Accessories, iOS has them. Not many devices can boast the same rich and dazzling array of add-ons that the iPhone or iPad enjoy -- from keyboards to docks, arcade cabinets to battery packs. Today's offering? A mobile mixer. The iRig MIX from IK Multimedia, to be precise. It's essentially a mini DJ tool, designed to work with such iGadgets, and brought to you by the same serial audio-accessorizers behind the iRig MIC Cast and AmpliTube. If you think you've seen this fella before, then you likely have, as this got its first glimpse of sunlight back at CES. Now it's here for real, auditioning for your affections as if it were on "American Idol."
While it's easy to dismiss some of the more ambitious accessories as as trying to push the limits of iPad / iPhone functionality to the extreme, it's also worth remembering that accessory X isn't always about replacing object Y. No one ever bought a USB webcam thinking it'd turn them into Spielberg, now did they? But, they might have gotten one thinking it would give their PC some skills it never had before. So it's with this short, preemptive missive in mind that we turn on the iRig MIX, plug in and rock out. Hopefully.%Gallery-158921%
Pop open the box and you'll be presented with a smooth, white, oblong slab of plastic, along with some paperwork, cables and a power pack. Slide out that slab, and the first thing you'll notice is how light this is (about 500g, or 1 pound). Bad if you like heavy gadgets, good if you want something mobile. How big? The answer would be a modest 217 x 110 x 46mm (about 8.5 x 4.3 x 1.8 inches). The top face is where all the action takes place, while the underside has four small, clear rubber feet that stop it from sliding around like a hockey puck, and a very good job they do of it too.
The main features, of course, are those sliders and sockets. Starting from the top, on the brow of the unit, you'll find stereo RCA / phono output ports, two 3.5mm inputs, a micro-USB connector for power and an on / off switch. Working downwards you have seven pots / rotary controls: gain, treble and bass for each channel, plus one for master volume. These surround two central switches: one for your input setting, and the other for "x-sync" (more on both of these later). Two cue (assign to headphone) buttons sit beneath the rotaries -- one on either side -- with the respective channel volume controls below. In between these two up-faders are LEDs for visually representing volume. Spanning the bottom is the crossfader, leaving just that lower edge, which has two 1/4-inch jacks, one for aux input, and the other for headphones out – both with a small rotary control for volume / gain.
Grasp this thing with two hands and squeeze, and the front flexes in, giving off a few unnerving creaks and groans as you do so.
We mentioned earlier that the iRig MIX is light. This is both a boon and a bind in equal measure. It makes it infinitely portable, and this is, of course, a key feature. It does, however, also make the unit feel a little on the cheaper side. Grasp this thing with two hands and squeeze, and the front flexes in, giving off a few unnerving creaks and groans as you do so. The rotary pots are also hard plastic, nothing super fancy, but they feel solid enough. The resistance / action is smooth and firm, and they don't pull off (at least not very easily) so shouldn't pop off whilst lugging it about. The cue buttons also feel nice and "clicky" and don't give the impression they'd break too easily either. This just leaves the faders. The two channel-faders offers some good travel, which should prevent accidental knocks. The crossfader, meanwhile, is a little looser -- not so much that it bounces back when you flick left or right, but enough to do quick cuts or transforms -- if that's your thing.
While this is a hardware accessory, there is a companion software component that bears mentioning. Also, as you'll most likely be using this with software in the real world, it's important to see how the two interact. IK Multimedia makes a number of music-related apps, but its DJ Rig iPhone app, in particular, has features designed to work with the iRig MIX.
IK Multimedia makes a number of music-related apps, but its DJ Rig iPhone app, in particular, has features designed to work with the iRig MIX.
There is a free version of DJ Rig, which has all the essential functions you might need for basic DJ mixing, or you can pay $5 to unlock more advanced features. We'll concentrate on the interaction with the core features of the iRig MIX, so as not get distracted with a blow-by-blow review of the app. With just one iPad / iPhone and DJ Rig -- plus the mixer of course -- you have all the ingredients you need to plug into a sound system and get going. Head over to the apps settings and choose "Split" mode, and that's about as much set up as you need to do.
Now, any track on "deck" A in the app will play though channel 1 on the mixer, and, correspondingly, deck B for channel 2. The crossfader will fade between one track and the other (as expected) and there you are, all set with your one-iOS-device / two-channel DJ setup. This configuration is the simplest for getting things going, but there are a few others you can try, depending on your preference. You can, of course, use two separate iOS devices, allowing you to get the full stereo signal from each (rather than the one source, split in two), which will appeal to those with any concerns about losing quality, width and so on. We'd be surprised, however, if people were inclined to buy another iOS device, just for this, so it's likely more relevant when with friends, or if you happen to have both an iPhone and iPad already.
