The ProdigyFX from B-52: a seamless blend of players and mixer
Technology keeps pushing forward in multiple directions, sometimes all at once, it seems. B-52 Professional, known primarily for a wide range of speakers, including their Matrix series of powered speakers, have released an unexpected surprise in the form of an integrated dual CD deck and mixer workstation, the Prodigy FX. While it is an integrated “plug and play” workstation, do not compare it to other basic CD-mixer combo units. While the Prodigy FX is meant to configure easily, it is also meant to offer performance far beyond basic playback. This is for DJs who want to manipulate and really work “hands on” with their music. If that’s you, read on…
Meet the Prodigy
The Prodigy FX is hefty, and looks built to last. At first inspection, it’s clear that lots of thought was put into creating this piece. The unit can be used on a tabletop or from within the custom flight case that is included, so you’ll have zero accessories to buy. While it’s big in size, it’s not so big or heavy that you’ll need several friends to help you schlep it around. The entire unit is fan cooled and the case designed to support the airflow of the automatic and variable speed cooling fans. Heat kills electronics faster than any other single thing. The harder you work the Prodigy FX, the harder the fans work to keep the unit cool and fully functional. The mixer section uses VCA components, which are known for their durability and accuracy. Indeed, all the controls have a high-quality “feel.”
The unit configures easily. I had it out of its double boxes and “live” into powered speakers in less than ten minutes. As a quick test, I turned the unit off and on with the power to the speakers still live and loud, and there was no pop at all, at any time. Nice. Basic operation is totally intuitive with the well laid-out control panel. CD decks and their controls are located to the left and right symmetrically, with the mixer in the middle, so anyone who has DJed previously should be able to work with the Prodigy FX right away.
The CD decks are slot-loading from the front, so there are no trays or door mechanisms to break. There’s even a “forced” reset, which will eject the disc and reset one side of the unit, in the unlikely event a CD jams inside of it during a performance. For longer laser life, the decks go to sleep if left idle for too long (but you can disable or change the parameters of this protection). The decks can play audio CDs, as well as MP3 CDs natively; you don’t have to upgrade it to make it MP3 capable and it is as feature-rich with an MP3 CD as it is with a standard audio disc. Oversampling and shock memory are included, of course.
Above the slots is the jog wheel, which is a 5″ replica of a standard 12″ turntable “wheel of steel.” Behind the wheel are the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) controls that unleash a host of effect options, allowing tons of creativity in live performance; I found these to have a level of quality and accuracy I’ve never seen before in an “all-in-one” unit. They’re laid out logically; you’ll only have to read the manual for the nuances of operation-the basic operations are totally intuitive. The effects can be stacked on top of each other, up to four (one per “row”), and can be beat-synchronized!
Three programmable hot starts are on each player, as well. Behind it all is the large, well-designed display, which reads well in low light or bright sunlight, from a wide viewing angle, with adjustable brightness (I found I could generally read the Prodigy FX display better than the screen on the notebook computer that I’m using to write this, especially in direct sunlight). The entire deck control area looks very modern (like an iPod® or maybe a Zune® lCD display), which shows CD text on standard CDs, or tag information on MP3 discs, so you know what you’ve got loaded in your player at all times. Track number (or folder and track number, on MP3 discs encoded that way), time (selectable to elapsed or remaining), pitch (including pitch lock), and BPM (automatically calculated, or manual “tap”-your choice), are all shown here, too. BPM calculates and recalculates in “auto” mode, and if you alter the pitch (or tempo) in either direction, the BPM adjusts accordingly, so the current BPM is always displayed.
Finally, an oval with a slice missing, representing a “needle drop” position, graces the center, reacting to movement of the jog wheel, in order to help you quickly find (without headphones, even), the start point from where you might “juggle” a beat or sound, in the same way a vinyl turntablist might put correction tape on a record, to find his “marks.” In regular mode, the top and sides of the wheel simply slow down or speed up playback with your touch. In either of the two scratch modes, the top of the wheel scratches, while the sides still speed up or slow down the audio. The two scratch modes are: “blue” LED indicating standard, where the “needle” sticks to wherever you manually direct it to be, while the “red” LED mode indicates that when you touch the wheel, you go back to the last cue point, and scratch from there. I believe this feature was first seen on the Pioneer CDJ 800, and makes complex and fast “juggling” simple to execute. Getting really good at it? That’s up to you.
To the right of this all is the pitch adjustment slider, which can be set to 4, 8, 16, or 100%. Additionally, there a button to activate and deactivate the pitch, pitch bend buttons, and a master tempo button. The audio is very good, even when pitch or tempo is altered, within reason.
Loops can be set on the fly with ease, played and later relooped at will, and edited to absolute perfection. Start and end points can be saved to the internal memory. If you save cue or loop points, the next time you load the same CD, the Prodigy FX will remember them. You can store up to 1,500 of them per CD player.
The mixer section has four channels, and up to three mics inputs, the primary two featuring adjustable talkover as well as DSP reverb, so you can perform effects on your vocals while you do strange and wonderful things to your music mix. The four mixer channels each have 3-band equalization and kill switches in each band, as well as a master trim controls, allowing the DJ to compensate for extra loud or extra soft sources. If the onboard DSP effects on the decks simply aren’t enough for you, each channel has an effects loop, so you can use an outboard effect units, too. It’s as simple as the push of a button. The first two channels carry signals for the built-in CD decks, but can also be selected for other line-in audio sources. The decks themselves have line out jacks as well. If you combine these ins and outs, the DJ is enabled to loop timecode CD audio into (for example) a Serato box, and back through the mixer section of the Prodigy FX, allowing this workstation to control (for example) Rane’s Serato Scratch Live, M-Audio’s Torq, or Virtual DJ software. (One word of caution here: do not use the DSP effects on the CD decks when using timecode discs. The effects will only make the programs “hear” distorted timecode, which could cause all kinds of odd behavior in the programs.)
