Getting this 2 reviews in one epic of to a start, here’s an overview for the hard of reading, lazy or busy: The Numark NS7 is an all in one lump of DJ tech based on Serato’s ITCH DJ software. Essentially, it’s like having 2 CD decks with real vinyl platters, loops, hot cues and USB device functionality, all driven via USB2 by ITCH’s Scratch Live library sharing on-screen interface. ITCH drives the hardware via a one to one high speed (10X MIDI implementation that is hidden from the user.
The decks are variable torque direct drives, with heavyweight spinning platters finished off with real 7″ vinyl. This comes with start, stop and reverse/bleep controls as well as 3 pitch ranges, infinite pitch bend and key lock. They can also be switched off to become jog wheels.
The mixer is a regular 2 channel affair, with a fully configurable crossfader and simple line faders with no additional controls. Each channel has 3 band EQ to kill with full headphone monitoring and complete control over master and booth output. There’s also an aux/mic source which can double as a life saving emergency audio source if things go wrong.
Thanks to ITCH, the NS7 can do manual or auto looping, with full loop slicing abilities. You also get 5 hot cues to play with too. And all track loading and navigation can be done from the NS7 with a set of dedicated set of control that helps reduce the amount of laptop interaction.
Numark should be given a little more credit for doing things their own way. While other companies churn out a stream of extremely safe near guaranteed sales units, Numark want to push things just that little bit further, and bring out product that often bucks the trend and opens up the minds of potential buyers a little. This can be a dangerous approach, especially in an industry where straying away from established norms is often met with hostility. But in these ever changing times, almost anything is fair game. Design rule books have become mere guidelines, and gear designers are free to bring even the most insane ideas to the boardroom and have a hope of getting them seen.
Thus when approaching the design of this ITCH based controller, Numark had a set of software imposed rules to work with, but what they did with those rules was up to them. So having a relatively clean blank canvas, Numark had some tough decisions to make. Go small, go large or go crazy – well the DJ world has a plethora of A3 sized controllers that more or less work the same. Going crazy and making some wildly different controller is too much of a risk. So what Numark appear to have done is think really hard about what DJs might really want, and the middle ground between a regular analog setup and a laptop sized controller is where they’ve laid their hat.
Thus a fairly controversial all in one design was drawn up – one that incorporated everything that DJs need as well as addressing the reasons why people don’t buy the small controllers. This couldn’t be done in a small case so a larger and heavier unit is the result. Having the larger case means being able to adopt a much more DJ friendly workflow i.e. a 2 channel mixer sandwiched between 2 real decks. So straight away, DJs can step up and use the NS7 without having to relearn new controls.
So having established that the NS7 is much bigger than the standard controller offering, it has to be housed in a substantial case. In terms of size, it’s 760mm x 380mm x 110mm to the top of the spindle (76mm to the top of the flat surface). The base is a one piece formed aluminium base, shaped, drilled and formed to take the decks and mixer. Supporting the whole unit are 8 thick stuck on rubber feet, that combined with the weight keeps the NS7 completely still. I cannot underline enough the solidity of this unit. The NS7 has not one bit of hollowness about it at all. Hitting it all over with my knuckles yielded no empty noises at all – just a dense thud of reassuring quality.
One extra where the case is concerned – it comes with a seriously heavy built-in laptop stand that sits right in front of the NS7 into some heavyweight fittings screwed to the underside of the NS7. It can all be removed it you want and breaks down into nothing for neat stashing in your DJ bag or case. I could argue that a laptop sat in front of you isn’t especially crowd friendly, so you might choose to bring along your own stand and place it at the side.
IDEA: Use a flat screen laid on the stand running from the laptop instead of hiding behind the open laptop. Let the crowd see you!
Numark could have made the entire top surface out of one piece of brushed steel, but to reinforce the 2 decks/1 mixer style, it’s been broken up into 3 distinct pieces – brushed steel decks and piano black mixer section. The interesting thing is the symmetrical layout – the vast majority of controllers have this, but your regular decks/mixer layout has the decks being the same tonearm on the right configuration. Numark however aren’t tied by supplying individual decks so can apply the same symmetrical thinking to the NS7. I’m sure it was a tough decision for them but one that I feel works incredibly well. I have no doubt that some will complain about pitch being in the wrong place etc but your brain soon adapts. feeling quite natural in minutes.
The quality extends to the controls as well. Numark have always had a certain house style – rubber and plastic buttons that have felt good but not wow good. The NS7 controls however are in a whole new league of quality for Numark. The knobs turn very smoothly with a solid centre click where necessary, and the buttons have a reassuring but subtle click and don’t suffer from squishy wobbliness that often happens. They are firm, and you need to get used to giving them a firmer press than you might expect. The pitch faders feel better than those usually found on CD decks and controllers as well. and it’s the little touches like where a control pokes through the faceplate, it is surrounded by a plastic bezel meaning that even the roughest of handling won’t damage the controls.
GRIPE: One minor down point – the pots are plastic stems. While I’ve never known of a stem breaking, I wish they’d been metal.
