This kind of controller is a new area for me. I have been DJing since the age of about 12 first using cassettes, CDs and records to eventually ditching all that and simply using touch screen jukebox software. Nothing compares to getting into a groove and playing some popular songs at high volume and wishing to get back into playing music I decided to look into the newer controllers available.
Pros: Complete plug-n-play all in one control and audio interface, screens offer direct browsing and feedback, seamless Serato integration.
Cons: High cost, large footprint, heavy weight, some limitations with screens, requires SDJ to be usable
Model: NS7 MK3
- Premium Serato DJ controller with three high-resolution color screens, including the ability to display stackable waveforms
- Stacked parallel waveforms on central screen for simple, direct visual beat matching
- Screens provide 1:1 real time feedback of Serato DJ, letting you close or move the source laptop and focus on the music
- Dedicated track library screen with corresponding navigation controls
- 4 decks of Serato DJ software control; built-in 4-channel audio mixer
- 2 variable-torque motorized platters with high-resolution MIDI tracking
- Touch-activated knobs produce groundbreaking control of filters, EQ, and more
- Authentic vinyl records provide the feel of a professional DJ turntable
- 16 velocity-sensitive Akai Professional MPC pads with backlit RGB feedback
- 10 pad modes for hot cues, loops, song slicing, and sample triggering
- Dedicated 3-way touch-activated filter knob on each channel
- Dedicated touch-activated control of Serato’s 12 professional iZotope® FX
- Built-in professional 24-bit USB 2.0 audio interface
- Zone/booth outputs and balanced XLR outputs for club use
- Rugged, road-worthy metal construction
- Serato NoiseMap ready for use with extended DVS setups
- Plug and play with Serato DJ (included)—no upgrade purchase required
First Impressions \ Unboxing
Taking delivery of this controller it was apparent just how BIG this thing is. Researching online and measuring up the space I would need I was aware of how big it would be but the box amplifies the apparent size. Additionally it is pretty heavy as well at just under 15kg though if you consider you are getting a complete 4ch mixer, 2 motorised turntables and 3 screens for all that it certainly is a lot more convenient than 2 turntables and a mixer.
The controller box is quite heavy duty and made of very thick cardboard with very good support inside. Infact I used the box for the first few weeks of transporting until I could source a good case and it was fine in the back of my ute.
Opening up the box you have the main controller nicely wrapped and then the 2 platters in separate little boxes. You need to install these which is straight forward and gives you a chance to setup how tight/loose you would like the vinyl on the platter which is a great idea. Having already used the older Numark CDX units before this was like a flashback to 2005 fitting the fake vinyl to the platters. You then have the 3 screen dashboard packed nicely in the foam too.
Apart from the leads and quick start guides there is little else in the box to get excited about.
The weight of the controller is justified when you get it out of the box. The whole controller is metal, no plastic top, and it instantly feels solid.
It has to be said that this thing looks like a quality piece of gear, feels rugged and all the controls are smooth
Installation & Powerup
For Mac users apparently it is a simple case of plug and play but windows users must first visit the Numark site and download 2 drivers (one for audio and one for video). This adds the required driver layer to talk to the NS7III. It should be noted that even though the NS7III includes a USB interface for audio, it is not designed to be used for primary PC audio so will not be available for this task though this may differ for Mac.
The next step is to install Serato DJ. I started with the 1.8 version of Serato and then continued 2 months later with 1.9 and had good success with both versions. You need to first register on the Serato site to gain access to the download which then also sets you up with forum access and an account to download your extra plugins and purchases.
Installation of Serato was straight forward and once I started up the software the controller was detected and working without issue. The screens sprang to life showing the software elements and all the LEDs started displaying the feedback data from the software This is one thing to note that for the cost of the controller this also unlocks the full version of Serato without the need to purchase the software. Serato automatically detects supported controllers and enables itself automatically which was nice. It also means that to use Serato you must have the controller connected.
Integration with Serato DJ
The NS7III is designed to integrate seamlessly with Serato and it does this very well. It does not appear to integrate or support any other DJ software at this time so this could be a deciding factor alone depending on your own preference for DJ software. Since the software side of things is new to me I was not fussed which software I started on, I was personally interested with the full hands on control over the software.
