Tonium Pacemaker (60GB) review: Tonium Pacemaker (60GB)

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The Good The second-generation of the DJ-friendly Pacemaker MP3 player offers a more affordable price than the original model, and new features, such as automatic tempo matching, expanded effects, audio time-stretching, and a master EQ.

The Bad The slashed price of the Pacemaker comes at the cost of a smaller hard drive, and the complaints we had about the previous model's complicated interface design haven't changed.

The Bottom Line The Pacemaker is a fun tool for DJs on the go. It's not our first choice for playing a DJ gig, but it gets the job done, and the price is a fair reflection of its features and portable design.

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7.3 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 8
  • Performance 7

When we reviewed the original Pacemaker in June of 2008, it topped our list of digital DJ toys, but the accompanying $800 price tag was hard to swallow. Revamped for 2009, the second-generation of the Pacemaker MP3 player includes all the features of the original (and then some), with a more palatable price tag of $499.

Aside from its price, the key differences of the second-generation Pacemaker compared with the original model are lower capacity (60GB instead of 120GB), automatic tempo-matching, additional audio effects, and a time-stretching capability that lets you speed up or slow down songs without altering the original pitch.

The Pacemaker's design is unchanged from the original model, but still makes our heart race (pun intended) with its minimal, matte black aesthetic. Even after a year of being on the market, the portable audio player's unique multigesture track pad control and LED lit touch strip crossfader can't be found in rival products. In fact, there really aren't any rival products. If you're looking for a professional DJ rig that fits in your pocket--the Tonium Pacemaker is the only game in town.

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 60GB 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, and controls for gain, pitch, cue point, track scan, and loop points. The audio effects included on the original Pacemaker are still here (filter, echo, reverb, and roll), but the second-generation model throws in additional effects, such as Crush (distortion), delay, Trans (a Trance-style gating effect), and Wah (similar to filter, but with more resonance). Users can also take advantage of a new Key-shift effect, for adjusting a song's pitch independent from tempo, and a vinyl effect that allows you to skim through a song and cue it, in a way that emulates using an analog turntable.

Another advantage of the second-generation Pacemaker model is that once you've assigned tracks to each of the two virtual decks, you can now match their tempos automatically by holding down the function switch and pressing the play button. Like most automatic systems, the Pacemaker's capability to accurately guess a song's tempo isn't foolproof, but it certainly helps to prevent less gifted DJs from steering their set into the ditch. Tempos can also be matched manually, aided by a new Beat Grid view that helps you keep each song's beat in phase. Each deck also displays the beats per minute 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.

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