Recently I was contacted by the creative minds behind Immersed Audio, through some mutual friends. Immersed Audio is a UK based blog dedicated to uncovering cutting edge electronic music and the producers behind it. The IA team is creating mixes using some of the best new underground tunes around and will be releasing them through the DanceCast, expanding upon our already eclectic portfolio. The first results of this alliance can be heard in Episode 63, and you can expect much more to come. You can check out IA here: www.immersedaudio.com

If you head over to DJ Tech Tools, you’ll find the latest article I’ve written for them on how to create your own custom audio cables. I also created a youtube video to go along with it. If you are tired of buying expensive cables or adapters, this article is for you.

Allen & Heath Xone 2D Review

This is an article I wrote 9 or 10 months ago, but was never used for its intended purpose. I’ve decided rather than let it go to waste, I’m going to post it here on my personal website.

2D side profile

About a year and a half ago I decided to switch from Scratch Live to an “all MIDI” setup based around Traktor. I had had enough of running wires all over the place, unplugging turntables during someone else’s set while holding my breath, and trying to tie into the mixers in the clubs and raves I was playing at. I wanted to simplify. This is when the Allen & Heath Xone 2D entered my life, and while this is technically a review of it, after using it in nightclubs all over the NorthEastern US for a year, you can file this one under “road tested.”

The Choice

When I made the leap from DVS to a computer based setup, I searched everywhere for a controller that would fit my needs. A big requirement of mine was fewer wires, and by extension, and easier way to tie into a club’s mixer and sound system. I also wanted something that didn’t have a large footprint and would easily fit into a DJ booth.

The A&H Xone 2D was a natural fit. Not only is it a MIDI controller from a company with a reputation for building rock-solid mixers, but it also had a built in soundcard. I immediately found my DJ set up simplified. One plug for power, a USB cable and then RCA cables to go to the channels on the mixer. It was also built to the same dimensions as a standard DJ mixer, so it sat very nicely next to it.

2D with DJM 600

The Specs

The Xone 2D has 12 regular buttons, 4 ring lit buttons, 8 knobs, 4 sliders, 5 push button continuous rotary encoders, a cross fader, and a jog wheel. The jog wheel can be “clicked” up, down, left or right making the jog wheel a five-in-one controller assignable to five different parameters. The regular buttons are little on the small side and feel very basic. The ring lit buttons, on the other hand, are large and feel great. They are practically begging to be mashed. If your software supports MIDI output back to the Xone, you can use the ring lights as status indicators or whatever you decide needs lighting. The sliders have the A&H’s patented coverings that have an indented center for your finger. These are great for slow and precise slider movements, but if you are looking for sliders to grab and bang, you will be somewhat disappointed. However, they grow on you the more you use them. The knobs are very tight, and it might throw you off at first, but they too will grow on you. The encoders are smooth and pressing down on them feels natural. The knobs, encoders, and jog wheel are rubberized, so getting a decent grip will not be a problem.

There is a BPM section with a BPM counter. The only thing of note in this section is the push/pull lever. Its designed to send a temporary slow down or speed up of tempo message to your software. Its supposed to be used to sync your software to an external source, similar to how you would pinch the nub of a turntable platter to temporarily slow the tempo of a record. I’ve never found any use for it, and I wish that it was reassignable to another MIDI parameter, but unfortunately it is not.

There is also a monitoring section where you can plug in your headphones and monitor any of the 4 outputs. It works just like you would expect any mixer should. I use an external mixer with my 2D so i don’t use this very often, but it has come in handy from time to time.

At the time I purchased it, Traktor Pro was still in beta and I was using Traktor 3. A&H supplied a MIDI mapping for Traktor 3 and Ableton Live, but the company assumed you would only use two decks, and I wanted control over all four. Most of the 2D is set up in four rows of buttons, knobs, pots, and sliders, so I created a custom map using each row to control each of the four decks. No special considerations were necessary and midi mapping a Xone 2D is as easy as the software you are using makes it.

