Walk into any dance club these days and you're more likely to see a laptop in the DJ booth than a dusty record crate. Lured by the advantages of digital audio (hard-drive music libraries, searchable music catalogs) and the appeal of carrying less equipment around, more and more DJs are trading in their turntables for modern digital systems.
Transitioning from analog to digital can be daunting, though. Freedom from your record crate also brings freedom to choose between dozens of different digital DJ solutions. The NS6 DJ controller and mixer from Numark is meant to take the sting out of the digital transition by offering a capable and relatively affordable ($1,200 MSRP, $999 street) replacement for a traditional analog DJ rig.
For DJs who are accustomed to managing a tabletop-size flotilla of analog DJ gear, the idea of stripping it all down to a laptop and a small DJ controller like the might seem a little too drastic. The NS6 meets you halfway between the extremes, measuring 23.8x13.4x2.5 inches and weighing in at around 14 pounds. You're definitely not going to fit the NS6 into a laptop bag (unlike the VCI-300), but the recessed handles on the sides of the NS6 make it relatively easy to move around.
The NS6's size and weight contribute to a spacious design that begs for abuse. Typically, these USB DJ controllers feel a little fragile and are constructed from lightweight plastic. The NS6, by comparison, is wrapped in metal from head to toe. The oversize, plastic buttons used for the main playback controls are similar to the ones we loved on the, and respond well to aggressive use.
The Numark NS6 offers all the standard features we like to see in a DJ controller, including high-grade audio outputs (gold-plated RCA or balanced XLR), line/mic input, serviceable faders, club-friendly illuminated controls, and full-size knobs that feel just like their analog counterparts. Some unique features, such as the touch strips that control playhead position, and switchable phono inputs on channels 1 and 2, come as a pleasant surprise.
One shouldn't underestimate the importance of a product's look and feel when it comes to the fickle DJ market, but the crucial test of a USB DJ controller is responsiveness. Unlike analog gear, where buttons and faders are intrinsically linked to their function, the features of a USB DJ controller rely on ones and zeros being sent back and forth from your laptop. Fortunately, we had no complaints about performance latency on the Numark NS6. During testing on both a MacBook Pro and a Lenovo ThinkPad (running Windows XP), we experienced no noticeable lag time between the NS6 controls and the bundled Serato Itch software.
We're also happy to report that the NS6 produced minimal audio latency over its integrated 24-bit, four-out, four-in sound card. Audio buffer settings within the Serato Itch software allow a degree of control to compensate for any audio or performance delays you may experience on your computer. The four-channel mixer can also be switched to all analog inputs just in case you feel nostalgic for your turntables and CD players.