Dark Wheel

We combined our dream components and made them portable
Pioneer CDJ-2000nxs2 C/P - Jogwheel - Encoder - Hot Cues


Now Available for Early Birds

The idea behind Dark Wheel

I missed such a controller long ago for myself. Dark Fader is perfect for manual beat matching, but sometimes I am one of these ‘hot cue junkies’, using sync with 4 decks to mashup songs on the fly. I also spend lot time preparing songs (grid & cue), so having a portable controller on travel would be perfect. 

As a NI Traktor user I learned to love their 2 encoder concept (beat jump and loop size) and the direct access to 8 hot cues. And I made a dream come true: getting this amazing feeling of Pioneer CDJ-2000 Cue & Play knobs. So we added the original spare parts (2000 black / 2000nx2 silver).

Adding a jogwheel was a must have to complete any grid and cue search workflow. We could not find any tiny jogwheel in high quality, so we made our Dark ‘Wheel’ ourselves; in metal, smooth feeling, and a high tick per turn resolution.

A flexible firmware will complement the concept: User Customizable Shift and Alternate layer features, and a midi channel concept which allows to trigger 1, 2, or even 4 decks with one Dark Wheel.

I am quite sure Dark Wheel will be my favourite mobile controller ; ) .. ready to go midi with iPad or laptop. For preparing songs on travel and for playing gigs. And it matches perfectly to the connected Dark Fader.

Let us know what you think about this project!

Insights into the technical concept

Dark Wheel is our most complex controller. Based on the Dark Board as always (using Teensy 3.2). The challenge was the portability and amount of controls. We constructed a 2nd printed circuit board as the carrier for all tactile elements, added some MCP in smd technology to this pcb and placed it as sandwich above Dark Board. We use the I2C bus technology to connect both printed circuits.

We milled the top panel backside to hold the original Pioneer cue/play panel spare parts. For the jogwheel, we used best components we could find: Magnetic hall encoder with ball bearing shaft and high resolution. We added the metal knob for a perfect smooth feeling.

The tactile feeling of original MEC switches with 2 colored led was our choice for the hot cues. And we completed with 2 original Panasonic Encoder with metal knobs. 

Projected Retail Price

We don’t know yet ; ) .. let’s see when all is finished, but please do NOT wait for the Dark Wheel if you are in search of a cheap controller. 

Dark Wheel will be expensive – because of the high costs of the components (examples: NXS2 panel cost €40, the high tech jogwheel encoder about €100 etc). Currently we estimate the material costs to be more than double the Dark Fader. We remain true to our vision, producing in best quality we can … then we see where we end.

Project Status (updated May 24, 2020): 
Beta successfully passed. We started shipping to first users. Update: Final firmware and mappings for Traktor and DJPP ready to download (links below). Next step: Publishing user manual and final retail pricing. Contact us if you are interested in an early bird offer ; )

Technical Specifications

Chassis

  • Full metal chassis
  • CNC made panels, brushed and double black anodized 3mm aluminium, polished bare metal side surfaces
  • Engraved logo, product name (no painting, no laser cut)
  • Dimension: 207 x 65 x 38(52) mm
  • Weight: 450 grams 

Control elements

  • CUE/PLAY: Original Pioneer CDJ-2000 (NXS) panel with low latency short-stroke tactile switches and original LED light pipe rings. Buttons available in black (optionally silver) 
  • JOGWHEEL: High quality magnetic hall encoder (10bit analog stepless, high TPR/resolution), ball bearing for multi spinning support. Full metal knob 
  • ENCODER: 2 original Panasonic encoder, soft click (low pressure) push rotate encoder, 20 TPR. Full metal knobs with concave top shape
  • BUTTONS: 8 original MEC tactile switches (US made), bicolor illuminated LED’s (3 red/green, 4 yellow/green, 1 blue unicolor) 
  • INDICATOR LED’s: 2 LED’s between encoder (unicolor: orange, blue), 2 Jogwheel LED’s (bicolor: red/green)

PRINTED CIRCUIT BOARD

  • Bottom layer PCB: Dark Board (CAD factory made pcb, dual layer, black glossy surface, immersion gold contacts). Mounted CPU: Teensy 3.2 (72 MHz 32 bit ARM processor)
  • Top layer sandwich PCB: Dark Wheel control elements carrier PCB, smd components soldered in SMT (surface-mount technology), I2C bus connected to Dark Board