Firstly the layout – these are a curious mixture of merging CD deck and controller layouts into one workable format. CD decks tend to have play controls bottom left and stacked on top of each other. The NS7 takes the lead from controllers and puts them under the platter, with a row of 5 hot cue buttons just above. I’ve read some complaints about this but to me it’s the ideal place – right by your hands rather than having to let go of the platter, which allows you to get quite creative with your thumb and triggering multiple hot cues while scratching for example.
The one thing you expect to see on a CD deck is a display – usually top dead centre. But because of the laptop being your display, it’s not necessary and instead is replaced by neatly organised loop controls. I like the location of these as it’s not something as immediate as hot cues. You’re more likely to let go of the platter to set up loops. More on those later.
Just above these is the hilarious but perfectly named Strip Search control. One of the biggest issues for vinyl DJs inflicted onto non-vinyl systems is the total lack of needle drop. Hot cues kind of go some way towards this but it’s not the same. Strip is a touch sensitive strip that effectively allows you to virtually needle drop inside the playing track.
Imagine that the whole waveform is loaded into the strip search control – touching your finger anywhere on the strip is like a needle drop. You can also touch and drag up and down the strip too. And with a little bit of practice, it can act as a cue for the start of the track as well. This has changed from previous version in that the metal bezel surrounding it is now polished metal so that it’s easier to see in the dark
IDEA: The next version of this should be at the side of the platter, twice as big and have an LCD behind it for a very visual virtual needle drop. But even as it stands, this is a genius feature. If I wore one, I’d take my hat off to Numark and Serato for this. Perhaps if a number of tracks were lined up, a simulation of vinyl tracks could be cool for enhanced digital needle dropping.
The most obvious feature to get DJs interested is the platter. Yes, a real platter – none of your 4″ plastic jog wheel nonsense here, but an actual high torque direct drive motor just like the TTX, with a really heavyweight aluminium 7″ platter – just as if the TTX had been in a hot wash and shrunk. And it has a low (classic) and high (modern) torque setting for added feel tweaking too. I don’t know the numbers but in term of feel we’re talking strong finger pressure and harder hand pressure to stop the platter spinning.
IDEA: Add 45rpm mode. It only spins at 33rpm. 45 spinners need to be aware that switching to this will feel immediately different.
To give the NS7 a more realistic feel, it comes with a custom 7″ vinyl controller. At first, I thought this was a custom moulded plastic disk, but it turns out to be actual real heavyweight vinyl sourced from a pressing plant. This sits neatly on a regular 7″ felt slipmat, which obviously you could swap out for your own to customise the feel. I see no reason why you couldn’t change the vinyl and slipmat to suit your needs – picture disks or coloured vinyl for example. Hell I nearly drilled holes in 12″ vinyl for a laugh. Maybe before it goes back to Numark HQ…
The spindle is smaller than normal – 5mm to be exact – and works like the CDX/HDX, in that the motor drives the platter, but the vinyl is fixed to the spindle which is connected to the controller mechanism. The spindle connection method also works as a kind of tension adjustment control as well. The more you push it down to tighten it, the harder it grips the slipmats. We’re talking about a safe 2 rotation backspin without feeling wobbly down to a half spin super grippy feel. And yes, you can use the spindle or the platter edge to bend the pitch, although the pitch bend buttons do a better job.
On the subject of pitch, the faders have a rubberised low profile knob and are much smoother than those on my TTXs. And while lack a centre click, there’s a 4mm dead zone where the pitch stays at 0% and is assisted by a light to show when you’re in the dead zone. As far as ITCH goes, the pitch ranges are 8, 16 and 50%, and even at 50%, the resolution is an amazing unflinching 0.01%. I tried mixing full tracks end to end at a variety of pitches and they stayed locked, even at the biggest pitch shift.
I had suspected that ITCH was doing the work internally rather that depending on platter rotation, but it seems Numark and Serato did a lot of work to ensure that the motor design and software was as good as it possibly could be. As a testament to this, I experienced ZERO sticker drift.
The pitch bend is interesting – usually it’s a few percent either way, but the NS7’s pitch shift appears to be infinite. The longer you hold it, the more it shifts – even down to stopping dead. It’s interesting that this is software based, whereas regular pitch is handled on a hardware level.
GRIPE: Vinyl tension adjustment is inexact. I found it best to drop it on and without pressure, tighten it up. And I feel that the fixing mechanism could be made a little smaller. With such a small area to work with, every millimetre counts.
The platters also come with a start and stop adjust controls too, from instant to an estimated 10 seconds. I see the need for a stop speed, but has anyone ever used startup speed adjust on any deck? Still, I guess it’s a spare knob for MIDI mapping. And like all other Numark decks, you get reverse spin and bleep for those instant moments of editing live profanity. So if you’re a Hip Hop DJ, expect heavy use.
So I guess you really want to know how it stacks up against real vinyl and other established devices. Well this scratch happy hack says extremely well indeed. Obviously being 7″ vinyl effects the feel, but it’s simply a matter of adapting. But I had no problem busting every turntablist move I know, and one of our new reviewers Johnny 1 Move – a DMC level DJ – played and was very impressed indeed. It’s not quite vinyl, but easily outclasses all other 7″ models, and does begin to feel very natural. It certainly feels a hell of a lot better than mixing and scratching with 7″ vinyl, and with practice becomes as natural as 12″. You may struggle to adapt, but I didn’t at all.