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The cult of rotary mixers (residentadvisor.net)
127 points by richardwcollins 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 95 comments



I've been playing records for a few years and have had the pleasure of playing with a DJR400. Some personal additions to the article I'd like to share:

1. The physical feel of the device is amazing. Every knob feels and looks both smooth and incredibly sturdy. It's like the difference between driving a Mazda and a Porsche. Madza might be more versatile, practical, and cost-effective. But which one of them is more fun to use?

2. Simpler design. Sometimes less is more, especially at DJ gigs. The article kind of hints at this, but part of the feel is not just the quality of the parts but how little (visible) parts the device has. Just compare how the Xone (one of the most respected lines of mixers) looks: https://i.pinimg.com/474x/35/52/dd/3552dd4fbb206be6a4425523e... to the DJR-400:http://www.electronique-spectacle.com/media/DJR400.jpg Yet the tools in DJR-400 are just fine. I definitely wouldn't want a DJR-400 for a 10-hour minimal techno set, but for blasting out house music in a packed club there might not be anything better at that price point.

3. You can do amazing tricks with the above mentioned Xone mixer (you could argue that it's almost a musical instrument of its own), but the way of operating reminds me more of a computer than an analogue device. There's a reason why so many DJs still prefer vinyl. The digital XDJ stations are even "worse" in this aspect with their LCD touchscreens and endless configuration options behind menu trees. After a long day sitting on a computer, the last thing I want is to feel like going to stand next to another computer.

4. If a problem occurs on an analogue device there are only a few things that could have gone wrong; there's some dust where there shouldn't be, some cable is loose, there's problems with electricity or some part is physically bent. But with these increasingly digital tools it's more like debugging and fixing a computer with proprietary software. There's an endless amount of error modes and although the reliability of the high-end models is still excellent, it's just another thing to keep in the back of your mind when you're trying to focus on your music and expression. The new rotary mixers are a statement against this trend of increasing digitalisation that has entered the mixer market, too.


> After a long day sitting on a computer, the last thing I want is to feel like going to stand next to another computer.

Utterly tangential, but this is why some of us still love shooting 35mm film.


And some have a hobby in IoT / non critical electrical fiddling?


I'm a web developer / gamer. My guilty pleasure is leatherworking. :)


...or why some of use shoot on manual-forward digital lines like the Fuji X-Series. :) I basically never look at the menus, and have never once felt like I had to 'debug' my camera.


Yes! Have you seen the Leica M10-D? Oh man I’d like that.

http://en.leica-camera.com/Photography/Leica-M/Leica-M10-D

No screen. It has a wind lever! (I asked in the shop, it just functions as a thumb-stop. Shame it doesn’t have a true Leica fabric shutter...)


Have one too. Proud owner for over about 11/12 years now. Amazing mixer :)

By the way, the article is at fault, as it mentions it was released in 2010. This is false - it was released around 2003/2004 I believe.

In https://www.deejayforum.de/threads/32604-djr-400-rotary-mixe... (a thread from 2006) one forum user mentions the delivery of a DJR400 in 2004.

The article made me doubt it for a little while, but I'm quite sure I ordered mine before 2010 ;)


> DJR400,jpg

I love the EQ section's silkscreening with Bode plot-like representations of each filter. They even indicate how the filters overlap in their transition bands.


I own a Model 1 (http://playdifferently.org/model-1/). The overall feel is very "analog" and the faders are by far the best I've ever used. The "filter" approach (LPF,HPF) is also hard to live without.

With that said -- not going to lie, still remember the sets I've done on the Radius 4 or Rane's. The feeling creates a totally different experience and it changes the way you mix. Casual, fun - "closer" to the audience somehow.


I own a Model 1 also and freaking love it, but I just picked up a Condesa Lucia V and have to say, I'm totally converted. The isolators alone are worth the switch. I miss 6 channels on the Model 1 since I use a lot of Ableton drum fills and loops, but honestly probably going to sell my Model 1 compared to the Condesa. Pure tactile, expressive joy. Both are amazing but the knob action on the Condesa are so expressive. Just so much for to work it in the mix. Both are gems though. Enjoy!


