Let's face it. If you've jumped the ship and added a computer to your DJ setup you're playing a whole new game. Sure there's crossover tools like timecode to keep your hat tipped to tradition, but even though it feels more "analogue" and "real" to spin on 1s and 2s, you can't ignore the expanding possibilities digital has to offer. Creative use of cue points, active loops, and FX chains have gone largely underutilized by the average Serato face which has garnered a growing sentiment among purists that the reason why a lot of people are picking up Macbooks is not because they want to do more, but because they're lazy—and they have every right to agree.
In comes Ean Golden and the DJTechTools collect, a gear blog that has placed itself at the forefront of spawning a new niche of DJ subculture called controllerism. Whether you want pat them on the back for being originators is a debate in itself, but there's no hiding that the movement can trace itself back to two turn tables and a microphone. A nod to turntablism, controllerists use MIDI devices to remix, mashup, edit, and chop on the fly with programs like Native Instrument's Traktor and Ableton Live. Computer software has expanded the DJing experience, so why not dive in and use it to its full potential? The Midi Fighter Spectra is DJTT's updated flagship model aimed at coaxing the DJ looking to reach beyond two decks and a mixer while also meeting the demands of the already gadget-laden live performer.
CUT TO THE CHASE
Retail Price: $175 USD
In the box: Spectra Controller, USB Cable, Warranty, Certificate of Authenticity
Weight: 1.2 lbs (.5 kg)
Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 1.5 inches (154 x 154 x 38 mm)
The good: Arcade buttons provide quick action for triggering one-shots, cues, and effects with durable support that will last a lifetime. Pretty lights on a 4x4 grid offer an attractive compromise between style and functionality well suited for the DJ looking to leave the bedroom and hit the road. One of the few third party controllers to offer Traktor Remix Deck support.
The bad: A matter of personal preference, even though the Spectra is suited for finger drumming it may not be the best choice over MPC style pads.
The deal breaker: Inside and out, the Midi Fighter Spectra is a truly custom piece of hardware. Build your own box at the DJTechTools Shop by creating your own colour schemes and choosing your own materials and finishes. When it reaches your door, program your own controls and LED lights with the Midi Fighter Utility or download an abundance of MIDI mappings already made by DJTT's thriving online community.
BEHIND THE SCENES
DIY is what really sets the Midi Fighter line apart from other software controllers, and it stems from a prevailing attitude in the DJTechTools community. How often do you get a company to take a step back and let their customer have a hand in designing their products? You don't have to travel too far back in time to see arm chair execs shaking their heads. This ageing notion that consumers don't know what they want is close to going out the window, especially in music tech where artists have long mapped controls and gutted electronics to suit their creative needs. From start to finish, the Spectra experience is in your hands as you customize the colour of the casing, arcade buttons, and choose from a variety of top finishes. Surely Spectra was a stand in for the spectrum of colours and combinations you can put together from red matte, clear glosse, metallic gold and silver mirror to the more woody ash and walnut. There are over 1000 different ways to make the Spectra stand out as your personal touch to a DJ setup.
After submitting an order online, the Midi Fighter Spectra is hand crafted in San Francisco according to your specifications. When it reaches your door you'll find a Certificate of Authenticity hidden underneath sporting a polaroid of your unit in production and warranty info signed by your DJTechTools artisan (shouts to Mitch Manchild). Not the first thing to look for when you're opening any box, but it's a nice personal touch to the product you won't see anywhere else. Plugging in the electric blue USB cable and getting your feet on the ground in Traktortakes seconds when you grab the preset MIDI controls already made available on the DJTechTools mappings page. This is where you'll find Midi Fighter users upload their own presets that have the Spectra taking on all kinds of roles from your basic deck functions like play/pause, cue, tempo, to becoming an FX chain beast with LFOs, gates, filters, and echoes. The "Instant Gratification" mapping is a definite favourite as it takes inspiration from arcade games like Street Fighter where hidden button combos can create some surprising results as you're playing out. I like to call them the oh shit moments.
Looking at the succession of products that started with Ean Golden modding his Vestax VCI-100, it's clear that the developers at DJTechTools are fully committed to having arcade buttons be the focus when designing a Midi Fighter controller. What makes them so appealing for the DJ and producer is how live the response feels when mashing out a new beat. The physical presence of a button springing up and down can let the Spectra record an array of interesting rolls and patterns. If you've handled the more traditional MPC controllers, it may take some time to get used to an arcade-style interface as pads carry a more primal feel to them. Where arcade buttons have the upper hand is endurance and confidence. Think about how many sugar-hyped kids have molested a Mortal Kombat machine and that bloodthirsty babysitter is still standing 20 years later.
It doesn't take long to realize that the Spectra's elementary design and quality materials makes for a controller that is shaping up to be a timeless piece of gear (depending on how you dress it); but there's something beyond the hardware itself that sticks long after putting the unit down. It's the unparalleled level of conversation between fans and founders that epitomizes the DJTechTools culture. Owning a DJTT product opens you up to free sound packs, competitions, video tutorials, and even new friends. It's about being part of a community of like-minded individuals, and I'm not referring to retro fitted chin scratchers or caps-locking internet trolls. The website is a wealth of good information for DJs looking to learn and improve their setup and method without tying itself up in a hardware vs. software debate. With that, the Midi Fighter line is more than just another stream of revenue for a tech company, it's a way to support a valuable online resource seeping with honest passion.