The Ultimate Guide to Engine OS & Denon DJ Hardware
About Engine DJ & This Guide
This guide is the best resource online to learn how to use Engine OS, and the DJ hardware that runs it. In the video above, you'll get up close and personal with Denon DJ (and other) hardware, with visual examples.
Engine DJ consists of a desktop app which allows you to manage your music libraries, and an operating system which powers standalone DJ hardware (without the need for a laptop). All Engine devices provide a certain set of features, such as Internet-ready music streaming via Wi-Fi, the ability to control lighting and sync them with music, and multi-touch displays.
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Engine DJ OS
Engine OS is a purpose-built operating system for standalone DJ hardware, which also helps you manage your music library on that same device.
This helps create a flexible ecosystem across different Engine-powered devices, keeping a bit of consistency regardless of device.
Engine offers a consistent feature-set across its players: multi-touch displays w/gesture support, tri-band waveforms, integration with online music streaming services, lighting control via DMX or Philips Hue, a dual waveform view, track preview (listen to a track without loading it to a deck), onboard analysis of music files, and Dropbox integration.
If you use one Engine OS product, you have a general idea how to use the rest of them. Everything is intuitive and consistent, as to not disrupt your DJing workflow.
For example, each of the DJ players and standalones have a set of physical knobs for loading tracks, as well as a touchscreen method to do the same thing. It’s always the same motion to do similar tasks across various hardware.
Engine DJ Desktop (Software)
The other side of Engine is the Engine DJ Desktop software. This is what you can use to prepare your library, make playlists, add tags, etc. from the comfort of your computer.
In the Desktop app, you can easily create Playlists with a single click, arrange them, and organize them into Playlist Folders. Once you have your playlists set up the way you want, you can export them to external devices (e.g. USB drive) or to Dropbox, for use on your Engine-powered hardware.
It also supports importing your libraries directly from rekordbox, Serato DJ, Traktor, and even Apple Music/iTunes. This makes migration super easy. Your music, playlists, hot cues and loops will all carry over.
The idea is that you can sit at your laptop and prepare your library to your tastes, and then move over to your Engine-powered device and have everything operate the way you expect.
While many functions of the Desktop app can be performed on the hardware itself (such as analyzing tracks), it’s always easier to do bulk editing with a keyboard and mouse.
You can also use the Desktop app to audition track blends, transitions, and ordering. It lets you play the two tracks at once, and do basic crossfading, looping, and so-on… making it easy to “rough in” your DJ sets before you play them.
Engine DJ Hardware
Standalone DJ Systems
Let's explore the actual hardware that runs Engine OS. To get a closer look, watch the video above.
A standalone DJ system contains everything you need to start DJing and mixing music. In other words, at least two decks and a mixer, and no need for a laptop. By the way, I have a whole guide about this topic specifically!
Denon DJ PRIME 4
The PRIME 4 is the most powerful multi-deck standalone DJ system on the entire market, and provides the biggest and best set of features. It comes in at a price of $1899.
It has a big, beautiful, 10” adjustable HD display (roughly comparable to a Pioneer XDJ-RX3 screen). It has high quality 6” jog wheels, giving you plenty of room and resolution for making fine adjustments. These jogs have their own small central displays, which give track feedback and album art (or a custom DJ logo).
It has 4 assignable inputs (for connecting media players or turntables), and a suite of effects that come 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” hard drive bay, allowing you to carry all your music on the unit itself. It also makes for a pretty decent Serato DJ or Virtual DJ controller. Plus, it supports timecode. So if you want to put this at the center of a DVS setup, you are welcome to do so!
Denon DJ recently discontinued this device’s little brother, the PRIME 2. But since it’s basically a shrunken-down PRIME 4, and it runs the same Engine OS software as everything else, it should be well-supported for a while. If you’ve managed to pick one up for a nice price – you’ve probably saved yourself some cash and you get most of the benefits!
