Sunday, December 15, 2019

Building my dream system (system #2, DJ setup)

I have been messing with different mixers for a long time now.  I got my system with a very simple Numark.  I recently came across these very early photos of my system back in 2011.

This may be the earliest photo of my system.  That blue cable is a very long (30'?) RCA cable I bought for a different purpose earlier (I still have it, though it is not currently in use).  You can also see I am using a really basic folding table (which I also still have, also not currently in use).

I got the flight case on craigslist, I want to say I paid $50 at the most which was a steal.  I took this photo at the gas station where I made the transaction.

Only a couple days after I got this rig home I made this faceplate to hold the mixer.  It was a really heavy piece of plied wood panel, very heavy.  Notice I used to take the cover of the flight case off totally when I'd use the system.  And again I am using my very old 1st gen iPod.  I replaced the battery in that thing then eventually the CPU crapped out and I had to dump it.  RIP.

At the time, I was not clear that the center compartment of my flight case was designed to hold 19" rackmount gear.  Even if I had, there are few DJ mixers available that fit that footprint.  I even messed with some very simple Realistic mixers for a while.  I eventually decided on a Numark M4.  I decided that I could get an 8U blank panel and cut out an opening with an angle grinder.

I was able to cut the blank panel with some difficulty and got it fairly straight.  I didn't account for some tiny screws on the sides of the mixer so those had to be temporarily removed to get the mixer through the opening.  I taped it off to give myself clear lines to see where to cut.

But the mixer was sold as 'not working'.  So I spent $6.99 on an AC adapter as well and took it apart to try and figure out what was wrong.  I did check the voltage regulators at the inputs and a couple of them seemed to be off.

Eventually I got frustrated and just returned the mixer for a refund.  I ate the cost of the AC adapter but I did keep the blank panel in case one day I try one of these mixers again.  Finally, I stepped my game up and after waiting for a long while, got a Beringer VMX1000USB.  I got it from Amazon Warehouse as a returned item and only paid $110 (at the time of this writing, new units are still over $200) so I got a steal.

There are zero imperfections however, on any side of the unit.  It is mint condition.  But from day one the sound wasn't great.  I first thought it was my stylus so I replaced them.  Didn't help.  So then I went all out and got entirely new headshells.  This didn't help either.  I had been using the #2 output from the mixer as the #1 was XLR.  But I got desperate and tracked down some XLR to RCA cables from a Guitar Center.

At first it seemed like this fixed the problem but now I am not sure.  I am beginning to wonder if someone returned this because they hooked up a line level device to the phono input and damaged them.  So I am still trying to figure this out.

In the meantime I started looking at the extra space in my 'rack'.  I started brainstorming on what type of devices I might be able to add.  I am limited in what is useful but also because the depth is not very great.  So the first thing I got was a rack mount surge protector.  I got this for nothing on ebay, used and pulled from a working studio.

This worked out great.  Mounted well and consolidated some of the countless wires I have running in and out of the flight case, plus I only paid $12.50.  I did have to make a couple modifications.  The turntable plugs are pretty low profile as they do not have a ground pin.  The mixer however had trouble fitting due to the depth issue as it has a pretty large stress boot.  So I chopped it off and installed a right angle plug (I actually stole this from my AC it is November I won't be needing it anytime soon).  But planning for the next unit I have on order (details below), I knew I needed to be able to accommodate a DC power brick.  I was worried that gravity would start to pull it out of its socket because it will be upside down.  Well I have these short little cables for dealing with this exact problem but once again, the damn stress boot would be in the way.  So I cut it off and installed a very slim and low profile lamp plug on the end (as this will be carrying less than 1A).

And as discussed, the last unit is a VU meter.  Why do I need this? I don't - just because it looks pretty! Got this used for $70 w/ shipping.

Last but not least, I got two 1U blanks (from the same guy that sold me the 8U months ago!) to fill up the remaining spaces.  I could have got a 2U blank, but my spaces are separated.  I can't put my mixer any further up because it stresses the wires (I modified the flight case long ago with a hole saw to make an opening for all the cabling).  I could move it down and leave both empty spaces up top but I thought it would look cool to split them up.

