Monday, October 24, 2005

iDJ: An iPod mixer. Really.

Squeezed in between the electric guitars, electronic keyboards and other high-tech music gear at last weekend's Music Player Live! conference in New York was a nifty-looking mixing console that made many of the attendees do a double-take and then smile. Surely some of them must have thought the same thing: "Well why didn't I think of that?"

Instead of turntables, the $249 iDJ Mixing Console for iPod from Rhode Island-based Numark Industries LLC, comes with two empty docks with connectors designed for two Apple iPod digital music players.

While the iDJ wasn't the highest-tech device at the conference, it was arguably one of the coolest. All of the controls are backlit--a necessity if you're going to use the iDJ in a dark bar or club--and the blue glow only enhances the smooth lines of the white, blue and clear plastic that comprises the unit.

Since Apple Computer Inc. was wise enough to standardize the docking connector on most of its iPods, the iDJ can be used with anything from the video-enabled iPod to the diminutive iPod nano. You can also use it with other digital music player if you don't wiring them in.

If you really feel the need to scratch some vinyl, you can connect a turntable to one of the two audio input jacks. In fact, you can actually place the iDJ on top of a turntable--preferably a stationary one. There's a spindle hole on the bottom that lets you place the unit on top of one of the turntables of a dual-turntable mixer. Two large circular iPod touch controls let you control the docked iPods from the console and a USB port allows you to connect the unit to a Microsoft Windows-based or Apple Macintosh-compatible computer.

No it's not the highest-tech mixer on the block, but it sure looks like it would be fun to DJ a party with one. What do you think?

Photo ©Numark Industries LLC

Monday, October 10, 2005

Pop Goes the Speaker: Saitek's A-200

Your assignment: Design a portable speaker that lets you take room-filling, rich audio on the road without filling up your suitcase. You could stuff a couple small bookshelf speakers in your duffel bag, but where are you going to shove that big subwoofer?

Saitek, known for its joysticks and game controllers, solves the big-sound problem not with smoke and mirrors, but with thin air--with an assist from your hand.

The new Saitek A-200 Portable 2.1 Speaker System ($99.95) looks unique enough with its boomerang-style curves but its most interesting aspect is its stowaway subwoofer.

When closed, the dark plastic section in the center of the A-200 is even with the rest of the unit. Push down firmly, however, and it unlocks and rises slowly and silently until it's an inch or so high. This creates an echo chamber above the bottom-mounted, three-watt subwoofer. This design, called the Expanded Air Volume System, is meant to enhance the bass produced by the subwoofer.

In practice the concept seems to work. When connected to an old Sony Walkman, the A-200 indeed yielded a rich and full-sounding audio that seemed to emanate from a much larger speaker system. The two top-mounted three-watt speakers provided ample stereo separation and the bass response was more than adequate. The design is clean and simple: Only an on/off LED and two volume buttons grace the top of the unit. The audio input and AC jacks are on one side.

So how does it sound once you push the air chamber back down? It's hard to say since closing the chamber shuts the A-200 off.

With a fairly compact triangular footprint, the unit could be used as a viable replacement for a conventional two-speaker-and-subwoofer setup for a PC. It can also be used to improve the audio from laptop-driven presentations. You can power the A-200 with four AA batteries or with the included AC adapter. Also included is a carrying case and a buffing cloth so you can keep the shine on the smooth plastic body.

No, it's not your father's speaker system, but that's probably a good thing. Would you give this one a try?

(Photos © Saitek)