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Denon DJ’s new four-channel standalone unit shows commitment to battling Pioneer DJ

Denon DJ’s new four-channel standalone unit shows commitment to battling Pioneer DJ

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Image: Denon

Denon DJ has announced a new four-channel standalone DJ unit called the Prime 4. It’s the first standalone unit with the ability to play four decks of tracks using only two platters, which is something DJs have wanted for some time. This not only makes the Prime 4 unique, but it hammers home that Denon DJ is sniping at Pioneer DJ’s stranglehold on the DJ tech market.

Pioneer DJ’s equipment has long been the uncontested standard used by the industry. It’s requested by most DJs, which means many clubs, audio rental companies, festivals, and more can justify buying the pricey Pioneer DJ gear. In 2017, Denon DJ introduced the Prime series with a CDJ that looked to reclaim a chunk of the pro market. Among its performance features, there was a big hook: dual-deck playback, which allowed each deck to have two layers that can be toggled between and played simultaneously, giving you essentially four decks in two.

The new Prime 4, meant more for a home setup or mobile gigs, is a shot at Pioneer DJ’s comparable XDJ-RR and XDJ-RX2 all-in-one units. The Prime 4 builds upon the tech Denon DJ developed for the Prime SC5000 CDJ, but it does it in an all-in-one format instead of separate CDJs and a mixer. Notably, the Prime 4 includes the same dual-deck playback. The Prime 4’s jog wheels are six-inches, metal, and boast center HD displays with customizable RGB light rings. There’s also the recognizable eight performance pads below each deck with options for hot cues, loop and autoloop, roll, and slicer and slicer loop.

There are some other firsts for a standalone player. The Prime 4 has an option that combines time-stretch (changing the speed or duration of audio without affecting pitch), with real-time musical pitch shifting, so you can match song keys with just a tap.

Another (niche) first with the Prime 4 is the independent Zone Output for DJs to send a separate playlist of tunes to a different room or location while performing. Either deck number four or the master signal can be assigned to this separate zone via a dedicated XLR output, with its own gain and EQ control. Mobile event DJs will probably see the most use out of this, giving them, say, the ability to play in one room and also provide alternate music for a different, chill-out room.

Image: Denon DJ

It’s hard to ignore the Prime 4’s massive tilt screen. Clocking in at 10 inches (three inches larger than the Prime SC5000 CDJ), it’s a lot of real estate. The cost is that the screen awkwardly protrudes out from the back of the unit when folded flat. But it’s easy to argue why the extra space is needed. Displaying four waveforms, plus library navigation and a pop-up keyboard for finding tracks and more would be nightmarish on a smaller screen. Like Denon DJ’s Prime SC5000 CDJ, this is a multitouch display that allows for swipes, taps, pinch to zoom, and other gestures for navigation and control.

As far as inputs, there are two dedicated XLR inputs for microphones with individual control, four USB slots (two on top, two on the back), one SD media slot, and a 2.5-inch built-in SATA drive bay for storing music directly in the unit. While playing, a DJ’s set can be recorded live to any of these input sources.

Image: Denon DJ

Above each platter is a bay for selecting audio effects with three knobs for quick-access adjustments: a parameter (like panning), frequency, and wet / dry or beat timing. Separately, there are four popular effects hard assigned to buttons in the center: filter, echo, wash, and noise. For those who want control over visuals, the Prime 4 also works with StagelinQ, Denon DJ’s lighting and video protocol.

Other things to note about the Prime 4: there’s USB keyboard support for music search so you don’t have to rely on the on-screen keyboard, it supports uncompressed audio formats (FLAC, ALAC, WAV), and support for Serato DJ Pro control is coming soon. It should also be able to read and import your existing playlists, folders, hot cues and loop information from iTunes, Serato DJ Pro, Native Instruments Traktor Pro, and Rekordbox into Denon’s Engine Prime music management software.

Ever since Denon DJ introduced its Prime series in 2017, it’s felt like the company is taking a direct swing at Pioneer DJ’s monopoly both in nightclubs and as a favorite among most performing artists, proffering what it says is a better option. That’s only reinforced by a recent video Denon DJ released with its sponsored artists rocking Prime gear at festivals, capped with the hashtag “#ChangeYourRider.” If enough DJs start putting Denon DJ Prime gear on their riders (a part of the contract that outlines requirements for things like hospitality and equipment needs), the hope is that more vendors will buy the gear to have it on hand, and Denon DJ can eventually take away some of Pioneer DJ’s grasp in this circuit.

It’s been under two years since Denon DJ launched the Prime series, and it’s been able to snag a couple of flagship brand ambassadors during that time, including Laidback Luke, Oliver Heldens, Paul Oakenfold, and Tiësto. It’s a tiny pool to start with, and not everyone stuck with the gear. Tiësto went back to Pioneer after his brand ambassadorship period ended.

I don’t know that Tiësto’s decision is a knock at Denon DJ’s quality. It could be a hard look at the current reality where Pioneer DJ’s gear is the standard already purchased and on hand by promoters, audio rental outlets, nightclubs, and more. And it’s the equipment DJs know how to use, making Pioneer DJ an ecosystem the industry is locked into. Denon DJ Prime isn’t. It’s simply easier and less costly on all ends to have and use what everyone else already has and uses.

Denon DJ trying to disrupt this can outwardly look like a David versus Goliath situation, but it does appear it’s in this fight for the long haul. When I did a hands-on with the Prime SC5000 CDJ last year, a Denon DJ rep directly told me that the company had “over-engineered” the tech, expecting its capabilities to stay up to date for at least five years. Denon DJ also recently slashed the SC5000’s price to $999, making it well underpriced in comparison to Pioneer DJ’s CDJ-2000NXS2, at $2,199.

Sure, the new Prime 4 isn’t aimed at festival use, but this is a way for Denon DJ to take tech it already built for the main stage and expose it DJs who are looking for a professional home setup or mobile gig. In the process, it’s managed to bring to market something many DJs have pined for and Pioneer DJ has yet to deliver: a true four-channel standalone DJ unit. Denon’s DJ Prime 4 will cost $1,699.00, and it will be available in March 2019.