Seems like only yesterday when we were collectively marvelling at how brilliant it is to be able to mix and even scratch with CDs. At the time, CDs were nothing new but in the DJ world, this was still a relatively new medium. But here we are now, claiming that media is dead and the DJ’s setup is rapidly becoming less about digging for vinyl and shopping for turntables and more like a trip down to PCWorld.
DJing on a computer has been viable for a while now and all kinds of software from freeware to expensive dongled bloatware has littered the market for some time. And the reality is that you can rock a crowd armed with a laptop and nothing else. But we as DJs still like the tactile feedback we get from mixers and decks, so it’s understandable that audio controllers hit the market that give us that feeling. Enter Numark’s Total Control.
But what is it?
You know all those buttons that you see on screen in your software of choice? You just want to grab them and twiddle right? Well, unless you’ve got the next NEXT level of multi-touch computers, you can’t. So what Total Control does is to provide physical controls that you can map to functions in software ? all done via USB MIDI.
In a nutshell, it’s a dumb box full of buttons, faders and controllers. It broadly replicates the basic functions you’ll find in your average deck and mixer setup and does it in a neat and tidy laptop bag friendly sized unit.
Having been previously knocked out with the tank like build of the Vestax VCI-100, Total Control is a stark contrast to it, with no visible metal in sight. Bar some screws and the USB and power ports on the back, it’s all plastic. This is obviously reflected in the weight of it as well (1.7kg), which is a plus for luggability but probably a minus for longevity.
It’s also a quirky mix of quality as well. The first thing that any DJ does is to feel the jog wheels and these and incredibly smooth and very solid - no wobbling at all. The full sized crossfader feels nice and smooth but the channel and pitch faders, like so many other cheaper units move excessively side to side. The black knobs are firm and solid, whereas the silver knobs feel much cheaper. I know it's a cheap unit but a little consistency would be better.
Total control works with plastic overlays. Although out of the box, it’s designed to work with Numark’s Cue LE software, it can be made to work with anything. Indeed it comes with Cue LE and Traktor LE, but there’s no reason at all why it won’t work with full versions of the software plus just about any other MIDI controllable software you can chuck at it.
It's worth mentioning that unless you can get busy with a text editor and know the zen ways of MIDI, autolearn and mapping is likely to be in the realms of full versions of software rather than LE versions. And LED functions might not work either as this apparently requires the application to talk directly to Total Control, so that probably means Numark software for a while.
The supplied overlay is double-sided, the flipside being white so you can map your own controls and scrawl your own commands on the overlay. You simply need to pull off the various fader knobs and off pops the overlay - there’s even a finger notch to help.
The basic layout is 2 decks and a mixer in the middle, like having a baby Vestax 06 with a skinny CD deck either side. I like this aesthetic of keeping things simple, logical and familiar - it helps with the layout, which could otherwise be cluttered in such a small unit.
The jogwheels are little more than pitch bend wheels really. Very solid, smooth and sensitive to the touch, these have little use as a scratch wheel. In Numark’s Cue, it’s hard to do even basic baby scratches and release on beat. Vestax’s VCI-100 needn’t worry just yet. There are also basic play functions - cue, pause and play/stutter as well as some looping functions located just above as well.
The faders are standard sizes which is a good thing for a compact unit, and a few extra quid seems to have been spent on a better quality crossfader as well. It’s no Pro X Fade but welcome nonetheless. The pitch faders are however shorter than people might feel comfortable with and are the same as the line faders.
Above the jogwheels, you’ll find a selection of low profile buttons and knobs that as standard in Cue are mapped to effect and sampling functions. I found these knobs to be a tad too high to press some of the buttons in this slightly cramped layout. Lower profile knobs (like Ecler) would have been better here.
Above the channel faders is a large centrally located function knob. This takes over much of the need to touch your laptop and is used for navigation up and down your playlists. Turn it to scroll to the correct track and press to engage load mode. The “load” buttons light up and you can select which deck to load the selected track into. One less reason to look like a DJ picking up their email. Nice touch Numark.
Finishing off, in the centre section are the EQs and gains. The Silver EQ knobs have 2 functions - 3 band EQ control with gain and a press button kill control on the 3 EQs with an indicator light to show it’s engaged. As standard, the EQs kill but obviously that will depend on the software you use. This is a dumb controller after all. In the middle, there are controls for master output, headphone mix and volume. Large, obvious and much better than the VCI.
Round the Back
Normally when reviewing anything, there’s usually a heap of inputs and outputs to detail. But on Total Control, there’s almost nothing. All you’ll see is the USB port and a socket for the supplied but largely optional PSU. Because this is bus powered and obviously lacks any sound card, there’s no need to litter the rear with RCA ports.
A handy hint - buy Numark’s DJ IO laptop sound card and power it with the spare PSU as it needs more power than Total Control. This way you get a cheap but excellent sound card and all the outputs you need.
If you bear in mind that this isn’t a scratchable controller and use it simply for mixing, it’s a great piece of gear. Using Cue LE, I was able to load up tracks with ease, mix, chop, screw plus all the other things you hip kids normally do with ease. I rocked some simple R&B style mixing as well as some longer dance style blends with ease. I would feel very comfortable turning up at a gig armed with my laptop, Total Control and DJ IO and keeping a crowd happy, provided I didn’t have to scratch in any way.
DJing with a controller is something that does take a little while to get used to. But it is infinitely preferable to just using a laptop. Total control gives you the feel and control you need to keep yourself and the crowd happy and at a good price as well.
I can’t help but think that we’re entering into a new phase of “disposable DJing”. By that I mean that anyone with a laptop and an MP3 collection can now rock a crowd. Instead of having to invest serious sums of loot on next level CD decks, a mixer and an effects box, you can achieve a similar thing for a few hundred quid. And if they don’t like it, they can throw it away. Also if Total Control doesn’t stand up to the rigours of life on the road, you can dispose of the old one and buy a new one because it’s so cheap.
It’s up to you if you think this is a good or bad thing, but now there’s no reason why potential or established DJs can’t test the digital waters with Total Control. It does everything you would want, does it well and can be tailored to suit your software of choice.
Build Quality - 7.5/10
Disturbing lack of metal and a real mixed bag of solid and slightly flimsy quality. But you get what you pay for.
Sound Quality - 9/10
Not sure how applicable this is but using the supplied software yielded quality results. It's more down to software and your sound card
Features & Implementation - 8/10
In reality, it's a little box of controls. What you do with them is up to you. But there's plenty to go at and configure.
Value For Money - 9/10
For the money, you get a fully featured controller with nice jogwheels and a decent fader.
• Logical layout
• Bundled Software
• All plastic
• A little cramped
The Bottom Line
Laptop DJing gets a little easier. A great controller at a great price.
Big thanks to Numark for the loan of Total Control.