Armin Van Buuren talks new Philips M1X-DJ: "there's no law that defines how we should DJ"
Wall-climbing vacuum cleaners and two-way baby monitors were amongst the many exciting devices being displayed by electronics giant Philips at this year's IFA technology show in Berlin. However, the event also played host to the launch of the corporation's first venture into DJ technology, the M1X-DJ.
A collaboration with trance overlord Armin van Buuren, the M1X combines a simple hardware interface with iOS-based DJing software and a portable boombox. The package's €399 RRP includes the app - based on Algoriddim djay, a straightforward mobile mixing application - and the M1X is aimed at beginners rather than seasoned pros.
The device is compatible with the iPad mini, the iPhone 5 and the latest iPad, and includes everything you'd expect from a basic DJ controller: jogwheels, pitch and volume faders, play and cue buttons, crossfader, EQs, and sync buttons. It features a dedicated headphone output for cueing tracks, plus audio outs for connecting to a sound system or daisy-chaining devices together for extra volume.
"Philips were really eager to listen to my comments. I had really, really strong demands."
MusicRadar collared Armin at the show to find out more about his involvement with the M1X-DJ.
Why create a product for beginners?
"A lot of people have approached me saying 'what should I give my son for his birthday?' I wanted to make a sound system that's portable and fun. Right now I have perfect speakers in my studio, but in my office I want something compact and easy-to-use.
"So it's combining all these different elements, plus the fact that Philips were really eager to listen to my comments. I had really, really strong demands. If it didn't have all the tools that you'd have on more expensive equipment, people wouldn't be satisfied. I think it's a great way to learn how to DJ, how to build a night, and how to have a lot of fun playing music for your friends.
If you're 15, 16 years old you've never heard of BPM or EQ, then you can learn it in a very easy way. There's not much that you can do wrong with it! You can record mixes for your friends and share them on SoundCloud. I think it's just a fun piece of equipment."
There's been a lot of debate about 'sync' technology recently. Do you think that it's potentially a bad idea for new DJs to rely on sync?
"It depends on how you define DJing. There's no law or anything that defines how we should DJ. Having said that, I think it's a little bit lame if you use the Sync button all the time! But if you get into DJing and you're trying to mix but it doesn't really work, the Sync button can help you.
"I think, in the beginning, to know what syncing is and what it's actually about is good, but even a Sync button can't make the mixes perfect for you. It's still about counting the bars and starting at the right point. So a Sync button can't make your mixes perfect. Playing and making music is still something that human beings have to do. Computers can only help us.
"It was only a matter of time before the sync button was invented, wasn't it? It's the same thing with cars: you can drive automatic or you can drive manually. I'd like to drive manually, because it's a lot more challenging and I'm more of an old-school DJ myself. But I don't want to close my eyes to the future, to the fact that the vinyl days are now gone for most people.
"I'm still nostalgic about it, I still miss it, but I think that it's great that we're moving forward with digital technology to reach a whole new audience and create fun for a lot of people. I see this product first and foremost as a great way to have a lot of fun with your friends."
"It was only a matter of time before the sync button was invented, wasn't it? It's the same thing with cars: you can drive automatic or you can drive manually."
What challenges were involves working with a company that hasn't made any DJ kit before?
"I think they approached me because they know that I understand my fans a little bit, and I know what they expect from a good party. I know there are a lot of aspiring DJs that look at me and want to achieve what I have achieved. So I said to Philips if I say yes to this, and attach my name to such a big product, then I have to be sure that it's absolutely right, and it does what it has to do for its price. It's quite a fair bit of money.
"But they've listened to all my demands. For example the daisy-chaining, the D-cell batteries, the pitch control that's a fader rather than a rotary knob, the sensitivity of the jog dial, where you plug your headphones in… little things like that. If you look at how many buttons and knobs there are on the controller it's a lot, but I insisted on them being there, because they are the controls I use most in my own DJ sets.
"I know there are a lot of aspiring DJs that look at me and want to achieve what I have achieved."
"This would be something that I could DJ on for seven hours if I had to. All your music is on your iPad, and I think you have iPads now with 128GB, so if you put everything into MP3, you can DJ for days just with this piece of equipment!"
Having certain controls on a touchscreen isn't ideal. How did you decide what would be handled by the hardware and what would be handled by the iOS device?
"I looked at the way I DJ. I don't usually use the crossfader a lot myself, but I know a lot of other DJs do, so I looked a little bit at other DJs and got some advice from colleagues because I want to be realistic. I want this product to be great for a lot of other DJs as well, including non-trance DJs. If you're a hip-hop DJ or a house DJ you can use this product as well, because it has the basic controls that any DJ setup must have.
"The effects are pretty straightforward. Yes, you do have to press the iPad, but in two clicks you have a great effects section that makes you look really cool if you want! I think what's really great about it is that you can record your mixes instantly, so you press record and whatever you're doing is recorded."
Are there any features that you would have liked to have added but couldn't?
"I would have liked to have added a button that you could have pressed to trigger an effect, but there was just no more room. We'd have had to have made the jog dials even smaller, and I don't think that would have been a very good thing.
"I looked at the way I DJ. I don't usually use the crossfader a lot myself, but I know a lot of other DJs do."
"We want the product to be portable- the idea was to be able to have something that you can use when your friends come over to have a beer to play some tunes."
How do you feel that the M1X-DJ compares to the Traktor iOS app?
"I don't think you can really compare it. Having said that, I think that the app we use for this is the most popular DJ app right now on the App Store. I don't know necessarily if this would be used on a main stage at Ultra Music Festival or something, but for anything below that, and to learn DJ skills, it has all the features that you need really. It has the same features as Traktor. It may not be as extensive as Traktor, but all the stuff that's in the Algoriddim software is there."
What do high-end DJ tools lack at the moment that you'd like to see addressed in the future?
"That's a good question. Everything is going so fast right now, it's really incredible. In 2003 you could only DJ with vinyl - you had to make acetates that cost £150 each. Now everything is possible with digital technology.
"What you can clearly see now is that production software is integrating with DJ software, Ableton Live being the best example of course. But also, the M1X has the ability to trigger one-shot samples, which is a cool way to stand out, because that's what it's all about.
"I find it hard to answer the question because I'm a producer myself as well, and I'd like to be able to see a lot more production elements in the software. I still really enjoy DJing live - I'm a 'classic' DJ, making my decisions on the fly. I don't have a pre-programmed set - I never play the same set twice. Maybe I can answer that question at a later stage!"
Finally, can you use the M1X to pitch new trance music up to 138bpm?
MusicRadar was given a quick demo of the M1X-DJ, but unfortunately, the software on the unit we saw was still in development, and seemed a little buggy. As such, we weren't really able to get a good idea of how the finished product will feel.
You can read our thoughts on the final version of M1X-DJ in a MusicRadar review when the product launches later this year.