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The DDJ-800 is Pioneer’s latest dedicated controller because of its rekordbox software (the cost of the hardware carries a licence for the program), sitting between your rather basic DDJ-400 (£250) and four-channel flagship DDJ-1000 (£1,129) in the company’s range.
Rekordbox is continuing to grow into a huge and potentially quite confusing software suite. Originally launched alongside the CDJ-2000 players in 2013, this program started as a means of sorting and organising files, essentially a library system for tagging music, preparing sets and transferring files to USB sticks. Pioneer DJ expanded the package recently to add the optional rekordbox DJ, a £120 digital DJ’ing solution controllable via the company’s own CDJs and controllers, third-party options or control vinyl. There’s also a rekordbox iphone app for iOS and Android, that is a basic mobile DJ’ing solution in its right.
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For DDJ users, rekordbox is seen as a rival to famous brands Serato, Traktor or VirtualDJ: the program on which the complete platform runs. Despite similarities to look at, it’s important to remember that the DDJ controllers only work with the software, not standalone; if you need standalone, laptop-free procedure you’d need to turn to alternatives in the company’s CDJ and XDJ ranges. There are no slots for CDs, USB sticks, SD cards or any other sort of removable media on the DDJ, nonetheless it does become an audio tracks interface, so there’s no other hardware required except your notebook and a set of headphones.
Change the record
From the box, it’s immediately apparent that the construction of the 800 is decent, if understandably nearly up to the typical of Pioneer’s range-topping gear. Also you can see where features have already been dropped from the DDJ-1000 to create a smaller, less expensive unit.
Most obviously, the jog wheels are smaller, cheaper units compared to the CDJ-2000-spec kinds you find on the DDJ-1000. Elsewhere, the mixer section is slimmed down, which includes the fortuitous bonus of allowing a few subtle changes to the layout of other controls, giving a bit more space to modify controls just like the headphone cue mix and degrees of headphones, master and booth outputs, and sampler. Furthermore, the crossfader is an easier type compared to the Magvel unit on the DDJ-1000, as the LED rings have disappeared from the cue and play buttons.
Although the DDJ-800 can be utilised as a standalone mixer without having to be connected to a laptop, the mixer effects won’t function (presumably because they’re processed in the program instead of the hardware itself).
Fundamentally, the DDJ’s layout and controls feel virtually identical used to the industry standard CDJs, that is a crucial point. It’s not such a huge deal if you intend to adhere to the same DJ setup forever, however the reality is that a lot of DJs will change at some time, whether it’s if they eventually upgrade to new hardware or just playing on another DJ or club’s setup. To convey the most obvious, that process is easier if you don’t need to relearn a new group of controls.
The crossover of control placement and feel is a genuine feature for Pioneer products, but it’s the one which hasn’t been as straightforward as you’d expect. However, it has certainly first got it right regarding the DDJ: if you’ve come to the DDJ from CDJs and a DJM mixer, you’ll feel in the home, and vice versa.
There are a few substantial differences, of course, but nothing that feels particularly jarring used. The most clear discrepancy may be the fact that CDJs all have a screen above the jog wheel for browsing tracks and viewing waveforms. It could possibly be relatively small on the essential CDJ-850 when compared to big touchscreens on the CDJ-2000NXS2 and CDJ-TOUR1, however the DDJ-800 only gets the small screens at the heart of the jog wheel, meaning you’re reliant on looking at your laptop.
However, the pads below each jog wheel aren’t present on CDJs and do genuinely add significant value to the rekordbox experience, letting you access hot cues, beat jump/loop, beat effects, trigger samples and so forth. It’s a logical deviation from the typical CDJ layout and all of the better for it.
Even though the 800 is billed as a two-channel unit, each one of the jog wheels actually pertains to some virtual decks in rekordbox. The mixer section contains small slider switches to choose the inputs for both channels, which likewise incorporate the external inputs on the trunk of the machine. As such, channel 1 could be switched to a phono/line input (on shared RCA sockets), deck 1 or deck 3. Channel 2 could be switched to the next phono/line input, deck 2 or deck 4. Clearly, it’s much less versatile as the ‘proper’ four-channel setup of the DDJ-1000, but it’s an excellent compromise; in the event that you really wished to do multi-deck mixes, you’d choose the DDJ-1000 as a matter of course.
It’s worth noting that rekordbox DJ is part of a more substantial, continually expanding ecosystem for Pioneer DJ. In the event that you plug turntables in to the phono inputs, you can include digital vinyl functionality via the company’s own control records and rekordbox DVS Plus Pack (around £100 to acquire outright). Pioneer DJ can be starting to push other new areas of its DJ tech ecosystem, like the cloud-based social platform Kuvo and monthly rekordbox subscription plans. Of the latter, the most relevant may be the Base Plan (around £10 per month), which adds DVS functionality and extra effects.
The largest real question mark over the DDJ-800 is whether its strongest competition might result from elsewhere in Pioneer DJ’s own product range. There’ a telling line in the next paragraph of the news release for the 800, where the company is keen to stress that the DDJ-1000 has ‘earned a solid reputation with professional DJs who perform at weddings, parties, and events beyond your club environment’. Ultimately, it feels as if this is the marketplace for the DDJ range: DJs who play out as a self-contained unit, arriving with almost all their kit, establishing, playing forever from a library of music on the laptop, then packing up and heading home.
It may be just a little unfair to criticise the DDJ for not offering something it doesn’t attempt to do, but the insufficient USD/SD slots and reliance on a notebook computer does mean you’re somewhat limited using scenarios. However, an extremely tempting option could possibly be the XDJ-RR, a unit which is with the capacity of standalone procedure together with functioning as a rekordbox controller. It’s an excellent bit more expensive compared to the DDJ-800 at £1,099 and it provides a slightly different featureset, but its USB-based setup could make it worth the excess. Knowing that, it’s worth pointing out that the DDJ-800 does indeed offer good value for the money; £779 wouldn’t come near covering the price tag on some XDJ-700s, let alone some the standard CDJs. With either of these options, you’d still desire a mixer, too.
The DDJ takes a laptop, which does admittedly improve the total cost of entry, not forgetting the entire size and weight of the package you’ll have to drag with you if you’re likely to gig with the setup. But as a package, it’s a compelling and serious option for anybody looking to make a reasonably serious commitment to DJ tech.
There are, of course, decent rivals from other brands, however the premium you purchase heading down the Pioneer DJ route is partly justified by the actual fact that it enables you to hone skills which transfer to other products in the brand’s industry-standard range. An extremely solid option indeed.
Do I must say i need this?
25 years ago, in the event that you wanted to be considered a DJ, the default answer was to get a set of vinyl turntables (ideally, Technics SL-1200s). The arrival of CD decks in the 90s changed everything. Pioneer’s CDJ range eventually became the industry standard (although brands like Denon and Reloop also offer interesting alternatives). Somewhat ironically, CDs themselves went of favour with DJs in the past; Pioneer CDJs now read files from USB sticks or SD cards, as the players in the XDJ range are effectively CDJs with out a CD transport (other XDJ units offer standalone operation, with an integral mixer).
Software represents a third approach, with packages such as for example rekordbox, Serato and Traktor with the capacity of being handled by a dedicated hardware unit just like the DDJ-800, control vinyl and even CDJs. Which is most beneficial? Th