Review: Denon DN-MC6000 4-Deck DJ Midi Controller
As we pointed out last week in our Xone:DX review, much fuss has been made around Pioneer’s entry into the four-deck DJ controller market with DDJ-T1 Traktor controller. But last year – at the same time as Native Instruments launched the Traktor Kontrol S4 – another respected pro DJ gear manufacturer, Denon, previewed its own four-deck DJ controller: the DN-MC6000.
We had our first look at the Denon DN-MC6000 at the BPM show last October, but it’s only now that Denon has stepped up the launch publicity and made a review sample available to us here at Digital DJ Tips. To find out if this all-singing, all-dancing unit can carve a niche in the suddenly busy 4-deck controller sector, read on for our full Denon DN-MC6000 review…
The DN-MC6000 is a professional all-in-one four-deck DJ controller for both Traktor and Virtual DJ. It can also function as a standalone DJ mixer without the need for a laptop or software running – so can be used as a CD or vinyl mixer as well as to mix with up to four digital decks.
Flexibility really is the keyword here, both in the number of inputs (four line inputs, two phono inputs and two mic inputs, the latter complete with three-band EQ for each and echo/voiceover functions) and the number of outputs (booth/send complete with two-band EQ and channel/master assign, 1/4″ TRS and XLR balanced master output plus unbalanced RCAs for master and record).
What’s in the box
The unit comes complete with a 19″ rack mount kit to give you the choice of mounting it either in a booth installation or a portable case (Denon supplied a prototype case with the review unit similar in layout the the Kontrol S4 case, with a sliding laptop stand and room to store leads, headphones etc underneath the console).
It also comes with USB and mains cabling (it has to be plugged in to the mains to operate, of course – that’s the only way the standalone mixer functionality could ever work, for starters). The mains cable has a transformer separate from rather than built in to the plug, which is preferable to cheaper all-in-one power units .
There is a CD containing copies of the quick-start sheet and complete operating instructions in 8 languages (they’re also provided in print version in English and Japanese), as well as a CD of Traktor LE. There’s was no Virtual DJ CD with the review sample (although the instruction manual indicates that maybe there should have been), but you can get a fully operating month-trial of Virtual DJ from their website. anyway.
Of course, it is a nonsense to think that you’d ever use this controller without also buying a full version of one of the pieces of software it is designed to work with; LE software and pro-grade kit don’t mix.
Denon DN-MC6000’s appearance
Overall it is smaller and lighter than the Allen & Heath Xone:DX which we reviewed last week; although it is wider than that controller, it is not so deep. Because of the fact that it has bigger and better jogwheels than the Xone:DX, and because of the aforementioned shallowness of the unit, its controls are not very spaced out, feeling slightly cramped in the mixer section especially. It’s not a deal-breaker, just something to bear in mind if you have particularly clumsy fingers.
The overriding impression is of a workmanlike, high-tech unit that is very much in keeping with the aesthetics of Denon’s mixers and DJ CD players, and its other Midi control unit, the DN-SC2000 – although it has none of the lightweight, portable feel of the latter. If you like the look of the rest of Denon’s gear, you’ll like this.
It would look completely in place in a pro DJ booth, in a mobile set-up, or as part of a touring rig, for instance. The conservative styling and 19″ profile, along with the aforementioned flexibility, give away the fact that Denon sees this as very much a unit for professional use.
There is a certain amount of setting up to do; for Windows users you need to install the supplied Denon ASIO drivers, but for Mac users it’s simply a case of selecting the Denon as your sound card input and output source and then altering a couple of settings in your DJ software of choice. Once you’re running, the unit’s flexibility becomes evident just about everywhere you look and with everything you try and do – it can be quite overwhelming. There is much use made of the shift-key functionality in order to double-up Midi commands, so it’s definitely worth having the manual to-hand to check up on what’s what.
As you’re expected to use standard edition software with this (ie there are no custom versions in the way that, for instance, the Traktor Kontrol S4 or Allen & Heath Xone:DX are matched to S4 and ITCH software respectively), you pretty soon notice some things that aren’t as closely matched as they could be.
