I’m a vinyl guy. I’ve been a vinyl guy ever since I started DJing on the radio and at local parties when I was 19.
I’m not anti-digital, it’s just that vinyl was the only choice in the mid-1990s when MP3s weren’t yet commonplace and those CD-DJ decks were still prohibitively expensive. Vinyl was king, and the king’s word was law.
Of course, laptops finally conquered the DJ booth. With them came dozens of software apps and USB devices made for digital mixing. I dipped my toe in. I played around with Traktor through a Kontrol interface. I tried Scratch Pro 2. I used a Vestax Typhoon at one of my gigs when the other DJ left it connected for me to try out. It all leaves me cold. The addition of hefty technology never made DJing more fun for me, just more complicated.
So when the Gemini FirstMix showed up on my desk, I felt like it was some sort of personal challenge, a hurdle I needed to clear. Call it a growth exercise. My terabyte drive runneth over with MP3s, so why not?
Besides, this thing makes it easy. Being an entry-level, $100 device, the Gemini is dead simple — there are two plastic platters that spin like records for cueing your tracks, and a mixer in the middle with the absolute minimum of knobs and controls. Gemini has been making solid DJ equipment for eons (and has some higher-end offerings) so it’s designed to closely resemble the real deal.
The FirstMix comes with MixVibes Cross LE — the “LE” always signals you’re getting something less than the big business, which is to be expected at this price point.
I loaded up the software with a bunch of different tracks and had at it. You do all of your selecting on the FirstMix with the big “Browse” knob in the middle, and you assign tracks to deck A or B (left or right) by pressing one of the buttons right under the big knob. Each bank has a gain control, a two-band EQ and a knob for dialing in effects like phasing and echo. The only problem I had with the hardware is that the jog wheels spin too easily — since all the controls are so close together, it’s too easy to knock one of them with a pinky-knuckle and cause your song to skip forward or back a couple of seconds.
No, my problem wasn’t with the hardware, it was with the software. MixVibes Cross LE was fine while I was in “selector” mode and just fading between tracks as each one ran out. But as soon as I started trying to match beats, sync tracks and do longer fades, the app had trouble guessing the BPM and finding the “one.” I was feeding it funk, soul and R&B with some clean four-on-the-floor stomping, but it didn’t know what to do with any of it. Glitchy techno? Afro-beat? Forget it. Reggae and Dub? Oh, honey. The only tunes it could analyze accurately were disco and house tracks. Sorry, but that makes for a pretty boring set. I had to resort to using my instincts, and I fumbled quite a bit trying to beatmatch with the 5-inch plastic jog wheels.
Luckily, the FirstMix works with several popular DJing apps. I hooked it up to Traktor and things suddenly got easier.
So the hardware is legit. Be aware that it’s cheap, lightweight plastic (about one and a half pounds), but that’s fine because it doesn’t require coddling. I spilled half a Tecate on it and just wiped it clean with no issues. Also, it’s only $100 in a game where the pro gear can run as high as $1,000. But after you spend that $100, you’ll have to pony up another stack of bills on some better software.
Photo by Jim Merithew/
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