IN/OUTPUTS

  • USB-B IN: Connects Dark Wheel to MIDI host
  • USB-A OUT (optionally): Available if an active hub is mounted on board. Intended use: connect additional MIDI devices in daisy chain
  • DC Power IN (5.5/2.5mm, center pin +5V): Only available if USB-A OUT and hub is mounted. DC Power IN is not needed for operation (USB bus powered, consumption ~ 100mA). Intended use: Optional power for USB-A OUT connected devices and Dark Wheel 

FIRMWARE

  • MIDI class compliant, no driver needed 
  • Multi-deck and multi-layer support. Built in ‘Power-On Configuration Setup’ to customize user settings/preferences
  • Supporting: 1-4 channels, multiple layers, multiple devices

Dark Wheel Features

ENHANCED MIDI MAPPING CONCEPT

  • Each control sends and/or receives unique MIDI messages for individual midi mapping. MIDI class compliant protocol, no drivers or additional software needed
  • Additional firmware features: 3 buttons are highly customizable: DECK SELECT, SHIFT and BANK (via built in ‘Power-On Configuration Setup’). These buttons can be customized as ‘normal buttons/LED’ with MIDI In/Outbound OR as full automated controls (the firmware covers all logic, the mapping keeps lean) 
  • Examples: DECK can toggle between decks (A/B, A/C, ABCD…), SHIFT can add an additional layer, or BANK can add 2-4 bank layers more)
  • Users can customize ‘their’ Dark Wheel to their needs – from a single 1 deck controller with a few control to a multi-layer multi-deck device
  • This concept allows for very easy mapping and also allows the use of one mapping file, independent of the number of decks or connected Dark Wheels

DECK SELECT Button

  • Bicolor illuminated button (red/green), MIDI I/O mappable or firmware triggered
  • Users can customize Deck Select Mode to define button behaviour (e.g. button only, 2 or 4 deck toggle, deck assignments etc.)
  • Dark Wheel remembers selected user mode and last used deck/channel on next Power-On

CUE PLAY PANEL

  • Original PIONEER CDJ-2000 (NXS) panel, the original short-stroke tactile switches support the typical immediate action response
  • Illuminated LED rings with mappable MIDI inbound (CUE: magenta, PLAY: green)

JOGWHEEL

  • Optimized for multiple purposes. The high resolution messages (~ 600 ticks/turn) results in smooth and sensitive response
  • CUE/GRID adjustments & PITCH BENDING: The full metal knob (without a dedicated top platter and outer ring) supports Cue/grid movements and Pitchbend via mapping features 
  • BEAT SEARCHING with dynamic acceleration: The ball bearing architecture enables multiple self rotations at high speeds
  • ENCODER SIMULATION: Additional messages (~20 ticks/turn) allow any encoder mappings, e.g. using jogwheel in Song Browsing or as FX parameter (e.g. in other BANK or SHIFT layer) 

Encoder

  • Two Push/Rotate Encoder (20 TPR) with full metal knobs and top shapes. The low pressure and short-stroke encoder feels very pleasant
  • Free for mapping, in Traktor typically mapped to Beat jump (left encoder) and Looping On/Off and size (right encoder)
  • Two unicolor LED’s (orange, blue) close encoder with MIDI receive inbound

HOTCUE BUTTONS

  • Four bicolor illuminated buttons, typically used for hotcue 1-4 mapping. LED’s (yellow/green) with MIDI receive inbound 
  • Additional layer supported for enhanced mappings (e.g. using SHIFT for hotcue 5-8 or BANK for FX pads etc)

SHIFT BUTTON

  • Bicolor illuminated button (red/green),  MIDI I/O mappable or firmware triggered 
  • Users can customize SHIFT button behaviour as ‘normal button/LED’ with MIDI In/outbound or a button which activates a 2nd SHIFT layer (modifying notes of other controls) 
  • SHIFT layer can be activated during hold [default], optimally also latching toggle mode possible (this allows the usage of SHIFT as an additional BANK button) 

MID BOTTOM BUTTON

  • Unicolor illuminated button (LED blue), free for user MIDI mapping 
  • MID Button offers layer specific notes (same as on all buttons) and a global note to simplify mappings of DJ application SHIFT notes 

