The little brother to the RMX-1000 brings a lot of tweakable effects to your fingertips. Its undeniably a lot of fun. It sounds great, and takes performance effects further than Pioneer’s own mixers, and also much further than any DJ software. For most digital DJs though, this is probably just a “know about” rather than a “need it now” item – but do play with one if you ever get the chance. You’ll love it and start trying to think of excuses to buy one, I can pretty much assure you of that…
First Impressions / Setting up
It’s a small box with a plastic case and a metal chassis, with two huge knobs on the front surrounded by buttons. There’s a big BPM counter in the middle, and a few audio sockets on the side, plus a power in / out, a few switches, and a USB plug for connecting to your computer and digital audio workstation.
To set it up, you plug it in, either to the output of your system (so if you had a DJ controller, you’d plug your DJ controller’s master output into the input on here, and the output on here to your speakers), or – preferably – to the send / return loop of a mixer. Once that’s done, there’s nothing else to do: It’s ready to go.
What is a send/return loop?
Good hardware mixers (and a few high-end DJ controllers) have “send/return loops”. It’s nothing complicated!
Basically, it provides a way of routing any of the channels of the mixer through the attached effects unit, usually with an on / off switch and / or a volume control. That means that rather than put your whole output through the effects unit, you can put just a single channel (or even the microphone) through it, giving you more flexibility when mixing.
Adding this feature died out largely with DJ controllers, because it is all handled in software nowadays, but it persists in DJ booth mixers, precisely for the ability to use hardware units like the RMX-500.
The unit has two big knobs designed for ultimate controllability of the built-in effects. It’s very much a performance-driven device, and indeed overall one of its strengths is that it offers more control over the effects than either the hardware effects on the mixer, or the effects found in typical DJ software.
A big BPM counter in the middle senses the BPM of your music and ties all of the effects I’m about to tell you about tightly to it, similar to the way these things work on DJ software (and indeed in Pioneer hardware mixers). You can tap the beat in if you wish, and there’s also an offset pair of buttons for fixing issues like the sequencer one in my video (check out the talkthrough below.)
The right-hand knob is “Scene” FX, divided into “build up” and “break down”, the former broadly “adding” to the music, the latter “taking away”. There are five effects for each section, and by choosing an effect and turning the knob clockwise, you intensify it. Pushing the knob down at the same time adds another parameter (intensifying further), which is great for creating impromptu build-ups, and an “Echo+” button adds in beatmatched echo.
You can alter (half or double) the length of the echo from a whole beat down to “short” using another pair of buttons. Effects in this section include the classic white noise, “mod” (a phasey effect), echo, spiral up / down, reverb up / down, and HP and LP filters.
The left-hand knob is “Rhythm” FX, with transformer (a gate-type effect), roll, reverse delay, “offset” and “add” giving you a very rhythmic set of modulations. Meanwhile, this side of the unit also has a whole drum kit (at least, kick, snare, clap, hi-hat and cymbal) that you can trigger. The drums stay in time with the beat, and turning the knob ups the frequency of them (this is better demonstrated in the accompanying video). Suffice to say it’s addictive, great fun, and sounds excellent!
Even further, the touch of a button kicks in a sequencer so you can program a drum loop of your own to play in time with your DJing, and even add rhythm FX into your thus sequenced loop.
One of the sections I particularly liked on it was the “Release FX”. This is a button with three “Release FX” selectable: Vinyl brake, echo, and backspin. Pressing and holding the button engages the chosen effect while turning off the currently playing effect from the unit, and on releasing the button, you’re back to a clean signal. It’s a nice way to “get out” of an extreme effect without it sounding a bit meh (again, demo in the video below).
Other features include instrument and noise level adjustments, and a whole host of customisations via a shift button. For instance, there are four “types” of white noise, two types of many of the other effects, and you can easily adjust the lengths of the release FX here, among other tweaks.
Finally, producers can also use the unit as a VST within recording software via the USB socket, and there’s a headphone jack on the side to facilitate monitoring what the RMX-500 is up to in these cases.
The RMX-500 is undeniably a lot of fun. It sounds great, and takes performance effects further than Pioneer’s own mixers, and also much further than any DJ software. The release FX in particular add a great deal, and just having big, jumbo knobs with push-to-intensify makes it all very intuitive, and – as I say – a lot of fun.
The divisions into “build up”, “break down”, and “rhythm” FX make sense, and the sequencer is a really nice touch that can spice up live performances with a bit of improv. Overall, it’s one of the most inventive effects implementations we’ve ever used anywhere, and that includes the bigger brother (but older) RMX-1000, which is more capable but we thought ultimately harder to use, and so less useful.
Do you need one? Well, if there’s one in a club you play regularly at and you want to really learn the ins and outs of it, then a purchase might make sense, because you don’t want to be just throwing this stuff in without some thought and practice. Having a unit of your own and spending time with it beforehand would mean you could really thrill your audience with an intentional performance.
Alternatively, if you just want to kickstart your DJing with some new ideas, it may make sense to go for something like this – and as I mentioned above, if you produce, you may find it an expressive addition to your gear, especially if you’re a DJ/producer who then goes on to perform the same music – it could double up in that situation, too.
For most digital DJs though, this is probably just a “know about” rather than a “need it now” item – but do play with one if you ever get the chance (just not for the first time in front of a crowd, please.) You’ll love it and start trying to think of excuses to buy one, I can pretty much assure you of that…