Picking the right DJ mixer can be a tough choice for beginning DJs and seasoned professionals alike. Serious DJs are artists in every sense of the word, and choosing a mixer that suits individual tastes and inspires creativity is every bit as challenging as a guitarist seeking that one elusive instrument with the perfect mix of tone and balance. Performance mixers represent a particularly interesting segment of the mixer market. Aimed primarily at scratch DJs, these little powerhouses are tailor-made to fit snugly between a pair of turntables and offer an array of unique features, like hamster switches and adjustable fader curves, that are standard tools for scratch DJs. Throughout the years, though, I've noticed that a lot of mix DJs have 2-channel mixers in their home setups, as well. Why? Simple: In many ways, they're the perfect bedroom mixer — they're small and straightforward with just enough I/O to get a DJ started with a couple of decks and a CD player or two, and they tend to be relatively inexpensive when stacked against big club mixers.
ALL YOU NEED > The Vestax PMC-05ProSL includes a sturdy, all-metal chassis that is built for rigors of the road, yet its slim, efficient design makes it a great choice for bedroom DJs, as well.
Vestax's new PMC-05ProSL is a perfect example of everything that a performance mixer should be. It's small, durable and simple to use, a tool that's equally as powerful in the hands of a skilled DJ as it is easy on the wallet for an aspiring beginner. Sure, cheaper performance mixers are on the market, but to see how they rate against the newest model in Vestax's award-winning Pro-series product line, take a closer look; find out whether the ProSL is a worthy addition to the Vestax Pro stable and, more important, a worthy contender for your hard-earned cash.
TWO FOR THE ROAD
The PMC-05ProSL struck me as an impressive, professional-grade unit right when I pulled it out of the box. From the sturdy, all-metal chassis to the durable knobs and faders, it's clear that the 9-pound ProSL will hold up as you dole out the harshness, whether that be traveling from gig to gig or pounding away at the faders during intense mix sessions. All of the unit's knobs are easy to grip and have a pleasant tactile resistance that keeps you from accidentally nudging them, and the channel faders and crossfader offer solid yet silky-smooth travel throughout their entire range — rivaling the components found on mixers clocking in at twice the price.
Vestax's Pro-series mixers have picked up a little flak for their two-tone front panels throughout the years, but I've always been kind of partial to the look. It visually separates the EQs and the faders so you can quickly locate things in low-light conditions, and it also gives the illusion that the mixer is significantly smaller than its 12-by-10-inch frame would suggest. This silver highlight is more than just a pretty face; it's actually part of Vestax's double-flat-panel system, which allows you to remove the top panel and easily modify the ProSL's faders and switches or replace the faders entirely with components of your choice. Also included in the box is a power adapter along with a thin 15-page manual that covers basic operations. The manual's translation leaves a bit to be desired, but the gist of things gets across well enough, and a healthy dose of illustrations makes it easy to understand everything from basic operations to advanced customization and fader-replacement procedures.
The ProSL has a standard complement of audio jacks for connection to a variety of input and output sources. You won't find anything fancy like digital I/O or XLR connections here, just an array of meat-and-potatoes RCA jacks for hooking up two decks and two line-level devices, like CD players. The ProSL also features two pairs of RCA outputs, offering an easy way to drive the main sound system while feeding the same signal to booth monitors or a recording device. Curiously, the ProSL is devoid of any sort of ¼-inch output. It's not a make-or-break deal — just throw a couple of ¼-inch — to-RCA adapters in, and you're set — but given that the unit has two stereo pairs of outputs anyway, it wouldn't have killed Vestax to make one pair ¼-inch. Most other performance mixers in this price range have at least one pair of ¼-inch outputs, so the ProSL's lack thereof is all the more apparent.
I'm also baffled by Vestax's decision to control both pairs of master outputs from the same volume knob. This might not seem like a big deal if you're using the second pair for recording, but if you set up the ProSL in the logical performance configuration with one pair driving the main sound system and the second supplying a monitor feed, you'll have to find another way to control the booth volume.
Rounding out the back panel are two ground posts for earthing a pair of turntables and a power jack for connecting the external power supply. It's a bit disappointing to see yet another piece of pro gear shipping without a built-in power supply, but in the ProSL's defense, performance mixers pack some pretty dense electronics, so I'm not surprised that the unit uses a power adapter to get its juice. There's also a lone ¼-inch jack on the panel for connecting a footswitch (more on that later).
GET ON TOP
The ProSL is broken into two distinct sections by the coloring on its front panel. The lower two-thirds of the unit is relatively sparse, containing both channel faders and a crossfader, along with cue and effects controls. All of the faders are a relatively short throw — only 50 mm — which might be a little on the small side for mix DJs looking for detailed control of smooth, long mixes. On the upside, scratch DJs will appreciate the wide-open spaces around each fader. There's a full two inches between the crossfader and the channel faders and four inches from the crossfader to the side of the unit, so you can work the ProSL pretty hard without worrying about accidentally knocking around any other controls.
The top third of the PMC-05ProSL is occupied by the EQ and sampler control sections. Each channel offers a gain and a balance control, as well as a 2-channel high- and low-band EQ. The high-band EQ offers 12 dB of boost and cut whereas the low-band pumps out 12 dB of boost and 24 dB of cut. Total kill would have been preferable on both, but for most purposes, the ProSL's EQ gets the job done. My main beef with the ProSL is the spacing between EQ knobs. They're tight — I'm talking less than a quarter of an inch — which makes it really difficult to get a firm grip and tweak hard. It's not a showstopper, but the cramped quarters do take some getting used to and might be a problem for DJs who use EQ tricks as a core part of their performance. Increasing the space between knobs to a half-inch wouldn't chew up too much space and would go a long way toward making the ProSL easier to use.