BANK LAYER BUTTON

  • Bicolor illuminated button (red/green), MIDI I/O mappable or firmware triggered 
  • Users can customize BANK button behaviour as ‘normal button/LED’ with MIDI In/outbound or a button which activates 2 or 4 banks (modifying notes of other controls)
  • BANK button can be customized similar to SHIFT (2nd bank on hold, kind of an additional SHIFT), or in latching mode [default]. Button walks thru all 4 banks in 4 bank mode
  • Any combination with SHIFT supported, which results in max. 2×4=8 layer in total

POWER-ON CONFIGURATION SETUP

Holding a BUTTON during power on activates the ‘Power-On Configuration Setup’, allowing customizing user settings/preferences. All changes are stored permanently. Supported setting options (holding dedicated button, using Hotcue 1-4 to select favourite mode): 

  • 4 DECK MODES: normal button/LED – 2nd deck on hold – 2nd deck latching – 4 decks toggling 
  • 4 ABCD MODES for 2 decks: A/B – A/C – B/D – C/D 
  • 3 SHIFT MODES: normal button/LED – SHIFT layer on hold – SHIFT layer latching 
  • 4 BANK MODES: normal button/ LED – BANK 2 on hold – BANK 2 latching – 4 BANK’s

Additional customizing, holding:

  • SHIFT + BANK on power on: RESET to default settings
  • RIGHT ENCODER used to calibrate JOGWHEEL rotate threshold (sensitivity for smallest movements)

DOwnloads

Documents

Datasheet

Dark Wheel overview, technical specifications, features, midi chart
(coming soon)

Quick Guide

How to use Dark Wheel, control elements description
(coming soon)

Customizing Guide

How to customize Dark Wheel, power-on configuration setup
(coming soon)

Mapping Files

DJ Player Pro
Mapping fileS

Universal .djpmap files, supporting 2 or 4 decks and multiple controllers. Detailed mapping charts (pdf) included

Traktor Pro
Mapping fileS

Universal .tsi files, supporting 2 or 4 decks and multiple controllers. Detailed mapping charts (pdf) included

Firmware

Firmware

Latest firmware collection (unzip download to see all .hex files)

Uploader

Link to TyTools (free open source project from Koromix)

How to upDate your Dark Wheel Firmware

Many tools are available to upload firmware into Teensy based controller. We recommend the tool ‘TyCommander’, part of the open source TyTools project (from Koromix). TyCommander is easy to use, available for Windows, Linux and macOX, no install procedure needed; you can directly launch TyCommander after unzip. A big ‘Thank you’ to Koromix!. Workflow instructions:

  • Download latest version of our firmware collection, use left ‘Firmware’ link. 
  • Open the zip file, inside you will find all firmware (.hex files) of all Dark Controller
  • Download latest TyTools (use left ‘Uploader’ link), extract TyCommander
  • Launch TyCommander (no install needed), then open tab ‘Serial’
  • Connect your Dark Controller, the current installed firmware version gets displayed 
  • Check your current version: the 9 digit prefix (e.g. DF2.0-32-) must match to one of the downloaded .hex files. Contact us if you can’t find a matching download version 
  • Press arrow button ‘Upload’ and select your downloaded hex file with same prefix
  • Wait few seconds until upload process finished. Disconnect Dark Wheel .. DONE
  • Let us know if you need support at any step – always welcome!

MIDI Mapping

BACKGROUND TO DARK WHEEL MIDI MAPPING CONCEPT

We spent a lot of time developing a powerful, flexible, and easy to use midi message concept. We know that user preferences can vary significantly. Some users want to map the simplest workflow (16 control elements that send 16 messages); others for example, want a 4-deck controller with SHIFT and multiple layer features. So which concepts would fit best for a smaller and portable controller like DARK WHEEL ??

WE STARTED TO THINK IN DETAIL ABOUT USER NEEDS FIRST

User wishes and workflows are very different - Examples:

DECK SELECTOR (Midi channel): some users may use DARK WHEEL for one deck only, or might use 2 separate DARK WHEEL’s for deck A and B, so they do not need any deck selector.  They want to use this button for other midi mapping, similar to normal buttons.  Other users may want to use one DARK WHEEL for 4 decks, so they wish to toggle between decks with the button (A>B>C>D>A).  2 deck user may be bored with a 4 state toggle, they wished to toggle faster, 2 states only (A/B). 4 deck user with two Dark Wheel may want to toggle A/C on left and B/D on right controller.  And some user even would love to switch to deck B only while holding a button (and jump back to deck A after the button is released).  And most users expect that the controller is doing this via midi channels, and not via hacks in the midi mapping, right? And isn’t it annoying that many vendor offer different mapping versions for the use cases above ?

