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Audio Review: Numark Fit For Sound

Jul 1, 2008 12:00 PM, By John McJunkin

Simple music player outfits an iPod with professional outputs and controls.


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Numark Fit For Sound

Since time immemorial, sound contractors have required the ability to provide audio cues for presentations of all kinds, ranging from corporate boardrooms to houses of worship to nightclubs to fitness clubs. The technology used to provide such cues — whether voice, musical, or other types — has evolved over the years, and the evolution has generally followed a few trends.

First, the technology has shrunk physically since the days of open-reel tape machines. The technology has also become nonlinear, facilitating the immediate cuing of a particular piece of audio — this concept arriving with the compact-disc player. Finally, another trend we have seen is the abandonment of moving parts, which spell nothing but trouble unless you're the person being paid top dollar to repair and rehabilitate those ancient machines with moving parts. Playing audio back from RAM or ROM is not a bleeding-edge development, but the focus has been largely on devices that typically use CompactFlash memory and that not only playback but also record audio.

For applications in which recording is not a requirement, these devices may be overkill — particularly when a contractor or integrator has to meet a budget. Numark has taken a page from the disc-jockey world and introduced its Fit For Sound rackmount music player for iPod. Indeed, the DJ world has been digital for quite some time, complete with memory playback controlled by hardware interfaces designed to be friendly to users of vinyl records and CDs. The Fit For Sound is a highly simplified representation of that same concept — use the iPod as the mass-storage device and to provide a nice pushbutton and jog-wheel interface to simplify the cuing and playback of audio cues.

“Simple” is definitely the word that comes to mind regarding the Fit For Sound. From left to right across the front panel, you'll find a pushbutton power switch ringed with a bright blue LED to indicate power on, followed by the unit's iPod dock — which is in essence a tray into which the user plugs the iPod. This feature raises my only micro-complaint: Although the unit can accommodate the iPod nano, these smaller players do not fit securely into the cradle without an adapter. I found myself worrying that I would damage the docking connection by inadvertently bumping the iPod. According to Numark, more recent iPods now ship with a plastic adapter that ensures a snug fit, but it seems that the preferable solution would be to make the dock receptacle the right size so that only the smaller nano would require an adapter.

Next up is a jog wheel, with a menu button to its left and an enter button to its right. The menu button behaves like the menu button on an iPod, and the enter button behaves precisely like the round button in the center of the iPod's control ring. To the right of the jog-wheel construct are three big black buttons corresponding to the iPod's transport controls: rewind/return to zero, play/pause, and fast forward/skip to end.

Finally, at the far right of the front panel is an infrared communications port, which accepts input from a tiny remote control that is intended to hang around one's neck, lanyard-style, or worn on the wrist with the included wrist strap. This is a really nice touch. The device itself is really handy, but this remote control is a force multiplier in my mind, granting the ability for a spokesperson or other meeting leader to navigate through audio cues. The remote features the same rewind/return-to-zero, play/pause, and fast-forward/skip-to-end buttons as found on the front panel, so strictly speaking, a person can do a lot more than just advance through cues sequentially.

The rear panel is also exceedingly simple. It features, from left to right, stereo XLR-balanced audio outputs, which are controlled by a continuously variable gain knob that ranges from -20dB to 0dB; a pair of stereo RCA outputs (a nice touch to have two of them in order to feed a couple of destinations); and finally, an IEC power input.

Fundamentally, what the Numark Fit For Sound does is to outfit an iPod with professional outputs and controls. And although I would never be morally opposed to playing audio back from an iPod (although I'd probably prefer to load the iPod with unencoded or high-resolution files at either 256kbps or 320kbps), I would be concerned about being all thumbs with the iPod's tiny controls. The Fit For Sound not only solves this problem, but it even goes so far as to give us big professional DJ-style buttons — no mistaking what's going to happen when you reach up to hit a button. In addition to that, the device adds balanced XLR outputs to your iPod — pretty good trick. It's not impossible to string together a series of adapters to accomplish the same goal, but then you wind up with a rat's nest of wires, you don't have the really nice pro-grade controls or rackmount ability, and you've probably spent a substantial chunk of the Fit For Sound's $199 street price. Simply put, this device converts an iPod into a professional playback device for audio cues and/or music, and that's truly useful in my book. The ability to assemble playlists in iTunes enhances this capacity — making it easy for advance programming.

This device is targeted at the employees of fitness centers, but it has numerous other practical applications. As I said before, this could very easily be leveraged in a boardroom application as a mechanism to play recorded speeches or sales presentations. In restaurant environments, an iPod in shuffle mode easily provides an evening's background music (with appropriate licensing, of course), and it even grants the ability for a manager or resident music expert to program the music from home, as it were.

The Fit For Sound ships with an application called MixMeister Express v.6. I installed it on my Windows Vista-enabled workstation — it's not available for Mac — and jumped right in. I have seen and used a lot of DJ-oriented software intended to simplify the process of mixing music tracks, but this one is the simplest one I've ever encountered. That's not to say that it's unsophisticated. It essentially facilitates incredibly simple automated beat-sync mixing. I was able to load in music, visually determine the edit points, and then turn the application's beat-detection algorithm loose to synchronize beats while also changing tempo during the transition. Sound effects can be added as well. The graphic user interface is slick, and it's generally very easy to use. The point of MixMeister Express in this case is to create music mixes primarily for use in aerobic exercise in health clubs, but it could also be used to create hands-off mixes that can be played prior to the arrival of the evening's featured DJ.

Bottom line: The Numark Fit for Sound rackmount music player for iPod turns your iPod into a mass-storage device in which you can easily carry around all the various audio cues you may need for a presentation (or all the music you need for a beauty pageant or an aerobic workout as the manufacturer strongly implies). In my estimation, the conversion of the iPod to a professional playback device is powerful and worthy of consideration. Many people own iPods (more than 100 million, to be exact), and this device adds a turbo boost of utility to them. You won't find all the bells and whistles of professional DJ iPod stations here, but if you don't need pitch-shifting, beat-syncing, or scratching capability, this thing really does the trick.


John McJunkin is the principal of Avalon Podcasting in Chandler, Ariz. He has consulted in the development of studios and installations, and he provides high-quality podcast-production services.


PRODUCT SUMMARY

  • Company: Numark www.numark.com
  • Product: Fit For Sound
  • Pros: Lanyard-style remote adds a lot of value to unit.
  • Cons: iPod nano does not securely fit in the unit's iPod dock.
  • Applications: Health clubs, nightclubs, restaurants, corporate boardrooms.
  • Price: $599 MSRP; $199 street

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Dimensions: 3.5"×19"×4.7" (HxWxD)
  • Weight: 3.8lbs.
  • Power: AC IN, 100 ~ 240V 50Hz/60Hz, 17W

OUTPUTS

Balanced XLR

  • Output: Level: 22.5dBu ± 1dBu
  • THD: <0.01%
  • S/N: Ratio: >85dB
  • Frequency: Response: Flat ±2dB - 20Hz to 20kHz

Unbalanced RCA (×2)

  • Output: Level: 8.2dBv +/-1dBv
  • THD: <0.01%
  • S/N: Ratio: >85dB
  • Frequency: Response: Flat ±2dB - 20Hz to 20kHz





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