Review: Denon DJ MC3000 Controller
Denon DJ’s MC3000 feels like a serious contender for all-round digital DJ controller of the year, and it’s not even out of the box as I write this intro! How can I say that already? Because just by looking at the spec, seeing the size and feeling the weight of it, I know the controller inside is going to be compact, is going to cover the digital DJing essentials, and is good enough for pro use.
You see, I believe that DJ controllers need to do two “sets” of things: The essential stuff, and the “would be nice” things.
For most DJs, most of the time, the essential stuff is all they’ll need. Sure, it’s nice to have the rest there, but the trouble is all of those “would be nice” functions take up space and cost money, and if you’re not careful, their inclusion begin to compromise one of the central tenets of digital DJing: Portability. Controllers should, in my view, be nice and portable.
The MC3000 (Denon’s DJ products are now branded “Denon DJ”, and they’ve dropped the “DN”) takes a “please most of the people, most of the time” route, and in making a few compromises, is smaller, leaner and less cramped than its older and bigger stablemate, the DN-MC6000. It’s also more logically laid out, to boot. So time to get it out of the box and take a look…
The controller is small and heavy. Denon uses smaller jogwheels than most, allowing it to produce more compact units. This is a smart move as jogs don’t have to be big to be functional, and these are still high quality jogs, with all the standard jog functionality (ie metal on the top for scratching, plastic sides for nudging). Indeed, all of the controls feel high quality; the knobs are grey and black and rubberised (apart from the central selector knob and the pitch sliders), and the buttons are rubberised and backlit in a mixture of yellow, green and red.
It is similarly styled to its bigger bro, the DN-MC6000, being boxy and all-metal, but missing the silver sides; this is all black. The most obvious other visual differences are that there are now two physical channels not four, and the pitch sliders have sensibly moved to the outer edge of each jogwheel, where they’re easier to access without knocking other controls.
A quick perusal of the controls shows us that the effects knobs and buttons now double up to control your software’s sample features; that the unit can still handle video mixing (using Virtual DJ); that the single microphone input retains ducking (or “talkover”) but loses EQ; and that there are two external inputs, but that they route through a rudimentary two-rotary sub-mixer straight to the master out.
As well as shift buttons, there are modifier buttons to switch between sample and effects usage for the two sections at the top, and similar modifier buttons to switch from cues 1 to 4 and cues 5 to 8. So despite being somewhat shrunken compared to its bigger brother, there’s still a lot of Midi functionality here, and apart from the two-line / four-channels compromise, the controller has the ability to nail all the important functions in your DJ software, sample decks and all.
There’s nothing on the front apart from a 1/4in headphones jack, and round the back are balanced (1/4in) and unbalanced master outs, the two line-ins (no phono option), a 1/4in TRS microphone input, and the usual USB / outlet power sockets (it needs outlet power to work), plus a beefy on/off button.
The unit comes with Traktor 2 LE in Europe and Asia, and Virtual DJ LE in the Americas; whichever package you get with it, you’ll want to upgrade to the Pro version to get full functionality. The LE version for your territory is in the box on CD; however, for testing purposes we are using the Denon-supplied mappings for two decks plus two sample decks in Traktor Pro 2.
Navigating the library is simple using the big central selector, and you can move between folders by pressing the appropriate buttons. It is also possible to navigate within track listings using the jogwheels if you wish.
Big load buttons bring your selected track onto the appropriate deck, as selected with the deck selector buttons. A small button under the selector knob toggles library view.
Transport and jogs
The jogs, as previously mentioned, are nice to use, despite being smaller than those on most controllers. The scratch function can be turned off and on with the vinyl mode button, and the whole jog can also be disabled for DJs who don’t use jogs and who don’t want to accidentally knock them – a good inclusion. Holding down shift while using a jog lets you navigate your track library.
Denon’s legacy pitch bend controls are there if you’re that way inclined, as are the ubiquitous sync button and nice, big cue and play/pause buttons. (Holding down “Samp.” and pressing play/pause batch-plays the sample slots in that particular sample deck). The pitch controls, while not particularly long throw, are hi-res and so accurate; it’s easy enough to move the BPM by 1/100th of a BPM, which is good enough for me.
The mixer has all the expected volume controls (low / mid / high / gain / line volume) per channel, plus a nice loose crossfader and steady, stiffer line faders.
The VUs are switchable from cue to master; I’d have preferred this to be smart switching (ie when you have a deck’s Cue button pressed to preview in headphones, the VU switches to that deck to let you set the gain, but when it’s unswitched, it returns to master) but it’s a small thing – each DJ will have their own preference here. At least you get proper cue and master VUs, which is more than some controllers give you.
The microphone channel only has a volume control, so there’s no EQ, but as mentioned earlier, there is ducking; there’s a green backlit button to tell you when ducking is switched on.
It’s really part of the effects, but as is the currently vogue, it’s been stripped out and plonked in the mixer, so we’ll cover it here. What are we talking about? Nice big filter controls, right there above the line faders, that’s what! Great fun.
