Is Phase DJ Worth The Hype?

Apr 15, 2019 | Gear

If you have not been living under a rock, you’ve heard of Phase. The revolutionary DVS system introduced in early 2018 offering a unique solution, playing on existing turntables without needles. It took the DJ industry by storm at NAMM, and people were eager to jump on and place an early order on it. And then the waiting began.

Time Time Time. See What’s Become Of Me…

I was one of these early adopters. After seeing DJ Jazzy Jeff perform with Phase early on, and having a quick personal conversation with Skratch Bastid before seeing him perform in PA, I was solidly convinced that I was going to own a set.

But the waiting began. MWM, the creators of Phase, missed a number of deadlines and had a series of really poor communication efforts with all the early investors out there. I somewhat expected this given that MWM only had one other hardware offering out there in the Mixfader. But frustrations grew as the final release date was getting closer.

But we’re not here to dwell on the missteps. We’re here to talk shop on Phase.

What Is Phase?

If you don’t know, Phase is a DVS system that instead of relying on timecode on some kind of media (a record or CD) the Phase system transmits out the familiar time code tone to your mixer/soundcard. From there everything processes the same way as you’d expect.

Phase DJ Setup Map

When you get your Phase it comes in a high quality packaged box, reminiscent to what you see from Apple. In the essentials package, which is what I pre-ordered, you get a pair of transmitters, a receiver, a pair of seemingly high-quality RCA plugs and a USB type-B to type-A cable. You also get two pairs of magnetic strips that use 3M tape to secure the records of your choice. It also seems that the pre-production units released last year are very similar to what got released to the general public so it seems there aren’t any real changes to consider from what was out to a select few last years.

The Tech Equation

So let’s dive a bit into what makes the tech work on this. Now I wish I had some confirmable data on this but MWM has not reached out back to me yet at the time of this article to firm up my thoughts. We know there is a gyroscope in the transmitter that broadcasts out it’s position to the receiver. The fun part is that this can live on a turntable, or on a drill. It does not matter, even it’s orientation can be turned 90º or even upside down. The days of DJs being lightfooted around their turntables or having the subs cut down so you don’t get unwanted vibrations are done. When you look at the calibration options in Serato or VDJ you see a perfect circle formed, something completely unachievable with a set of needles and the most careful calibration.

You Gots To Have Power

The receiver needs to be powered up by some means. You can choose to hook it up to a direct power source but be mindful it needs 5V of power to it. This can be powered by your laptop if it’s through a USB-C/FireWire 3 port or a USB3 Fast Charge port. Funny enough that I can power the Phase, and my external SSD with a simple USB hub from Amazon from the laptop directly (no external power required), but be warned that you will likely see a performance cut in your external drive’s read and write times (mine drops to 30Mb/s). But for a gig pushing audio, that is all I need. If you need more performance out of a USB-C type connection look to invest in an external hub like this DockCase P1 (review here) where you can also power up your laptop and have connectivity all over the same cable.

And speaking of power they report 10-hour battery life. I got mine to over 9 hours but had to give up because I had to leave for the day. So it seems their claims are right on the money.

2.4GHz Conundrum

Now one area of concern I have is it transmits over the 2.4GHz spectrum. This could potentially have dropouts in very crowded areas where microwaves, Bluetooth, cell phones, even security systems can play the role of adding a lot of interference to the signal. It does not appear to be Bluetooth based (which operates on the 2.4GHz spectrum) since I tested the unit by putting the transmitters over 25′ away and there was no degradation of signal. I did experience a drop out as soon as I went outside my house where the physical barriers were too much, but let’s face it, why would this ever be more than a few inches away, to begin with?

I would have been happier if they would have used a UHF frequency to reduce the possibility of these kinds of dropouts and only time will tell how well Phase will hold up. I tried bombarding it with things at home, a microwave, a few cell phones close by, my Apple watch, but I did not experience any drops. But this is admittedly a limited scale test. Now transmitting this type of data is a pretty small feat compared to doing something like transmitting audio. I suspect that all that the transmitters are broadcasting is X/Y coordinates so there may be some things that Phase has decided on like they could transmit to two separate channels inside the 2.4GHz spectrum so it gives them redundancy in the signal. But again this is wild speculation and I hope that Phase has a chat with me on these questions I have.

Just A Bit Off

So let’s make sure we are clear, this is not a perfect offering out of the gate. Beyond the gaffes MWM had with launching Phase there are a few things to address. To start, it seems a number of units need to be recalibrated. After testing through Serato, VDJ, and doing an inverse test with my Reloop RP-8000 turntables I observed a +0.46% deviation in pitch. In other words, it’s tracking just a bit too fast. MWM does not have a calibration tool available to the public as of this writing but my guess is they will have something soon. It’s not a showstopper, but it’s something to be aware of.

Downloading the software is a slight challenge too if you are on older platforms, specifically Windows 8 or lower. The Phase application is only available through the Store app on Windows 10 at the time of this writing. I don’t know if that is going to change, but those running older versions of Windows wanting this may have to make a choice to modernize or not consider Phase. macOS has their application that is downloaded directly from the Phase page so that is not of a concern for Apple users.

Another more common complaint is that the Phase is causing Serato to go into INT mode. I saw this happen once myself after 15 minutes of use. However, I do not believe this is a Phase issue, rather a Serato issue. When I had my Denon SC3900s I would experience the same exact issue. And this is a bit different than how the Rane TWELVES operate since they are transmitting over USB, where the Phase is going over RCA’s. I am curious if this will ever be resolved, but I do believe that those pointing to Phase could be wrong in their judgment.

A few people have complained about dead units, one reaching out to me directly. But after having them charge overnight they did connect. Given this is lithium-ion batteries, it’s usually good practice to give them a long charge before pressing them into action.

There are also rumors of a firmware update to be released soon. So we’ll have to stay tuned to see what fixes they will be applying.

The Applications Are Endless

Want to use phase on your Technics, Reloops, Pioneers, have at it. But you can also use this really on any moving platter. Got a portable Numark PT01? Have at it. Got a turntable with a broken tonearm? Pull it out, place a cover on it, and now you have a fully functioning platter system for it. Want to do scratch routines with your body? A power tool? Yep, you can do that too.

My Initial Impressions

So what do I think of all this? I was blown away when it was introduced in 2018, and while I hoped they had not missed their release dates or had some communication issues, I still believed in the technology. And what they shipped is completely spot on. After a brief download, installation, and hooking things up, I was off to the races. While I’ve only had them in my hand for less than 72 hours I continue to be impressed by them. If things of concern like using a 2.4GHz frequency hold up, this really will revolutionize the culture of DJing, especially for clubs.

For us Mobile DJs there are options out there. There is the Rane TWELVEs, there is the Numark NS7iii, there are some older options going back to the Pioneer DZ1200 and Numark CDX that have tried to marry up moving platters with timecode control. But now there is another option to consider, one that marries up the exact feel of being on turntables because you are on turntables. No longer will you have to worry about bumps, vibrations, and the like so you can bring your 1200s out to a farm, barn, tent, or other venues that you would never want to because you’d be afraid your set would be ruined by less than ideal conditions.


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