What The Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus Means For The Future of DJing

Back in September, Pioneer launched it’s Nexus version of the CDJ 2000.  In case you are unaware, the Nexus system is meant to redefine the way the DJ equipment works by making it adaptable to a variety of situations.  It utilizes Pioneer’s PRO DJ LINK system in order to connect DJ mixers, CDJs, and other audio devices with little hassle and helps the machines cooperate… as well as the now-Pioneer-standard Rekordbox application for managing your music.

Now that Pioneer’s CDJ 2000 Nexus has been out for a few months, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the electronics giant’s flagship media-playing product (“multi player” as they call it) and what it (or, specifically, it’s approach) could possibly mean for the future of DJing.

Price of Entry

First off, let’s just get this out of the way… these players (especially the Nexus line) are aimed towards the serious professional night club/mix DJ, or the very passionate hobbyist with a willingness to spend a lot of coin.  If you just like to toy around at home in your bedroom to make mixes for yourself, or are a karaoke or wedding type of DJ, you’re probably not interested in this gear (at this price point).  Not that it isn’t fully capable of helping you out in any approach to DJing, but Pioneer is clearly catering to the dance club DJ with this offering, and charging a premium.  Typical bedroom mixers, and most mobile/wedding/corporate DJs have better business sense than to spend this much cash.

The suggested retail price of the Nexus 2000 is $2,399 each… about a $500 difference from the number that the already pricey 2000 sells for around the Internet.  However, I will say that I have seen them for sale online at right around the 2 grand mark (and I’ve seen the standard 2000 go for as low as $1,399).

The Features (CDJ 2000 vs. CDJ 2000 Nexus)

So, for the uninitiated, let’s discuss the features of the CDJ 2000 Nexus.  The stuff highlighted in blue will let you know what features are new to the Nexus and are not available on the typical CDJ 2000.

The standard offering is a device which is compatible with a wide variety of media types, including CD, DVD, USB (flash memory, hard drives), SD memory cards.  It supports many file formats: CD audio, MP3, AAC, WAV, and AIFF.  It also includes rekordbox, which is music management software that allows you to analyze, manage, grid, track, and cue your tracks.  Rekordbox is compatible with the entire Pioneer DJ player lineup.

PRO DJ LINK allows you to share data among multiple players.  You can do this either by connecting your laptop to the players and playing via your laptop directly, or by doing a USB or SD card export.  If you don’t want to bring your laptop to a gig, you can simply bounce your file and management data to a memory card, chuck it into the player at the club, and enjoy your already prepped tracks.  PRO DJ LINK also makes it possible to send accurate BPM and beat position information to other 2000 Nexus’, a DJM-900 Nexus mixer, or a CDJ-900.  The link will also duplicate your “utility” settings onto other players, such as display and jog settings.

The player also supports quantized beat loops for analyzed tracks; a feature which debuted with the CDJ-900.  This makes it possible to create an automatically-synced loop which snaps to grid, similar to what is possible in pro DJ software offerings like Native Instruments’ Traktor Pro.  You can also quickly scrub your tracks with a touch of the finger using “Needle Search”.  Simply touch on the pad where you want to hear and you can check the sound at that point in the song.

The 2000 is also a PC MIDI/HID interface with a built-in soundcard.  This allows you to directly control, and play audio from, programs like Serato Scratch LIVE and Traktor.  Makes for quite an expensive DJ controller, but the option is there!

The Nexus version of the top-of-the-line player makes some enhancements to its music analysis functions, such as WAVE ZOOM (which allows you to expand/contract the waveform display to five different levels, and even color-codes them to bandwidth).  You’ll be able to see it on the enhanced 6.1″ full-color LCD display which gives the kind of GUI functions previously reserved for laptop DJs.  Now you are able to see not only your waveform and list of tracks, but you can zoom the waveform, see a beat count, a Traktor-esque phase meter, etc.  Also, the display will light up tracks that are in a compatible key.

In a move which produced unsurprisingly mixed reactions, Pioneer decided to add the ever-controversial “sync button” (gasp) to the players, which I believe makes this the first all-hardware DJ unit to provide such functionality.  This lets you to sync up to 3 other devices to your “master” deck, which allows you to focus on tricks and effects, indulge in multi-deck mixing, or make use of the new SLIP MODE functions.  SLIP MODE basically means that the track you’re playing continues moving silently in the background, while performing such functions as loop, reverse, scratch, etc… this way, your set will stay “on track” while you’re screwing around.

The enhanced Master Tempo function is also said to deliver more accurate and faithful sound to the original… even when drastic shifts in tempo happen.  (Here’s a video where the two are directly compared.)  The Nexus also supports enhanced “My Settings” functions so that the functions of the device can be saved to USB/SD/smartphones/tablets, and applied to the device as necessary.  You can fire your settings straight from Rekordbox when alternating DJs.

Finally, the Nexus provides another industry first: the ability to play music stored inside tablets, smartphones, and laptops using Wi-Fi (or USB).

Here’s a Nexus review video which gives a run-down of the differences vs. the standard 2000 (not made by me):

A New Kind Of “Mobile” DJ

“Say what?!  Did you just say you can wirelessly play music stored on a phone, tablet, or laptop?”

