TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is a Standalone DJ System?
Unlike DJ controllers, standalone DJ systems are self-contained devices meant for the purpose of mixing music… without involving the use of a laptop. But what is the best standalone DJ system?
While the most popular option is to use a regular DJ controller (especially for beginners), an increasing number of DJs are moving to all-in-one standalone solutions. This enables CDJ-like experience, but contains everything you need in one box. In this guide (and the video above), we’ll talk about the options for standalone systems in 2022… and figure out which is best for you!
Standalone Players vs. DJ Controllers
So, what’s the point of going standalone? There are a few reasons you might be considering going this route. The main reason is that there’s no laptop required… duh!
Obviously if you don’t have a modern laptop, and have no intention of getting one, a regular old DJ controller isn’t going to help. These standalone systems require nothing but some music (and a set of headphones) to get you DJing.
Removing the laptop tether not only frees you of some cost… it also frees you of potential issues that are out of the manufacturer’s control. For example, you don’t have to worry about some Windows/Mac OS update, or weird driver issues, getting in the way of playing music.
You don’t have to worry about system requirements, latency, or whether you have the right number of USB ports… just get right to the DJing.
The nature of standalone systems means that they are overall simpler than DJ controller setups. With the laptop out of the way, there’s a smaller footprint and fewer wires to worry about.
If you’ve ever DJed with several other people using several other setups, you’ve probably seen laptops placed in some pretty interesting angles and positions. These systems eliminate that kind of problem.
Standalones Are Similar to CDJs
Standalone systems are also much more similar to what one will encounter out in the wild, when playing on flagship DJ players like the CDJ-3000. You (or your friends) need only to plug in a Rekordbox or Engine-prepped library on a USB drive, and you’re off to the races.
The FX are also more similar to traditional DJ mixers (in how they’re applied and where they’re located).
There’s another thing that often comes up when discussing these systems, and that’s the apparent elimination of “Serato face”, or “the screen stare”. You know, the phenomenon where DJs are glued to their laptop screen… staring at Serato, Virtual DJ, etc. instead of the crowd or their mixer.
Well, to be fair, all these systems have screens that can just as easily be stared-at as a laptop. But, at least they are at the center of where you’re working, instead of way off to the side somewhere.
(Or worse yet… between your face and the crowd you’re playing to).
Also, it’s worth mentioning that a handful of DJ controllers these days also have onboard screens, so this isn’t entirely a benefit of “standalones”. That being said, many DJs I’ve talked to over the past few years cite this as a reason they like these devices… it keeps the laptop out of the performer’s face, and the crowd’s too.
Before You Buy
Except price, the main determining factor in choosing a standalone DJ system is deciding which platform to go with. That is… what kind of DJ library do you want to manage, and what software do you wanna use to do it?
There are two main contenders in this department… Rekordbox (for the Pioneer controllers), and Engine for the rest.
Rekordbox vs. Engine OS
If you already have a preference, this part is easy. If you’re already maintaining a library in either Rekordbox or Engine, and you’re happy in that ecosystem, you know where to aim.
If you don’t have a preference, you can base your decision entirely on which hardware you like the best.
It’s hard to have a conversation like this without mentioning that for many DJs, the whole point is to familiarize themselves with rekordbox and a CDJ type of setup, as they are typically considered to be the club and industry standard. Though, it’s worth mentioning that Engine devices can read Rekordbox libraries, but not the other way around.
For many other DJs, especially the many DJs that exist who don’t even care about playing clubs and festivals… the choice often comes down to a decision of what gives the best bang-for-buck. Typically, this will not be the Pioneer solution.
Do you need external inputs? Does it need to be under a certain size to fit your desk at home?
Do you need four channels? Does it need to support streaming over Wi-Fi?
Get serious about your “must have” specs and features, and it will help you make a confident buying decision.
My hope is that by the time you reach the end of this guide, you’ll know for sure which is the right hardware for you based on your own wants and needs. The good news is: you can’t really go wrong.
All the choices we’re discussing in today’s video are terrific options, which are well-built and industry-supported. Try not to get too caught up in analysis paralysis, as all of these devices provide a pleasant modern DJing experience.
The one caveat here is that none of the Pioneer units we’ll talk about today support any kind of music streaming services, where the Engine-powered ones do. Something to remember if you plan to DJ using Beatport/Beatsource Link, SoundCloud Go+, TIDAL or Dropbox.
Pioneer Standalone DJ Systems (Rekordbox)
There are currently three different options for standalone DJ systems offered by Pioneer DJ.
The most accessible is the XDJ-RR, a fairly-basic unit priced at $999. At the top of the range is the XDJ-XZ, an enormous unit that comes very close to mimicking a full CDJ-2000 Nexus setup, but reaches a hefty $2399 asking price. Wedged between these two options is the more recently-released XDJ-RX3, which has some newly introduced features and upgrades (including a rather lovely screen) for $1999.
Pioneer XDJ-RX3 ($1999)
All things being equal, if given no other info, this would be my general recommendation for a Pioneer standalone unit.
It has many of the latest features to grace the Pioneer lineup. The most notable and obvious is the huge 10.1” touch screen, which has a high resolution and framerate that truly gives it a premium feel.
