The End of an Era

Several DJ companies have recently been doing gigs without backup resources. One company had their CD players fail and were left with just a laptop and an old two-channel mixer, and another company had their music hard drive fail and were left with just CD players. Both are well respected and have been in business for decades. So, what’s going on?

Part of it has to do with Covid: no gigs in 2020, very few in 2021, and then loads in 2022. But the main reason may have to do with complacency: if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Perhaps not the best strategy for tech, but understandable

Back in 2005, we did a Numark / Mixmeister demo for some of the regional DJ companies. The system was simple, intuitive, and reliable, but is now long past its sell by date. However, several companies that adopted the system are still using it. The problem is that it can’t be upgraded. The CDMIX line was discontinued years ago, and Mixmeister hasn’t been updated in over a decade.

Switching to new software is a challenge, but suitable programs are available. The primary issue with new software is the learning curve. However, replacing the hardware is no longer an option. There is no equivalent to the CDMIX line, and multi-player solutions cost ten times as much. Therefore, to update their equipment, DJ companies are compelled to go with an entirely different type of system, and most choose controller based.

Controllers that are durable, reliable and have built-in audio mixers are somewhat expensive. Not ten times as much, but significantly more than a $500 CDMIX. Five years ago, a Pioneer DDJ-SX3 was $1300, it’s replacement, the SRT debuted at $1800, and the SRT’s replacement, the FLX10 is $2300. Traktor controllers have not gone up that much, with the MK3 S4 still at just over $1200. The excellent controllers from Denon (7000) and Roland (707M) are getting harder to find, leaving Pioneer, Rane, Traktor, Numark and Hercules. The Pioneer DDJ-800 and SR2 are both two channel boards, but are perhaps the least expensive of the professional options at just over $1000. As a good road case for any of these controllers is $300-$600, a new pro controller setup to replace an aging CDMIX system costs $1500 to well over $3000 not including laptop, cables, etc.

The least expensive option is a Hercules controller. While the Hercules 500 is definitely not pro gear, it does have a standard layout, features separate aux and mic inputs, works with a variety of software programs including Serato and Virtual DJ, and costs about the same as a CDMIX did. The Hercules / Virtual DJ solution is perhaps the most comparable replacement to a CDMIX / Mixmeister system in both price and function.

Note: most controllers under $1000 are strictly hobbyist/bedroom gear, S3, FLX6, NS4, etc. as they do not have adequate mixing capabilities for pro gigs.

For software, the news is much better. Algoriddim’s djay and Virtual DJ are good options for automated mixing and extensive hardware compatibility. Traktor and Rekordbox offer simple crossfade automation, but are somewhat proprietary to Native Instruments and Pioneer DJ respectively. And finally, Serato, the industry standard is very stable, but almost completely manual. If you are more of a weekend warrior, Virtual DJ gets the job done in thousands of banquet halls every Saturday night. If you have good DJ skills and money to invest, a Serato/Pioneer setup is likely best.

About ten years ago we purchased both Pioneer and Traktor controllers along with Serato, Traktor, djay and Virtual DJ software for testing (Rekordbox was a library management system at the time). Virtual DJ and Algoriddim’s djay both worked well, but we preferred the OEM software with the controllers: Traktor with the Traktor controllers and Serato with the Pioneer controllers. Traktor Pro 2 with the MK 2 controllers appeared to be best initially, and we started performing paid gigs with the system. However, when we upgraded the software to Traktor Pro 3, it would crash occasionally and corrupt some of the BPM tags. We eventually settled on a Serato/Pioneer combo for main systems and an iPad with djay and Tidal for onsite music backup.

And the two companies? We were able to offer the first company one of our old CDMIX units, and provide the second company with a digital music library on an external SSD. Both companies survived the weekend, but now face the formidable challenge of updating their gear. It is the end of an era. Cheers.

Post by Paul Marshal
Highway DJ

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