02 oktober 2014

Reloop Terminal Mix 8 Serato DJ Controller



Joining the well-received Terminal Mix 2 and Terminal Mix 4 in Reloop’s Serato DJ controller range, the Terminal Mix 8 is the company’s best-featured controller to date. While not packing in quite as many features as Pioneer’s DDJ-SZ, which was announced at the same time, it nonetheless represents a big leap for Reloop, as the company muscles in on the top-end of the DJ controller market.

In a sentence, the difference between the Terminal Mix 8 over the Terminal Mix 2 is the fact that (like the Terminal Mix 4) it controls all four decks of Serato. Similarly, the difference over the Terminal Mix 4 is that it adds performance pads, something most high-end controllers now have. With a full version of Serato DJ in the box too (as opposed to the upgradeable-for-a-price Intro version), as far as software DJing goes, the Terminal Mix 8 really does appear to pretty much offer it all. Let’s see how that all pans out in practice…

First impressions


Right from seeing the box for the first time, the nature of the Terminal Mix 8 is apparent. Decent quality (it’s a relatively weighty package), big but not as big as controllers like the DDJ-SZ, DDJ-SZ or Numark NS7II (clearly, nothing is as big as the NS7II!) It’s in a completely metal case, with a high quality and highly detailed gun metal faceplate. The four rubber feet appear to only be glued on, but are glued into indents in the metal and don’t feel like they’re going anywhere any time soon. The controller follows the same shallow but horizontally rather deep design of its smaller cousins; the Terminal Mix 8 is clearly a Reloop controller, from the overall instantly recognisable rather sober design, right down to the excellent large low-profile jogwheels and big, pleasing library search knob. In the box alongside the unit itself are a USB cable, a power adaptor / transformer (with attachments for EU, US and UK power sockets), and a glossy colour large-form quickstart guide in English, French, German and Spanish.

Terminal Mix 8 top

In both appearance and layout, the Terminal Mix 8 is solid, workmanlike and actually, holds few surprises, following both Reloop’s other controller and industry norms pretty closely.

So let’s take a quick tour of the controls. To be honest, the layout is pretty standard (DJ controllers really do seem to all follow the same basic layout nowadays, the biggest design choice being whether the performance pads are above or below the jogs; in this case, they’re above). This isn’t a bad thing; nowadays it’s how well everything’s been implemented, and the quality of those controls, that tends to count more than some revolutionary design twist.
So each deck has a jogwheel, four backlit, rubberised transport controls (there’s a “stutter” control, renamed from “cup” and thankfully without the teacup image from previous Reloop controllers!), a deck switch button, and a wonderful long-throw pitch control with centre-light (but of course, no physical click). Scattered around nearby are the expected shift, deck switch and jog function buttons, and above the eight RGB pads and four mode buttons for the same, a standard-looking four-knob FX section. There’s a slight twist in that the fourth knob here – often simply a beats control for defining the length of the FX cycle – is also a quick loop/loop roll control, the “beats” function being relegated to the shift layer.

Each of the four mixer channels is completely standard for controllers at this level, with gain, three-band EQ, a big omni filter knob (pleasingly rubberised with blue trim), deck load (with a fader start option) and cue buttons. The channel up faders have a decent amount of resistance, unlike the (fixed) crossfader, which is really loose and so ideal for scratch DJs, who will also be pleased to see no controls crammed in either side of it. Down the middle of the mixer section are master volume, booth volume, headphones volume, headphones mix, a sampler volume control (that can be push-clicked to cycle through possible sampler output channels), and the aforementioned big stepped rotary encoder for track selection. A generous selection of four buttons surrounding this control let you cycle through various Serato views and modules, as well as letting you instantly add tracks to the Prepare window. There are twin 10-band VUs here too.
Terminal Mix 8 front
The front of the unit. Notice all channels are crossfader assignable, and there are tone controls on mic and headphones.

The front panel has controls for the single mic and single Aux channel (the latter is phono or line), allowing you basic volume and tone control over the mic but only volume on the aux. Usefully there are two small switches to let you run these channels through software if you wish, letting you use EQ, FX, filters etc – good for adding reverb to the mic, or even incorporating the complete output from another DJ’s controller, for instance. The “direct” option is, of course, good to have as a backup in case of software crash. High quality switches here let you choose whether the channels sit to the left or right of the crossfader or bypass it completely, and the dual-socket headphones section also has a tone control. All of the volume and tone faders on the front section push in to almost flush with the unit, for safer transport.

Rear Terminal Mix 8
As the controller isn’t designed to be an external standalone mixer, there are fewer inputs around the back than you’d otherwise expect.


A quick tour of the rear of the unit, then: there’s power-in (it won’t run on USB power alone; not surprising for a fully featured unit like this), with a cord protection loop, a power on/off, and the expected outputs; the balanced outputs are TRS not XLR, the unbalanced master and booth outputs being RCA. Reloop likes its LED dimmers, and there’s a small pot here for that (curiously, non-retractable unlike those on the front), and a small switch to decide if the VUs on the front are for pre-fader listen, or for the master output. An RCA aux input with phono/line switch and an earth pole completes the features here; note: no Kensington hole.

Setting up and in use


Registering is simple; you go to Serato’s website with the serial number supplied and it’s a short process to getting your software. It’s good frankly to see companies ditching the DVD-in-the-box approach to software and going for direct downloads; you know you’re always getting the up to date version and let’s face it, who lacks the ability to download nowadays? One you’re up and running (you’ll need to head off the Reloop’s website to grab a PC audio driver if you’re not a Mac user), everything really is plug and play, as with all Serato controllers; no need to do any audio routing or anything like that.

