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[reviews: gear]

MIXMAN DM2 by Digital Blue

Lots of kids these days dream of being the next hot DJ, spinning spell-binding mixes to mesmerized hipsters at local clubs and raves. The Mixman DM2, a piece of hardware that plugs into a PC coupled with software that brings it to life, is perfect for teens and college students looking for their first device that digitally blends tracks from different songs and provides other DJ effects. It's marketed as a novice's first digital mixing studio. With additional software, the DM2 (pronounced "DM squared," short for digital music mixer) can also serve the experienced DJ well, providing a simple means to create novel sounding mixes.

The Mixman Studio, the entry level software included with the unit, loaded with no problem. The layout of the DM2 board is also surprisingly easy to use. I actually turned my 3 year old daughter loose on the DM2 and she did a great job with the cross fader and the joystick that controls effects such as reverb, delays and filters. The rings around the "turntable" act as scratch controls. These work well, but cannot be considered professional quality. Exporting has many options including .wav, but the sharing area on the Mixman site is limited to 20kbps RealAudio streams. Documentation is good and the instructional video is very well done.

The documentation indicates that it will work with Apple computers, but I used the product only on Intel-compatible computers. On three different PCs the performance was identical. Given it's a USB plug-in and requires the use of its own software, the most technical problems will likely be with installation and software removal. Also, outputting remixes involves recording in RealAudio format which can be troublesome in my experience.

What DM2 does, it does well. The ability to physically manipulate the timing and sequencing of audio tracks in a sixteen-track computer playback system is the heart of the Mixman DM2. The DM2 ships with 30 pre-formatted singles that are broken up into individual tracks, such as keyboards, base, guitar and vocals. If you want additional Mixman music you'll need to go to the company's Web site and pay a fee, typically $3.95 a song. The amount of music Mixman has encoded in its special format, including Britney Spears, Moby and Pepe Deluxe, is impressive. Users can import additional songs into DM2 or create samples by plugging a microphone or other sound device into a PC's sound card.

The DM2 is really a glorified track ball. In order to use the unit it has to be connected via a PC's USB, and the software application, which runs all the DM2's functions, has to be running. All the state functions of the DM2 are visually displayed on the computer monitor by the application in real time, a nice touch.

First, you select the song that you want to play and remix. Tracks come in a proprietary format that you can convert into standard wav files, but that requires some work and an additional application available on the Mixman site. If you want to use your MP3s you'll need to convert them to wav first. When the track loads you have ability to listen to any combination of the 16 tracks. To access or "turn on" any of the tracks you press one of eight buttons that are located around each of the two turntables. To be clear, the turntables don't spin or play discs. While the placement of the buttons is cute, it's ultimately a drawback. The DM2's literal reference to an actual turntable and remix board make you long for the real thing. Obviously, if you've never used a real turntable you may not get this feeling.

The original DM2 came out a couple of years ago from Mattel, but the new one has been redesigned and newly released by Digital Blue[]. Digital Blue has also licensed and sells several of the consumer products from Intel, including a handheld toy camera. Mixman, which was spun-off from Beatnik in 2002, is based in San Francisco and sells various versions of remix and sound generation computer software that enable advance features such as auto beat matching, professional audio recording of remixes and custom sound creation.

More experienced musicians will probably want this more advanced software that works with the DM2. Mixman's StudioPro, which sells for $40, adds features such as sound processing and studio editing for creating more professional sounding recordings. StudioXPro, priced at $125 expands the DM2 to a 32-track device with overdub capabilities. It's likely that many experienced musicians may opt solely for the advanced software.

Richard Applebaum, Mixman's CEO, is quick to point out that people use the DM2 as a way to get started with live performances. He also says more sophisticated DJs and musicians should check out the StudioPro and StudioXPro products. I've heard that some DJs are using the DM2 as a music remix creation tool in the same way that film directors use Fisher Price cameras (a.k.a, Pixelvision[]) to bring artistic touches, such as graininess, lots of dropouts and an overall slow motion affect, to their work. I wasn't able to track down DJs that use the DM2 but I certainly don't doubt they're out there. Simple tools in the hands of sophisticated and creative minds can be amazing - David Byrne's use of Powerpoint to create ironic avant-guard [] and award winning art comes to mind.

You can buy the DM2 online at, or at stores such as Circuit City. Toys R Us and Target have sold it in the past, but availability at the outlets where we inquired was spotty. Prices vary, with Amazon advertising the product for $80, and Circuit City charging $30 after a discount.

The bottom line: If you're in the market for a music toy you'll definitely want to consider the Mixman DM2. For the money it's pretty satisfying. The drawback is the fact that in order to use your music collection with the DM2 you will have to convert MP3s or Wav files into the Mixman proprietary format and the alternative to using your own collection (purchasing expensive pre-formatted tracks directly from Mixman) is quite pricey.


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