Denon DJ SC Live 4 & 2
In many ways, the SC devices feel like miniaturized PRIME 4s. The Live 4 is a 4-channel version, and the Live 2 is a smaller 2-channel version. They offer two things that the PRIME 4 doesn’t: the ability to use Amazon Music Unlimited as a streaming source, and onboard powered speakers.
However, there are many features missing from the PRIME 4 once you start digging. Most importantly, you can’t mix external sources like CDJs or turntables.
Another big difference is the screen size. The 10.1” touch screen on the PRIME 4 is just massive when compared to the 7” screens on the SC Live devices.
The SC Live devices are fully plastic, while the PRIME 4 has a metal faceplate. You can install a laptop hard drive into the PRIME 4 and keep all your music locally on the device, which is not something you can do on the SC Live’s. The PRIME 4 has more available mic controls, with physical buttons instead of screen controls.
These devices handle FX a bit differently. The PRIME 4 has a traditional controller-style layout, which is very robust, and has little OLED screens for making adjustments.
The SC Live 4 and 2 have more of a traditional club-mixer layout: there's an assignment knob where you select what you’re applying the FX to, some parameter adjustments, and a large ON/OFF button.
I’d say the PRIME 4 is a little more intricate with FX, whereas the SC Live 4 and 2 are a little cleaner and more simplified… it’s all a matter of preference.
Denon DJ PRIME Go
This handy little device is unique among all other standalones, in that it’s battery-powered.
That’s right: its four-hour battery life and convenient size make it extremely portable, enabling you to do things like take it with you to a hotel room, bedroom, desk, etc. This makes it easy to do track prep, preview tracks, perform test mixes, record sets, and so on.
The PRIME Go is very “backpackable”, meaning you can just grab it and head wherever you’re going to go. This makes for a really convenient all-in-one DJ system for $1,000.
The Go supports “Computer Mode” and allows you to use the popular Virtual DJ software. So, if you’d like to use this as a DJ controller for Virtual DJ, you can do that.
Numark Mixstream Pro
Not only is the Numark Mixstream Pro a great price for a great 2-channel standalone device, it has onboard speakers, too. In fact, this was the first standalone DJ system to include such a feature.
The Numark runs the same Engine OS software as everything else on this list, has a pretty nice display and build quality, is pretty reliable… and is one of the best values in the DJ hardware market.
The onboard speakers sound fine, and no matter where you go, you have a built-in DJ monitor which can be independently controlled. That is a pretty sweet feature, but it’s important to bear in mind that they will not fill a large room with sound.
While testing it in the car, it was sufficiently loud… but not louder than my stock car stereo. It’s excellent for a small gathering, house or hotel party… or for mixing on a live stream. Expect the kind of sound you’d get from a decent portable Bluetooth speaker.
When comparing these speakers with the SC Live 4… they don’t really hold up. They are functional, but they aren’t going to blow you away. With the Live 4, you actually get a little bit of mid-bass action, which actually vibrates the device a little bit – whereas the Numark is tinny in comparison.
It’s important to note, however, that there is no dedicated booth output on the Mixstream… something that I’d consider a definite trade-off.
Which Should I Choose?
Now before you go straight to the top and choose the PRIME 4, it’s important to realize that there are a standard set of features found on all these devices:
They’re all able to play music from USB/SD cards, or over WiFi with streaming services such as TIDAL, Beatport and Beatsource LINK, SoundCloud Go+ and even Dropbox. In the case of the SC Live 4 and 2, they also support Amazon Music Unlimited. Though, be warned… you can’t access that Amazon library on other Engine OS devices, the way you can with any of the other services.
All these devices have nice screens with multi-gesture support, as well as hot cues, pitch faders, 3-band EQs and filter knobs.
All of them let you control and sync music with lighting using DMX, Nanoleaf and Philips Hue Smart Lights, and will allow you to customize the light show on-the-fly with a variety of touchscreen controls.
They all support track preview, onboard music analysis (meaning you don’t have to do this separately on a laptop), onboard mix recording, and the Ableton Link protocol for network sync-ing.
