NAMM 2012: Exclusive inside look at Behringer's CMD line
Posted by Gizmo on January 19, 2012 :
I've been harping on about separates for years. A modular approach is how I see the DJ market adapting to an up and coming watershed moment where controllers simply cannot handle the increasing feature set of DJ software. And the new blood at Behringer have very perceptively spotted this emerging trend and have come up with a set of their own controllers for a wide variety of needs. The UFOs have finally landed and the CMD controller set is unveiled. I spoke with Craig Reeves at Behringer who gave me an exclusive lowdown on all things CMD.
As ever, the official on-message word from Behringer:
MUSIC Group Unveils the BEHRINGER COMMAND Series DJ Controllers
Advanced, Modular DJ Control System Designed for Professional Performance
Bothell, WA – MUSIC Group announces the release of BEHRINGER’s first completely modular system of professional DJ controllers, the COMMAND (CMD) Series. A full-featured set of MIDI controllers, the line includes the CMD MM-1 Mixer Module, CMD DV-1 Digital Vinyl Control Module, LC-1 Live Control Module, CMD PL-1 Platter Control Module and the CMD DC-1 Drum Control Module
Pro features such as high quality faders, extensive MIDI feedback and rotary encoders with bright LED indicator rings are organized into a logical layout on each unit to ensure a highly ergonomic performance experience. Additionally, all CMD controllers are class compliant so the artist can simply plug and play without the need for additional drivers. While all individual CMD components work well as rugged and portable stand-alone controllers for most popular DJ and production software programs, the series is specially designed to easily connect multiple controller configurations.
The CMD Series’ MM-1 Mixer module emulates a 4-channel mixer experience with pro-quality faders, output metering, channel cue selection, 4-band EQs, and master/cue control, but also has an integrated powered 4-port Multi-TT, USB compatible hub to support any desired configuration, including additional control components, hard drives, audio interfaces, or even gooseneck lamps. The MM-1 MIDI controller also allows the user to quickly and easily scroll through music libraries and navigate file systems.
The DV-1 is designed to work alongside modern digital vinyl systems such as Serato ScratchLive and Native Instrument’s Traktor Scratch Pro 2, emulating the functionality of traditional gear such as turntables and CD players while unlocking a plethora of advanced software features such as looping, hotcues, effects, samples, and much more. As a single controller, it can be used to access advanced features for up to four software decks. If more discreet controls are preferred, multiple DV-1 modules can be used together.
The LC-1 is essentially a clip-triggering component with a unique ability to maximize the benefits of the Ableton Live software program. The clip section has 32 buttons that are backlit in multiple colors and respond to MIDI feedback. Also increasing accessibility for effects, there’s an effects control section above the clip area, with 8 encoders and 8 buttons. Below the clip area there are also buttons for channel mute, solo, and record. When paired with the MM-1 Mixer module, the combined feature set serves as an ideal Ableton Live controller – combining the clip triggering and effect tweaking power of the LC-1 with the mixing and scene navigating capabilities of the MM-1. The LC-1 is also a strong stand-alone controller for clip management, and also complements any Serato ScratchLive user’s Bridge-based setup.
The PL-1 is a robust platter-style software controller with an advanced 4” touch-sensitive wheel that offers powerful control. With a simple touch to the top the music stops just as if the user were touching a record. Nudge the side of the platter and it triggers instant changes in playback speed. The PL-1 features a smooth high-resolution fader for precise pitch adjustments, and includes a column of LEDs next to the pitch fader to quickly indicate software sync- induced pitch changes right on the virtual deck, alleviating the need to check the screen.
The PL-1 supports deck switching for controlling up to four decks, so a single module can serve as a backup deck or add-on when using software that allows for more than two virtual decks.
