Let me start off by disclosing that I have been a beta tester for Cortex for over a year now since they released the HDC1000 and I have tried hard to be very honest with my thoughts about the units noting not only their features but also their shortcomings….and that I am not an official dj equipment reviewer…LOL…just a working dj.
The latest Cortex device that will hit the shelves in the Spring is the all-in-one digital player the Dmix600. It’s similar to the Dmix300 but with some added features…
The unit measures approx 19” x 11” x 2 ½”. It weighs about 12 lbs and my first impression after unpacking it is that is built like a tank. Just like the other Cortex unit’s the whole thing seems to be made out of metal and the fancy shmancy black sparkly finish on top is present. All of the knobs, switches and wheels feel very solid and none of them have a “cheap” feel to them at all.
What does the unit do?
Just in case anyone has been buried under a rock the last year and doesn‘t know what these digital controllers can do, the Cortex Dmix600 will allow you to play CBR and VBR mp3 files off either an external hard drive, an iPod or any other usb device. You can actually mix using only one source which is pretty incredible once you stop and think about it. In addition, the Dmix600 has an iPod dock on the top which will be quite handy. Included are two little iPod “adapters” (which are merely nothing more than plastic spacers) to help tighten up that space depending on what kind of iPod you have. They are labeled iPod mini (30G) and iPod nano (30G). I found the smaller “iPod mini” spacer worked best with my new Classic 80G iPod. The dock is convenient as I always seem to be scrambling for those white iPod cords but the fear that I always have is that some cornhole is going to walk up and yank my iPod out of the dock and be lost in the crowd before I even know what happened. I don’t know if any manufacturers of dj equipment that make stuff with iPod docks have ever done this but I wish they could design some type of locking mechanism that would prevent this. I’m just a worry wart…..
On the back of the unit you will find numerous outputs. RCA outs for Master, Booth and Record and Master Balanced XLR outputs. Inputs consist of one ¼” mic input, and two additional RCA inputs for either line in (cd player, tape deck, etc) and/or phono. There is also one usb input to attach your ext. hd or usb hub and also another usb connection where you can hook up your laptop and essentially make changes while your iPod is docked in the Cortex unit.
On the front (not the top where the exciting stuff is!) is another ¼” mic input (total of 2 mic inputs) with mic on/off switch and mic low/high eq, the main power switch, and the headphone input with a left/right fader and a “cue efx” button. The front mic volume will control volume for both this input and the one on the back that I mentioned above. The headphone/fader control allows you to fade back and forth from both sides which will aid in beat mixing. You are not able to adjust the volume in each separate side though…just fade back and forth between them. I still am confused about the cue efx button as I thought it would be a way for me to listen to efx on a song while in cue but I have noticed that I can still hear the effect on the song whether this button is engaged or not.
Ok, let’s get to the good stuff!
Those familiar with the Cortex units will recognize the two blue screens…one on each side for each player. I was a little disappointed that they are the size of the screens found on the 1000 and not the 3000. On each side/player you will also find: navigation buttons/arrows, pitch sliders and buttons, Master tempo, key, jog mode button, play, cue and loop buttons. Also included are the ever present info, play screen, search and shift buttons that are on all the Cortex units. Next to the navigation arrows are the hot cue buttons.
In the middle lies the mixer…starting from the top there are knobs and switches that sit next to each player. They include msd/ph/ln toggle switches, gain, and high/mid/low eq knobs. Between this layout you will find a master and booth volume, a time and single button, three efx buttons which are filter, flanger and reverb, a switch to assign those efx to either ch1, ch2 or master (which will include your mic!) and a dry/wet knob and parameter control for the efx. Below that you will find a typical mixer l/r channel sliders, a VU meter which can read out either Master or cue/pgm and a left/right fader. A slick switch will allow you to change your fader curve from quick fade/start to one that is more gradual.
For my testing I used Mackie 450 speakers and a Gemini two channel cordless mic system. I also used my Western Digital Ext HD and my 80 gig iPod. The Dmix600 software version that I used as of this review was version 1.2.3.
Those of you not familiar…you have to create a database on your devices (ext hd, ipod, etc) in order for these units to do their magic and with Cortex you can either do it on your PC - which is preferred because it is much faster - or the unit itself. Not knowing if the current PC database software would be compatible with this update, I allowed the unit to create the databases on both of my msd devices which it did just fine. When in doubt…let the unit do it is what I always say!
