Hifana Hardware Up Close

Japanese turntablist duo Hifana have some pretty good finger drumming chops of their own as they show in their live sets made up of MPC’s, turntables, and CDJ’s.  They keep Korg Kaoss Pads around for effects and even some live drums and drum pads to splash organic sounds into the mix.  The only MIDI specific controller in this setup is the padKontrol though it’s likely triggering samples off their MPC, a popular move if your pads are worn out or you want to double your playing surface. This video from their last DVD takes you up close and personal with their gear via spy cams mounted on their hats and fingers!

For their new DVD and album 24H which dropped this past July it looks like they’ve embraced their MIDI controllers and USB capabilities.  Wonder what software they’re using…?

See more hardware mastery by searching Hifana on Youtube and check the links below to see the specs on some of the gear they use.

HID vs. MIDI: What’s the difference?

Do you use a Midi controller when you DJ? Do you notice lag when moving sliders or working with jog wheels? Have you wondered why when using the mouse or keyboard to control these same controls there is no lag? If so, the difference may be between HID and MIDI control. HID is what’s commonly used to read your mouse and keyboard movements. Read on and I’ll try to explain the differences between HID and MIDI the best I can here:

MIDI stands for Music Instrument Digital Interface. It was adopted in the 1980’s by instrument makers to let hardware synthesizers, drum machines, and sequencers communicate with each other regardless of their manufacturer. MIDI works by pushing a series of messages to a the device receiving them like note number, note on, note off, note velocity, and values for slider and knobs known as continuous controller messages. With this digital interface already in place, when computer sequencing and synthesis entered the scene it embraced MIDI as a means of interfacing with keyboards and controllers already out there. The signals coming in from a MIDI instrument can be adapted for different purposes. Note number and on/off messages can control the transport features of your DJ software for instance, but you’re going to be limited by the speed at which your computer is able to break down those midi messages and translate them to your DJ software. This can vary based on your processor and USB port speed. Most software is now optimized to work with MIDI controllers and respond great for pushing buttons. The detailed and expressive continuous controller messages needed for jog wheel and faders may not be as responsive from MIDI devices and you may notice more lag time between your controller movements and computer response due to latency in the midi signal. Even small amounts of latency are noticeable when you’re trying to play your controller as intended while being expressive and in time with the music. For these functions HID may be a more responsive solution.

HID stands for Human Interface Device, which is a protocol used by USB devices like a mice, keyboards, and game controllers. The state of your HID device is constantly being monitored by your computer, and button pushes or mouse clicks are seen as changes in it’s state which are read right away. Rather then wait for a message to arrive from a MIDI controller to process in real time, HID protocol lets your DJ software keep constant tabs on your controller and see movements of a fader or a jog wheel the way your OS can see movements of the mouse.

Controllers using HID first came to my attention in the description I read of the Traktor Kontrol S4 and how it’s jog wheels would be more responsive because of it. Come to find out that there are a few controllers taking advantage of HID, but this may be where companies are finding new ways to make these controllers software specific. The VCI-300 for instance, sends MIDI that can be mapped to any software, but sends HID control specifically for it’s accompanying software Serato ITCH. I imagine the afore mentioned Kontrol S4’s HID features will only work with Traktor.

It seems about time we move on from MIDI. Being used to old school MIDI cables and interfaces, I remember plugging in the first USB controller I got and thinking “Why send MIDI through a USB cable, shouldn’t there be a more efficient way?” HID may present that way, but because the protocol is more sophisticated and largely device specific, it may be a while before we see it used as a middle man for user assignable control interfaces. For now though Serato and Traktor users can look to these devices for better feel and response from a controller.

Check below to see some of the controllers we carry featuring HID control of their specified software!

The Bridge for Serato / Ableton now in Public Beta

Dj buzz of the day is that the long talked about Bridge feature that connects your Ableton sets to Serato rig and vice versa is now in public beta for anyone to download. You need to run new beta versions of both Ableton AND Scratch Live or ITCH so if you’re down for the beta fest hit up the Serato Forum to get started. You need to be a registered user of both softwares to get it working but it appears the demo of Ableton live should work as well for non Ableton folks.