> DJR-400:http://www.electronique-spectacle.com/media/DJR400.jpg

How do you choose what input is in your headphones?


There is a small round black button next to the dials.


I regret selling my Xone62. It was a beast.


> It's like the difference between driving a Mazda and a Porsche

You mean Honda? Bit of an odd comparison when the Mazda MX5/Miata is one of the most well-known fun drives.


Not to mention the RX7/RX8.. (Given we are talking about "rotaries")


Well, you picked the other company that is most known for an extremely fun relatively affordable car: the S2000 :)

I feel like neither Mazda nor Honda are appropriate here, anyway.


I nominate Acura as the nameplate with the least fun to drive cars.


I nominate Buick.


Dacia all the way

(not that they're bad cars)


Acuras aren't bad cars. In fact, they are quite good. Comfortable. Well-designed. Efficient. Reliable. And incredibly boring (except the NSX, of course, but that doesn't really count because it is so utterly unlike all of the other cars in their lineup).


Also, the NSX is a Honda in most markets, as was the TSX, and both were more exciting than the average Acura.


I thought this was gonna be about blenders :(


I expected it to be about Kitchen Aid. They have cult like following.


Same here. KA stand mixers are a de rigeur status item / badge that says "Hey, we've attained a certain socioeconomic status but we're not flashy about it! We just wanna make some pizza dough."

I'm a victim of this cult myself, and like everybody else I know who has one, ours gets used probably three or four times per year, max. It's such a cumbersome appliance to deal with that most of the time, I just use a fork and mixing bowl.

edit : also the noise is awful -- can't use it after bedtime unless I wanna wake the bambino


+1 for KA Stand Mixer fans. From making your own pasta and ground beef to whipping creamy mash potatoes, those things are awesome.


Get real! How many DJs, outside of home setups, use blenders in their audio rigs?


I mean, now that http://blender.org has an audio editor built into the video sequencer...


I expected an article about social clubs (Rotary, Elks, Cosmos, etc.)


Man, I didn't think that at all but now I wish it was! Would love to read some in depth articles about these kinds of social clubs and the societies they create


One feature that faders have is clear visual and haptic feedback - a thing that is not as clear with knobs. For rotary controls not only are the markings smaller if they exist at all but you have to deal with angles instead of distances, for which we know from studies of pie charts for example, our brains are not well equipped for. Then there is the problem that for haptics you need a marking on the circumfence which you can't see in every position, so you need another marker on top - I,ve rarely seen this design. I assume a blind person could use a fader easily but not necessarily a knob.

Where all of this becomes relevant is when we consider digital controllers. If we accept knobs without any visual and physical markings at all we gain an important feature - we can save and recall pot positions. Visual feedback can be regained with a display or a ring of LEDs around the knob or both. With a physical fader all of this is hard to achieve. You need motorized faders, which exist, but are expensive and have a bunch of disadvantages.


I think you've covered the real crux of it. Any DJ worth their salt can switch between faders and rotaries but faders do offer an additional visual feedback plus are a little easier for doing some turntablism effects (which is why I tend to favour faders when given an option between the two). However rotaries really come into their own on digital mixers / MIDI controllers.


First it signal's "I don't do superfluous effects and scratches even if I wanted." The boutique type mixer has a whole different niche market than most comparably mass market mixers.

Also with faders it's easier to do audible mistakes (especially when not sober) since smooth linear motion seems harder to control, than a mapping to rotary motion. And they're harder to accidentally move, (and kids stay away from them, since they dont know what to do).

Let just look at the recently announced Denon Prime 4 all in one solution. Looks great on concept, specs and useful features, but still manages to look like a flashy plastic toy in.


> First it signal's "I don't do superfluous effects and scratches even if I wanted."

I wish that included the kind of DJs that can't resist driving their isolators hard every 30 seconds.


> Also with faders it's easier to do audible mistakes (especially when not sober) since smooth linear motion seems harder to control, than a mapping to rotary motion.

I think that's more a case of what you're used to because I used to make more mistakes on rotaries than I did on faders.

