Tonium Pacemaker

The first of its kind, the Tonium Pacemaker will stop your heart… and then start it again as the beat goes on.

The world of electronic music has been a journey, an evolution of technology meshing with some of the most creative minds the world has seen. We’ve jumped from vinyl decks made by companies like Technics and Vestax to compact disc & mp3 decks pushed out by names such as Numark and Stanton. Disc jockeys who prefer a more hands-on approach but without the need to carry a huge road case full of their favourite records have found solace in the arms of digital solutions like Serato and Final Scratch.

But now there’s a new way to drive the music people love. Now the entire game will change and it’s all thanks to one very small device.

The Tonium Pacemaker is the first of its kind: a DJ device designed for the creation of music mixed that you can hold in your hand and be as creative as you want anywhere.

And when I say “anywhere,” I mean it. On the bus, on the train, on the plane when the flight attendants say yes to electronic devices; if you’ve got room to play your Nintendo DS or PlayStation Portable, you’ve got enough space to mix some music on the Tonium Pacemaker.

With a similar size and shape to the Sony PlayStation Portable, the Tonium Pacemaker is one of the more intriguing ideas to grace my desk since I started working here. Developed as a tool for DJ’s, the Pacemaker promises music control in the palm of your hand and the ends of your fingers in a way that no one could have possibly imagined.

Running off of a 120GB drive and what is obviously some very cool software, the Pacemaker is a portable DJ device. Unlike the PSP, you’ll be holding this thing in a vertical position with the top circle used as your screen. Bright and punchy, the white-and-coloured text on a black circular screen looks like it was made for nightclub usage. Under the screen, you’ve got two buttons for forward and backwards followed by two more buttons designating the left and the right track. Then you’ve got a whole bunch of small lights sitting above a touch panel: this is the area where you’ll slide sound from channel 1 only on the left, channel 2 only on the right, or a central mix from both with the dot lit up in the middle. Under that section, you’ll find buttons for playback and cue followed by another circular panel much like the screen we first mentioned.

This panel has a big difference though for it is here you will control the bulk of the functionality that the Tonium has to offer. Simple directional gestures will change the sound or control where on the track you are. Similar to vinyl & digital vinyl, you’ll be controlling the position of the cue point by way of a rotation except in this case, the rotation occurs for your finger only without any moving parts.

On the left side of the Pacemaker is a button which when held in various directions gives every button and directional gesture even more control. Hold the side button down and everything on the Pacemaker becomes all about the headphones. How much of the channels do you want blending on the headphone mix? What about volume? It is here in the headphone side of things that you can also develop a loop from a song that you’ve loaded into an extra channel.

All of this is easy to do but if you want to have some real fun, shift the side button into the up position and you’ll get to really play around.

Held in the up position, the gestures on the bottom-most touch panel now become all about control and effects. If you’re looking for reverb or a low-cut sound between the tracks, you’ll control it all from here with quick and easy actions. I say it’s quick because after the first few tries where you’ll have no idea what you’re doing, it’ll quickly become second nature to you.

Likewise, it is here in this set of functionality that you’ll be able to control the tempo changes that your music is hitting. Anyone who’s ever worked with a deck will know the importance that’s needed when trying to mix two songs that have completely different Beats Per Minute; fixing this on the Pacemaker is as easy as holding the side-switch up and moving your finger around the bottom touch panel as if you were scratching on a record.

All of this would be in vain, however, if no one was there to listen. To satisfy this, Tonium have provided separate Line Out and Headphone ports on the bottom next to where you plug it in for power. The top of the device has three small things too, but here are two buttons and a USB port. The two buttons there are for turning the Pacemaker on and killing the effects you’re loading onto your music while the USB port works as another way of charging it up and moving your music to the Pacemaker (though not at the same time).

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I’ve been telling a few friends about this and random DJ’s I’m meeting all about the Pacemaker and they’ve all been curious. The idea sounds intriguing and they’re right: it is. The build quality seems excellent with a rubberised surface making this feel sturdy enough to withstand a few drops though I probably wouldn’t think about doing that. The ease of use with which you find the Tonium Pacemaker will depend on how adept you are with current DJ decks & hardware as well as what you decide to use the Pacemaker for.

There are, in fact, only a few things that I can find wrong with it and each of these aren’t even that bad.

First of all is the way you hunt up your tracks. To add music into each of your two channels, you’ll double tap the touch panel on the Pacemaker. That’s easy enough, but the display you’re given sorts your music in alphabetical order for the name of the song.

That’s great if you’ve got every song in your library memorised, but I’d hazard a guess that most of us will have problems with remembering the sheer volume of music that a 120 gigabyte hard drive can hold. Rather, I’d have preferred the Pacemaker to let me order the song list in the order of Beats Per Minute, an ordering system that to me would have made more sense while I was working with the Pacemaker. If you were to load up your Pacemaker to the top with music, you’d likely have a mess on your hands for finding music quickly and easily.

As it stands right now, you can’t seem to change the working order structure for searching through your songs. I’m sure this could be easily changed with a firmware upgrade but this is just where it is right now.

Also, while the beat analyser built into the Pacemaker is as good as they say, you could also say it is too good. While you’re working with the tracks, you’ll see the BPM change tempo quite often, jumping around the number Pacemaker’s editor designated the timing for, back and forth and back again. Because you’ll be beat matching songs & rhythms, this often makes the Pacemaker harder to get music in time than you’d otherwise expect. It’s the human flaw – those little ways of saying “it’s 120 bpm for the entire song” – that the Pacemaker lacks. As a result, you’re often matching timing for certain sections of the songs as opposed to what you started with. This isn’t an issue but rather an annoyance and one you’ll have to get used to correcting if it sounds like your sound is going ever so slightly out.

Finally, the worst part of the Pacemaker is the price. At just under a thousand Australian dollars, the Pacemaker is not a cheap piece of kit. Granted, it’s the only device in the world (as of time of writing) that does anything like this, but it’s also a lot of money for something you can do on your computer anyway. I can see people who love to remix and blend songs working their way on public transport on the way to work, getting their fill of grooves before their work-day begins with the Pacemaker.

What I can’t see is working DJ’s using the Pacemaker as their main cueing device. This doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing to replace two decks and a mixer. I found that it seems to work best along side a deck and a mixer as the Tonium Pacemaker seems to be better used as a remixing instrument. While you can loop and cue tracks – and I’ve been doing this as a test by mixing my own sets while taking the train every day to work – it doesn’t seem to work brilliantly in the capacity of a portable DJ deck. I see it more as a DJ’s instrument of choice giving people the ability to remix and compose with appropriations of other people’s tracks.

It’s certainly interesting, though, and while I probably won’t ever have the need to buy one, good luck getting it out of my hands while it’s on my desk: the Tonium Pacemaker is just that much fun.

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Product: Tonium Pacemaker

Vendor: Elfa

RRP: $1099

Website: Pacemaker (Australia)

Reviewed by Leigh D. Stark