The Denon DJ SC Live 4 and 2 are decently featured standalone DJ systems that also work with Serato DJ and Virtual DJ software. They have built-in speakers, built-in WiFi for streaming services, and clever built-in control over both home smart lights and pro lighting. They both run the Engine DJ OS, which is the most powerful standalone DJ platform out there by quite a long way – yet their layout is more like club DJ gear, a first for Denon DJ. And by building the units in plastic instead of metal, and removing some of the highest-end features of Denon DJ’s Prime range of gear, the company can offer both units at the lowest price any Denon DJ standalones have ever sold for. Our only real complaint is that to our eyes, the screens are just too small – and do bear in mind that the units aren’t really that much cheaper than the equivalent Prime units (if you can find them, that is).
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First Impressions / Setting up
Out of the box, my immediate first impression was “this should have had the Numark name on it”. We got the Denon DJ SC Live 4 to review (we haven’t seen the SC Live 2, although we discuss the differences between the two in the conclusion below), and its abundance of plastic and relatively light weight made us think immediately that it could have been badged as a four-channel version of the popular Numark Mixstream Pro.
This isn’t a criticism, by the way – Numark gear is excellent for the money, but it was a bit of a shock to see Denon DJ gear built out of plastic. We also immediately noticed the built-in speakers – again, very Numark, although thankfully here, they’re at the top of the unit, not at the bottom, where your hands fall. This makes more sense, not least because they’re better positioned for small parties at home.
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However, feature-wise, the units are much more “Denon DJ”. No, there aren’t inputs for external turntables or CDs (the only external inputs are two Mic inputs on the SC Live 4, one of which switches to a single Aux In if required – and on the SC Live 2, that drops to one). But the units have all the track skip, beat jump, censor, auto/manual looping, full colour pads and in-jog displays you’d expect on a decently featured DJ system.
Note that the in-jog displays only display track info though, not artwork – although this is itself a first for Prime gear, and more useful really than artwork. Also, they’re only on the SC Live 4. Just about the only hardware controls lacking for us are beatgrid adjustment controls.
Club not controller layout
The mixer is a club layout, more like the Denon DJ X1850 (and of course all Pioneer DJ gear) than the Prime 4 with its traditional “controller”-style layout. That means an FX strip to the right of the four channel strips, and this is the first time such a layout has appeared on any Engine DJ all-in-one equipment.
There has also been a colour refresh – gone is the abundance of green from the Prime 4 and Prime 2, with a more subtle white, blue and orange light scheme.
Inputs and outputs
You get 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone sockets on the front left, and round the back, an XLR and a 1/4″ jack input for the mics, the aforementioned RCA aux input, both RCA and balanced XLR main outs, TRS booth outs, a computer USB socket, and the twin USB and single SD card slots. The good news is that these slots are protected from accidental knocks by the underside of the fixed, tilted 7″ touchscreen; the bad news is that they’re awkward to reach, although you can understand why they had to be moved to here – to accommodate the two speakers (more on those later).
Finally around the back are the power input and switch. The unit disappointingly comes with an external power brick, and so the input is a 12V socket. At least there’s a cable grip, but I much prefer IEC sockets on DJ gear, especially once it reaches this kind of size.
Denon DJ informs us that the unit will work with its LC6000 deck controllers, which is great to know, but we didn’t have time to test this.
Getting started is fun! You switch it on, find the “speaker on” switch, and as the unit comes with some built-in tracks to get something playing, you can just load one and hit play – it’s the fastest start-up of any DJ gear I’ve ever used, I think, except the Numark Mixstream Pro.
This is the one of the first pieces of DJ gear we’ve tested primarily through its built-in speakers, because frankly – they’re good. No, they’re not hi-fi, but they’re pretty damned loud, and have a surprising amount of bass. The whole unit vibrates when you’ve got the volume turned up, in a very satisfying way, it has to be said. It’s more mid-bass than true bass, and indeed overall I’d describe the speakers as “middy”, almost hollow sounding – but they’re perfectly usable, and louder/better sounding than those on the popular little Mixstream Pro, for instance.
Of course, you can plug in your own speakers too, and then choose whether to have the built-in ones turned on or off; to test the sound quality, we did just that and pushed the audio into a pair of Adam Audio A4V monitors here in the studio. It sounded great.
Streaming services & local music
Once you’re bored of messing with the built-in tracks, you’re going to want to get some music into it. One of the easiest ways of doing that is to connect to your WiFi, and then connect to one of the built-in streaming services. As with a lot of today’s DJ gear, this unit has TIDAL, SoundCloud Go+, Beatport Streaming and Beatsource Streaming built in, but uniquely among DJ gear to date (with the exception of Numark’s Mixstream Pro+), it also has Amazon Music Unlimited. However you connect, you can then access your playlists inside your streaming services.