One thing I almost forgot to put in this review because it works so seamlessly is the soundcard portion of the Xone 2D. Its really as simple as selecting your audio outputs in your program of choice and pressing play. The 2D is capable of 96khz 24 bit audio, and sound quality has never been an issue for me. There are also digital and analog inputs [with a ground wire connection] for hooking up your CDJs or turntables.

On the road

For the last year, I’ve been using the Xone 2D as my primary controller at all my gigs. Since making the switch, I have found the amount time and energy I spend on setting up to play greatly reduced. All it takes is a power cord and a USB cable to connect to the laptop. Tying into a club’s mixer is as easy as running an RCA cable from one of its four outputs into the mixer’s line inputs.

As you’ve heard me talk about in my quest for headphones, durability is highly regarded in the book of Charles, and the Xone 2D does not disappoint. The casing is all metal and very sturdy. Its very clear that A&H built this controller to the same specifications as its mixers. It’s a rare and welcome addition in a market flooded with flimsy plastic. I feel pretty comfortable that if I were ever attacked by a rabid bear on the way to a gig, I could use the Xone 2D as a weapon, and still put on a good show later that night.

Because of its build to mixer-type specifications, the Xone:2D is on the large end of what is considered portable. It fits very nicely in my oversized DJ backpack, but don’t expect to put this unit along with cables, headphones and a laptop in a little knapsack.

The Xone:2D also has that intangible trust factor. When you are on the road, preforming in front crowds, having equipment that you know won’t let you down is worth its weight in gold. Every time I plug the 2D in, I know it is going to work exactly the way I expect it to.

2D in bag

Walter the Dog approves of the Xone 2D

There are a few draw backs, all of which are relatively minor. Before Traktor Pro 1.2 added additional effect slots to the fold, I felt that the Xone 2D had too many knobs. I have since found use for them all, using them to control TP’s 4 FX slots. I could definitely make use of a few more buttons, but that would have added to the size. My biggest complaint is that the BPM clock section can not be repurposed as midi controllers. The unit is also not bus powered, but hey, you can’t have everything.

Notes:

The Xone 2D pictured above is my personal one which is over a year old. Newer 2Ds come in back, as A&H has changed the color scheme of all Xone MIDI controllers to match the flagship Xone 4D. Also the 2D pictured has some custom stickers I created in Photoshop to display the parameters.

Do not, under any circumstances, leave your Xone:2D on top of a piece of a VJs lighting equipment while you tear down after a set and talk to girls. If this happens, your 2D could become blisteringly hot to the touch when you go to grab it. Of course, the Charles would never do such a thing, but rest assured that if this hypothetically were to occur, your Xone:2D would continue to work just fine despite the heat.

No bears were harmed by a Xone:2D in the making of this review.

If you tie your 2D into a club’s mixer before your set, be sure to inform the other DJs that it is not an extension of the mixer. Because the 2D looks so much like a mixer, on many occasions, I have seen DJs that shall remain nameless trying to use it during their sets.

Conclusions

If you are looking for a portable and durable all-in-one MIDI controller/soundcard you should seriously consider the Allen & Heath Xone:2D. It is built to last and with quality in mind. If you want to MIDI-fy your DJ set up, but love your traditional club mixer, this is what you’ve been looking for.

Phoenix, AZ is spectacular place to play. I’ve played there 3 times now, and each time its been awesome. This was without a doubt one of the best gigs I’ve had in years, and is certainly top 5 all time. Here is the story of what went down in the desert.

I spend Saturday morning practicing and reviewing my controller set up, followed by some packing and then it’s off to Palm Beach Int’l Airport. I get there a little early because trying to get through security with a DJ setup it typically not easy. I find a cool looking TSA guys and when he looks at the bag, I tell him he might as well just take it off the conveyer belt now. He looks in and instantly says “are you a DJ”? He then asks me if I like David Guetta [which I don’t] so I just mention he’s been very successful, collect my bag and go. Easiest security screening ever. With time to kill I grab a beer and jot some notes in my DJ diary.

