Another Laptop-Ditching Approach: The Pioneer XDJ-R1

As you may have noticed, Pioneer seems to be steering their DJ product lineup in a direction which can compete with professional software packages such as Traktor Pro and Serato… whether that be by adding more advanced features to their CDJs, or by making standalone controllers which function independently of a laptop (such as the XDJ-Aero).

Now it seems that the ideas have been combined into one affordable package.  Today, the latest laptop-less digital DJ system was announced: the Pioneer XDJ-R1.

Update: The XDJ-R1 has been released.  (Show Me!)

The Skinny

The XDJ-R1 is an all-in-one DJ system, which seems to be a product pieced together by bits-and-pieces taken from other parts of their hardware lineup in order to form a complete solution.  You might liken it to pairing CDJ-350s with the XDJ-Aero, ditching the (gimmicky) wireless music delivery system from mobile devices, adding the ability to control (not stream) your tracks from an iOS device such as an iPad (if you so choose), and adding some of the functionality of Pioneer’s professional-grade mixer lineup (such as Color FX).

Here is an excerpt from Pioneer’s latest press release:

The Pioneer XDJ-R1 complete DJ system is the all-in-one dream: the union of CD/USB decks, DJ software control, a top-flight mixer, powerful performance features and – in an industry first – intuitive remote control via iPad, iPhone and iPod touch.

The perfect package for DJs who demand flexibility without the fuss, the self-contained XDJ-R1 enables instant switching between multiple sources: twin CD, USB and MIDI. DJs can analyse tracks in the included rekordbox™ DJ software and load via USB media to access a host of exciting features including Beat Sync and Quantized Beat FX. Or they can choose MIDI to control any DJ software, such as the included VirtualDJ LE.

The XDJ-R1’s tactile controls deliver limitless possibilities for live performance: packing in two touch-sensitive jog wheels for precision scratching, a two-channel mixer, and dedicated buttons for loops, Hot Cues, samples and studio-quality sound colour effects.

Redefining versatility, the XDJ-R1 can be controlled wirelessly from an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch using Pioneer’s remotebox app. DJs can connect to the XDJ-R1’s own wireless LAN and use their touch screen to intuitively browse music, mix and mash up tracks – all from outside the booth. The app also introduces the XY pad: a two-dimensional way to assign and manipulate Beat FX and Colour FX using one intuitive control.

The XDJ-R1 crams Pioneer DJ’s extensive capabilities into one portable, rekordbox ready, affordable unit. All DJs need add is creativity

So, there you have it… probably the most “all-in-one” unit we’ve seen to date: MIDI control, CDJ, USB, mixer (including inputs for external sources like turntables) all mashed together for the MSRP of $1099.  Not bad.  Even adding in the price of an iPad, you’re still way ahead of just about any other set of gear that compares.

Rekordbox, And Now, Remotebox

Per the rest of the current Pioneer lineup, you can still prepare and transfer/export your library using their proprietary Rekordbox software.  You will still want to take care of your library this way, and fire it off to a USB stick.  So don’t throw your computer away just because you don’t have to lug it around to gigs anymore.

The new software behind the iOS capabilities on the XDJ-R1 is called “Remotebox”, and you can download it on the App Store right now.  This allows you to use, say, an iPad to control advanced features of the DJ system, as well as to easily browse and select tracks in your library (no music actually crosses from the iDevice to the XDJ… in this scenario, the iPad merely acts as a display and interface).  This optional, but admittedly functional and cool feature has one surprising drawback… a lack of waveform display.  This seems like a glaringly obvious addition that would have been the icing on the cake for this unit.

Thoughts

What I really like about this unit is that Pioneer seems to finally have released a comprehensive product which is compatible with their top-tier DJ gear at a manageable price.  It would be easy to take my Rekordbox-managed library (on a USB stick) from my R1, bring it to a friend’s house to play on his CDJ-350s, or take it to the club and play off their CDJ 2000 Nexus system.  Everything should pretty much work the way I expect.  My buddies who play CDs can come over and play just as they would on any CDJ system.  Even my laptop DJ friends can use the MIDI functionality to control their software of choice.  The only thing that isn’t covered by this unit is playing vinyl.

Of course, it’s “only” a two channel mixer, so that may turn some people off… and the lack of a waveform display is surprising.  Also, a lot of us still aren’t really sure how we feel about using cell phones and tablets in the DJ booth… not that it’s a complete requirement.

Pioneer’s philosophy on not having laptops involved in DJ booths is a valid one.  There are many reasons to not want to lug that around (I get nervous every time I walk into a club with my $2000 Macbook Pro, and finding room for it/hooking up controllers and interfaces can be a pain).  This is an interesting approach to that philosophy.  If you frequently play in clubs where they have modern Pioneer gear, but you can’t justify the investment in an expensive setup, this covers most or all of the bases and still keeps you “used” to the Pioneer way of doing things.  All in all, it doesn’t seem to be a bad bit of gear.

I don’t know that we will see completely standardized DJ booths or remove software from the equation any time soon, but Pioneer is starting to show that, at least in theory, it can be done while still maintaining many modern features.  All I can say is…. your move, Native Instruments!

Update: The XDJ-R1 has been released, and is now available on Amazon!
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Pioneer XDJ-R1