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Numark MixMeister Control
Reviewer: Yorick • Date: September 2009 • Price: £360/€419/$199 • Link: Numark

Numark Mixmeister Control

MixMeister Fusion is a very cool piece of software indeed. You can create mixes in a DAW-like fashion, with the full power to swap around and fix mistakes, chop and change tracks, lay out loops, transitions and effects with a very intuitive and easy-to-use interface.

Numark Mixmeister Control

The MixMeister Control is a MixMeister-focused MIDI controller from Numark designed to make working with MixMeister easier, more fun and to some extent flashier for live use. Most of its features are reasonably specific to using the Fusion version of the software in live mode, but it makes working in offline mode considerably smoother too.

Features and Layout

The Control is a very direct translation of the MixMeister interface to a controller. The left part of the controller has four rows of knobs controlling the volume, bass mids and treble for four timeline tracks, as well as a series of buttons for loop and cue control. Top-left is a bank of twelve clickless infinite-turn dials for assigning to VST effects.

The right of the controller contains the tracking dial, transport controls, edit controls utility controls. There are also strip solo buttons and timeline zoom/scrolling knobs, all of which are very useful and keep your hand off the mouse.

Above these are five dials controlling the position of the intro and outro markers of the two tracks in closest proximity to the playing monitor marker, and track and tweak selection dials to control the automatic selections of the current track. All of these dials are clickable, with a good solid thunk behind them, and allow you to change the grid density with the intro/outro dials, and push-to-select for the track/transition/tweak dials.

Above this again are two larger knobs labeled ‘browse’ and ‘preview’. The browse knob scrolls up and down through the library, and pushing it adds the currently highlighted track to the set. This works well, but won’t get through a large library easily – it really needs to be used in tandem with a keyboard and the search feature. Once isolated by BPM or a couple of search terms though, it’s a more tactile interface for looking for a track than a mouse.

Numark Mixmeister control review

The preview knob is extremely useful. By pressing it, the currently highlighted track begins to play as a preview, and adjusting the dial moves the preview forward and backwards through the track, eliminating the issues with clicking the very narrow band under normal use. A second push stops the previewing track.

The layout is largely very easy to use. For the right-handed among us, the jog dial and transport controls are directly underneath the natural position for your hand, volume and EQ dials have a sensible layout and the effects are accessible by either hand.

The only difficulties with the layout are the preview and browse dials. These are so constantly accessed that their position squeezed up with the slimmer track/transition/tweak dials just doesn’t work very well. There’s not quite enough room for the thumb in between the browse and track dials except at a steep angle, especially when scanning quickly.

Performance Art

Numark Mixmeister control review

The final set of buttons worth noting are those for use in live performance. To the top right of the jog dial, above the headphone volume knob, is a button labeled ‘preview / perform’. This only works during live mode, and is more or less a PFL/master button. The major issue with it is that there is no feedback as to which mode your headphones are in; as it’s a button not the usual toggle-switch or mix dial, picking which mode your headphones are in can sometimes require a bit of a listen and pound on the transport play/pause.

Tracking

The jog dial Numark has used for the MixMeister Control is nicely weighted to use and allows you to quickly scan through the set. It’s loose enough to spin freely with and stop with a tap, making seeking quick and easy. The orange backlighting is a little bit unfortunate, but the ring serves to show precisely where the jogwheel is in even a pitch black room. Those who have used a Numark CDX or HDX will be familiar with this jogwheel – it’s the same part as used on those players.

Numark Mixmeister control review

The play/pause and stop buttons have a nice clicky feel to them, similar to a mouse. The ‘Mix Now’ button is of course identical, though of lesser utility.

Equalization

Numark Mixmeister control review

The orange rings of light around the four volume dials light up as the monitor marker passes over any particular track. So if there’s a track on the top and bottom rows of the timeline under the marker, the top and bottom volume dials will be lit and active, and their respective EQ and sequencer banks will become active.

When the live mode is in use, the EQ and volume dials control underneath the live marker, and not the monitor marker. This allows you to ‘mix live’ in some sense. The transition is set up, but you still have to run the balances and EQ live, which can be a bit more of a show. In fact, tweaking anything live wipes any levels for the rest of that track, so it’s really an either/or: use the built in and planned transitions or use the controller knobs.

The EQ works acceptably, but isn’t great. It’s incredibly twitchy at the high end of volume, at least on the display – it never sounds jumpy.

