Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

In the past few years, there have been many attempts to recreate the feel and response of a DJ turntable using audio CDs in place of vinyl. The problem with CD players has been the lack of a “hands-on” way to stop, start, and reverse the playing of the audio in real time, including slowing down the sound with a finger, the way DJs do.

Pioneer has solved this problem brilliantly with the CDJ-1000. It allows DJs to play any audio CD, and apply standard DJ techniques such as scratching, reverse, stutter, and more. It also combines a “hot cue” sampling function with three memory locations for triggering user-defined “bookmarks” from the CD while the song plays; bookmarks can be set anywhere on the CD.

The key to the CDJ-1000 is its realistic-feeling rubber platter and ease of use. Simply load a CD, press play, and once the CD is spinning, you can play the turntable in many vinyl-like ways. If you want to stop the CD momentarily, just press your finger against the platter and hold it there. The music will stop instantly. Let go, and it begins to play again, just like a real turntable. There are also knobs for slow-down (brake) and wind-up speeds.

Once your finger is on the platter and the disc has stopped, you can do traditional scratching by moving your finger back and forth without lifting it off the platter. Within minutes, any DJ who is used to vinyl will be right at home on this unit.

The CDJ-1000 also has a standard pitch-control slider for speed adjustment, and a reverse switch that plays the audio backward – something you usually can’t do with a CD!

In the real world, I’ve found the CDJ-1000 to be a great tool. I can burn vocal tracks or beats of songs that I’m producing onto CDs, and then scratch them. This is also a great tool for bands who travel and want to scratch their own tracks live. Certain groups like Massive Attack have been doing this for years by burning tracks onto vinyl for use in live performances, but this is much quicker than waiting for the pressing plant. And cheaper, too!

If you’re a die-hard vinyl user, I won’t even try to tell you to change, but if you want to have the ultimate in flexibility, and preserve your vinyl collection, you owe it to yourself to try the CDJ-1000.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD Turntable

  • Pros: Intuitive, fast, easy to learn – especially for vinyl DJs.
  • Cons: Platter is smaller than 12″.
  • Bottom Line: Make use of all of the CDs in your collection, plus get new life out of your sample libraries.

Creating the market, not following it

In the early ’80s urban music pioneers began artfully scratching, slowing down, and reversing LP records, giving rise to the DJ art form. It was only natural that the turntable would emerge as their primary creative tool: The LP record was still the most widely used format for listening to music, and there was at least one turntable in just about every household. In the ensuing 25 years consumers abandoned their turntables and LP records, first for cassette tapes, then CDs, and now, mp3 files and the immensely popular iPod. Yet the sonic effects achieved by a deft hand manipulating an LP still define the DJ’s craft. Harnessing this advancing digital technology while facilitating analog-based performance techniques has created what Jack O’Donnell describes as a “transitional” period in the DJ market. As CEO of the Numark Group, he enjoys a unique vantage point. Aside from being a leading purveyor of DJ gear, the organization also serves as a corporate umbrella for the Alesis and Akai product lines.

To grasp what O’Donnell means by “transitional,” you only have to take a cursory look at the dramatic expansion of the Numark product line. Fifteen years ago the company effectively served the market with a selection of traditional turntables, phono cartridges, and analog DJ mixers. Today the market requires a much broader product range. Traditional turntables, like the popular TTX model are still very much in evidence in Numark’s product lineup. However, there are also a dizzying number of products that marry traditional turntable feel with various digital storage formats. There’s the new HDX, which combines a removable 80-gigabyte hard-disk and a standard size turntable platter, allowing the DJ to transport thousands of songs to a job and still enjoy traditional turntable performance. The iDJ and the iDJ2 are slick, portable units that turn a standard iPod into a full-featured DJ rig. Debuting at Summer NAMM is the iCDX, a control surface that enables the DJ to scratch, loop, and play songs from any device equipped with a USB port, whether it’s a laptop or a portable disk drive. The HD MIX is a self-contained system combining a hard drive, two jog wheels for scratching, and a mixer, centralizing all DJ controls and music in a single, portable unit. And, then there are over a dozen rack-mounted variants that offer different combinations of scratch capabilities and digital storage formats.

Assessing this varied product selection, spread out in a conference room at Numark’s spacious headquarters in Rhode Island, O’Donnell steers clear of expressing personal preferences and refrains from sweeping predictions about the future of the market. Part of this stance is the by-product of humility acquired in over two decades of product management. “Fifteen years ago I predicted that the phono cartridge would be dead in five years,” he jokes. “It’s still an important part of our business today and I’m a little less willing to make predictions.” More importantly though, his outlook reflects the conviction that DJs, along with the R&D staff at Numark, are still in the process of sorting through the different product configurations and have yet to render a verdict on the optimal format.

