Digital DJing is getting ever-more affordable, and Numark’s new Mixtrack FX DJ controllers provide yet more good examples of this.
Numark’s new Mixtrack FX DJ controllers promise pro features at a beginner-friendly price
The range includes the 4-deck Mixtrack Platinum FX and 2-deck Mixtrack Pro FX. The Mixtrack Platinum FX features a pair of 6-inch jog wheels, each of which has a central display, and includes a 24-bit audio interface, six dedicated software effects buttons for easy transitions, and 16 performance pads for hot cues, auto loop, fader cuts and sampling. The effects section includes echo, reverb, flanger, phaser and high/low-pass filters, and there are dual paddle triggers.
Mixtrack Pro FX is very similar in terms of design, but loses the 4-deck mixing option and doesn’t have the jog wheel displays.
“The key here - as with all Numark DJ products - is fun,” says Chris Roman, Senior Product
Manager for Numark. It’s fun to let your ideas and creativity flow with a controller whose features work with you instead of getting in your way. These new Mixtracks make you a better DJ, no matter where you are on the spectrum.”
Both controllers ship with a copy of Serato DJ Lite, which enables you to stream songs from Tidal or SoundCloud.
Mixtrack Pro FX cost about $260.00USD
Mixtrack Platinum FX goes for about $300.00USD
FIRST IMPRESSIONS / SETTING UP
The obvious thing to point out at the start of our Mixtrack Pro FX review is that this is an entry-level controller: It is designed for beginners, which means its build quality is consumer. We are reviewing the unit based on the fact that this is the market it is aiming at. That said, it is well built, better than the previous model – which itself we’ve used for years in our training without an issue. Just bear in mind this isn’t meant for night-after-night club abuse!
It’s a little bit bigger than the original, in that it is deeper – mainly to accommodate the bigger jogwheels, which are an unheard-of size (6″) for a controller at this level. The “decks” are identical in layout, as opposed to being a “mirror image” of each other (ie pitch faders on the outside of the unit in both cases) as in the previous model. Wisely, this time Numark has added conventional loop buttons, to save using the pads as previously.
While it’d be perfectly possible to play a club set on this, it isn’t designed for that kind of use night-after-night.
But the most interesting change is the FX, so in our Mixtrack Pro FX review we’ll spend quite a bit of time exploring the pros and cons of the new system. For now though, just know that they use “paddles” – a first for DJ controllers.
So a quick feature tour: You get all the basics inputs and outputs you need for DJing, like a mic in, 2 x RCA out, 1/8″ and 1/4″ headphones sockets, and a USB socket to connect your computer. For the latter they supply a cable; note that it’s old-style, not USB-C, so if you have a USB-C laptop, you’ll need a converter. USB is also how the unit gets its power. The Mixtrack Pro FX is a Serato controller, and it comes with the cut-down Serato DJ Lite “in the box”. Upgrading to Serato DJ pro is an extra cost, and you’d probably want to do so at some time in the future.
Getting started is easy: Plug in your speakers, headphones and laptop, get and launch the software, add some music, and you’re good to go.
That said, Lite is fine to learn on, and as with the Pro version, you can use your own music or a subscription streaming service. Currently in Serato, that means SoundCloud and Tidal.
One thing you might miss is a Record button in the software – this is something only the Pro software has.
So getting started with Serato is famously easy. You head to their website, make an account if you don’t have one, download the software, plug in. Add your speakers and headphones to the controller, sign in to your streaming service if you have one (bonus: They give you three months of Tidal for free with the unit), import any local music or connect the software to your iTunes, and you’re ready to rock.
IN USE-Basic DJ controls
Day-to-day mixing with the Mixtrack Pro FX is intuitive and easy. The jogwheels are excellent for the price, although they lack the flashy in-wheel displays of the more expensive Mixtrack Platinum FX – one of the few real differences between the two units.
