Review: Tonium Pacemaker - EMusician

Review: Tonium Pacemaker

MINISCULE MIXER PUTS THE WHOLE PARTY IN YOUR HAND
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The touch-sensitive strip in the middle acts as the cross fader and headphone cue selection.

Although I wouldn't expect to see a lot Pacemakers in big-time DJ booths anytime soon, Tonium's integration of handheld mixing, music software and social networking is a unique combination that is worth investigating. Suavely wrapped in Apple-style packaging, the Pacemaker is a lifestyle device for the modern music fan, something you most certainly want to take out to the bar and show your friends. Many feel that opening a new package and exploring everything contained within it is sometimes the most exciting part of buying something new. Tonium's first creation scores major unpacking-allure points, but let's look at how good it really is.

BABY'S GOT THE BLENDS

Mixing songs on the Pacemaker is actually somewhat realistic because Tonium has creatively accomplished a lot of things with very few controls. This is largely possible thanks to a two-way shift button embedded on the side that creates three different sets of controls for each button or slider. While everything is fairly intuitive, the three-layer control system makes it very easy to accidentally screw up a real-time mix. One thing the designers did really well was to find a way to adjust pitch, tempo, EQ and gain all with the circular touch pad. A fast movement from center to the top, for instance, engages the high EQ, and scrolling around the edge then raises or lowers the amount. With a little practice I was surprised to find that it's possible to beat-match and mix between songs fairly reliably using traditional DJ techniques. My only bone to pick is that you have to do it all manually. On a device this small it seems like tempo matching, gain and perhaps even phase matching could be automatic. Most DJs who actually know how to mix two songs by ear are not going to enjoy the tedious process of beat-matching on a tiny interface requiring multiple layers. Why not make the basics automatic and give everyone — DJ or not — hands-on access to stellar effects and automatic looping instead?

The pacemaker does include the basic palette of effects, including echo, reverb, highpass and lowpass filters and a repeater, but I found them difficult to use, with uninspiring quality. Manual looping is also supplied, but it was very hard to set a reliable loop, especially when mixing two songs.

THE SPREAD

Instead of just offering a tool for playing around with music, Tonium also provides a budding online community where users can upload, rate and listen to each other's mixes. None of the mixes or files are downloadable, but instead streamed directly from the site, which gets around the sticky legal problems of hosting DJ mixes containing copyrighted material. Users can interact with each other, give “props” and check out what tracks people are most frequently playing. The site puts an interesting DJ spin on the interactive Web 2.0 experience and will certainly give Pacemaker users more to do with their fancy new toy.

PUT IT ON THE GRID

Most of the flawless sets on the Pacemaker Website probably were created using the Pacemaker software editor, a cross-platform program that fills two roles. First, it loads and organizes the songs on your Pacemaker's hard drive (about 110 GB) for you to mix with the handheld device. Second, the editor lets you lay out mixes in advance using an Ableton Live-style sequencer with full automation maps where you can draw in tempo, gain, effects, loops and EQ adjustments.

I was impressed with the sequencer's streamlined interface, which makes setting up mixes way too easy. The freely downloadable software is a great added value for the Pacemaker and was fun to use. The site advertises that you can then transfer that mix to the Pacemaker as a “mix file,” where you can adjust the mix live, save the result and continue tweaking later using software or hardware. Yes, you could mix an entire set in advance and just pretend to execute the dizzying blend of songs from the palm of your hand. Only the geeks will know you're cheating, but who really cares about them? You're a rock star now. Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to actually perform this feature; Tonium told me that it's not in fact available yet.

Tonium has done a great job of packing a lot of DJ functions into a portable and stylish package. The combination of features and convergence of technologies promise a lot of cool things and possibilities for the future.

TONIUM

PACEMAKER > $874

Pros: On-the-go mixing. Major cool factor; it's like the iPod no one else has.

Cons: Mixing must be done manually. Automation is only possible using the editor software.

Contact:www.pacemaker.net

SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS?

Mac: Intel processor; OS 10.4.4 or later; USB 2.0 port; free Pacemaker software editor

PC: Windows XP/Vista; USB 2.0 port; free Pacemaker software editor