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Novation Dicer Controllers
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: March 2011 • Price: £79/$100/€98 • Link: Novation

Introduction

Novation Dicer review

There was a time - not that long ago - when a DJ would only have to deal with 2 turntables, a mixer and a record bag. Now it seems that with the digital realm inflicting itself into the very heart of DJ land, there's a whole new set of things to worry about, as well as new ways of working. I certainly never had to worry about looping and cue points, but it seems that you're not really a DJ unless you do.

And now with all these extra bells and whistles becoming part and parcel of DJing, you also need to have greater control too. The waveform trance is commonplace, as too many a DJ gazes at their screen, instead of performing to the crowd. We spend far too much time attached to our laptops as it is without having to continue to do this when we play. Thus new ways to control software without the keyboard stomp are being devised. We've seen Korg Nanos, Akai controllers and now MIDI controller specialist Novation are bringing their own flavour of controller to market - the Dicer.

It turns out that the Dicer is the brainchild of controllerist DJ guru Ean Golden off of djtechtools. I won't copy and paste but you can read his Dicer piece right here. And apparently there's more to come too.

But before we let our minds wonder off on an adventure of what will be, let's look as what is.

In A Nutshell

Novation Dicer review

The Dicer is and I quote "cue point and looping control for the digital DJ". To you and me it's a pair of micro MIDI controllers, each with 5 buttons and 3 layers (6 layer with holding down the modifiers), and designed primarily for Technics 1200/1210 owners using Serato Scratch Live. In the world of DVS users, that ticks the 2 biggest checkboxes by some way - so much so that this is an official Serato accessory. Fanboys rejoice.

First Impressions

Novation Dicer review

Let's clear this up because there seems to be a little confusion out there. Although known as "Dicer", there are in fact 2 in a box, thus giving you 1 per deck. I think I'll be referring to them as a singular Dicer or a pair of Dicers.

Novation Dicer review

Forgive me, but my first thought was game controller. When I picked them up, they naturally sat in my hand as if I was about to button bash in Tekken. If only DJing was as easy as waving a Wiimote around. But my initial scepticism of them being flimsy rubbish was soon cast aside - the Dicers are a solid 2 part design, with one circuit board and a rubber button sheet - very simple, but really strong. Unless you're one of those people who routinely break headphones or fader stems, the Dicers would take some hammer, both in use and in transit.

Fitting

Novation Dicer review

Out of the box, these are unashamedly aimed at Technics users. Why? Well that'll be the big screw fit adaptor on the bottom that locates firmly into the 45 adaptor recess on the deckplate. But for those of us who don't use Technics, this adaptor can be removed and the Dicer placed on a flat surface and should remain fairly stable via the 3 rubber feet. If however you're in need of more stability, Novation provide some pretty nasty DJ putty - something I've affectionately dubbed as "Blacktack". This should allow the Dicers to remain wherever you want it to. Indeed, they didn't move from the awkward location over a start nutton on my Numark TTXs.

Novation Dicer review

Having hammered the Dicers on some 1200s, they do fit really well with the adaptor in place. And the Blacktack does a good job of keeping the Dicers in place even in the roughest of terrain. I got them to sit quite happily on my dimple surfaced slope faced Numark TTX1 s as well. I'm not sure how long the Blacktack will stand up to repeated removal though.

The problem here is that while the Dicers are perfectly at home on Technics, they are an often awkward attachment for other systems. Case in point - the Stanton STR8-150 is the seemingly acknowledged successor to the Technics throne, yet the 2 power buttons don't allow for the Dicers to sit conveniently close to your hand. The CDJs do have space, but it's at the expense of clear access to other features. Putting them on most mixers - especially 2 channel ones - suddenly clutters up the normally clean workspace.

Novation Dicer review

A Dicer on a Vestax PDX

The message here is that if you don't use Technics, the Dicers aren't as easy to place as you might like. You'll lose an on/off button on most other turntables or hamper access to other controls on CD decks and mixers.

But let's not forget one last way of working, and that's freestyle. As I jested about previously, they felt like game controllers in my hands, which made me think that you could simply dance around with them if you liked. Or even wear them if you're that way inclined.

Configuring

Novation Dicer review

They're USB 1.1 powered and daisy chained together via a simple minijack cable. It's a genius idea that I hope to see expanded across the controller scene. That said, routing the cables can be a little intrusive, but I don't think there's too much you can do about it.

I gave the idea of wireless some thought, and realised that while this is a more streamlined solution, the cost would push the Dicers up more than people would be happy to pay, And there are practical considerations too - wireless is generally recommended to be turned off, which does rather scupper the idea from the start. Not only that, wireless response can be unpredictable, thus a wired solution is by far the best option.

