We’ve covered single-jogwheel DJ controllers before. However, we didn’t include the Traktor Kontrol X1 (US$199 / £165 / €178) that time because, well, it doesn’t have a jogwheel. However, along with the Denon DN-SC2000 (US$249 / £189 / €207), that controller now dominates the “compact-control-surface-with-no-audio-interface” section of the digital DJ market.
We often get asked about these two devices – which is “best”, what they can be used for, how do they fit into a set up and so on. So here we look briefly again at the two units and the concentrate on how you can use them, and which might be the best choice in various DJing situations.
We’ve covered the Denon DN-SC2000 before, but let’s recap: This is a single-jogwheel DJ interface – no audio interface, so it simply controls DJ software. It has always come optimised for Traktor and Virtual DJ, but now it also comes (in Europe, at least) bundled with an LE version of MixVibes Cross. The mapping files for all of these programs are readily available online, so you can use it with any of them (indeed, like the Kontrol X1, you could try your hand mapping it to anything if you were that way inclined).
Being Denon, it is beautifully built with a steel case, and heavier than it looks. However it is also compact and low profile. The rubberised buttons are of an excellent quality, backlit (often in two colours) and they can flash too – lots of feedback. The jogwheel is touch-sensitive and metal on the top, plastic around the edge for dual function (scratch/nudge), and the unit has a hi-res, long-throw pitch fader.
It can control two decks of your DJ software, because the big “deck change” button switches between them, and the colour behind both the track select and the deck change buttons switches from red to blue to show you which deck you’re controlling.
The unit gives you (software-dependent) easy access to eight cue points, effects and filtering; transport controls including legacy pitch bend if you’re jogwheel-averse; and a good library browsing section, with quick location and loading of tracks.
One issue manufacturers deal with when letting one control surface control two independent decks is what to do about controls that are set for one deck when you switch to another. Apart from the pitch fader (which “picks up” when you move it to where it was set previously for a deck you’re returning to), this unit has backlighting for button state memory, and all the rotaries are endless (they push-click too, by the way).
This unit basically can control everything about your DJ software for two decks, apart from the mixer functions.
That means that when switching back to a previously used deck, the controls are instantly where you left them. However, as they have no LED ring around them to show you the state (like the Stanton SCS.1, for instance, although that’s a different beast entirely), you’ll find yourself checking on the screen more than maybe you might want to.
So overall, then, this unit basically can control everything about your DJ software for two decks, apart from the mixer functions, although you’ll have to get used to switching between decks and you can’t do any simultaneous DJing (like riding two filters together, for instance).
Traktor Kontrol X1
Like the Denon, Native Instruments’ first foray into DJ hardware (since followed by the Traktor Kontrol S4) is an interface with no onboard sound – you’ll need an audio interface for proper DJ use. Also like the Denon it’s bus-powered, with just a USB socket (and a Kensington lock loop) on the back.
Form-wise, it is long and thin, and the same height as the Denon unit. However, it’s considerably lighter, being built to a similarly high standard but in plastic with a metal top plate. It’s still highly durable, and to me suits this method of construction better than the larger Kontrol S4.
The biggest and most obvious difference between this and the Denon is that there is no jogwheel and there’s no pitch fader either (although it has harder-to-access pitch and bend functions via backlit buttons). However, it uses the extra real estate that this allows by giving you completely independent control over your two decks – if you drew a line down the middle of this, they’d be two equally specified sets of controls. No need for a deck change switch.
Some of its rotaries (browse, loop) are endless (and also push-click), but the effects rotaries are 7pm-to-5am standard variety with a centre-click; no need for endless rotaries here as they are assigned to a single effects unit each. There’s some innovative mapping taking advantage of the two Traktor effects modes so you can use shift to take quick control of filter, reverb and delay, or dive in for full functionality. Its buttons are similarly rubberised and backlit.
So again, this unit can control practically all the functions of Traktor minus the mixer (it also works with Serato Scratch with an overlay that’s provided) – but remember it has two independent sets of controls for transport, looping, effects and (rather unnecessarily) browse functions.
The digital vinyl question
Native Instruments of course makes Traktor Scratch Pro 2, a leading digital vinyl system (DVS). Buy a laptop and a Traktor Scratch Pro 2 system (control vinyl, audio interface and software) and – as long as you have two record decks and a mixer already – you can DJ digitally using your current DJ gear.
It is designed to fit snugly between one of your record decks and the mixer.
However, truth is that you’ll still be touching your laptop all the time – for effects, for loops, for browsing, and in certain modes, for many of the transport functions. For many DJs this isn’t ideal – they want to glance at the laptop screen every now and again but basically use their traditional DJ set-up for everything else.
Enter the Kontrol X1: It is designed to fit snugly between one of your record decks and the mixer in the centre of your set-up, and liberate all of the controls that you were previously reaching for your laptop to use. Now, you can DJ as you always have, with effectively a slightly wider mixer that contains all the controls you need to access all the advantages of a digital system. Of course, you don’t need jogwheels or a pitch control, because you have them on the record deck, and you don’t need a mixer, because you have that too.