Denon DJ Prime GO vs. Numark Mixstream Pro
The obvious comparison here is: battery vs. speakers. I spent a lot of studio time with both of these products, and I found myself quickly getting used to both of these features.
For example, sometimes I just wanted to preview a song or transition quickly – but I didn’t wanna dedicate a whole… thing to it. Just needed to satisfy a little idea or craving in my head.
The Mixstream Pro was connected to my Wi-Fi, logged in to my Beatport Link account, and it was easy for me to jump in and out of casual mixing.
I didn’t need to worry about being connected to a sound system, or being at my DJ desk, or anything like that. I’d just turn it on, and start messing around.
The same kinda goes for the PRIME Go. Once you get used to the idea that it doesn’t have to be plugged in all the time, I found myself moving from my studio to my living room, and between different surfaces in the same room. Over time, you start to feel a bit “tethered” by your power cord.
Of course, if you wanna hear anything but your headphones, it’s gonna eventually need to be plugged into something.
I’d say both units feel pretty solid, with perhaps the Go having a slight upper edge on quality (I’m sure the weight of a battery adds to this feeling, a bit). The Mixstream has much more usable jog wheels, though. The PRIME Go’s feel “nice” (mechanically speaking) but they are quite small.
Generally, it comes down to the price difference, and whether you value the battery or onboard speakers more.
Denon DJ PRIME 4 vs. SC Live 4 & 2
So then, let’s jump back to the PRIME 4. This, and the newly-released SC Live 4, are the only true 4-channel standalone DJ systems on the market.
While competing hardware like the Pioneer XDJ-XZ supports 4-channels, it can’t play them all on its own. The third and fourth channels have to come from elsewhere, like turntables or CDJs. So if standalone 4 channel mixing is important to you, the PRIME 4 or SC Live 4 are literally your only options.
While the PRIME Go and Mixstream Pro are meant to be hyper-portable devices centered around convenience, the PRIME 4 could be thought of as the center of a larger DJ setup. You have a decent mixer, based on the X1850 – which means you have access to way more FX than you do with the cheaper devices (especially the PRIME Go).
Perhaps more importantly, it has all the connections you need for adding turntables or digital players to your setup. So, this could be part of your full “dream setup” at home, while still being able to take the main guts out to a gig and play a full set on four decks.
But! You’re paying $1900 for the privilege. And, while it doesn’t have the most obnoxious footprint we’ve seen, it doesn’t exactly fit in a backpack like the PRIME Go does.
The PRIME 2 is hard for me to recommend outright, since it’s discontinued. However, I don’t want to scare you if you own one, or bought one recently. It runs the same Engine OS software, so if you have a chance to buy used or at a discount, I don’t want to discourage you. The PRIME 2 does pretty much anything the PRIME 4 does, except with 2 channels, and no external connections for other DJ gear.
DJ Players & Mixer
Denon DJ X1800 & 1850 PRIME
Denon currently offers the X1850, which was preceded by the X1800. These are 4-channel hardware mixers with a dual USB interface. There are a few minor differences between these two:
- The X1850 PRIME offers newly designed audio circuitry taking full advantage of today’s highest quality components and converters.
- The control surface features various LED refinements and visual improvements such as EQ’s with White base indicators, and buttons with controlled illumination.
- FX enhancements such as customizable quantize settings, FX limiter, 3/4 time on the touch strip.
- Two brand new BPM FX – Echo Hold and Pumper.
The new flagship receives upgraded channel faders, locking IEC cable plus various other improvements and refinements based on 3 years of listening to feedback from its predecessor.
The quantize function and addition of two new BPM FX are the most interesting differences on paper. Personally, I think the biggest reason for this minor update has to do with the first bullet point.
The X1800 PRIME had a known defect that has to do with internal grounding issues. In fact, this very mixer has suffered from these problems. So, I suspect the 1850 is improved to help avoid such issues.
