The Pioneer CDJ-900’s new multi-format digital turntables allow the DJ’s to access, search and control their content directly from the player itself. The CDJ-900 provides the same legendary quality standards and playability of the CDJ-800 with the added convenience of native playback of key DJ digital media files formats accessed via a multitude of compatible medium — CD, Portable hard drive/flash media devices. DJ BLAZE takes them into the Lab for a full written review INSIDE!
Setup & First Impressions
Everyone who has been in or around the DJ industry for the past 10 years or so should know that ever since Pioneer produced their first CDJ players, they have been known to the world as the Industry Club Standard. Almost all other DJ equipment manufacturers have tried time and time again to come up with a product that could match the versatility, reliability, and sales numbers of the Pioneer CDJ lineup and to this day; they have been unsuccessful. I’m not saying that in that ten year time period, there weren’t some very worthy (or even better) CD based decks out there, but none have come to live up to the same expectations as the Pioneer Series.
Fast forward to 2010 and Pioneer is still providing DJ’s with club standard CDJ decks that promise to put the competition to shame. The new Pioneer CDJ-900 is one of their newest decks on the market that is advertised as a mix between the previous CDJ offerings, the CDJ-800mk2 and the CDJ-1000mk3. Pioneer claims that the CDJ-900 is just one step below their flagship deck; the CDJ-2000 and provides most of the same basic functionality but without some of the extra bells and whistles other DJ’s may not be able to live without. For review purposes, the CDJ-2000 shares many of the same attributes and functions of the CDJ-900; therefore the reviews will be almost identical with the CDJ-2000 review having a bit more information pertaining to the additional features that the CDJ-2000 possesses. The CDJ-900 enables playback of MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF audio files on CD and USB memory devices.
Inside The Box
-CDJ-900 Unit -CDJ-900 Instruction Manual -Recordbox Software CD -RJ45 Link Cable -3.5mm Mini to Mini cable -AC Power Cable -RCA Cable
Right out of the box, the CDJ-900 is built with a high quality finish and strong durable casing. Just as with all the other rugged Pioneer CDJ decks, the CDJ-900 follows suit with a hard plastic/polymer type of surrounding or encasing. The jog wheel is made of a plastic polymer material with the outer edge being coated in a rubbery type of material, while the top is made of a harder ribbed plastic. The big display area found on the Pioneer CDJ-900 is made to look like one huge LED screen, but in reality it is two smaller screens sharing a big viewing area. This display screen is angled towards the user and is very easy to read and work with.
The size of the unit seems to be about the same as previous CDJ decks but slightly bigger than the older CDJ-800s. There is a USB port mounted to the top of the deck for easy Flash drive/Hard drive playback. All of the main functional playback buttons are VERY solid and most of them are of metal construction, while the smaller buttons (for loops and cueing) are a hard durable plastic. The Touch Sensitive Jog Wheel is in the center for easy manipulation and the top is ribbed for easy grip and traction.
The setup of the Pioneer CDJ-900 was just as it is with any other tabletop CD type of deck. The only things that will change depend on the type of way you are connecting the CDJ-900 into your setup. If you are playing regular CD’s and using the CD slot or the USB slot for USB device playback on the CDJ-900, then the hookup is simply plugging the RCA cable from the deck into the assigned channel line input on the mixer. If we are using the CDJ-900 for MIDI playback (mapping coming soon for Traktor/Serato/Etc.) then we must still use the RCA cables for mixer hookup, but the library and audio playback will come from the Computer via USB-A to USB-B cable. If we are using time-coded CD’s with an external soundcard for playback, then the CDJ-900 is connected per the soundcard device specifications (i.e. Audio 4, or SL3) as a CD Deck.
If we decide to use the USB playback option, then it is better to use the Rekordbox software that was included with the CDJ-900 as a music file management system. This way the files load faster and they can contain tags, waveform track readout, and stored loops in each track being played. The Rekordbox software GUI looks a lot like a CDJ-2000. Within the software the user is able to create playlists, store cue points, and completely analyze tracks so that the CDJ-900 displays the BPM, track, artist, album, track time, waveform data, and more. The user then transfers the analyzed tracks, playlists, hot cue banks, and cue points all onto a USB device so they can be played on the decks. Also, if we are using USB playback and there are additional CDJ-900’s or CDJ-2000’s that we want to connect as well, then we can use the supplied RJ-45 link cable so that we can playback and browse the music located on a single USB source. When two CDJ-900’s or CDJ-2000’s are linked together, not only can they playback files from a single USB device, but the tracks will also begin and finish at the same place on the jog wheel play position indicator, making it very easy to juggle and scratch from one deck to the other.