Drawing inspiration from the drum machine, the DC-1 presents 16 backlit trigger pads that allow for two-way communication of data info between the performer and their chosen software. Laid out into a familiar and user-friendly arrangement, the DC-1 has an array of 8 encoders and 8 buttons located directly above the trigger pads for controlling effects or changing application parameters. Located at the top of the unit, there is a complete navigation section with 8 backlit buttons and a fat rotary encoder. Also addressing the importance of a natural performance “feel” on a unit of this type, the DC-1 has tough 1” square buttons with just the right amount of give.
The CMD Series from BEHRINGER is a leap forward in DJ performance technology that offers a versatile suite of control options that allow the DJ to completely customize an ideal configuration for their individual performance style.
CMD Series Overview:
CMD MM-1 Mixer Control Module
4-channel MIDI controller with 4-port powered hub for connecting other modules. Used as a mixer in DJ and production software.
- 4 x 60 mm channel faders
- 45 mm crossfader
- 4-port USB 2.0 compatible multi-TT hub
- Full MIDI feedback for encoders, buttons, and peak meters.
- Support for 4-band EQs and 2 FX assigns per channel in Traktor
- Rugged enclosure that stands up to club environments
- Class compliant
CMD DV-1 Digital Vinyl Control Module
Works in tandem with a typical DVS to control looping, cues, etc.
- 12 rotary encoders with LED feedback
- 39 backlit buttons with 2 color LED feedback
- Rugged enclosure
- Able to control all 4 available effects in Traktor
- 8 Hotcues
- 8 Auto loop values
- USB powered
- Class compliant
CMD LC-1 Live Control Module
Made for clip control in Ableton Live. Can also be used as a cue point or loop and effect controller in Traktor or ScratchLive.
- 8 Rotary encoders with LED feedback
- 20 buttons with 2-color LED feedback
- 32 buttons with 4-color LED feedback
- Rugged enclosure
- USB powered
- Class compliant
CMD PL1 Platter Control Module
Touch platter based controller emulates the operation of a turntable or CD deck.
- 4” Touch platter
- High-resolution pitch fader with MIDI feedback LEDs
- 8 Rotary encoders
- Deck switching
- USB powered
- Tough enclosure and solid build quality for years of performance
CMD DC-1 Drum Control Module
Pad based controller can be used to control drum sequencing software, or trigger cues and loops in DJ software.
- 16 large pad style backlit buttons
- 8 rotary encoders with LED feedback
- 8 backlit buttons with 2 color LED feedback
- USB powered
- Rugged construction can take plenty of abuse
For more information, please visit www.BEHRINGER.com
I've known about these for ages, so it was very interesting for me to watch most people flail around at trying to guess what the products were and importantly who they were coming from. I certainly would never have guessed that they were from Behringer. And having used them today, I can assure you they wouldn't think so either. Until you get to the price that is.
My 20 second review: it's early days as only 2 of each unit exist right now, and those that exist are handmade samples. There are many changes to make to refine the feature set. But even at this stage, you can already see how these are set to make waves. The quality of the final units will be much better than you might expect. To underline this, Behringer have announced a new 3 year warranty on everything. That's a very welcome move that should build confidence in new Behringer.
Anyway, let's hear Craig's take on all things CMD and industry in general.
Craig Reeves and Uli Behringer in the chaos of NAMM build day
How did you get into this industry?
When Final Scratch came out, I bought it on day one. I was working as an audio engineer at the time, and I identified an issue with a ground loop when I set everything up. I knew immediately what the problem was (and how to fix it) because it’s a common issue for an audio guy to troubleshoot. I was online at the time (mostly participating in PC modding and overclocking forums) and it struck me that this might be something good to share, so I went to the original Stanton forums and started participating there. After a while, Stanton’s head of Product Development Jim Mazur (Jimspree from ASIS days) contacted me through the forums, and I started beta testing for them. That turned into a beta testing slot with NI when FS moved from Debian to Windows and MacOS.
