Controller Close-up #5: GAMO2 PHOENIXWAN for beatmania IIDX

“DJ DAO” controllers have always been the most popular option for home-based BEMANI setups, whether that be on PlayStation2 or PC. Their first controller, the “FP7” for beatmania IIDX, was released in 2006. Since then, quite a lot has changed in the BEMANI world.

With plenty of competition in the past few years, of course it was time for a step towards the future.

THAT FUTURE IS HERE.

In 2012, a small group named “GAMO2” joined DJ DAO under the Skystar Company and produced their first controller, the “C33”. At the time, it was a new and different controller. But now, 6 years later, after 2 years of dedicated development, and over a decade of research and improvements, GAMO2 has finally unveiled their flagship controller, the “PHOENIXWAN” (Phoenix-One).

Lucky for us, we managed to get our very own pair of review models so we could test them out and provide all the details everyone’s looking for.

If you’re in the market for a new home controller for your favorite beatmania IIDX setup, you might want to read on a see how this controller stacks up to the competition.

The PHOENIXWAN comes in a strong dedicated box, which holds it snug and secure during the shipping process. Not so lucky for us, the controller was shipped vertically and that caused the felt spacer under the turntable to become stuck between the top platter and center bearing piece.

Although it seems like a rare occurrence, it required some adjustment (just unscrewing the TT cover, flipping the felt piece) before the turntable was usable. For most people though, this shouldn’t be an issue. When we brought up the issue to the Design Team, they mentioned that this would be fixed in the final version thanks to our feedback.

Taking the controller out of the box and protective sleeve, it’s clear right off the bat how this controller is meant to be a major player.

One of the first things most people will notice is the 4 square buttons on the key panel. These are used for full beatmania IIDX INFINITAS support, and you can simply plug it in to your PC, and load up the game. No need for additional software, signal converters, or anything like that. It just works.

Of course, the controller fully supports PlayStation2 versions of the game, so you can keep enjoying your CS originals for years to come.

This controller has a full arcade-sized turntable, with accurate spacing and height to replicate the arcade experience. However, even with this full-sized turntable, the controller itself measures just 52cm x 27cm x 10cm, almost identical to the DJDAO FP7.

How is that possible?

Here’s the thing. This controller isn’t just a box with components in it. It’s a completely original casing, manufactured to fit everything just right, without wasted space or generic designs.

The PHOENIXWAN’s panel where the keys are placed is flush with the top panel. In general, this provides a cleaner design, and also reduces weight, build time, and overall cost. However, without a plexiglas cover, players can no longer easily customize the theme/design of their controllers.

That said, the DJDAO Design Team mentioned in our official Discord during a Q&A session that they would also be providing clear/transparent panels for users who wanted to customize these parts.

The PHOENIXWAN’s buttons are a custom DJDAO original part, which have a set of 40g springs by default. They have a good feel overall, and should be familiar to anyone who’s used a DAO before. Compared to Sanwa switches, they’re mostly the same, with just a different “sound” and “feel”. I do prefer a nice set of Sanwas, but these originals work pretty well as an inexpensive substitute.

Can we talk about the aesthetics of this controller for a bit?

It looks fantastic, and nothing is really out of place. The whole black-and-white design really gives it a premium and classy feel, and everything, from the fonts chosen, to the default panel pattern, to the turntable just work REALLY well together.

Between the key panel and the turntable area, a new LED “Audio Light” has been added. There are three modes that you can set for this: “BEAT”, “Breathe” and “Frequency spectrum”. These modes can be toggled with a simple key combination, and the color of the light can also be adjusted.

Check out the Frequency spectrum mode works below:

And now, on to the turntable. This is one of my favorite parts of this controller, and I think many will agree when they try it out.

First of all, JUST LOOK AT IT.

The design incorporates a record-like platter with a clear vinyl overlay on top, giving it a beautiful shine. The feeling is nothing like the old turntables that were used ten years ago. The grip is much stronger than the “EMP” style grip that’s currently being used in the arcade and on home controllers.

So it looks great and feels great, but what else? Well, how about easy adjustment of the stiffness/looseness? Easily done by just turning the four screws under the decal ever so slightly (DO NOT loosen them all the way to the left.)