For instance, to switch between the two decks on each “side” of the software, you press a deck change button on the unit, the same as with all similar four-deck controllers. The deck layer colours are red and blue; red is for the lower deck, blue for the upper. However, on Virtual DJ, the decks are red, green, blue and orange; it would be great if such a colour scheme was reflected in the hardware. Also, there’s no representation on the software as to which deck you have selected on the hardware – an omission ITCH users would find strange.
More disconcerting is the fact that Virtual DJ software has decks 1 and 3 on the left and 2 and 4 on the right; however, the order of the 4 channels on the DN-MC6000 is 1,2,3,4 so the two decks on the left of the screen are not controlled by the two physical channels on the left-hand side of the Denon unit.
It makes a little more sense in Traktor (the outer faders control the lower decks, the inner, the upper) but it’s still not “right” – for me, the stuff on the left in the hardware should control the stuff on the left in the software. If you too find this counter-intuitive, and unless I’m missing something here (I’ve asked Denon), you’ll have to edit the mappings manually. To an extent that’s the price you pay for flexibility; this isn’t really sold on the strength of being “plug and play” out-of-the-box stuff; it’s meant to be configurable for all types of use, and for all types of DJs to use.
The kind of person who would buy this unit would also probably not be too worried about digging in the Midi configurations (remember, it’s a Midi controller so basically everything is user configurable) and tweaking the set-up to suit their own particular needs. We only had the unit for a day or two, though, so unfortunately couldn’t experiment further with this.
The mixer and routing
At the heart of the unit are four channels with an input selector at the top of each, followed by gain and three-band EQ, a CUE button (you can select multiple cues at once) and the channel fader itself. The EQs cut to nothing (ie if you turn down low, mid and high completely for a channel, all sound disappears entirely).
There is a pretty standard set of navigation functions right in the centre of the mixer to allow you to choose and load songs without reverting to the computer keyboard, and this section also contains a number of small buttons to allow you to select various display and other options in your DJ software. For Virtual DJ users, there is also the chance to select the crossfader as controlling video, audio or both.
Finally for the mixer section, there’s a small three-way switch that allows you to choose what the VU meters (there are twin LED VUs) display: Channels 1 & 4, channels 2 & 3, or simply the master output.
Regarding this last function, it is always nice to have individual channel VUs (like the Xone:DX has, for instance) because it makes it easy to quickly adjust gains from the hardware. However in the majority of situations, this set-up is not going to cause too much inconvenience as it is: if you are DJing with four software channels, you get VU monitoring on-screen so could just leave this set to master anyway, and if you are DJing with a mixture of software (digital) and analogue (ie CD/vinyl) inputs, you can switch the VUs on the unit to monitor just those inputs.
A great feature of the analogue inputs is this: It is possible to route two of your analogue signal through software or keep their paths 100% analogue – it’s up to you, and there’s simply a little button on the back for you to set up your preference. This is something the Allen & Heath Xone:DX we reviewed last week, for instance, can’t do (it’s all within software control only on that unit), and is indicative of the awesome level of flexibility this particular controller affords you.
The controller sections
The transport controls are pretty much what you’d expect, with the usual play/pause and cue buttons. As with most of the main buttons on this unit, they are rubberised, backlit and of high quality, with a firm click when pressed – no complaints here.
Down here at the bottom of the controller there are also “vinyl bend” (which is basically a scrub function for moving quickly through media) and “pitch bend” (does what it says) twinned small buttons. The sync button syncs the selected deck to the master, and shift & sync makes the selected deck the master deck.
The jogwheels are as you might expect: high quality, with absolutely no give at all in them – rock solid. Like Vestax’s controllers, they have dual action – the metal top section is used to scratch, vinyl style, while the plastic outer section is a progressive equivalent of using the pitch bend. They feel good, and because they are high resolution they sound good too – jogwheels have come a long way in the last year or two and these are up with the pack.
One thing missing compared to some similar units is a visual representation of movement to show if your selected deck is “spinning” or not; the new Pioneer controllers and the Allen & Heath Xone:DX, for instance, have rotating lights when a deck is playing, but with this unit, a colour-coded “deck selected” indicator light occupies a static curved strip across the bottom of the jogwheel’s circumference.
Denon has chosen to lay each of the controller sections out identically (so the pitch controls are top right of the jogwheel on each side, for instance), not in a mirror image layout as preferred by some manufacturers. You may have a preference on this choice; I really don’t mind. It takes very little time to get used to it.