After a layover in Austin, TX, I make it to PHX. This airport is basically 4 airports in 1 and finding someone is always a challenge. One of the local DJs, a cool dude named Nick who goes by Skeltaboy, picks me up and we head to the venue. Unlike previous trips, in which we drove up into mountains then out into the desert, this time the party is in a warehouse district fairly close to the airport. As we pull up, I notice some seriously long lines. I ask Nick how many people they are expecting and he replies “about 2000 to 2500”. I knew right then and there I was in for one serious evening.

I find the VIP area, change, stash my equipment, and head out. The sound is quality, lighting is very good, and the stage is real nice. I wander and check out some local DJ sets. It’s early, but already the party is in full swing. Out front, the lines have grown quite large. At some point the main room gets so crowded and you can move, at all. Pushing doesn’t even help. I have to sneak out a back exit, walk around the block and re-enter through the main gate to get back to the VIP area. Meanwhile the line out front… still huge. I decide its best to stay in the VIP room for a while. I hang out with the ArcAttack boys, and then have a beer with Showtek [the popular dutch hard dance act]. We all b/s and talk shop. The venue owner was in and out as well, and let me say this: he’s the coolest venue owner I’ve ever met.

As the evening progresses, it’s getting to be time for the Charles to take the stage. The place is now so packed and wild that 2 security staff have to be called to escort me to the stage. DJ D-Lyte it banging some serious NRG style 150 bpm stuff, and I’m not sure how I’m gonna get down to 130 BPM electro. Mike Saga has the mic so I tell he, let the track play out and ask the crowd if they like electro. They bite. They are so amped up I think they might have cheered for an Irish Polka. Either way I have my in and we go straight into some heavy electro.

Several times early I come out from behind the decks and amp these people up. I’m slapping hand with everyone behind the barricade like some sort of rock star, and we really start to connect. I feed off the energy and we have some serious fun, with some great tunes that are not at all what they expect. I’m happy I was able to win over a hard dance crowd early, or it could have been a long night. On a couple occasions I try to hand out stickers but there are so many people, I end up just chucking them out into the crowd. After the night was over, none were on the floor.

At some point, my beats attract the full compliment of go –go dancers to the stage. They are great eye candy, and the crowd is rockin’. A staff member ask me if I want to clear a few of the girls off b/c the crowd can barely see me and I reply “No way, they’re a lot better looking than I am” and besides the current arrangement appears to working out just fine.

Now I was supposed to play Dubstep as well, but I really wasn’t focused on that at the time. A cute little dance come up to me and says “don’t you have some Dubstep?” and I say of course I do. I set up a mix, loop it, and lower the volume. I grab the mic and as the crowd about a rumor I head that they like Dubstep. The deafening roar of a response tells me they like it. I un-loop and drop into dub. It goes over very well and not a single person has left, despite this being the final set of the evening. When we do finally finish, I get a huge applause and I have that indescribable feeling that I’ve been chasing for years, and only experience very rarely. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever felt, the audience’s satisfaction with my performance is overwhelming.

I barely sleep because my body does know the time zone difference, but the next day I hang with the promoters and other headliners. It was a great way to chill and decompress, and crack jokes about the English, Welsh, and Americans. I have to give props to TMC for putting together a spectacular show. Special thanks goes out to GREM and Faye for bring me out, turning me lose on their crowd, and taking good care of their DJs. I hope to be back out west soon.

A&H Xone 2D Drivers Updated!

mike-charles-2010-01-24-at-121052-pm

This one may save you a headache if you use any of Allen & Heath’s Xone Midi Controllers.

Any of you who care know that I use an A&H Xone 2D as my primary Traktor Pro controller with great effect. In preparing for my AZ gig next week, I’ve been refining the midi map in Traktor. In long practice sessions, TP would stop recognizing the midi controller and quitting TP would cause a kernel panic in OS X. As I’m sure you can imagine, this concerned me greatly with a big gig coming up next week. I first updated TP to the latest 1.2.4 version, which did not help. I realized that 3 weeks ago I upgraded to 10.6 Snow Leopard so I decided to check out the Xone website and sure enough, there are new drivers for 10.6.