Once I had my music setup within Serato I was able to browse using the NS7III directly and it was easier than I was expecting. The first thing that became apparent was the need to have all my music well tagged because having a library of over 20,000 songs would be difficult to navigate without some smart sorting. Luckily most of my library was already tagged but one thing I did spend weeks getting sorted was the "Original Release Year" for songs. By default most tagging software or DJ pools will tag files with the year of the CD release which makes for issues when you have a compilation or "Best of" album. Once I had files all nicely tagged and some crates and filters setup the integration was great.
All your software controls are available as dedicated hardware functions and it does one important thing... it FEELS like you are operating a mixing desk, not just using a controller. Every control is illuminated to display status and the pads have a beautiful subtle edge glow over a fully illuminated pad. I was initially disappointed with all the red backlighting but after spending some time using it in the dark the red is good at keeping you informed of controls without being distracting. Your eyes are more drawn to the flashing indicators and it's actually easy to see and feel your way around in the dark which is something of design.
Most controls have two functions with the use of the Shift key. This is useful to cut down on the number of buttons and keep things streamlined but until you get to learn these it can make for some challenges in the dark. This was most noticeable when trying to sort the browser by different attributes. Without the light it's impossible to see just how as the 2nd function is printed on the body.
The platters are the sole reason I wanted this controller and they do not disappoint. I have rocked both a CDX and HDX for 10 years mainly doing scratch based sampling and practice and the feeling of these platters is as real to vinyl as you can get... only on a smaller scale. This to me is fine as I am not expecting it to fully replace real vinyl but rather offer the kind of control and feeling you loose with static jog wheels. This part really makes it feel that you are playing live and being able to just touch the vinyl to slow it down, quickly nudge it or do some stabs, spins and kicks with the music makes it a lot of fun not to mention it draws people in like a magnet when they see you working it.
With 4 months of usage I have found the integration with Serato to be close to 100%. Sure you cannot search for songs but with a nicely organised and filtered library you can find things quick. The only complaints I have with the integration at the moment is the displays only deliver about 80% of what you need to know. While they display the waveforms, deck information and browsing very well the lack of display for song Key information or track year means constantly looking at the laptop anyway. If you have a well organised playlist and only DJ from that then you could get away with it but I DJ mainly on-the-fly with some small sets mixed in so sometimes I want to match a songs key for a mix.
UPDATE: I have been informed after asking over at the Numark forums that an update will soon be available that adds extra functionality to the screens so that will be welcome.
There is loads of information available online for this thing so I wont run over all the small things but lets look at the main features of this controller and how they work:
Probably one of the most notable features is the screen dashboard that sits atop of the deck. The dashboard is removable and simply slides onto supports on the back of the controller. It is supplied with a small power cable to power it directly from the controller, a small USB cable to connect it to the controller and the PC USB cable. One neat feature is the addition of an additional USB port which is useful to connect a USB stick or wireless keyboard dongle. I personally have a small USB light connected to illuminate the browser controls.
The dashboard allows you to instantly see information from Serato directly above the decks. Most of your real time data is available such as track waveform overview, cue and loop positions, play position, beat grid information, track remaining, effects etc. The middle screen can be toggled between stacked waveform and file browser with dedicated file browsing and sorting controls directly under the middle screen on the controller. When in stacked waveform view you only need to move the navigation wheel to display the file list which will then switch back after a few seconds of no activity.
It is also possible to build playlists on-the-fly using the "Prepare" window which you can toggle into and out of on the controller. With just the scroll wheel, back and forward buttons you can navigate everything you need.
The Dashboard is also available as a standalone product for use with any serato controller.
The decks are the main staple of the NS7 product line which set it apart from all other controllers. The 7" platters are completely motorised by actual turntable motors and even have a torque adjustment switch. The vinyl bolts onto the spindle and offers real time control of playback just as real vinyl would. I was somewhat worried about latency between movements of the platter and the sound but I was very pleased that there is no noticeable delay and you have control over your audio buffer to lower this as much as you dare. I personally have a buffer of 128 and it seems stable.
All the deck controls you would expect are there including start/stop break adjustments, play/cue controls, pitch (including the ability to set the pitch range) "needle drop search" via a touch strip to jump to any point in the song. There are even pitch bend buttons for small adjustments and beat grid controls to allow adjustment and editing of grids from the deck quickly.
Above each deck are 3 effects controls and one effects quantise control to set the quantise lock. You can assign the 2 effects banks to one deck each or any/all channels of the mixer. You can also load different effects easily by holding shift and pressing an effect button. The effects section doubles between 3 separate effects or switch to a single multi-control effect with 3 parameters for the effect. You can setup a list of favourite effects to save from clicking through dozens of effects.
