Djing at its root is musical performance. A turntablist works with a piece of vinyl the same way a drummer uses a drumstick or a singer uses their voice. The ability to make the instrument express music for a crowd is what separates a novice from a virtuoso (or a newbie from a master). The control that a turntablist exerts on a piece of vinyl is both intimate and absolute - the grooves of the record, the way the needle plays the sound, and the speed of turntable - all of these are manipulated by the DJ to entertain a crowd. The advent of CD DJing changed the way a DJ controlled the music, using jog wheels and buttons to emulate this control. Moving forward to laptop DJing, the Total Control arrives on the scene to set a new standard for music controllers.
What is it?
The Total Control is a USB-based MIDI controller that works with both PC and Mac systems. The controller is laid out very intuitively with two sets of controls, one for each channel and a middle section for combined sound. The TC has 31 buttons, 20 knobs, 5 sliders, and 2 shuttle wheels which are used to manipulate the music being played. The way that DJs scratch a record is the best way to describe the control that the shuttle wheel allows. The faders are similar to a DJ mixer with two faders controlling volume for each deck, two controlling tempo/speed for each deck, and a crossfader that determines the volume of each deck being played. If you think in terms of a DJ dual-deck CD player and a DJ mixer, basically the Total Control combines the controls of both into a device approximately the size of a record.
The Total Control is packaged with Traktor LE and Cue LE, so I installed both to test the capabilities. On a MacBook Pro, I installed the Total Control by simply plugging it into the USB slot. The Mac OS recognized it and it was ready to go. Traktor LE installed next just about as easily. As an experienced user of Traktor 2, I dove in and was amazed by how easy the TC was to use. I snapped the overlay card onto the controller and everything was clearly labelled. The middle knob works to select the tracks from your music folder and by clicking the Load Track button, the song pops into the chosen deck. The jog wheel is used to position the start point, and pressing the cue button sets your beginning cue point. Repeating the process on the other deck is just as easy.
The response time is instant - press a button and the software responds immediately. The Cue button works just like one on an audio mixer, so you can preview the audio on one deck while the other is playing. You can adjust the tempo manually by using the slider or by pressing the sync button. When you're on beat, slide up the volume slider (or slide the crossfade - depending on your mixing style). The pitch bend buttons react the same way a turntable would if you put your finger on it to slow down or speed up. The controller is quite tricked-out for the advanced DJs. The bass, mid-, and treble knobs for each side can be turned for control or pressed to be killed. In other words, if you want to kill the bass on one deck during a transition, press the bass knob and bam- it's gone. The knobs and buttons are all pleasingly tactile and quickly reactive.
Things went so smoothly on the Mac side, I thought it was time to test how the Total Control works in the Windows world. On the same MacBook Pro with Windows XP running through Bootcamp, I installed the Total Control. At first, the Total Control wasn't recognized, so I plugged it in with the included power supply. Then it was recognized. For the PC side, I installed Cue LE and decided to try my hand at video mixing. I changed the overlay cards from Traktor LE to Cue LE and I was ready to go. The controls worked pretty much the same with a few changed around. The Preview for Listening (PFL- what is called Cue in Traktor) and the Load Track switch places which is a little counterintuitive. The volume faders and speed faders work quickly and are very reactive to touch. The jog wheels allow you to choose the exact frame where a video starts and setting the cue point and play point couldn't be easier. Just about everything you need to do in the Cue software is set up with a knob, except for changing the transition.