Check out the vid from Scratchworx below to see the new features:

4 Deck Controllers on the Rise at DJ Expo

It’s DJ Expo week in Atlantic City, NJ so it’s no wonder new DJ products are cropping up around the internet. I posted links to the Kontrol S4 yesterday and today the Denon DN-MC6000 hit the nets. No flashy video for this one yet but check out the official press release and full write ups at both Scratchworx and Create Digital Music. See also Scratchworx coverage of the stand alone DC-SC2000 controller and check back to their blog for detailed updates on DJ Expo as I’m sure they’re knee deep.  We’ll follow the top headlines and repost them here as well.

So it looks like there will be four new four deck controllers this coming year in the form of the Traktor Kontrol S4, the Denon DN-MC 6000 (above), the American Audio VSM4, and the Allen & Heath Xone DX (which is already out). We’re planning on getting our hands on all of these and trying them out to give you the full scoop so check back for updates!

Going to the gig with Durkin

Ryan Durkin and I hold down a little spot called Zuzu every other Friday in Boston. I snapped a pic of Durk’s bag after our gig this past Friday. When Durkin’s not rocking Boston hotspots he produces and DJ’s for rapper Bleck El. Here’s what he’s packin:

  • Dell laptop
  • Seratro SL1 box.
  • Sony MDR headphones
  • Ortofon DJ S cartridges
  • Stanton Uberstand laptop stand
  • Short stack of 12″s and serato records

Durkin swears by his Uberstand for keeping his laptop close at hand. We also used the White Labels I got from the shop for Fridays gig. They felt solid coming on and off the decks and vinyl sounded good and loud. We patched in a TC Electronics Nova Delay pedal and got it sounding good with a little tweaking of the wet dry and feedback time. I’ll be doing a more in depth post on integrating outboard effects with your DJ setup so I’ll save details on this pedal for then.

What does your bag look like on the way to a gig? Shoot me an email with what your packing and we’ll feature it here on the blog!

Going to the gig…


Here’s the first in what will hopefully be more “DJ bags on the way to the gig and what’s in em” posts (I invite you to submit your own!). We’ll start with my bag. I’m on my way up to Boston for a few gigs. Here’s what I’m packing:

  • Macbook Pro
  • Serato SL1 box
  • Headphones (MDRs)
  • Glyph PortaGig hard drive
  • Butter Rugs, control recs, a few LP’s for changeover
  • Fitght Stick 3 game controller

I’ve got everything I need to DJ plus my hard drive so I can work on tunes on the road. I like to play records out but when traveling I usually only bring enough to change computers with the dudes I’m playing with. Packing some classics LP’s here to give me some options and keep the transitions smooth (plus I also don’t mind if these get warped in my bag). The fightstick is something I’ve been playing around with in Max/MSP which let’s me assign the buttons to Midi notes and send those to Serato for cue points and loops.

From the shop:

I’m also bringing a pair of White Labels on Spencer’s recommendation. Some of my friends have been rocking delay pedals with their mixer’s too so I thought I’d try the Nova Delay out. There are new effects built into Serato Scratch now but they come through the Serato box so the delay doesn’t continue when you bring the fader down on that channel.  The Nova Delay is a stereo pedal with quarter inch ins and outs so I’ll patch it into the aux in on the mixer.  I’ll report back my findings on this new stuff.

What does your bag look like on the way to the gig? Shoot me an email with what your packing and we’ll feature it here on the blog and hook you up deals on any new stuff you’ve been looking to try!

