What up gangsters! It’s an exciting day for me because today is the day that I get to review the awesome looking Numark NS6! Being a D-D-D-D-DJ, these are the types of review that I look forward to the most! So instead of blabbering on for ages, I’m just going to jump straight on in behind these digital wheels of steel and see if they live up to the hype!
NUMARK NS6 – FIRST IMPRESSIONS
My first impression of the Numark NS6 was ‘WOW!’ It looked absolutely stunning on my desk and it made me feel like whacking on some tunes, turning up the volume and playing with those shiny jog wheels! The red, black, silver and white colour scheme looked very sharp and it really looks like a top-end DJ product… if I saw any other DJ with this product in the booth then I would be very jealous, so it’s a good job that I have my hands on it! That’s a huge compliment coming from myself as well, seeing as I come from a 100% vinyl DJing background and up until now have been very sceptical about this whole digital DJing era.
Moving away from the look and onto how this thing feels now and thankfully it really doesn’t disappoint. When I saw the initial photographs of this product, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t ruin its awesome sleek look by being built from cheap plastic components. Luckily it doesn’t! In fact, the Numark NS6 has got an all-metal construction, which gives it a feeling of real quality. I would have no problems at all about taking this thing on the road from gig-to-gig as I am sure that it would be able to handle a bit of rough handling and all the bumps and knocks that products inevitably suffer from life on the road… even though of course I would want to protect this baby as much as possible!
Even before you take the Numark NS6 out of the box, you can tell that this thing is going to ooze quality. It has a great weight to it and that is exactly what you want from a product like this… there is not point having a cheap, lightweight controller that is easy to knock around in the DJ booth. You want something that feels absolutely rock-solid and that is exactly what the Numark NS6 is. It even features some handy cut-aways down each side so that it is easy to pick up off the desk to make a quick getaway in time for your next set!
I haven’t even got onto the best bit about the Numark NS6 either… the platters! Oh yes! Numark advertise these as being the ‘best platters on the planet!’ Now, I’m still a vinyl man at heart, so my Technics 1210s definitely have something to say about this, although I do admit that these things feel nice… VERY nice! Out of all the digital platters that I have ever used before (Traktor S4, Pioneer CDJ, etc.) the platters on the Numark NS6 certainly outperform them in my opinion. Their metal build combined with their sturdy, yet ultra-smooth movements just makes them an absolute pleasure to work with. I really can’t praise these platters enough and they definitely contribute to making the Numark NS6 an ultra-playable and desirable piece of kit.
Before I get to actually using this thing, I may as well add that all the buttons and dials also feel nice and sturdy and all the faders are really smooth. The pro cross-fader is even replaceable so you can upgrade it if you are a very picky scratch DJ!
So, my initial impression of the Numark NS6 really blew me away. However, whilst first impressions count, they don’t tell the whole story. I was just hoping that the Numark NS6 would continue to overwhelm me once I started using it…
NUMARK NS6 – BASIC USE
The Numark NS6 comes with a custom version of Serato’s ‘Itch’ software and everything is very easy to set-up and use – it’s just a case of plugging the Numark NS6 into your computer, putting in the included CD and following the instructions to install. It’s all very straight-forward and perhaps best of all, because both the hardware and software are designed to work together, there is no need to perform any custom mappings… everything just works perfectly straight out of the box!
However, I think the real test of any hardware/software hybrid is to see how it performs using just the hardware alone. I always view the software with these types of products as something that is useful to have to add extended functionality, but I think that a good product should allow you to perform all basic operations without even having to look at or touch the computer at all. After all, the hardware is the bit that is most fun to play with and I personally don’t want my mixing flow to be interrupted by having to click a mouse every ten seconds!
For the most part, the hardware/software combination functioned exactly as I would like. I could perform all basic mixing functions using the hardware alone and could even perform loops and add effects, as well as triggering cue points all from the Numark NS6. The only essential thing that I needed to look at the computer for was to make song selections, although I still didn’t have to use a mouse to do this as the Numark NS6 featured a handy rubber browser dial and some buttons for moving within a folder hierarchy. I can’t really complain about having to look at the computer screen here though as in all honesty, if I were DJing with my beloved vinyls I would only be rummaging around in my record bag underneath the table instead!