> First it signal's "I don't do superfluous effects and scratches even if I wanted."

In fairness it really depends on the style of music you play. However I do agree with you that less is more - generally speaking.


The only problem with save/load in faders is haptics. Touch screens can show dynamic content and work like a fader just fine.

(As opposed to a knob, which does not work right without the physical form.)

Once someone invents a display with programmable shape, there's your programmable true fader.


>As opposed to a knob, which does not work right without the physical form

What about the iPod circle? That is basically a digital pot.

In fact that idea is used on a bunch of Bluetooth speakers including Harmon Kardon and Google Home to control volume.


iPod 'circles' are physical. They are resistance based just like pots. Nothing digital about them.

https://www.adafruit.com/product/1069


My point is it's the knob equivalent of a touchscreen fader.


All mixers use almost all rotary controls — the only non rotary controls on most mixers are the channel faders and the cross fader. The primary advantage of a channel fader not being rotary is that you can see at a glance where it’s at, and quickly move from one setting to another to a rough level of precision. When you’re doing hip hop or certain kinds of house mixing (think your classic Chicago house style like Bad Boy Bill), that’s essential. You’re just banging through records a couple minutes at a time, and your hands are off the mixer all the time in your record bag or whatever.

I used to be a progressive house or trance dj, though and I was playing 10 minute records with 3-4 minute transitions and I tended to have my hands on the mixer all the time making minute adjustments, so a rotary mixer with the finer control made more sense.

All the nonsense about sound quality is just bullshit. Nobody at a night club gives a shit about sound quality, as long as like your record needle is clean and you aren’t doing obvious bullshit like pushing the sound into the red.

I was a DJ for five or 6 years— I played everything from dive bars to mega clubs for thousands of people. I’ve talked to hundreds of DJ’s about djing, including very well known names. I’ve never once had a conversation with any of them about audiophile stuff in the context of a club. Some of them are into it in their home studios, but when you’re talking about mixers and turntables— it’s only about user interface issues (or the quality of the effects add ons)


I disagree that nobody gives a shit about sound quality. However it's usually the speakers and acoustics that let down a club, rather than the mixer.

There are far too many clubs that have good quality speakers, but than have sound bouncing off the back wall or some other critical issue.


There has been a renewed focus at parties over the last few years, particularly within the minimal techno scene and especially in the Romanian subset of that genre, on quality sound at parties.

Granted, those parties and that music are designed specifically for "the heads", so they're few and far between in the larger picture of club culture, but they do manage to throw a lot of festivals (see: Sunwaves) with thousands of people that have impeccable sound.


20 years ago UK raves/festivals used to advertise what systems they had as much as the DJs playing. It’s not a new thing. I remember deciding that I would rather go to certain places not based on who was playing but that they had a Turbosound rig.


Yeah but the difference in sound quality the mixer makes vs everything else that goes into a big sound system is miniscule — at least once you’re in the realm of professional mixing gear. Obv you wouldn’t throw a $50 Gemini mixer into a million dollar sound system.


Did you ever DJ in London? 15 years ago when I was regularly out we had plastic people, The End, Ministry and of course Fabric. All places that had excellent sound systems, full time engineers and had been built with sound quality in mind. The UK has had a long obsession with quality sound at clubs and raves, and funktion 1 is still producing excellent systems. Clubbing in the US was an eye opener at that time due to poor quality sound.


Audiophile stuff is so often a bunch of baloney, but a vintage Bozak or Urei rotary actually does sound superior to modern mixers in a pretty noticeable way. Even for colder electronic stuff like minimal techno, I think the discrete components make things sound rounder and just more pleasant.

Maybe the best rotary mixers being built today are by a guy in Adelaide, Australia (1). You'll have to wait 3 months (at least) for him to build it.

(1) https://condesaelectronics.com/product-category/mixers/


This reminds me of the best Midi sequencer in the world that is being built by Sequentix: the Cirklon (1): a no compromise hardware sequencer hand built and built to last, with unique features. The waiting list is around 6 to 10 months!

(1) https://www.sequentix.com/shop/cirklon-hardware-sequencer


I've never spent more than £150 on a MIDI controller and have taken mine on the road on many occasions for live performances too.


