There's no doubt about it - Pioneer completely own the CD deck market. Denon have made a number of highly capable competitive units, but the stranglehold Pioneer have, they barely get a lookin. But all others have barely had a look in.
This doesn't however mean that other manufacturers don't make good units - they do, but it's hard to crack the stranglehold that Pioneer have on the consciousness of the gear buying public. But there is a clear market for the rest of us who cannot afford the wallet draining price tag of CDJs, and this is why manufacturers keep putting units of this ilk out there.
And Numark is one such stubborn company. They've been making CD units for ever. The AXIS range was been a long time favourite in the market, and they've brought out a string of assorted CD decks and media players with a mixed reception since then. The latest incarnation is the NDX range. The unit I'm checking out is the flagship NDX800 - chokka full of all sorts of current hotness to make it absurdly attractive to everyone not blinded into submission by the CDJ brand.
In A Nutshell
The NDX800 is a fully featured media player. This means CDs can be used as well as a range of USB media devices. The NDX800 can also be hooked up via USB to your computer and work via MIDI via the supplied or downloadable Traktor LE. It offers all the usual looping, hot cues and FX goodness, but has an 8" touch sensitive platter that scratches considerably better than you might expect. And all for £299/$399.
But wait...there's something extremely familiar about this NDX. I've certainly seen the screen before… recognise the layout of many of the button… that's it - the NDX800 is pretty much an updated Numark iCDX with a bigger platter. But for the sake of completeness, I'll give the NDX800 a full review.
"Big biscuit tin" was the very first thing that popped into my head. I think it's the sheer size of it - much bigger than previous Numark offerings - as well as the profile of the case. Making a return is the very distinctive curved front - just like the mixer range.
The last Numark products in the lab have been the NS7 and V7 - both at the top end of Numark product chain. So I have to remember that the NDX800 is a very competitively priced product and not get overly critical of the build quality. The case is plastic, the knobs are plastic and so are the buttons - just about everything bar the top of the platter is plastic. Thankfully it doesn't feel cheap, with all the controls feeling solid enough for the target market i.e. not daily punishment from pro DJs. Essentially, you get what you pay for. If you plan to move them from show to show, put them in a flight case.
Everything is laid out in a pretty logical way, and anyone familiar with the way Numark gear works will be instantly at home. There is a degree of rationalisation going on here with loops, hot cues and samples all being run from the same small set of buttons.
Overall, the NDX800 feels like a good piece of gear. You get what you pay for really. Let us remember that the Pioneer CDJs are almost entirely plastic too but cost 3-4 times as much.
Let's get this out of the way first. The NDX800 has a touch sensitive 8" static platter. I'm not exactly sure where to draw an arbitrary line between jog wheel and platter these days, but for me it seems to be its ability to scratch or not.
So I'm putting my tick in the platter box here, as the NDX800 is considerably better under your fingers than you might expect. Constructed from plastic with an eversoslightly rubberised finish, it operates in 2 ways - by default it's a pitch bending wheel, adjusting the range ±16%. But when the scratch button is engaged, it's transformed into a scratch platter that has no business being as good as it is for the price range. The edge of the wheel can also be used for pitch bending in scratch mode too. The platter also has start and stop control, with a 6 second range.
It's touch rather than pressure sensitive, meaning a very on/off feeling when letting go, but it responds remarkably well to the nuances of hand movement. While being small it's actually weighted to feel like vinyl - not sure if it's intentional, but after a little practice I was pulling moves that really shouldn't be doable on a deck of this price.
But there's more. The platter has scratch modes too. Holding scratch and turning the parameter knob scrolls through scratch modes:
Forward: plays the forward sound only
Cue: touching the platter brings the wheel back to the defined cue point
Cue Forward: A combination of the above
Bleep: Think Pioneer CDJ-900 slip mode - scratch and when you let go, it picks up from where it would have been
Bleep Forward: Self explanatory really if you read the above.
Wrapping this up is the bleep and reverse modes, which offer full reverse play as well as temporary reversing of playback and picking up at the right point when releasing. So all in all, the platter and associated functions give you a full arsenal of tools and tricks - certainly more than I might expect from a unit of this price.
The NDX800 offers full control over all aspects of pitch control. It comes with the standard smooth running 100mm fader, with a zero point LED and a 4mm either side of zero dead zone. It has ranges of ± 6, 12, 25 and 100% that apply to both CD and USB media. These ranges are selectable via cycling through the big red pitch button.
Information on the pitch resolution seems thin on the ground, but on the readout, it says 0.1%. This however seems to be a little coarse for many, but it seems that in the lower 3 ranges, the resolution may actually be 0.05%. When moving the slider, the decimal button flashes between steps, indicating a halfway resolution setting. I think it's simply a matter of the display not being up to showing all the digits. The pitch changes instantly too - none of this speeding up a la vinyl emulation malarky.
The NDX800 also has a couple of keylocking and shifting tricks too. Keeping the pitch range button pressed for a couple of seconds engages the keylock at whatever pitch you happen to be in. It works surprisingly well - I was able to push the range lower than other units and get pleasing results. That said, it does become easy to confuse the NDX800 if you try to get too clever with keylocking and pitch shifting.