So straight off, the controller is highly intuitive and great fun to use. The jogwheels are big, responsive and tightly integrated with the software, and the mixer and faders are nicely spaced, making you feel instantly at home. The library knob for selecting your tunes is sure in feel, tightly mapped (one click, one song) and the additional functions on buttons nearby make navigating, choosing and preparing tunes within the software a cinch.

TM8 mixer

The library functions, the big rubberised filter knobs, and the overall spacing out of the mixer controls, jugwheels and crossfader make it a joy to use for ‘basic’ Djing, never mind the more advanced features.

If you want to go no further than straight two-deck DJing, the cue function on the performance pads is excellent packing eight cues per deck, and with a choice of loop roll, manual looping or a one knob “instant” loop (using the fourth knob of the effects sections, as mentioned earlier) you’ve got all you could possibly want in this area. Frankly, throw in the big rubberised omni-filters, full-kill EQ, assured mixer section and decent volume headphone amp (with tone: again, this is good), and 80% of Djs probably won’t ever push the thing much futher.

But of course, it can indeed go further. It’s a four-deck controller, to start with. The other two decks work exactly as you’d expect, with soft takeover for physical controls (you have to move them back to where they were when you left a deck for them to work again, most often encountered on pitch adjustments), and layer buttons by each deck for switching. Of course, when you’re DJing four decks it’s always nice to have four actual physical channels (as this controller does), as this just makes everything less confusing.

It’s in the performance pads, though, where the Terminal Mix 8 stands out from the rest of the Reloop controllers. We’ve already told you how great the cues are; the slicer also is a definite standout. It’s exactly as you’ll find on any other Serato controller that features it (not all do by any means), and thanks partly to the nice, responsive pads, it feels great in use. (The pads, by the way, are high quality, RGB backlit, and rubberised but there’s no “click” like some brands; the choice is a personal thing, but I prefer them this way, click free). We look at how it works if you’re not familiar with it in a bit more detail in the accompanying video, but suffice to say if you’re looking to perform perfectly time improvisational chop-ups of rhythms, riffs or vocals, it’s got your back.

So to the SP-6 sample player control implementation. Despite having easy control over all four banks of six samples each side on the pads, and a (single) dedicated sample volume control in the mixer, as with all DJ controllers that attempt to give you mastery of the SP-6, this one only partially succeeds. Sure, you can grab stuff on the fly from the decks, but properly setting up samples, choosing one-shot / loop etc, and organising them into banks is definitely a revert-to-trackpad job. I wonder if anyone will ever tackle a standalone SP-6 controller?

TM8 mixer

RGB for easy identification of what setting you’re on, responsive and quality-feeling, the performance pads are a definite highlight here.

The single pair of 10-bar VU meters can either monitor the master output, or PFL (pre-fade listen – cue, in other words), selectable via the switch around the back. I’d prefer this to be done automatically; if any PFL lights are lit (ie you’ve pressed the headphone button for a channel), the VUs monitor cue; if not, they default to master. I don’t see the need for making you press a switch to make this change, and I like to keep an eye on both when I’m DJing so reaching around the back is inconvenient.

The FX sections (one per side) are completely standard; you can have three effects daisy-chained, or one with deeper control, and the fourth encoder (in this case, with shift pressed down to differentiate its function from being that on-the-fly loop control I told you about earlier) is your beats/bars-tied cycle length. Holding down shift and pressing the FX on/off buttons repeatedly cycles through the available FX.

The shift layer has lots of well thought-through functions on this controller. There’s the just-mentioned FX select, slip mode (shift and jog button), scrub (shift and jogwheel), fader start (shift and cues), and loads more on various buttons – things like tempo range, keylock, censor (shift & play – nice idea), even back to start of track (yay! – such a simple one, and it’s where you’d expect, on shift + cue). Another great little combo function is pressing two of the performance mode selectors together; for instance, pressing cue and loop divides the performance pads into two independent banks of four, the top four controlling cues and the bottom four loop roll (you can do the same for sampler/loop and sampler/cue). Nice and versatile.

Sound quality is excellent; crisp, clear, detailed and with a decent output level on both the TRS balanced masters, the RCA unbalanced masters, the booth and the headphones. So no complaints here at all. Overall, then, thanks to the predictable layout, high quality components, spacious size (though nowhere near as big as some controllers out there), and a few well though-through twists, we found the Terminal Mix 8 is great fun to use.

Conclusion


Once you reach this level, there’s really nothing “wrong” with practically all controllers on offer; it’s more a case of deciding if you want all that’s provided, or if there’s anything you’d miss. For instance: Will you use performance pads? Will you use four decks? Is individual VU metering important to you or can you live with a shared meter like on here? Do you need per-channel filter? Is a single mic and a single aux input going to be enough for you?

Outputs

Despite lacking XLR outs, the TRS outputs take care of your balanced output needs, and there are both booth and master RCA outs.

These are questions only you can answer. Because if the mix of features on the Reloop Terminal Mix 8 ticks all your boxes, and the missing things (full standalone mixer, DVS compatibility, individual channel VUs being the main ones for me) aren’t a worry to you, it’s a good value, well made, great sounding and slick controller indeed. Now personally, I don’t ever think I’ll find myself using all four decks plus 24 samples; it’s just not how I DJ. Therefore I’d be interested in exactly the same controller with two physical channels but keeping the performance pads (Reloop Terminal Mix 6, guys?) – but that’s just me! It may not be you at all.

For what it is and does, the Reloop Terminal Mix 8 is an excellent controller. For scratching, controllerism, four-deck DJing, finger drumming, cue point juggling… it’s got you covered. If Serato’s your thing, you’re not interested in incorporating a whole load of analogue gear or multiple microphones too, and performance pads are a must, then this should be on your list. Recommended.


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