Hands-On Review:Smart lighting for DJs in the fast lane
When you're the groove-maestro, you've got plenty on your mind: syncing in the next mix; deciding on, retrieving, and setting up the next record, CD, or MP3; and trying to vibe in on the audience while maybe adding a little scratching flash. Manually controlling a complex lighting setup is a whole other job. For the advanced lone jockey of dope discs and simultaneous purveyor of visual wonders, DMX-512 is a stone necessity. In this review I'm going to lay down the basics of DMX-512 and review some of American DJ's coolest DMX-controlled effects.
DMX is a universal language for controlling lighting setups that's easy to learn. Once you get the hang of it, it demands little setup time and is totally reliable, leaving you free to focus on the music. DMX lets you program in instructions before a show that will control the sequences, fade patterns, and color changes of lights, plus special effects options that vary according to the units you're working with. DMX can control a single fixture or a large group of fixtures daisy chained (with a single XLR cable run in one, then out to the next, and so on), avoiding cable spaghetti at the controller. It can even control the timing and output of your fog machine.
Easier than your VCR
To program in DMX using American DJ controllers, there are no esoteric commands or sequences to remember. Buttons and sliders on the controller take over realtime functions of the effect you're programming. So you can see exactly what you're programming in before you commit to it. You just tell the controller to remember what you're going to do and put the unit through its paces. Of course, the more complex your arrangements and the more pieces you have chained, the more gray matter will be required.
Stage Setter 8
I've been using this controller for over a year. Among its coolest features are the four built-in programs. You can control up to 16 individual channels in a daisy chain and create a customized light show in no time. There are also eight user-programmable programs of 99 steps each—plenty to create varied shows with differing arrangements of your lights. It's compatible with the American DJ fog machines, like my crowd-drowning Stallion. The Stage Setter 8 has a MIDI out and can be configured in three operating modes: eight channels, two scenes of eight channels, or 16 channels. Each scene is a separate movement or change in color/gobo or intensity of the lights. You can run up to 99 scenes in each program.
This controller is designed for intelligent lights that each use a number of DMX channels. It gives you the ability to control up to 12 intelligent effects with 16 DMX channels per fixture. I prefer the DMX Operator over the other two similar units I've used because of its intuitive interface and great flexibility. You can gang less complex lights on one DMX scanner button for more lights all together, and you can record up to six programmable chases with fade time and speeds. Eight control faders (dual page, giving a total of 16) plus lots of assigned buttons and speed and fade time faders streamline the programming process. It has a built-in mic for sound-activating your entire setup and can be controlled via MIDI.
This is the perfect example of how DMX can be used to make effects that are less expensive, more compact, and actually more flexible than banks of traditional lights. Ten gobos plus a spot are combined with seven colors, two split colors, and white. The result is quadrupled by a unique four-sided rotating mirror. It's like four polychromatic dancing gobo lights in one unit. A focusing lens adds great variation in sharpness and the unit is sound active via DMX. Just a few Quadra Beams can fill a room.
The more I work with American DJ products, the more devoted I get. Their effects are reliable, innovative, and dramatic; and for what you get, their prices are great. Here in the past two years, they've taken DMX to a whole new level without leaving the working DJ behind.
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