Pioneer DJ’s new DJM-S11 mixer is the replacement for its venerable DJM-S9, a mixer that changed the face of scratch DJing half a decade ago.
Adding a touchscreen for the first time, this two-channel battle mixer layout will be instantly familiar to any scratch DJ, but it is deceptive in its simplicity. Indeed, I can’t recall ever reviewing a mixer that hid so much under its hood.
You’ll probably have read the news piece and seen the promo videos by now, so you’ll have a good idea of what we’re looking at here – so for the rest of this article, I want to dig into some of the notable features of the mixer, of which there are many.
Although the mixer works with Rekordbox DJ software as well as Serato DJ Pro, many of the innovative features do work with Serato specifically, as you’ll see. Not only that, but the labelling on the unit is Serato-specific (for instance, Pitch Play, Slicer Loop, Saved Flip etc. on the performance pads).
So for that reason, it is Serato that we tested the DJM-S11 on in order to write this article. We’ll cover Rekordbox in our full review of the unit, which will require us to live with it for a little while longer.
So let’s get started…
1. It has a touchscreen – and it’s really good
One reading of the DJM-S9’s layout is that Pioneer DJ has seen the success of the Rane Seventy-Two, and decided “we need to make a touchscreen mixer, too!”. (That said, Pioneer DJ’s DJM-909 also had a screen many years ago.)
We were quite surprised at first to see the touchscreen on here, not least because anecdotally, we feel many DJs prefer the simplicity of the Rane Seventy (the model in that company’s range that does NOT have a touchscreen) over the Seventy Two (the one that does).
But it turns out that the reasons for including the touchscreen go beyond just “me, too!”, as you’ll see later. For now though, let’s talk about the screen itself. It is 4.3”, although a bit narrower and longer that on the Rane Seventy-Two.
It is recessed, which strikes us as a good idea to avoid accidentally touching it, and it has the plastic non-multitouch finish Pioneer DJ has continued to prefer (they tell us it is because sweaty hands and glass/multitouch don’t play nicely together). The biggest multitouch gesture DJs might want to use is pinching/zooming waveforms, but you can still do this by holding Shift and touching the waveforms (lower half to zoom out, upper half to zoom in).
The screen is also bright – I’d wager that once you get to the top two or three of the LCD brightness settings, it is brighter than that on the Rane Seventy-Two. It even has a day mode (white background) for those poolside sunshine sets.
And it is easy to navigate – there is a little hamburger menu bottom-right that will always take you instantly back to the “home” screen; the browse knobs for each channel trigger the library view mode; and the currently selected effect is always displayed at the bottom of the screen. It’s pretty simple to get the hang of it, and you do find yourself using it intuitively pretty quickly.
2. Many of the layout quirks from the DJM-S9 have been fixed
The DJM-S9 was a landmark mixer, but it wasn’t perfect. There are a host of layout quirks that have thankfully been put right in the new version.
The biggest one for many will be that the channel controls are now in one vertical line – so the EQs are directly above the filter/Color FX knobs.
The next biggest one – and actually, from a functional point of view, it’s a huge leap forward – is that the performance pads (which are bigger) now have proper pad mode selector buttons, just like on DJ controllers.
That means it is finally possible to have a different pad mode set for deck 1 than for deck 2. Talking about it now, that seems like a crazy limitation of the DJM-S9, but it was so! But now it is fixed. Indeed, there are now a full 12 pad modes!
The track load buttons are also now much bigger than they were before, and crucially, bigger than the adjacent “Back” buttons – so it’s easier to hit them first time, every time with no errors.
All that said, anybody coming to the DJM-S11 from the DJM-S9 will feel instantly at home. Despite the fact that the mixer is slightly longer than before (to fit the screen in), it feels very much like “one of the family”.
3. It can control all four decks, even though it only has two channels.
The mixer has comprehensive control over the “other” two decks of Serato, even though it only has two physical channels. This not only makes it more versatile, but allows for a couple of truly innovative new features in Serato DJ Pro, which we cover elsewhere in this article.