Since I have been working with these units for quite a while, I knew what to expect when everything was up and running. All of the search features are there including search by artist, song, genre, album, bpm, string search (which can also be done faster with a keyboard….just start typing!) play list and file browser. They all worked properly and efficiently. One difference in the Dmix is when you are needing to search quickly through the alphabet (A, B, C…etc) as opposed to the other Cortex units where you engage “shift key + arrow”, you use “shift key + wheel.” I quickly scrolled through the 7k + songs I had using this feature. Master tempo, pitch, key adjust…all work exactly as they are expected. For the remainder of this review I’ll concentrate on some of the things that might be different then what’s found on other Cortex units or things that are brand new.
As I mentioned on the top of the unit are the loop buttons which consists of “in”, “out” and “R/Loop.” Setting the in and out points, exiting, returning and deleting the loop are all a breeze however editing the loop is difficult at this point. The manual instructs you to use the jog wheel and it does indeed edit the in/out points but how I did it, I don’t know! Since the song time displayed on the screen is also changing, it’s very difficult to make the edit accurately….it’s merely guess work right now but the beauty of Cortex is that they listen to what their djs want and make the updates accordingly. It could be something that I’m failing to grasp entirely and if so, I will certainly post a correction.
On the other hand, setting hot cues is a piece of cake. Merely push the “memo” button and hit either “cue 1” or “cue 2” at the appropriate time to set a hot cue. You can save two hot cues per song.
The efx features which include filter, flanger, reverb and scratch are simple to engage and all sound terrific with the push of a button. You have the option to assign the efx to either side or even master output. Use the dry/wet knob and parameter slider to fine tune the effect. For scratch (no button required) to work you need to turn your touch wheel “on” in the settings and you’re set. I’m not a scratch expert but it sounds great to me and you can even hold down the touchpad and release it for the song to continue as you would vinyl. The pads are grooved like a record and the size is perfect for me to navigate.
The Dmix600 has an option to add a cd player (flip the appropriate switches) which I did. It worked great and I was even able to engage the efx with the cd player. The problem that arises when considering doing this is the logistics of it all. The Dmix and other units like it are not made to be rack mounted…that kind of defeats the whole purpose….so what kind of cd player are you supposed to drag along? I just plugged in my home cd player but a neat FUTURE addition to the Dmix units would be to have a cd player built in for those moments when a client brings up a cd and needs a song played. (this unit would be ideal for a club dj that wants to drag his own equipment along with him but still integrate it in to a club system, i.e. like the on site cd player!)
I was a bit disappointed that there weren’t XLR mic inputs or separate mic volume controls when I first pulled the unit out of it’s box but after hooking up my dual cordless mic I’m not as concerned now. I was able to plug one channel in the front and the other in the back and although the mixer didn’t have separate volume controls I did on my base unit so I can still make adjustments if necessary.
This leads us to the mixer itself….I will remind you that I am NOT an audiophile nor have I even had a chance to use the unit at an actual gig but after cranking the system up and playing with the high, mid and low eq knobs I am very satisfied. I was able to emit a thundering bass from my Mackies (ok…thundering might be exaggerating but it sounded good!) after bringing up the lows and the board sounded good. My mics sounded nice, clear and not an overly large amount of noise came from the mixer that you normally see on low or mid range mixers.
The Dmix600 will be the perfect solution for many djs that are considering making the switch into the digital world and are looking to also lighten their load. This is a unit that is more then “perfect for wedding ceremonies” as I’m sure many are viewing it right now. The thought of being able to take just this unit out with me and leave my whole heavy rack/box at home excites me to no end and my back is already thanking me. Of course if I need to be able to control lights or have a cd player then I’ll need to lug my main rack (which has my Cortex 3000 in it) but this could very easily become my main unit in a heartbeat. Solid construction, rock solid performance (while testing, I had no crashes, glitches, etc and I tested for hours) and amazing features make the Dmix600 a serious contender.
While I’m writing this…I thought of a solution for a backup plan that does not include cd players. As the back of the Dmix has two inputs, I could plug in an iPod (or two…) in the line in and play, search, pause, etc using the iPod controls themselves. Not ideal but good to know in case the mp3/hard drive part of the unit crashes for some reason.
Also, on some dj equipment websites, one of the features they are touting about this unit is the ability to make play lists on the fly similar to the Cortex 3000. As of the time I’m writing this, this feature is not available but I hope it is something that Cortex will add in the near future. This would be HUGE!