Pioneer CDJ 2000 NXS2

Pioneer CDJ 2000 NXS2

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Wednesday, 19 October 2016
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FULL CDJ-2000NXS2 REVIEW

Pioneer gear is the standard in pro DJ booths, and the new flagship deck in Pioneer DJ's range is the CDJ-2000NXS2, a direct replacement for the CDJ-2000NXS, that brings with it a lot of refinements and new features designed to keep the unit at the forefront of digital technology.

So what are the big changes? Think massive improvements to the screen (it's bigger, has a better resolution and is now touchscreen), plus a lot more power under the cover for working better with Rekordbox, Pioneer's software solution for DJs. Indeed, just about the only thing we could find that isn't there in the new version that was in the old one is the venerable old fader start function, Pioneer presumably deciding that this is something today's users don't want.

 

If you're new to the concept, the CDJ-2000NXS2 is a hybrid media player that can do everything from letting you just slip a CD into it and play (the clue is still there in the name, unlike the XDJ-1000, which doesn't have the CD slot), to playing straight music files directly from a USB or an SD card, to – and this is Pioneer's preferred use case for the unit – playing a specially exported setlist, taken from Pioneer DJ's Rekordbox music library software running on a Mac or PC, via USB or SD.

In this use case, Rekordbox on the computer has already analysed the files for BPM, gain and key, and you've had the chance to add cue points, loops and tags, all ahead of time, exported to USB to go to the club with you. In other words, you can do everything that isn't directly related to performing those tunes in advance, and concentrate on the performance side of it when you're at a venue – no need to take your laptop with you.

 

All that said, Pioneer now has an add-on for Rekordbox called Rekordbox DJ, that lets you then go on and DJ with the software in the same way as you DJ with Serato DJ or Traktor, ie by plugging your laptop directly into compatible equipment, and the new NXS2 gear also works in this way too if that's your preference.

For best results you need to use Pioneer's Pro DJ Link feature and add an extra piece of networking hardware (a "switch") to the CDJs and mixer (the new DJM-900NXS2 is designed for the job), but once you have, you've constructed yourself what is basically a very impressive looking (and very expensive) DJ controller.

At the time of writing there's no word on Serato and Traktor HID compatibility as was possible with the old NXS gear, and whether or not this comes is an interesting point, now that Pioneer has its own fully fledged DJ software. For this review, we've exclusively tested with Rekordbox.

 

The CDJ-2000NXS2 is very similar in appearance to the old model, but you soon start to see the differences. It's darker, and has a matt finish, as well as a more "serious" looking jogwheel edge that overall gives the unit a more "pro" feel. There are four instead of three hot cues, and a bank switch, giving you eight in total – a much needed catching up with software systems.

But the biggest difference is undeniably the screen. Bigger, higher resolution, and now touch sensitive, it is made of hard plastic, and is the single thing that brings these players closer to the experience of laptop DJing, because in all areas – search, waveforms, extra features – it is a huge leap forwards.

 

 

On the face of it, setting a pair of CDJ-2000NXS2 players up is as with all media players – plug them in and put an audio cable from the CDJ to the mixer. However, if you want to play from USB and use a single USB drive, you need to run an Ethernet cable between two players as a link, which is a simple enough job, and lets you use sync and share tracks between the two.

To go a stage further, though, and get them working with a DJM-900NXS2 mixer (in order to sync the beat effects tightly for instance), you need that external switch to network them all together, as mentioned earlier. It would have been good for Pioneer DJ to include this capability internally on its hardware with extra sockets to save this being the case.

 

While not mission critical when DJing from a Rekordbox library on USB, were you to want to play straight from your laptop, "standard" DJ software style with Rekordbox DJ, overall we found that setting up in this way is currently quite tricky. Not only do you have to go through the loop just described, but as it turns out, you need to have all the firmware updated and compatible, as well as the right software add-ons installed on your laptop. As things stand right now, I wouldn't trust any club to have their side of the bargain done here, even if I were confident my laptop were ready for this.

 

Frankly, a lot of the improvements here are bringing this gear up to speed with the very best laptop DJ systems, many of which have Pioneer hardware behind them anyway. While Pioneer hasn't gone the whole hog and added performance pads beneath each jogwheel like on the DDJ-RX and DDJ-RZ (its Rekordbox DJ controllers), the two banks of colour-coded hot cues giving you eight per track is a much-needed improvement over the three on the old NXS units. (Plus, you can now plug a Pioneer DJ DDJ-SP1 pad controller in via the USB socket on the back to use pads for hot cues, if you like, which is a neat idea.)

 

Likewise, the displays are now far better (you can see eight tracks at once rather than six on the old one, and more characters per line too), and although onboard screens won't likely ever be as good as having your library on a big laptop screen, there are huge improvements here, like a touchscreen Qwerty keyboard with instant search. The best thing, though, is a really cool new "filter" recommendation system that is worth explaining in a bit more depth, as this is actually one area where this DJ system moves past any software we can think of.