However, it doesn’t do this in the way controller DJs are used to seeing, namely having a way of switching “layers” so that the physical controls of the mixer can be used to control the other two decks.
Instead, it does it via the touchscreen. By tapping “Deck 3” or “Deck 4” from the home screen, you can control the “outside” two decks via a number of sub-screens. They all have a Play/Pause and a Mute button, and further than that, the following sets of control can be switched between:
- Simple – Library browse opener, sync, auto loop, hot cue 1, plus detailed and overview waveforms
- Hot cue – All eight hot cues for the deck (they can be set from here, but not apparently deleted) plus an overview waveform
- Mash-up – Sync, key lock, pitch bend, “Deck Move” and “Dual Deck” (more about these functions elsewhere), plus detailed and overview waveforms
- Mixer – Trim and channel fader sliders, plus crossfader and headphone cue engage/disengage for that channel, and overview waveform. No EQ settings here, though
4. TouchFX brings a new way of triggering pairs of effects
Taking advantage of the new touchscreen, TouchFX let you “gang together” two effects, and trigger them on your tracks using your finger on an X/Y axis. Nothing new (especially to iPad DJs), but still cool.
You get two presets – “Roll & Pitch” and “Echo & Filter”, which can be used alongside both the hardware effects and Serato’s effects – but you can also select the effects you want to use with it from the existing effects and from the Color FX, if you wish.
The presets can be used alongside all other effects on the unit, which is cool.
5. You can instantly move a track from an inner deck to an outer deck.
This is a bit like instant doubles, although it moves the track rather than doubling it.
Let’s say you are DJing with an acapella on one deck, and an instrumental on another. The live mashup is sounding good! But you want to “free up “ the acapella deck, in order to mix something else in.
By pressing “Deck Move” (in the third or fourth deck screen controls), the track on its corresponding “inner” deck (ie deck one or two) will be moved to that deck, still playing and with all its settings intact. In other words, it will sound seamless. Now, that “main” deck is free for you to load and mix in something else with.
The way it does this is, at first, counter-intuitive. But it makes sense when you think it through. Basically, it moves the track to the “outer” deck on the same side of the “crossfader” (or the same physical side should you actually have four physical decks set up) as the other playing track.
This means that your acapella (say) and instrumental track are now on “one side” of the mixer, and you can load in a new track on the other “side”.
This makes even more sense when you understand what the next feature does for you, that truly is mind-blowing…
6. You can “lock” pairs of decks together, for up to four-deck beat juggling
This is a big thing, in that it is major new functionality in Serato DJ Pro, that right now is only available on the DJM-S11.
Let’s say you have two tracks playing on the same “side” of the mixer (ie Serato decks 1 and 3, or 2 and 4), for instance as the result of what I described above. By tapping “Dual Deck” (in the third or fourth deck screen controls), the decks will “lock”. Serato displays “Dual” in the virtual decks on your screen.
Now, the decks are “locked” together, and anything you do on the mixer affects both of them. You can scratch, alter the EQs, use filter and other effects. They are treated to all intents and purposes as one track.
By using this feature in conjunction with the Deck Move feature described above, you can easily set up all four decks with synced music sources playing (say, two live acapella mashups) and control them as if they were just two tracks. Full four-deck beat juggling is perfectly possible!
You can also use hot cues, although note that if you press, say hot cue 1, it will jump to hot cue 1 on both decks assuming it is set – wherever that may be.
7. There is a stupidly useful “silent cue on steroids” mode
Firstly, this has a Silent cue mode – the DJM-S9 didn’t. Go to the Touch Midi section on the touchscreen (which lets you control all kinds of Serato functions, and even map your own), and one option is “Silent Cue”. Touch this, and you silence the track until you hit the first hot cue, at which point it unmutes.
For DVS DJs using vinyl, this mode is designed to allow the starting of a track “instantly”, avoiding the time it takes for the motor to get up to speed. You start your turntable when you want to, let it get up to speed, then make the track audible instantly with the first hot cue you press.
DJs have hacked this mode in the past by, for instance, having silence at the end of a file and setting a cue button there (and other such hacks), but really? This is the way to go.
