The best DJ controller for Pioneer’s new Rekordbox DJ platform, offering pretty much everything you’d ever want. It’s expensive, for sure, but still well under half the price of an equivalent DJ booth Nexus system. For aspirational amateurs, pros looking for a home set-up, or mobile DJs wanting something serious, it rocks.
First Impressions / Setting up
It is a huge, 10kg controller (think a full-sized Pioneer DJ mixer and two full-sized Pioneer CDJ players joined up), with the same jogwheels as the company’s flagship CDJ2000NXS media player, and indeed the only major difference are the screens for the deck areas, those of course being replaced by your laptop screen in a laptop-plus-controller set-up like this. It therefore feels extremely professional, wth everything spaced out as it should be. There will be no “toy” accusations DJing with this.
The mixer, again, at first glance just looks like a standard, Pioneer club mixer. It is actually cut down a bit from Pioneer’s higher end club mixers (it lacks send/return for external effects, and the onboard effects aren’t as comprehensive by any means as say the Pioneer DJM900NXS), but it still has selectable Sound Color FX, a myriad of routing options, decent crossfader settings, and two mic channels (which share a two-band EQ). Overall, this adds up to much more functionality than the mixer sections of most DJ controller, if not all others.
To set it up you need to have Rekordbox installed on your machine with the Rekordbox DJ plugin purchased and installed, too; that gives you a “Performance” tab within Rekordbox that displays the full DJ software program.
One thing that tripped me up for a second (yeah, yeah, I didn’t read the manual, I know…) was the fact that it isn’t just plug and play with regards to audio; until you’ve installed the separate driver, the audio just comes out of your laptop. Once that’s installed, though, everything instantly works as it should with no further configuration required.
Just like the DDJ-SZ before it, this is a highly capable controller. Just a few of its high-end features include: The ability to plug in four external sources including two record decks, that work through the standalone mixer and the onboard hardware FX; two USB sockets so DJs can switch seamlessly from laptop to laptop (there are “USB A” and “USB B” lit switches for each deck so you can select which laptop is assigned to which); the whole gamut of pad-based performance features (think Pad FX, slicer, loop roll, velocity sampler…), and an innovative onboard sequencer that is intuitive and fun to work with on the fly. There’s also, as with the DDJ-SZ, the option to “gang” decks 1 and 3 or deck 2 and 4 together on each side, in order to manipulate them both at the same time (for scratching, for instance).
Add in the more usual features of high-end controllers (reverse/censor, slip mode, eight cues per channel, full-function looping including loop move, full on-board control over software FX engines, screen views and library, etc) and it all adds up to one of the most complete DJing experiences with a controller you’re likely to find, at least, right up there with the Pioneer DDJ-SZ, and the Numark NS7III (minus the motorised platter of the latter, of course).
One small but reassuring thing that I liked is that it has an on board power adaptor, so you plug a standard “kettle” style lead into it, which feels more secure than a little 12V plug as you get with many DJ controllers, especially for professional use. Talking about professional use, as you might expect, it has all the output options you might usually want, including both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced master outs, and balanced (1/4″ jack) booth outs, although there is no separate record out. Of course, it also has full monitoring, per-channel and master, for effective gain staging.
There’s no question about it, the DDJ-RZ is a lovely controller. It sounds great (it has excellent digital convertors in it audio interface), and has all the functionality you could ever need. The question really is: Is it for you? Of course, at US$2000, for most people that’ll be a straight “no”, because unless you’re rich, highly committed, or already playing professionally, it’ll be hard to justify the cost.
If you can justify the cost though, then the first controller you quite reasonably might compare it to is its sister Serato controller, the DDJ-SZ. This controller intriguingly also works with Rekordbox DJ, but of course you also have the option of using it with Serato DJ software, too. The controls are slightly different (you don’t get the sequencer hardware controls, notably), but overall it’s going to be much the same experience. This choice ultimately will depend on how much faith you put in the Rekordbox DJ platform, or whether you’d rather to hedge your bets.
Next, you’ll possibly be considering the DDJ-RZ against a full Pioneer system, such as those found in high-end clubs. If your thinking is “practise on Pioneer, DJ out on Pioneer”, then obviously the learning curve between playing on a full Pioneer Nexus system at home and the same system in a club will be zero; however, in this case, the leap between this controller and the DJ booth is actually not very big at all, less than with any other controller; notably, all the work done on prepping your library in Rekordbox for playing with the DDJ-RZ is also valid when you throw that library onto a USB drive and head off to DJ from that in a pro DJ booth, minus your laptop – no other controller can offer you this apart from the DDJ-RX.
(Worth pointing out that all this talk of DJ booths and learning curves assumes the DJ booths you’re gunning for gigs in have Pioneer Rekordbox enabled gear; most DJ booths are Pioneer, it’s true, but many have old gear, some of which may not even have USB sockets at all, never mind Rekordbox compatibility; in those cases, DVS is your only option – and yes, DVS is coming for Rekordbox DJ, but we haven’t seen it ourselves yet so can’t tell you more at this point.)
SO the next choice is going to be Pioneer DDJ-RZ vs the DDJ-RX. That depends really on budget and ambition. The DDJ-RX is a fine controller, with to our mind the right blend of function, portability and price. You lose the full-sized jogwheels, and the ability to work with two laptops, but keep much or the rest, and you’ll have less hassle moving the DDJ-RX around to parties, gigs and so on. Unless the DDJ-RZ is part of a much bigger mobile DJ rig where you also cart around PA system, lights, booth etc, or unless you never intend to move it, you may curse its size after a while. So definitely weight up the DDJ-RX against the DDJ-RZ and ask yourself these questions.
Finally, weirdly (talk about full circle if it does happen!), I kind of suspect Pioneer will release DJ controllers in the next year or so with built-in screens. Why? Because the company already has great screens on many of its other media players, and everyone else is doing it (witness the add-on screens for the Numark NS7III, and those built in to the new Denon DJ MCX8000. Even Pioneer already has such a controller, in the lesser-featured XDJ-RX).
If such controllers aped the workflow of Nexus CDJs, and even incorporated USB playback, then that learning curve between DJ controller and club would be reduced even further by learning on such a model. While we never advocate hanging on for gear that may or may not be coming around the corner, if you’re planning your next purchase a year or so ahead, keep an eye out for such developments (by the way we have zero insider knowledge on this – it’s just an educated guess).
Overall, the DDJ-RZ is a fantastic controller for Rekordbox DJ, indeed the best that’s out there. If you like Rekordbox DJ and want Dj with Pioneer exclusively, there’s nothing better. And while US$2000 is a big outlay, it’s less than half what you’d pay for a full Pioneer Nexus system. For mobile DJs, ambitious hobbyists with an eye on the DJ booth, or pro DJs wanting a cool home set-up, the Pioneer DDJ-RZ is a great choice.