The Cirklon is not a midi controller, but a sequencer. There is nothing else on the market with its same feature set and build quality. It is a wonderful device and there’s a reason they are so crazily popular.


It’s still just a MIDI controller at its heart. But in any case MIDI sequencers aren’t a new thing. You could achieve the same thing with an Atari ST.

Your point about build quality is the crux of the matter. These things are essentially just clocks and like with clocks you could buy a £5 budget wrist watch or a Rolex. People who wear and use their watch daily will justify the price tag of decent watch because it’s sturdier, prettier and they can afford it. But that doesn’t mean one watch tells the time differently to another. And equally a sturdier built MIDI sequencer doesn’t make a blind bit of different to the sound quality of hardware it triggers. Which was the point I (and the former poster) was making.

Now I’m not criticising those who do want nice audio equipment - we do the same thing in IT with dev laptops and give a whole plethora of “reasons” why. Like I said earlier, if you’re going to use something regularly then why wouldn’t you want to use something nice?


Just because it can send MIDI messages does not make it a "MIDI controller". In fact, you can use it entirely without sending MIDI messages at all (with its control voltage interface). You're drawing a long bow.

It's not just about the build quality. It's about the interface. It's a very elegant and thoughtfully designed sequencer and there's nothing else quite like it.

The Rolex comparison is ridiculous, because Rolex watches don't even keep good time. They're overpriced jewellery. The Cirklon is not even expensive for what it is.


> Just because it can send MIDI messages does not make it a "MIDI controller".

Technically it does. In the very literal sense. Perhaps what you meant to say is that this is more than just a MIDI controller? In which case I'm still waiting for you to example how (without referencing "build quality", which was never in dispute).

> In fact, you can use it entirely without sending MIDI messages at all (with its control voltage interface).

VC is just what people used before MIDI was a thing. Does anyone actually still use VC or does this device just support it for compatibility with 40+ year old hardware? In any case, citing VC as a reason it's not a MIDI controller isn't a hugely convincing argument given the two are equatable and MIDI superseded VC decades ago.

> It's not just about the build quality. It's about the interface. It's a very elegant and thoughtfully designed sequencer

Personally I'd still class that as part of the built quality if you're just listing off qualities like "elegant". But I will concede that there is a lot of profession gear out there with software that would make most techies scratch their head in confusion.

> and there's nothing else quite like it.

But what is it about that sequencer that is so unique? I’ve not played on that device so happy to take your word for it if you had but from what I’ve seen on their blurb it doesn't sound like it offers anything I wasn't already doing on my Atari ST in the 90s - let alone any of the hardware I've owned since.

Honestly, I'm not trying to be argumentative here. I fully embrace people buying nice hardware if want. And I agree that 1.5k isn't significant for high end gear. But my point was that you can accomplish the same thing for a fraction of the price (with no dip in sound quality either) if you're not fussed about build quality. You claim you couldn't - and you might be right about that. But whenever you're pressed to give examples you just keep coming back to build quality, which was the one thing that was never in question.

> The Rolex comparison is ridiculous, because Rolex watches don't even keep good time. They're overpriced jewellery.

I don’t buy watches so you’d have to excuse my ignorance there but I do feel you’ve completely missed the point of what an “analogy” is meant to be (ie they’re not a literal like for like in ever detail).


> But whenever you're pressed to give examples you just keep coming back to build quality, which was the one thing that was never in question.

Huh? This is the first time I've been asked to give any examples.

The build quality is fantastic, but it's the workflow (the interface design) that makes the Cirklon special (and so sought-after). There are plenty of other sequencers that can get you the same result, but music is all about the process of getting there.

> VC is just what people used before MIDI was a thing.

You should look at what's happening in the modular (specifically Eurorack) scene. Control voltage is back, with a vengeance. Most Cirklon users I know primarily use its CV interface.

It seems like you're just really out of touch. Look up some reviews or youtube videos if you want to learn more.

> I'm not trying to be argumentative here.

You're failing ;-)


> There are plenty of other sequencers that can get you the same result, but music is all about the process of getting there.

