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Numark HDX hard disk Deck
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: June 2006 • Price: £1245/$1899 • Link: Numark

Intro

Numark HDX Review - logoAll hail the mighty Numark CDX. At a time when people were complaining that the then current crop of CD decks didn’t feel like vinyl, Numark simply took the platter from their TTX turntable, slapped a real vinyl record on top and the CDX was born.

So 3 years on and the DJ scene is lovingly embracing all that the digital scene has to offer, and Numark are certainly the current leaders of the pack. Aside from firmware updates, the CDX has remained unchanged from its first incarnation. So rather than make a V2, Numark have taken the CDX, added in the required digital bells and whistles and remade it as the HDX. And it’s fair to say that the HDX is 99.99% CDX with a handful of extra bells and whistles. This being the case, it’s rather pointless covering the whole thing all over again so for the basic operation, check the CDX review previously posted on skratchworx.

So what’s changed?

Numark HDX Review - FrontLeaving the hard disk to one side for now, the HDX is quite obviously cosmetically different from the HDX but only in colour. Gone is the rather bland black and grey and in is the somewhat more space age sliver colour scheme. Add to this the striking neon blue lights, the HDX wouldn’t look out of place cruising alongside the Millennium Falcon in a scene from Star Wars. So aesthetically, a pair or HDXs is about as hot as it gets.

And so far as I can see, the only function change has been to swap the motor button for a record button – fair exchange is no robbery and all that. I mean – who needs to disable the motor mid set anyway? You can still do that, but it’s a menu option now.

One change is the CD drive - it's actually a DVD drive and can read data and MP3 DVDs (although the manual nor the Numark site makes any mention of this). Wouldn't it be nice if it could read video?

One thing that always was a tad confused about the CDX was the formats it could play. At first it played MP3, then it didn’t and finally it did. The HDX is a lot clearer on what it plays – the manual says MP3, WAV and WMA but apparently it handles FLAC and OGG file as well, and still with the same quality sound that the CDX came with as well, obviously remembering GIGO - garbage in, garbage out.

So what’s new?

Numark HDX Review - HDNumark clearly read skratchworx and listen to what you the users have to say. When the CDX came out, 2 questions were asked – why didn’t they put a tonearm on it and why didn’t they put either a USB/firewire port or a hard disk inside it. The former has been addressed by the soon to arrive X2 hybrid turntable and the latter in the HDX.

Sat neatly above the CD slot is a removable hard disk (referred to hereafter as HD). It’s an 80Gb laptop HD (but only seems to be registering 73.5Gb formatted) slotted into a special caddy. It’s a standard drive so if for some strange reason you feel that 80Gb just isn’t enough to hold your music, you can replace it. 80Gb is a ridiculous amount of space for a DJ – at highest quality, a CD take 700Mb, so that’s over 100 CDs of full quality audio on one drive. If however, you wanted to store the same files as high quality MP3, you’re looking at 5-10 times as much capacity. I seriously doubt that any DJ would need to carry that much music around but you could if you really wanted to.

Numark HDX Review - HD 3Numark HDX review - HD 2

By default, the HD is secured in place by a removable screw. This can be easily removed under the platter but if you’re playing out, you might want to leave it in place to stop some lowlife stealing your entire music collection.  A word of caution about this HD setup – should your HD throw a wobbly and stop working, the HDX becomes a dead duck. It won’t work without the HD being operational, so no point in taking along CDs just in case. The best thing to do is have a clone drive as a backup (adding to the already hefty expense of the HDX) and perform platter-off surgery mid set. I’d say the likelihood of a laptop drive crapping out is slim but you can never be too sure, especially if you’re using the HDX when playing out. This is apparently being worked on for future firmware upgrades but in the meantime, you have been warned.

The vinyl and slipmat are a little different as well. The HDX vinyl appears to be heavier (although I haven’t measured it) and rather than the floppy sponge rubber slipmat, Numark have seen the light and provided a felt mat instead. That said, both the vinyl and mat can be replaced with ones of your choice.

Getting started

Numark HDX Review - DesktopSo you’ve got your HDX up and running – what now? I’d say the first thing to do is to make sure that the HDX software is up to date. This is done via downloads from the Numark site. As with the CDX, the HDX firmware is updatable via burned CD. But not only that, built in to the HDX is the Gracenote database. For those not in the know, it’s an online database of CD track listings. It has 4 million CDs and 55 million tracks listed (except a lot of the ones I have on CD apparently). This database allows you to rip CDs directly on your HDX and keep the correct track and album names.

