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Tonium Pacemaker (120 GB) review: Tonium Pacemaker (120 GB)

Tonium Pacemaker (120 GB)

Donald Bell
Donald Bell Senior Editor / How To
Donald Bell has spent more than five years as a CNET senior editor, reviewing everything from MP3 players to the first three generations of the Apple iPad. He currently devotes his time to producing How To content for CNET, as well as weekly episodes of CNET's Top 5 video series.
4 min read


Tonium Pacemaker (120 GB)

The Good

The Tonium Pacemaker is a DJ-oriented portable audio player with professional-grade audio quality, switchable headphone impedance, Mac and PC compatibility, and an inventive mix recording feature.

The Bad

The Pacemaker's price may be too high for armchair DJs and its features and form too restrictive for club use. Like most DJ equipment, the Pacemaker takes some practice to master.

The Bottom Line

As a pocket-size sketchpad for DJs on the go, the Pacemaker is peerless.

Editors' note: A newer, less expensive, second-generation model of the Tonium Pacemaker MP3 player made its debut in May of 2009. Click here to read our review of the latest model.

The Tonium Pacemaker ($800) squeezes the performance and functionality of a full digital DJ rig into a single pocket-size device. Fitting a DJ booth into a product the size of a Sony PSP requires some compromises in design and features, but the end result is a new breed of DJ tech that is sure to make some fans.

The Pacemaker's minimal, matte black aesthetic is enough to make any red-blooded gadget hound salivate, regardless of DJ skill. In fact, those with a keen eye for tech design will appreciate that the Pacemaker is one of the first products of its kind to include features such as multigesture track pad control and an LED lit touch strip crossfader.

The suggestion that the Pacemaker's eight buttons can accomplish the same tasks as a full-fledged DJ setup would make even the most sleep-deprived club jockey raise an eyebrow. Indeed, unlike in a conventional DJ setup, accomplishing something as mundane as adjusting song volume requires some nimble two-hand dexterity on the Pacemaker. To work around the limitations of the Pacemaker's small size, every one of its controls serves multiple functions. As a result, the Pacemaker manual is a required read (we recommend creating a cheat sheet). After a few days of play, however, using the Pacemaker will become second nature to anyone who's spent their youth gripping a game controller.

The bottom of the Pacemaker features jacks for a power adapter, line output, and a headphone mix that can be switched between low and high impedance modes.

If you've dabbled with DJ software or touched a CDJ deck in the past five years, you should have a good idea what to expect from the Pacemaker's feature set. After loading music onto the Pacemaker's 120GB internal drive, you can select tracks through an onscreen menu and assign them to one of two virtual decks. Each virtual deck includes an adjustable three-band EQ section, an effects section (filter, echo, reverb, and roll), and controls for gain, pitch, cue point, track scan, and loop points.

Once you've assigned tracks to each of the two virtual decks, matching their tempos is a completely manual operation (sorry newbies, no auto-syncing). To make tempo matching relatively painless, however, each deck displays the BPM of the current track and offers a generous pitch adjustment range of +/-100 percent. After matching the tempos of each track, a swipe of the track pad briefly nudges the deck's tempo up or down to finely tune the sync between tracks. Finally, to complete the transition from one song to the next, a touch strip located at the very center of the Pacemaker allows you to glide into the next song.

Don't call it an MP3 player. The Pacemaker is a handheld, four-channel DJ system with enough processing power to make the iPod cower with insignificance.

One feature unique to the Pacemaker is its capability to record and save mixes. To accomplish this feat, Tonium could have simply resampled the Pacemaker's playback output into a new audio file and called it a day. Instead, the Pacemaker records mixes by tracking the adjustments made during your mix (track volume, crossfade amount, EQ changes, pitch adjustment, etc.) and associates that data with your song files. Later, when you connect the Pacemaker to your Mac or PC, special Pacemaker software allows you to play back these mix files, make adjustments, save the results, and legally share the mix on the Pacemaker Web site. Currently, the Pacemaker software does not let you export your mix as one long audio file, but there are creative workarounds.

Unfortunately, you can't shrink a carload of DJ gear into your pocket without losing something along the way. From the perspective of a conventional DJ setup, the biggest practical drawbacks to the Pacemaker are the inability to modify two or more controls simultaneously, lack of scratch control, pitch-only speed adjustment, and the possibility of humiliation from your vinyl-purist peers.

Tonium's free Mac and PC software helps you refine mixes created on the Pacemaker, which can be saved or legally shared on Pacemaker's Web site. It's also a required install for transferring songs from your computer to the Pacemaker.

The Pacemaker's touch pad and button controls respond with a lightning quickness that makes even the iPhone feel slow. Handling multichannel audio along with layers of EQ and DSP effects is enough to make some laptops choke, but the Pacemaker handles the load with ease.

The inclusion of separate 3.5mm headphone and line-output jacks lets DJs hear their own personal cue mix, separate from the mix playing out to the house. Audio quality is right in line with what you'd expect from a piece of pro-audio DJ gear, helped along by the Pacemaker's support for high-resolution MP3 (up to 320Kbps), AAC (unprotected), AIFF, FLAC, WAV, Ogg Vorbis, and SND audio formats. Bass, mid, and treble EQ controls on each deck allow for +6dB boost or -26dB cut in each range without clipping the output or coloring the sound in an unflattering way.

Battery life for the Pacemaker is limited to five hours of active mixing and 18 hours of playback-only operation. Pacemaker charge time is two hours using the included AC adapter, or four hours over the mini USB connection.


Tonium Pacemaker (120 GB)

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 7
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