The Pioneer DJ DJM-A9 is a worthy successor to the DJM-900NXS2, the current “industry standard” mixer. It is necessarily a case of “evolution not revolution”, and the layout will of course be instantly recognisable to anyone who’s used any such mixers over the decades.
But modern connections, better customisability, new effects and higher sound quality all show where the research, development and indeed the money have gone. It’s not perfect (come on, build in an Ethernet router!), but use it for even a short while and you won’t want to go back to the DJM-900NXS2, not least because it sounds noticeably better.
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First Impressions / Setting up
This looks like a Pioneer DJ club installation mixer, right off the bat. It’s the usual depth and height, same all-metal black design with a big logo across the front, and the expected four channels, effects on the right, mic channels etc on the left.
It is however a little wider (which may itself cause fitting issues in some booths), and from there, it doesn’t take long to spot changes: A mysterious new “Center Lock” button on the Sound Color FX, Bluetooth, an extra set of headphones controls, a snazzy new screen, modern USB-C inputs alongside the older USB-B type.
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The harder you look, the more you realise pretty much everything has been redesigned, if just subtly in a lot of places.
As with the previous models, this is, well, a mixer – to set it up, you plug it in. It still needs to be connected to an Ethernet router to use with Pioneer DJ’s Pro DJ Link ecosystem (although it also has WiFi – more on why in a second), and it still has a choice of digital and analogue inputs and outputs, but everything is as you’d expect when it comes to firing it up.
The Stagehand app: I always feel like…
OK so a bit dramatic, but there’s a new iPad app too, that works with this mixer and the CDJ-3000s, called Stagehand. It is designed for front-of-house staff (audio engineers, lighting DJs, venue managers even) to get visibility into what’s going on with the mixer and any connected CDJ-3000s.
All settings, including faders, effects and so on can be monitored, all playing music including waveforms, artwork and track position can be viewed, and parameters tweaked remotely (eg from the middle of a dancefloor, doing a soundcheck). It is even possible to turn off the CDJs remotely! This is what the WiFi antenna is for.
…somebody’s watching me!
Now call me suspicious, but if I were a big-name DJ, I would not want someone unknown to me monitoring all of that, or to know someone could turn off my performance if they wished. We asked Pioneer DJ and apparently there’s no way to turn this off from the mixer… we think they should add one before word gets out.
Privacy aside, you can see how this app could be a godsend for a sound engineer responsible for multiple systems in a club complex, for instance – and it’s certainly cool. But not everyone will like it.
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We’re going to run through the biggest changes from the DJM-900NXS2, then talk a little about sound quality, before moving on to our thoughts about this new mixer.
Centre Lock on the Sound Color FX
There’s a new switch, which applies a mechanical lock onto the Sound Color FX knobs. It’s designed so heavy handed DJs can rapidly tweak the effects (say, a filter), in and out of the mix, but not “miss” the 12 o’clock “effect off” click point on the control when doing so. It literally locks the knob so it cannot be turned any further.
That said, wiggle it enough or turn hard enough and it will go past 12 – but you’ve got to be a lot more determined to make it happen.
I didn’t like this at first – it felt weird to be able to force it anyway, and I couldn’t work out why Pioneer DJ didn’t just implement a software “lock” (where the effect just didn’t work past that point, even if the knob were turned too far) – but the more I got used to it, the more I liked it. I think DJs who tend to get carried away will similarly grow to enjoy this feature.
Brand-new Beat Effects
Well, not all brand new, but all brand-new to this mixer. To the existing wide range of great-sounding Beat FX, Pioneer DJ has added the Mobius effect from the DDJ-1000/DDJ-1000SRT (a great sounding effect), but also two “thirds” effects, triplet filter and triplet roll.
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Introducing thirds/triplets into straight 4/4 dance music can sound awesome, so good to see two such options on a mainstream DJ mixer; they’re usually hidden away in the effects only on certain laptop software.
Buttons not knobs for Beat FX assignment
So while we’re talking about the effects – the new buttons. This is a small improvement, but the old knob for assigning your choice of beat effect to things like the channel, the crossfader side or just the master, was cumbersome and prone to error.
Now, all of the options have push buttons which is much better. There are still lights on the unit itself to show you which channel or routing the effect will work on, but this way switching between them is improved.
Hugely better display screen
Not only for displaying your effects settings but also for navigating the comprehensive settings “utility” menu, the new display screen above the effects section is a big leap forward from that on the DJM-900NXS2. It is bigger, colour, higher resolution, and can display and feed back much more information.