Jim and I spoke regularly after that, and a few years later he recommended me for a Product Management position at Stanton. At the time I didn’t have many of the required skills in the job description, so I didn’t get it. But that experience gave me direction. I started getting more interested in product development, and Jim was always available to answer questions and give guidance. About a year and a half later another position opened up, and I got the gig.
So to Behringer. Is it a wipe the slate clean scenario to reinvent Behringer's DJ brand?
Behringer makes a couple of the best selling DJ mixers ever. There are almost 500K of the DJX700/750/900 mixers sold worldwide. So it would be insane for me to say that Behringer DJ needed reinventing. But the reason I was hired is because there’s been a new emphasis placed on Product Management in the company. It’s easy for the company to make mixers – that’s what they do. But they needed someone to examine the DJ market as a whole and determine a new direction BEFORE the market goes there. And that’s why I was hired. So my job for the last year has been to move Behringer DJ into new markets.
Some commenters complain about the slew of controllers hitting the market compared to a few years ago. How do Behringer see the DJ market as of 2012?
Yeah, controllers. Lots and lots of controllers. When you look at sales figures over the last few years you see obvious (and massive) decline in any devices associated with physical media. Digital media players (which might have an optical reader, but whose operation doesn’t rely on it) are doing well. Mixer sales are level and amazingly consistent. And controller sales have exploded. So love it or hate it, DJ is moving into controllers as a primary method of interfacing with software. In my mind, DVS has ALWAYS been an interim technology.
That said, Behringer definitely has the resources to address niche markets if and when it makes sense. So I wouldn’t rule anything out.
The CMD series. Given that the industry peddles all in ones, what made Behringer concentrate on separates?
I’ve always thought that a module based approach was the way to go. At first, that manifested itself in a very Mawzer-like “per control” modularity. But as I examined that use case more closely, I saw that going that far down the rabbit hole isn’t necessary. There are clusters of controls that almost always go together. Behringer certainly isn’t the first to take this approach in DJ, but other brands just dabbled in it. How can you expect your customers to buy into a modular controller if you don’t give them a line of product to choose from?
I think modular controllers are better for everyone, because there’s less waste. If you buy an all-in-one and outgrow it, that product either gets sold, put on a shelf, or thrown away. With a modular system, you can easily change your workflow to match whatever software or play style you want. And the cost of entry is lower, so you can build a system as you are financially able. So I personally think the approach is win/win.
When I was shopping the initial concept around at NAMM 2011, I was a little hesitant. But as the last year progressed and online communities started creating similar modules in their discussions, I lost any doubt. Steinberg’s CMC series really gave me pause because it’s such a similar concept, but at that point we already had our mechanical teams working on CMD.
Of course, it isn’t ALL about separate modules. We have the CMD Studio 4a as well, because many people feel more comfortable with that style of controller. And CMD is all about choice.
So you're sitting down with a blank canvas. How did you approach the design of the CMDs and what were the key considerations?
Personally I’m always for simple, functional designs. I wanted every module’s intended use to be clear at a single glance, and I wanted users to see immediately how they could incorporate a given CMD controller into their setup. So clear visual cues were the starting point. The modules are 12” tall by 6” wide. So 2 of them together is the same footprint as a record sleeve. And units can be solidly joined together via a plate on the bottom, so you could carry 4 of them in a 50 record bag very easily. The functionality of some of the modules is very deep, but they all maintain a simple and consistent workflow.
How do you determine which software to go with?
It’s difficult. Given my history with Native Instruments and the fact that I use Traktor personally, it’s hard to be impartial. But my job is to pick what’s best for all of our users. And I believe that means we need a software PARTNER – not just someone to buy software from. Anyone will sell you X number of licenses. I want someone who will work with us to make sure we have the best support and the coolest functionality possible. We have several players we’re talking with, but no one has been chosen yet. I don’t want to go into this decision lightly, because I want to make whoever we decide on our defacto software partner for all Behringer DJ products.
Having seen a variety of designs along the way, how did you decide on exactly which units to produce?