Being released after the CDJ-3000, it inherits many features from that player… such as its enhanced Browse section and 3-band waveforms. The jog wheels feel buttery smooth, and the faders feel solid.
The mixer section is essentially a DJM-900NXS2… and that means you get access to every one of its 14 Beat FX, and its 6 Sound Color FX. In fact, the entire setup comes pretty close to emulating a CDJ-3000 setup… which costs north of 6 grand. That makes the $2000 price tag of the XDJ-RX3 feel a lot more palatable.
It also supports full control of Serato if you do want to use it as a DJ controller (as of early 2022).
Pioneer XDJ-XZ ($2399)
For an extra $400 you can step up to the slightly older XDJ-XZ. What do you get for all that money?
To start, you get full CDJ-sized jog wheels. And, while either device allows you to connect external devices, the XZ gains you the ability to use DVS. You can’t use timecode records with the RX3.
And then there’s the fact that it includes a four-channel mixer… but be careful, it’s a little deceiving. It’s a four channel mixer, but it will only play two decks in standalone mode.
The extra channels can be used for your external inputs, or for control over software decks (since it also supports being used as a controller for Serato or Rekordbox DJ). Unfortunately, you cannot play 4 simultaneous tracks from your USB drive.
Pioneer XDJ-RR ($999)
The XDJ-RR is probably the closest thing you’ll find to “a value” in regards to Pioneer gear. Of course, at half the price of the RX3, this does come along with some compromise.
Outside of a single AUX input, there are no connections for external devices. This is meant to be an “in the box” device, so you won’t find RCA ports for turntables or CDJs. You can use it with your laptop as a controller, but only with Rekordbox in performance mode… there’s no Serato this time.
It’s also the smallest and lightest, and therefore most portable, of all the Pioneer standalone offerings. At $999 it’s a decent value for something with this build quality… but you do get the idea that you’re using something more entry-level. Not in regards to build quality… it’s still very solid. It’s just not nearly as loaded with features.
For example, there are only a couple of onboard FX, in comparison to getting the full gamut of NXS2 goodies. The jog wheels aren’t quite as nice, the screen is high-quality, but it’s not touch-enabled… so that means no keyboard search. Stuff like that.
Which Pioneer DJ System Should I Choose?
For a Pioneer CDJ-esque experience, default to the XDJ-RX3. These RX setups have already proven themselves, the RX2 being notably popular. With the RX3 being the newest in the lineup, it has the newest features.
The big beautiful screen, the on-jog displays, and the user interface are all on-par with the current flagship hardware. Other than a combined display and slightly smaller jog wheels, it’s hard to differentiate them from a CDJ-3000 and 900NXS2 setup.
If you require 2 extra mixer channels (remember, mixer channels… not onboard decks) or you want to use timecode, step up to the XDJ-XZ for an extra $400. Just be prepared for an experience more akin to a set of CDJ-2000NXS2.
And if both of these options are way too much for you, the XDJ-RR gets you into a standalone Pioneer DJ experience for a thousand bucks… though, with a fairly low-frills experience.
👉 Watch my review of the RX3 here.
Engine OS Standalone DJ Systems
We have four Engine OS devices to talk about, today.
Starting with the Denon PRIME 4, which comes in at $1899… this the only device in these comparisons that truly supports four-deck standalone mixing. Under that we have a smaller (but very similar) two-channel version called the PRIME 2 ($1499). And then we have two rather unique (and shockingly affordable) systems… the battery-powered PRIME Go, and the speaker-equipped Numark Mixstream Pro.
Denon PRIME 4 ($1899)
Once again I’ll give my top recommendation in this category (assuming I had no other information)… and that is the PRIME 4.
This is the most powerful piece of DJ hardware on the entire list today, and provides the biggest and best set of features, too… even though it’s only the third most expensive at $1899.
The 6” jog wheels are slightly smaller than its Pioneer counterparts, though still of good quality. And, its adjustable 10” HD display is just as big and beautiful as the RX3’s, while also supporting multi-touch gestures.
It has 4 assignable inputs (for connecting media players or turntables), and a suite of effects from Denon’s X1850 PRIME mixer. It can play music straight from one of its four USB inputs, or from an SD card. It even includes a 2.5” SATA drive bay… allowing you to carry your music on an internal hard drive. Uncompressed music is supported (such as FLAC, ALAC, or WAV files)… and you can use any one of these sources to record your DJ sets.
It also makes for a pretty decent Serato DJ or Virtual DJ controller… and does timecode, as well.
👉 Order your PRIME 4 today!
Denon PRIME 2 ($1499)
For $400 less, you could instead choose the PRIME 2. The two units are very similar, having the same power under the hood, the same-sized jog wheels, room for an internal hard drive… all that stuff. Generally speaking, it’s just a smaller PRIME 4.
However, there are a few omissions: as you’ve guessed, it’s a two-deck device instead of four… like all other devices we’re discussing today.
The PRIME 2 also doesn’t have external inputs for turntables or CDJs, and it is missing the four Sweep FX (the knob controls a filter only). And while it does support Virtual DJ, Serato is out.