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But there’s more to it that that – because if you double-tap the Hot Cue mode selector button, it turns red. This is “Gate Cue mode”. and it’s awesome.
in this mode, all eight of your hot cues become “gate” cues, or – if you like – “momentary” cues. In this mode, your track is playing, but nobody hears anything until you press a hot cue. Take your hand off it, the track falls silent again.
This latter behaviour will come as nothing new to controller DJs, but it has never been possible on DVS before. So now it is possible to finger drum, for instance, even when you have your DVS control vinyl constantly running. It’s a major improvement and fixes a big limitation of DVS DJing in general. We love it.
8. It has a new USB hub at the back – and it’s powerful
Round the rear of the unit are two USB-A sockets, which weren’t there on the DJM-S9. These are there so you can plug in controllers, for instance the Rane Twelves, so you only need one lead running to your laptop from the unit- although you could also use them to add something like the DDJ-XP2.
Phase wireless DVS users will also be pleased to know that the sockets are powerful enough to successfully power the Phase receiver – something Pioneer DJ tells us is not the case with the Rane Seventy and Seventy Two family of mixers (we haven’t tested this though).
9. There’s a “beat jump” mode, and a hidden “pad combo” mode too
It’s not labelled on the device, but there is a hidden “beat jump” feature, and also a sneaky way to get two pad features working at once on one set of pads.
To the Beat Jump mode first: Once you have enabled Beat Jump in the Serato DJ Pro preferences, you activate it on the pads by entering the “Hot Cue Saved Loop” mode (by double-tapping the “Roll” pad selector button), or entering the “Auto Loop” mode (by double tapping the “Saved Loop” pad selector button).
Now, the lower four pads become Beat Jump, letting you double or halve the Beat Jump length with the two inner pads, and execute the jump with the outer two.
But it goes further than this. you activate one cue mode, and – with your hand still on its selector – activate another. This “splits” the pads horizontally between both modes. So you could, for instance, have your first four hot cues and your first four saved loops sharing the pads at the same time, and any other combo you can think of. It’s a cool little Easter egg, for sure!
10. It’s actually possible to DJ on this with just your laptop
Combining much of what has already been discussed (touchscreen control over decks 3 and 4, the Midi-mappable touchscreen control over many of Serato DJ Pro’s features in the Touch Midi section) with one more killer hidden feature, it is possible to DJ with this on its own.
The extra feature is a hidden transport mode for each of decks 1 and 2, right there on the pads. Double-tapping the “Sampler” button brings this transport mode up, and from here, you can – from left to right on the lower four pads – control key lock, sync, temporary cue, and play/pause. Meanwhile the upper pads you can nudge and adjust track tempo.
It’d be a bit fiddly for sure, but you can 100% DJ on this without DVS or HID decks – and once you get your head around some of the unique features, you can do a lot more than just simple DJing – you could really impress on just the mixer.
Worth knowing, even if just to get you out of a scrape should your decks suffer any technical issues.
11. It has some great new echo effects, namely “Smooth Echo” and “Duck Echo”
“Smooth echo” gets its own button, right under the “sampler volume” knob. Anything at all that imposes on the sacred lower half of a battle mixer better be good… and it is.
This engages a pre-determined length of echo (you can choose what in the settings), with some of the low frequencies rolled off, whenever you cut a channel. That means when you move the crossfader away from the channel (for instance) you get a nice echo out.
By holding down the Smooth Echo button, you get a special touchscreen panel to alter what actually triggers it (crossfader, upfaders, hot cues, gate cues, silent cue, or even track load).
But here’s the killer feature: When it is set to work with the crossfader, you can trigger the amount of time (by number of beats) for the crossfader to be open before the echo is activated.
If you’re not a scratch DJ this will fall on deaf ears, but if you are, you’ll realise that this is going to stop you having to end a scratch routine by finding a “third hand” to quickly flick the effect paddle up to turn on an echo out to close out your routine, which is a way so many scratch DJs like to end combos etc. It’s awesome.