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DJing from streaming services is not as good as using your own files for a number of reasons, but it is very usable (we recently made a whole DJ course, Mixing For Mobile & Wedding DJs, and only used streaming services to teach it all). Nevertheless, streaming is undoubtedly the future, and the best version of it available on any Engine DJ-equipped gear…is available right here.
What is Engine DJ?
By the way, if you’re new to this type of kit and wonder what I mean when I keep mentioning “Engine DJ”, it is the software that powers the unit internally. Additionally, it’s an app to run on your Mac or Windows computer to help you prepare music to play on the SC Live 4 and 2. The idea with this type of gear is that when you want to add your own music files, you analyse them for key and BPM etc, you add cue points and loops if you want, and you also build playlists, on your laptop. Then you export that music to USB or SD card, to take and plug into your unit – hence the fact that these types of DJ systems are often referred to as “standalone”.
We have reviewed many Engine DJ systems over the years, and all you need to know here is that Engine DJ gets better and better, and is the most powerful standalone OS for DJ gear by some way. And the good news is you get pretty much the whole experience here. What you can do on the most expensive Denon DJ Prime Engine-equipped gear, you can do on the SC Live 4 and 2.
As we’ve reviewed many Engine DJ units before, I won’t go through everything Engine here – check out our full Prime 4 video talkthrough for every feature, and bear in mind that Engine is constantly improving.
For adding your own music, you export it from your laptop to USB or SD, then select your drive as a source, and access your playlists etc as with all such systems. It’s fast and it works fine, and you can even make playlists on the fly, although you can’t currently then save them back to your master library. And if you really don’t want to mess with SD or USB, you can access your music via Dropbox.
Worth pointing out that there is no SATA drive bay as with some of the Prime gear; that said, you can fit so much on a decent SD card nowadays that I don’t think it’s a big omission.
The screen can show you your library and playlists, or it can show you the waveforms. You can switch between several types of waveform displays to suit your DJing style, but because the unit can control four decks (the “decks” have “layer” buttons to let you choose between decks 1&3 on the left-hand deck and decks 2&4 on the right-hand deck), it can get kind-of cramped. Especially once you start getting into the Settings menu and certain places where track info is displayed, the typeface just got too small for me. I wish they’d made the screen bigger.
It’s also a touchscreen with multi-touch, so phone users will feel right at home. Engine systems have by far the best touchscreen implementation on the current crop of DJ gear, from all manufacturers.
The deck controls
While the rubberised performance pads are smaller than those on the Denon DJ Prime gear, and of the “click” variety (unlike those on the Prime units), they are great – they have full RGB colouring, in attractive strips, and can be used to control cue, loops, roll and slicer (no sampler on standalone gear).
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The main Cue and Play/Pause are plastic with a firm “click”. The pitch sliders are long and accurate, and the jogs are nicely weighted, and feel bigger than those on the more “pro” Prime 4. They’re not actually bigger – they’re still 6″, they just slope inwards less at the top. They also have those previously mentioned useful built-in displays for BPM, time elapsed etc, which are something new.
The big departure for the mixer is its club layout, and many people will prefer this, where you have the four “sweep FX” that you can control manually (Filter, Noise, Echo and Wash – all sound good), and then an extra BPM-tied single effect that you can assign to any or all channels (although not the mics, dialling in a beat cycle length, and time or parameter). This set-up certainly will feel more familiar to people who are used to using Pioneer DJ club gear.
The Denon DJ SC Live 4 and 2 are a bit of a bold departure for the Denon DJ brand. I always thought of Denon DJ as being a “pro” brand, and in particular, a brand mobile/event/wedding DJs naturally gravitated towards. But the SC Live 4 appears to be aimed at a different market – semi-pro mobile DJs maybe, but mainly serious home DJs, DJ livestreamers, and people who want a great DJ unit to use in their living rooms.
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Still “pro” insofar as it has things you’d associate with decent DJ gear (coloured pads, long-throw pitch faders, versatile effects, pro mic inputs and pro audio outputs), it is definitely not built as substantially as Denon DJ Prime gear. As stated earlier, it feels more like Numark gear – not necessarily a bad thing as Numark gear is built to last (and remember, Pioneer DJ gear is not scared of plastic, either), but it is also still a departure.
Made for home, streaming, and the occasional gig
The really big addition is the speakers, and – along with the prominence of the “Lighting” button, and the inclusion of Amazon Streaming Unlimited – these give away the intended home/livestreaming audience (I guess “Live” in the name is a clue, too). Hook up wirelessly to your existing smart home Philips Hue or Nanoleaf lights, connect to WiFi to access your choice of streaming service for your music, and flick the Speaker switch to “on”, and you’ve got an instant living room party or livestream set-up.