Both CD decks also offer direct digital outputs, so they can be used for studio or other applications requiring a direct digital output. Channels 3 and 4 are offer selectable line or turntable inputs, and channel 3 also has a dedicated stereo mini jack input, marked “MP3.” If you wanted to use an iPod for dinner music, and later, cut things up on the decks, it’s pretty easy to do, and the iPod can sit out of sight, right in the back of the case.
The crossfader is switchable and selectable (and user-replaceable-another pro feature not often seen on your typical “combo” unit), and the fader curve is adjustable. If you scratch better with one hand versus another, there’s a hamster switch to “flip” sides. In addition to the main balanced XLR output, there’s a separate booth output and volume control, as well as two other sets of RCA outs. The headphone cueing section can be “split” left and right, and/or have the main output mixed into the headphone output.
Wow. I can’t think of a single feature this mixer lacks… all the way down to the “mono” switch. As small of a thing as having a “mono” switch is, I’ve seen even high end mixers that lack this basic ability. In the unlikely event you lose an entire mixer channel, you can use “mono” and the remaining “good” side of the board to finish your event; or if you’re doing a job that’s really small with only one powered speaker, hit the “mono” switch, and you’re good to go.
Prodigy in Action
“In the lab” (ok, it’s my garage) the Prodigy FX got high marks for excellent design, ease of layout, and overall quality. What about “in the field”?
I was called to assist with a Sweet Sixteen party a friend of mine had booked. I decided this was the perfect time to “road test” the Prodigy FX. I set the flight case on an x-stand, tapped into my friend’s board, and was ready to go. With three hours of dancing to prepare for, I assembled and burned two identical MP3 CDs and played off those (6 hours of material on each). With the exception of any requests that I didn’t have the foresight to burn, which I played from Virtual DJ directly (no timecode, this time) my entire night was played from two identical CDs, one in each deck. I ran loops, echos, flanges, pans (left and right to the beat), and mixed, scratched and looped throughout the night. The audience loved it! And it was a blast for me too!
For one final set of tests (and a second and third opinion), I invited over a couple of DJs I know locally who are big on beat-mixing, and for being particular about their gear. One was a fan of the American Audio Pro Scratch 2 CD decks, until he switched to the Numark CDX, which is his current favorite. Our other DJ friend prefers the Technics SLDZ1200 CD decks. I’ve watched several times as the two of them have “debated” each other over which one of them had a better set of players, so I knew this would be quite an animated discussion and mix session. The hardest thing to do here was separate their observations regarding “preferences” versus “functionality.” They both found (as I did) the Prodigy FX to be feature-rich, but (for example) they had difficulty gaining accurate control of the “scratch” features, mainly because of the size of the wheel, and the entire console being “too cramped” compared to what they’re used to; as an all-in-one it can’t be separated to suit their spacing preferences. They liked it, but (of course) not quite as much as what they’re already using.
In terms of engineering and layout, the Prodigy FX is fantastic. It’s both “retro” (with the elements of turntablism) and futuristic, built with the look, functionality, native feature set, ability to interface with outboard effects and timecode DJ programs, and even basic playback of MP3 players, that DJs increasingly need. It is a combination unit of the highest order, featuring high quality and ease of use. The price, while not small, is a great value, compared to what you’d pay in money and time, buying and assembling all the individual items of this caliber, as well as the flight case to carry them in. The Prodigy FX is smart…and did I mention it’s also fun?
Prodigy FX Specs
CD/MP3 Player Features
• Plays all formats of CD, CDRW and MP3 files with full functionality
• Dual mode high resolution touch sensitive jog wheel
• Seamless loop with on-the-fly access to loop editing
• Independent buffer memory anti-shock for each player
• Pitch control & master tempo with up to +/- 100% shift range
• Oversized blue LCD display with wide viewing angle and brightness control
• True instant start for both CD and MP3 operations
• Easy MP3 file search by folder, file name, title or artist
• Onboard DSP effects with multi-mode scratching, auto and manual filter and phase shifting as well as flanger, echo, trans, pan, & reverse
• User-friendly beat synchronization for DSP effects
• Auto BPM or manual TAP tempo
• Three hot cue points
• Three independent memory banks can remember up to 1500 cue points and/or samples
• Integrated fader start
• Slot loading transports with blue LED illuminator
• IPR – Independent Player Reset for each CD/MP3 player provides fail-safe disk jamming protection
• Built-in memory to save settings (memory is upgradeable)
VCA Mixer Features
• 4-channel VCA mixer with flexible input configurations
• Dedicated DSP reverb and talk-over on MIC channels
• Dual rail premium quality AccutrackTM crossfader
• Effects loop with independent assign button on each channel
• Hamster switch
• Rotary crossfader curve control
• 3-band EQ on each channel with – oo to +12dB range
• Kill switches for low, mid and high on each channel
• Dual mode SPLIT/BLEND headphone monitoring
• 10 segment tri-colored LED metering on inputs and outputs
• Master MONO switch
• CD direct outputs and mixer inputs for use with Serato Scratch LIVE, M-Audio Torq and all other time coded systems
• 4 Line, 2 Phono, 1 MP3 and 3 XLR / 1/4″ MIC inputs
• Balanced master XLR outputs plus booth, master, record & master digital RCA outputs
• Independent digital SPDIF outputs for each player
• Digital master SPDIF output
• Fan cooling for improved thermal performance
• Voltage selectable power supply for worldwide use
Professional ATA Flight Case Included
Street Price: $1,199.99
Filed Under: Issues from 2007, Sound
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