Whether you're a vinyl junkie or a tech whizz-kid, there's no denying that it's becoming more and more common to see DJs these days rocking an MP3 compatible digital deck rather than an analogue one. Leading the digital charge is French-based manufacturers Hercules. They have become for digital turntables what Technics are to old-school vinyl set ups, with their 2002 HDJC model setting the standard for all consoles to follow. Two hardware generations on and we now have the MK4, and again it's a beauty.
The MK4 is a highly portable bit of kit. At 7.36″ x 10.4″ x 2.5″ and weighing just 1.55kgs, it's about as compact as a console like this can get before becoming so small and fiddly to make it all but unusable. Shipping with a clear-plastic protective casing and shoulder strap, it's obviously been built with the travelling mix-master in mind, and though made almost entirely from plastic, looks sturdy enough to take an in-transit hammering.
Despite its digital nature, the MK4's hardware controls will feel instantly familiar to traditionalists. There are 36 blue LED backlit buttons in all, perfect for use in dark clubs (or even darker bedrooms), as well as 3 sliders, 8 knobs and the all important pair of jog wheels for scratching and adjusting track position/playback speed. Everything feels just about right to the touch too; Cue and Play/Pause buttons give a satisfying click when pressed and the sliders have just the right amount of resistance. With a unit this small however, some concessions have had to be made; it can all feel a little bit too cramped at times, and I'd have happily sacrificed a little portability for an extra centimetre or so in the jog wheels' diameters.
Plenty of input/output connection options are available on the MK4 too. First, and probably most importantly, is the USB socket for linking up to your desktop PC or laptop and nabbing MP3s with the bundled software (more on that in a little bit). In the centre of the front edge you'll find two 6.5 jack sockets for mics and headphones, complete with dedicated volume and preview mix knobs. On the back you can connect to an external stereo speaker output (channels 1-2: 2 RCA), as well as parallel output (channels 1-2: 3.5 mm mini-jack) for multimedia speakers. Two stereo inputs (channels 1-2/3-4: 2 x 2 RCA) are also available for hooking up CD or MP3 players.
As this is a digital deck after all, housed within the plastic casing is an integrated soundcard. The MK4 uses an integrated Wolfson 8770 digital-to-analogue converter (DAC) for audio output, and a Wolfson 8775 digitizer for input. They both perform admirably, offering quality that seems to meet the reported 06dB SNR, 'A' weighted at 48kHz.
Though we tested the unit with a Windows PC, the MK4 has drivers and software for Macs too. The driver panel itself is nicely presented, and offers important controls to manage latency, the sensitivity of the hardware dials and jog wheels and number of MIDI channels amongst other things. Hercules have left no-stone unturned, and I experienced no issues with my computer recognising the gear, despite running the dreaded Vista OS.
The MK4 DJ Console also ships with a "Lite" edition of the Virtual DJ software, again compatible with both Mac and PC, which is where the real mixing-magic happens. You can use it to sync up your audio files, add all manner of weird effects and set automatic loops from 1, 2, 4 or 8 beats. The software, which can also be controlled with a mouse and keyboard, is very intuitive, and made all the more tactile and fun with the addition of the MK4. I've mucked around with and enjoyed the stand-alone Virtual DJ software in the past, but having a hardware console controller paired up with it really brings it into its own. Confident DJs may want to upgrade to a more fully-featured edition than the one that ships with the MK4, but it's more than enough for amateurs to get their teeth stuck into. You'll also want to make sure you've got a fairly zippy computer running the show, as such intensive audio processing can be a real drain on system resources.
Apart from some inevitable hardware real-estate issues when it comes to the small spacings between the knobs and the buttons, it's quite hard to find fault with the MK4 DJ console. If digital DJ-ing is the inevitable future we've to look forward to down in Clubland, at least we can rest safe in the knowledge that Hercules will be providing great gear that wont hinder the hands on decks.
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