Removing the old drivers and replacing with the new ones appears to have rectified the situation. Also FYI for those of you still using the borg OS, there appear to be new Windows 7 drivers as well.

iTunes Power Tips #4

So I haven’t been blogging that much lately, and I’m sorry for that. I’ve been real busy planning this move to Florida.

Anyway, two weeks ago I wrote part 4 of my iTunes series for DJ Tech Tools. Its about using the new smart playlist features introduced in iTunes 9 to make your playlists even smarter. Check it out here.


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The Question:

Hey Mike,

First off – thank you so much for your well detailed explanation of how you organize your music on djtechtools. I am going to re-do all my music and incorporate your technique. I have a couple of questions..

1) Once you tag all your songs with the proper genre and sub-genre, are they then placed in a folder with the same genre name? Like on House – Electro would then be placed in its own folder or would you just keep that all in a house folder and let iTunes sort it out in its smart playlists…

2) Once you have all your playlists and smart playlists set and you buy new music – do you then first place them in the proper folder on your computer and then just click on it so it plays in iTunes and then iTunes will sort them to their appropriate playlist? I dj many genres and on any given week ill have different types of house songs and hip hop songs newly added to my computer – where do u place them on your computer and then how do you transfer them to your itunes.?

Thank you for taking the time out to help… Im so confused and need to get my music collection in order.

Glad you liked them. Managing a digital record collection can be a real pain in the ass if you don’t organize up front. I couldn’t find anything out there to help, so I learned for myself and then wrote about it. Using the smart playlists & good tags, you can organize just about anyway you like. Anyway, let me try to answer your questions.

1. Personally, I will just have one folder for house. That folder will contain electro house, progressive house… you get the idea. You could have sub-folders for every sub-genre, but I find it unnecessary b/c all of my digital “crates” are driven by iTunes playlists, not folders. If I need to find a track in a hurry, I fire up iTunes, search for the track, right click it and choose “show in finder”. This automatically open up the folder containing the track and selects the track. I think iTunes has a similar function on PCs, but I’m not sure cause I’m all Mac.

2. Here is how I add new music to my iTunes library step by step:

A: Gather up new music in a folder on my desktop.
B: Select all, drag into iTunes.
C: Edit all tags with proper formatting.
D: Remove new tracks from iTunes**
E: Use iTag to rename the new tracks based on tagged Artist – Track Name.
F: Put new tracks into correct genre folders.
G: Drag new tracks back into iTunes.
H: Rate the new tracks [e.g. 1 to 5 stars]
I: Sit back and enjoy, because the smart playlists pick up the new tracks all by themselves.

** The reason I remove the tracks from iTunes after tagging them is because of a bug in Traktor Pro. If I kept the tracks in iTunes, but change the file names or move to a different folder then TP won’t be able to “find” the track to play it.

FYI: In case any missed any portion of my 3 part series on iTunes for DJing that i worte for DJ Tech Tools, here are the links:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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If you DJ with a Mac, I highly suggest you check out this article that I wrote for DJ Tech Tools about optimizing your mac and using Automator to do it with one click.

MixVibes Cross Review

French company Mixvibes sent me a copy of there most recent product, and I reviewed it for DJ Tech Tools. You can check out the review here.

Mike Charles bites headphones in half!

On Saturday, April 25th, 2009 Room 960 in Hartford, CT played host to the annual club event known as the White Party. For one night, club-goers get dressed in white from head to toe and gather to dance to the music of Randy Boyer, Kristina Sky, and Mike Charles. Mike kicked off the night with a 2 1/2 hour set that slowly rose to a boil, before cooling to a simmer and handing the decks off to Mr. Boyer. It was during the boiling point of his set that madman Mike Charles chose to further instigate the already anxious dancefloor by biting his headphones in half [pictured above] right at the peak of one of his signature house tracks. The crowd responded with frenzied excitement after witnessing the sacrifice to the dance gods and the tone was set for evening. Mike had to finish his set using Randy’s headphones which met a much more humane end. After the night had ended Randy headphones were released back into the wild.

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