Each deck is a "dual deck" with the ability to simulate up to 4 Serato decks at once. Buttons located to the left/right of the platter display which deck you have selected. When you select another deck the controller switches display and all settings to that deck which works rather well. Even the pitch fader will indicate it is not in sync and which direction you need to move it to get it synced. This is great to have some backup songs loaded in case you run out of time or need a quick changeup.
The pads are your mixing toolbox that serve multiple purposes. The pads will illuminate in different colours depending on the pad mode you have selected [Cue / Roll / Loop / Sample / Pad FX]. From the pads it is very quick to setup and save loops and cue points on the fly. It is even possible to load a song loop into a sample slot for playback later within another song (useful to keep a song going while you mix and load other songs). The subtle edge glow is brilliant and I like this kind of display over a fully illuminated pad. It has been said these pads are the same as used on the populat Akai MPC and having owned the MIDI version Akai MPD32 before they do feel very similar.
It really takes only a few minutes to master the functions of these and there are loads of example videos on how to use the pads which will help even a complete beginner get up to speed quickly.
In the middle is a complete 4 channel analogue to USB mixer. Each channel can be set to control the digital deck audio feed (from Serato), a microphone feed (from the back of the controller) or a line in feed for an external piece of gear. Each channel has an 11 segment LED VU meter with 2 white LEDs to indicate the max level. These are bright and instantly let you know your level is close to the edge. There is then an FX bank assign to set FX bank controls A/B to the channel, input gain control, High/Med/Low EQ controls, cutoff filter and cue preview select.
The faders themselves are smooth and easy to flick with adjustable volume curve within the Serato software. Faders are also MIDI capable so serato knows when a fader is up or down allowing preview of tracks with a fader down to prevent the song being marked as "played"
The crossfader is feather touch light and coming from an older mixer with crusty faders it took some practice to use such a smooth fader. It is also user replaceable but requires the whole mixer faceplate to be removed. The fader slope can be adjusted via a trimpot on the front of the controller.
And one extra bonus is the mixer will work as a standalone mixer with all routing and crossfader working, only the effects will not function without Serato connected but this is great as a backup if your laptop suddenly stops working.
Around the back of the NS7III you have a decent number of connections. On the left there are analogue RCA inputs for each of the 4 mixer channels and you are able to switch between an external input or the Serato audio feed which is decent. All inputs are line level but inputs 1+2 have the option for Phono input and are DVS compatible allowing the connection of external turntables with timecode vinyl. There is also an earth post for your decks too. A combo XLR/TRS mic input allows the connection of a microphone which can be routed to one of the 4 mixer channels which is useful for wireless mic systems. A mic input is also available on the front but is not routed through any mixer channels but rather has its own level control and routs direct to the main out. Then there is the USB connection and a power connection that connects to the dashboard. On the right side there are XLR/RCA main outs, RCA booth outs the power input and an On/Off switch.
Around the front on the left is an XLR/TRS Mic input with bass/treble/level controls and on/off switch. In the middle are controls to assign channels to the crossfader and also to adjust the slope of the fader and then on the right there is both a 6.0 + 3.5mm headphone jack for monitoring with a level and mix control. There is also a split monitoring switch to send the main mix to one headphone while the preview channel is in the other (for beat matching)
All in all the input/output connections are what you would expect for a standalone mixer and pretty straight forward to understand.
The Good Points
Since Serato DJ and these kinds of controllers are new to me I started off by watching a few hours of videos on both using SDJ and also using the NS7III. That gave me enough info to get going rather quickly.
Using the browser on the controller is very intuitive. You can easily jump in and out of your created crates and playlists and the scroll wheel will scroll through large lists quickly when you turn it faster which is great. Once you locate a song you simply press the Deck A / Deck B buttons to load it up. Alternatively you can press the Load Prepare button to add the song to a temp playlist so you can gather together a collection of tracks to play through the night as you get requests or find gems.
Once a track is loaded the control surface feels just like a record on a platter. You can scratch it, move it back and forth and get it rocking very easily ready to just transition into. One thing I found very natural and easy was simple beat matching via ear/feel. Having the platter spinning under your hand allows that fine control you just don't get from static jog wheels.
I found quite a lot of incorrectly analysed tracks with their beat grids not matching the song. The controller has a couple of dedicated controls that allow you to quickly adjust the grid though this is not easily done when a song is playing live, you need to manage that before you spin the song into play.
