Denon MC2000 DJ Controller
When Pocket-lint was a bit younger, and had that inevitable urge to take to the decks, the whole thing was a lot more costly and hard get in to. For a start, you needed to track down both records that you liked, and build a collection. Often, if you'd missed the boat, your favourite tracks would have been long gone from shops. Then there was the equipment, two decks and a mixer don't come cheap, and you've got to find a place to put it, and buy some amplification.
These days though, vinyl is dying out even for DJs. It's laborious to carry about, is too fragile and offers few advantages over many of the other solutions on the market. These days, you can still use decks, but it's often in conjunction with some time-coded vinyl that controls a laptop with digital music stored on it. Those solutions are still expensive though, and if you don't even know if you can mix, that might be too much to invest.
So, enter the Denon DJ MC2000 which is aimed at new DJs just starting out. It's a system that's compact enough not to fill your student digs with equipment, but one that still gives you the tools you need to bang out an impressive continuous set.
The Denon is a fairly standard-looking DJ device. After all, there isn't much you can really alter about a control surface before it starts to be useless for DJing. To that end, there are two pads, one on either side. Obviously, these are for manipulating your track, as you would with a CD-J or a vinyl deck.
And, because this is an all-in-one system, there are controls similar to those you'd find on a mixer. You can control the level of each "deck" as well as the pitch, crossfade and gain. There are also controls for cutting low, mid and high frequencies as well as some customisable controls with dials to adjust the amount of the effect you apply.
You can also program loops, with the length being customisable. This is simply done by pressing an in, then out, button. Tremendously simple, and the tactile buttons make this quite a bit easier than clicking around with a mouse - something we've tried on PC-only solutions.
At the back, there are inputs for AUX-in and a microphone, you also get a "master" output, which sends the mixed audio to either a speaker system, or optionally something to record your masterpiece. You'll also find a USB socket, which is how the whole thing works with your PC.
The headphone socket is on the front of the controller, which seems to make sense, although it could mean you end up pulling it out by mistake, although we doubt that will happen in practice.
As you might imagine, with a system that requires a computer, there needs to be some software running the show. Here, it's Serato's DJ Intro, which is a fairly basic application, but one that covers virtually all the bases you need for mixing.
The app is split into three parts. At the top, there are two decks in to which you can load your MP3s. Once you've done this, you'll see some information about the audio's waveform - handy for seeing when the beat kicks in.
You can load music either by dragging and dropping from Windows explorer - we haven't used Serato on a Mac, but we doubt it's much different. You can also select music from previously played tracks, or via the built-in file explorer. You can also build up libraries of tracks, should you want to pre-plan a set, or just keep tracks that work together in the same place.
The biggest letdown with DJ Intro is that it has no recording function. This is both a great shame and a missed opportunity, because the DJs at whom this system is aimed will want to hear their mixes back, and learn from their mistakes. Of course, you can record the audio on whatever you output the master to, but that's a lot more fiddly than pressing record on an app.
Other software we've used in the past - such as Traktor - allows for recording in this way, even with these control surface type systems. Interestingly, the Serato site tells us that you'll be able to upgrade to a more feature-rich version of their DJ software, called Serato DJ, although it won't be cheap at about £150 extra.
On Windows, you also need an AISO driver, which is available to download, or via the supplied instal disc. This allows the deck to communicate with your computer over USB, but using some MIDI-style system. If you plug the device in, but Serato can't find it, and the lights don't light up, then this is the problem.
Using the hardware
Colour us impressed by the MC2000, this really is a remarkably well-made piece of kit. Given that it's powered by USB, it has decent, bright LEDs, which you can see in daylight but which really shine in a darker room. Sound quality is also excellent, which is obviously crucial if you're planning on hooking it up to a decent sound system. The controller is a decent weight, which means it won't slip around when you're in the mix.
The turntables are a lot of fun too. Mixing feels much as it does on a CD-J or similar. It's not quite the same as vinyl, but it's possible to get an accurate mix easily enough. You can scratch too, although we'd suggest that these control surfaces might be a little bit small for that. Even so, it's certainly possible.
The sliders are all as smooth as silk. We can't tell you how they'll last, and they don't appear to be replaceable, so if you go hard on the deck, you might find yourself with some problems down the line -although we don't expect that will be a real problem for anyone.
The buttons, for play, cue and the effects and loops are all great feeling. They do what you ask, when you ask, and they're pretty well placed. We struggled a little more with the controls for loading tracks from Serato. This works well enough, but it's a bit more confusing than just dragging and dropping. The best thing to do is probably to set up what's called a "crate" in DJ Intro with your playlist planned out, then loading the next track is less tricky. Even so, it all works really well, and there's a clear benefit to the software and hardware having been designed for each other.
As a package, the Denon and Serato are damn near perfect for the market they're aimed at. If you're starting out, the price means the system is cheap enough for you to work out if DJing is something you want to do, but the build quality is such that you could, in theory, DJ in a nightclub with it.
The biggest flaw is that Serato DJ Intro is a fairly limited piece of software, and from what we can tell, there's no way for you to upgrade the software to anything more capable, even within the Serato family. Even so, there's enough here to get you up and running.
We're seriously impressed by the build quality, and the turntable surfaces are incredibly well engineered. They're smooth and feel sturdy: we've used equipment 10 times as expensive as this that didn't feel enormously better built.
Loads of fun, a great Christmas gift for someone who wants to DJ and it's small enough for journalists in the mid-30s to keep on their desk and have a scratch at lunchtime.