The Denon unit is coming from a slightly different place. You wouldn’t generally add this to a DVS system (simply because for both leading DVS systems, the X1 is going to suit you fine; it’s what it’s made for). The Denon is the wrong shape to tuck next to a mixer, and has a redundant jogwheel and pitch fader for DVS DJs.
However, the Denon unit makes sense in other ways. For instance, if you’ve got a traditional DJ setup (vinyl or CDs) that you’re quite happy with, but you want to add digital rather than replace your analogue sources, by adding your laptop and a audio interface plus the Denon device, you can easily feed two extra channels of digital music into your main mixer as well as your CD or vinyl inputs, giving you four music sources. The Denon’s clever switching, small form factor and great jogwheel mean that it’s a good way to mix analogue and digital like this.
Or, if you have a standard DJ controller with two jogwheels but want to liberate decks three and four of say Traktor, again the Denon can give you a small extra piece of gear that’ll do just that for you, complete with a third jogwheel, apeing the old three or four-Technics DJ booths.
So overall, then, you might thing that the X1 is best for DVS users, and the Denon for non-DVS users. Kind of – but it’s not that simple. For instance, if you’re a DVS user but you want to use four decks not two, the Denon can give you an extra jogwheel for controlling those decks, just as I described above for controller users – and again, do it with a small form factor. So you could feasibly add a Denon AND an X1 to your system!
Likewise, if you’re a loop-based electronic DJ, with tightly beatgridded tunes and you frankly have never really seen the purpose of jogs, decks or any of that old analogue paradigm, you could use an X1 plus a mixer and audio interface for a small, tight set-up to play house, techno and so on. It’s minimal but many DJs do it, and if you can roll up to a club with a small laptop, a compact audio interface and an X1, as long as they have two spare channels on their mixer, you can do some great things with the X1 in this way.
You might thing that the X1 is best for DVS users, and the Denon for non-DVS users. Kind of – but it’s not that simple.
Indeed, some DJs double up and have two X1s, an eight-out audio interface, and a laptop as their total set-up for the ultimate in four-deck trickery yet taking up no more space than half a normal sized DJ controller. All the club would need would be four inputs on the mixer for you to plug into.
There’s a feeling too that the Denon is more for your “traditional” DJ, whereas the X1 used in this way is going to suit the maybe more forward-thinking electronic music DJs – certainly those who don’t care for the “two decks and a mixer” idea that has shaped the way we think about DJ gear up to now. However, I DJed and beatmixed indie, downtempo, house and breakbeat using just a laptop and no controller quite happily for years, so I know that even for these types of DJ, jogs aren’t absolutely essential.
Going modular: Adding a digital mixer
There’s another use for these units that applies equally to both of them, and that is adding a digital mixer to the equation, to give yourself a complete digital DJ set-up but built from separates.
DJing has always swung between all-in-one units and modular set-ups (remember the old mobile disco dual-deck belt-drive boxes from years back?) and the truth is that some people just prefer modular.
Maybe you can’t afford to buy everything in one go but want a pro set-up in the end, or maybe you just prefer the flexibility, favouring one brand’s mixer and another brand’s control surface. Another reason is that some mixers (the top-end Pioneer, Allen & Heath and indeed Denon models, for instance) pack hardware features that no software DJ controller can match.
Whatever, it is possible to build up a nice modular DJ system using one or two of either of these devices and a digital mixer. As digital mixers have built-in audio interfaces, that means that you don’t need an extra audio interface. Some even act as USB hubs, so you can plug your one or two X1s or Denons directly into the mixer by USB, and send one cable off to the computer.
Nicely flightcased, a set-up like this would make a professional-looking system. Your choice then would be jogwheel or not, and that harks back to our discussion about your music choice and how much you buy into the new pushbutton digital way of doing things.
Both of these units are the best at what they do on the market – that being compact DJ software controllers designed to help you keep your hands off the laptop keyboard and on your DJ gear. There are other similar units, but they’re generally bigger, pricier, and have more functionality, thus losing the compact, minimal approach of these two (the Allen & Heath Xone:1D and the Reloop Contour – both excellent – spring to mind here).
Both the DN-SC2000 and the Kontrol X1 need an audio interface and mixer to complete a system, but likewise both can also be plugged in to a laptop as they are and can control the software just fine, albeit without headphone monitoring. Thus if you’re wanting to slowly build a DJ system up with decent gear instead of beginner models, either would be a fine first purchase for the budding digital DJ.
If you’re wanting to slowly build a DJ system up with decent gear instead of beginner models, either would be a fine first purchase.
Ultimately, your choice will depend on whether or not you’re a digital vinyl user, where you play (and so what will fit in your DJ box), what software you use (for instance, only the Kontrol X1 works with Serato Scratch), and how much you like to DJ with jogwheels.
For the DVS DJ or the hardcore controllerist playing EDM, the Kontrol X1 edges it, especially as it offers independent control over most parameters. For the DJ playing a broader, looser selection of music, and who wants a digital version of the traditional decks and mixer DJ set-up, the Denon is more likely to tick your boxes. Both are proven winners.
Do you own either of these units? How do they fit into your set-up? Let us know your stories and thoughts in the comments
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