So now you have a prepped but empty HDX. So how do you get your music onto it? Well there are 4 different ways:

Numark HDX Review - file list

Computer to HDX:
Thanks to the HD, you can simply plug the HDX into your computer via the USB2 port and transfer the files directly. It’s a drag and drop to the “Audio” folder. But you’ll need to restart the HDX with the USB connected to your computer for it to be recognised.

Numark HDX Review - RecordData CD/DVD to HDX: Simply pop it in and using the “rip to CD” menu option, it’ll copy the files over into a subfolder.  No reboots needed so it’s easy to do mid set.

Rip Audio CD:  Again, another simple drop in and rip solution. And provided you’ve got an up to date Gracenote database on your HDX, it should pick up the correct track names and tag the ripped file accordingly. If not, you’ll end up with a heap of nameless tracks called track 1, 2 etc etc.

Numark HDX Review - RecordDirect record: The HDX has a nifty line in record function, meaning you can link up any line level input and record straight to the HDX’s HD. There’s a record button on top to get the ball rolling but it’s not an instant thing. Press once and you’ll be prompted for a filename, then the recording starts. Each time you press the record button while recording, the file is broken up into section with a numeric suffix. To stop recording, keep the record button pressed down. In theory, you could use this feature to do semi-live layering and build up tracks on the fly.

And finally of course, you can play music directly from audio CD, but hopefully with tha added benefit of tags from the onboard Gracenote database.

In my book, by far the easiest method is to use your computer to do the ripping and uploading. It’s a whole lot easier to use the plethora of ripping and tagging tools to get your tracks in just the right format and uploading is so much quicker than ripping on the HDX. It’s not as immediate as doing the ripping on the HDX but in reality, the likelihood of you needing to rip and tag mid set is unlikely.

Organisation

This is the key to using the HDX successfully and effectively.  It’s all well and good having several thousand tracks on the HD but they’re pretty useless if you can’t find them quickly. This is why it’s a good idea to make sure that all the music you put on your HDX is properly tagged. The HDX can find music much like any MP3 device - by artist, track, album, genre or BPM from the tags. You might well very neatly organise your music into a useful folder structure on the HD, but the HDX doesn’t use it at all.

But not all files can be tagged. WAVs for example take on the filename only rather than any tags that may have been applied on your computer.

It's also worth mentioning something about BPM. The HDX can store BPMs for each track, either manually entered, tapped into the beatkeeper or automatically entered if the entiure track is played through. And it's not just an arbitrary entry either. If it's filled in or automatically analysed by the HDX, it allows the Beatkeeper to latch on to the temp straight away for effects use etc.

So how do you find your way around possibly several thousand tracks? Via the single selector knob that’s how – if you’re up for a painful HDX usage experience. Otherwise you really should use the supplied PS2 keyboard.

Numark HDX Review - Keyboard

Yes that’s right people, I said keyboard. Combine this keyboard with correctly organised tagged audio files and suddenly your HDX user experience becomes a lot easier, if a little like using a computer rather than DJing. I guess the HDX is the middle ground between regular CD spinning and Serato usage – using a computer to manage your songs but navigating the 4 line screen with a keyboard. The keyboard has shortcuts for all the navigation options as well as a couple of not so easily accessible ones as well.

Numark HDX Review - Playlists

And then there’s playlists. Just being a hack rather than a playing out club DJ anymore, my digital collection is somewhat messed up. You know how it is – organisation goes out the window with the pressure of other things to do. And this is where I found playlists to be invaluable. Just the same as playlists in iTunes etc, the HDX allows you to create the equivalent of digital crates for your music. Playing a wedding? Create a playlist called “cheese” and dump all those songs you love to hate into it. The songs stay in exactly the same place on the HD but are simply referenced via the playlist. It’s Ideal for making up a set before a show or just giving you another level of organisation. The scope of the playlists is entirely down to your imagination.

Like most people, I have an extensive digital collection and being able to very quickly select the track I have in my mind is incredibly useful. And being able to share songs across playlists is a godsend, but sadly these playlists - however useful - can only be created and edited on the HDX. I would love to see an external playlist editor, track manager or indeed some sort of iTunes integration to make management of your music just that little bit easier.

