From analog turntables and mixers to CDJs and digital MIDI controllers, Numark seems to have extended its reach into every aspect of modern DJing. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the release of the MixDeck, an all-in-one DJ system designed to accommodate every medium of audio input in common use today. Featuring a full two-channel mixer, two CDJ decks, an iPod dock, two RCA inputs, and a built-in USB sound card, the MixDeck is ready to handle any combination of audio sources you want to throw at it.
When I first got my hands on the MixDeck, I was expecting a capable laptop MIDI controller that had the added benefit of two CDJs and various auxiliary inputs. After opening the box and playing with this unit for three hours without even turning on my laptop, I realized just how incorrect that assumption was; this is not simply an overachieving USB controller, it’s a complete DJ system that can also successfully interface with your computer. There are so many audio options on the MixDeck that do not require a computer at all; while the CDJs and iPod dock are perhaps the most obvious, there are also USB ports on each deck allowing for input from compact thumb drives or even full-blown hard drives. Additionally, the RCA inputs can be used to bring in synths, samplers, or cell phones, and the phono/line switch and ground post make setting up turntables a breeze.
The mixer portion of the unit is also entirely software-independent, which allows for better control of EQ and faders than MIDI would allow. However, the mixer is the one section of the MixDeck that cannot be MIDI-mapped at all, which is unfortunate, especially for those who need a MIDI fader for video mixing. Another drawback is that there are only two channels and two faders, which means this unit is limited to two decks. There are ways to make the MixDeck work (awkwardly) with four decks, but that may cause more headaches than it’s worth. Nevertheless, the MixDeck does have a very competent mixer section. Each channel has gain control, a full 3-band EQ, a fader, and a selector to switch between deck (CDJ or USB drive), PC, and auxiliary audio. There is even a separate fader for the iPod dock, as well as iPod menu navigation controls. The mixer also has controls for master and booth gain, and LEDs for visual feedback of master sound levels. In the front of the mixer are ¼-inch TRS inputs for a microphone and headphones, as well as mic gain and 2-band EQ. Another neat feature is that the cue section has its own crossfader, which is surprisingly useful.
Though I myself prefer laptops and turntables, I was impressed by the built-in CDJs on the MixDeck. I wouldn’t normally expect too much from low-cost CDJs (especially ones that are part of an all-in-one package), but the MixDeck provides everything you need to mix successfully and without frustration. Scratching, jogging, and searching all felt very natural, and the LED lights chasing each other around the wheel look pretty cool, too. The CDJs include tempo faders, looping controls, play/pause/cue buttons, an easy-to-use bleep and reverse switch, and knobs to control track start and stop speeds. While the MixDeck’s built-in effects sound nice (I was especially happy with this unit’s filter), I found them somewhat difficult to control, and unfortunately only one effect can be engaged at a time when using the CDJs. Also, these effects are inaccessible in MIDI mode, forcing you to rely on software effects. The deck’s LCD screen is well laid-out and easily navigable, though file browsing in USB drive mode could stand to be a little more user-friendly.
Using the MixDeck as a MIDI controller was simple and intuitive with the included Virtual DJ LE software. In fact, the experience is nearly identical to using the MixDeck in CDJ mode, with the exception that built-in effects are replaced by software effects. Additionally, the CDJ track selection controls are repurposed to navigate Virtual DJ’s browser, which works satisfyingly well. The MixDeck can also be used to control Traktor, though on first hookup the jog wheels are entirely unusable. After a bit of tweaking within Traktor’s settings, tempo adjustment and search control can be satisfactorily restored, but scratching is pretty much out of the question. While scratching via MIDI controller isn’t normally a good idea anyway, this was especially disappointing considering how much I was pleased by the feel of the jog wheels in CDJ mode. Overall, however, the MixDeck certainly passes as a capable MIDI controller. Even though the mixer section has no MIDI functions, you really won’t need them unless you’re trying to mix video. In fact, you’re probably better off using the MixDeck’s built-in mixer rather than software mixing anyway.
The Numark MixDeck turned out to be the opposite of what I was expecting. Rather than a USB controller with added CDJ functionality, this unit is a full DJ package that happens to have MIDI control and can handle your computer audio if you so desire. I really loved playing with this unit, so much so that I didn’t get up for five and a half hours after first sitting down with it. The extreme versatility of this unit is what impressed me most; its ability to mix and match audio from a multitude of sources on the fly is really impressive for its size and price point. That and the tight integration with Virtual DJ make this unit perfect for DJs moving from CDJs to computer or vice versa. But really, the Numark MixDeck is a perfect choice for anyone who wants maximum control over a wide variety of music formats at an extremely reasonable price.