Back in the early 1990s, there were many pub and club debates about the best DJ and best or most desirable gear around (and thanks to DJ Mag for making that first one official!). Of course, we never, ever got to a consensus; but two names that came up on a frequent basis, were Larry Levan from New York’s Paradise Garage and the UREI 1620 rotary mixer.
Both have become the stuff of legends. Levan is sadly no longer with us, whilst an original UREI could set you back £5,000 plus these days, if in very good condition.
So as the industry will often look back to move forward, there is probably no surprise that rotary mixers have returned to become the hot new thing amongst DJs. And the fact that Rane brought out both the MP2015 and 2014 points to an emerging market that is showing no signs of slowing.
The last few years have been characterised by an increased fascination with hardware. Although some of the big guns like Vestax (remember the PMC46 mk2?) have previously sold rotaries, it’s only the last few years that the resurgence has really snowballed. Rane obviously stand out as the ‘big’ company that have invested in rotary mixers in this second wave (and no doubt some of the other global brands will be watching closely), but the majority of the gear for sale comes from small, independent manufacturers: companies who lovingly craft their sound and features to make the best kit possible.
But what’s the fascination with rotaries? Maybe it fits the style of DJs that want to play their records on something that the greats of the 70s and 80s did. They probably aren’t going to be used by turntablists for scratching and cutting either. The pots (and no crossfader), make the user work to mix and blend smoothly, using the isolators and EQs to remove and add frequencies. There is usually an improved sound quality to on many of the mixers available and this definitely seems to be a draw for many. Mastersounds in fact turned to Union Audio and ex-Allen & Heath engineer, Andy Rigby Jones to help create their range of rotary mixers. There’s probably no such thing as ‘the best rotary mixer’ either, as each will come with its own particular style, which can make scoring against one another near impossible.
So below we have looked at a few of the rotary mixers available today. There are loads of options and configurations from the simple to all the bells and whistles. Some are cheaper than others too, (as with any music gear) so if you want the best; be prepared to pay for it!
Bozak AP-2/AR-4: First up are two offerings from rotary-pioneer, Bozak; who, with Urei are most probably the two names that conjure up rotary history to most DJs. The modern-day version of the classic 70’s rack Bozak is the AR-6, which has a very similar look and feel to the original.
The AP-2 and AR-4 borrow little in style from the original CMA unit, but much of the quality. Starting with the £1,695 AR-4; it’s a is a four-channel desktop mixer with nice wooden cheeks to give it a premium look and feel, plus VU meters, EQ on each channel and a master EQ/isolator set to help with mixing duties. The little brother of the family, the AP-2 has a similar look and feel, but is more compact. It still carries the channel EQs, but there’s no master set. The price is £1,200.
Condesa Lucia/Carmen: Australian electronics company Condesa totally embodies the trend towards rotary mixers. Their Lucia and Carmen models can be customized with all manner of options and they really scream ‘boutique’. Starting with the Lucia, this 2-channel mixer is still packed with all the features you would expect, including a 3-knob EQ/isolator on the master and channel outputs.
The Carmen is the 4-channel variant and has more options available, from the basic mixer with no channel EQs, but with a master set, through to the Carmen V that has the lot – 3 channel master and individual EQs/isolators. Prices range from around $2,000-$4,000, depending on options (and there are quite a few!).
Alpha Recording System ARS Model 1000: ARS from Japan make a number of luscious rotaries, including the draw-dropping £6,000 Model 6700, which has a legion of fans around the world due to its amazing sound qualities. The Model 1000 comes in a little less than that at around £2,400 and although it looks a little basic, is still a top performer. There’s a 3-band master EQ/isolator as wells as a set for each of the 2-channels. There’s also a send and return on each channel. Lovely stuff.
Omnitronic TR202: At a shade under the £400 mark, this mixer is probably the cheapest selection on the market; which makes sense as the German brand are well known for their value products. It’s probably not going to worry the likes of Mastersounds, Bozak or ARS, but as a way to dip your musical toe into the world of rotary mixing, it’s a good starting option. Wooden cheek pieces are also available to make it look a touch cooler.
E&S DJR400: Jerôme Barbé is probably the most important player in the re-birth of the rotary mixer. On being asked to repair a Urei mixer belonging to DJ Deep, Jerôme found himself creating the first design of a new rotary mixer: the DJR 400. The design evolved over time with the help of some hard-hitting DJs such as Joe Claussell and Kerri Chandler to what we have today; a genuinely quality rotary mixer that is produced in relatively small numbers in Paris.
Today’s DJR400 has been designed to be portable but with no compromise and sports large, tactile knobs, effect loops and a master 3-band EQ/isolator. Danny Krivit is reported to be a huge fan and regularly takes it with him to shows and builds it into his sets.
MasterSounds Radius 2/RadiusTWO VALVE: are the entry-level mixers from the UK’s very own Mastersounds. Head honcho Ryan Shaw started the business selling turntable weights, then moved into modified Technics 1200s. The two-channel Radius 2 at £1,150 is the entry-level DJ mixer and launched in 2016, offering a fantastically clean and open sound. It has cool-looking retro VU meters and a master EQ/Isolator, a hi-pass filter, and aux send on each channel.
The TWO VALVE is slightly better specced than the Radius 2 and as the name suggests, introduces a pair of dual-triode valves. It also carries aux send, a set of EQs on each channel as well as a 3-band master EQ/isolator, headphone monitor with split and cue/add mix control etc. It retails at £1,495.
4-channel equivalents of the above are also available and there’s also a couple of add-ons including an FX unit at £495, which adds analogue-modelled reverb and delay effects, plus analogue filter and distortion. There’s also an external power supply which upgrades the sound quality even more.
Rane MP2015: Whilst the vast majority of rotary mixers are coming out of small, independent manufacturing houses, Rane are left to fly-the-flag for the ‘big boys’ with their stunning MP2015 and smaller, 2-channel sister, the MP2014. The MP2015 has an ‘analogue soul and digital heart’ and so differs from most of the other mixers in this list, as the box allows for the input of CDJs, media players and laptops. It definitely looks the part though, with its wooden cheeks and black finish. This definitely covers all the bases though. The MP2015 retails around the £2,200 mark, whilst the 2-channel MP2014, might be tougher to track down, as it’s no longer listed for sale from Rane.
Super Stereo DN44/DN48dvs: And last, but definitely not least, are two similar offerings from Super Stereo, a UK company, based in North London. Visually, the two models are very similar. Gorgeous, retro-feel knobs and walnut cheeks, present 3-band channel and master EQs and isolators, along with return and send and the like. The 4 and the 8 in the model numbers denotes the number of channels the sound card comes equipped with. Both have USB connectivity to allow for the use of your laptop of choice whilst the 48 allows for the use of DVS. A great looking and sounding mixer, that covers a huge amount of connection options. £POA, but we’ve seen this at around £2,900.