New CD player aims to replace laptops in the DJ booth
Not too long ago, DJs routinely busted their backs schlepping heavy crates of vinyl from gig to gig. As vinyl has declined in popularity, the job has gotten a lot easier on the vertebrae, but the array of options available to DJs is enough to make anyone's head hurt: There are pro-quality CD players, or CDJs; "scratch" control systems like Serato and Traktor, which allow DJs to manipulate music on their computer using traditional turntables or CDJs; and a growing field of hardware controllers, software applications, and all-in-one solutions.
Pioneer has made clear its intentions to corner that crowded market with high-end CDJ models that replicate key features of laptop-enabled systems: GUIs that display track waveforms, the ability to browse by folder, and, crucially, USB ports that allow DJs to carry all their music on a single hard drive (or, if they've got shallow crates, a USB stick). This week, Pioneer upped the ante with the announcement of the CDJ-2000 Nexus, the latest edition of its top-of-the-line CD player.
The most headline-grabbing news is that the CDJ-2000 Nexus is the first CD player that allows DJs to access music on smartphones or tablets using Wi-Fi or USB connections. In other words, in addition to reading CDs, CD-Rs, DVDs, USB sticks, SD cards, and portable hard drives, the CDJ-2000 Nexus can now cue up music directly from an iPhone—whether the DJ's, his or her friend's, or even an audience member's. (A boon for wedding parties, perhaps, but a bane for any DJ loath to take requests from the crowd.)
More importantly, the CDJ-2000 Nexus continues to take on functionality that was once possible only with laptops. Using Pioneer's Rekordbox music-management software, DJs can tag their audio, set loop points, and create playlists, much as they might prepare their sets in Serato or Traktor Scratch. (A Rekordbox iOS app also allows DJs to prep sets offline and transfer the data later.) An automatic beat sync feature allows DJs to synchronize up to four units — anathema to traditionalists, perhaps, but a key selling point for a new generation of DJs that never learned to beatmatch manually. Pioneer's Traffic Light feature even takes on the task of software applications like Mixed in Key, facilitating harmonic mixing by highlighting tracks in complementary key signatures. And an enlarged (6.1 inch), full-color LCD display offers the kind of GUI previously available only with laptops, including browsable playlists, cover art, and scalable waveform renderings along with loop points, downbeat markers, and detailed pitch and tempo data.
Last week, Create Digital Music's Peter Kern reported on new integration between Native Instruments' Traktor system and Pioneer hardware, calling it "part of a larger trend: it's computer functionality, away from the computer." The arrival of the Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus pushes that trend even further along, and, if it becomes standard-issue in nightclubs, it could be a very good thing. As someone who has often had to plug in my Traktor system while another DJ was finishing his set on Serato, fumbling through a tangle of cables while his final track neared its end, I've often wished for a more streamlined solution — one that would allow DJs to simply show up with their music and play, like they did in the good ol' days of vinyl. (And yes, I also still play records, so save your snark.) The Nexus, if adopted as the new standard, could help take laptops and external hardware out of the equation and return the DJ booth to a simple, plug-in-and-play proposition. For seasoned resident DJs, there's only one caveat: prepare to be faced with aspiring selectors storming the booth, iPhones in hand, ready to throw down.
Check out a series of promotional videos featuring Laidback Luke, Kissy Sellout, and Eats Everything for a demonstration of some of the Nexus' beat-synched bells and whistles.