Ins and Outs

NUmark HDX Review - BackNumark HDX Review - Back

The undercarriage (for that’s where everything is) of the HDX is largely unchanged from the CDX bar a couple of additions. RCA line-ins have been added for direct recording to the internal HD. A PS/2 port is in place for the supplied keyboard and a USB port for linking to your computer (cable supplied I might add).  And there’s a sort of mini SCSI looking HDX Link port. Nothing is in the instruction manual about it apart from it being “reserved for future use”. It’s not a massive leap of the imagination to see that it’s for linking HDXs together to share one HD. But doesn’t that kind of negate having to spend so much money to use this feature? Perhaps a CDX upgrade kit is required. Take note Numark.

Midi

Numark HDX review - MIDISomething that exists on the CDX but didn’t get covered in the review (lack of info) are the midi ports. Midi in and out is included and works in a variety of ways. You can sync the HDX to external devices and vice versa. The HDX can be controlled via any midi equipped keyboard and take over the effects, stutters and loops - yes loops as using a keyboard seems to allow for 2 loops rather than just 1. The lower octaves control the effect amount and key change whereas the upper octave controls pretty much every other feature of the HDX as well. So as a DJ, your HDX can have 2 keyboards attached to it - one for controlling the features, the other for managing your music. And if you had a pair, you'd look more like Jean Michel Jarre than a DJ.

But midi works both ways. You can syncronise an HDX to an external device and vice versa, so you can be sure that whatever you have running, they stay in step. And as if that wasn't enough, you can syncronise HDX to HDX in a slave/master style called Interlock. Essentially it's an automixing function - as long as the Beatkeeper function is working on both decks, the slave will "attempt" (which is a worrying word) to sync it's own beat to that of the master. This is all well and good, but in practice I found it to be really hit and miss. Maybe I just didn't want to like it as it really does take away all the fun and skill of being a DJ.

Summing Up

Numark HDX Review - EffectsBeing a CDX user, I can't deny that the HDX works extremely well. Loading tracks into the HDX is very easy as is navigating around, especially once you've set up playlists. With the supplied keyboard, it's amazing how well you can navigate around the 4 line LCD screen. Recording into the HDX is a nice touch as well and does work flawlessly. But my overwhelming concern is the value for money.

A single HDX is £1245 - that's close to 3 times the cost of a CDX and while having your music at your fingertips is a real benefit, I'm just not sure the convenience of not carry CD boxes is worth that much. And to get the most of the HDX (unless you use only one in a studio situation), you need to buy 2 of them. With one, you still need to carry around CDs so it kind of negates the whole benefit of the HDX. So buying 2 means a whopping £2490 investment, and I know for sure I can get a whole lot of comparable technology for that money - 2 x TTXs, Rane 57 and a MacBook comes in at the same price. That's a complete top drawer digital DJ setup for the same money and giving you possibly the best scratch mixer, the vinyl option and a higher spec digital solution - and a laptop as well.

If it were possible to link up additional devices via the USB port such as an iPod or external HD then I might think more favourably about the value of the HDX, but as it stands - and bearing in mind the new technology shown at MusikMesse 2006 - the HDX seems to be limited in the current Numark lineup. Maybe a future firmware upgrade might se this become a reality - I hope so.

Ratings

Build Quality - 9/10
Solid platter, heavyweight vinyl and buttons that press properly. Should last a good while.

Sound Quality - 9/10
Like the CDX before it, it's as close to vinyl as you can reasonably expect.

Features and implementation - 9/10
The CDX works really well and so does the HDX. Big hard drive and a keyboard makes for very easy navigation. and the recording feature is a bonus.

Value for money - 5/10
Looking at what else you can buy for the same money, the price just doesn't stack up.

Pros:
• Real vinyl emulation
• All your music in the deck so you don't need to carry media anymore
• Crate-like playlists

Cons
• The utterly wallet unfriendly price
• It really should have had USB for external drive like the new Numark iPod gear.
• You need 2 HDXs to get the most from them.

The Bottom Line

The HDX is a logical successor to the CDX, embracing new technologies and directions and doing it all very well. But you have to wonder if it's a bit late, especially with the mouth-watering new rack of iPod/USB enabled gear coming from Numark. And for the money, there are much better options.

 



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