And then there’s “Ducking Echo”. This is one of the 22 Beat FX (up from 15 on the DJM-S9). It is an echo that kicks in when you “duck” (or cut the volume of) a channel. What’s cool about it is that if you set its range to 16 beats, and turn the Level/Depth up to 100%, cutting a track with it engaged will result in an instant four-bar loop.
This is the case even if you’re spinning with, say, real vinyl – that is to say, even if you’re not even using Serato at all (as with all the hardware effects, it is independent of serato).
So if you’re playing an all-vinyl set with the DJM-S9, and you realise a track is running out, you can hit this function, set up a nice, clean auto loop, and buy yourself time to mix something else in. Of course, you could also use it to DJ with more than one “deck”, by having a loop or even two repeating this way, and then mixing in other vinyl sources. – all without a computer!
If you were really lazy, you could set this to trigger “on load”, and have an echo out on every tune you load, negating the need to mix at all – not that you’d ever want to do that, of course…
12. There’s a whole new Serato sample mode, called “Scratch Bank”
It’s not often you see a whole new mode in Serato, but that’s what this is – it has its own icon at the top of the screen (a hand scratching some vinyl).
Engage this pad mode, and click on the Serato icon to open the new slots, and you get 32 new “slots” in which you can store scratch samples, full scratch sentences, even whole tracks. For each, you can set whether its start point is the beginning of the file, or any of the eight hot cues. They are arranged into four switchable banks, so you always have eight available on the pads.
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Best way to think of this function is like an “instant load” of whatever is on a pad. Touch a pad, and it will load that audio to the chosen deck. The idea is that you use it for scratch samples, so you can hit a pad and immediately start scratching with that sample – no need to go and find it in your library and load it onto a deck.
With scratch sentences, you could have a different cue point at each sound, and the same sentence loaded onto multiple pads.
A nice touch is that by holding down “Shift” and touching any of the pads, Serato will re-load the previous track for you. This is useful if you’re ready to mix in a new track, you decide you want to load a scratch sample and perform for a while instead, but then you want to get “back to where you where” – it saves you time.
Super quick mixing DJs could even have 32 full songs in a routine loaded to the pads, with no need to even go to the library at all, using this feature as effectively a mini library!
And a few minus points…
Here are some things to be aware of, that may influence your decision as to whether this is right for you:
- The on-screen browsing is OK, but most useful for DJs with pre-prepared playlists rather than for searching. Sure you can definitely get by with it, but for searching, and casually deciding what to play next, you’re still better off with the laptop screen. Battle DJs prepare sets pretty tightly anyway, and for them it will be perfect. Just don’t think you’ll never want to loo at your laptop
- We’d like to have seen EQ controls incorporated in the decks 3 and 4 screens on the touchscreen. It is a job to see where they would go, but nonetheless it would have been cool to have them there for the sake of completeness
- While the mixer is well built (Pioneer DJ tells us the paint has been improved so it doesn’t flake as easily, and everything certainly feels top notch, with the crossfader improving even on the DJM-S9), it still has a lot of plastic in its body, just like its predecessor. This is in contrast to Pioneer DJ’s own DJM-900NXS2 and the rival mixers from Rane. That said, the mix of metal and plastic does make it nice and light
- Iit doesn’t work in HID mode with the CDJ-3000s at all as of now, and is apparently limited with the CDJ-2000s (we didn’t have time to dig deeper into this, again, we’ll cover in more depth in our full review which is forthcoming). This is a big omission for now, as many DJs like to play open format on this type of mixer, but with CDJs. Pioneer DJ says that CDJ-3000 compatibility is coming “some time next year”, which is a bit too vague for us. It’s certainly not a question of if, but when – but we’d like it to be sooner rather than later
Next from us…
So that’s the DJM-S11, and our first thoughts after literally a single day to play with it, write this piece, and make the accompanying video. Our full review will follow after we’ve spend a month or two battering this thing – but for now, what do you think?
Has Pioneer DJ hit the mark? Does it have the features you’d have expected from a DJM-S9 replacement? What do you think of the features we’ve just shared?
Do let us know in the comments!