The first generation of DJs grew up working with the most common form of playback of the day, the turntable,” he observes. “The newer crop of DJs has grown up in the world of digital music formats and have an entirely different outlook. Our job is to offer products for both groups, as well as those users who occupy a middle ground. That’s why there are so many products in our line. We can’t foresee the next format, so we experiment, listen to our customers with an open mind, and remain flexible.”

While O’Donnell may not be entirely clear about what the ideal DJ rig will look like in five years, he has no doubt about what Numark needs to do to remain successful. In short, it all comes down to a heavy investment in digital technology and R&D. He says that in the “pre-transition” era any distributor could link up with OEM manufacturers in Taiwan, make some modifications on consumer audio products, and come up with a reasonably competitive DJ line. It’s not that easy anymore. Existing consumer audio products no longer lend themselves to DJ applications. (Ever try scratching or reversing a tune on an iPod?) This forces companies like Numark to develop a much higher level of engineering expertise. “The digital signal processing capability that allows you to manipulate a stream of digital audio and scratch, play backward, or change tempo in real-time is not something that you can buy off the shelf,” he explains. “You need a lot of in-house engineering skills.”

O’Donnell was one of the first in the industry to recognize this need for advanced R&D capabilities, and over six years ago, began positioning Numark with series of strategic investments and acquisitions. In 2001, he purchased Alesis, a pioneer in digital effects processing and recording technology. In late 2005, he acquired Akai, the company that virtually invented digital sampling. Akai and Alesis continue as strong product lines in their own right, and a conscious effort has been made to maintain each brand indentity. However, marrying three product lines under a single corporate umbrella has provided a foundation of digital expertise. This capability is evident both at Numark headquarters in Rhode Island and at the company’s engineering facility in England. It’s also reflected at Wavefront Semiconductors, an independent subsidiary based in Seattle that develops digital microprocessors for other music products manufacturers.

Pooling the engineering resources has resulted in a range of potent synergies. Some are straightforward, like being able to order Motorola microprocessors in higher volumes to get better pricing. Others are less obvious, like developing cross-platform operating systems that can manage effects processing in products ranging from an Alesis Fusion workstation to an Akai MIDI sequencer. Most importantly, this collective R&D effort has spawned a steady stream of innovative new products that open creative horizons and generate new sales opportunities for retailers.

Under Alesis banner, the company is offering a line of products that taps into the growing interest in “podcasting”: posting on the internet for downloading. At Summer NAMM, Alesis will be exhibiting two complete podcasting kits, one based on Firewire, the other on USB, that offer everything you need to mix and record eight channels of audio for placement on the web. O’Donnell says that this new product category will appeal to a nearly limitless range of users. “Just about anyone could find a use for this,” he contends.

At Akai, advanced technology is evident in the new MPD24 USB/MIDI Pad Control Unit. The new unit borrows the velocity and pressure sensitive pads that made Akai’s previous “Music Production Centers” the standard among hip-hop performers. However, it can interface more effectively with external storage devices, making it virtually impossible for DJs or producers to run out of space for their assigned sound.

Numark is pushing the product envelope with new applications that enable the DJ to seamlessly incorporate visual images with music. The NuVJ video controller is the first offering in what promises to be a rapidly expanding family of products. Designed in partnership with ArKaos, a leading developer of video processing software, the NuVJ console allows DJs to trigger images and video clips, add effects to them, and mix them with a cross-fader tool that looks a feels like a standard DJ mixer.

The hardware controller works seamlessly with existing DJ gear and the software is compatible with most computers and laptops. “In the past, the ability to incorporate video With music was constrained by the cost of processing power,” says O’Donnell. “Now that that’s no longer an issue, we’re working to create an entirely new video-based product category. Every DJ isn’t going to rush to incorporate video, but for some, video can be a beautiful complement to the music. We think this has tremendous potential.”

Over the past three years retailers have reported that the DJ market has suffered from flat sales. O’Donnell shrugs off the complaint, in part because Numark’s sales have been on a steady upward curve, but also because he feels that the market is on the cusp of significant growth. Drawing an analogy with the consumer electronics business, he relates, “Five years ago, if you talked to any big electronics retailer, they would tell you that their television business was dead. Consumers were content with their Sony Trinitrons and didn’t see any reason to upgrade. Then you had the introduction of these great flat screen plasma televisions, consumers got excited, and all of a sudden, televisions became the industry’s hottest product category.” Can Numark’s expanding array of digital DJ gear have a similar affect on the DJ market? O’Donnell answers with an emphatic affirmative. “We’re not just reacting to market trends, we’re creating trends with innovative new products,” he says. “Our current array of gear, not to mention the stuff we have in the pipeline, will bring people into stores and spark demand. We are giving DJs reasons to upgrade their rigs.”

