Denon DJ SC5000 Prime Review – a media player that acts like a controller
If you are a reasonably experienced DJ – professional, semi-pro or simply a high grade hobbyist you will, by now, most likely have heard about the new Denon DJ SC5000 Prime media player and the X1800 Prime club mixer.
These two products, along with the VL12 Prime Turntable form the basis of Denon’s #ChangeYourRider campaign aimed squarely at unseating Pioneer DJ as the industry standard in DJ booths.
…the real fun comes in how effortlessly one can mix on the SC5000 Prime and how the added performance features integrate so well into the whole experience.”
The challenge for Denon DJ goes far beyond simply creating products with more features than their illustrious competition.
It’s a mindset shift, as well as an unseating of the comfortable and reliable place we as DJs enjoy when performing on Pioneer CDJs and mixers. Their gear works and as intuitive as it is – Pioneer DJ has been the standard for so long – that anybody trying to completely reinvent this, will find it difficult to reach a mass market of trained DJs.
I suspect Native Instruments have found their (jogwheel-less) Kontrol S8 and S5 controllers a tougher sell than they’d hoped. Despite all the workshops and online videos these (and STEMS) have not been as widely embraced as I think they’d hoped.
DJs are way more conservative in adopting the ‘new’ than we’d like to think.
So why would you opt for an SC5000 Prime media player instead of a CDJ2000NX2?
Why would you opt for an SC5000 Prime instead of a high-end DJ controller?
Let’s break it down as simply as we can…
Existing CDJ users
Denon DJ’s keylock is remarkable and unmatchable by any other device or DJ software I’ve come across so far.”
If you are a seasoned CDJ DJ; i.e. you know your way around the CDJ2000NX2, CDJ900NX2 or XDJ series quite comfortably, it should take you no more than a couple of minutes to get going on the SC5000 Prime.
Denon DJ have not attempted to re-invent the wheel with their new media player.
Instead they’ve added more traction to that wheel in the form of an amazing feature-set, usability that mimics what we’ve come to understand as the industry standard and reliability by addressing some of the complaints on their previous players, primarily being the transport buttons and the way their cueing and jogwheels function.
Simply put, the SC5000 Prime plays like a CDJ, but adds to that with a bunch of added features.
For now the SC5000 Prime offers everything the Nexus Media players have (almost) and does them equally well (if not better – personal preference maybe), but it’s the new features that make it a worthwhile competitor.
1. Dual decks and two audio cards
The SC5000 has two 24-bit/96kHz sound cards with separate audio outputs for each on the rear of the unit. This means one unit can be plugged into two mixer channels. It also means that one unit is a two-deck media player. This works with the simple click of the LAYER button which will toggle between the two decks.
But is this really usable in a practical sense?
Remarkably so, is the answer.
A) Each layer is a different colour so it’s pretty easy to know at a glance which deck is active
B) The active waveform displays in full onscreen while the secondary waveform displays below so the 7 inch screen is split.
2. Dynamic track analysis and media management
Although many DJs do use the Nexus CDJs without playlisting their tracks in rekordbox first, if all your music for the night is not in just one or two folders i.e. they are spread all over the place, it can be a real grind scrolling back and forth to find tunes – unless you happen to like using the search features every time you want to find a track.
The SC5000 Prime will actually find your music anywhere on your USB drive, and make it available in a very easy and searchable way. So the experience of jumping between folders to find a track is completely negated by a uniform display of all music which can then be sorted by name, bpm, genre etc.
Pre-analysing your music with their ENGINE music management software will naturally make the whole process a bit faster, but the onboard computer does a pretty fast job of doing this in real-time as you load the track into a deck.
It is not as quite as quick as a computer though so I’d be inclined to use their music management software.
3. Three USB portsYou can plug three USB drives into one SC5000. This adds more versatility and obviously means changing over from one DJ to the next is easier than ever. But it also means those back to back sets are more flexible than ever too.
4. Incredible Keylock Algorithm
Keylock is a time-stretching algorithm that enables one to increase or decrease the tempo of a track without the key changing. Conventionally if you speed up a piece of music the pitch will get higher and if you slow it down it will get lower. Most work okay for a few BPM increments – but if you want a 90 bpm track mixed with a 120 BPM track for example, good luck! Stretching an audio file by that margin is simply horrible on the ear.