Basically, the filter system lets you filter your tunes in a staggering number of intelligent ways. It's like a mega "smart playlist". You can filter by BPM (including within a range), genre, key, "colour" like Serato (user definable), rating, and even your own tags (like "components – "contains saxophone" – a tag our very own Steve would use to actively avoid songs!), to give you recommendations of what might work next.

It works across players, and once you've set up your preferred filter "on the fly" (you do this at the player, you can't do it ahead of time in Rekordbox, although you can do it in Rekordbox DJ if you're playing directly from a laptop), you can switch your filter on and off within your current playlist with a single keystroke.

 

Also, while you're setting the parameters, it shows you top-right how many results are actually going to be left when you return to your playlist, so you'll know ahead of time that actually, you have no 80BPM deathcore tunes with a nice girly saxophone powering them along! It works excellently.

(Actually, there is a piece of software that lets you do something similar to this – the Beatport Pro library management app for Mac and PC – but that is purely an "ahead of time" app for iTunes-style playlist preparation. Just thought I'd mention that for completion's sake…)

 

Another big area where a NXS2 set-up now feels more like laptop DJing is waveforms: Not only can you switch from blue to better multi-frequency colour waveforms, but there is now a secondary parallel waveform system like Serato's that can replace the four-bar beat counter of old, making cross-player beatmatching hugely easier.

There's a nice countdown-to-marker function similar to Traktor. The way the latter works is that you can mark a future point in a track (by touching the "full" waveform at the bottom of the screen to drop a temporary marker), and then you get a beats/bars countdown to that point by the main waveform. (By the way, that small waveform is now the needle drop too, with the deck paused or just held with your hand, you can quickly scrub to anywhere in the track in this way. It's cool.)

 

To roundup some of the smaller controllerism-like improvements, Pioneer DJ has also introduced better quantise (you can choose 1/8, 1/4 and 1/2 beat as well as 1 beat, like before), there's now a "censor" aka "reverse slip" switch, there's a one-beat "beat jump" that lets you correct beatmixes that are out of phase, and in an improvement over the old NXS you can now easily switch between four and eight bar "instant loops", the same button also doubling up to give you an instant loop roll feature.

 

Speaking of loop roll, there is a big-buttoned but nonetheless touchscreen-reliant loop roll function, that may or may not be to your taste (I can see some DJs resisting using a touchscreen for performance features). That said, in practise it works nicely, and indeed there's a video on YouTube where Cotts & Ravine pour water on a unit and still perform on these just fine, which is testament to their reliability.

Finally, those that know tell us that the audio is much improved here too, although we've never had cause to moan about the audio quality of the old NXS units. Oh, one thing that will please many people that we haven't mentioned so far is that the units finally offer FLAC/ALAC support alongside the other touted improvements, so if one of these is your preferred music file format, you're (finally) in luck.

 

The CDJ-2000NXS2 players are perfect for the pro DJ who uses Rekordbox and DJs from USB, especially when set up properly so they're all networked together. In a club situation, you've got CD capability (lots of people still use CDs, of course), basic USB use, Rekordbox USB use, and – when they've ironed out the set-up woes and kinks – laptop DJing via Rekordbox DJ.

In the latter two cases, what you basically have here is a very big, very expensive DJ controller. But that said, certain features – the amazing new tag/filter system, and the innovative touchstrip, for example, actually exceed programs like Traktor and Serato, something we never thought we'd hear ourselves say for such a system.

 

Here's the bottom line: If you play decent clubs, soon enough you'll be coming across these. They're good, and you'll definitely like them. Better get up to speed with Rekordbox, though, if you want to use them in most of the ways we've discussed.

For most DJs reading this though, you can get an awful lot of the functionality here with a far cheaper DJ controller and a laptop. If you want to play only from your laptop, we'd recommend the Pioneer DDJ-SX or DDJ-SZ (if you'd like to use both Serato and Rekordbox), or the DDJ-RX or DDJ-RZ (if you're only interested in Rekordbox).

If you want to play from USB with Rekordbox, the XDJ-RX remains a fun and surprisingly capable controller, or to go a bit more pro, you could consider a pair of XDJ-1000s and a suitable mixer (see our separate review of the new DJM-900NXS for a good partner for such a set-up).

But if money is no object, and/or you're playing professionally and so the spend would be an investment rather than an expense, then networking up the new DJM-900NXS2 mixer with a pair of CDJ-2000NXS2 players would make an awesome home or touring DJ set-up. Of course you'll be able to bask in the knowledge that no club is better equipped than you are… (Check out our review of the companion Pioneer DJ DJM-900NXS2 mixer here.)

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