In the four years since the release of the first iPad there has been a steady stream of music-making and DJing apps that have got increasingly better as the hardware has improved. In more recent times the iPad has seen serious DJ apps released to suit all tastes, styles and budgets.
So why is it that the iPad has, as yet, failed to gain a proper foothold in DJ booths when, given its size and weight, it could make the perfect companion for life on the road? While there are a few factors at play here — not least of which is the fact that DJs can be notoriously stubborn and nostalgic, with some still insisting on transporting large heavy plastic discs across the planet — possibly the largest hurdle the iPad faces before it is taken seriously is the lack of truly professional controllers.
When it comes to iPad DJ controllers what the niche manufacturers have pitched for is far removed from the professional DJ circuit: iPad DJ controllers are seen at house parties, not in the DJ booth of clubs like Fabric. Just like in the opening hours of a club night where everyone is waiting to see who will be the first person on the dancefloor, manufacturers have been waiting to see who will move first. Reloop have seen this gap in the market and are one of the first to take on the challenge of producing a professional DJ controller for the iPad.
The Beatpad is a MIDI controller which means that it is compatible with a whole range of DJ software on both PC and Mac platforms. But its primary role is as an iPad DJ controller, which is made perfectly clear by the iPad dock at the top of the control surface.
Adding further to the professional set of features is an onboard audio interface that will also work with iOS apps, as well as PC or Mac programs. Out of the box Beatpad is optimised for controlling Algoriddim's newly-improved DJAY 2 software and has been designed to take full advantage of the tasty new features on offer in this latest version. While on the subject of DJAY 2 it is worth noting that Algoriddim have done a top-notch job with their latest release, which is now nothing short of excellent and is an app that iPad owning DJs ignore at their own peril — especially given the rather reasonable purchase price of under seven pounds.
The Beatpad comes with the LE version of Algoriddim DJ, which is something of a disappointment, so upgrading to the full version is a highly worthwhile and not particularly costly exercise.
Once the Beatpad has been gently eased from its box it is immediately apparent that this is a serious piece of equipment, complete with the build quality that such a device deserves. The control surface has a metal faceplate and chassis, although the sides are made of plastic, presumably to keep the weight down.
All of the controls are nicely fitted to the control surface, with nuts securing the knobs which also have nice tight caps. The back of the Beatpad reveals both balanced XLR and phono outputs, an auxiliary input that is switchable between phono and line levels, and an iPad cable connector, USB connector and power supply socket to attach the rather large external power supply required to power the Beatpad.
The build quality of the Beatpad is excellent and has all the hallmarks of a piece of equipment that will stand the test of time and keep on delivering the goods for many years to come. While the size of the Beatpad isn't small, it manages to strike a good balance between features and size, with a decent amount of nicely-spaced controls housed in a small device that also somehow manages to keep its weight down to a manageable figure.
At the heart of the control surface of the Beatpad is a two-channel mixer complete with long throw faders, a nicely-sized cross-fader with a lovely smooth action, a three-band EQ on each channel and a gain control. Master volume levels, headphone levels and cue mix controls are located in-between the channel EQ knobs, and track browsing and loading is taken care of via a large encoder knob and two backlit buttons which are located above the fader section of the mixer.
The mixer section is on the whole well-appointed for a two-channel mixer, despite the lack of level meters on the channels which, to be fair, are arguably redundant thanks to the monitoring provided within DJAY 2 on the iPad.
The deck sections are where the Beatpad really shines both figuratively and literally thanks to the nicely-sized 15cm diameter jog-wheels that are surrounded by an LED ring to indicate track position and very bright halo rings that indicate FX engagement and other functions. The jog-wheels are superb to use with very low latency and a nice action that makes them perfect for everything from long smooth mixes to battle-style cutting and scratching.
It is refreshing to see that Reloop have included 100mm long throw pitch-faders into each deck section, despite the Beatpad being a compact controller, and their performance is flawless, allowing long smooth mixes to be pulled off with ease.
The Beatpad's curiously spelled Performance Mode Sektion is bound to get the attention of Native Instruments as well as DJs looking to spice up their mixes, with features such as cue points, bounce loop mode, sampler and instant FX modes on offer along with four pad-style buttons and four knobs for complete control. Transport controls for each deck are found at the bottom, with four nicely-sized backlit buttons including a now-ubiquitous sync button.
There is an awful lot going for the Beatpad, it has a fantastic set of features, a good build quality and seamless integration with Algoriddim DJAY 2. For first-time DJs or those with a fear of technology the set-up process is a breeze and the Beatpad is very user-friendly. Little touches within DJAY 2 such as in-app purchasing of tracks via iTunes make using this controller fun and easy. While the Beatpad has a lot to offer, it is not the only contender for ultimate iPad DJ controller because Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 and S2 are both compatible with iOS and their Traktor DJ app.
When buying any new software or equipment it makes sense to do some research to ensure good value for money and the right fit for your needs. Be sure to check out the available options rather than buying the first shiny thing to come along.
As far as iPad DJ controllers go the Beatpad is a worthy choice for professional level DJing and is surely just the first of many similar controllers which will be unleashed upon the DJing community in the coming months and years. It is not hard to see iPads and other mobile devices replacing laptops in DJ booths in the not-too-distant future. But their ability to seriously challenge the likes of Pioneer's CDJs remains to be seen.
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