New-Generation Wireless DJ Technologies (and Why They Matter)
Cast your mind back just 20 years ago and it was hard to imagine an era when things like wireless mice, wireless earphones and wireless charges would exist. Today, they’re not just the norm – they’re the basic standard we’ve come to expect.
Sooner or later, most cables as we know them will be a thing of the past. This includes the vast majority of DJ cables, which although invaluable in the part they play can be inconvenient, to say the least.
True, we’ve not yet reached a stage where wireless transmission quality or reliability are sufficient to power a DJ rig. Certainly not while playing live, where there’s no substitution for high-end cables and connectors.
But give it enough time and pretty much everything you do (on stage and elsewhere) will be wireless. Hesitant as some DJs are to give wireless technology a shot, it’s already making a big difference in how many top-level performers and recording artists get the job done.
What Stage Are We at With Wireless DJ Technology?
Depending on how you look at it, you could say that we’re still at a fairly early stage in the whole wireless DJ technology transition. Even so, the sophistication of some of the wireless gear on the market right now is simply fantastic.
Essentially, there are three things that need to be perfected (or at least improved significantly) for wireless to take over as the new standard:
- Battery Life
- Reliability and Quality
Latency refers to the delays involved in the signal being produced, transmitted, received, processed and acted upon. In the case of DJ equipment, latency of even a split second can be enough to render a piece of wireless equipment completely redundant.
Understandably, battery life is also a major issue for many DJs. Some DJ equipment naturally eats up a fair amount of power, so manufacturers are working on new-generation battery technology to keep them running for longer.
Reliability and quality go hand in hand – everything from the clarity of the sound produced to the complete elimination of background noise, interference, feedback and so on.
In all instances, we’ve reached a stage where things really are looking pretty great. From DJ mixers to speakers, earphones and more, wireless technology is making its mark on most areas of the pro DJ landscape.
But in terms of the technologies that are powering these advances, there are five key players at work. Some of which you may have heard of, while others may be unfamiliar to you.
- SKAA for Speakers
Set to become the new standard for wireless DJ speakers, SKAA offers exceptionally low latency connections for audio devices with no wires necessary. It’s already being built into a series of new generation speakers by Soundboks, improving on current Bluetooth standards by a considerable margin.
Bluetooth has always been flawed, in that its latency and reliability have been less than perfect. SKAA looks set to remedy both of these issues, with a new speaker technology that not only covers significant distances but is also fairly frugal where power consumption is concerned. All paving the way for extended battery life and the kind of reliability you simply do not get from current wireless speakers.
According to the developers behind SKAA, its sophistication lies in its simplicity. It is also said to be one of the simplest wireless protocols of its kind to set up – far less likely to run into snags than Bluetooth, for example.
- Phase for Turntables
Rather than being baked into turntables, Phase wireless technology addresses the age-old problem of turning traditional turntables into DVS decks. The main unit is about the size of a smartphone, designed to plug into your computer and/or your mixer.
This compact piece of kit then serves as a docking station, charger and receiver for two much smaller transmitters, which are connected to the two turntables. Effectively working as a gyroscope, the transmitter sits on top of the record via a hole that goes straight over the spindle. They send wireless signals to the receiver about speed and rotation, enabling the decks to be used to control your digital decks.
Latency is practically non-existent; battery life is huge and setting up the system is surprisingly simple. A potential revolution in the making for those looking for a genuinely viable way to turn traditional decks into reliable DVS turntables.
- W+ Link for Headphones
Bluetooth does a decent job in replacing headphone cables but is far from ideal for professional DJs. Not to take away from some of the Bluetooth-powered headphones on the market right now, which in many cases are simply fantastic.
The problem lies in the fact that the vast majority of mixers and all-in-one DJ systems currently on the market do not support Bluetooth technology. This means that while you may have the most sophisticated pair of Bluetooth headphones money can buy, connecting them to the rest of your hardware can be an issue.
Enter W+ Link – essentially a new take on Bluetooth, which involves the use of a small transmitter that plugs into your setup. You charge the transmitter and your W+ Link headphones, you connect the two and you’re good to go.
At which point, you enjoy a significantly lower-latency experience than you would with Bluetooth, along with fantastic sound quality and unbeatable reliability. It’s basically everything you know about Bluetooth but better, courtesy of a purpose-built system with a corresponding transmitter.
- Streaming Services for Music Files
Though not technically a ‘wireless technology’ in the conventional sense, advances in the audio streaming arena also warrant a mention. Increasingly, DJs are setting their sights on devices that allow them to directly stream their audio tracks from virtual sources, without having to have local copies on hand.
For example, Denon DJ and Numark’s standalone DJ systems all have Ethernet and Wi-Fi built-in, for direct streaming from TIDAL, Beatport LINK, Beatsource LINK and Soundcloud Go+ into DJ gear, while Pioneer’s high-end CDJ-3000s let DJs connect to their Dropbox accounts.
All you really need is the mobile hotspot on your smartphone to access your full audio library, either as your main source or as a convenient backup.
Of course, some (if not most) are still hesitant to use systems that are 100% reliant on a decent Internet connection. If your Wi-Fi signal drops for any reason, the whole system becomes useless. Though we will (eventually) reach a point where this simply doesn’t happen anymore.
- The Next Beat for Midi
Last up, The Next Beat – complete with high profile endorsement from Tiësto – is a new entry-level DJ controller which packs more than meets the eye. Affordable and unassuming in its appearance, it’s been engineered to work with Algoriddim’s djay Pro AI DJ software running on an iPad, without the need for a cable connecting the two.
The Next Beat connects with the iPad by way of Bluetooth, transmitting the movements you make on the controller’s jog wheels, faders and knobs. All with absolutely no noticeable latency to worry about, and the reliability of a traditional audio cable between the two.
True, this does technically mean that The Next Beat is far from a 100% true wireless device. Nevertheless, it is still a super cheap, easy and convenient piece of kit, which demonstrates the kind of innovation that’s going into the latest DJ kits from the world’s most forward-thinking manufacturers.