My first encounter with the Reloop NEON pad controller for Serato DJ was memorable. In fact, it was one that resulted in glee and excitement, as I’ve been waiting for a controller like this for quite a while now.
Though, in my view, there isn’t an add-on DJ controller that’s 100-percent perfect, this one comes awfully, awfully close for me. Let’s just begin by saying: the NEON was the final deciding factor in my complete switch to Serato DJ from Scratch Live.
I’ve had Serato DJ on my computer for some time now, mainly for experimentation, and I’ve used the all-in-one controllers that my friends have. But I’ve never used them with DVS until I got my hands on the NEON. So far, this one’s my fave.
Getting Started: When I first plugged in the NEON, it just looked fun—I knew I was in for a treat. In the demo, or “Vegas” mode (as their technician corrected me), the pads light up like Christmas trees! Who doesn’t like bright colorful lights? The colors are all there for a reason, though, and that was one of my main attractions to using these in my live setup.
In every unique function mode on the NEON, the pads and selector buttons change to a different color, which is super helpful when determining if you are about to trigger a cue point or a sample on Serato DJ’s SP-6 sample player. More specifically, when the bank of eight pads is set to hot cues, the pads are RGB-color-matched to the cue-point colors you select in Serato DJ, which is awesome.
It gets crazier, though. If you are in “Pad FX” mode on the NEON, the touch-sensitive pads act as pressure pad knobs, in which the dry/wet control for any audio effect can be controlled by your finger pressure. As you apply more or less pressure, the color of the pad changes beneath your finger. Really cool MIDI feedback/output going on there. Before I got the NEONs, I didn’t mess with Serato’s DJ FX panel much, but the Pad FX buttons make it so much fun. You can set them up to control three separate effects per deck, or one—your choice. That press-dry/wet pad setup is sweet.
Build & Layout: The unit is really well-built. It is tough, sturdy, and amazingly lightweight. I have two of them in my live setup, and having them both in my DJ bag is barely noticeable. They don’t feel cheap or flimsy at all, and they take up very little room. The pads have a really nice MPC-style feel, which I find to be the perfect level of firmness.
The rest of the buttons on the unit, other than the 8-pad bank, are a click-press-select type, which is good feedback for me when switching between different control modes. I can throw these things around, in and out of my DJ bag without a worry that I am going to damage them or something else in my bag. I’ve been rocking with them live now for a few weeks and I love them so far. Zero issues.
In Use: I can run these in my live setup as a pair, or solo. In fact, at a recent gig, I left the TRRS 1/8-inch linking cable behind, and had to play the whole night with just one NEON, which was actually really easy (though I was bummed I couldn’t have both). On the left of the controller, there are deck-selector buttons, and they are easily visible and easy to jump between modes if you only have one in your setup. Again, I would always prefer a pair of these, though. And at around $150 apiece, they are inexpensive enough that you can start with one and add on another if you feel like you want more control.
I know, for me, personally, I need to have dedicated cue point pads for both Serato decks, so I had to have two in my setup. I modified an old Matias iFold stand to become my custom double-NEON stand, but Reloop has plans to release a unit-specific controller stand for the NEON soon—though, it only holds one unit. Configuring the NEON placement is really more of a personal preference thing anyway.
Right now, I have been using an aftermarket 10-foot USB cable and the included TRRS link cable when I perform with them, without the need for a powered USB hub. With the amount of LED lighting on these units, however, I would suggest a powered hub if you plan to hook up more peripherals to your computer. I’ve tried it both ways with no issues.
Plug and play is easy—middle of a gig, link, un-link, connect a second NEON mid-gig, disconnect, no problems. People used to be plagued with hot-swap and plug-and-play issues with other units in the past, myself included. The NEONs have none of these issues.
The Features: The unit has a bunch of really cool features, which take advantage of Serato DJ’s newest updates. First, Serato FLIP has its own dedicated pad-control bank button on the NEON, where you can trigger “hot flips” from the controller. It’s really awesome if you are into Serato FLIP, which allows DJs to record and play back cue-point information. Basically, you can create individual edits from a song and trigger these sequences on the fly. Also, the “hot loop” mode is cool, too. You can use it to jump to existing loops, or turn loops on and off.
The dedicated buttons for internal and relative mode are really cool and very useful for me. I also like the shift button to further expand the control on NEON. There’s a censor button, too—smart.
The SP-6 player “Sampler” mode control is where the NEON is so killer. Not only can you have velocity-sensitive control over your SP-6 samples, but you can control the launch mode of the sample from the controller, with a LED indicator for what mode you are currently in, for each individual sample. The possibilities with live remixing here are incredible. I am already using the SP-6 way more now that I have the NEONs, and the control and feedback is so precise.
Quibbles: The drawbacks to this unit are very minor, and might not even be a deal-breaker for some people. In fact, for me, the benefits of all the NEONs features far outweigh the negatives—but here goes…
First, the loop-selector knob/button combo and the track selector knob/button combo are a bit sensitive for me. I feel like the knob moves through the loops too quickly. (On the track-selection side, though, this is awesome!) When I go to trigger an auto-loop using the loop knob/button, if I hit it at the wrong angle, it can throw me off plus/minus one loop selection beat division. That means that if I have it set on 1 beat, and I press down on the button wrong, it will trigger the loop and throw it into half-beat mode.
The pads are very sensitive in hot-cue mode, and also in the SP-6 sampler mode. If you are tapping down hard on them, there is enough MIDI cross-talk sensitivity in the NEON that you can accidentally create unwanted cue points in empty cue-point slots. This really isn’t a big deal, but it is an issue that might want to be addressed in an update. When doing cue-point drum rolls, it’s actually really awesome, but can be annoying if you are vigorously drumming between cues. Be gentle, kids.
Lastly, I feel like this unit is missing three key things, which hopefully will be solved when Serato decides to unlock custom MIDI-mapping for these controllers (one day soon, I hope… Serato, if you’re listening…). I would have loved to see an Auto-Loop pad mode, loop-roll pad mode, and a dedicated button for the key-lock. The hot-loop thing is cool, but I don’t think it needs eight pads. If that mode was split between hot loops and auto-loops, then that would be awesome. Or, if I could custom-map one of the existing modes to a “user-mode” button, that would be even better. First order of business would be to re-map the “hot loop” mode as auto loops and loop roll (top and bottom). Hint-hint!
Conclusion: With its slew of cool features, the depth and control possibilities of the NEON are almost overwhelming. It definitely keeps my hands off the laptop more, and makes my DJ sets so much more fun. Like I mentioned before, those few minor features that the unit lacks are far, far outweighed by the positives here. From portability to performance to price point, this thing is a winner.
It’s all I’m using in my Serato setup now, besides mixer and turntables. Buy one, buy two, you will be happy either way. These things are awesome. I have already suggested them to all my DJ pals, and those who have seen me perform with them are already drooling.