September 21, 2014

DJ Control AIR+: Hercules’ Latest Affordable Controller

Hercules DJ CONTROL AIR+
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One of the first reviews I recall writing for these pages was about a DJ controller from Hercules, the market-facing brand for France’s Guillemot, and the company has been cranking out a varied and expanding line of such controllers ever since.

In 2012, I reviewed Hercules’ DJ Control AIR, an affordable, entry-level controller designed primarily for the aspiring DJ who wants to establish and refine the basics. Since then, Hercules has upgraded the device, dubbing it the DJ Control AIR+ and adding some refinements. (The original Air is still available.)

In introducing the AIR+, Hercules gives additional control options, in the process arguably providing a worthy base for transitioning to club or mobile work, while keeping the overall approach fairly Spartan and streamlined.

“DJ Control AIR+ provides everything the aspiring jock needs to learn, practice and perform the art of the DJing.”

As was the case with its predecessor, the AIR+ departs from most of the rest of the Hercules line in that it exchanges the typical all-steel construction with a plastic case, but it retains the aggressive price point and position in the market that the Air established. With a street price of about $225, it’s within easy reach of virtually anyone who wants to get a foothold in DJ mixing and control.

Also like its sibling, the AIR+ ships with DJUCED, Hercules’ own DJ software, albeit with an upgraded, higher-resolution audio engine, and a new designation: DJUCED 40°. The original version is now referred to as DJUCED 18°, although beyond the improved audio engine, it’s not entirely clear what other refinements have been made in the process. In any event, the entry price gets you everything you need out of the box to get down and get your fingers dirty with the art of DJing.

Set-Up & Use

While the DJ Control AIR+ can be used as a controller with most DJ software applications (thanks to its support for standard MIDI), it seems most reasonable to assess its merits in terms of its use with the bundled software.

Installation is exceptionally straightforward; insert CD, follow the instructions. Alternatively, Hercules makes available for download both the necessary drivers, and the DJUCED software, and to ensure I had the latest versions of both, it’s the approach I took. Logically, I installed the drivers first, connected the unit, then installed DJUCED. The entire process (including download time) was completed in minutes.

DJUCED: Capable DJ Software from Hercules

DJUCED: Capable DJ Software from Hercules

For interface, the front panel has both 1/8-inch and ¼-inch headphone jacks. On the back side, perhaps reflecting its target position in the marketplace, there’s a choice of an 1/8-inch stereo jack or a pair of RCA jacks. The front panel also sports a ¼-inch microphone jack, making the unit potentially suitable for mobile applications where a mic is nearly always mandatory. Computer connection is, as usual, via standard USB (which is also its sole source of power). A Kensington lock port is provided as well.

Firing-up DJUCED, I was presented with an interface that seems as if it might be a bit more overwhelming to a new user than the older version. The interface is pretty well-packed with options and controls and, while it’s attractive enough overall, subjectively, it lacks some of the polish one might expect in this day and age of ever-more-refined user interface and user experience design. That being said, anyone who’s done DJing of any kind in the past will feel immediately at home, and “newbs” will get the sort of industry-standard introduction they actually need from the start.

Loading some familiar tracks into the decks, connecting some basic monitors and a pair of headphones, I was off to the races, and it was easy to make a basic mix with relative perfection from the very start. As I began to use the AIR+ a bit more, however, I began to notice a few things that seemed a little jarring as I tried to put myself into the shoes of a new-to-DJing user.

While the AIR+ controller has buttons for effects control, the DJUCED software shows knobs for them. Essentially the controller allows you to turn individual effects on and off, but the user has to reach for the mouse to control both the effect parameter, and separately, dry/wet balance. And with the potential to enable four effects at once, mouse-based control shows its weaknesses and limitations quite rapidly. If this product pairing is designed for entry-level users, it would seem smarter in my view to reduce the number of simultaneous effects, and focus more on better control options between hardware and software.

The same four buttons I just mentioned can be switched to loop control where their layout seems better suited, providing in point, out point, and loop size (up and down) control. But here too, some polish was lacking; the switch between effect and loop functions is done with a pair of buttons labeled only “Bank 1” and “Bank 2.” The term “bank” has nothing to do with their actual function; couldn’t they have been better labeled?

On a more positive note, the AIR+ has a pair of rotary encoders that are solid, beefy, and actually quite enjoyable to use. They’re also huge by most standards: six inches in diameter, in fact. Like a typical CDJ, they can be operated in a normal or vinyl mode, and provide the expected functionality in each mode.

The other controls are typical Hercules. The pitch, level and crossfaders all have a nice, solid feel, as do the various knobs (such as for EQ). The buttons are also typical for controllers in this price range: rubberized, drum-pad-like, most with LED backlighting, and not unpleasant to use.

Finally, as with the original AIR controller, the unit is fitted with an infrared sensor that ostensibly translates proximity (presumably of your hand floating above it) into a MIDI message, and according to the marketing materials, accounts for the AIR name (Adjustment by InfraRed). While a potentially novel idea, perhaps, it appears that the standard MIDI mappings out-of-the-box don’t connect this means of control to any controllable parameter in DJUCED, leaving me a bit puzzled as to its potential, and a strange oversight in my view.

Conclusions

Some of its idiosyncrasies aside, like the original AIR, the DJ Control AIR+ provides everything the aspiring jock needs to learn, practice and perform the art of the DJing. With all the essential controls at hand, coupled with a logical layout, and with capable DJ software bundled in the box, the attractive price point will surely attract its intended audience, while providing the tools needed to carry them in front of a crowd for the first time after honing their chops and style.
 

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