Like its bigger brother the SC3900, Denon DJ’s SC2900, which we review here today, is a pro media player and DJ control deck that not only covers the basics, but has a host of added extras designed to entice all types of DJ.
It comes in at below the price of the Pioneer CDJ-900, but with a lot of equivalent features to the much more expensive Pioneer CDJ-2000. And as we’re about to see, it’s more of a direct competitor to Pioneer’s CDJs than the SC3900 is. This means that if you can see past the Pioneer dominance of the pro DJ booth, the SC2900 may well appeal to you.
Denon DJ SC2900 and SC3900: The differences
Firstly, let me point you to the Denon DJ SC3900 review we did recently. Why? Because the SC2900 player is, save a couple of important differences, exactly the same. It is the same size, weight, has the same controls, and so on. There are two main differences:
- The platter – The platter on this unit is static, like on all DJ CD players – except Denon’s other models. Yes that’s right, if you wanted a Denon CDJ with a static platter in this type of design, you were stuck until now, as the SC3900 (and the SC3700 before it) had Technics-style motorised platters with “real” vinyl. So that’s why this is really Denon’s first head-to-head with Pioneer
- Hybrid (DVS) mode – The SC3900 has a “timecode generator” built in. That means it can output the signals that Traktor Scratch or Serato Scratch Live need in order for you to use its platter to control those systems via timecode. Thus with the Denon DJ SC3900, you don’t need to insert a control CD. Here, that’s not the case
As I say, if you’re trying to decide between these two products, it’s definitely worth taking a look at our Denon DJ SC3900 review.
Setting up and first impressions
Our sample came straight from an industry launch event, so wasn’t boxed up, as you’ll receive yours should you choose to buy a pair. However, it’s safe to assume you’ll be receiving a power cable, a network cable, a USB cable, an RCA cable, and the CDs (Traktor LE and Denon’s own Engine software), as well as the printed instructions.
It turns out that Engine it’s a significant part of what makes this player different.
We’re going to concentrate on using this unit with Traktor and Engine. Engine is the supplied software from Denon which is kind-of their equivalent of Pioneer’s Rekordbox, but it turns out that Engine it’s a significant part of what makes this player different.
If you’re using a PC rather than a Mac, you need to install the ASIO driver, after which for Traktor, you can install the supplied Traktor LE version and the mapping file.
(Of course, as with all LE software, you’re going to want to real thing, which means upgrading Traktor to Pro. This is now a no-brainer thanks to the recent Traktor price drop; what software DJ is going to buy a US$1,000 media player, then not pay a tenth of that on to to get full software?)
As far as installing Engine goes, it’s plug and play, as you’d expect.
As we mentioned, apart from the non-motorised platter, the unit is pretty much identical to the SC3900. It’s heavy, with a metal chassis, a raised screen at the back of the control surface, a plastic faceplate painted in a grey metallic finish, and an industry-standard layout for the buttons, at least on the lower half of the controller. In short, if you’re used to Pioneer, you’ll “get it” instantly.
Denon has gone for hard play/pause and cue buttons, which work better than rubberised or damped ones in that they are more responsive for split-second operation. There is a reverse button, track and fast search buttons, an auto/manual loop section with four hot cue buttons, a USB slot with eject button, a track/menu navigation select knob with associated navigation buttons, and pitch range/slider plus a vinyl mode button for platter control.
Notable additions to a basic DJ media player include mechanical torque adjust, a BPM sync (that works with Engine – more later), manual start and stop time adjusters for accurate vinyl emulation, and a “slip” button similar to that found on the Pioneer CDJ-900 (but inexplicably, not on the CDJ-2000).
Round the back there’s a line-out (RCAs of course), a digital out, a USB for your computer, a link cable socket for networking players together, a power socket and a power switch. (Of course if you’re still using them, there’s a CD slot on the front.)
The four modes
The main crux of the player – as an all-round workhorse that lets you DJ with whatever methodology or extra gear suits you – is represented by the four buttons across the top of the display. It has:
- CD – Not surprisingly, you’ll select this when you want to play from CD. you can play MP3 CDs as well as audio CDs
- USB – Plug in a USB drive (or external HDD), and here’s where you’ll select it
- Link – For sharing files across a network using Denon’s Engine software, you can press this button and make your player (and up to three more) part of a “set”
- Midi – This is the “Traktor button” (or any other DJ software). Hit this and the unit becomes a big Midi controller
The very first thing that strikes you in use is the bright blue lighting around the rim of the platter, with a red “dot” that moves clockwise.
This is Denon’s version of the illuminated circle of light at the centre of Pioneer’s platters, and shows you rotation of the platter, so you can instantly see when a piece of vinyl would have turned by one rotation.
Of course, if you’re using the unit for scratching, this is fantastic and its arguably more intuitive than Pioneer’s version, just because it is so damned obvious.
You get a choice of colours (red rotating dot on a blue background, vice versa, and a couple of other less intrusive versions), but they all do the same thing, marking cue points too if set. However, with Traktor you done’t get this due to a limitation in the feedback Traktor can give to the player, so worth bearing this in mind if it’s important to you and you’re buying this exclusively for Traktor use.
Here on Digital DJ Tips we are of course digital / software-centric, and so we’re not going to dwell on the CD or USB side of things so much. So let’s look more at Traktor:
Using the SC2900s with with Traktor
Firstly, I am pleased to report that the supplied mapping is very tight. The overall features are mapped well for hot cues, looping, library selection and so on, and there’s a shift button with an extra layer of controls.
If you’re going down this route rather than buying an all-in-one controller, it’s a safe be that you’ll be looking at a hardware mixer, so your control over Traktor will be limited to deck control, and in that case, it’s all here.
Note that you can’t network two of these together with a cable, then only have one USB going into your computer; you need two separate USB cables.
So what of that all-important factor, the jogwheels? I recently tested a pair of SC3900s in Hybrid mode with a Pioneer Traktor Scratch-certified mixer; this basically meant that the jogwheel performance was simply going to be perfect (it was). Compared to that, the jogwheel performance of the SC2900 is good. Very good, in fact. It is responsive, and tight, and for pro use, almost indistinguishable from timecode.
It is still possible to spin the platter aggressively and have the software not respond exactly to the starting and stopping of it.
But I have to report that it isn’t 100%. It is still possible to spin the platter aggressively and have the software not respond exactly to the starting and stopping of it, even with adjusting the start and stop time and even with tweaking the settings within Traktor.
I have been lucky enough to witness some extremely talented DJs doing tricks with a pair of these that I can only personally dream of doing, and they were doing that with the Traktor mapping, so it’s not like this is going to affect 99% of DJs, but nonetheless the mapping isn’t as good as either timecode or the best software/hardware combinations.
With Pioneer’s CDJ-900 and CDJ-2000 now HID mapped officially to Traktor (I haven’t tried either but I suspect the implementations are good), it will be interesting to see if further improvements are made by Native Instruments and Denon for the SC2900 (and indeed the SC3900).
Overall, then, as Traktor control decks the SC2900s are close to perfect, and capable of use at the highest level with very good results.
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