Pioneer DJ’s new DDJ-200 controller, which was announced today and which we’ve got an exclusive first-look video tour of for you, is a bold move into the beginner market from the company.
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It brings an innovative phone-first approach, plus Beatport and SoundCloud streaming baked in with additional compatibility with Deezer and Spotify via collaborations with Algoriddim and MWM, makers of the djay and Edjing Mix apps.
It also uses innovative technology to provide a wire-free link between phone and controller without the “lag” often associated with such solutions.
We’ve had some time with the controller, and in this first thoughts video and article, we’ll explain what it’s for, why you may want a controller like this, and what it’s like to DJ on.
Plugging it in
The first surprise here is in how it integrates with your phone (it’s iPhone only right now, but Android support follows in “a couple of months”). The unit works via Bluetooth Midi. That means that you connect it to the iPhone without wires.
There is nowhere to plug your headphones or speakers in on the unit itself – it’s purely a Midi controller. The idea is that you use your iOS device’s audio for DJing with.
Your first choice to achieve this is to simply use the phone’s built-in speaker, but the better choice is to use the supplied “splitter” cable to plug both an external speaker and a pair of headphones into your iPhone, in order to get the ability to cue tracks.
It kind of makes sense not to have onboard audio (it certainly helps keep the cost down). But especially because modern iPhones don’t even have a headphones socket, it does mean you’ll need the Apple wired headphones adaptor. Luckily they’re cheap to buy.
Of course, the unit itself needs power, and this is provided via a USB cable, that plugs in to any USB wall adaptor (the cable is included, but an adaptor isn’t). You could also power it with a battery pack, such as the battery you may have for charging your phone when away from home, to make it totally portable.
We’d have like to have seen it actually take real batteries, or even be rechargeable, for true portability without an external power source.
The unit is reassuringly plain and familiar – no gimmicks as far as look or layout are concerned. The only sockets on it are for Kensington lock and USB. It’s small, lightweight and made of plastic, but strongly made. There’s a pretty cute (optional) soft carry case you can buy to go with it too.
The decks have cue and play/pause buttons, scratch/nudge jogwheels, decent tempo faders, the ubiquitous sync buttons, and small but decent backlit performance pads, with a firm “click” when pressed.
Meanwhile the mixer is simple, with two channels, three-band EQ (good to see that on such a small device), filter knobs, a crossfader, and a “Transition FX” button – more on that in a bit.
There are no VU meters, gain controls, looping controls, pad selector controls… just about the only controls I haven’t mentioned are the headphone deck/master selectors. there isn’t even a headphone volume control. This is definitely stripped down.
So Pioneer DJ expects you to use it with WeDJ, its vastly improved iPhone DJ app. The app has features such as transition effects (that add an effect when you move the crossfader across), “phase” sync, that matches whole musical phrases for effortless beatmixing, pad FX, X/Y FX, sampler, loops and more.
As you may have guessed, then, most of these are selected or accessed by touching the phone’s screen. It gets fiddly – certainly the larger your phone, the better. Interestingly, I found it easier to have the phone at the front of the unit rather than at the back, especially when using with the headphones splitter cable.
It is possible to record your sets and upload directly to Mixcloud and SoundCloud, although you can’t record them if you’re using streaming sources – only local music.
As mentioned, the unit also works out of the box with MWM’s Edjing Mix app and Algoriddim’s djay app, both of which connect and function similarly.
Using with streaming services
The DDJ-200 with the improved WeDJ for iPhone app is the first DJ software/hardware combination to integrate Beatport’s brand-new Beatport LINK streaming service. It also works with SoundCloud’s Go+ subscription. That means as long as you’re a subscriber to these services, you can DJ with music from them directly.
You browse playlists, charts and so on on your chosen streaming service or services, load tracks (speed of “arrival” dependent on your internet speed – usually just a few seconds), and can play immediately.
With Algoriddim’s djay incorporating Spotify, and MWM’s Edjing Mix offering Deezer Premium and a free version of SoundCloud for DJing with. you have lots of options if you want to DJ but don’t own – or have any intention of buying – a local music collection just for DJing.
Note that it can use any music you do own and do have on your iPhone (or Mac/PC for Rekordbox DJ) too.
Using with Rekordbox DJ
A useful feature of the unit is that while it is primarily intended for DJing with your phone and streaming services, it works with Rekordbox DJ too.
In this instance, you simply plug it into your laptop, and it will activate any copy of Rekordbox DJ – no licence needed. So DJs starting out with this controller but wanting to get more professional down the line could follow that route, and wouldn’t need to buy Rekordbox DJ for US$139.
Note that you’d still be DJing with computer audio, with the supplied mono splitter cable again giving you separate headphones and speaker outputs. You could add an audio interface for true stereo output and cueing, of course.
The DJ industry is in a state of transition especially as far as streaming goes, and this controller has been placed right at the cutting edge of that by Pioneer DJ.
It’s good to see Pioneer DJ targeting the “bottom” end of the market – the casual users, dabblers and total beginners, in other words. It’s also a notable change for Pioneer DJ to be taking an inclusive approach as far as other software platforms are concerned.
The DDJ-200 unit itself is solid albeit basic, and the software is a vast improvement on the original version of WeDJ.
For us, the biggest gamble here is the lack of onboard audio. After all, you can buy a Numark Party Mix for half this price, and that has “disco lights” and an audio interface! However, it appears Pioneer DJ is bargaining on people wanting to DJ with their phones, and wanting to use whatever platform they choose (presumably to match their choice of streaming service).
For the casual user thinking along these lines, then, this is an interesting proposition. But also for the hobbyist, it could work as a good second controller, either as a backup or something to travel with. For the latter use case though, batteries on board would have been a clincher.
So will it succeed? Well, there’s potentially a huge untapped beginner/casual DJ market out there, but success or not will hinge on how well the DDJ-200 actually works with the software platforms, how interested people are in DJing with streaming services (and subscribing to them in order to do so), and how many people decide that the way it’s set it up is simple enough for them.
We’ll let you know our further thoughts in our full review soon.
Check out the photo gallery below.
• The Pioneer DJ DDJ-200 controller costs $149 / £139 / €159, and is available now. Check the Pioneer DJ site for more details.
Questions? Watch out DDJ-200 Q&A live show…