Yes, I completely relate to that. I tried for a long time to make Linux DAWs work for me but I just hated the process.

> You should look at what's happening in the modular (specifically Eurorack) scene. Control voltage is back, with a vengeance. Most Cirklon users I know primarily use its CV interface.

> It seems like you're just really out of touch. Look up some reviews or youtube videos if you want to learn more.

Yes, does sound like I'm out of touch. Thank you, I will do.


Can you show me a device like cirklon that's a fraction of the price?


I'm still trying to gather what the Cirklon is by the sounds of it but you can pick up hardware sequencers for under a grand (eg BeatStep Pro - if performance is more your angle. Or Maschine Studio if you want something a little more complete). For 1.5k you could probably get sequencers with in-built voices too (albeit this isn't something that's interested me much) which I don't think the Cirklon offers?

You could also go down the software route - which i know is a dirty word to hardware enthusiasts but you would pick up your choice of sequencer for £200 or less. Obviously you do then need to buy computer (if you don't have one already), a "proper" sound card / USB interface etc (these don't need to be expensive either, but you do want to avoid Creative and other mass consumer gear. Software wise, maybe even go with Propellerheads Reason if you wanted that hardware feel?

What I've recently started getting into is using my ST (which is why I've mentioned it a few times). It isn't without it's issues and I certainly wouldn't recommend it to other people but I'm a nerd and it's fun. Plus it's gotten me back into producing music again.

However I will openly admit that not having used the Cirklon, I might have missed some killer feature. And this is what I'm asking. Aside build quality, which is it that sets Cirklon apart?


Not to discount the Cirklon, but have you seen Polyend's Seq? Always seemed like everything I'd love to find in a hardware sequencer. More info: http://polyend.com/seq-midi-sequencer/


Seq looks lovely. I'd love to try one sometime.


Pssshhh.

I've been waiting for a guitar effects pedal for almost 2 years at this point. Best overdrive in the world!


I got to play on one of those in a small club in Bushwick last week. It was a blast. If anyone is in the area I would recommend swinging by Jupiter Disco for a cocktail.


I just picked up a Condesa V and it is no doubt the best, most enjoyable mixing experience I've had in my 25+ years of DJ'ing. And Medhi is a legend in his attention to detail and customer support. Well worth every penny and minute of wait!-

PS - was kind of surprised this RA article didn't mention Condesa. Huge miss.


This article has surfaced some of my current frustrations with the DJ Mixer landscape. I've been DJ'ing (mostly mixing at home) for 20 years now. Started with a cheap Gemini, and got a Pioneer DJM-300 shortly after

I used that DJM-300 from probably 99-2014. It was an absolute tank. Aside from two crossfader replacements, it didn't have any issues. If the RCA's didn't get smashed in as result of a drop, I'd probably still use it.

Since then, it seems like anything under $1000 is going to have extremely poor quality potentiometers and channel faders. Even with big names like Pioneer, their low end mixers are almost guaranteed to have scratchy pots and faders in under a year. And, brands like Numark will have scratchy pots in two months.

Which, is hard for me to understand. I built two mixers for my eurorack modular setup probably 5 years ago, and used alpha pots (which are considered cheap, and cost $1/piece). No scratchy pots at all; and they get considerably more usage than my DJ setup.

I've been passively looking for something to diy, but none of the offerings are aimed at a 3-band EQ DJ setup. I'll probably break open my current mixer and replace all the pots, but it's sad that I need to do such a thing. Especially considering the retail cost of parts will be $10.


Just on the off-chance my long search for the right mixer helps anyone else: I own the Formula One FF-4000, which can be switched from fader to rotary by just a few screws and then swapping the board. (Provided you bought the optional board). (1)

The sound is beautiful, the EQ/Filter is extremely smooth, though some prefer more bite to their EQ's (a la Technics SH-EX1200), this EQ is quite transparent. The build quality is high and solid, the pots feel weighty in a good way, plus I find the FX routing to be intuitive and flexible (which is one of my bugbears about DJ mixers). Yeah OK, they're not as cool as the DJM-400;) but for my setup it's a joy to work with. They build to order, so it can be a few weeks wait, well it was for me. Luckily I live close by their workshop and got chance to go in to check on the build. Oh, they also make a 6 channel version too.