The pitch sliders are huge, so for learning manual beatmixing, this controller is a particularly good choice. And sensibly, the rest of the controls (play/pause, cue and so on) are all where you’d expect them, so if you’ve ever DJed on any other gear, you’ll be right up to speed in no time.
As well as the three-band EQ for each of the channels, there is a filter knob and a gain knob, and of course the crossfader to easily switch channels. There is no crossfader curve adjust knob or switch, but this is handled in the software.
For headphones control there are cue buttons for each deck, plus Cue Gain / Cue Mix knobs. There’s a Mic volume knob and a Master volume knob, top left and top right of the controller respectively.
The Sync functions work the same as most software controllers: The buttons are above the transport controls, and to turn sync off, you have to hold down Shift and press Sync – something that sometimes trips people up when learning, so take note!
Here’s a really big shift from previous controllers, shared by the unit’s bigger brother, the Mixtrack Platinum FX, too.
Recently, Pioneer DJ – with its DDJ-400, DDJ-800, DDJ-1000 and DDJ-1000SRT controllers – ditched the way software controllers have previously implemented effects, going for a more club layout. It meant taking away some of the flexibility, but what you gained was usability and familiarity.
Now Numark has done the same, but its take is slightly different. Numark has gone for the feel of the effects sections on battle DJ mixers, for example Pioneer DJ DJM-S9 mixer, and the Numark Scratch mixer – by implementing “paddles”
Paddles are jumbo vertical three-way switches, one for each channel. They “live” in the middle (off) position. Push them down, and the effect engages until you take your hand off the paddles, at which point they spring back to centre. Push them up, and they stay locked up until you switch them back to centre. This gives you two expressive choices for when engaging your chosen effect.
Here’s the caveat, though: While the software has six effects, you can only choose one – not for each deck, but for the whole controller! This is limiting, and many won’t like it. On the other hand, it is instantaneous to choose and throw in an effect – which makes using them more fun.
On balance, I love this. You still get a wet/dry knob for being more subtle, and a “beats” function for setting the LFO or “cycle length” of your chose effect as applicable, and they’ve even included a “tap” button for tapping out the BPM of tracks to tie the effects to them, so you do get a bit of flexibility. But apart from the separate Filter knob for each channel, it really is one effect at a time for all decks.
The paddles work well with Filters especially, because you can dial in your setting and turn it off and on in an instant – this is harder to do with knobs. Echo/delay are post-fader: This is a good thing, because it means your mixer won’t cut off an echo even if you turn the track off.
If you really did want to control up to six effects at once, which is what Serato is capable of, you’d probably want to look at a different controller, or add an extra controller such as such as the Pioneer DJ DDJ-XP2 – overkill really with a beginner device like this, frankly.
The performance pads
As with most modern controllers, this one comes with a bank of eight rubberised, lit pads (single colour, red) under each jogwheel, which are there to give you ways of being more expressive in your DJ performances. Think triggering cues, loops and other functions, in ways it would otherwise be hard to do. And as we’ll see, while they’re an improvement on the pads on the previous Mixtrack Pro, they are limited by the supplied software.
Firstly, the good: They are nice to use, big enough, and there is now a third row of four buttons added above the eight “main” pads, designed to alter the function of the pads. These extra buttons are standard on this type of arrangement, but were lacking on Mixtracks until now.
The pads are pleasing to use, being rubberised and single-colour backlit: Just remember the software limits what you can do with them, till you upgrade to ‘Pro.
However, as with previous and other Serato DJ Lite controllers, they’re not configured as eight performance pads here. The top four are, but the bottom four are for less-than-useful functions such as quick track search (the jogwheels already do this), and jumping to the beginning of the track (Shift + Cue does this fine).
The reason is that Serato DJ Lite only gives you four “hot cues” out of the box, so the controller’s labelling reflects that. Indeed, upgrade to Serato DJ Pro and you can use the pads the way they work on most other controllers, eg eight cues, and so on.
