Over the last few years, the landscape for DJs has changed enormously – whether we’re talking turntables, mixers, or even, now, software. It’s not long since the majority of DJs were playing vinyl, and bringing just a handful of CDs to try out a fresh cut or two. These days however, apart from a few faithful souls keeping the format alive, it’s pretty rare to see a slab of wax get used in a club – much more likely a laptop or USB stick! So let’s get stuck in and see what the options can offer…
First off though, let’s not write off vinyl just yet. OK so it’s heavy, and you can’t take decent sized record boxes as hand luggage on a plane. But it’s still arguably the most fun format to play, and it has that all-important sonic quality that everyone loves. It also – and this is a fairly recent development – now has a certain cachet of quality, of someone who takes their music seriously. The likes of Blawan and Pinch are known for their dedication to vinyl, and it has helped shape their image of being DJs who don’t compromise their sound. Just be careful with club setups, as many of them see so few records now that the deck might not have been switched on in weeks – so make sure everything is working fine before you move the fader up!
So of course, for the DJ who wants the feel of vinyl control, but without the backache and worn needle issues, there are the DVJ solutions of Serato and Traktor. They’re fantastic. You pack two control discs, and can play anything from the thousands of tracks on your hard-disk. But they’re not without their faults. For a start, it’s a relatively complex solution; you rock up at the club, and need to unplug the decks from the mixer, plumb in a hardware box, make sure all the signals are getting through, and all this without interrupting the tunes, in about 3 minutes, in front of 500 sweaty ravers. The potential for an embarrassing mistake is easy to see. It’s also not cheap – you need a laptop that you’re happy to take into a beer-heavy club environment, and of course the DVJ hardware itself. Not everyone has that kind of cash to spare.
CD is a much more common format at the moment – probably the default for most people, and it has been this way for 4 or 5 years now. We all know how easy and versatile a good CD deck is to use. But over last 12 months or so, it would seem that USB-enabled CD decks are supplanting the old standard, with Pioneer’s CDJ2000 and CDJ900 becoming increasingly common in clubs. From this writer’s point of view, you now see CDJ2000′s more often than their older brother, the 1000 (and you never see a different brand of CD deck). Playing off USB means that you can just plug a memory stick directly into the CD player. Or even better, a portable hard disk. Want access to your 100GB library of tunes without all the hassle of plugging boxes into a mixer? Then this is the way to go. Of course, you don’t get vinyl control – but in all other respects you can play it exactly as you would with a normal audio or mp3 CD. In fact, they are now offering improvements over that format. Make sure your mp3′s are well tagged, and as you browse through the collection with the CD deck, the artwork will pop up on the display, making it much easier to find a particular track than sifting through a hundred CDs, each with your handwritten scrawl on view – as well as BPM information and any notes you’ve tagged via ID3.
Pioneer’s rapidly-advancing Recordbox software also means that you can process tracks on your laptop, setting up cue points, loops and hot cues in advance, so that they’re ready when you plug in your USB stick. Or you can go one step further and just plug your laptop straight into the CD deck itself, and it will then behave just like Serato – but cheaper and without all the fiddling around the back of the mixer. It’s such a simple solution that it will be giving the established DVJ systems a real run for their money soon.
From there, the sky is the limit. The current area of development pertains to wireless systems; see for example the new Pioneer Aero – an all-in-one box featuring controllers, audio interface and mixer. No need to plug anything at all – just run the whole shebang off the mobile phone in your pocket. This, it hardly needs saying, looks fairly suicidal right now – smartphone batteries being what they are, no serious DJ would want to risk a silent club just because their phone died. But in the longer term, these controllers will be able to do it all; play audio off a USB device, send MIDI control to the software on your laptop, sync up your tracks as well as Ableton and yet give you the hands on control of a normal DJ setup. For now, however, I’ve yet to see one in a club, and I suspect it may be a couple of years yet. So I’ll be off to the club tonight with my USB key – and in the meantime… choose your weapon!
Categories: Tech Talk