Yep, sure did.  Kinda weird, huh?  This has stirred up all kinds of talk about the potential ramifications, such as parties where members of the crowd walk up and ask you to play their “totally sick track, dog”.  (But, to be fair, they could’ve just used a CD and done that.)

It does make you consider some interesting scenarios, though.  Perhaps you don’t need to carry around CDs anymore, or a laptop, or even a USB stick.  Just use the phone that you already planned on carrying.  I must admit, I haven’t tried this functionality… and the idea of transmitting music wirelessly in a club setting is not an idea I’m ready to adopt quite yet.  Especially on the first iteration of a product.  But, I admit that it is “neat” from a techie geek perspective.  Supposedly, the track buffers entirely on the hardware when it’s loaded… so if the signal drops, it should keep playing.

However, it seems that the Nexus does not, in fact, have its own built-in Wi-Fi and needs to be connected to a router.  So calling the device “Wi-Fi capable” seems a bit of a stretch.  You can also connect a smartphone/tablet via USB.

Coming Full Circle (Who Needs Laptops?)

It’s a funny thing.  Now that we see laptops in more DJ booths than not, and after all the fuss that the industry went through to get that acceptance, Pioneer seems to be making steps to get the laptop back out of the booth.  Functions previously reserved for laptop users are now available directly on a hardware device: a cohesive and readable track list, a nice waveform display, quantized/beat-gridded tracks, comprehensive looping functions, large media storage, and more.  Pioneer gives you the option to control things like Traktor and Serato, but it’s kinda no longer necessary.

“…after all the fuss that the industry went through to get that acceptance, Pioneer seems to be making steps to get the laptop back out of the booth”

Could Pioneer be onto something?  Could the new standard in the industry go back to the old days where all you needed to bring to a gig was your music and some headphones?  Only, this time, without breaking your back by lugging record crates around.  The problem right now, of course, is the price of entry… especially if you’re in this as just a hobby, or you live in a small town where such equipment is not likely to be provided in the bars and clubs available to you.

Though, think of it this way… if Pioneer has any level of success pushing this type of approach (and if anyone can do it, it’s them), the market may start to catch up.  CDJ-1000s are much more affordable these days than they were at debut, and someday that will happen with these players.  Also, it’s not all that unusual for even the small-time hobbyist DJ to drop 2 grand on a Macbook Pro and $900 for a Traktor Kontrol S4… and that’s assuming they don’t want timecode control.  And, with the key highlighting function, software like Mixed-In-Key starts becoming less necessary for key-mixers.  Sure, it’s still not up to the cost of a pair of Nexus’ and a decent mixer, but it’s easy to see how this approach could become accessible to the more casual user over time.

The Debut of Hardware Sync

Predictably, there is an entire sect of DJs who have now dedicated their lives to crucifying Pioneer in their decision to add sync functionality to the devices.

The question that I would pose is, how could Pioneer not include this functionality?  I’m honestly surprised it took this long.  This is obviously a topic for another time, but… beatmatching is a skill which, like it or not, has been losing relevance for years.  If Pioneer’s approach is truly to start phasing laptops back out of the DJ booth, at least we can look forward to a reduction in “Serato face”… that is, the zombie-like screen staring that plagues many a concentrating DJ.  It would almost be silly for Pioneer to not include this function at this point.  Sure, it’s one more step towards making DJing more accessible to the layperson… but that barrier was kicked down long ago.  The standard CDJ-2000 almost seems inherently obsolete for not including it.  And, the simple fact of the matter is… you don’t have to use it.

Instead of moping over changes in technology and the scene, why not start thinking of ways to do it better?  Start coming up with your own definition of how to become a better DJ.  Maybe you can use the technology to your advantage, using the knowledge and expertise you already have, to do new and exciting things.  Don’t use technology or accessibility as an excuse for laziness.  DJing should be more than a series of transitions!

Hardware sync is not going to make garbage DJs any better, and it’s not going to make good DJs any worse.  It will only make lazy DJs of any skill level much more vanilla if they define their style by how well the kick and snare drums line up.  My only hope is that DJs who have a true passion for their craft can no focus on the more important aspects of DJing.  You may consider making yourself stand out by showing your art, not your skills.

“Don’t use technology or accessibility as an excuse for laziness.”

Standardization

In the opening paragraph, I talk about the price of entry for using this gear.  It’s undeniably steep.  However, Pioneer’s Rekordbox standard makes it so that you could have a set of CDJ-900s or an XDJ-Aero at home, and plug an SD/USB stick into the fancy 2000 Nexus’ at the club for a seamless transition (if you will).

Honestly (and this is speaking from someone who uses Traktor often), I can’t say I hate the idea of some standardization in the DJ booth.  If Pioneer is the company to do it, that’s fine by me.  I don’t think it is something that will happen overnight, and it may not happen at all.  But, imagine the possibilities.  No more wondering if there is enough for your particular rig du jour.  No risking accidentally unplugging the outgoing DJ when connecting your own stuff.  No need to carry (or stare at) a laptop, and no worrying about MIDI maps and software updates.  Just bring your SD card, your headphones, and rock out.

Pioneer seems to be inching towards bumping the laptops back out of the booth, and standardizing what’s there.  Will they be successful?  Only time will tell if we will go back to a time when you could show up with just your music and headphones.  But, I can’t say I hate the idea.  I just hope that it becomes a more affordable proposition.

What do you think?  Post your comments below!