We are a small international group of friends with a common passion for DJ’ing and electronic and house music. We all have our main jobs and family, so we follow our passion and these projects mainly for fun.
DJ Thomas from USA and DJ Hetto from Netherland joined from the beginning. I am located in Germany, called ‘kalo’ and initiated the Dark Controller project in our group. Some of you may know us from the DJ Player Pro slack forum, or myself from activities on Traktor DJ (iOS).
Let me take a moment to recommend DJ Player Pro (DJPP). We love this application, future DJ’ing goes mobile. DJPP inspired us to build our portable Dark Controller for professionals. If you have never tested DJPP, try it! … and join us in the living slack community.
My Story - kalo
First and foremost: the Dark Controller idea was born because I missed such controllers by myself.
Building your controller can be a lot of fun. But beside the needed software coding skills (and some hardware and soldering experiences) the complete production path can produce a lot of frustration. My target was not to produce a self made wooden or plastic box; I wished for a more professional design. What I learned since my first ideas in the beginning of 2018 and all prototyping steps in between: It can be a huge difference to build a single prototype on bread board vs. a solid model which can be replicated and modified fast and used for gigs.
Giving you some examples of challenges building an controller, many question popped up:
- How to build a chassis with flexible panels? (drilling holes or painting scales by myself was not an option)
- How to avoid a time consuming and confusing cable salad inside a controller?
- How to come to a modular concept which could be used for multiple controllers?
- How to realize additional requests (e.g. full size usb connector, hub, I2C bus etc.)?
- Which control elements should I use and where can I get them (metal knobs, original spare parts etc.)?
- Which concept allows me to replicate the controller in shortest time?
Why I built What
It was obvious for me; I had to construct a flexible printed circuit board (pcb) first. The idea of the Dark Board was born. A pcb is a must have otherwise you will end up in a terrible cable salad inside (ugly, time consuming to replicate and difficult in error tracking). I needed one universal board for all controllers, and opposed to existing break boards on market, all the components needed to be included (CPU, active hub, connectors, MCP, I2C etc). Would it also be possible to code a firmware which would allow supporting each type of control element for whatever controller (without any software changes)? – yes maybe, but this idea I rejected because it would restrict the usage for sure (e.g. supporting fader with mid range led can be quite specific, or a shift of midi channel button etc..), but the whole hardware (pcb, metal chassis, panels, mounting) should be universal. That’s the idea of the Dark Board: having one universal pcb for any controller and code and upload a model specific firmware. I constructed the pcb circuit myself, and had them fabricated by professional pcb companies. All of my controllers are based on the same Dark Board. And it works great!
The next challenge was the chassis. I decided for a professional metal case, small, portable and flexible. Choosing the same chassis for all controllers. I constructed the front/back panels via CAD and had them produced by a professional CNC vendor. Same with the major top panel: each controller model has its own specific top panel. All components are CNC milled; the panels in black brushed anodized aluminium, and optionally the top panel is available in CNC milled clear acryl too.
Overcoming these obstacles (pcb and chassis) my first controller got started: Dark Fader. It was always a dream long ago to have this amazing tactile feeling of a professional Technics SL1200 fader also for midi controller. If you ever played on Vinyl TTL or DVS you may know what I mean. So I added an original SL1200 fader. And last but not least, 4 additional knobs: 2 metal knobs for pitch bending, 1 for midi channel (supporting 2 decks) and 1 for shift features. I then wrote the Dark Board firmware. By the way, I underestimated this effort, many details to think about (noise cancelling of analogue elements as a logarithmic SL1200 was never made for midi, flexible calibration concept capabilities etc). But it all works great now!. I am travelling a lot, so my small Dark Fader is always with me. Together with my iPad (and e.g. DJ Player Pro) I enjoy training my beat matching and pitch riding skills all the way along.
Update June 2020: The Dark Family growed : ) .. hope you like our new projects too. We added Dark Wheel (available since Q2 2020) and our new Dark Fire (Oct. 2020). And as we have more and more Resident DJ friends using our controller in clubs we built a Dark Xpander for them. Update Jan. 2021: we start to work on our latest idea, our ultra portable RGB Controller Dark Flame.
All controllers work as class compliant midi devices, so no drivers are needed at all (no hub needed on iOS). All controllers can be connected in daisy chain, and using an optional power supply allows to connect other controllers too.
Why We publish this website
We asked ourselves “do we want to sell our controllers and make a business?” or do we publish the idea only, offering DIY kits and share all code as open source?
Making a huge roll out business is not our focus. Sharing the idea only?: Personally, I am also not aimed at getting attention or being in spotlight; and publishing, explaining and supporting public source code and maintaining blogs would be a big effort for me too. But we felt the concept and controller may be of interest to some or even a few of you. We love our controller, they feel great for us and some other DJ may miss such controller too.
So we decided to publish the projects and sell our handmade controller on your all requests. We decided for retail prices where we feel it suites best to the product and includes a margin which motivates us to build your controller in our spare time.
So if you are interested in buying a ready to go Dark Controller or maybe interested in building your own controller with the Dark Board (building firmware yourself) then let us know. If you are interested in our products, then please contact us.
You are very welcome.