As long as you buy this controller aware that this limitation is there, there’s no problem here – just don’t see eight pads and thing “eight hot cues”, for instance, as that’s not how it is.
So that limitation aside, what do you get? You get four hot cues that work as similar functions do on all devices, plus “auto loop” (that duplicates the function of the new loop buttons). You also get basic control over the sampler in Serato DJ Lite.
But there is a unique new feature here too, called “Fader Cuts”. It simulates the “transform” or “gate” effect you may have seen on pro DJ gear, that cuts the track in and out rhythmically on the beat. It is also a scratch technique, which is what it takes its name from. Depending on what cue you press, it cuts the track in and out 2, 4, 6, or 8 times. Try it on vocals, for instance, when it can sound great. It’s a good addition here and as far as I know unique on any controller apart from this and the Mixtrack Platinum FX.
So overall, the pads are an improvement on previous Mixtracks, but still limited and labelled as such, due to the provided software rather than anything inherent in the unit.
It’s always useful to have a mic input on a controller, and this is one of the things that marks it apart from really cheap devices.
The rest of the controls
Other controls include adjustment over the range the pitch slider covers; the ability to lock the musical key when changing pitch; and the ability to manually setting loop start and end points. These are all accessed by a combination of Shift and existing buttons.
You can switch the jogs from “vinyl” mode (where the top of the jog “scratches”) to what is sometimes called “CD mode” (where the whole jogwheel is a “nudge”, to momentarily speed up and slow down the track. There is also a “censor” (or “bleep”) button, that helps you hide cursing in tracks. Curiously, this doesn’t appear on the more expensive Mixtrack Platinum FX unit.
The Mixtrack models have done extremely well in the past, not least because there is a huge demand out there for reliable, simple entry-level DJ controllers. And this latest version is the best yet for the money.
The FX implementation will divide people, but I think it is a gamble that will pay off, because the way the FX work here is immediate and simple to understand, and thus they are more likely to actually be used by beginners – three things you couldn’t say about the “old” way software FX were implemented on controllers until now.
Just bear in mind that as sold (and as labelled on the unit), the controller is limited in some functions because of the supplied Serato DJ Lite software.
Even when you add Serato DJ Pro, it is still a two-channel device; if controlling four channels is important to you in the future, you’d probably find the Mixtrack Platinum FX, the bigger brother unit, a better bet, as it is designed to work with four decks.
(You also get those unessential but cool-looking jog dial displays on the Mixtrack Platinum FX).
The unit has both 1/8″ and 1/4″ headphones sockets, which is useful for using whatever ‘phones you happen to have with it.
As far as Serato DJ controller competitors go, apart from the Mixtrack Platinum FX itself, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 is a popular alternative. It has smaller jogwheels and pitch faders, but it has conventional and thus more powerful FX controls – so if this is something you’d prefer, you may want to look seriously at this as an alternative.
If Serato isn’t important to you, also you should look at Pioneer DJ’s two-channel DDJ-400, which comes with a full version of Pioneer DJ’s own DJ software, Rekordbox.
That means there are none of the limitations of Serato DJ Lite – with Rekordbox, you can use all eight pads as you’d expect, you can record, there is more complete control over loops, more effects and so on. Software-wise, it wins hands-down and means you don’t have to pay extra as you do to upgrade the software with the Mixtrack Pro FX.
(If you’re not sure about what way to go software-wise, check out our Serato vs Rekordbox article and video to help you to make your choice. It’s a crucial choice to get right, so choose carefully!)
So to conclude this Mixtrack Pro FX review: While there are cheaper controllers (including Numark’s own Party Mix and DJ2GO2 Touch controllers), this is the cheapest controller in the range that you could not only learn on, but would likely want to hang on to even when you upgrade to something more (genuinely) “pro” in the future, to use as a backup/second device, because has all you need to begin, and by the time you come to upgrade, you’ll definitely have grown to love it.