A massive leap forward from the CDJ-850 (and no, we don’t think most DJs will miss the CD slots), the XDJ-1000 is another step towards Pioneer’s bedroom-to-booth vision for digital DJing. Funds permitting, a pair of these players could be part of a perfect home set-up for many an ambitious digital DJ.
First Impressions / Setting up
The XDJ-1000 is almost exactly the same in look and feel to the CDJ-850, a player which it is presumably the eventual replacement for in Pioneer’s range. The only real changes in layout are the fact that the new XDJ-1000 doesn’t have the auto beat loop and cue/loop recall/save buttons, because these are now included in the screen.
Indeed the screen is the single biggest visual thing of note here, because the screen on the XDJ-1000 is a revelation compared to the CDJ-850, or even the top-of-the-range CDJ-2000 Nexus. It is bright, large and high-resolution. Just as well, because more than ever, it’s an integral part of what this player is, and how you use it. It isn’t like, say, an iPad screen (the XDJ-1000’s screen is pressure-sensitive and plastic coated, not capacitive/glass – probably wisely considering the abuse it’s likely to get from DJs), but quality-wise as far as the visuals go, it’s close. It’s also now angled up, unlike that of the CDJ-850.
Rekordbox: The Pioneer workflow
While this player can work with Serato DJ in HID mode, and is theoretically Midi-compatible with any software you choose to map it to, let’s be perfectly clear: If you buy this, you’re almost certainly doing so because you’re also buying into Pioneer’s Rekordbox concept.
Rekordbox is software for your laptop that you use to prepare your sets (analyse for waveforms, beatgrids, key and so on, and determine cue points, tag and prepare your tracks and the like – just like in digital DJ software), before DJing with those prepared tunes on your choice of Pioneer gear. So it’s a two-step process: Preparation, then performance.
Usually, you transfer your music from laptop to USB stick to take to the venue with you having completed the preparation part, so you can play without your laptop. As we’ll see later, though, there is now also a laptop option. At this point, all you need to know is that Rekordbox – now at v3.2 – is pretty slick and with two decks and a crossfader itself, becoming close to traditional DJ software anyway. Our only qualm is that it still seems to take quite a long time to get the music onto the USB…
A pair of XDJ-1000s has access to all the preparations you’ve done in Rekordbox, and they’re fast, too, giving you waveforms (detailed and overview), sync (when your decks are linked with an ethernet cable, which you should definitely do, because that means you can on two players from one USB stick), quantised looping, slip mode, hot cues etc, much of which is accessible via a “perform” mode on the touchscreens. There’s even a slip mode, which you can use with the “Reverse” physical button to hack a “censor” function, something impossible to do on the CDJ-850.
Of course, you can search, too, using any number of criteria, including a great on-screen Qwerty keyboard, which is a tremendous advance. Meanwhile the key search automatically tells you compatible keys, which is very useful considering that Rekordbox uses traditional key notation, which is not something immediately intuitive to the non-musical (such as Mixed In Key’s Camelot).
We got the loan pair of XDJ-1000s set up with our studio Pioneer DJM-850 mixer, linked them together with the supplied ethernet cable, processed a pile of tunes with Rekordbox, and added them to a USB drive, which was easily enough recognised by both players: You push “USB” on the player with the USB stick in it, and “Link” on the other one. (If you want to link more players, or a Pioneer link-enabled mixer with only one ethernet socket, you can use an ethernet switch, but we didn’t have one here to test that.)
We were surprised to hear both players stuttering on first testing, but we quickly isolated that to what was presumably a far-too-basic USB drive (ironically it was an old Pioneer one that previously had press releases from a DJ show on it!); switching to a better USB drive instantly fixed the issue, but just beware that if you’re going to DJ from USB drives, you ought to use good ones…
One thing this player is not is the digital equivalent of the CDJ-2000 Nexus, so there’s no high-end sound card, no digital out, no tension adjust on the jogwheel, no jogwheel illumination, and – as mentioned earlier – a lot of the controls rely on the touchscreen, some being very small to touch, such as Sync and Slip.
However, these things aren’t dealbreakers on a mid-range media player, and sound quality-wise, it sounded fine to us with our usual source material. As mentioned earlier, the screen is actually better than on the CDJ-2000 Nexus, although the smoothness and clarity of the waveforms still isn’t as good as Serato’s on a laptop or Traktor DJ on an iOS device, for instance.