Hi Quality Ways to Rip Digital (Mp3s) from Vinyl Records

As a guy who started DJing with vinyl in some ways I consider myself a record collector first. I still bring a vinyl crate to the club with me sometimes, but it’s not always practical when traveling, and can be risky when packing some of my prized 12″s. Re-buying songs in digital format is easy and time effective (many classics come remastered too which is a bonus), but I can’t always find some of my favorite cuts or 12″ versions online. Recording my vinyl will get it into my digital crates but has always made me nervous. If I’m spending the time ripping a record, I want to make sure I get the best possible quality. Here’s what my current vinyl ripping station looks like:

  • Thorens TD 125 turntable
  • Micro Acoustics 2002 cartridge
  • Pro-Ject Phono BOX MK2 (non usb) preamp
  • Motu Ultralite interface
  • Logic and Izotope Ozone

The Motu Ultralite may not feature the best A/D for a hi-fi turntable, but this setup gives me a permanent deck I can throw a record on when I need to rip it in since my Technics aren’t always set up in my studio.

I was just talking about this with PAS associate Spencer who DJ’s and collects disco classics.  Here’s his vinyl ripping rundown:

  • Technics SL1200M3D
  • Shure White Label
  • Bozak CMA10-2DL (refurbed/capped by Mario G)
  • Apogee Symphony audio card with Apogee AD8000 & DA16X converters
  • Antelope Audio OCX-V Master Clock
  • Bryston 2B SST Pro
  • Klipsch Cornerhorns
  • Logic and Waves plug-ins

The white labels track great, high output, low record wear and the best detail on a needle I can DJ with (back-cue with).  The Bozak is a huge component in getting the sound I want…it makes a huge difference, especially on the bottom end.  And with the funk, disco, reggae and dance music I play it’s rather desirable!  Last in the recording chain is the Apogee AD8000.  This is the old Apogee with the amazing LED meters and ridiculous clarity.  It only goes to 48khz which is what made a lot of people dump them but I do everything at 44.1khz anyways so for me this was a great deal for an amazing converter.  I use the Antelope master clock which is the icing on the conversion cake.  There’s no comparison to the stereo imaging and top-end detail that this gives me.

But what’s good for the DJ who wants a dedicated all in one hi quality solution to rip their vinyl without going through their DJ mixer?  If you’ve got Technics or a hi-fi turntable you’re halfway there.  The Bellari Rolls VP530 Tube Phono Preamp with built in USB interface could get you the rest of the way. Bellari phono stages have received rave reviews in Hi-Fi magazine for outperforming in their price range. It’s onboard USB convertor records at 16-bit, 44.1 kHz which should be on par with the other files in your library for quality and file size. If you eventually want to step it up to 24-bit recording you can use it as an analogue stage and send it to a dedicated interface. We’ve got a crazy deal on the Rolls VP530 going on right now so check the link below!

Can a Launchpad be a Monome?

The Monome has been long revered as the holy grail of DIY controllers. It’s open format and active community of builders and developers make it great for people who want to completely customize their music making experience. But building your own can be a steep climb for those not familiar with electronics or programing. Novation recently introduced their own Monome-like controller that begs the question, can it work the same way?

A Monome works with Open Sound Control (OSC), which allows it to send and receive control information in a variety of ways, and many Monome users have developed and shared applications built specifically for the Monome. These applications either work standalone, letting you chop and sequence within one program, or as bridges to other software sending midi and control information to your DAW (Ableton the popular choice among Monome users). While a lot of the standalone apps are built in Max/MSP, they only require you have Max Runtime, a free program to run them. Almost as soon as Novation’s Launchpad hit the market, Monome programs and emulators were adapted to work with the Launchpad and have it function much the same way.

To get the full scoop on how the Novation Launchpad stacks up in the Monome community I hit up Adam Rubaido, developer of the popular Monome Ableton control program 7up. Check the questions below to get inside with an insider:

How has the Launchpad been received by the Monome community?  It’s design and functionality have obvious similarities.  Is this a bone of contention among Monome users or wanna be Monome users (Wannomes)?

Understandably, the release of the launchpad was initially seen as a big corporation’s affront on a much loved independent business’ success story.  It’s hard to argue that the Launchpad and APC40’s designs weren’t lifted from the monome, but the fact is that the demand for grid-based controllers far exceeded supply and those companies made what proved to be a business savvy choice by meeting that demand.  At this point, launchpad users have been accepted as a source of fresh blood in a community of enthusiastic hackers and musicians.