Throughout his career, Jack O’Donnell has demonstrated an uncanny sense for harnessing technology to address consumer needs and wants. In the late ’80s, as a vice-president of Stanton Electronics, he was one of the first to appreciate the emergence of the DJ market, and tried to persuade his superiors to address it. When they shrugged off his suggestions, he acquired Numark and pursued the market himself. With similar acumen, he identified opportunities at both Alesis and Akai that others in the industry overlooked. Given this track record, his bullish forecast for a coming DJ boom deserves more than a respectful hearing.

Korg Kaoss Pad 2

As obviously ideal as the new Korg Kaoss Pad 2 Dynamic Effects/Controller is for DJs, other performers, regardless of their instrument, the type of music they play, or the nature of their live performances, shouldn’t miss giving it a try. With its unique control interface, the ability to switch easily between three stereo inputs (Phono. Line and Mic) and its capabilities act as both an effects processor and a MIDI controller the device could easily find a home in anyone’s live or studio rig. And gear snobs be warned … it’s a mistake to dismiss the new KP 2 as a toy. It may be small enough to pack along with your average laptop, but it packs a fair bit of power and has a large variety of applications. Beyond traditional live performance use and being a fantastic tool for adding interesting textures in the studio, the machine is perfect for anyone working on live music for dance, multimedia audio-art installations and is simple enough that anyone can use it to great effect.

Overall the options for sound manipulation are impressive – The Kaoss Pad‘s 100 preset areas are divided into five main sections: 50 general effects (Filters. Modulation, Delay, Reverb and SFX), 20 BPM FX/Beats, 15 synth patches, 5 Vocoder settings and 10 preset sample playing options. An actual text list of these presets is printed right on the front panel, making only a simple LED display necessary, so there’s no need to scroll through endless pages looking for what you need and plenty space for a variety of hardware controls.

It’s these controllers that make this unit such a pleasure to play. Particularly its primary controller – a good sized track pad that allows the user to apply effects to vocals, sounds input by other hardware as well as manipulate a selection of onboard synth patches, BPM effects and drum loops in a variety of ways. For all its simplicity, the track pad is an incredibly versatile interface. Alone, or combined with the KP 2’s other controllers, different types of movements and combinations of movements applied to different areas of the track pad allow the user to create rhythms and unique textures from basic sounds generated by both external and internal sources. Thus opening up sonic possibilities that are not easily duplicated using other machines.

By tapping the track pad, or rubbing it diagonally, vertically or horizontally along its X and Y axis and you can control a number of parameters for a given preset. For example: when using the machine’s LFO Wah setting, dragging your finger from side to side will adjust the speed of the effect and dragging vertically will adjust the depth. When using the Filter and Delay effect, horizontal movement controls cut-off frequency and vertical controls delay level. Parameters vary from preset to preset. The track pad also allows a great deal of control over the KP 2’s onboard synth patches, providing the user with a means of controlling such parameters as pitch, speed, modulation, echo feedback, reverb level and more. Similar control is possible when using the unit’s onboard beats; including such parameters as decay time, mod depth and choice of several drum pattern variations depending on the chosen preset.

Additional controllers include a Data knob for switching programs that doubles as a tempo change control for BPM effects and the KP 2’s onboard rhythm patterns, a Tap BPM button, Hold button, effects depth knob, eight assignable buttons to save your most used Kaoss Pad setups and the Pad Motion/Mute lever. This last feature enables the user to save the results of almost four seconds of pad movement temporarily so that the same manipulations can be used repeatedly during performance.

And there’s more – new to this version of the Kaoss Pad are two buttons that allow the player to sample roughly six seconds of sound each, play them back at any time as a raw sample along with other sounds, or use either sample as a sound source to be affected and manipulated using the units effects or its dedicated sample playing presets. The latter allows the player to use the track pad to control a number of options through 10 sampler specific presets, including forward play, reverse play, level, scratch, loop start/loop end times, and time stretch.

Beyond being powerful and having a well-organized performance interface the KP 2 also has great physical details and lights up in all the right places making performance a breeze regardless of the light level on stage. The bottom line it’s sleek, it’s fun and it’s powerful. No, it’s not necessarily going to replace your current FX unit, but that’s not the point. Far more than a FX unit with a unique interface, it’s an instrument in itself: a versatile machine that will inspire far more creativity than your average rack mounted FX interface.