It’s easy to replicate your favorite arcade cabinet feel with this adjustment, but DJDAO also takes it a step further. Just a simple button combination lets you adjust the sensitivity of the turntable, AND the spinning length.

It’s that simple. And easy. And fun! This adjustment will let you fine-tune the turntable to precisely the way you want it. There are various usage scenarios, such as high sensitivity and low spin length for wrist scratching, or high spin length for easy Backspin/Hell Scratch notes, etc. Being able to fine-tune the turntable like this is definitely an awesome feature of this controller’s new PCB.

If you have the good fortune of being able to play on a PENDUAL/copula-era cabinet or newer, you’ll know how the new I/O board makes scratching much more responsive. This feeling is exactly what I experienced when I first played on the PHOENIXWAN.

That said, although I really enjoy this turntable, the material might not work for everyone. For me, (1P mid-10dan, 3:5/TAKA-S style) it only took 2 songs to get used to, but I was able to enjoy playing scratch songs and not having to worry about strange turntable input or anything like that.

Speaking of the Turntable PCB, you can also adjust the color’s hue, brightness, and saturation to perfectly fit your mood. This can be done with a simple button combination, using the turntable to adjust the settings:

Aside from this wide range of color possibilities, there are also 7 different modes that you can switch to easily – take a look at them all below:

Moving on, let’s continue with the controller’s design and other features. The cord is actually hidden away by default in a small storage space on the underside of the controller. You can also see the 3.5mm input jack that powers the Audio Light here.

The underside of the controller has a mostly clean look. However, two things stand out. The instruction panel, and the small button near the center:

The instruction panel here nicely provides all if the relevant information on changing the controller modes, adjust the lights, and other features. It also looks pretty decent overall, even though the text is in 3 languages.

Of course, this is just the basics of the controller operation. For the full details, you can take a look at the tri-language manual that’s enclosed:

On the left, you can see the 3.5mm input jack which controls the Audio Light. More on this later.

Opening up the small back cover, we can see the (roomy) cable storage space, which can also be used to hold whatever else you like:

But wait, where’s the key panel PCB, and how do you access anything else? Simple, just press this small button.

When doing this, be careful if the controller is upside-down because it pushes up the key panel like this:

Of course, this means that there are no tools required to open the key panel and perform any kind of button/switch maintenance, etc.

This whole panel is held snugly in place by four strong magnets. Thankfully, unlike the glued-in magnets on the VIRGOO PortableDX, these are screwed into the casing, and will never come off.

Opening this panel up reveals nothing in particular, although we can see a glimpse into the custom casing that this controller uses. And here is where my only (tiny) gripe with this controller appears.

It’s very compact, but that basically means that these cables can also press against the switches, since there isn’t really any space below them. Because of this, you have to sometimes adjust where the cables are places before you close this panel. Granted, most people won’t need to open this panel up too much, but I wish there was a slightly more optimized cable-management system here. For example, something like the official KONAMI Premium Controller has, just a simple clip that keeps everything in-place.

That said, I can completely understand why this happened. The controller was built with compactness and portability in mind. In general, we can see that the DJDAO and GAMO2 Design team really wanted to make everything fit in a minimal amount of space. If the microswitch and button assembly was smaller (shorter), this controller could be made even shorter.

Anyway, that said, it’s great to be able to flip the controller into 2P orientation in under 10 seconds, without tools. Remember, the first FP7 didn’t let you switch sides. It was sold fixed-in-place.

By the way, the PHOENIXWAN looks pretty excellent in 2P mode:

Let’s take a quick look at the underside of the key panel: Inside here we have a completely brand-new PCB, powering all of the magical mode switching and other features:

The button assembly is the standard DJDAO Original, complete with 40g springs. They don’t have the rectangular spacer that some other buttons do, since that’s unnecessary due to the panel’s design. Unlike Sanwas, these can of course be separated by simply twisting them.

Apparently, the DJDAO wiring is completely custom-made, which as the Design Team Lead mentioned, lets the player take the wires off of the switches easily, but also provides a more stable connection. Speaking of the switches, I’m sure you’re all wondering what’s in here.