The one thing that truly sets the ProSL apart in its class is its sampling and delay tools. Located at the top left of the mixer, the effects section consists of a 24-second sampler and delay unit that can be used to loop passages, drop samples and create delay effects with delay times ranging from a flangelike 0.5 ms all the way up to a full second-and-a-half. A small three-position toggle switch configures the effects for delay at its topmost setting, with the other two positions offering pre- and post-fader sampler operation. Using the effects unit in delay mode is the ultimate in simplicity — just select the desired channel, tap in the tempo using the large Tap/Play button to the left of the channel faders, set the desired level using the Mix Level knob, and you've got beat-synched delays pumping in time with your tunes. You can also configure the delay time manually using the Delay Time knob, and a Fine knob gives you an extra 90 ms to play with and works great for creating flanging effects.
The ProSL's Delay section is great, but the real fun begins when you kick it into sampler mode. With a straightforward interface that's easy to use on the fly, it's an outstanding tool that integrates easily into a set. The sampler can record quick snippets like hits or scratches, or it can snag up to a whopping 24 seconds of audio, which you can loop and trigger at will using the Loop and Tap/Play buttons.
Further enhancing the sampler's usefulness is an overdub facility that lets you record additional audio on top of existing samples. For example, you could grab a loop from a record on deck A, dub in a couple of scratches from deck B and skip farther forward on deck B and add a vocal phrase or drum loop. You can then route the effects to the cue section to make sure your “composition” sounds good, use the Overdub Delete button to dump any sketchy takes and then drop the whole shebang in the mix by itself or along with tunes from your decks. With enough time and practice, a skilled DJ could use the ProSL's sampler to remix songs and build new tracks on the fly. With 24 seconds of memory, you have plenty of space to play with.
The sole drawback to the Sampler section is that the ProSL includes it at the expense of an external effects loop. You're locked into using the ProSL's sampler and delay — there's no way to get music out to stand-alone effects processors. The built-in effects are quite capable, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it is something to be aware of when shopping for a mixer that fits your needs.
The Sampler section is a powerful tool in its own right, but when you pair it with a footswitch, the creative potential doubles instantly. If you're a scratch DJ who needs both hands free to work vinyl and fader simultaneously, that doesn't leave much room for working the sampler into the mix. Enter the footswitch. The PMC-05ProSL will accept any standard footswitch with a ¼-inch plug and the proper polarity (make sure you get one with switchable polarity). Once you've hooked it up, the footswitch takes the place of the Record button in the Sampler section, leaving you free to cut and scratch while you're punching sample overdubs in and out using the footswitch. It's a unique feature that really puts the ProSL over the top in terms of performance tools for scratch DJs. If you're using an external effects unit for looping and delay right now, the ProSL might have everything you need and then some in one compact, tidy little unit.
Another great feature on the ProSL is its microphone input. Located underneath the crossfader and across from the headphone jack, the mic section offers a ¼-inch input, a gain knob and an effects switch. The ProSL's mic input isn't anything fancy, but if you work with an MC or plan to use the mixer in a studio situation in which you need to drop voice-overs into a mix, it does the trick. You'll need a dynamic microphone — no phantom power here — and in most cases, an XLR-to — ¼-inch mic cable, but that the ProSL even offers this at all is a bonus. It's also worth noting that you can route the mic through the effects section, which could be a seriously formidable tool in the hands of a skilled DJ working with a slick MC.
IN THE MIX
All of these features are great, but what good are they if the unit doesn't sound good? Fortunately, that's not an issue with the PMC-05ProSL. I listened to this mixer for hours on end and found that the unit sounds transparent and well-balanced, not harsh in any way, with a tight low end and a crisp high end. Personally, I think that the ProSL might be a touch on the cold side and could use a bit of warmth for character, but these sorts of things are really a matter of taste, and for a sub-$1,000 mixer, it performs admirably by staying transparent. What you put in is essentially what you get out.
In general, working with the ProSL is a pleasure. There's plenty of wide-open space around the crossfader, and the faders are a dream to handle. As I mentioned before, 50 mm is a touch on the short side, but they feel great and have a wonderfully smooth action. The default volume curve on the channel faders is a little strange — there's barely any gain from 0 to 8 and then a big leap in volume from 8 to 10. Luckily, you can adjust this by popping off the top panel and switching a toggle on the faders to select one of three curves, so it's not a big deal.
There's no mistaking that the PMC-05ProSL is targeted squarely at the performance-DJ market. The unit looks good, sounds great and offers nearly everything a scratch DJ might want. There are a few oversights — such as the omission of hamster switches on channel faders; the lack of a separate volume control for the second master output; and, of course, the cramped EQ knobs — but by and large, the ProSL delivers a solid set of tools along with an outstanding sampler and delay function that's sure to stoke the creative fire in any performance DJs lucky enough to get their hands on one.
Ultimately, I felt that the ProSL performed admirably in nearly every way that a performance mixer should. It sounds good; it's obviously built to handle the rigors of live performance; the faders are smooth and responsive; the EQ offers a reasonable amount of boost and cut on each band; and the sampler unit provides plenty of sample time coupled with a footswitch option for hands-free use. When you combine those perks with the standard complement of features on a battle mixer — adjustable fader curves, crossfader hamster, customizable phono/line toggles and more — it's clear that the Vestax PMC-05ProSL is a great fit for anyone in the market for a midrange performance mixer.
PMC-05PROSL > $750
Pros: Great build quality. Twenty-four-second sampling and looping features. Delay effects built in. User-replaceable faders. Adjustable phono/line toggles. Footswitch trigger for sampler. Adjustable fader curves. Microphone input.
Cons: External power supply. No ¼-inch outputs. Cramped EQ knobs. No separate volume control for booth monitor.