Buyers Guide: How do I Choose the Right DJ CD / Media Player?
CD decks and media players represent the middle ground when it comes to traditional vinyl as opposed to digital DJing. Because they're used in so many locations, it's essential for DJs to know how to work with media players. But, before you know which media player is right for you, it's important to know what kind of DJ you are.
What kind of DJ are you?
Are you a Club DJ who likes to make long, flowing mixes? If so, then features such as slip mode—back-spinning the platter while the track maintains its original tempo—are probably less important to you than the feel of a jog wheel or the accuracy of a BPM counter. If you're a serious turntablist, then you'll likely prefer a motorised, touch-sensitive platter in combination with a vinyl mode for precise control and feedback. Are you a mobile on-the-go type DJ who's looking for an all-in-one solution that consists of a complete set of media players and an integrated mixer? Or, would you like to have a comprehensive music library at your disposal without having to bring your laptop with you? If that's the case, then it would be wise to purchase a media player that offers the possibility to play audio from a USB stick or SD card.
It's plain to see that digital DJing is becoming more and more popular when you look at the wide variety of USB and MIDI DJ controllers on the market today. Are you looking for a way to integrate your physical setup into your virtual DJ software setup? Certain media player models, like the CDJ-2000 Nexus and the CDJ-900 Nexus, can be used as controllers via HID (Human Interface Device).
When CD decks first came out on market, they were mostly double-rack models. You might come across one of these in a pub or disco, but these days, the table-top version is actually preferred by most users. The media players in our assortment are mostly table-top models with features like anti-shock buffering (to prevent your tracks from skipping), looping and cueing. Most play CDs, CD-Rs and CD-RWs, and just about every deck plays WAV, AIFF and MP3 files. We recommend not using re-writeable CDs because these get damaged more easily. Are you planning on using flash drives or SD cards? Lots of developers and media player manufacturers offer their own software for managing your music library and playlists so you can categorise them easily by BPM, key, genre or any other criteria.
Looping and cueing
One of the main advantages of a media player as opposed to a traditional turntable is, without a doubt, the loop and cue functionality. These functions vary strongly between the different models. Virtually all models are equipped with a cue and looping feature—the loop can be set using a "loop in" and "loop out" marker. Others offer the ability to edit loops by cueing with the jog wheel or via the transport controls. If you don't feel comfortable setting loops manually, there are even decks that loop automatically using BPM and beat-grid information from the music management software.
Auto beat loop
Some media players enable you to create loops using auto BPM detection. In general, you can determine the length of the loop. The accuracy of this depends on how precise the BPM detection is.
A BPM counter (BPM stands for Beats Per Minute) is a handy tool for finding appropriate tracks that have the same tempo. Please note: the accuracy of BPM counters differ greatly between models. Logically, cheaper models have less accurate BPM counters.
Some decks boast built-in effects such as chorus, flanger, phaser, and even synced effects like delays and filters.
Most media players play WAV, AIFF, and MP3 files on CD, CD-R, CD-RW, and USB. Some also support FAT (File Allocation Table) 8, 16, or 32-bit FLAC files.
HID stands for Human Interface Device, and where media players are concerned, this simply means MIDI over USB. HID is a protocol that uses bi-directional communication without the need to install extra drivers, making it possible to use a media player as a software controller.
Hot cues and loops
Many media players offer the ability to save a number of hot cues, aka cue points, per track that you can use to jump to certain points in a track on the fly. The same goes for loops.
One of the most innovative features on a media player is without a doubt the jog wheel, which emulates the feel of the platter on a traditional turntable. Media players generally offer two different modes: CD mode, for manually adjusting the tempo, and vinyl mode, for more advanced turntable routines like scratching.
Jog wheel tension
Many media players offer users the option to adjust the tension of the jog wheel according to their own personal preference.
Pioneer CDJs are equipped with a master tempo button so you can set the pitch while manipulating the tempo at the same time. When key lock mode is activated, you can still change the tempo but the pitch will stay the same.
Other media players feature a motorised platter that simulates the look and feel of a conventional vinyl turntable. Scratch DJs tend to prefer a motorised platter over static, non-motorised ones.
Music management software
Some media player manufacturers have developed their own music management software that allows you to organise your music easily and efficiently. It lets you browse your music library, make playlists, and save cue points and loop information. You can also add artwork for even faster track recognition.
Needle search and drop
This is a feature that's usually found on more advanced decks. It's actually a virtual needle that allows you to quickly navigate through a track via a touch screen or touch strip.
All media players are equipped with a pitch fader for beat-matching two tracks. On most decks, you can adjust the range of the pitch between 8 and 100%.
Pro DJ link
More advanced media players offer the possibility to link multiple players together using a LAN (Local Area Network) cable. This allows several players to read the information from a single source. For example, if a flash drive is connected to a CDJ, then the three other media players can be linked to the CDJ via a LAN. Now, the other decks will play the tracks from the flash drive. This feature is also handy for linking more than one player to a computer.
Setting loops and hot cues doesn't always happen accurately. Using a beat grid, which can be found in most music management software, you can quantize the start and end points to create super-tight loops. Please note that this does not apply to tracks with varying tempos. Rhythms played by an actual drummer may have a slightly inconsistent tempo, making the beat grid unusable.
This feature plays your track backwards and is a fun effect to use in your DJ set.
This feature is only found on more advanced media players and allows you to interrupt the audio of a track with a backspin, for instance. Meanwhile, the track will continue to play in real-time and with the same tempo.
This display shows the waveform of your music, which is essentially a visual representation of the audio that makes it easy to find breaks in the track.