Denon DJ Prime VS Pioneer DJ Rekordbox

Earlier this year Denon DJ announced the new Prime range of professional DJ products, with the SC5000, X1800 and VL12 clearly designed with one purpose - to wrestle control of the booth from the increasingly dominant Pioneer DJ brand and the latest NXS2 kit which was launched last year and has already started to infiltrate clubland's DJ booths.

The story so far...

First up a quick history lesson - before being acquired by inMusic, Denon were a serious contender in the CD player marketplace. They were the first to develop true instant start and the dual layer technology that is a key feature in the SC5000 Prime was years ahead of its time when launched in the original DNS5000 back in the early noughties. Sadly before the acquisition by inMusic Denon had lost its way and Pioneer's CDJ players became the industry standard, paving the way for the Rekordbox ecosystem that most professional DJs have since become accustomed to.


Back to Prime, just before launch Denon's social platforms began running the #changeyourrider campaign - at the time we were puzzled, while we knew there was new kit in the pipeline recent announcements, such as the MCX-8000 and MC7000, did little to hint at what was to come and left us wondering what Denon's campaign slogan was all about.

When Prime was revealed the slogan made so much more sense - the SC-5000 Prime VS CDJ-2000NXS2, X-1800 VS DJM-900NXS2 and VL12 VS PLX-1000. Comparisons were easy to make and industry wide there were murmurings that Denon might have developed a range capable of taking on Pioneer and, with Paul Oakenfold and Laidback Luke among the first to pledge allegiance to the new platform, it seemed that rather than just trying to convince end users of the quality of the new product, Denon were going to force sound engineers to find space for the new range in booths and on stages across the world - in turn exposing even more jocks to the Prime range.

But can Prime really compete with the mighty Rekordbox powered NXS2 platform? Over the next few weeks we're going to pit the Denon and Pioneer kit against each other to see which comes out on top - first up let's look at the SC-5000 and the latest CDJ-2000.

Denon SC-5000 Prime VS Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2

Let's get the obvious differences out of the way first so that we're looking at the products on a like for like basis. The SC-5000 is missing an optical drive - that is to say you can't play CDs or MP3s from disc, for a lot of venues this will be a deal breaker alone. During the recent CDJ-900Nexus stock drought many venues simply were not interested in the XDJ-1000MK2 as a cheaper alternative to the aging 900Nexus as the lack of drive would pose some DJs a problem.

Next up we have to consider how important Rekordbox compatibility is to DJs who have spent hours setting their libraries up using Pioneer's database management software - and the newly added performance (for DDJ controller use) and DVS modes will ensure that there are a huge number of DJs who simply demand a system that can recognise their stored cue and loop points. Denon use a new database management system for the new kit - Engine Prime, which offers a similar set of features to Rekordbox for use exclusively with the Prime kit.

Engine Prime Vs Engine

We should point out that Engine Prime loop and cue points cannot be read by other Denon kit - even the MCX-8000 cannot read the data so you'll need to use two separate systems to manage your tracks if you use both Prime and non Prime Denon kit. This isn't an issue for Pioneer's Rekordbox which offers compatibility with all current, as well as some older generation, USB kit.

That's the key differences out of the way - size wise the players are almost identical, Denon have taken a slightly different approach to the space on offer with cue/loop points on eight pads just beneath the jog wheel while Pioneer has two selectable banks of four on the left hand side. The Denon pitch fader is larger and offers a new 4% range, which is great if you need greater control over the BPM of the music you play providing the tempo range is close. The jogs are almost identical in size and both offer adjustability while the touchscreen takes pride of place for both players.

While we're on the subject of the touchscreens, both offer QWERTY keyboards to help you navigate large libraries quickly, and the sizing is identical. Pioneer's screen provides all of the information needed in familiar places but the Denon uses touch gestures very effectively - swipe your track to the left to add it to the preparation crate or right to load it's also capable of true multi-touch - simply pinch and stretch your fingers to zoom your waveform as you'd expect.

Both the Prime and the NXS2 players offer slip mode - the display of slip mode is slightly different, with the Denon player splitting the waveform to allow you to see what's about to happen to the track, the upper half of the waveform shows how you're manipulating the track while the lower half indicates track position; this is a pretty cool feature providing great visual feedback in addition to the needle position indicator in the centre of the jog wheel.

On board analysis of tracks that have not been processed using either Rekordbox or Engine Prime is possible for both platforms - the NXS2 will build a waveform in chunks while it analyses the track once loaded whereas Denon's multicore processors can take care of this and, if it suits your workflow, this analysis can take place in the layer that you're not playing back - enabling you to analyse tracks on the fly without loading them to the playing deck. We've seen this in action and it's impressive both in its speed and accuracy - you do have to wonder just how many people are using Rekordbox extensively and whether Denon's on board processing will win many fans but there's no denying this is a definite benefit.

In use, the SC-5000 Prime is intuitive to use and the dual layer playback is well implemented thanks to Denon's use of multi-colour LEDs and clever GUI. The level of configuration is impressive and ensures that you can set the player up to suit you - and this setup information can be stored to USB for instant config of any player you add your key to - just like the Nexus system. Also Engine Prime provides the same features as Pro DJ link and connecting multiple players is simple. When it comes to the sound quality we were hard pushed to tell the difference using our test rig but at louder volumes the difference might become clear - we've recently seen footage of the Prime kit in the booth at the Ministry of Sound, suggesting Denon are keen to prove that the new kit can compete on this front.

So in summary, the SC-5000 Prime is a lot of player for £1449 (two players for the price of one if you make use of the dual layer playback) when compared to the NXS2 at £1959. But the missing optical CD drive is going to put some off and the lack of Rekordbox compatibility will cause some DJs to think long and hard before making the switch. With all things considered this round is too close to call with both platforms having clear advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps when we look at the mixers next there will be a clearer winner.

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