As would be expected with a product such as this, the Serato Itch software is useful for providing some extra visual feedback. For example, you get a waveform view of your track, which runs along as you play and the waveforms are colour coded depending on frequency, making it far easier to distinguish between a kick and a snare drum, for example.
There are of course a few things that you cannot achieve using the hardware alone, but in all honesty, these are not tasks that you are likely to going to need to change on-the-fly during a live performance anyway.
NUMARK NS6 – JUST BROWSING
Ok, so I may as well give you a little run down of exactly how this thing works and I’m going to start by talking about browsing for songs, as this is probably the first step you will need to take when creating a mix. The main browser controls of the Numark NS6 are conveniently located on the upper central section of the unit. Browsing is mainly controlled by one large dial, which you turn left and right to move up and down to make your folder and song selections in the software. It’s all pretty simple stuff and it’s also worth noting that the dial has a pleasing click to it to indicate when your selection has moved on.
Either side of the main browsing dial are two buttons, ‘Forward’ and ‘Back’. These allow you to control where the browser dial is active by allowing you to move within a folder hierarchy. So, for example, you may have a song loaded from one folder, but you want to find another song that is in a different folder. Here, you would press the ‘Fwd’ button to move back up the hierarchy, then use the browser dial to select the new folder, before pressing the dial to move into the new folder. Again, it is all rather simple, although I am still a little confused as to why the ‘Forward’ button moves you back up the hierarchy and the backwards button moves you closer to the end. Maybe it’s just me, although I think that this would make more sense if it were the other way around? Still, the way the buttons are physically laid out on the Numark NS6 (e.g. ‘Fwd’ button on the left and ‘Back’ button on the right) makes everything easy to understand without even reading the labels.
Underneath the main browsing dial are a few more buttons relating to ‘crates’. From what I could make out, these are just folders! Maybe it’s an American word, I don’t know! These buttons give you a quick way to jump to browsing your main folder library (‘Crates’ button) and also allow you to jump to a temporary folder by pressing the ‘Prepare’ button. This is extremely handy if you have planned or are planning a set as you go along, as it allows you to get ahead of yourself and put the songs that you are potentially going to play in one place (the temporary folder/crate), so that they are quick and easy to load later on! In this sequence of buttons there is also a ‘Files’ button, which opens a file tree browser-type view, which is particularly useful for people like me, as this is how I tend to work.
Finally, underneath these buttons are the ‘Load’ buttons, allowing you to load a selected song into either the left-hand deck, the right-hand deck, or into your temporary folder/crate.
This section also gives you two standard dials for controlling the booth and master volume.
NUMARK NS6 – THE STRIP SEARCH!
Not what you would normally want I’m sure, but the rather amusingly named ‘Strip Search’ feature of the Numark NS6 is actually rather handy. Essentially, each deck has one of these touch strips (the strip search bar) and they allow you to quickly jump to different sections of a track without having to fast-forward/re-wind like retro cassettes! So, all you have to do is put your finger on the touch-strip and swipe along (or just simply press at a specific point) and the track will magically jump to a point in time as represented by your touch. So, if you touch at the mid-point of the touch-strip controller, then the track will jump to its halfway point, for example. Some LED indicators even illuminate above the touch strips to signal at what point the track is at, and they also automatically update as a track plays.
The purpose of these touch-strips is to replicate how a traditional vinyl DJ would pick up the turntable’s needle and drop it in at a specific point ready to cue-up a track. However, whilst I certainly agree that this is a highly useful feature, I still don’t think that any controller out there has made this function as easy as it is with vinyl! One of the main advantages of using proper vinyls is that you can see the grooves! When the music goes quieter (e.g. in a breakdown or a small musical pause), you can actually see this area as a darker patch within the vinyl's grooves, so you can be very quick and accurate when dropping the needle into the track. With touch-strips, you do not get such visual clues and so you need to have a rather in-depth knowledge of each of your tracks to know exactly when events occur in terms of the track length.