The whole mixer section is just straight forward and I had no issues operating anything with limited light. To preview a track you need to press the channels preview button first and pressing a channel preview button will switch off preview from another making it quick to select a channel. Press and hold the preview button and select another you can set multiple channels for preview.
Sound quality wise the controller is pretty good though I did notice that the output of the mixer does have some hiss if you push your PA right up. My chain is completely silent with my amps at full but once the controller is connected to the inputs the hiss is very noticeable. Once playing music everything is good though so the main point is this is not studio grade audio quality but the actual USB audio output from Serato through this device is rather good.
The EQ and cutoff section sound great, nice and smooth and there is an added feature you can activate on the controller that makes each knob touch sensitive to completely cut that control so to fully cut highs for instance you can just touch the control without moving it.
The effects section uses the Serato effects which yu can load up and control direct from the controller. The classic effects (LPF, Delay, Reverb) sound just fine and I was also able to download additional effects for free from Serato. Effects aren't something I normally use but the combination of dedicated effects with the screens info display makes them much more user friendly. I would like to see a flashing light when effects are enabled though because the red backlight is not enough to catch your eye and often I have forgot an effect is engaged.
Finally the screens. Controllers are now starting to come out with large info displays that show a heap of real time info and the NS7III overclocks this with it's 3 screen "dashboard". The idea is giving you "most" of the elements of Serato directly over the controller to keep your eyes off your emails. I have to say this works very well and I was matching beats via waveform quickly and browsing my library and selecting songs with ease. While it does help a lot I personally still need the laptop open and accessible because often I need to check the files comments or key information which is currently not displayed on the dashboard. Additionally if you need to add comments to files (which I do constantly) or do a file search then you need your laptop.
The Not So Good
Of course there will be some things that need some improvements or that are not quite 100% satisfactory but I am hard pressed to find anything in 4 months that makes me unhappy or regretful.
One complaint I did have from almost minute 1 was as nice as the displays are and how well they actually work they lack the display of some key information. While you can sort files by different tags you cannot display all tags from Serato. One big omission is the Key information which is important if you like to mix songs that sound good together. Additionally you cannot see the year, comments, bitrate or genre of files which are all things I like to check as I browse files. I inquired about updates with Numark and they have stated that an update will be available soon that adds extra functionality to the screens allowing more information to be displayed.
Another issue I had which is more of a Serato issue is the loss of synchronisation with 2 sync-locked decks. This issue is when you use the Sync button and sync with another deck the natural differences in the speeds of the platters can sometimes cause the sync to be broken. Apparently there is suppose to be some compensation to deal with the drift but it is still occurring for users though I have found that after some time of the deck being used (an hour or more) the issue becomes less to the point I can lock 2 songs together for a full 3 minutes without any drift but other times when I first switch on and have a go they can go out of sync within a few seconds.
One more complaint I have which is a little more serious as it has caused me some hearing damage is the output of the headphones... Complaints around the NS7II were it was too quiet but now it's way too loud and the issue from my perspective is it is a very linear increase, not log which means a small movement on the volume level means a massive increase in volume. This is an issue when you reach for the preview mix control and accidentally grab the level control and turn it to ear splitting levels in a quarter turn. This actually caused me hearing damage which has left me with a constant slight ringing in my left ear which after 25 years of being careful using headphones and sound equipment made me very unhappy. A normal logarithmic level control would have warned me I had the wrong control way before the high levels were heard!
To draw a conclusion this is one of the most fun pieces of gear I have ever used and for me it was released at exactly the right time as I started looking at getting back into DJing again. It won't be the solution for everyone though either because of the size, the lack of standalone operation or simply because it's not Pioneer (or its Numark in some cases). The addition of the screens do far more than just make it look fancy, they actually do a great job of keeping most of your eyes off the PC and the total hands on feel of the NS7III helps to make this more than just a controller, it feels like it should and it certainly pulls in curious bystanders because of the spinning platters. I have had the occasional audio dropout with this though but I am more certain that it's a Serato issue because many others have reported the same thing on other controllers and this brings up the point that this is just a controller with a tethered PC. You need the PC for this to work which isn't an issue for me but it does mean you have a whole other potential for issues. I am more than happy ith the controller and have found only a few things to grizzle about but the amount of fun and functionality I get from it more than makes up for it. I would recommend it to anyone in the market for a DJ controller and audio interface.