I wanted the first group of CMD controllers to cover the most generic use cases for a modern, software based DJ. I was very clear on that from the beginning. It was important for me to feel like the needs of most users could be satisfied by one or more of the first run of CMD. Based on those criteria, this is what I came up with…
A basic 4 channel mixer module. Besides the obvious “mixer style” control layout, the MM-1 also has a robust 4 port powered USB hub. And that hub is Multi TT, so it will support audio interfaces, external storage, etc.
Most people still want a platter to control a deck. The PL-1 has a 4” touch platter, 14bit capable pitch fader, and all of your expected transport controls. A nice bonus on the pitch fader is a row of LEDs next to it that shows you the actual value for the deck pitch. The PL-1 also supports up to 4 decks at a time, and 4 of them can be used together to control 16 decks without conflicts or special software support.
This module is meant for DVS users that need a handle on the additional features in their software. So it supports things like control over effects, deck focus, cue points, loops, etc. The DV-1 is deeper than it looks, though. For example, both of the FX control groups at the top of the DV-1 control 4 FX modules each – and both send completely different MIDI messages. So you could (for instance) easily double map them to control the same 4 effects in Traktor. Or you could map them independently to Ableton Live and have 4 knobs and 4 buttons of control over 8 different effects.
This is our “drum controller”. That said, in DJ the velocity information is rarely used, so to save cost the pads aren’t velocity sensitive. This module is meant to trigger samples, cue points, or really anything. The 8 encoder / 8 button group is on this controller as well, and the section at the top is meant for navigation.
This is the controller for clip based DAWs. The section of 32 buttons in the “clip launch” section are all capable of several colors of feedback as well. I personally also like this controller for triggering hotcues in Traktor.
CMD Studio 4a
This is the one stop for beginner DJs. It’s inexpensive, full featured, and includes a built in audio interface. And if you want to add some additional control, the other CMD modules sit right next to it perfectly.
What were the technical challenges involved in designing the separate units?
I would love to tell you a long story that makes me out to be some mad genius, but that just isn’t the case. Behringer’s technical team is amazing, and they’ve made these products a joy to work on. Because Behringer is a global company, there are some communication challenges – but these have more to do with time differences than anything else. The resources available here are really insane. For me personally, the hardest part was writing the MIDI specs for the controllers. And honestly, I enjoy doing that kind of stuff.
Which is your favourite?
Ha! I think for me personally the DV-1 is my favorite. Just because of how flexible it is.
Will there be individual cases for each unit?
No need, really. The CMD modules are all the same size, so one case will take care of all of them. But yes, I want to have cases available at launch for the CMD modules and the Studio 4a.
Do you plan to make units with larger jogwheels? Motorised platters?
The Studio 4a already has 6” touch platters. I’m not sure that going any bigger with a static platter is necessary. But I am interested in doing a proper motorized platter, and in that case I think bigger is better. Technically a motorized platter is a very development heavy (and expensive) project, and I’m not 100% convinced that’s the direction we need to go in. But I also know that if our R&D department came to me with a way to do it that made sense for everyone, I would love to roll those dice.
But I’m also interested in moving towards the platter-less direction as well. I want to explore alternate methods to control audio. I have many ideas along those lines, and it just comes down to development cost and feasibility.
Given the hands on rough housing nature of DJng in the sample driven world, how do you get the balance between low price and offering enough quality for the product to last an acceptable amount of time?
I think solid build quality is the starting point. The more simple a device is, the easier it is to also make it durable and inexpensive. The secret sauce is in the software or firmware now anyway, so I don’t see the need for a tradeoff. That said, manufacturers look at real facts and statistics when calculating reliability – while users usually base their opinions on pre-conceived notions that aren’t necessarily accurate. A great example of that is the whole thing about metal versus plastic for cases. Plastic cases are usually maligned, even when they can be stronger than a metal case of the same weight. Really, how often has the case for any product of yours broken? So sometimes a device’s perceived durability is much different than its actual durability.