In addition to a suite of assignable BPM FX and single-knob sweep FX, these mixers have a Send/Return system. This allows you to chain in an FX box or guitar pedal or whatever you like, in order to expand beyond the capabilities of the mixer’s stock FX.
To engage FX, first select which one you want to apply, use the to tap the tempo if necessary (quantization on the 1850 helps these FX keep better time), select the frequency range you’re applying the FX to, tap a beat division on the touch pad, select how much FX you’re applying (known as the wet/dry signal), and hit the big engage button.
On the back of the mixer, you’ll see four-channel’s worth of RCA jacks. All of these are either phono or line, so you could connect four turntables here if you wanted. There's a MIDI-output, which you could use to sync with hardware synths or whatever your heart desires.
Over on the left, you have XLR and RCA main outputs, as well as a separate record output, and a ¼” booth output.
You can use the digital link in & out ports to daisy-chain multiple Denon mixers together, losslessly. And you can use the Digital In ports to connect your Denon players digitally to the mixer (rather than through old-school stereo analog RCA cords).
Finally, one of my favorite things about the PRIME mixers is their built-in five port ethernet hub. This lets you link all your Denon players together to share music and information across them, lets you connect your PC, and lets you synchronize lighting and stage effects using the StageLinQ protocol.
It’s really nice to have this built-in. The days of needing a separate powered ethernet hub are over!
Denon DJ SC5000 & SC6000
Now that we’ve gotten to know the mixers, as the heart of an overall Engine PRIME setup, let’s talk about the players. This is the Denon DJ SC6000 PRIME, the company’s flagship media player which costs $1599.
It’s got a huge 10.1” touch screen, such as the one found on the PRIME 4. This is the biggest distinguishing factor that separates it from the smaller SC5000 (which has a 7” screen). It was also launched at this price, but nowadays can be found for much cheaper.
The SC5000 is officially discontinued, but are getting updates and upgrades right along with the SC6000. Therefore, they still make great players, and you can often find them for a discount.
The SC5000 and SC6000 have the exact same feature set. The 6000 is clearly a step up, though. It has upgraded aesthetics, a much better and larger screen, and feels much sturdier in the hands. But feature-for-feature, these players offer the same things.
One of the best things about Denon DJ players is dual-layer technology. This means they’re able to play two songs at once, per player.
For a four-deck setup, you actually only need two players. You can connect each layer to its own mixer channel, then just select which layer you’re controlling using the button on top of the player.
They support basically all of the same things as the PRIME 4. They have onboard wifi, and you can use streaming services like Beatport/Beatsource Link, SoundCloud Go+, TIDAL, or Dropbox.
They can do onboard track analysis, they both have 8 beat pads which you can use for hot cues, etc. and they both generally give you the same experience. Both players are capable of playing from the same sources (including an internal hard drive if you choose to add one).
The real upgrades with the 6000 come by way of its better screen, better jog wheel, and overall sexier look.
Both the SC5000 and SC6000 are available in /M variants. These versions have motorized platters, so if you’re into scratching or just really like the feeling of turntable torque running through your fingers, those options are available as well. They are otherwise the same players, they just have rotating mechanical platters added.
Which Should I Choose?
If you’re buying new, just buy SC6000s. They are arguably the best players on the market, competing directly with the Pioneer CDJ-3000s but at a much better price (especially considering the fact that “dual layer” is like a two-for-one special).
If you can find SC5000s for a great price, definitely go for it. They aren’t as striking as the SC6000s, but they literally work just as well. If you’re a scratch DJ (but not willing to dive fully into turntables), consider the SC6000/M or a used set of 5000/M’s.
But there is another option. Denon DJ also offers a straight-up DJ controller as a standalone player…
Denon DJ LC6000
A single LC6000 offers full control over a single deck, or a “layer”. Basically, it’s a modular single-deck DJ controller.