(1) https://www.funktion-one.com/products/ff4000-dj-mixer/


I own an Allen and Heath Xone analog mixer and it has wonderful build quality and was quite cheap (sub $500). Much better than many of the cheap mixers I’ve used I’ve the years. A&H have a deserved reputation for great build quality.


For my application (guitar amps), Alpha pots definitely belong in rare category of components that are both cheap and good. The problem with manufactured gear is that pots and switches are often not readily available for DIY.


Rotary knobs are great, I created a react component inspired by them. https://github.com/hugozap/react-rotary-knob


And to think....all I want is a 6/12 channel stereo mixer with 3.5mm jacks so that I can combine my PC's and ham radio(s) signals into one common set of speakers.


Dunno if this has enough channels for what you're asking, but the Vixen mixer is pretty close:

https://kvgear.com/products/vixen-mixer


This may just do it, and it has one of the smallest formfactors I've seen in a mixer that supports 18 channels.



I'm sure you're already aware of this but 3.5mm to RCA adapters are relatively cheap.


By the title I expected the article to be about kitchen blenders, as they are called mixers in my mother tongue. Do native speakers have this confusion?


Didn't occur to me for a second that it was anything other than kitchen mixers. Not blenders though. I was interested to see where my KitchenAid fell in the grouping.


Spoiler: way up on the indoctrinated into the cult ladder


Found the Kenwood fanboy ;)


Native speaker here and I thought the exact same thing. Was actually a little disappointed it wasn't about the kitchen appliances.


(Brit) Traditionally: 'food mixers' and 'blenders'. Food mixers (aka food processor) have connotations of a multi-purpose device with lots of different attachments, blender is more a discrete function. Since Jamie Oliver, the latter is used to 'blitz' or 'whizz' food.

I also didn't get the article's meaning of 'mixer' until I actually opened it. I was wondering about cement mixers.


Yes, I thought that too hehe, Australian here. My friend uses a Thermomix in our kitchen to do everything - I can hear it now - they're absolutely a cult. :-)


We had a Thermomix, it died (started coming up with errors) and it was out of warranty so obviously I disassembled it. You would not believe how many cockroaches were living (and had died) inside it. Ick.


In Germany, where Thermomix comes from, it's definitely a cultish thing.


I thought this was about those Kitchen-Aids that seem to have a cult following too. Oh well, titles, words, etc.


I thought it was about portable cement mixers. Which we call "mixers" and obviously.. rotate.


Yes, but I also saw the domain and context-switched to electronic music.


Native speaker and I had the same confusion, but was intrigued by the idea that people felt so strongly about their kitchen mixer, and was curious about what other kinds of mixers are available (that aren't rotary). I'm weird ;)


Bamix is really the best kitchen mixer money can buy


For I second I thought it could be about faucets.


Growing up my mum had a Kenwood. Massive beast of a machine. Fully analogue controls. Sounded terrible, but very loud. Could take your arm off if you weren't careful. Even had a mincer attachment.

Not really sure how you would make a non-rotary mixer TBH.


I have a Braun MX32 my mother gave me. Older than me, and I am old. This thing is so loud you want to use hearing protection. But it can knead 1kg heavy dough for e.g. pizza. Or whip the whites of 12 eggs. (Yes, I know the article is about audio mixers).


Do you mean a Kenmore? Because a Kenwood would be an audio mixer like this article is talking about :D


See https://www.kenwoodworld.com/en-int, they're a pretty high-end brand.


No, we actually had a Kenwood rotary mixer. My mother used it always when baking something and I recall the noise was horrible.


Kenwood is also a brand of food mixer! See “Kenwood Chef”


They're talking about DJ mixers in the article ya silly :)


What a great example of someone so quick to hear themselves talk that they don't even click on the link.


I’m pretty sure you’re replying to a joke.


What a great example of someone so quick to hear themselves talk that they don't even realise it's a joke.




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