Gear Talk Digital DJ Tips Denon DJ Prime Review
Digital DJ Tips Denon DJ Prime Review
New for 2017 is the X1800 Prime range mixer – a clear competitor for the Pioneer DJ DJM-900NXS2. It features Sweep FX, BPM FX units, a 24-bit/96kHz audio card, and the ability to connect to players via Engine Connect – useful for sending beat grids and timing data for synchronised effects. The four digital channels feature Expressive EQ with classic or Isolation modes and an adjustable Filter Resonance Control. Four digital inputs and dual USB connections for software and audio devices provide plenty of connectivity. The X1800 sounds and looks great. A winner.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS / SETTING UPThe Denon DJ X1800 Prime sits alongside the other Prime releases, most notably the SC5000 Prime media players. In this review and video we find out if it’s up there with its sister product.
Just as with the SC5000 media player, Denon DJ has sensibly kept things predictable here. The size, feel (all-metal construction), layout and feature-set of the X1800 broadly compare to those of the market leader, and no DJ will walk up to this mixer and struggle in any way to use it right off that bat. So that means four channels, mic features down the left-hand side, effects up the right, with a big FX on/off button bottom right, and so on.
Look carefully and you’ll spot some interesting differences, though, and I’m talking about differences past the rather natty green, white and blue VU meter colour scheme: “Sweep FX” (think Colour FX in Pioneer lingo) in addition to filters for each channel; a big touchstrip instead of the Pioneer DJM-900NX2‘s X-pad; and knobs to control both fader and crossfader curves being a few of them. However, the similarities, at least physically, definitely outweigh the differences between the mixers.The mixer follows a familiar layout, meaning the learning curve for someone coming to it from any other four-channel club mixer is going to be shallow.
Setting up is a case of plugging in as with any mixer, although if you’re using it with a pair of SC5000s, you need to plug network cables in between them and the mixer in order for it all to work nicely together; this has some decided advantages as we’ll see. The X1800 Prime acts as a networking hub anyway, so this is simple. PC drivers are required too if you want to use the 10-channel built-in sound card in conjunction with your Windows machine; it works natively with Mac.
There are two USB sockets, just as on the Pioneer DJM-900NXS2, so DJs playing from laptop can plug in side-by-side; expect Denon DJ to announce software compatibilities in due course.
One setting certain types of DJs (here’s lookin’ at you, scratch fans) may want to adjust before getting going is the tension of the “Flex Fader” (Denon DJ’s top-of-the-range crossfader technology).
Alongside the SC5000 Prime
We have naturally been testing the X1800 alongside a pair of SC5000 Prime media players, so let’s first mention the ways these units work together.
The X1800s have digital outs, so you can link to the digital ins on the back of the X1800 if you like; otherwise standard RCAs will do the trick. As the SC5000s are “dual layer” (two “decks” per unit), you can DJ across all four channels of the X1800 with two of the media players.
The fun starts when you connect the network cables, which organises your “layers” (sets of decks) across the channels how you want them depending on which sockets you plug the network cables into, and enables some pretty cool colour-coding features: The LED rings around the platters on the decks determine the colours of the cue buttons on the mixer, and also when a deck is “live” (ie its fader is not down) on the mixer, the ring on the associated deck turns from white to the assigned colour. It all makes for much more intuitive mixing, and leads to fewer mistakes by accidentally doing something on the wrong deck.Of course, it is designed primarily to complement the other Prime gear, and really shines when used alongside the SC5000 media players.
The other big win here is that BPM data is shared instantly across all networked players and the mixer. The master deck determines the BPM, and altering the pitch control on that deck does the same system-wide. This gives very tight control over the syncing of sources, but also over the rhythmic elements of the X1800s BPM effects.
If you’re not networked, or playing from records for instance, you can set the mixer to “listen” for the BPM of the music in the old school way of doing these things, and set the BPM that way: holding down the “Tap” button for three seconds will toggle this mode on or off. Of course, you can also tap out the rhythm using the same button should you wish.
Each channel has a one-knob LPF/HPF filter, and there’s a neat filter button that can turn all the filters on or off together – great for really messing with your sound across multiple decks in a breakdown, then turning all filters off at once as the beat drops.
But unlike on the Pioneer DJM-900NXS2, where filter is just one of the “Color FX”, here you get a separate knob per channel for the Sweep FX as Denon calls them, meaning that once you combine those effects with the filters, some pretty expressive effect work can be done easily.As well as per-channel filters (with a button for turning them all on and off at once), there’s a set of “Sweep FX” and dedicated control knobs per channel for those, too.
What’s more the Sweep FX sound really good: their control knobs, like those for the filters, have a 12 o’clock “click” where nothing’s happening, and while turning to the left gives you an increasing intensity of one “take” on any given effect, turning to the right gives you an often more creative but always complementary second set of choices. We found this particularly good sounding on the Gate.
