RGB illuminated rubber pads meets DARK metal home
Visualize and remember your mapped MIDI action with your favourite colors
Traktor user can map all NI hotcue type colors
currently in Beta Phase
The idea behind Dark FIRE
The DARK family grows : ) .. here is our 3rd controller, Dark Fire offers RGB illuminated controls for DJ’ing and MIDI applications.
Still in beta phase but we felt it’s the right time to announce now to get your first feedback. The idea of such a controller was in our mind since 2 years, but we first had to gain our experiences in industry assembled printed circuits in order to realize it (QFN sized SMD chips were needed).
Background: Many user (me too) love to use hotcues in the mix, and as a long year Traktor user I wished always to have this beautiful Traktor hotcue colors on my controller. Only blue/green/orange/white was needed at beginning – but having any RGB color could cover so much more use cases.
Dark Fire feels like “made for Traktor” but the midi compliant protocol allows to trigger midi application outside the Traktor world too, that’s why we love it. And the usb bus powering and portability allows a nice mobile setup with DJ Player Pro (iOS).
Dark Fire is a sibling of Dark Wheel. We replaced the Jogwheel and Pioneer panel with RGB illuminated silicon rubber buttons. And we kept the rest: the flexible firmware features (e.g. customizable Shift, Bank, Deck layer) and all other controls (MEC switches and encoder), even their midi messages are exactly same. Funny story: when I connected my Dark Fire the first time and launched Traktor a smile came over my face: all controls in all 4 decks worked well because the earlier Dark Wheel mapping was linked ; ).
Metal case and silicon pads .. does this fit together? We feel the tactile resistance of silicon pads (allowing strong and fast strokes) complement perfectly to a rock solid metal case, in design and in usage. It makes a lot of fun, feels like ‘made to firing actions in live performances’.
Each pad can be midi triggered with any different RGB color (125 values, not 3-7 only as many competitors), this makes Dark Fire universal: Colors remind me on controller what is mapped (e.g. magenta & green for Cue/Play on lower pads), even complex mappings keep intuitive and memorizable in different layers.
Dark Fire is size compatible to Dark Fader and Dark Wheel, they all work perfectly together.
For more details to firmware features (customizable Shift layer, 2 to 4 Banks, 1-4 decks) see: midi concept (on our Dark Wheel site), Dark Fire supports the exact same features too.
Let us know what you think about this project!
FIRST IDEAS HOW we will USE DARK FIRE in a DJ set
Dark Fire inspires me to support different use cases. We did some first mappings, here some highlights we currently love most:
Traktor: All 8 RGB pads are mapped to hotcues, supporting all Traktor hotcue types. We mapped the original gui colors to the controller. We even added additional colors, e.g. red in shift mode (for deleting hotcues) or a nice magenta and green on the lower 2 pads for Cue and Play (as we like from Denon controller).
DJ Player Pro: DJPP does not support different colors on hotcues (unfortunately), we hope that DJPP will this support this in future. But Dark Fire feels still great with DJPP because the portability (no powering needed) and flexibility in mapping. We mapped one standard color on hotcues (blue), and added additional colors depending the workflow (e.g. red for deleting hotcue or orange in FX pad mode). A friend of us plans a nice mapping (supporting DVS features, nudging, looping, FX etc). And we found a totally different and inspiring use case with DJPP: Triggering songs in stem format feels great with Dark Fire: 4 hotcue controls (left pads), 4 Stem on/off (right pads) using stem songs with sample. Using deck C and D for this (similar to remix decks in Traktor) allows nice background beats and samples for techno DJ mixes.
Ableton or Serato: We did not test yet, but quite sure the RGB pads and encoder would allow nice workflows, exited to see some first user ideas.
Beyond the DJ world: Dark Fire is MIDI class compliant, so not restricted to DJ world. We have user who even use Dark Fader for triggering video cutting systems or as main stage light controller. Quite sure user may have use cases we even never thought about.
We build on your request
As soon the controller is ready to sell we will build on request. We will not keep a lot on stock to keep our costs in budget. All is hand made as always, user who loves them can contact us and we start to build.
All PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) and the black brushed metal panels are designed by us, CNC manufacturers and professional PCB vendors build to our plans/specifications. The Dark Fire PCB is assembled by industry (SMD components), all THT components and the complete Dark Board below are soldered by us manually.
We developed and support the firmware. We mount each device manually, customize the setup parameter and check quality of each control before shipping. Firmware and default mappings are published online.
We include the latest documents as printed manuals (available after beta).
