Review: Pioneer XDJ-Aero
In today's Pioneer XDJ-Aero review we look at this innovative DJ controller that you can perform on wirelessly using music stored on your iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone/tablet or laptop, and without being connected to computer DJ software. The XDJ-Aero is the first all-in-one consumer controller by Pioneer that uses the company's rekordbox software and workflow, and also the first that does so cable-free - although you can hard-connect devices if you wish, DJ from USB, and indeed you can also use it as a "normal" Midi controller with software such as Traktor or Virtual DJ.
While the XDJ-Aero is innovative in a number of areas, it's the whole wireless angle (something Pioneer has also introduced on its new pro CDJ-2000nexus media player) that really marks this controller out from the pack. Let's take a closer look...
While lightweight and plastic, the XDJ-Aero is well constructed. All the rotary controls are suitably smooth with a notched centre where needed, and the crossfader feels robust enough for sustained scratch practice. The crossfader curve can be adjusted, but can't be switched in a "hamster" fashion. The jogwheels are beautiful, with a shimmery surface that tempts you to touch them. Unlike some other Pioneer DJ products such as the DDJ-Ergo and the DDJ-T1, the jogwheels are touch sensitive and not pressure linked - so you don't have to push down for touch to be registered.
What struck me right away was how thin the XDJ-Aero is (45mm), something that's possible as it doesn't have CD slots. It is also slightly less wide than similar products like the Numark Mixdeck Quad or the Stanton SCS.4DJ. This is impressive considering the features crammed into the unit, but better still the XDJ-Aero doesn't feel cluttered to use. The LCD displays can be adjusted to your personal preference, including a setting for colour, language (18 are available), contrast and even the option to invert the colours. Overall, the XDJ-Aero looks sleek and stylish enough to take pride of place in any bedroom or studio, without looking boxy or boring - but its build quality is not as good as, say, the similarly priced Pioneer DDJ-SX. The XDJ-Aero is a high-end consumer item, not a piece of pro-grade DJ gear.
Around the back of the XDJ-Aero are two stereo master ouputs; phono/line connections (because the central section can also be used as a standalone mixer); a USB socket for control via Midi (there is already an approved Traktor mapping available) and a microphone input.The absence of XLR outputs may put some DJs off, but it is a minor omission in a consumer controller. The lack of a scrolling waveform display during playback is more likely to cause a pause for thought. Currently the only all-in-one DJ controller that is truly "standalone" (ie doesn't need a laptop) and that has scrolling waveforms is the Stanton SCS.4DJ.
Choosing, loading and playing music
The XDJ-Aero can only use tracks that have been processed with Pioneer's rekordbox software (regardless of the platform that this was done on). This means that all the leg work of calculating the BPM and beatgrid for a track is done in advance and not on the XDJ-Aero, resulting in a quick loading time. Adding tracks from your library into rekordbox is a quick and simple process, and you can set a cue point and correct the beatgrid if you want to later on.
Choosing and loading a track can be done either from one of the devices connected via WiFi or using the rotary control alongside the LCD screen for the required deck. It is much easier and quicker to scroll through your tracks on the host device's touchscreen than it is to use the rotary control on the XDJ-Aero, however from the XDJ-Aero you can see all the tracks across all connected sources. This was great but felt a little sluggish if the source was positioned at some distance away from the XDJ-Aero. The USB drive is neatly positioned well out of the way from the other controls on the surface. Not only can you load rekordbox tracks from the USB drive onto both decks for playback, you can also record your whole set to the USB as a wav file.
Here's an idea: It would be good if you could do this for tracks on the other WiFi connected devices as well. This could allow for a single device (such as an iPad) to sit alongside the XDJ-Aero acting as the "Master" WiFi device. All other devices connected via WiFi would then be peripheral and could be located anywhere - such as the iPod Touch owned by a member of the bar team, the previous DJ's mobile phone and perhaps a laptop sat securely in the venue's office.