If you want to, you can use one iOS device running DJ Rig, and any other audio source -- CD player, Android, MP3 player, etc. The iRig MIX has an "x-sync" feature that works with DJ Rig and automatically matches the song tempo to that of your non-iOS device. In practice, we had mixed results with this. It does work, but not solidly enough that you'd want to rely on it. Also, it doesn't really help you for long if your "other" source has no pitch / speed controls. A nice idea nonetheless.
You're not restricted to using IK Multimedia's software solutions though. In fact, pretty much any DJ app with an audio split function (which is most of the good ones) will do the trick. Simply activate that feature, and set one of the decks in the app to "monitor" (i.e., send to headphones). This will send each track down either the left or right channel of a single stereo feed, which the mixer can then treat separately. In our demo video, we're actually using Djay by Algoriddim, set up as shown above.
Once you have things set up just how you want them, it's time to get the party started right? Having used several DJ apps on their own -- that's to say, using the on-screen mixer -- the first thing we noticed was how much nicer it is to have tactile, real-world control over the mixer functionality. Fiddling with virtual faders and digital rotaries is a pain in the you-know-what. Sure, you still have to prod about on the iOS device to load tracks and so on, but you definitely feel more liberated, and less like you are just hunched over the single gadget. The second thing you notice is that you feel less like you are using an app. The whole experience feels just that little bit more proper, which goes a long way to helping creativity flow.
The lightness of the device can be a bit of an issue. Although those rubber feet do hold it in place when there's some downward pressure, if you take your hands off it can be knocked about quite easily. If you are using this at a party (what we imagine to be one of the main use cases) then this could happen a fair bit. Fortunately the faders have enough resistance that they don't move too freely, so should it get knocked over, it might be enough to avoid things moving around too much.
The faders and rotaries all seem to be in reasonably good order - when the crossfader is all the way to one side, no noticeable audio from the other channel can be heard, and the same goes for the channel controls. The EQ rotaries – for cutting treble and bass – don't fully cut off their respective frequencies, offering 15dB in either direction. This means if you turn both all the way left, you still get some signal coming though. Not a major issue, but it means full filter-style sweeps and the like aren't possible from the mixer itself.
While so far this has all been DJ-related, there are actually more potential uses for it than just that. Those two inputs can happily receive any line-level audio, so straight away you can use it for pretty much any basic mixing task. Add in the fact that there is a 1/4-inch input (helpfully marked out with a guitar icon) and this could also be useful for a small, bar-friendly live act that wants to have limited control over the vocals, guitar and backing track. Likewise, if you work or play with multiple audio streams at home on your computer, this could happily sit on your desk, letting you control things by hand. Although this is heavily marketed as an iOS accessory at its core, it's still a simple, portable two-channel analog mixer that'll deal with any audio you pipe throw it.
You'll note the first word of this review is "accessories." It's important to keep that word very much at the forefront of your mind. People will invariably comment how iPad DJ'ing isn't real DJ'ing, or how this is a "toy." If you weigh it against something like a Pioneer DJM800, or even the lower-end two-channel branded mixers, then sure, it's going to look a little simplistic. But this is the wrong thing to do. Instead, just think of it as a way to enhance your iPad / iPhone. In this regard, it adds exciting extra functionality that will let you enjoy your iOS device so much more. Not everyone wants to take every discipline to the absolute maximum, or even beyond just having fun. The iRig MIX is a great example of this. It's fun, it's a little wacky, and for that we love it.
It's fun, it's a little wacky, and for that we love it.
The key question, as always, is if it's worth the $99 asking price. There will be some performers who were already in the market for a no-frills two-channel solution, so any extra iDevice-compatible flavor is just an added bonus. Then there will be those who just want to have fun with it, and don't care if it's plastic or gold, "pro" or "accessory," as long as it does what they want it to. Perhaps some of you want something for the shelf you can pull out at parties or take around when visiting friends. Then, unfortunately, there will be those who can't resist the inner urge to decry anything that dare to encroach on their serious, serious world of DJ'ing. These people have an easy choice to make, however. Don't buy it! Leave it for those who are actually interested in what this can do for them.
Update: At the time of writing, the DJ Rig app was $5, though since then the price has changed to $10.