The pitch control alters pitch across a range set in software; there’s no way of switching this in hardware with the supplied mappings, which is no big issue. Finally for this section, key lock does exactly what you’d expect.
Loops, FX and sampler
Looping is the minimum you’d expect – you can set loop in/out manually and also auto-loop with beatmatched half/double functionality down to a small fraction of a beat and up to eight bars. There’s no loop memory though.
There are 8 cues available in Traktor, and four cues and four sample triggers available in Virtual DJ. As far as I can see there’s no way out-of-the-box to record samples, but I have to reiterate that everything is Midi mappable and you can set this unit up to do whatever you want within the limitations of your chosen software. Adding extra functionality using the shift key should be no real issue up to the total possible number of permutations of keys available to you, which is quite a lot.
The effects control varies depending on whether you’re using Traktor or Virtual DJ, but you have 4 adjustable parameters so there’s plenty of flexibility there.
Out of the box and with Virtual DJ, the first three knobs of the effects section control the effect you’ve chosen with one of the FX ON buttons, the fourth always controlling the filter (low pass filter to the left, high pass to the right). With Traktor, the filters use two rotaries and buttons in the middle of the mixer section (which are used for video parameters in Virtual DJ) – again, though, all mappable to suit your own preferences.
Of course, these are software effects and so the quality is dependent upon the quality of the effects that come with your software.
Other features of the DN-MC6000
Plenty of other features have been included to ensure it could operate at the heart of the most complex DJ system without falling short on configurability. It could operate at the heart of the most complex DJ system without falling short on configurability.
The channels the crossfader affects are fully assignable through switches on the front, along with the crossfade contour; there’s a standby mode selector; split cue on the headphones (a surprisingly rare feature on software controllers); and a stereo/mono switch across the master out. EQed and assignable booth send, plus echo and voiceover on the microphone channels, round the picture out further still.
The sound card is 16-bit/48kHz eight-in, eight-out; if you were expecting 24-bit/96kHz this may raise an eyebrow but it sounds fine to me; the frequency response is 20Hz to 20kHz and S/N for the analogue inputs between 87dB and 90dB, all perfectly respectable figures.
Denon means business with the DN-MC6000. It is similar in overall functionality to the American Audio VMS4 but in a different league as far as build quality goes, which is of course reflected in the price and the segment of the market Denon is aiming at.
This controller isn’t the most obvious choice if you’re a hobbyist wanting a pure software controller, because the Traktor Kontrol S4 has more software-specific tricks and arguably better software (its custom edition is also tied perfectly to the hardware).
And if you want pure plug-and-play convenience and equally rock-solid hardware but are prepared to sacrifice some functionality and most of the flexibility, the Allen & Heath Xone:DX is a more obvious choice.
However, once you start demanding more features of a general pro-DJing nature, as opposed to of a software controller/hobbyist nature, the competition begin to fall away. Need two EQed mic inputs, or EQed booth send (remember, many controllers including the Traktor Kontrol S4, don’t even have a booth send)? Need stacks of external inputs, including the ability to route through hardware or software? Need something 19″ rack mountable? Looking for video mixing? If any of these are on your “must have” list, the Denon not only has you covered, but is often your only choice.
Because it’s a full Midi controller, with enough time and effort just about everything about it is configurable in order to get it to how you want it (for instance, I suggest non-video-using Virtual DJ users would immediately re-appropriate the two middle knobs on the mixer as filter controls, as in the Traktor mapping).
It will be interesting to hear back from Denon as to how easily those channels can be reconfigured to better reflect the way the decks are visually laid out in 4-deck mode on both Virtual DJ and Traktor – my biggest bugbear overall with this unit – but it’s not a dealbreaker, more a hurdle to deal with as you get it set up to suit your workflow and DJing style.
For serious multi-format or video DJs, professional mobile DJs, and also for installation in smaller DJ booths where quality and flexibility nonetheless remain paramount, the Denon DN-MC6000 would be ideal. It’s easily the most flexible four-channel DJ controller we’ve tested at Digital DJ Tips so far, and overall is a quality piece of kit.
What’s more important to you, flexibility or more innovative software control? Have you been waiting for video mixing? Does a bit of Midi mapping put you off or do you like to get your hands dirty? Let us know in the comments…