What would be really awesome is if someone made a piece of software that replicated the grooves on a vinyl. It could analyse the amplitude components of each track and create a visual vinyl representation onscreen with all the virtual grooves. Then, when you slid your finger on the touch-strip, it could display a virtual needle that moves back and forth over the virtual vinyl and drops on the track at the point where you release your finger. There you go, you can have that idea for free Serato and Traktor! This feature would definitely make me consider digital DJing a lot more seriously. Then again, I guess that you can always use and set-up cue points with the Numark NS6, which you can’t do with vinyls… but still, this would be an excellent feature of any software if someone could implement it, and I wouldn't imagine that it would be that difficult to do.
NUMARK NS6 – LOOPING
One of the main advantages of digital DJing is easy looping. Whilst I still think that it looks amazing if you have two of the same vinyl and cut and rewind between each to create quick loops, vinyl really don’t offer the flexibility of digital technology… I would like to see DJ Craze or Plus One chopping between two records to create a 1/64th note loop!
Looping with the Numark NS6 is very simple and very fun to use. It works pretty much as you would expect, firstly offering two different loop modes, ‘manual’ for creating… well… manual loops(!), and ‘auto’ for creating automatic loops (e.g. one bar loops, half bar loops, etc). Whilst both modes have their uses, I found that I used manual mode a lot more frequently. In this mode, the ‘In’ and ‘Out’ buttons illuminate, allowing you to hit them and create loops wherever you wish. Once you have made a loop (no matter what mode you are in), then you can use the '1/2x' and '2x' buttons to alter the length of the loop for some creative effects. You can also use the loop 'Shift' buttons to alter the position of the loop within a track.
One handy loop feature of the Numark NS6 that I discovered was that if you create a manual loop and then hit the ‘Out’ button again, you can use the jog wheel to control the loops end point, which can be put to some really cool creative use, or just used for fine-tuning purposes.
NUMARK NS6 – DECKS & CUES
The decks are where you load your songs into and the Numark NS6 actually has four of these, despite only having two jog wheels. The first jog wheel controls decks 1 and 3 and the left jog wheel deals with decks 2 and 4. It is extremely simple to switch between which deck the controller is manipulating, just needing one press of the ‘Layer’ button to toggle between the two. It is by no means as flexible as having four physical jog wheels or turntables to play with, but it is probably the best way to meet a compromise between functionality, price and portability.
As one set of controls can alter two different decks, you may be wondering how you can tell which deck you are currently controlling. Luckily, Numark make it all very simple. Aside from the fact that the ‘Layer’ button illuminates when you are controlling the secondary deck, the actual jog wheels are also colour coded. In fact, you get two strips of LEDs around the edge of each jog wheel, which snake round as the track plays, similar to how you would watch a record spin on a classic turntable. These LEDs are colour coded, white for when the interface is controlling the primary deck (1 and 3) and red for when they are controlling the secondary deck (2 and 4). These colours are also mirrored on the mixer labels on the Numark NS6 (i.e. channels 1 and 3 have white labels and channels 2 and 4 have red labels), so it is all very easy to remember and I am sure that once you have been using the Numark NS6 for a while, this will all become second nature.
An extra little feature that I discovered with the Numark NS6 was that you can use the Serato Itch software to alter the speed of these spinning LEDs between 45 and 33 RPM. Again, this has been done to simulate how traditional turntables work, although I found the feature a little gimmicky and I’m really not sure why I would ever be bothered about changing this feature.
One thing to note about the jog wheels themselves is that they don’t physically spin. Coming from a traditional DJing background, spinning turntables are always something that I feel more comfortable with, although this is just my personal opinion. However, despite being static jog wheels, I did find them very easy to use and extremely sensitive and their sturdy, solid feel made them very pleasing to work with.
I found that the jog wheels could actually function in 2 modes. Their was the standard mode, whereby pushing and reversing the jog wheel speeds up and slows down the track, which was perfect for manual beat-matching, but there was also a Scratch mode, which could be activated by pressing the ‘Scratch’ button. This mode allowed you to use the jog wheel of the Numark NS6 to perform scratch moves, by stopping the track (by pressing down on the jog wheel) and pushing it backwards and forwards. Although I am not really a scratch DJ, this mode was extremely fun to play with and I thought that it sounded excellent and very close to how it would sound if I were using a proper record to scratch.