In this rapidly moving market, what do you feel is the shelf life of a controller?
Right now I think that if you get a year out of a controller under $500, that’s pretty par for the course. And that sucks. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to do the modular CMD line. Controllers are getting cheaper for sure, but if you’re buying new ones every 6 months to a year it’s a net loss. I want the industry to move into a less disposable direction. Or if you intend on making a disposable controller, it should be priced accordingly.
For user choice, I've been an exponent of the modular approach for years. Are we approaching a real pick and mix market rather than more of the same all in one me-too units?
We’ll see, won’t we? If I have anything to do with it, then yes I want to see more choice for the user. I think we’ve moved away from the idea of an “industry standard product”. I don’t think that’s possible anymore. But I still see companies trying to fill that niche, and I think that’s more than a little delusional. The DJ equipment market is fracturing because DJ workflows are changing. There isn’t one single workflow you can focus on anymore – or even one single piece of software. I think the winning strategy is to be more flexible.
How do you see iOS/Android figuring in the DJ's future?
I think personal computing will move away from traditional devices to portable computing platforms. It’s called “personal computing”, right? So tablets and smartphones are only going to get more popular and more powerful. But we haven’t reached the tipping point yet where we can rely on them for most of our day to day needs. I don’t believe that tipping point is computational power, though. I think most of the devices we already carry around with us have more than enough power to do what we need them to do (including DJ). The problems are file access and battery life. Out of those 2, I think battery life is the one that will be solved first. The solution to file access is cloud storage. But to make that a reality, there needs to be a ubiquitous, high speed wireless network to give you access to those files. And I don’t see THAT happening anytime soon. There are so many problems with cloud storage (from data caps and slow wireless networks to communication company lobbyists and governmental ignorance) that I don’t see much possibility for it right now. Especially not in the US.
Until we reach that tipping point, I see personal devices living in the same niche they do now.
I think for the next few years we’ll continue to see DJs shifting to devices like ultrabooks, and tablets will still be seen as “add-on” devices. I hope I’m wrong, though.
With you at the helm, what more can we expect to see from Behringer? Innovating or making affordable product for the masses?
Man, do I have to choose? How about making innovative products that are also affordable? There’s no reason why this can’t happen. The move to controllers means that products are cheaper to produce. The user provides the computing platform, so there’s more cost out of the product. And once your R&D obtains the knowledge necessary to make the various control objects (like a touch platter for instance), then your development costs level out as well.
Behringer has a credo of “Double the features, half the price”, and they’re serious about it. When I first put the concept documents together for the CMD controllers and presented them to management, I was told they were too expensive. I was pricing the products according to the market, but was told to change the price to reflect the cost of production. So they take that credo to heart.
As far as Behringer DJ as a whole goes, I have big plans. These products are only the beginning. We’re going to be aggressively releasing product and redefining the brand. And no one is safe. Don’t think for a minute that these lower cost products are going to be our ceiling. There is already work underway to address the club and installation market. If things go as smoothly as CMD has gone, I almost feel sorry for the competition.
So the bottom line. There appears to be some sort of mantra - twice the product for half the price - doing the rounds right now. The all in one 4a is a projected $199, the MM1 mixer is $149 and the rest are $119. Yep - Craig's parting comment might appear flippant, but given the reactions from competitors stopping by the stand yesterday were telling. They're worried.
Given the all new 3 year warranty and a commitment to improving quality, it would appear that new Behringer with its all new logo is serious about raising its often earned reputation for quality. I have a really good feeling about these new units - they're clearing playing safe with the Studio 4a, but the rest of the CMD individual are pretty cutting edge. The modular movement is emerging, and Behringer seem to have units that typify this thinking. Ahead of the curve is not exactly what you would expect from Behringer. The DJ future looks bright, with a definite Behringer yellow hue.
Of course, being hands on at NAMM, I've got a load of pictures for you too.