I’m not a musically talented person. I’m tone deaf and have no rhythm, but I at least enjoy listening to music. DJing requires both a knowledge of keys and beats, so remixing my favorite songs has been out of the question no matter what app I’ve tried—until now. Harmonix, the company behind Rock Band, has made remixing songs as easy as playing cards with DropMix. This $99.99 game, manufactured by Hasbro, combines NFC-equipped cards, a flashing board, your mobile device, and some genuinely impressive audio magic to let you create mash-ups from dozens of different songs. Looking at it as just a game does it a disservice. This is a casual DJ tool that anyone can use to make great tracks in seconds, and earns our Editors’ Choice.
The DropMix board is a big slab of black plastic with tapered edges, measuring 2.0 by 20.9 by 8.0 inches (HWD). It has five flat recesses for cards, each surrounded by a clear border that lights up in different colors. A wide DropMix button sits on the left of the board, while a large slot to hold your phone or tablet sits on the right. A battery compartment on the bottom of the board takes four AA batteries to run everything.
The board is basically just a five-slot NFC card reader with dynamic lighting. It connects to your smartphone or tablet over Bluetooth, and relies on it for all music playback. That means whatever mix you create will pipe out through your phone or tablet’s speaker unless you connect an external speaker to it. This isn’t as limiting as it sounds, since (if your phone has a headphone jack) you can hook up any size or shape speaker with a wire, and the board’s batteries last longer because they don’t need to drive any speakers on their own.
The DropMix starter set comes with the board and 60 cards. Each card represents a segment of a song, has its own colors, level, and playlist icon. The color of the card is the most important aspect, determining whether it holds the song’s vocals (yellow), lead instrument (red), rhythm (blue), bass (green), or all of them (rainbow). These colors match colored markings above and below each slot on the DropMix board itself, indicating the preferred card types for that slot: Starting closest to the DropMix button, they’re green/blue, blue, blue/red, red, and red/yellow. The multiple colors help keep a song balanced, ensuring you have flexibility but don’t just load up your mix with nothing but drums.
The level of each card is a three-section triangle with one, two, or all three sections filled in to indicate how intense the song is. The playlist icon shows what thematic set of songs the card belongs to. After dozens of hours of playing with DropMix, I’ve found that the level and playlist icon don’t actually mean anything when you’re just mixing music, though they can factor in when you’re playing one of the competitive modes. There are also special white cards that don’t contain any song parts, and only come into play in the competitive modes.
The starting set of cards is pretty eclectic, with some real bangers. There’s A Tribe Called Quest (“Scenario”), Carly Rae Jepsen (“Call Me Maybe”), Disturbed (“Down With the Sickness”), Fall Out Boy (“Centuries”), Ricky Martin (“La Mortidita”), and Skrillex (“Bangarang”), to name a few. There’s plenty to start with, spread across a variety of artists and genres.
You can expand your library with more cards, either through $5 packs of five cards each, or $15 playlist packs of 15 cards focused around a specific genre. There is some gold in those packs, like Europe’s “The Final Countdown” in one of the $5 packs and The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” in the pop playlist pack. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a card for the leitmotif of the Twitter age, Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
Each card has an NFC chip embedded. It doesn’t contain any song information on its own, but when read by the DropMix board it tells the app what song section to play. The app automatically downloads the starter set of cards, and downloads additional music when you use new cards.
Syncing the board to your mobile device is easy. Just download the free DropMix app and press the button on the board when it tells you to. The process is completely automatic from there.
DropMix has two game modes, Clash and Party. Clash is a competitive game where two teams take turns laying down cards to get points and change the mix. Party can be cooperative or competitive, and requires players to fulfill requests based on card color and level.
Those game modes are completely and utterly forgettable. You might have some fun with friends working within the rule sets, but they aren’t the true appeal of DropMix. The real magic is in Freestyle mode and making your own music on your terms.