Denon DJ’s keylock is remarkable and unmatchable by any other device or DJ software I’ve come across so far. I reduced a 140 bpm track all the way down to 60 bpm and was truly amazed at how well it maintained the integrity of the song’s key and audio quality.
The 7 inch touchscreen works really well although the rotary is equally usable plus more like what one would be familiar with on the Pioneer Nexus gear. The Pioneer units sport full colour waveforms as opposed to the 3 colour on the Denon. Much like an iPad DJ app, one can pinch the waveform display to make it wider or smaller and a simple swipe when browsing will load a track. It’s novel and cool. I still prefer the encoder for browsing, personally.
There are several other really cool ‘under-the-hood’ features that pop up as one goes along. I love that if a track analyses incorrectly (happens on all music management applications) and does not pick up the grid correctly a simple move of the jogwheel can set this right and store it accordingly.
Another awesome feature is that Denon have catered for all three key standards (for DJing anyway).
So you can actually set it in the preferences to display (and by extension sort) the keys in the conventional key text mode (circle of fifths) e.g. C# or in Traktor’s mode e.g. 8D or using the Camelot system e.g. 3B.
Although I perform out on CDJs at clubs and festivals, I preview and playlist all my music in Traktor at home. So being able to sort by Traktor’s key coding standard is pretty amazing. It shows that Denon DJ have really thought about how to make their machines as flexible as they can for different user experiences.
The jogwheel platters also have a very versatile four position tension adjust and can be colour-coded to your preference. A nice touch is that the album cover displays on the centre of the wheel which is actually way more useful than one realises. If so desired you can also load your DJ logo instead of the album covers.
7. Missing in action
There are a few notable things the SC5000 does not offer that you will get on the top line Nexus gear.
The obvious one is that there is no CD tray. This is, of course, less of an issue as more and more DJs move to USB but if you still like the discs, this one’s a no-go.
There is also no HID support as yet. This means no connecting to Traktor or Serato via USB.
The only other feature that the CDJ-2000NX2 has over the SC5000 that I know of, is the maximum auto loop length which is double (512) on the Pioneer.
The SC5000 is actually a media player that acts like a DJ controller – minus the laptop.”
One of the biggest plusses for controller DJs are all the extra performance tools that DJ software, and by extension, DJ controllers have over the Nexus media players.
The SC5000 is actually a media player that acts like a DJ controller – minus the laptop.
The two key areas where they match DJ software are as follows;
1. You can seamlessly jump to any section of a track and not miss a beat.
This is where the SC5000 Prime is very similar to Traktor and Serato DJ. By simply selecting a loop length with the encoder the loop will work seamlessly and in sync. Aside from length one can move this loop back n forth on the track and you are able to beat jump to anywhere on the track – without missing a beat.
2. The performance pads open up all the same features one has come to enjoy with DJ controllers.
You can set up to 8 cue points, set up to 8 loops per track, loop roll a track which activates slip mode and the Slice option is the same as the Freeze (Traktor Pro) and Slice (Serato).
One very cool feature on the pads is that the different colour coding for each pad when using the cues for example. They are auto-coloured and will display on the LCD screen too.
Another notable feature is that in loop roll mode, there are pads set to 4/4 and others set to 3/4 (Triplet) so you can select according to these two standard time signatures.
The pads feel pretty solid so let’s see if they stand the test of time in a club environment.
But the real fun comes in how effortlessly one can mix on the SC5000 Prime and how the added performance features integrate so well into the whole experience.
The new Denon DJ media players entice you to do more than simply mix A to B – much like controller DJs will tell you they get from Traktor or Serato.
The last time I had this much fun mixing on new gear was when NI introduced their Kontrol S8 and STEMS and that was because it was something totally new.
However using the Denon DJ SC5000 and the X1800 mixer was by far the single most satisfying and singly most creative DJ experience I’ve had for years.
I am a BIG Pioneer DJ fan. They are the industry standard for good reason.
I do, however, highly recommend any Pro DJ give SC5000 Prime a test run. You will be pleasantly surprised how good they are.
A quick jam session was in order…