Using the Master device only, the DJ could then select tracks from any of those devices using the large screen rather than the small LCD screen on the XDJ-Aero. This could be considered as a "shared playlist" which all devices could see and therefore pull tracks onto the hardware from.
Loading a track onto a deck is a simple procedure of using the rekordbox app on one of the devices or the track load functionality on the XDJ-Aero hardware. Because you can cut your music library based on many different categories within rekordbox, it feels like an intuitive and speedy way of choosing and loading tracks.
Further kudos to the developers of rekordbox for allowing detailed personalisation - you can define and order the categories by which you can search on, thus tailoring it specifically for the way you frequently view your library. There's even the ability to look back through a history of tracks played from that device during a previous session connected to the XDJ-Aero - particularly useful if you practised for a gig last night and couldn't quite remember the killer combination of tracks during a specific section.
The transport controls for the decks felt responsive and accurate, the pitch slider slightly shorter than on many controllers, although of course there's also a "sync" button. The four FX (Trans, Flanger, Echo and Roll) all sound perfect and are linked to the beatgrid defined in rekordbox for the track - another reason to do your preparation work before using any tracks!
The "Trans" effect behaves like a Gate effect, chopping a track up based on beat intervals. I found that if I coupled this effect with one of the included samples loaded onto the deck, triggered using the "Jog Drum" feature (where you can usae the jogwheel as a touch-sensitive trigger), I could get an auto-cut "transformer" style scratch going on. Pretty cool, if your crossfader skills are still in training.
More about the wireless functions
The wireless capability of the XDJ-Aero is what truly differentiates the product from other similar all-in-one DJ controllers. As the XDJ-Aero starts up (it takes about 10 seconds) an ad-hoc wireless network is created allowing up to four different connections to be made with the unit at the same time.
Now, DJing using WiFi, wireless, or any other such system ought to rightfully strike fear into the soul of any self-respecting DJ, at least at first. Is the network safe? What if the connection drops? The battery runs flat on your phone? Someone calls you? The iPad goes out of reach? These are all things that occurred to me, so I went about finding the answers:
- How secure is it? The XDJ-Aero has detailed configuration options available for setting up ita 802.11n WiFi network, including the level of encryption (by default it is set to WEP), assigning a password and network name (SSID). This should be secure enough to put most at ease. With the password set to something sensible, you can ensure that only trusted people can be allowed to connect to the unit - so don't worry about the entire party getting their mobiles out to send you random tracks to play! While any ad hoc wireless network is open to "denial of service" (DoS) attacks, you'd be unlucky to find an experienced hacker at a party / club who wanted to take down the DJ...
- What can someone other than the DJ do with a device connected to the XDJ-Aero? Load a track onto a deck. That's it. Through the XDJ-Aero settings, you can also ensure that the current active (playing) deck isn't loaded with a new track by mistake. People connected can't edit playlists, rename songs or anything other than load a track
- What if the WiFi network drops out or I receive a call? When a track is loaded into a deck on the XDJ-Aero, the device "buffers" the audio (there's a 10-minute capacity assuming the track is a 320kbps MP3). This means that if your device goes offline for whatever reason (eg low battery or movement out of WiFi range) the track will continue to play without any issue. If your device supports background audio (iOS devices do), then you can receive a call during playback without interrupting the track playback
- Does this affect playback response? I played with the XDJ-Aero continuously for several hours at a time and found the tracks to load almost instantly and I could do all the things you would expect to, such as scratching with no noticeable latency. If a host device was positioned further away it took slightly longer to load (and to locate using the track load controls on the XDJ-Aero). I ended up with an iPad sat next to the XDJ-Aero, an iPhone in the next room and an iPod Touch at the back of the garden, all of which maintained their WiFi connection perfectly.
So Pioneer seems to have covered the main objections to DJing wirelessly using the XDJ-Aero - and seeing as similar technology is also now incorporated into its CDJ-2000nexus pro media player, it does appear the company is confident in the technology. Indeed, WiFi functionality has its benefits too: It could be a great tool for seamless DJ transitions. As long as the DJs have all done their homework in advance with the rekordbox app, they could all turn up and connect up to the XDJ-Aero as they enter the club or just before they start their set. No more precarious switch overs, no more cable spaghetti behind the booth... that's got to win some hearts, surely?