Looks beautiful, right? And this should be the end of the post because by my standards, that photo above certainly looks like my definition of a 'dream system'. But that is not the end! Because the phono inputs on this thing sound like trash! I could expound upon that but why bother when I have already publicly sullied Behringer's good name - see below....

i really needed to upgrade my mixer to something with more inputs. individual track and master VU meters also would be a plus so i narrowed it down to a few models and this was one. i made a major mistake by investing in this unit, and only wish i could rewind the clock and make a different decision. not just because of the money i flushed down the toilet but also the immense amount of time i spent giving this unit the benefit of the doubt and trying to attribute the issues i was having to other components in my signal chain. 
i am not a gigging DJ and have not spun in public in years. i have two numark TT1625s with my mixer hooked up to a kenwood reciever and some insignia speakers. i have fun making vinyl mixes for myself and perhaps once in a great while someone else. i also have a yamaha casette deck and an MPC 1000 and i really wanted to be able to connect everything to the mixer instead of some components to the receiver. so i needed at least 4 inputs and at least 3 outputs (one main, one to the yamaha and one to the MPC). i loved the look of this unit and also the VU meters which i already mentioned and i thought beringer was a reuptable brand (never owned any of their gear before though) but it was a little outside my budget. so i waited until a unit came up on amazon warehouse and i found one for about $110. 
now before i go any further let me address the possibility that the problems ive had (which i will describe below) can be attributed to the fact that it was a returned item, and that the previous owner somehow misused/abused the unit. the type of problems i have had i do not believe can be attributed to that but ill let you be the judge.
so i noticed right away that the sound was kind of muddy and tinny and occasionally a little distorted. i never noticed this before, and it was both turntables. but there was no way my shiny new mixer could be the culprit! it had been a while since i replaced my stylus(s) and they do see considerable use. so i got new ones - no help. 
now i got really dramatic and replaced the headshells entirely. I spent $70/ea on two numark CC-1s so I didnt break the bank. Guess what - sounded just as bad.
I tried different inputs on my reciever - no dice. then I went and got some XLR to 1/4" so I could use the main outputs. nope - sounded just as bad. I have to stress that the bad quality was still subtle - it wasnt a glaring issue and sometimes you wouldnt notice so much. but it was always there. i do have a third phono input on channel 3 which i was using as a line level for the MPC. i moved one of the TTs to channel 3 - sounded identically bad.
and now for the other issues:
1) crosstalk. it did not happen for months (though granted in this condition i did not use the system much) but i often get the meters to move on unused channels with the gain and fader at 0. you cant hear it but obviously this is not normal
2) crossfader selector switches. there is some kind of issue with the selectors where they wont work, then they will reverse from what they should be doing, and a power cycle is the only thing to fix it. this is obviously a logic/circuit board issue.
finally i did the most simple test of all and got an RCA extension cable and connected one of the TTs to the reciever directly via the unused phono input - sounded fine.
so now i guess i will try to sell this thing on ebay as a non working unit to be stripped for parts. i called a beringer licensed repair center and after a few emails they told me it 'wasnt worth it' to put any money into it. i could blame them for that but i have to think they are aware of the build quality.
i would definately think twice before buying this piece of junk
So my hunt continued.  But there slim pickings when it comes to rack mountable DJ mixers.  One that came up again and again (and one which I almost purchased instead of the Behringer) is the Numark CM200.  So I started looking until I found one on ebay for about $100 - brand new - with free shipping! I actually had to send the seller an email and confirm what I was puchasing but they assured me it was good to go. So a short time later it arrived, they actually used the original box as the shipping container.  So it was pretty beat up but the foam inside kept the mixer from sustaining any harm.

I set it up and I must admit, this one sounds fairly poor as well.  By extremely manipulating the EQ, I can get it to almost an 'acceptable' level.  Also this is a smaller unit so I had to buy another 1U blank.  And as I type this on a Sunday morning, I am listening to Jimmy Smith and it sounds pretty....OK (you didn't think I'd say 'good', did you?).

So here we are - my 'dream' system, with all its flaws, it will have to do for now...

No comments:

Post a Comment