Novation Dicer review

So how do the Dicers work? Plain and simple vanilla MIDI messages from 5 buttons per dicer (MIDI notes 60-64 and 65-69) with 6 channels per Dicer (11-13 and 14-16 as modifers), giving a grand total of 60 freely assignable buttons from a pair of Dicers.

The Dicers are class compliant i.e. you shouldn't need to install drivers get them to become available, but you may well needs config files depending on your chosen software. But as an official Serato accessory, it is designed to work out of the box with Scratch Live. One small caveat here - the Dicers are designed to work at full welly with v2.1 of SSL, and out of the box are about as plug n play as you can get. You can happily manually configure them in v2 if you haven't upgraded just yet to do what you want, but you don't get the LED feedback on the buttons.

I've also got TKS files for Traktor that also work just fine with v1.2.6, and gives the 2 way light show as well. Algoriddim's djay is easily configured as well, but without the main button illumination.

So yes - Dicers either work out of the box or can be very quickly made to work with all MIDI learning applications. Whether you get the 2 way feedback is unknown as yet.

In Use

Novation Dicer review

The practicality of the Dicers is entirely down to where you manage to place them. And If you're a Technics owner, then the placement is very logical and plonked in the corner of the deck right where your hands are. My Numark TTXs performed admirably with a bit of help from blobs of Blacktack, as did Vestax PDXs - but you do lose access to the power switches. The Stanton STR8-150s didn't fare as well, and it would be necessary to make some sort of stand to allow them to sit over the power buttons.

Novation Dicer review

No place to go - Dicers on a Stanton system


In most other instances, finding a place for the Dicers was tricky, as they tended to interfere with other controls. I know that the lovely press pics for the Novation showed them in use with CDJs, but I found that to be a less that ideal setup.

With SSL v2.1, the Dicers performed flawlessly. Having quick access to 5 cues, loop rolls and looping really does you make you think a little more about your music. For me, these features become more like something you've planned rather than throw into a set. I started thinking about how to piece together specific files to get the best from the Dicer and to maximise my working setup. Despite obvious logistical issues, I love them.

There's no doubting that the dicers really do work. Configuration is easy, response is instant and if you're lucky you'll get a lightshow too. It really does boil down to how you want to use the Dicers. There's 60 buttons to mess around with and get to do what you want - it's up to you to make them work most effectively.

Summing Up



All in one MIDI controllers are designed from the ground up to do the complete task of DJing. Dicers however have the somewhat awkward task of attempting to fit into a somewhat traditional and very fixed turntable based setup. And that setup alone is hardly conducive to efficient DJing. Thus Ean Golden and Novation don't exactly have the best foundation to work with, but have done the very best they can given the less than ideal setup.

There's only a small amount of space in an average 2 deck DJ setup, and that space is fluid depending on the gear that the DJ chooses to use. So the Dicer fits really well in the one space that the probable majority of DVS users have - the corner of a 1200. As for the rest of you - that's what Blacktack is for. You just have to find a space that doesn't impinge on faders or pitch sliders.

So hats off to Ean and Novation. While the Dicer doesn't do anything new per se, it does however make people think a little more about the possibilities. Putting hardware at the fingertips does make things an awful lot easier and does stimulate creativity.

Ultimately, if you're a more hands on DVS using DJ (especially with Scratch Live and Technics), then the Dicers will benefit you greatly. And for the price, it's hard not to view these as an essential purchase.

Ratings

Build Quality
Although small, plastic and rubbery, the Dicers are solid lumps of controller goodness.

Features and Implementation
Given the relatively singular task of SSL control on a 1200, it does this perfectly. Users of other configs may need to experiment a little though.

Value For Money
For the money and creative functionality, they're chump change and a no brainer purchase.

Bottom Line

Putting power back into your hands for not a lot of cash is the name of the game, and the Dicers do that really well. Just be sure you can find a space for them first.

Gallery

First up, we have a short video from many times world champion DJ and long time friend of skratchworx DJ Woody aka Woody Madera. Dipping into his graphic roots, Woody has embraced the added dimension of video, and using Serato's Video-SL has put together his own unique take on video DJing with his Turntables in Technicolor show.

After aligning our varied diaries, we popped over the hill to film a short adapted section of his considerably longer full show. You can find his 20 minute DMC showcase on his own site, which in itself is just a small part of Woody's full video set.

This short video is also full HD.

As for the usual pictures, there's not so much you can show about this little product, but I had a go anyway.



Huge thanks to Focusrite for literally popping by my house with the Dicers, to Woody for as ever providing sterling service and finally to The Waxworks Music Studios for letting me try out the dicers on a number of configurations.

 



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