Want to take your unit with you to play an occasional gig in a small local bar or lounge? It’s “pro” enough in both looks and features to do that, and in that instance, the Lighting features can be set up to work with standard DMX lighting, and you can then use the built-in speakers as “booth” monitors, which will be a boon for DJs who play in venues where the monitoring is poor or non-existent.
All good… except the screen
Yeah you can’t plug external gear in apart from a single Aux that hijacks one of the microphone inputs on the SC Live 4, but assuming you’re good with that, these units have all you’ll need. The only thing I don’t like is the 7″ screen. Yes, it’s tilted up (better than that other 7″-screened Engine DJ device, the Numark Mixstream Pro), but for me it’s just too small – some of the typefaces on some of the screens are truly tiny. It all works so much better on the more generous screens on units such as the Prime 4. I do wish they’d found a way of putting a bigger screen on this. It has actually got worse as they’ve packed more features into the Engine OS.
While we didn’t test with Serato DJ or Virtual DJ, the fact that both of these platforms work officially from launch with these units is a huge bonus: Not everyone wants to play standalone, all the time, and these open the units up to a much wider audience and to more use cases. The units actually fully unlock Serato DJ Pro, but while they also work with Virtual DJ, in that case users will need to buy or subscribe to the software.
Competition and alternatives
What about the competition? Having a discussion about whether this is good value against the more expensive Denon DJ Prime 4 at this time is potentially irrelevant, because as much as anything nowadays, what DJ gear we buy depends upon what’s available. But assuming you can source both pieces of kit at their recommended prices, the Prime 4 – still the flagship Denon DJ all-in-one system – brings you substantially more for your extra money (around $600 difference after the price of this unit dropped shortly after launch).
The Prime 4 is not only much better built in metal, but it has a tilting, superior 10″ screen, bigger pads, better microphone channels and output options, standalone mixer capability, and more extensive FX. It’s a more “pro” choice in every way. However, its jogwheels are slightly smaller, it has no built-in speakers, and it does follow a more conventional “controller” layout as opposed to the club layout of the SC Live units – so if you like the idea of the speakers, don’t think you’ll miss any of the extra features, and you actually like the idea of having a more club-standard mixer layout, the Denon DJ SC Live 4 may actually be the better choice out of the two.
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When it comes to the Denon DJ Prime 2 vs the Denon DJ SC Live 2, as far as we can tell the Prime 2 is pretty much history now, having been unavailable for a long time. Also we haven’t even seen the SC Live 2, so we don’t want to offer a comparison. But you don’t really need one – it’s clearly the SC Live 2 if you want a two-channel Denon DJ Engine controller, as that’s now likely to be your only choice. Perhaps the more useful comparison would be with the Numark Mixstream Pro here, which is also an Engine standalone device. In all areas, the Denon unit is the more “pro” of the two – but you’re of course paying substantially more for it. We’d go for the SC Live 2 because it has better FX and proper colour coding on the pads, which make a big difference.
You could also compare it to the Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX3. The SC Live 4 definitely has more in common with the Pioneer XDJ standalones than, say, the Prime 4 does, because of its club-like layout. Here it’s really about the ecosystem. If you want to play on Pioneer gear because you also play/intend to play in clubs that have it, Pioneer has the edge. If not, in nearly all ways the Denon DJ unit is superior – except the screen. The Pioneer unit has a much easier to read screen, simply because it’s bigger. But for me, the fact that the Denon unit has so much more going for it (and can key shift, which the XDJ-RX3 baffling cannot), means for the intended audience, the SC Live 4 just edges it.
The Denon DJ SC Live 4 and SC Live 2 are interesting additions to the Denon DJ range. Smartly, these units appear to indicate that Denon DJ wants to be the serious hobby DJ brand as well as a pro DJ choice, and coming in cheaper rather than more expensive than the existing gear seems a smart decision in the current economic circumstances.
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The gamble is of course, whether a four-figure sum is cheap enough to attack that kind of demographic, on gear that doesn’t give the true pro features of equipment just a bit higher up in the range. Or to put it another way: Do people spending that kind of cash want built-in speakers at the expense of some of the things that have been left off? Or would a four-channel Mixstream Pro have been a sweeter spot? (Of course, one may be coming.)
That all remains to be seen. I think either of these units would be a good choice for someone who wants DJ gear for their living room/home studio, that they can also livestream with, and play the occasional gig on. They’re certainly a lot of fun.
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