One of my favourite little features of the Numark NS6 was the ‘Bleep’ function. This could be activate by holding the ‘Shift’ button on the Numark NS6 whilst pressing the ‘Reverse’ key. When the ‘Bleep’ function was activated, instead of reversing the whole track, it performs a momentary reverse (depending on how long you hold the button for) and then continues playing the track from a later point in time depending on how long you held the ‘bleep’ for, so everything stays in perfect musical time! I found that this function could be used to create some excellent variational effects with minimal skill, so it suited me just fine!
Each jog wheel also comes with standard pitch faders, which can be set to +/-8, +/- 16 or +/-50 using the ‘Range’ button, to cater for a variety of mixing styles. It should be noted that the pitch fader does not click at ‘0’ but an LED does light up and to be honest this is the way that I personally prefer it. Pitch faders that click at ‘0’ tend to annoy me a little bit! Also, underneath the pitch fader are a couple of handy pitch bend buttons, which you can use to bend the pitch of a track up and down for some cool creative effects.
Of course, each jog wheel also contains standard Sync (for automatically beat-matching one track with another), Cue (for setting a main cue point) and Play/Pause buttons. These allow you to perform the very basic, yet essential mixing functions. Above these buttons, you have five ‘Cue’ slot buttons, which can be used to create and trigger cue points at various positions in the song. For example, you can create strategic cue points within a song and then create an on-the-fly remix! All very useful stuff! The only small moan that I would have here, is that the Cue buttons on the Numark NS6 are quite small. Obviously this has been done for space-saving purposes, but I would have much preferred them to have been chunkier like the transport buttons, as it would have made them easier to use. When you are frantically bashing buttons to create a live remix and triggering one-shot samples, you don’t want to be worrying that you may accidentally miss the cue button, or even worse, trigger the wrong part of the song altogether! I also found that these Cue buttons were quite close to the jog wheels and transport buttons, which again wasn’t ideal. It’s not a major problem at all, but you just do need to be extra careful when triggering cue points on the Numark NS6, especially when you are new to the interface.
Just for the sake of completeness, it is also really easy to delete cue points. All you need to do is hold the ‘Delete’ button and press the cue point button that you want to delete. You can even do a quick swipe over them all if you want to completely clear your palette!
NUMARK NS6 – MIXING IT UP
The mixer of the Numark NS6 employs a fairly standard layout. It has the replaceable pro crossfader, which is extremely smooth and easy to use, smooth upfaders, plus gain and 3-band EQ on each channel. Each channel also has a ‘Cue’ button, which allows you to listen to that channel in the headphones. You can even listen to multiple channels at once by pressing and holding multiple cue buttons... note that you actually have to press and hold all the buttons relating to the channels that you want to hear at once, you can’t just press one and then the next one, but this makes the process of switching between cue channels a whole lot quicker. You can also flick switches on the mixer to allow you to use it to route external audio sources as well (e.g. mics, turntables, etc.)
The Numark NS6 also has some controls on the front of the unit for altering how the crossfader works. For starters, each side of the fader features a crossfader 'Start' switch, which allows you to control when a track starts and stops, just by moving the crossfader. Here, you also have a dial for adjusting the crossfader curve, so you can customise it to suit your way of working (e.g. scratching or smooth mixing). You can also set the curve response of the upfaders from within the software itself if you so wish. There are also some switches on the front of the unit that allow you to assign specific decks to either side of the crossfader for custom mixing purposes, or you can also just set individual decks to be audible regardless of the crossfader position, which is useful if you prefer to mix using the upfaders.
One thing that I do notice about the Numark NS6 mixer is that each channel does not have an individual LED meter for monitoring the level of each track. This can make working with the mixer quite an uncomfortable process at first if you are used to working by manually setting levels before mixing. However, the Serato Itch software does feature an auto-gain algorithm, which does this all automatically for you and so once you have learned to trust the software (which works very well), then you will be well away! The only time that the lack of meters becomes annoying is when you hook up an external source into the mixer (e.g. mic or turntable), although if you mainly mix in this way, then I guess you will probably just get a standard DJ mixer instead.