The switches are “Dongnan MS1-03” with .25N weight, made by a major manufacturer in Hong Kong. Comparable to the D2MV-01-1C2 variant Omrons, here’s what they look like together:

The Dongnans have a different feel to Omrons, so if you’re already used to Omrons, just keep on using those. For new or purely casual players, however, I would highly recommend the default Dongnan set. The design team mentioned that these switches actually have double the lifespan of Honeywell switches, so they should last pretty much forever.

To show you what they’re like in action, I prepared a quick comparison video. The default setup is the 3rd one, but I replaced the springs on the others, and also swapped in some well-used Omrons on the left two:

As a bonus, I thought a microswitch sound comparison was long overdue. Perhaps this is what the kids call “ASMR” these days?

Konami ASC (Shoji Shiba, 1N) → Virgoo (Qiaoh, .49N) → Gamo2 (Dongnan .25N) → Omron (.25N) → Omron (.49N)

Let’s go ahead and take apart the buttons too.

Nothing special here, but they are fairly light overall. As with the switches, I’m sure many players who are used to Sanwa buttons will definitely prefer those over this. But again, if you have no preference, and just want to play the game with a solid arcade-style setup, these will do just fine!

Just as an additional comparison, here, have another video:

Moving on to the turntable, after removing the 4 screws we are greeted with the standard arcade-style slipmat pieces of felt and plastic. Under that are 4 long screws that hold the top of the turntable (metal, plexi, base) into place. Unscrewing these to access the interior was not a smart idea, because that’s not how you access the inside.

After removing them, you’ll be able to get this far:

You can see again how the controller’s body was specially molded to fit everything just right. Even the silver reflection cover was made to fit the exact alignment of the turntable’s LED board.

However, this is as far as you can go on-top.

Moving to the bottom of the controller, you can find 8 screws under the rubber feet. Removing them will finally let you into the real inside of this controller.

This is not a place that you should ever need to be in, since the key panel provides easy access to the buttons and switches.

The turntable sensors are much more advanced that the original DJ Dao ones, and will essentially never break as a result of the turntable gears scraping against them (remember that problem?)

All in all, this controller is built well. It also plays well, especially with the turntable. I had no trouble settling into a few games of INFINITAS and enjoying IIDX as usual.

So, for some final notes – this is not a complete arcade replica controller. If you are into that, go grab one of DJ DAO’s RES/RED. Although it won’t be as expensive as the Platinum Edition Evolution, this is not going to be a super-budget controller. If you’re short on cash, save up a bit.

Personally, I can’t wait to swap some Sanwas and Omrons into this controller, because with those, it will become the perfect controller.

Lastly, we’ll finish this off with a quick list of the Pros/Cons, and our review score. If anyone has any questions, you can ask away in the comments below, in our Discord server, or on Twitter or Facebook.

[Paul Hartling edit]

I would absolutely like to point out and say that I do not play IIDX at home. I haven’t played at home since 2007, when beatmania IIDX 15: DJ TROOPERS released on PS2 and wanted to make it clear that after roughly a month and a half of playing on this controller (with swapped out lighter springs for my preference) my overall timing and difficulty wall has been expanded a decent amount. Playing on the controller for roughly 2 hours every other day in both IIDX INFINITAS and on console releases, I was passing stuff I was never normally passing. Chalk it up to ‘practice makes perfect’, or call it whatever, but using this controller has made me want to keep getting better and playing a lot more at home in my free time.

Another suggestion is to keep the controller in the box whenever you’re through playing. Keeping it out in the open, the turntable gathered some floating debris that was tough to wipe completely off due to the material used. With a total of roughly 40 hours played, I have yet to notice any texture changes due to wear and tear in the material used for the turntable.

Pros:

  • Strong and high-quality custom case, clean design.
  • Fantastic turntable grip and accuracy
  • Customizable RGB lighting colors
  • Convenient maintenance access & hidden cabling
  • Smaller, light-and-compact design
  • Plug-and-play for INFINITAS/PC and PS2

Cons:

  • Strong turntable grip might cause discomfort for some play styles
  • Not the cheapest/smallest/most portable controller
  • THAT’S IT.

The PHOENIXWAN can now be pre-ordered on the GAMO2 official page for your related region below! Default set up includes custom DJDAO buttons, 40g springs and 25g DJDAO micro switches.

North America – $279.00

Japan/Asia – 38,000

Official detailed PHOENIXWAN page can be seen here.

GAMO2
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