It’s based on the design of the SC6000 players we just discussed. It features a rugged build, grippy rubber buttons, and a premium brushed aluminum top panel. Aesthetically, it pretty much matches the SC players (though without that giant screen attached).
At the heart of the unit is a full-size 8.5”, capacitive touch jog wheel that features a HD central display. It shows playing track artwork or a custom DJ logo, layered with play head position and other essential performance information, just like a Denon PRIME player.
You can adjust the tension of the jog wheel, and there is an RGB ring around the player which tells you which deck you’re controlling.
Just like the SC6000, you’ll see eight highly-responsive performance pads along the bottom of the unit. Set and trigger hot cues and loops, or remix on-the-fly with loop rolls and beat slices.
Denon DJ calls this a “layer controller”. It’s USB-powered, and you can plug it straight into an SC5000 or SC6000 player to control that second layer.
With dual waveform view you can play two songs from one player, have two sets of buttons and jog wheels to control them, and see everything that’s happening on the SC player’s screen.
On top of that, you can also use it as a single-deck DJ controller for your DJ software (e.g. Serato DJ).
There are a few other DJ controllers that Denon DJ still has listed on their website. This is another case of “discontinued but still supported” – but they are really pretty nice all-in-one controllers.
There’s the MC4000, which is a 2-channel controller for Serato. It has touch-activated platters, long-throw pitch faders, balanced booth & main outputs, and an extremely intuitive workflow with easy to access looping and FX. Add in two mics and an aux input, and you have a pretty handy two-deck controller which is less than 20 inches wide.
Next is the MC7000 – this has everything the 4000 has, and much more. This is a 4-channel controller meant for Serato, but it has a dual USB interface and allows you to mix external sources. So, just like our PRIME mixers before, two DJs can connect to the controller at once, making for easy hand-overs or collaborations.
There’s a lot more emphasis on performance, with 8 RGB backlit beat pads on each deck, a needle drop strip, controls for changing and matching the keys of your songs, tracking LED on the jog wheels, and DVS capability (meaning you could use this as the center of a Serato timecode setup with some turntables).
Finally, there’s the MCX8000: Denon DJ’s first foray into the whole “standalone DJ system” thing, running Engine software. Basically, this is a hybrid standalone/DJ controller for Serato.
You get all the great stuff from the MC7000, but it also supports standalone playback using 2 channels and adds a couple screens. Of course, you could still use the other channels to mix in Serato or use external sources.
They also added an ethernet port, and compatibility with StageLinQ to synchronize with visuals and lighting. The whole thing is made out of metal, and is a bit of a glimpse into what would ultimately become the Engine DJ ecosystem.
If you’ve found yourself in possession of one of these, bear in mind that Engine OS has moved on since those days and you’ll need to install an older version. Their website recommends Engine v1.3 (as well as firmware v2.5), and links to those downloads are still provided.
Denon DJ Turntables
Finally, I just want to give a quick mention to the Denon DJ VL12 PRIME turntables. Technically, these aren’t powered by Engine OS (they don’t run software, they’re just analog turntables). However, if you have a Denon DJ setup and you like to play vinyl, these are a great choice.
They have high-torque platters (though you can lower that spinny-power using a switch), an isolated motor design, an S-shaped tone arm for accuracy, and an adjustable pitch-range of 8, 16, or 50%.
Another cool thing is the RGB light ring around the platter. This doesn’t digitally connect to the rest of your setup, but all you need to do is twist a dial and change the color (whether that’s to match the deck you’re controlling, or just an aesthetic choice). You can also adjust the brightness, or go fully lights-out.
Denon DJ also used to provide something that’s a rare sight these days: a standalone Serato box. The DS1 is a two-channel audio interface that unlocks Serato and timecode access, allowing you to add this functionality to any mixer. These are going for huge money these days, so if you have one… take note!
What To Do Now
- Head on over to The DJ Hookup and order your Engine OS-powered gear
- Check out my similar guides to DJ Controllers or Standalone DJ Systems
- Subscribe to our YouTube channel!