It was just a few years ago when we were still reviewing fresh analog turntables on a regular basis. But thems the olden days, and now it's all about cramming your music onto a single USB device. DJ Tech are establishing themselves as an affordable company in this modern DJ age with an ever growing range of USB only devices. The baby of the range is the uSolo - a small but perfectly formed square block of digital goodness.
In a nutshell - uSolo is an entry level USB only single player with looping, 3 effects and a touch sensitive static scratchable jog wheel.
Like all units in this price bracket, it's almost entirely plastic. That said, it does feel like the lightweight case will take some abuse. Measuring just 204 x 215 x 93mm, the black case is littered with rubber silver buttons that light up brightly - highly reminiscent of Numark buttons in terms of looks and feel. Being such a small unit, there's little space to place them in a way that will please everyone, but in use I found them to be OK to use in a rush. I may have laid them out a little differently myself but it all works just fine.
The green (although I'd have gone blue) and black screen displays everything you need and would expect to tell tell you what's going on inside the uSolo.
The Jog Wheel
Every unit of this type has a jog wheel - almost always static and touch sensitive. The uSolo is no exception, and has a 4.5" static jog wheel, but this is movement sensitive. In vinyl mode, I expected it to stop when I touched the top but it didn't. Instead, it only stopped when I moved the wheel a little. Scratching works and sounds OK as do spinbacks, although there is a noticeable latency and releasing the wheel for accurate cueing yields mixed results. My advice - view scratch as an effect rather than a real feature.
And while the platter doesn't spin, there is a reverse play button. Could be viewed as an effect I suppose, but I see it as a playback feature.
TIP: Hold the edge of the wheel with one hand to cause resistance and scratch with the other. This will give you clean releases.
Of course, the jog wheel operates as a pitch bend control, frame search as well as adjusting effects parameters. More on that later.
Having just mentioned pitch, I may as well deal with that now. Surprisingly, the uSolo comes with a full 100mm pitch control with a soft centre click. Given the tiny size of the unit, I thought a smaller slider would have been used, but it does make it a lot better for mixing.
On a side note, the uSolo has an auto BPM calculator that on the whole is pretty accurate. This can however be overridden with the tap BPM feature, and the displayed BPM gets recalculated depending on the pitch setting too.
The uSolo has ranges of 6, 12, 25 and 100%. By default it switches on at 12% but for some reason (and like other units of this type) pitch control has be turned on at every startup. That is rather annoying. At least analog switches meant your controls stayed where you put them.
Right below the pitch range lights are the pitch bend buttons. These will bend the pitch to whatever range you have selected, but using the jog wheel bends to 100% regardless of the selected range.
One last thing - tempo lock. This is actually incorrectly named as it is pitch lock rather than tempo. The range is like the pitch - up to 100%, but the useable range is nearer -15/+40% before breaking up or softening too much. Still nice to have though.
You get 3 effects that seem to be pretty standard across the range of this type of unit. Echo, flanger and filter all sound as you might expect, but adjusting the parameter works in 2 ways. You can either simply engage the effects with a default amount applied and do a temporary bend with the jog wheel which returns to the default after a few seconds, or keeping the FX button pressed allows to to apply a fixed amount with the jog wheel.
They work well and add a little extra spice to your performance. Just don't overdo it OK?
Getting to the crux of the uSolo here. The whole point of USB is to get rid of using CDs completely. The uSolo works with MP3 only - after all, this isn't an audiophile's deck, nit will it ever be resident in a superclub's booth so MP3 is more than good enough for purpose.
All your music can be put onto USB devices and is accessible via 1 of the 2 USB ports in the uSolo. This is handy for dropping tracks in on the fly from other USB media rather than having to unplug your existing one. Throwing a number of random USB keys at the uSolo got good results, but no joy with iPods or large drives. Perhaps this is because there is a limit of 999 files on an USB device. That's still a lot of music by any measure. It even asks you to "insert pen drive" anyway which is a hint as to what it expects.
Once inserted, the root level of the device is displayed. Tracks outside of folders are displayed first, but you can easily navigate through folders by (surprise surprise) pressing the folder button and using the track control to do the searching. You can also pick what ID3 tag to display from folder name, file name, title, artist, genre and bit rate for the selected track.
It's fair to say that it's not a huge window to work in, but the navigation controls do work well. And in reality, if you've prepared the USB media yourself, there's every chance that you'll have tagged up your music properly and have it structured in a familiar way so that the 10 character display doesn't prove to be a hindrance.
Cues and Loops
All very basic and simple here. Setting the cue can be done with the cue/play button. But I found a much better experience to be had by using the looping "in" button and pressing "cue" right below it. Makes for some nice hot cue action as well as you can also hit the "reloop" button for double cue button bashing.
Looping works just like all other looping. You hit "in" then "out" and it's set. You can adjust the in and out points with the jog wheel and reloop/stutter as you see fit.
Round the back
Nothing too exciting here. Output is via line level RCAs (thankfully no digital out that just adds to cost and probably never gets used), which sit alongside the second USB port. I'm a little perplex by this location - unless you can lock your media in, this is an open invitation for theft. As I've started doing in other reviews, use a USB extension cable in both ports and keep your precious media out of harms way. There's also the ubiquitous function for playing from one deck to another unattended.
And even though the uSolo is very light, it has an internal switching supply so no ugly wall warts to lug around or catch you out in another country.
Finally, the uSolo is firmware upgradeable so if there any little niggles out of the factory, then they will most likely be fixed further down the line.
While the richer and more skilled DJs might not want to be in the same booth as such gear, the uSolo does a great job for mixing tracks. The pitch resolution is listed as 0.15% but seems to be 0.1%, but I had no trouble locking beats with another digital device with the help of pitch bending. Just don't get your hopes up about turntablism on a pair uSolos.
Navigating while playing can be a bit of a memory game because of the lack of letter based searching, which underlines logical preparation of your USB media before hand, but the actual act of navigating and loading your music is really straightforward.
But on a pure performance level, the uSolo has everything that most DJs need to keep a crowd happy, provided of course you have the music selection and skills to do that.
There's no denying the cuteness of the uSolo. It's a sweet box of digital goodness that addresses the basic needs of budget conscious mix DJs. And when you throw the effects, entry level scratching and looping into the pot, the uSolo is a great unit for beginners and those painfully aware of just how much crap they're lugging around.
And this is all underlined by the USB workflow that throws away the need for CDs altogether. Remember - it's the music, not the medium and the uSolo allows you to
It's all plastic, but feels solid. Rubber controls offer a reassuring click.
In playback, it sounds good. The effects need to be used sparingly though.
Features & Implementation
The USB features work vest with proper preparation. The wheel is good for mixing but not scratching.
Value For Money
For $349, it offers a good bang to buck ratio.
• USB only
• Navigation tools
But not so keen on...
• Scratch is an effect more than a real feature
• Location of USB ports
The Bottom Line
For someone coming into DJing, the need for vinyl or CD is long gone, and the uSolo gives potential users an incredibly cost effective entry into the digital DJ world without the need to lug a laptop around either.
Want some pretty pictures? Here's a gallery.