonic palettes, but as with the EQ/filter combo, the effects suffer from design oversights that could have been easily avoided.
The effects on the PPD01 are unique in that they're directly tied to the unit's crossfader. In some ways, this is really cool; for example, the flanger and bandpass filter are actually velocity-sensitive and react differently depending on how fast the crossfader is moved from side to side. In fact, all of the PPD01's effects are, in one way or another, controlled by the velocity or position of the crossfader.
The technology behind this is impressive, but in practice, it's a mixed bag. Many DJs — scratch DJs in particular — will probably appreciate this hands-free approach to adding effects to their performances. An equal number, however, will probably wish for a separate button or switch to engage the effects without using the crossfader. It's also difficult to select effects quickly, because the rocker switch only allows you to step from one effect to the next, which can be a liability in a complicated performance in which every second counts and you don't have a free hand to cycle from one effect to the next.
Those gripes aside, the effects do sound good, and if you can manage to get them to work right in your set, they stand a good chance of enhancing your performance. A little dedicated practice could turn this unique controller into a formidable advantage over standard mixers with traditional effects.
As a digital mixer, the PPD01 boasts an inaudible noise floor and impressive overall fidelity. Signal-to-noise is 102 dB on line inputs and 85 dB on phone inputs, which is on par with mixers costing considerably more.
Music run through the unit sounds slightly cold and brittle, probably owing to the fact that the PPD01 has an all-digital signal path. The effect isn't glaringly obvious but became apparent when I compared the PPD01's output with a Rane TTM 56 and an Allen & Heath Xone:62. Both analog mixers (which happen to cost two to three times as much as the Numark) sounded warmer with a rounded top end whereas the PPD01 sounded sharp and crisp. In all fairness, for a mixer at this price point, the A/D/A converters sound as good as can be expected and will probably meet the expectations of all but the most selective DJs. Sound quality is always the most subjective element of any mixer. The best policy is always to visit a music retailer and decide for yourself.
At the end of the day, the PPD01 is a good buy. It includes a few interesting design decisions, such as its unusual effects implementation and EQ/filter integration. However, considering that most other mixers at this price point don't offer these options at all, their inclusion is a welcome bonus.
The extra features on the PPD01 make it a great choice for scratch DJs or bedroom DJs. The PPD01's small 10-inch frame makes for a compact DJ setup, and thanks to the coaxial and optical digital outputs, it integrates wonderfully with digital recording setups. The extra line input isn't fancy, but it works great for sharing speakers with sources, like computers, that don't need the flexibility of a whole channel strip.
The PPD01 is touted as groundbreaking, but the best thing about it needs no hype: It is a capable 2-channel mixer with solid features at a good price. If you want a quality performance-style mixer with digital capability that packs maximum bang for the buck, the Numark PPD01 won't disappoint.
PPD01 > $560
Pros: Good price-to-performance ratio.All-digital signal path. Coaxial and optical S/PDIF digital output. Crossfader-style cue mix. Full-kill EQ controls. Attractive design.
Cons: Confusing EQ/filter section. Effects only usable via crossfader. External power supply. Slightly harsh sound.