Mixing starts by putting a card down on the board. Let’s say you drop LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” green card on the green/blue slot. The synth bassline from the song starts playing. Next, you drop Ricky Martin’s “La Mordidita” blue card next to it. The drums from that song start playing, synchronized with the bassline. You have a good foundation for a song, but it needs some substance. So drop in the red card for Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket.” The horns from that song come in over the mix. Then throw in the guitars from Run D.M.C.’s “It’s Tricky” by putting that song’s red card next to it. Now you have some layers, all synchronized and working together, sounding like a real remix. Finally, add some vocals. Childish Gambino’s “Heartbeat” is a rainbow card, so putting it in the red/yellow slot adds both the lyrics and the keyboard.
It all sounds great, because each element of a song is beat-matched and pitch-matched to work with the others. In fact, when you add the Childish Gambino card to the aforementioned combination something interesting happens. Before then, the mix was 130 beats per minute in G minor. Adding in “Heartbeat” automatically drops the mix to 120 beats per minute and puts the key in E minor, letting all of the different elements of the mix complement each other in a way they didn’t at the original beat and key.
The key and beat changes largely happen automatically when you add cards, though some powerful cards like Skrillex’s “Bangarang” cause tracks to reset, rolling into a drumline and starting the mix over. And if you think any part of the mix is dragging or too sped up, you can just hit the DropMix button on the board to manually reset the track, forcing the app to choose a new beat and key.
Don’t worry about clearing the board when you want to use new cards. The DropMix board can handle entire stacks of cards, reliably reading only the top card in the stack. The upper limit is ten cards on any slot, but it starts to get wonky around seven.
As touched on, Harmonix has created some impressive automatic audio alchemy with DropMix. It’s almost impossible to find a mix that sounds off. If you use the recommended colors and rely on the app to automatically adjust the beat and key, pretty much any mix you try is going to sound pretty good.
It doesn’t just sound amazing, though. Sometimes it’s legitimately hilarious. One of my favorite things to do with DropMix is to drop Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness” on the red/yellow slot and hit the button. No matter what the other parts of the song are present, no matter what genre or tempo, the mix resets with David Draiman growling, “Oooh-ah-ah-ah-ah!” I laugh every single time. It doesn’t get old. Neither does hearing the plaintive horns from Cake’s “Short Skirt/Long Jacket” floating over any Cake-less mix.
You don’t need to follow DropMix’s rules in Freestyle mode, either. The rainbow cards default to playing the parts of the mix that match the colored slot in which they’re dropped, but the cards with single colors can be dropped anywhere. You like drums? Lay down all blue cards and turn Imagine Dragons, Fred Turner, Far East Movement, Run D.M.C., and Cake into Slipknot. How about a duo between Carly Rae Jepsen and A Tribe Called Quest? Put their yellow cards next to each other and they’ll harmonize. Then toss on “Bangarang” and they’ll instantly become a dubstep remix.
If that isn’t enough control for you, you can manually set the tempo from 80 to 150 beats per minute and put your mix into any major or minor key. There is endless experimentation, especially when you add cards from expansion packs, which we highly recommend, because there are some fantastic picks to add to your library.
You can make mixes sound very strange by ignoring the color recommendations and changing the beat and key yourself, but you can’t outright break them. It always works together, even if pitch-shifting can make Sia’s vocals sound hilariously high-pitched or make the guitar in Weezer’s “King of the World” seem downright alien in A minor. Whatever combination you try, the results will be interesting.
Besides saving favorite mixes to the app, you can also share them online. You can tweet new mixes directly from the DropMix app to share with others playing the game, or output mixes as sub-minute-long videos that demonstrate the mix being built up from individual cards. That’s how we made the two mix videos above.
Everyone’s a DJ
I have put dozens of hours into mixing songs in Freestyle mode along with my colleague Jordan Minor at Geek.com. We almost never touch the game modes, because it’s just too much fun to make your own music. And these mixes are more than just entertaining experiments. They often sound legitimately good, which has led us to simply plug headphones into our phones, turn on the app, and chill out to some custom remixes. I can throw on almost any mix of blue drum and green synth cards and come out with some great background music to work to.
DropMix is incredibly fun and mind-bogglingly impressive, combining so many different parts of so many different songs together on the fly and consistently producing mixes that sound great. It’s something you need to see and hear to believe (the mix videos in this review hopefully help with that). I’m not a DJ, but I can pretend to be one with DropMix and come up with some truly banging mixes, and that’s why it earns our Editor’s Choice—even if it doesn’t have “All Star” yet.