The XDJ-Aero packs all the usual features of a typical standalone "all-in-one" controller too, such as quantised looping and FX, USB drive source and Midi over USB, and by and large everything works well with few balls dropped. One weakness is that while the rekordbox app allows you to set three hot cues, these unfortunately aren't recognised by the XDJ-Aero (or at least I couldn't find out a way to trigger them and it's not mentioned in the manual). Also, because data is served one way to the XDJ-Aero and not back to the device, if you set a cue point on the hardware it wont be stored against the track in rekordbox.
While I didn't try the Traktor or Virtual DJ connectivity (as I was having too much fun with the tracks from the wireless setup, the controller's primary purpose after all), I have no doubt that Pioneer's mappings will be fine as they are for these programs on all the company's other relevant controllers.
The XDJ-Aero is the first rekordbox-ready Pioneer product, meaning that it is shipped with no other software. (Remember, that although you can DJ on the XDJ-Aero this with no computer, you still need rekordbox installed on some kind of device device to prepare your library for streaming.) So, the success of the XDJ-Aero clearly lies not only with the quality and features of the hardware but also the rekordbox software. Luckily, from my tests, it is up to the job.
Ensuring that rekordbox exists on both the iOS and Android app stores was a shrewd move and ensures that no-one is left out from its potential. The rekordbox software is now fast becoming an integral part of the Pioneer product suite (covering nine other products as well as the XDJ-Aero), so you can expect it to continually improve as well.
As for the hardware, there's little major to fault except the lack of any scrolling waveforms. Other things I disliked were more based on personal preference (for instance, I have got used to using pitch bend buttons so their absence on the XDJ-Aero irked me a little, but then again the side of the jogwheels perform the same task just as well).
Overall I found the XDJ-Aero to be great fun and although it's initially complex there are plenty of official tutorial videos from Pioneer on YouTube. I loved the ability to prepare my tracks in advance and on the move - I spent most of my spare time during the past two weeks with app in hand carefully moving beatgrids! And through using the USB drive to record my mixes I was able to easily learn through listening back to my mistakes. The idea of WiFi DJing will probably always be a hot topic for debate among DJs, but it works well here, and if you are at all worried about WiFi in a live environment you could always use USB or Midi as possible backup options.
The price tag on the XDJ-Aero is high considering it is labelled (by Pioneer) "for the home DJ", but it is comparable to the RRP for similar all-in-one controllers like the Mixdeck Quad. When compared to the similarly priced new Pioneer DDJ-SX controller for Serato DJ, you're physically getting a much more substantial and better built controller for your money with the DDJ-SX, although admittedly that's controller that uses more "traditional" digital technology.
I like the approach Pioneer has taken with XJD-Aero. The company has not been afraid to try something new, and I could imagine inviting a few fellow DJs over for a mix session; we all turn up with our mobile devices and quickly connect up over WiFi, ready to go. It's good fun, it works well and it pushes boundaries. It may well end up being the home DJ controller of choice for pros who also DJ with rekordbox in the clubs.
Overall I found the XDJ-Aero to be great fun. I loved the ability to prepare my tracks in advance and on the move - I spent most of my spare time during the past two weeks with app in hand carefully moving beatgrids! And through using the USB drive to record my mixes I was able to easily learn through listening back to my mistakes. The idea of WiFi DJing will probably always be a hot topic for debate among DJs, but it works well here, and if you are at all worried about WiFi in a live environment you could always use USB or Midi as possible backup options. It may well end up being the home DJ controller of choice for pros who also DJ with rekordbox in the clubs.
- From: Pioneer
- Price: $699
- Reviewed by:
Are you thinking about buying an "all-in-one" controller? Is the XDJ-Aero missing any "must-have" features for you? Do you own one, and if so, what are your thoughts? Please feel free to share in the comments.