SHIFT features: A SHIFT button is a powerful feature of many controllers.  It allows giving any other button a different function in the DJ application.  Many controllers send a single midi note for this button only (and the DJ application has to fire another action), other more clever controllers change the midi command of any other button in SHIFT mode (so the user can easily map 2 features to 2 different notes). So what’s best for DARK WHEEL?  We decided for a ‘clever’ and flexible concept of changing midi notes, so as soon as you press SHIFT all other buttons send a 2nd note.  But we wished for even more: should SHIFT work in the typical ‘momentary’ mode always (active during press and hold)? Our opinion: Yes, as the default mode. But we would also allow that the users could use SHIFT as a toggle (not very common, but often helpful).  And last but not least: some users do not need any SHIFT at all, they want to use the left bottom button for any other midi actions.  A hard coded SHIFT button would be a waste of a button for them and hacks in mappings (to avoid the 2nd note) would make their mapping quite complex. 

BANK features: Only a few controllers offer such a more enhanced feature (the Allen&Heath Xone K2 is a nice example).  BANKS often are called LAYERS.  But do any users need Layers? Maybe some prefer that they use this button (with the LED) as a normal button, e.g. use it as SYNC button (with LED on/off).  In particular on small portable controller like DARK WHEEL we do not want to waste any button.  Most users may love Layers, they want to toggle between Layer 1 and 2, e.g. Layer 1 for hotcue’s, on Layer 2 mapping FX effects, using the encoder too. And of course they expect from an intelligent controller that the notes are different in Layer 2 (to allow easy mapping). More questions: Does the user need 2 or even 4 Layers? And last but not least: why not allow a momentary behaviour on the Layer button? (active as long you press and hold), is this nice idea reserved for SHIFT only?

Difference between SHIFT and BANK layer: In our vision there should not be a difference, as long as we pick up the pros from both, making them flexible, then the users can decide what they need on both buttons.  SHIFT and BANK buttons follow the same idea at the end; they modify the notes of other control elements.  Exception to keep in mind: Some vendors label a button only as ‘SHIFT’, but this knob is a ‘normal’ button only, not modifying any other notes at all (even the Xone K2 with the nice bank Layers struggles on this, the K2 SHIFT is labeled SHIFT only), which makes a ‘SHIFT’ mapping for the user very difficult.  So this simple ‘labeled‘ SHIFT are not meant here.  Coming back to (real) SHIFT and BANK buttons: both buttons produce the same benefit, so users can map additional and totally different DJ app features to the same control element. Saying this, the mapping does not have to take care about conditions or modifier, each note is unique and can be mapped quite easy.  So what’s the difference between both on most controllers?  It’s the behaviour on press/release: Most vendors realize the SHIFT only in momentary mode (press and hold SHIFT), and the BANK button in toggle mode (also called latching or permanent mode), so the layer changes after release.  DARK WHEEL overcomes this limitation: the SHIFT is a real SHIFT (modifying other control notes) and we allow the SHIFT and the BANK buttons as momentary or as latching behaviour, so both could be exactly same, there is no need for any dogmatic difference.  Whatever is needed, the controller has to take care that all works together, and of course even in case that you combine them – e.g. if you press both at same time! (activating e.g. shift Layer of Bank 3).  And as always: users who do not need Layer at all could use both knobs as ‘normal’ buttons with midi LED receive features. Finally you may understand why we also made a flexible DECK selector:  it’s nothing else than a different layer (with other midi channel, so users can customize to their needs (normal button, momentary, latching, 1/2/4 deck).

OUR IDEA: DARK WHEEL OFFERS 3 BUTTONS THAT CAN BE HIGHLY USER CUSTOMIZED

The user can decide how they should work. Using as 'normal' buttons with bicolor LED (midi send/receive) or enabling the inbuilt logic of flexible SHIFT, BANK, and DECK SELECTOR features.

We created a ‘mode’ concept, which at least we have never seen before in other controller : ). We made 3 buttons completely user customizable and DARK WHEEL (not your mapping) takes care of them. The user is able to define how these 3 buttons work. Once stored, DARK WHEEL sends messages, which can be mapped quite easily (without any condition modifier in the DJ application). 3 buttons: the DECK SELECTOR (midi channel button on top), SHIFT button (bottom left) and BANK button (bottom right). The mode concept results in easy mapping even for complex multi-deck or multi-shift/layer needs.