We also particularly liked the Gate and the Dub Echo, the latter being an effect you could find yourself using for long periods of time if you’re not careful! Wash Out was our least favourite.
The post-fader BPM effect engine can be assigned to any channel, either side of the crossfader, or to the master. Settings are visible on the two small but detailed OLED displays in monochrome, and they can be previewed in headphones via “FX Cue” – a nice touch.
Whereas you can’t apply the effect to only low, mid or high as with the Pioneer DJM-900 NXS2, you have an FX frequency knob to focus the effect on the part of the freqency range you choose, which is roughly comparable. Again, there’s a nice little readout on the display as to what frequencies you’re working with.
The “Time Division” vertical touchstrip is a better way of halving/doubling the effect loop time that the fiddly dual-stack version on the DJM-900NXS2, but again – nobody used to this type of mixer is going to struggle getting their head around how to use these effects.The touchstrip breaks from mixer convention, but makes sense, offering fun and immediate control over the cycle speed of the chosen effect – there’s even a “one touch” option.
In brief, here’s what you get:
- Echo – Only caveat here is that it sounds great with a 3/4 beat setting, which can only be selected using the FX time knob, not the Time Division strip – a small thing, but it irked a little
- Transformer – Gating. Sounds tight with Engine connect giving razor-sharp BPM accuracy; you need to be precise when you punch it in though, as there’s no “quantize”-type feature to flatter you!
- Filter – This is actually a filter sweep, ie filter + LFO, as is the norm with BPM effects
- Roll – This is like a Loop Roll, but there’s no Slip (obviously). Using the frequency knob with the roll gives a nice effect by loop rolling just part of a track, with the other frequencies playing on underneath as normal. Also, once you have a roll running, you can drop the main fader to take out the track completely and perform a classic Loop Roll minus the source material
- Reverse Roll – This one is obvious, and fun to play with!
- Scratch – More like a little pull back; not massively useful
- Beat Break – We’ve left the best till last here: It’s like a transformer on steroids, with 16 patterns you can choose from and you can program your own patterns. It’s quantised, so patterns trigger at the end of the bar (see demo in our video)
There’s also a SNDRTN (send and return) setting for if you have an external effects unit plugged in.
Inputs and outputsRound the back are the full gamut of inputs and outputs, including digital ins and outs, Midi, and a full network hub with four inputs.
Of course, this is a high-end mixer so as you’d expect, all possible input types are covered. So that means the channels can all take digital audio, line-level inputs, phono level inputs, USB from computer, and also be routed for DVS. There are separate line and phone RCA pairs around the back, and the two mic inputs (one set of EQ across both only, though) are split between one on the top panel (XLR/jack) and a 1/4″ jack on the back too.
There’s a send/return for adding external effect (twin jacks), and the full gamut of outputs for the audio, with XLR and RCA outputs, RCA record out (pre-master), and 1/4″ balanced jack booth outs. There’s also a Midi socket for outputting Midi clock info so drum machines, synths and so on can be slaves to the X1800 as a master, and it is even possible to record into a DAW of choice up to 10 channels of audio from the built-in sound card via the USB sockets on the top of the mixer – eight “raw” channels plus the overall mix.
As mentioned at the start, Denon DJ has sensibly kept this mixer unthreatening in layout and apparent feature-set; professional but not hugely different. But when you dig into the Utility menu, accessible via the small OLED screen pairing top right, you see that actually, an awful lot of what goes on in the mixer can be tweaked.
From EQ type (full kill or traditional), to crossover frequencies (hi/low EQ, not mids curiously), to mic and talkover settings, to FX customisation (editing the Beat Break effect is fun), to a cunning option to lock fader contours and crossfader assign buttons, in order that you don’t accidentally change them in the heat of scratching, there are a large number of under-the-hood tweaks you can do from here.A lot of the “tweakability” of the mixer is thanks to a huge range of things hidden in the utility menu, from where you can adjust dozens of parameters.
The Prime series, of course, needed a decent mixer, and this is a decent mixer! While not as revolutionary as the SC5000 Prime media players (after all, it’s a mixer – mixers are a utilitarian part of the chain), it has every feature you might expect.
What’s more, every feature is done to the max: A 10-channel, 24-bit, 96kHz sound card; twin USBs for dual laptops; excellent sounding effects, and lots of them; the full gamut of inputs and outputs; and clever (but wisely hidden) tweaks under the hood to just about everything – all of these means the mixer is right up there at the top of the class.
Frankly, the Denon DJ engineers’ job here was not to drop the ball. The SC5000 Prime players are truly revolutionary; the mixer slides alongside them, looks great, sounds great, integrates well, and slinks into the background – until you dig a bit more, when you realise that actually, it’s a “Prime” player in its own right. Top marks – another winner.