Pioneer today announced the Pioneer XDJ-R1, a DJ controller that can play music from USB, built-in CD players or external line/phono sources, and which has a host of mobile DJ-friendly features including mic in and booth and XLR outputs. It can also operate with a laptop as a "normal" Midi/audio interface controller, and ships with Virtual DJ LE. But its unique twist is the way it wirelessly adds controllerist-friendly functions via iPhone, iPad or iPod touch and a brand-new app, Remotebox.
Read on for a full summary, our thoughts, a talkthrough video, how to get a demo of the software, pricing, and a link to Pioneer's official info.
Pioneer XDJ-R1: Digital DJ Tips Talkthrough
The Pioneer XDJ-R1 looks similar to the previous model in the XDJ range, the XDJ-Aero. But whereas the XDJ-Aero can stream music wirelessly from any device running Rekordbox, the XDJ-R1 drops that capability, instead adding the ability to remote control the unit from any iPad, iPhone or iPod touch. A two-channel controller, it features a built-in sampler, three cue-points buttons, and a rubberised rack at its rear onto which you can perch your iDevice (definitely iPhone; not sure about iPad, although it appears that's what they've done in the demo video). Your iOS device then connects to the XDJ-R1 wirelessly (there's no wired option at all). The XDJ-R1 has its own built-in WiFi network, and connection to the iDevice and the Remotebox app happens via this.
While traditional "remote control" is indeed possible (the mixer, decks, FX, library etc can all be managed from the app anywhere within reach of the XDJ-R1's wireless network), one of the main uses of an iDevice with the XDJ-R1 is as a large screen while you're stood right in front of it. Because while the XDJ-R1 works fine on its own, with an iDevice plugged in you are given extra options that add a decidedly controllerist twist to what would otherwise be a pretty traditional all-in-one mobile DJ-style unit.
What you actually see on the Remotebox screen adjusts in portrait and landscape modes to make most use of the screen space available, and you can choose which area to focus on, too. For instance, there are X/Y pads to control the Beat and Color FX, both of which are drip-downs from Pioneer's more expensive pro DJ gear; there's a "needle drop" for scrubbing through tracks; it offers better control over beat-matched loops; and most crucially, you get clear control over your library. This is just as well, taking into account the disappointingly limited LED screens provided for each deck. From the iDevice, you can easily access all of your playlists and folders, drag tunes onto decks, and search using the on-screen keyboard.
It's important to note that no musical information crosses the network between iDevice and XDJ-R1; the music is on your USB drive, and needs to be organised using Pioneer's Rekordbox software. Although this software is also available for the iPad and iPhone, you'll still need a laptop because that's how you'll get the Rekordbox-organised music library onto a USB drive to plug in to your XDJ-R1. Also, all the hard work (ie the FX processing etc) goes on inside the hardware; again, the iDevice is only controlling it.
Of course, this is a true standalone unit, and you could equally simply DJ using CDs or even two line/phono sources added at the back, all without pairing up any iDevice at all. Thus it can be called a true "all-in-one" - whatever style of DJing you want to do, it can cope. there's actually quite a lot to this controller, and Pioneer's talkthrough video is very good, so we recommend you watch it (it's below) to fully understand the feature set.
The XDJ-R1 follows Pioneer's philosophy of not needing an actual computer involved in the playback of the music itself; in this instance, the iDevice is simply interacting with the Reckordbox-organised music library that's "physically" attached to it via the USB drive. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that: In fact I think it's rather neat, and it also provides a seamless "upgrade path" for DJs wanting to start at a (relative) entry level with an all-in-one controller, then "graduate" to Pioneer's pro gear in DJ booths, while not having to relearn as much as those making the same leap from full-on DJ software-based solutions like Traktor and Serato.
It's lovely to see the iPad's screen used how I think it makes a lot of sense - as a great library browser and to control extra features of the hardware. However (and for me it's a really big "but"), Pioneer seems to have missed a glaring chance to have two big, chunky parallel waveforms right there in front of the DJ - surely the most obvious use of all that screen real estate? The addition of this I think would have laptop DJs in their droves seriously considering this solution, as it packs a lot of the advantages of digital DJing without many of the perceived issues (mainly, having to lug a laptop around with you).
As it is, though, this is still an appealing and innovative controller. Dropping the (to me rather gimmicky) wireless music streaming features of the XDJ-Aero for a promising v1 of an app that can be used as a good library browser, to control extra features, and as an all-out remote control for keeping control of the music when temporarily away from the XDJ-R1 (mobile guys will think of triggering jingles and countdowns, for instance) is a smart move.
Pioneer's addition of pro ins and outs and CD players has made it a viable and capable mobile DJ solution, and I can see mobile guys who want to explore some of the techniques usually employed by club or laptop DJs finding the XDJ-R1 appealing. If they'd just added waveforms, we'd be seriously thinking now whether Pioneer had just landed a significant blow on software DJing as a whole. As it is, the XDJ-R1 is definitely another step in that direction, but will probably be received by laptop DJs as a "not quite there yet".
Price: US$1099 / £899 / €999
Availability: June 2013
• Demo the Remotebox app for yourself - it's in the App Store from today
• Read all the official words on the Pioneer website
Official video talkthrough
What do you think of the XDJ-R1? Is this the ultimate mobile DJ solution? Is Pioneer going down an interesting path here with Rekordbox / iOS remote control? Please share your thoughts in the comments.