Does the new version of 7up work natively with the Launchpad?  Do you need an emulator?

Using any monome application with the Launchpad will require an emulator to translate the messages coming from the Launchpad into messages that monome applications understand (OSC).  That being said, the process has become relatively painless with a number of emulators out there including MonomeEmu and NoNome.

MonomeEmu works especially well with SevenUp 2.0 as we’ve included support for Launchpad’s multi-colored LEDs.  However, it’s worth mentioning that any time you use an emulator, you’re adding overhead to both your workflow and CPU utilization.

How does 7up compare to the native Launchpad functionality when controlling Ableton Live?

This is something of an apples and oranges comparison as the Launchpad’s built in control surface capabilities serve different purposes than SevenUp’s capabilities.  But, I will however say that in *general*, and especially since the release of Max4Live, you’re going to find more features to play with, more creative capabilities, and more surprises from community-developed monome applications than the out-of-the-box Novation functionality.

Has the Monome community set the standard for open sourcing controllers?  Do you see more commercial products and software becoming user programmable?

I don’t know if the Monome community has set the standard but it’s certainly a successful example of how a business plan can be crafted with community and open standards as a key component.  Right now the community is Brian’s [Monome creator Brian Crabtree] best salesman and also his support department.

Taking a step away from music and software, I think as consumers become more tech savvy, more curious hackers will emerge and businesses will see the benefits of letting their users take the products to places they had never envisioned.  You see this already with video games (did John Carmack ever envision Team Fortress) and with social apps (did Mark Zuckerberg ever envision Farmville?).  So absolutely, I see user programmability a huge part of tomorrow’s marketplace, music or otherwise.

You’re a producer/Monome user yourself. What’s your favorite thing about using a Monome?

I had a vision for how a grid controller would react to my button presses and I was able to *gasp* act on that vision.  That’s powerful stuff.

But my favorite part of the monome has to be the community that surrounds it.  I’ve met so many amazing people, traveled to so many places, and played so many shows all because of this dumb little box of blinking lights.  It’s been a beacon that’s brought together programmers and musicians and everything in between.  Turns out we get along ok.

Thanks very much Adam!

Adam produces and plays live with his Monome as Making the Noise. You can listen to his new album at makingthenoise.com/anything. You can also see the latest version of his program 7up in action with Ableton Live and and MaxForLive at makingthenoise.com/sevenup.

Novation’s Launchpad could be a great route for people looking to break into the customizable Monome community, and is a pretty slick little Ableton controller on it’s own.  Check through some of the links above to see videos of Launchpads and Monomes in action.  Check it out in the store using the link below, and for getting to the end of this article you get a special discount code on the Launchpad! Use the promo code “launchpad7up” for the best price on a Launchpad anywhere on the net.

Introducing the Vestax Typhoon

As laptop DJing becomes increasingly common, it seems impractical for new DJ’s to buy turntables and a mixer just to mix MP3’s. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to play vinyl records also, or do a heavy amount of scratching you’ll need turntables. But for the new digital DJ looking to cue tracks, mix live, and get creative with effects, controllers with soundcards built in are a good way to go. Up until now full featured controller/soundcards have come at a price that might scare away beginners. Enter the Vestax Typhoon.

The Typhoon comes with everything you need to start DJing with your personal computer and music collection. It comes bundled with Traktor LE and lets you load up tracks, mix between decks, and play with filters and effects all without ever reaching for your laptop keyboard. The soundcard on board enables you to send your mix out to speakers and preview tracks in headphones before mixing them in.

The only things keeping it in the beginner zone are the RCA outputs (not as loud as quarter inch or XLR), and the touch sensor discs which aren’t as responsive as the Vestax’s VCI series. But these setbacks seem well in line with the price point.

If you haven’t watched our Vestax Typhoon video feature yet be sure to check it out for a hands on look at the Typhoon. Ships mid August but taking orders now!