This means that, for instance, the X-Pad can be so much more refined, and you get instant on-screen feedback as to where it is set. It also means Pioneer DJ has been able to offer an easy way for DJs to customise their particular settings (particularly with effects) and easily load them to any DJM-A9 upon arrival at a venue.
This is one of the main things you really miss when moving back to the DJM-900NXS2 from the DJM-A9.
Double headphones capability
No, I don’t mean you can plug two sets of headphones in at once (although you can, as each “set” has an 1/8″ and a 1/4″ jack socket), but rather that there are two independent headphones systems. That’s what the extra set of cue buttons on the fascia are for – the “B” headphones set.
Each DJ can choose what to monitor, and so for playing back-to-back, for smoother DJ switchovers, or for playing as part of a DJ duo, things just got much easier.
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Note that while the first set of headphone sockets is where you’d expect (ie the top of the unit), the other set becomes the first time Pioneer has put any controls or features on the front “edge of such a mixer – one to look out for if fitting flush in a custom booth.
Right there on the top panel is a two-band EQ for the DJ booth, allowing the DJ to take direct control if the provided booth monitors are too harsh, for instance. This is a lift right from the DJM-V10 (as are quite a few of the things here).
Note that there are further adjustments possible not only to booth but to master outputs, headphones, mics and so on that aren’t available on the panel – they’re all in the new, improved Utility menu.
The microphones channel strip has had lots of changes. It now has:
- Phantom power for a condenser mic on Mic 1
- Separation of on/off and talkover
- An extra set of effects (as well as reverb): Echo, Pitch and Megaphone, with their own Parameter knob
- A “push to talk” feature on the on/off button
The above make the mics more flexible, more fun, and easier to use.
In the end we didn’t mind the crossfader in the DJM-900NXS2, Pioneer’s Magvel Gen 1 model, but the crossfader in the DJM-A9 is a peach. Apparently it is Magvel Gen 3, but whatever the technical details, it feels lovely to use.
It’s actually straight out of the DJM-V10, as are the upfaders, and altogether they represent a noticeable upgrade over the perfectly serviceable models used in the DJM-900NXS2.
Watch the demo
Want to see the Pioneer DJ DJM-A9 in action? Check out this demo video from our tutor James Hype, who puts the new mixer through its paces.
This is a feature that is pretty commonplace nowadays on portable PA speakers, live mixers and even some DJ mixers, although the models that use it have (until now) tended to be more consumer-focused.
Anyway, Pioneer DJ obviously decided it is a feature that can work in the pro DJ booth, and we tend to agree. Having the ability to switch in a Bluetooth source to play music from, say, a phone in an emergency seems sensible to us. Pairing up is simple and it “just works” – a good addition.
USB-C as well as USB-B for laptop DJing
While the main use of the DJM-A9 is in pro DJ booths with networked CDJ-3000s, many DJs like to use just such a set-up with DJ software such as Serato (which it works with out-of-the-box with your licensed copy of Serato, by the way).
The DJM-A9 has modern USB-C sockets alongside the older USB-B “printer”-style USB sockets for DJs wishing to plug laptops in, future-proofing it, as this is definitely the way things are going.
So here’s the thing: the DJM-900NXS2 sounded pretty good… but not excellent. Against the best-of-the-best (including Pioneer DJ’s own DJM-V10), it lacked. No more. The DJM-A9 has 32-bit audio borrowed from the DJM-V10, and sounds as good as its sister mixer, a unit we’ve never heard anyone complain about when it comes to audio quality.
The master output, the booth output, the two headphones outputs, even the phono inputs… all have had their circuitry tweaked and improved to make this a great sounding mixer, and it shows in use. We tested in our studio through a pair of well-tuned Adam Audio A4Vs, and we found the DJM-A9 truly engaging.
The old DJM-900NXS2 feels, well, old once you’ve played with this one for even a little while. That said it’s definitely evolution, not revolution (as it has been ever since I bought my first such mixer, the DJM-600, probably 20 years ago). This is clearly from the same line of mixers, aimed at pro DJs playing mainstream DJing styles in big clubs.
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It fixes some of the biggest shortfalls of the DJM-900NXS2, and is also future-proofed, for instance with the new USB-C sockets. The changes that have been made universally make sense, and the new additions (mainly effects on the mic and new Beat FX, plus extra headphones, and the new Bluetooth input) are all welcome. We would like to have seen a built-in network router though.
Overall, for us it has more features, is easier to use, and sounds better – a no-brainer… apart from the cost. At $2,799, this is appreciably more expensive than both its predecessor and any rival mixer… but to the clubs that install them, we suspect that won’t be a dealbreaker. It is, after all, about to become the new industry standard, to replace the successful old industry standard from the same company. Business as usual, then.
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