To Alan Smithson old-school spinning was always part showmanship and part dropping beats. But Smithson, Toronto area-based DJ turned tech entrepreneur, admits that working with vinyl had its drawbacks.
“Lugging two turntables and a pile of records can be quite a strain on the back and vinyl does get scratched up pretty bad sometimes,” says Smithson. On the other hand, most current laptop-based systems seem to suck the life out of the more visual part of spinning.
The solution: replace staid computer trackpads with gigantic, colourful, touchscreen panels that emulate DJ rigs of the 1990s, power it with professional-grade DJ software and make everything visible to the crowd as an added visual spectacle.
SmithsonMartin Inc., the small company set up by Smithson and his partner, Argentinean DJ and technology developer Pablo Martin, have sold hundreds of its flagship product – the Emulator DVS (digital vinyl system) – around the world since releasing the system in March of last year.
Smithson claims the Emulator DVS is “the world’s first and only transparent multi-touch system for DJ use.” The system basically consists of a giant (available in 32”, 42” and other custom sizes), transparent screen attached to a wheeled rack. The screen has a multi-touch interface similar to the one used on tablets like the iPad.
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The current version of Emulator DVS uses Traktor Pro, a popular DJ software (future releases will include compatibility with other software such as Virtual DJ, Ableton and Serato). The software is be loaded to a laptop hooked up to the transparent touch screen. The software runs on Windows 7, but Mac OS compatibility will soon be available. The unit Smithson showed ITBusiness.ca was running on Microsoft`s touch-oriented Windows 8 developer’s preview .
The rig’s more than 130 buttons, knobs and faders, sliders and jog wheels enables DJs to control music much like they would on old school turntable based systems but with greater precision that they could achieve from laptop-based systems according to Smithson. “Other touchscreen interfaces actually emulate mouse clicks and are not suited fro DJing purposes. Our system uses multi-touch functions that are more seamless and ideal for actions such as beat marching, beat juggling and scratching.”
The system’s six touch sensors makes for a more responsive screen and prevents occurrences of so-called “ghost touches” when touchscreens appear to launch apps on their own.
A short throw projector mounted on the bottom of the rolling rack projects a colourful image of the knobs, sliders and turntables onto the transparent touchscreen making for an attention grabbing lightshow idea for club venues and huge crowds. The touch interface also allows the DJ to project other images onto the screen or write out a message to the crowd.
The Emulator DVS systems start at around $3,800. SmithsonMartin also offers a larger 46” screen version of the system called The Monster which weighs around 130 kilograms.
Recently, the company also released a laptop-sized version called the Kontrol Surface 1974, which retails for $2,499. The device looks like a touchscreen mixing console.
Buyers can choose to purchase SmithsonMartin’s software alone for $499 (lifetime licence) or $199 (annual subscription).