NUMARK NS6 – EFFECTS
As well as everything else, the Numark NS6 also has ample controls for taking full advantage of the two effect engines within the Serato Itch software. The effects controls on the Numark NS6 are situated around the browsing controls and you have all the functionality to activate and deactivate each effect engine at will, select effects, control the effect intensity and assign the effect to the channel of your choice.
Effects within the Serato Itch software include Phaser, Flanger, Tremolo, Repeater, Reverser, Breaker, Pressure, Delay, Echo, Reverb, High Pass Filter and Low Pass Filter. To select an effect you have to turn the ‘FX Select’ dial until the name of the effect that you want to use is displayed in the Serato Itch software. If you want to quickly jump to the next effect then you can also just press the dial. You then use the ‘FX Param’ dial to select the specific effect parameter that you want to control and finally you use the ‘FX Mix’ fader to control the intensity of the effect.
Once all this is set up, all you have to do is press the corresponding ‘A’ or ‘B’ effect button that appears on each channel (including the Master channel) to route the signal from that channel to the specific effect. You can even route a channel to both effect engines at once, so for example, you can have a track effected by both a phaser and a low pass filter.
NUMARK NS6 – AUDIO INTERFACE
As a final major feature, the Numark NS6 is also a 24-bit audio interface. The back of the Numark NS6 features a power button, a connection for a power lead, a USB connection (for hooking it up to your computer), balanced XLR outputs (R and L) for hooking the Numark NS6 directly up to a pair of speakers, a secondary master RCA output (R and L) (both the main XLR and RCA outputs are controlled by the ‘Master’ dial) and then you have standard phono inputs (R and L) for each channel and ¼” jack mic inputs for channels 3 and 4. An important point to note here though is that you cannot use both software and hardware decks at once on the same channel and if you use a microphone, this reduces the number of decks that you can use. For example, if you hook 2 microphones to the Numark NS6 then you can only use two decks, which is a little annoying.
Finally, the Numark NS6 has 2 headphone connections on the front, one that accepts a ¼” jack and one that accepts a standard mini jack, so you can have 2 pairs of phones hooked up at once, or simply just have a useful backup if you get to your gig and realise that you have forgotten your ¼” jack adapter… we’ve all done it! On the front of the Numark NS6, you also have controls for headphone volume, a blend dial for shifting your headphone channel between the master track and the cued channel(s), and a ‘Split Cue’ mix, which when active, plays the master track out of one side of the headphones and the cued track out of the other! This is extremely useful if you are performing manual beatmatching with a dodgy monitor set-up.
NUMARK NS6 – SUMMARY
It’s been a pretty meaty review, but that is only because there was so much to say about the Numark NS6! In fact, I didn’t even cover a lot of the features such as the skip buttons (which allow you to scrub through a track whilst staying in beat), the fact that you can adjust the break speed of tracks in the software (to produce sharp stops or long drawn out brakes), and loads more!
I for one was really impressed with the Numark NS6 and found it an excellent product to work with. As I have already mentioned, the stand-out feature really is those silky smooth, yet rock solid platters. Massive pat on the back to Numark for these, because they really do blow the competition out of the water and the fact that they feel so sturdy even tempts me to give this thing a go in a serious live situation and leave the vinyls at home for once!
Despite the few negative points that I have discussed within this blog, the Numark NS6 is certainly a heavyweight contender and fully deserves to be mentioned in the same league as products such as the awesome Traktor Kontrol S4. I imagine that this beast is going to be a real hit with digital DJs and as I mentioned earlier in my blog, if I ever see anyone using one in the DJ booth then I will most certainly feel a slight twang of jealousy as I watch them mashing up beats with this thoroughly impressive product.
In summary, it looks the part, it feels the part and it sure as hell acts the part! The Numark NS6 is the real deal!
For more information or to puchase the Numark NS6, click the link below: