Beginning on a budget
Hercules has long been known for its beginner-friendly, cheap controllers with funky, often outlandish designs. However, as Pioneer DJ has proven, just because a product aims at beginners, doesn’t mean it can’t look professional too. In fact, the beginner market is probably the worst for buying with their hearts and not their heads. Often choosing a brand name and product image over performance features and build quality. Enter the Control Inpulse range of controllers, a fresh new look for Hercules and their budget-friendly range of DJ controllers.
Today we are looking at the Control Inpulse 200, an extremely affordable controller that comes with built-in beat matching guides to help beginners find their feet.
The Inpulse 200 is a two-channel controller comprising of a full plastic build. The controller is on the smaller size, being a backpack friendly 32.5cm wide and 19.6cm tall. Due to its small size and plastic build, the Inpulse 200 is extremely light, which makes it very portable. The all-black design with red and white highlights on the knobs, faders and jog wheels, the Inpulse looks very professional. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for mistaking the unit for one made by Pioneer DJ which is high praise indeed.
The braided USB cable is a very nice touch, especially given the controller’s low price point. However, the cable is attached permanently to the controller. This means the cable isn’t user-replaceable which is a shame, should the cable break the controller is essentially dead. It also means iPad Pro and recent MacBook users will need to use a dongle rather than buying the dedicated cable to attach the controller. Not a deal-breaker but a slight flaw on what otherwise is a well-built product for the price.
The Inpulse 200 features a symmetrical design. The jog wheels are reasonably large given the small footprint of the controller, measuring 9.5cm across. The 8cm touch-sensitive tops allow DJ’s to scratch, with a dedicated vinyl button to turn this option off found to the left. At the bottom of the jog wheels, are two LED arrows labelled beat align, which illuminate in the direction that the DJ needs to nudge the song into time.
Below the vinyl button, we have loop controls. With a simple IN and OUT buttons, these can manually set a loop or you can hold the IN button to set a 4 bar loop. Inside the DJUICED software, the loop buttons automatically react precisely on the beat, even with Quantize turned off. This is due to a setting called SNAP which can adjust between 1, 1/2, 1/4 beats or completely turned off.
The four performance pads are made from firm plastic with a solid click when pressed. They control four modes with Hot Cue, Roll being on top and FX and Sampler being on the secondary layer. Unlike most rival controllers, you don’t hold shift to access the secondary pad mode, instead, you just press and hold the mode you want to access.
The shift, sync, cue, and play buttons are to the left of the pads and made from the same plastic. The play and cue buttons are fine, but we did see ourselves hitting the sync at times instead of the cue. This happened quite often and is due to the buttons being so tight together and the same size. For a button that only needs to be pressed once per mix, we would have liked to have seen the sync button made smaller.
To the right of the performance pads, we find the rather small tempo faders. These faders don’t have a recessed click at the zero position. Instead, relying on a tiny green LED to let you know when it’s central. Either side of this green LED are two small red arrows which illuminate with the beat align tool. This tells the DJ when a tracks BPM is playing faster or slower than the master deck. The tempo faders are a bit too small for our liking, especially when the controller is promoting the idea of manual beatmatching.
The Inpulse 200 is a small controller so Hercules has made sacrifices to fit everything into such a small footprint. The main sacrifice comes in the lack of full three-band EQ, opting to provide a high/low pass filter instead of a mid-EQ control. This isn’t a deal-breaker, as the bass and high EQ control is plenty for a beginner learning their craft. Also, the filter knobs on controllers are now somewhat mandatory, even with the beginners.
A dedicated trim control finishes off the mixer controls. It’s worth noting these all work as EQ with no option for isolation. That means even when turned down, you will still get some sound bleed through. Only the faders are capable of totally killing the sound. The faders are short affairs but feel nice under the finger. You can disable the crossfader in the software or change between mix and scratch mode. Although the option is there, the cut in on the crossfader and tight jog wheels don’t aid a DJ looking to scratch sadly.
The Inpulse 200 controller features a basic unbalanced RCA connection for the master out, which for this price point is expected. On the headphone front, the Inpulse 200 makes do with a smaller 3.5mm jack connection. We did notice some abnormal sound quality when using headphones with a microphone attached such as a mobile phone set. However, with regular headphones, these issues disappeared completely. For the price, the connectivity is exactly what’s to be expected, matching that of controllers three times the price.
Enabling much of the functionality of the controller is the included software, DJUCED. Opting to develop their own software rather than bundle a third-party licence in with the controller, Hercules has managed to keep the overall price low and the functionality high. The main selling points of the Inpulse range of controllers such as the beat align guide and virtual assistant are software controlled, so using the controller with other platforms would render these functions useless. If you would like to try different software, you can download mappings for Virtual DJ, Algoriddim DJay and Traktor Pro 2 from Hercules’s website.
We were initially surprised by the power of the software, offering quite advanced functionality such as key shifting, slicer and sampler decks. These features are rather hidden when using the 200 though, which is good news. Fewer distractions when learning the basics is always beneficial we find. The library management in DJUCED is a mixed bag, but overall does a good job, it even features smart playlists! Streaming is available, but only by Qubuz currently. We would like to see more providers added, such as Tidal or Soundcloud GO in the future.
The DJ Assistant
The DJ Assistant tab within DJUCED is a pop up that allows users to watch tutorial videos on how to master the basics. The ability to minimise this into the smaller window and play along while the tutorial plays is brilliant. The DJ assistant’s pop out interface is quite slick. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the overall look of the software. It’s not terrible, but DJUCED looks like the older versions of Virtual DJ, and in 2020, it could be better.
Our only gripe with DJUCED is the fact the platform is quite limited. Being only compatible with Hercules controllers, who only produce products for the beginner market, it’s not a software you can move forward with. Serato, Rekordbox and even Virtual DJ will provide a library and software platform that you can use with more expensive equipment as you progress.
When Pioneer DJ released the DDJ-200, they made a lightweight, compact controller that aimed to teach DJ’s how to DJ. Sadly though, in doing this, they removed all the connectivity from the unit. Instead, relying upon the user’s device to output both the master audio and headphone cue, both in mono and with questionable quality. With this in mind, it’s remarkable that Hercules has created a cheaper controller that’s not much bigger. Some would argue, it’s more beginner-friendly too!
The Inpulse 200 is a very impressive controller for the price and for a beginner. The beat align function is quite frankly superb. At this price, we highly recommend this controller for those who want to learn the basics of beat-matching but also want to watch the pennies. Apart from the super small controllers, nothing comes close to the Impulse 200’s price and functionality.