There are two slide potentiometers at the top that control the volume of each of the two tracks, and one in the middle that controls the balance between the two. Each side also has three rotary encoders for controlling various effects that you can apply, such as the speed, high/low pass filters, and bitcrusher. The interface is reasonably intuitive, but there’s also a guide to help you get started. Really, the challenge isn’t controlling the device, but understanding how to use it to make music that sounds good – a trait that Jay-D has in common with most musical instruments.
Take a look here for a mix put together by AA Battery to get an idea of what Jay-D can do.
Jay-D arrives as a kit of parts. The surface mount bits are all pre-soldered onto the circuit boards, but you have to solder on the larger through-hole bits and assemble the acrylic case. It’s all quite straightforward and would be a good project for a beginner. In fact, Jay-D started life as part of CircuitMess’s STEM Box for helping people understand how to use technology.
With everything assembled, it’s time to play some tunes! Jay-D comes with a microSD card pre-loaded with some songs to try out. We’d love to give you some advice here, but we’re not particularly gifted in the art of DJing here at HackSpace towers, so we’ll leave it to you to work out what you like.
There are a few limitations with the firmware. The biggest is that while you can load two songs and mix them in different ways, you can’t load a third song while the music is playing. This means you can use it to create mixes of songs, but not create longer mixes of three or more songs.
As with all of CircuitMess’s creations, Jay-D isn’t just an end-product for you to use – it’s a programmable device for you to tinker with and tweak. It’s based on ESP-32, and you can use it in all sorts of ways (for example, there’s a Bluetooth MIDI controller library for ESP-32 that we’re keen to try out with Jay-D).
However, for most people, the programming is probably going to be using the Arduino Library for Jay-D or CircuitBlocks (the visual programming tool provided by CircuitMess). At the moment, there’s only documentation on the latter. CircuitBlocks does show the Arduino code for the program you’re creating, so it can be useful to first try building something in there to see how the library works, even if you want to use a more traditional Arduino setup.
Using either method, you can control the four LED matrices and apply different effects to songs and mix them in different ways. All the basic features of playing audio, applying effects, and mixing together two tracks are handled by the library, so you can get started with this very quickly.
We’ve had fun playing with Jay-D. It’s particularly useful that the kit comes with a range of different songs so that you can use it without first having to try to source some songs.
This is an unusual device, and how much enjoyment you get from it really depends on how you like to interact with music. It takes a bit of getting used to, and the results aren’t for everyone. It’s unlike anything else we’ve seen in the maker scene (there are more fully featured DJ tables available, though they’re not as hackable as Jay-D). If you enjoy programming and want to experiment with different ways of mixing and manipulating songs, then there’s loads to play with here.