Novation Dicer Review

Novation Dicer

Novation are well renowned for supplying quality DJ products at a price that won’t break the bank. Yes, Native Instruments, it’s all well and good releasing your S4 and Maschine, but at a few hundred pounds a pop they’re well out of the price range of your average budding DJ who wants to add a MIDI device to their setup. Dicer provides a much more affordable alternative, one that’s better designed for a DJ and one that can be just as versatile as its more expensive counterparts.

Test Rig 1: Athlon 64 2.2 GHz Quad-Core, NI Audio DJ 4 Soundcard, 4GB Ram, running Windows 7 & Traktor Scratch Pro 1.2.7 – Technics 1210s & External Mixer

Test Rig 2: Sony Vaio Laptop (2.2 GHz, 4GB Ram, Internal Soundcard) running Windows 7 & Traktor Scratch Pro 1.2.7

Shape and Design

The first thing that strikes you is how well they’re designed for a turntable DJ. They fit neatly into the 45 spindle holder on the bottom-left corner of the deck, right where your hand is (assuming you’ve got your decks set up sideways, turntablist-style) so they’re immediately accessible. This means you can juggle cue points and scratch them without moving your hand away from the deck. Very useful and something that will make a world of difference to a scratch DJ.

Novation provide you with some souped-up Blu-Tack called ‘DJ Putty’ for use on a laptop or CDJ. A word of warning here: removing the Dicers resulted in some of the paint coming away from the laptop. The putty tends to get stickier the warmer it gets, so having it on the hottest place on the laptop doesn’t help much when trying to take them off. Turn the laptop off and let it cool down first before removing them!

The buttons are a good size and well lit, although MIDI Fighter style arcade buttons would have been much, much cooler.

The only other criticism in the design would be that Novation don’t make a ‘mirrored’ version of one of the controllers. For laptop use, if you place them so that the corners of each unit point to the bottom corners of your laptop, the buttons appear in different places. This means either the painstaking job of remapping the buttons or just getting used to them being in different places if you want them to fit snugly into the corners. Cunningly, when Novation show any pictures of Dicers on a laptop, they only show the unit on the left-hand side. The right-hand unit, placed ‘correctly’ just doesn’t look right.

Function

The Dicers were tested here on Traktor, but they were really designed for a Serato setup (where they can be used ‘out of the box’). Nevertheless, they function perfectly well in Traktor. You just need to load a suitable mapping template for them.

Novation provides two mapping templates on their website: their own and one created by DJ Tech Tools. Their own is a little poor, providing only basic functionality. The DJ Tech Tools mapping, however, is much closer to the way they function in Serato and feels much more intuitive to use.

Here’s how they’re mapped in Serato:




And here’s the Traktor DJ Tech Tools mapping:

Although there are only 10 visible main buttons there are 6 smaller ones which select separate ‘banks’ of controls. Holding down the bank button again while on that bank’s ‘page’ will also act as a shift key, meaning that a total of 60 buttons are available. The simple yet functional design means that all 60 buttons can be accessed very quickly. The DJ Tech Tools mapping accounts for the lesser used functions by mapping these to the ‘shifted’ equivalent of each button. For example, on the Hotcue page (the set of red LEDs), you can set Hotcues on the fly by pressing each button. Holding down shift will delete these again. Simple, but really effective.

Again, sacrificing the large LEDs by replacing the buttons with arcade-style ones would be pleasing not only aesthetically but in terms of functionality too, and it’s a shame we haven’t seen any modded Dicers yet. Although the buttons are responsive, the rubberiness makes them much more ‘grippy’ than the smooth plastic of an arcade button, so trying to perform 3 or 4 finger ‘crab’ patterns on one button is not as easy as it would be on its smoother arcade counterpart. That said, it can still be done with practice and the better grip can also work to your advantage if your hands tend to get sweaty.

Dicer ‘Glitch’ / ‘Audio breakup’ Bug

One problem with the DJ Tech Tools mapping, although it isn’t a fault with the mapping itself, is with Windows’ inability to handle MIDI feedback well. This means that when using the DJ Tech Tools mapping, the audio playing in Traktor will either drop out or break up and sound very lo-fi when the ‘Beatmasher’ / beat repeat or loop buttons are used. It’s the MIDI signal coming out of Traktor (or rather how Windows deals with it) that tells the Dicer which buttons to illuminate that’s the problem here. Windows just freaks out when trying to process certain MIDI In and MIDI Out messages at the same time it would appear, at least on the test setup used here.

There are two solutions for this:

  1. Disable the MIDI Out in Traktor: Preferences > Controller Manager > Set ‘Out-Port’ to ‘None’, or
  2. Install ‘Send Monitor State Fix’ by Str8upDrew (see links below).

Disabling the MIDI Out works really well, but the buttons will no longer illuminate as a result. With the latter solution, the only problem is the small amount of time you waste setting this up each time you want to use Dicer with Traktor (so not really a problem!)

To use Str8upDrew’s solution, you must first have MidiYoke installed (see links below). Install and run the Send Monitor State Fix program, set the drop down menus to the settings shown below and click apply.

Send Monitor State Fix by Str8upDrew

Then in Traktor, go to Preferences, Controller Manager then select ‘In From MIDI Yoke 1’ in the MIDI Input and ‘Out to MIDI Yoke 2’ in the MIDI Output menus. This should solve any problems with audio drop-out.

The nature of the ‘bug’ means it’s easy to assume it’s a driver / soundcard or CPU problem, or indeed a problem with the device or mapping itself. It took a few hours of fiddling about with settings then reading several forum posts to realise this. Very frustrating, but we’re hoping we can save you some time now if you run into the same thing. It’s very easy to fix if you know what the problem is to begin with.

Summary

For the price (around £79), you can’t go far wrong with Dicers. It’s amazing how natural they feel and they can really open things up if you want to throw something new and creative into your mixes. Most of all, they’re just incredibly fun to use!

Useful Links / Downloads:

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