But you can also key shift too. Back in the old analog times, we DJs had to give special consideration to the key of the music, and avoid the ear hurting key clashes. These days, software will tell you the key so you can avoid such things just by sight. But key shifting allows you to change the key of the song while still having full control over the pitch. The NDX800 gives you 20 semitones up or down so you can tweak any track to harmonically mix together.
Again, the NDX delivers more than it should in pitch control.
Effects are a pre-requisite in media players these days, so it goes without saying that the NDX offers a small handful of the usual subjects. The controls are very simple - enable the effects with the FX button, scroll through the effects with the FX select toggle and adjust the effect to source sound with the wet/dry slider.
The effects are phaser, pan, chop, echo, filter and flanger. None of these require any explanation, but you can adjust the parameters of each effect either by just turning the parameter knob to numerically adjust the effect, or by pressing and turning the knob to jump in large numbers (low/med/high for filter) or by beat divisions.
The NDX's effects implementation is straightforward and easy to use. Just enough to add a little spice to your sets but not so much that it gets messy.
Loops and cues
Aaah… this is what digital decks were made for, and now a standard feature on every single media player out there. And as far as I can see, nothing has changed since the iCDX first came out either.
The NDX800 has a small set of buttons that double - nay triple up hot cues, loops (yes 2 of them) and one shot samples. Upon startup, loops are the default, allowing you to define 1 loop on their own dedicated buttons and a 2nd loop on the multipurpose set. They work in the usual in/out/reloop method and also have the added touch of the shift toggle that expands or cuts the loop as necessary. These loops can only be played one at a time so you won't be doing any fancy layering.
Pressing the mode button switches to hot cues. This is a really simple 3 bank/hit record/play setup that allows you save over the top of cues too. But you can also record samples directly on the NDX800. This recording includes effects, platter movement and pitch too. But while it does record these different settings, playback remains unaffected - so you can't apply effects and suchlike to a playing sample. And you can only play one sample at a time.
It's all clever stuff but in use can be a bit awkward when switching between modes in a hurry. I'm sure that with practice, it'll become second nature. I think I'd have put in another row of buttons to make it a whole lot easier.
There's no real surprises here. Numark are keeping it real and old school with a an actual media slot. Yes I know, but people do still use CDs and if you have a look around your grubby workspace, I'm sure you'll find more than you thought.
I threw a handful of CDs at the NDX, and it seemed to handle them all just fine, including regular data disks with file structures. The same was true for USB media - only small media you understand as larger USB drives need power, and frankly it took too long to wade through a large music collection on a device each time.
There is however one limitation that you should be aware of. The NDX800 only likes MP3s - no WAVs, AIFFs or any other format for that matter. Now if I were to adopt my huffy purist hat for a minute, I'd chuck a proper hissy fit and claim that this makes the NDX800 unusable, but that simply isn't true at all. I can't tell the difference between a well encoded 320K MP3 and uncompressed audio, and I'm sure neither can the target audience either.
Like any good single deck worth looking at these days, the NDX800 is also MIDI compatible. The iCDX was before it, but really only worked with Cue to any meaningful degree, but the NDX800 has considerably more support across a wide range of MIDI apps.
I threw the NDX at Traktor with Numark's supplied TSI file and got pretty good results. Importantly, the platter performance is pretty good with minimal latency, but not a patch on non-MIDI performance. Basic scratching is possible, but this is much better for mixing. It's mostly one way traffic though, with very minimal feedback on the screen from Traktor. Being the enterprising bunch that they are, Traktor users are doing their own TSI files which I'm sure will offer better feedback and greater use of all the NDX's features.
One late addition to this review - Numark have now made Traktor LE a free download to owners of the NDX800, and as a standard feature for BDX800 buyers. You can grab it from here.
Reviewing the iCDX close to 4 years ago now, I've played with a considerable number of decks since then, each with different ways of doing things. But it's fair to say that the NDX800 does hold its own in the very crowded market. The larger scratchable jog wheel is very welcome, as is the inclusion of Traktor LE as standard. But the best part of the NDX800 is the price - it's a full half of what the iCDX was, and is still a better deck.
Granted - the build quality isn't going to win longevity awards, but for the target market it'll last long enough to feel that you got your money's worth. And when you add the wealth of loops, cues and samples as well as the solid MIDI implementation, the NDX800 ticks a lot of boxes, but does a big fat Sharpie tick in the value for money box.
It's a big plastic box, and everything is as good as you would expect for the price bracket.
Features and Implementation
The platter offers great performance, and along with the rich feature, you also get MIDI, and Traktor LE too.
Being digital, it's more about the source than the putput these days. Audio sounds great, and effects are good enough for the target market.
Value For Money
For the money, it's really hard to argue with what you get. To pick holes would be purile.
For anyone looking to get into the middle ground between turntables and controllers, but still get the best of both worlds, the NDX800 is an ideal and cost effective choice.
Numark's stuff is really easy to shoot. So here's a nice set to compliment the review.