Editors' note: A newer, less expensive, second-generation model of the Tonium Pacemaker MP3 player made its debut in May of 2009.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.
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.