It too has a beautiful multi-touch capable display, but it’s reduced to 7” instead of 10, and is fixed in place (unlike its larger counterpart). This makes the PRIME 2 a more portable choice, and the cost savings may make more sense for the DJ who doesn’t want or need those extra channels/inputs.
Denon PRIME Go ($999)
The next two options offer unique features, while also offering an exceptionally low price. First, the battery-powered PRIME Go is the ultimate portable system.
This is the most compact unit on the list today, but it packs a lot of power for that punch. And with its 3-4 hours of battery time, you can bring it on an airplane or hotel room and prep your sets on the go.
It also has all the connecitons you need to connect up to a pro-sound system, when the time comes.
Numark Mixstream Pro ($599)
The Numark Mixstream Pro is a fantastic new system which packs a ton of functionality into a surprisingly affordable package, thanks to the power of Engine OS. The killer feature here that separates it from the rest? Built-in speakers.
I was very impressed with this one, as you’ll see in my review video. With its built-in WiFi, onboard high-quality speakers, and direct access to millions of streaming music tracks, the Mixstream Pro is ready for mixing, right out of the box. It’s quite impressive for such a low price tag.
Which Engine OS System Should I Choose?
Overall, the Engine lineup is pretty easy to sort through. My default recommendation here is the PRIME 4 and, in fact, it’s my top overall recommendation for a standalone DJ system excluding any other factors.
It’s just hard to beat the value for the price. It’s well-built, looks great, is very feature-packed… and it’s literally the only four-deck option right now.
If the four deck thing doesn’t matter to you, save some cash and pick up a PRIME 2 ($1499). For something way more compact and affordable, and the ability to use it on battery power… the Prime Go is a great option at $999. And finally, the Mixstream Pro gives you onboard speakers and an impressive set of features for an astonishing price of $599.
XDJ-XZ vs. PRIME 4
There’s a $500 gap between these flagships, so you definitely want to be sure of your purchase.
Feature-for-feature, the PRIME 4 wins. Again, it’s the only true four-deck game in town… though the XZ gets close due to its four-channel mixer. This is a big deal, but then again… many, many DJs don’t actually use more than two decks.
The fact that the XZ has full-proper CDJ jog wheels is a big selling feature to many DJs, even if it results in making it the size of a houseboat. The mixer on the XZ is a big deal, too. It mimics a DJM-900NXS2 and, generally speaking… Pioneer hardware overall has better and more robust FX than Denon.
For the dedicated Pioneer user wanting basically the CDJ-2000NXS experience at home, and possibly wants to add turntables to the mix… the $2399 price tag makes a lot of sense in comparison to 6 grand.
👉 See my comparison of the XZ vs. the PRIME 4 here.
PRIME 4 vs. XDJ-RX3
If you require the extra two channels, external inputs, or access to streaming services… choose the PRIME 4. Otherwise, it’s mostly a matter of taste.
These are my top two recommendations and there’s only a $100 difference between them. These two units have comparable screen size and quality, and are feature-packed.
The Denon still wins in the feature-for-feature department, but again… you get the full Pioneer mixer experience with the RX3… along with a much better FX engine.
XDJ-RR vs. PRIME Go
It’s an odd pairing, but ehhh I dunno, they’re the same price. The Go is much more portable and feature-packed than the RR, let alone its rechargeable battery feature. The RR is certainly better from an ergonomic standpoint, with its more spaced out design and larger jog wheels.
Overall, the RR is actually the least recommended unit in this guide. It’s a solid piece, don’t get me wrong… and it’s half the price of the RX3. For $999, it does get you into that rekordbox ecosystem if that’s what you want.
But overall, it doesn’t have the main benefits of the other two Pioneers: higher quality jog wheels, and a full suite of DJM effects.
Honorable Mentions & Alternatives
Outside of seeing its debut at NAMM 2019, I don’t have any personal experience with this one. Like the XDJ-XZ, it’s a two deck device with a four-channel mixer. But at $999, it competes more directly with the XDJ-RR and PRIME Go.
It uses Gemini’s proprietary software and library (which I know little about), so I can’t go around recommending it. But it’s worth knowing about, because it does offer a lot for the price.
XDJ-1000 and XDJ-700
Another option is to go standalone, but not all-in-one. For example, a set of XDJ-1000s (which are like baby CDJs) and a mixer accomplishes a similar task, just in separate pieces. In fact, I use this setup here in the studio all the time… original 1000s and a DJM-850.
However, a pair of the latest MK2s will set you back about $2400 bucks… about the same price as an XZ, and then you have to bring your own mixer.
Of course, there are also XDJ-700s, which can be had for about $1400 a pair.
What To Do Now
As I write this, we are in the midst of product delays and shortages (just like in any other industry). So if you’re interested in any of this gear, I highly recommend pre-ordering when unavailable.
We just did an entire podcast on this topic, called “The Great DJ Shortage and What to Do About It”. Check it out for a deeper dive.
Be sure to check out our YouTube channel, where we create all kinds of awesome content just like this. (You did watch the video up there, right?)
And as always, remember to keep on spinning!