DECK SELECTOR / MIDI CHANNEL – top button (4 modes):
0 = off, normal button with bicolor LED (green/red), free for I/O mapping to any DJ midi feature
1* = Two DECK mode, press & hold button to trigger momentary actions on 2nd deck
2* = Two DECK mode, button toggles between both decks – [default]
3 = Four DECK mode (A/B/C(D), toggle midi channel thru A>B>C>D>A.  LED’s: A= Green, B= Red, C= Green blinking, D= Red blinking

* In Two deck modes (mode 1 and 2 above) the user can customize in addition the ABCD deck alignment. This enhancement in latest firmware version adds 2 important benefits: 1) one unique 4-deck mapping can be used for all use-cases (no longer several mappings needed) and 2) user can easily toggle between 2 decks and in their 4 deck DJ software (without any modification in the mapping):

0 = A/B toggle: 1st deck = A (midi channel 1, LED green), 2nd deck = B (midi channel 2, LED red)
1 = A/C toggle: 1st deck = A (midi channel 1, LED green), 2nd deck = C (midi channel 3, LED red)
2 = B/D toggle: 1st deck = B (midi channel 2, LED green), 2nd deck = D (midi channel 4, LED red)
3 = C/D toggle: 1st deck = C (midi channel 3, LED green), 2nd deck = D (midi channel 4, LED red) 

SHIFT – bottom left button (3 modes):
0 = off, normal button with bicolor LED (green/red), free for I/O mapping to any DJ midi feature
1 = SHIFT momentary mode, modifies the messages of all other buttons as long you press and hold  – [default] 
2 = SHIFT toggle mode off, press and release to toggle between normal (LED green) and SHIFT (LED red)

BANK – bottom right button (4 modes):
0 = off, normal button with bicolor LED (green/red), free for I/O mapping to any DJ midi feature
1 = Two BANK momentary mode, activates 2nd layer, modifies all other buttons as long you press and hold
2 = Two BANK toggle mode, activates 2nd layer for all buttons, press again to jump back to 1st layer – [default] 
3 = Four BANK toggle mode off, allows 4 banks, toggle to select bank 1>2>3>4>1 etc

MODE CONCEPT ALLOWS CUSTOMIZING THE DARK WHEEL BEHAVIOUR TO THE USER’S NEEDS

DARK WHEEL takes care that all control elements have unique notes, even if the user combines them at same time. DARK WHEEL firmware covers the complete logic, the user can focus on mapping DJ functions. This concept allows powerful mappings to be created very easily.

How can the user customize Dark Wheel modes and settings

Quite easy, no software or any tools are needed, DARK WHEEL firmware offers a power setup feature (similar to DARK FADER), we will describe in detail in manual, examples: 

  • How to activate 4 deck mode?:  Press and hold top DECK button on power ON init, now select your preferred 4th mode (3) via pressing the 4th hotcue button (below jogwheel).  Release all buttons, done.  In future the top buttons toggle between 4 decks.  DARK WHEEL stores all customizing permanently.
  • You need 2 banks in momentary mode (kind of an additional SHIFT)?: Press and hold bottom right BANK button on power ON init, now select your preferred 2nd mode (1) via pressing the 2nd hotcue button.  Release all buttons, done.  In future you have a second layer pressing and hold BANK button. 
  • All modes can be customized with same idea during power ON (holding a button, using hotcues to select mode): hold DECK button to define the DECK mode, hold SHIFT button to define SHIFT mode, BANK button for BANK mode, MID Bottom button to define ABCD mode. Hold SHIFT and BANK together to reset to default settings. To complete: Press Right Encoder, rotate to find best Jogwheel movement threshold.

DARK WHEEL MODES IN A NUTSHELL

User needs are very different, and we like this. We implemented a ‘mode’ concept, allowing you to customize DARK WHEEL to your needs. DARK WHEEL can be operated from a simple one deck controller with just few controls to a multi DECK, real SHIFT and multi BANK device. The mapping always stays simple, because the firmware covers all logic, buttons and status LED’s.

Midi Chart

Let us know what you think about this midi mapping concept,
all ideas and feedback welcome ; )


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