Effects, samples and looping
The effects sections at the top of the unit (one for each “side”) can control either single FX or group FX mode in Traktor. This is all standard stuff, as is the way you assign effects to the decks, which is done by using the 1/2 and A/C, B/D buttons located near the top of the mixer.
By pressing the “Samp.” modifier, the effect knobs instead control either the volume or the cut-off frequency of the sample shot, depending upon whether shift is held too or not.
The buttons in the effects section are used to load, play, turn on/off and record into the sample slots, depending upon which of a number of modifiers they’re pressed with. In short, this section can control all functions of Traktor’s sample decks, although doing so isn’t as intuitive as on the Traktor Kontrol controllers. There’s a bit of learning to do.
(By the way, all the loop record function are accessible too, again using modifiers and, this time, the central selector button’s push-to-click function).
The provided looping functions are actually quite simple, with manual loop in/out, plus beatmatched auto-looping with half / double controls. Holding shift and pressing the -/+ controls accesses loop shift. The cue buttons can set and control up to eight hot cues per deck using shift for hot cues 5 to 8; if you’re using them with decks C and D in sample deck mode, they’re used to mute and clear the sample slots, again depending on whether or not you use the shift button too.
Let’s look at how the Denon handles its external inputs, as we already know it keeps them away from the main mixer entirely. To start with, they are completely analogue; there’s no option to route then through software.
Here’s how it works: You plug two analogue (line only) sources in the back, and control them using the two Line to Master controls far right on the unit. One of those controls is like a crossfader between the two inputs, but in the form of a knob; the other is an overall volume for the two analogue inputs.
I think this is a good compromise between leaving analogue outputs off entirely (like the Traktor Kontrol S2, which effectively rules that unit out from serious live performance: what are you meant to do when the computer crashes?) and incorporating them into the unit as fully fledged inputs.
Using this set-up, it is easy to have a couple of extra sources ready for emergencies or background music (for instance, a mobile DJ might play pre-prepare sequences in the hour or two before a performance); it is possible to mix between them, and then when you’re ready, you can take over and do your thing properly using the software.
Of course, these inputs work with or without a laptop plugged in – would be pretty pointless otherwise!
Virtual DJ mapping
We didn’t have time to test the Virtual DJ mapping, but looking at the guide, it’s pretty similar to what’s described below, except there’s video mixing options (you can assign the crossfader to audio, video or both), and the sample deck features are simpler. Furthermore, video effects are available in the effects section by using the shift function to double up the controls.
(Just to defend ourselves here, we did extensively test the Virtual DJ mapping for the DN-MC6000, to which this is closely related, and apart from a weird glitch in the way four decks were dealt with, we found it to be fine.)
It’s good to see a manufacturer taking Virtual DJ’s often-underrated video DJing seriously here, and many mobile DJs will welcome this.
It sounded great. The headphones were loud, and I’d say the quality overall is exactly the same as the acclaimed DN-MC6000’s sound. Digital DJ Tips absolutely does not get into kHz and bits and all that stuff, because it would be wrong for us to pretend we can hear the difference between most modern sound cards: we can’t. We can tell duff when we hear it though, and this ain’t duff.
All the dry numbers are available on Denon’s website for the audiophiles and perfectionists out there, but for the working DJ, take our word for it: there’s nothing to worry about here.
This is a well-rounded controller, meant for use in public as much as the bedroom. I can see it appealing especially to the party DJ, to mobile DJs, and the bar/lounge DJ; the kind of people who know how to mix and enjoy club-style DJing, but also need to use their microphone every now and then, definitely need to incorporate the odd external source or two (even if just for an emergency backup).
Some bells and whistles – and I’m thinking particularly about sample decks and four deck mixing – are there if you want to dabble, but they’re not the main focus of the unit (having said that, while the DN-MC6000 does hybrid / four-deck mixing better than this unit, this unit is actually better for sample decks, due to being released after Traktor Pro 2).
The MC3000 is inevitably going to be compared to its older brother, the DN-MC6000. That unit has true standalone mixing, can handle record decks, has two microphone channels with EQs, and has booth as well as master outputs. For that, you pay maybe a third more than you do for this, and it’s bigger and heavier – although to be fair, not by much.
If you don’t particularly want those features, then the MC3000 will likely appeal to you more. It has the same pro build quality and nearly as much flexibility, but by dropping some of the expense of multiple ins and outs and of course by dropping two channels, it comes in smaller, lighter and cheaper (it’s still pretty heavy though! That’s all-steel construction for you).
So while both units are clearly suitable for working DJs (there’s an optional 19in mount kit to fit it into a hard case if you need to), this is aimed more at the 100% digital DJ as opposed to the type of working jock who needs more flexibility, for whom the DN-MC6000 would be a better buy.
If I had the choice of one or the other, I’d actually go for this: It’s smaller, cheaper and has more than everything I ever use in a DJ controller. Plus, it feels like it’s built to last forever. It’s a winner.
Has Denon got the balance of features right here? How would you compare this to its closest competitors, the Traktor Kontrol S2 and the Reloop Jockey 3? Let us know your thoughts in the comments…