DDJ 100028 Dec 2018
Stupidly, I can’t remember when I started DJing. My late teens have merged into the sort of haze that’d be left over from the bongs I was smoking back then. It was the 90s though, maybe 93 or 94? Either way, back then it was all vinyl, and we scabbled around trying to save the money for basic belt-drive turntables that would get us going, learning how to beatmatch. I never managed to save enough, instead sloping off to friends’ houses to use theirs. Maybe taking over from them when the got too high at a house party.
When I left Uni I needed to consolidate my debts, so took out a loan, 1.5 grand of which I promptly spunked on two shiny, Technics 1210 turntables. I still have both, they’re so solidly built that the cockroaches will be learning to scratch once the nuclear winter subsides. They’re (still) super expensive, but they’re absolute fucking units.
I only mention this to frame my overly positive comments below, as I’m old and also a bit of a traditionalist. I didn’t move from vinyl to CD until 2005, for example. I was that guy.
That being said, I’ve not been completely shy of experimenting and, technically, I’ve been a digital / laptop DJ for a decade or so. I spent a couple of years with a controller and Ableton Live, but pressing buttons without the risk of failure (or just doing something drunkenly out of time) didn’t work for me. For the last few years I’ve been a Traktor Scratch user, two CDJ1000s and my trusty 1210s, driving it via timecode. The problem with this is basically space. Four decks, my Xone42, and a stack of vinyl just don’t fit in my current place. As for rocking up to a mate’s house for an impromptu party… Well, it’s not as bad as carrying boxes of vinyl about, but they better have a shit-load of plugs and a big table sorted, or it ain’t happening.
I’ve been looking for a solution to this since I got back to the UK. A few of my musical chums have been happily rocking out with some iPad apps (Traktor again, iirc) but the touch interface makes me die inside, so I’ve been looking around at control surfaces. There are a million of these on the market, but I’m fussy; I want four channels, something “full size”, so big enough to give me all the controls I’m used to, jogwheels that feel as close to CDJs as possible, and - preferably - something with a decent mixer and outputs built-in. I’m less arsed about weight, as the amount of time I’ll be carrying it is dwarfed by the time spent using it, but you know, it’s a factor.
That basically points me in the direction of Pioneer. I’ve been looking at their DDJ and XDJ range for a while. There are plusses and minuses to all these controllers, some steal features from the Nexus decks, some are tied tightly to Rekordbox, some are made for Serato, some are “big”, some are half-size, and until recently, none of them quite did it for me. Until I spotted the DDJ-1000.
Holy shit, not on is this controller a bit of a monster (in size, if not in price) but hand on heart, this is the first time I can say that I’ve enjoyed using a control surface as much as I do a pair of CDJs. Everything is laid out as you’d expect, the decks mimic CDJs, and the in-built mixer is basically a DJM 750, so you have everything from colour, to post fader single channel effects built-in. EQ quality is superb (although not quite as rich as my Xone) with great feel on the pots, and all faders have just enough heft that you’re not going to accidentally knock them anywhere. The only niggle with the mixer itself is that the crossfader curve can only be set in software, so if you want to jump from a linear, or soft curve to something with a hard-knee (for scratching) you’re going to have to fuck about in the settings. Not something you’ll be doing live.
The Jogwheels feel identical to a CDJ, being the same mechanical types found in Pioneer’s high-end gear and the displays are bright and sharp. The artwork display is basically useless, but the waveform and timers are all clear and easy to read, as is the cue marker, especially if you’re trying to scratch. These are by far the best jogwheels I’ve felt on a controller.
This particular unit is tied to Rekordbox. I’d not used the software before, but it’s already moving ahead of Traktor for me, thanks to the way it handles my music library. It digested 13k music tracks in no time, and the beat / key analysing seems to be just as accurate. The DDJ1000 has eight assignable pads, under each platter, and I thought these were going to be a bit of a novelty, but they’ve opened up a lot of possibilities for me. By default they can be used to assign hot-cues and loop points (which I use a LOT), or, flip them over to programmable effect presets. These are pre-fader effects (so will be affected by EQ) and they don’t have any ramp on, or off, but that being said, they’re super useful, to the point where I’ve not even changed the defaults yet.
Slip mode, reverse play and loop controls are all what you’d expect. You can run each deck in Vinyl or CD mode, match key, and have everything looked to beat quantisation, so again, pretty standard. Admittedly, quantisation is a bit lazy, but when you’re in a public situation with bad monitoring it’s nice to know that you can still get pin-sharp drops when you need them.
Build quality is great. It’s mainly plastic, but thankfully so, any more metal and it would have weighed a ton. Mine, in it’s flight-case, is what I’d call luggable. Better than what I’m used to, but not exactly light. Outputs are RCA and XLR, so once you have lugged it somewhere you can drop it straight into a booth and it’ll plug into whatever’s there. Whether there’s enough room in the booth is another question. It’s not exactly big, but it is about the same size as two CDJs and a standard mixer, so it’d be a tight fit in most places I’ve been.
I’ve only had one public airing with the controller so far – and I was, ahem, rusty to say the least – so although I have some more learning to do (especially this style of mixing) I can heartily give this controller two massive thumbs up. For the money (I got mine for 1000UKP) it’s an absolute steal. You literally couldn’t buy a single, proper CDJ or even a decent mixer for this money.
So, that’s the problem of how I’m going to mix in a house with no space for my gear, sorted. Keep an eye out, as I’m going to kick off a new podcast sometime next year.