Projected Retail Price
Not finally decided (we have to pass the beta phase first), our current target is 388 €, it all depends on our final costs, so let’s cross the finger where we end.
We will also offer the option to add a mounted USB hub (with additional USB/Out, DC/In connector, DC cable) for currently 39 € (similar on all Dark Controller).
The dimensions are same on all Dark Controller and compatible to our new Dark Xpander. So let us know if you are interested in a double height version, matching perfectly to height of professional mixer and club equipment.
Let us know if you are interested in this upcoming controller. And in case you are interested being an early bird user (earlier GA): Contact us, always welcome ; )
INSIGHTS INTO THE TECHNICAL CONCEPT
Some technical details may inspire you to build your own controller – not interested folks may skip this chapter:
Dark Fire architecture is based on the universal Dark Board combined with a Dark Fire specific 2nd layer PCB (Printed Circuit Board) as carrier for all controls. Both PCB are connected via I2C bus (similar Dark Wheel)
We decided for the well known Sparkfun silicon rubber button pads for the 10 pad controls, they feel best for us (in particular for strong strokes). The LED inside allow a nice optical feedback. The challenge was the circuits and PCB assembling. Tech folks may know the published hook-up guides and breakout PCB from Sparkfun, they do not support any real (means stepless and dimmable) RGB color mixing. Their circuit can toggle the 3 colors on/off only, a real color mix (dimmable and stepless for each color) is not possible with Sparkfun circuits – they mentioned it is too complex and too power consuming. So their circuits was a No-Go for us, we wished to allow mixing any color. We decided to build our own circuits (as carrier for the Sparkfun silicon pads). In our circuits we trigger each LED pin separately (not using any key matrix simplification) and made them dimmable. State of the art IC technology was needed; hundreds of connections are only possible in smallest SMD package sizes (QFN-UT), often used in smart phones. Manual soldering is no longer possible, so we moved over to industry built and assembled PCB (Printed Circuit Boards) on our plans. A huge learn curve for us, and we are quite proud about ; ). The Dark Board below (the PCB with Teensy, hub and connectors) are still hand soldered completely.
The second big challenge for us was the power consumption. Competitive controller with RGB pads are wasteful often, 10 pads end typically above 500mA, also No-Go for us, as Dark Controller should be USB self powered, even on iOS smart phones. We combined several concepts, our Dark Fire needs less than 40mA for all LED (even if all are shining in brightest white), so the complete controller (including Teensy, hub and all components) consumes about 100mA only (even in case all LED are triggered in maximum) – so we keep mobile, no hub needed at any smart phone : )
The firmware of Dark Fire is similar to Dark Wheel, we embedded the same flexible MIDI mode concept (user customizable DECK, SHIFT, BANK features). We enhanced the Power-On Configuration setup with a nice “‘tell me the color value” feature: Background: Supporting 125 different color is powerful, but the user may ask the question which value ins behind each color (for self made mappings). So we added in Power-On Configuration the feature to mix any favourite color (with pads & encoder) and display the color value result in any MIDI monitor (e.g. in the DJ Payer Pro monitor). So the user knows which value he has to add later on in his self made mappings.
The rest of the technical concept in Dark Fire is as expected: full metal chassis with CNC made panels, brushed and double black anodized 3mm aluminium, polished bare metal side surfaces, industrially produced PCB (SMD assembled) with black glossy surface and immersion gold contacts. USB-IN to MIDI host, optionally mounted USB hub and USB-A OUT to connect additional Dark Controller or user MIDI devices in daisy chain.
PROJECT STATUS - will be updated regularly
Update June 14, 2020: First announcement Dark Fire on our website. Hardware is ready, fully tested, works perfect. We have some handful of SMD assembled PCB and CNC constructed chassis panels on stock. We plan to send some first devices to our beta user in upcoming weeks (target: July). The firmware is in beta phase, some first mappings of Traktor and DJ Player Pro are ready, user documentation on work. And we should shoot some better pictures (lol), maybe even some videos, but currently too busy to focus on these ‘cosmetic’ tasks.
Our plan for GA (General Availability) including complete documentation is planned eof Q3 2020. We will publish all firmware, mapping files and documentation on this website in prepare (step by step). Once GA we plan a delivery time of about 2 weeks (after build request).
Let’s cross the finger we keep all dates : )
Keep an eye on this website if you are interested, we will update the projects status continuously.
Stay tuned to the next status updates!
Let us know what you think about Dark Fire
all feedback very welcome!