The only beef with the EQ and volume dials is that they’re infinite dials. Anyone used to a studio mixer is already confused. The idea is that you watch the timeline while adjusting settings. It works, but the lack of that ‘where are my settings’ feeling on the mixer itself is pretty difficult to get used to. Given the way that MixMeister actually works, it’s impossible to use absolute dials – but this shows one drawback of live performance on a timeline.

Still, anyone used to Ableton is used to this kind of limitation.

Build Quality

Numark Mixmeister control review

The MixMeister Control is a quite well put together piece of equipment. The dials and buttons are all firmly attached to the chassis, the buttons feel solid enough to stand up under pressure, and the USB port - a major failure point in MIDI controllers - seems to be better than usual. It’s difficult to tell without cracking the case but it looks like a chassis-mount connector rather than a PCB-mount connector, a very good sign for its long-term durability.

That said, in a controller at this price point, something had to give, and in this case it seems to be the surface finish. The knobs and surface are covered in a uniform silvered paint over a thermoplastic, which is cool – but it’s going to go better with a Numark TT1625 than a TTX-USB. The paint is good quality, well mixed and provides a smooth finish, but will definitely not stand up to any serious wear and tear and will begin to chip and fade unless care is taken when moving the device – a backpack thrower this is not.

The electronic quality is probably reasonably robust. MIDI technology has been out and about for a good thirty years and the microcontroller for a panel such as this fits in an area the size of your thumbnail and costs twenty cents. All of the button and dial lights are LEDs, so won’t be dying any time soon. Barring liquid damage, the first thing to fail in this device would likely be the tracks under the dials. A year or two’s regular use and gigging shouldn’t be out of the question, but the device doesn’t strike out with that bomb-shelter build quality found in more expensive controllers.

Software

The MixMeister Control originally shipped with Fusion. Now, however, it ships with a version you won’t find on MixMeister’s website, “Fusion Live”. This is basically the same thing as Fusion, but with no included VST effects, no support for webcasting, and crucially, no ability to export mixes to WAV or MP3.

The lack of VST effects is no major issue since the VST engine is still there (so you can add your own effects), and webcasting support is to taste, but the removal of mix exporting makes use of the Control package to produce mixtapes impractical at best.

This does mean that the Control package is not a good choice unless you solely want to use it (and the MixMeister it comes with) for live performance.

Kapital

The price of MixMeister was not well addressed in the main review, but becomes important when considering whether the Control is a worthy purchase.

MixMeister Studio, the mixtape edition of the program, costs U$200 direct from MixMeister. Fusion, the premium live performance edition, costs $330. The Control package, with its ‘Fusion Live’ edition of MixMeister weighs in at $300.

There is also an upgrade to the full version of Fusion available from MixMeister, which costs $199, bringing the total cost of ownership to $530.

Mixmeister has indicated that existing users of Studio and Fusion can get an upgrade discount to the MixMeister Control by phoning their sales department direct.

Conclusion

Numark Mixmeister control review

The Control is a MIDI device with some flaws. It’s not the highest quality device out there and it probably won’t last forever, but Numark has brought their true form: more features included than you can shake a stick at, and at a low cost. It’s genuinely difficult to think of anything they’ve left out – the board is packed with knobs and buttons, and they all do something useful.

The software integration is solid, the device allows Fusion’s (and the included Fusion Live’s) performance mode to come into its own, and the transport, solo and preview controls are very convenient even when using MixMeister in its offline production mode, should you choose to pay for the Fusion upgrade.

The Control package is a good deal for working DJs using it as a central performance tool at the normal street price, but a bit expensive for a bedroom DJ wanting to try something different to a more conventional controller. The lack of record functionality also prevents (easy) use of the included MixMeister version for crafting demos and mix CDs, so it’s difficult to recommend unless live performance is the only task required.

MixMeister Studio still comes with high praise for creating mixtapes, demos and just learning mix theory at home. Day-to-day DJs may want to give the Control a look as an alternative to decks-and-a-mixer setups for gigs, because MixMeister is a very, very nice piece of software indeed.

Strengths:
Solid build quality
Good tactile feel
Low price

Weaknesses:
No record functionality!
Awkward positioning of browse and preview dials
Expensive upgrade to the full version of Fusion

Better than: MixMeister Fusion with no controller
Worse than: MixMeister Fusion with an Allen and Heath Xone:1D flipped on its side
But: A Xone:1D ain’t exactly cheap



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