Playback Options (Link/USB-Rekordbox/CD) – The CDJ-900 has quite a few playback options. They can be used for CD playback, USB Flash/Hard drive playback, or even Midi controllers (unconfirmed functionality coming soon to Traktor and Serato). As stated previously, two CDJ-900’s can be linked together to play and browse the files of a single USB input, complete with waveform data and other track information. The plastic LINK, USB, and DISC buttons are used to select the type of playback option that the DJ is using. As far as the playback buttons are concerned, there is a metal Play/Pause button and metal Cue button located in the lower left corner (as expected) along with Separate Search and Track forward and rewind metal buttons as well.
The Pitch slider is made of plastic and slides smoothly from one end to the other. There is a Master tempo button which will allow the user to change the speed of the song without changing the key of the music. There is a center click within the pitch slider that also has an LED indicator to let the user know that the pitch is back to absolute zero for perfect playback speed. The tempo slider range can be adjusted to 6%, 10%, 16%, and 100% at the push of the tempo button. The display shows the current tempo range that is selected.
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Screen – The display area actually houses two separate LED screens even though it looks like one. The top screen is dedicated to file navigation and file information. This is a four-line navigation panel which is very easy to see the track being selected and the next tracks within the list. The bottom line of the top screen will also show the waveform during playback. All file navigation is done using the big plastic navigation knob which can be pressed to select the highlighted selection. There is also BROWSE, TAG LIST, INFO, and MENU buttons at the top of the screen area that can be used to assist with the navigation through the files.
There is also a back button to return to the previous selection/screen. Tracks can be sorted and recalled by Album, Artist, Track number, Track name, and other attributes. The bottom screen displays the current track information such as, track time (which can show total time or remaining time), BPM, track number, pitch information, and a visual track progress bar or waveform display that will blink in red when a track is coming to an end. This waveform/track progress bar also shows a visual indicator of set cue points and loop points as well.
Touch Sensitive Jog Wheel (Slip/Vinyl Speed Adjustment/Direction)- Everyone knows that I am primarily a Hip-Hop and scratch DJ, so I will always try to use an actively spinning platter over the jog wheel type of CDJ’s or controllers. For my testing purposes, the CDJ-900 was always kept on “vinyl” type so that the jog wheel performed as closely to vinyl as possible. With that being said; the Pioneer CDJ-900 has the BEST jog wheel touch sensitive platter that I have ever used (minus the CDJ-2000 model with other jog wheel adjustment options). I could literally pull off nearly any scratch that I would be able to complete on an analog turntable or spinning platter type deck. The scratch emulation is very good and the sound remains clear throughout the back and forth action of the track. Even when playing tracks from a single USB source, I was able to juggle music very easily from one CDJ to the other. The top portion of the wheel is nice and ribbed for grip and my fingers never slipped once while scratching. The sides of the jog wheel are a softer (almost rubbery) type material that the DJ can use for speeding up and slowing down the track when mixing. When vinyl mode is turned off, the wheel acts as a search or pitch bend platter making for easier track search and beat matching capabilities. The Direction button is used to play the track as normal or in reverse.
The CDJ-900 has a “slip” button which when pressed the slip Mode silently continues song playback during a loop, reverse, or scratch and continues audible playback at the exact time when the loop, reverse or scratch has finished. The CDJ-900 also includes a vinyl speed adjustment knob which controls both the start-up time and brake time of the track. These adjustments take their effect when the Play/Pause button is used to start or stop the playback of a track. The knob can be rotated all the way to the left for extremely fast start and stops, while rotating the knob to the right, will make the track start up very slow or stop very slowly. As with every CDJ, the jog wheel contains an LED display in the center to show many jog/platter attributes. It will display “VINYL” if the deck is in vinyl mode; it shows the current play position; cue or loop start points; and jog touch detection which lights up if the wheel is pressed.
Loop Section – The CDJ-900 has a really nice loop section that I actually liked better than the loop function in the CDJ-2000. The Loop section contains the traditional Loop IN and Loop OUT buttons along with a loop exit button. There are four additional buttons that can be used to cut and grow the loop per BPM or per length of the loop. Each of these four buttons is assigned two different loop cut/grow lengths. In order to select between one of the two options, the beat select button acts as a “shift” key for the added function. It may sound confusing on paper, but it is actually really intuitive and very easy to cut and grow loops on the fly (see the upper left section of the Pioneer CDJ-900 for loop buttons for further understanding).
This is easily one of the best Loop sections on any deck to date. This setup makes it very easy to change between loop sizes at the push of a button. There are also CUE/LOOP CALL left and right arrow buttons that allow users to access multiple loop points that are set per track. These set cues and loop points can be removed using the MEMORY and DELETE buttons. Within the Rekordbox software, there is a new Quantizing feature where cue points and loops can be set perfectly on-beat by automatically correcting and synching the beat during manual looping.
