T3: If God is a DJ…. he’d probably use these uber-pricey decks. Since their arrival a decade and a half ago, Pioneer’s CDJs have become ubiquitous in the DJing market, and are incumbent in bars and clubs the world over. They were the first CD turntables to challenge the vinyl hegemony in the mixing scene, offering all the tactile pleasures of traditional decks but with the obvious advantages that a digital format brings.
This latest model, the CDJ-2000, is by far the firm’s most advanced decks yet and comes with a price-tag to match, around £1500 in most retailers. Considering you can get the budget model CDJ-200 (which contains most of the basic mixing features) for a third of that price, you’d be forgiven for asking what your extra grand is getting you.
First up, it’s got a big screen! Yup, a 6.1-inch monitor that makes sorting through tracks much easier, plus displays the song as a waveform which can be handy if you’re keen to see how the song pans out. Unfortunately you can’t play Splinter Cell on it while you’re DJing though…
The CDJ-2000 now accepts audio/data DVDs, SD cards and USB devices, which is a very handy feature. At 320kbps (probably the lowest you want to compress an mp3 for decent soundsystems) you can squeeze hours of music onto one source – you can effectively carry your entire music collection in a small bag.
Pioneer CDJ-2000: Features
Next up, Pioneer’s much-hyped Pro DJ Link, which allows you to connect a USB source to one drive and access the music from a ‘linked’ unit. So bring a hard drive and plug it into one and you can mix using up to four linked CDJs from the same storage block. This works impressively well, and testing with a couple of sources showed no problematic latency or glitches.
Needle Search might sound more like a location from Trainspotting, but it’s another feature trying to offer some of the benefits that laptop DJing brings, namely being able to jump straight into the middle of a track without having to skip through. It’s handy, but you’ve coped without it before and it feels more gimmick than essential tool.
Pioneer CDJ-2000: Software
Rekordbox is another relatively new addition although it’s also available on the 2000’s little brother, the CDJ-900. Effectively Rekordbox is an iTunes-style piece of computer software for cataloguing and editing your music specifically for the CDJ. You can preset your cue points, quantise (ie regulate loose drums into a tighter order to make them easier to mix) tracks and add metadata and tags to make songs easier to find. Once you’ve edited your tracks you can save them and they’ll be mapped out on the unit with the music. It’s a useful tool but we’d be hard pressed to say it’s a truly essential add-on. Many DJs have been doing what Rekorbox does using standard audio-editing software to extend intros and outros to make them better for the mix for a long time. Admittedly you can’t add cue points, using Audacity (or similar shareware programs) but you can manually make these on the unit. Pioneer has now made Rekordbox available as a free download, compatible with certain decks, so it might be wise to have a play on it first to suss whether you feel the features are essential club tools for you.
Pioneer CDJ-2000: The cost
Which brings us to the CDJ-2000’s main problem, at £1500 each only top-end clubs will be able to afford a pair of them. Editing your entire record collection on Rekordbox and uploading it to a hard drive is fine if you’re playing Fabric or Ministry of Sound, but mere mortals might find that it’s time wasted when you get to your local DJ bar to find a more standard pair of CD decks awaiting you. There’s no doubt this is incredibly sophisticated, cutting-edge DJ kit and the Pioneer’s mixing technology is still pretty much perfect, but for we’re unconvinced the extra features here justify it over its cheaper siblings.