If you accidentally pull the USB out, a four-bar “emergency” loop kicks in, and you can manually trigger this by pressing and holding the loop-in button, which we liked. We also liked the “needle search” by touching the waveform – again, a nice use of the technology. Overall, we felt that starting to DJ with a pair of these if you’re used to using more traditional Pioneer gear in a club or at home would be easy and, indeed, a lot of fun (there’s an awful lot of the goodness of software DJing making its way into Pioneer gear nowadays).
Using with a laptop
If you didn’t want to bother with putting your music onto USB (for instance, you are DJing at home and have all your tunes prepared on Rekordbox on your laptop, sat there doing nothing), you can plug your laptop directly into an XDJ-1000 set-up, and then the units can access the music directly from Rekordbox running there, instead.
However, it’s not the same as software DJing as any Traktor, Serato or Virtual DJ jock would recognise it. To start with, you use the ethernet connection, not a USB (even though there is one, the latter is only for “traditional” software control such as Serato). That means you need an ethernet switch to plug two players in as well as a laptop.
Secondly, although you can drag tunes on your Rekordbox laptop screen onto virtual “decks” that show at the bottom of Rekordbox when set up this way, you can’t use the XDJ-1000 browse knobs to navigate the library on the laptop Rekordbox software, and it feels like you should be able to. (Having said that, you wouldn’t have that option playing at many a club, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing training you to use the XDJ-1000s’ browse functions, but it’s not as convenient as a big laptop screen.)
So while Reckordbox is becoming fully fledged DJ software in its own right, if Pioneer could make it plug and play using USB not ethernet and utilising Midi control at least for library browsing if not for waveforms too, they’d remove even more barriers between “traditional” software DJing and the Rekordbox workflow, and offer even more choice to DJs to use it however they wished.
The unit can work with Rekordbox on your laptop (see above), or even on iPhone/iPad/Android, as long as you’re running Rekordbox software on those systems, although I’m not sure why you’d want to, frankly (this can even be wirelessly if you use a wireless router); personally I think you’re always best playing from USB, or at a pinch a laptop as outlined above.
So this isn’t a top-end, pro device, but it’s not basic either. If you can get used to using touchscreens for cues, loops, sync, slip and some other functions, it’s a highly usable DJ system, tightly integrated with Rekordbox to further realise Pioneer’s idea of having a digital DJ system where the performance doesn’t rely on screen gazing, but instead lets you DJ in a way that to all intents and purposes looks like DJing has always been done – with two (digital) decks and a mixer.
I can see it appealing to DJs wanting to upgrade from basic CDJs of any brand to something more digital friendly and future-proof, as well as to DJs who want to learn on something that has an easy transition to playing in club DJ booths, where Rekordbox-enabled gear is becoming more and more common. At not much more than the CDJ-850s (at launch, anyway), the XDJ-1000s blow those players out of the water. Sync, quantised looping, proper waveforms, slip mode, multiple cues, lightning fast search from USB with Rekordbox… it’s a far cry from the early days of USB DJing.
There are a few caveats though. While many DJ booths do indeed have Rekordbox-enabled gear nowadays, many more don’t. Your first bar and club gigs may well feature ancient gear that won’t let you use USB sticks at all, never mind access Rekordbox info, and learning on a pair of XDJ-1000s won’t help you at all in that case.
XDJ-1000s and a mixer, or XDJ-RX?
The system we’re really looking forward to auditioning from the point of controller DJs (ie the vast majority of DJs out there) is the new Pioneer XDJ-RX. With a big central screen that we think for the first time on any Pioneer gear really means you won’t miss the laptop at all, good on-board FX, and a price tag that (while hardly tiny) is more realistic for most ambitious beginners / serious amateurs, the XDJ-RX may well the the first Pioneer unit that brings Rekordbox truly to the DJing mainstream.
Even if you decide that this isn’t an issue, in order to get close to the features of software DJing with the XDJ-1000s, you’re going to need a mixer with hardware effects on board, as there are none in the XDJ-1000s. Even something really simple (and far inferior to DJ software effects) like the DJM-350 is going to cost you a decent amount on top of a pair of XDJ-1000s, and a DJM-850 which we used for this review (which does have FX to rival DJ software) costs far more than that. This has to be budgeted in to the entry cost, which will price such a complete system out of many people’s wallets.
If you can afford it though, and you want a Pioneer system at home that will mean you can transfer to DJing in Rekordbox-enabled clubs with no hassle, such a set-up would definitely work for you, and you’re going to have a lot of fun with it.