Differences between CDJ-2000 and CDJ-900: -CDJ-2000 jog wheel is black on top; while the CDJ-900 jog wheel is dark grey -CDJ-2000 has a glossy black finish in the jog wheel area, while the CDJ-900 has a dull black finish in the jog wheel area -CDJ-2000 jog wheel has a lighted ring around the edge that illuminates when the jog wheel is pressed for scratching and also blinks when the track is coming to an end; CDJ-900 does not -CDJ-2000 Play/Pause and CUE buttons illuminate around the outside of the button while the Play/Pause and CUE symbols illuminate inside the buttons of the CDJ-900 -CDJ-2000 Search and Track Search buttons illuminate and they do not on the CDJ-900 -CDJ-2000 big track navigation knob is illuminated, while on the CDJ-900 it is not -CDJ-2000 CD slot is illuminated, while the CDJ-900 is not -CDJ-2000 LCD Screen is the best I've ever seen on any player complete with graphics, album cover art and FULL color (real-deal) waveform display; CDJ-900 double-LED screens are still nice but more reminiscent of the CDJ-1000 series with more lines for on-screen file navigation -CDJ-2000 has an SD Card slot; CDJ-900 does not -CDJ-2000 has (3) Hot-Cue/Sample buttons; CDJ-900 does not -CDJ-2000 has a play direction toggle switch; CDJ-900 has a play direction button [forward and reverse playback] -CDJ-2000 has a Loop Cutter button while the CDJ-900 has (4) dedicated Loop "specific cut" buttons -CDJ-2000 has a needle search (touch sensitive track search strip); CDJ-900 does not -CDJ-2000 has a pitch tempo reset button (with no pitch slider center-click) while the CDJ-900's pitch slider has a center click for absolute zero -CDJ-2000 has a Jog Wheel Adjust knob which changes the tension of the jog wheel from heavy to light; the CDJ-900 jog wheel tension is not adjustable -CDJ-2000 has two separate knobs for track startup time adjustment and track brake/stop time adjustment, while the CDJ-900 has a single knob that will adjust and share both track startup and track stop times. -CDJ-2000 supports DVD-ROM disc playback while the CDJ-900 does not -CDJ-2000 is a bit longer, wider, heavier, and has bigger rubber feet at the bottom of the base when compared to the CDJ-900 -CDJ-2000 Does Not have Slip Mode... CDJ-900 Does
Conclusion / Recommended For
I was only given a short window of time to review the CDJ-900 and CDJ-2000; therefore, I know I haven’t covered everything as these decks are capable of so much more than I can write about in a few pages. Overall, I am very impressed with both decks and the more time I spend with them, the more I wish I had them for a longer period of time.
In a nutshell, I would recommend the CDJ-900 to absolutely any DJ who cannot afford (the additional $600 per deck for) the CDJ-2000 but still want a powerful Pioneer CD turntable with multiple file playback capabilities and core functionality. The Pioneer CDJ-900 actually has a cool feature that isn't even found on the CDJ-2000 which is the Slip-Mode. Slip Mode allows the user to manipulate, scratch and loop the track while the needle will continue to keep its place and play the song from the spot the track would have been if no manipulation by the user ever occurred. The Pioneer CDJ-900 is a very high quality deck and is definitely one of the best players on the market today and one of the best I have ever used.
Perhaps if I was only sent a CDJ-900 via Pioneer, there would be nothing for me to compare it to and the deck would almost seem perfect. But since the CDJ-2000 is also being reviewed simultaneously (and side-by-side) with the CDJ-900, it’s difficult to live without the added functions that the CDJ-2000 makes you accustomed to. When put into this context, I can’t hold anything against the Pioneer CDJ-900 as everything it says it does…It does extremely well.
The Pioneer CDJ-900 is recommended for virtually any DJ who can afford the $1300 retail price-point. These would be great for the Club environment (obviously), the bedroom DJ, the beginner, the expert, and just about anyone in between. There is no moving platter here, but as crazy as it sounds, even scratch DJ’s will have a lot of fun juggling, scratching, and beat making on the 900’s. The construction is sturdy and the Pioneer CDJ track record for reliability is second to none.
- Excellent Jog Wheel Platter system
- Rekordbox software is very good (Interface looks like a Pioneer CDJ)
- Multiple Media Playback Options (USB, CD, MIDI)
- Pioneer brand familiarity/reliability
- Fairly Expensive
- Lacks some “luxury” features of the CDJ-2000 model
- Personal gripe – I still like actively spinning platters better than Jog Wheels as this is more familiar