Link: Denon DJ – Price: $349/€298/£269
The Denon brand has seen a resurgence in recent times. A string of solid higher end releases has ben topped off with a unit that unashamedly pitches itself at the more entry-level end of the market. Well when I say entry-level, the new Denon DJ MC2000 controller feels anything but entry-level. Coming with Serato‘s DJ Intro software, the upgrade path to Serato DJ has been released. So now seems like the ideal time to have a look at this tidy lump of DJ goodness and see if the upgrade from the supplied software is worthwhile or not.
In A Nutshell
The Denon DJ MC2000 is a Serato DJ Intro powered controller. It’s a 2 channel bus powered unit, with a built-in audio interface and a complete feature set including loops, hot cues, samples and effects. Being fully MIDI, it can be mapped to all DJ software, and at the time of writing comes with an upgrade path to the full Serato DJ package for $129, or $199 with a full copy of Serato Video.
I always try to write down the first few things that pop into mind. They were:
Denon: Unmistakably so as well. While Denon products have always been over-endowed with features, the layouts have often felt like a pin-the-control-on-the-product exercise. Thankfully, a more grid-like approach has been taken here and it’s all the better for it. I can’t immediately point at anything and shout “NO”.
Small: While the controller market spirals off into the realms of cramming too much into a small space, the MC2000 is a diminutive unit that seems to have the essentials in a small space but not at the expense of usability. Granted, there are times where it can get a little claustrophobic but nothing too bad once you get used to it.
One thing to note – it’s actually quite deep. The pots are tall, and the body is thick, making this not the easiest squeeze into a messenger bag. It’s a good job that those pots are metal after all. I think it’s time for manufacturers to start looking at ways to make these things thinner.
Heavy: I tire of the very wrong opinion that controllers are disposable plastic toys. Some are without a doubt cheap and disposable, but not the MC2000. This is a full metal chassis and faceplate with a decent plastic trim.
Quality: Taking into account the price, the build of the MC2000 is very good indeed. As discussed above, it’s mostly metal, and that includes under the faceplate too – sturdy metal pots throughout which was a surprise for me, but very welcome. I’m becoming less convinced about plastic pots vs metal, but I was happy to see them, and it gives me a feeling of trust that this is a quality unit.
It adopts the standard of a mixer and 2 decks. There was a time when the area above the decks was a bit of a free for all, but now things seem to be settling down to a logical layout. An interesting trait that Denon exhibits is not lining up EQs and fader channels. In this case it doesn’t matter, but it’s noted nonetheless.
Layout wise, it’s a slightly odd almost but not quite symmetrical affair. I have become quite used to units with proper symmetry, but the MC2000 does a weird thing with the pitch faders in that they’re sat on the outer edges (cool), but the pitch bend and vinyl buttons are at odds. I feel it would have been much better to move the pitch up a little (there’s room) and pop the pitch bend buttons underneath. It’s a minor point, but it’s the kind of thing that stops units from being truly great.
Let’s break the hardware down into its constituent parts before attacking the software.
It’s a small unit, so logically you get small jog wheels. That said, these solid feeling touch sensitive mini marvels are really rather good. They’re super smooth and ultra responsive, giving an incredibly tight feel for even the harshest of scribbles, and release without delay when you let go.
They can of course be used for pitch bending via the vinyl mode button, and in this respect I found myself using them more than the pitch bend buttons to correct mixes. That is unusual for me.
If I were t be picky, because of the tension on the wheels, spinbacks are doable, but short. The upside of this is that juggling is easier and more accurate. Some jog wheels can get away from you, but the MC2000s are nothing short of amazing, even at this tiny size.
As is the fashion these days, the 45mm crossfader is light and smooth, whereas the 45mm line faders have added tension for tighter mixing. Serato DJ Intro offers a crossfader curve control with a sharp curve and lag distance of around 3mm. Not the tightest in the world, but it was certainly good enough for me to pull off crabs.
The MC2000 lacks line fader curves and fader reverses completely. I state this so that you know, but do not mark it down because of it. This is not a scratch unit, but can pull off very capable scratching and juggling, and considerably better than I had expected.
As ever, the big but sometimes pointless question is can you fit an Innofader. Knowing Elliot Marx as I do, he can probably fit an Innofader to a banana and make it work. But never missing an opportunity to break out a screwdriver, I undid the 16 screws and pulled off the 24 knobs to unveil a standard short bodied Alpha fader sat in a narrow slot – a slot that’s too narrow and not deep enough for an Innofader. And I’m pretty sure that an Innobender won’t fit either.
A mini Innofader fits in the slot, so there’s some hope on the horizon for a 3rd party replacement, should Audio Innovate release them to the public. Again, this is provided for information purposes only. The target market barely knows about DJing, let alone the finer points of sort bodied 3rd party fader replacements. They just want to mix.
EQs and Sound
There are some things we just assume that a manufacturer will include into their controllers, and that’s a decent audio interface and 3 band EQ with kills. The MC2000 delivers exactly that. As I keep repeating over and over, the output quality is only ever as good as the input, and in this day and age the actual quality of the audio interface (not sound card – you all need to stop saying that) is at least very good.
Given the price of the unit and the target audience, I had some misgivings as to whether the MC2000 would deliver the sound quality I wanted. Fear not – it is loud and crystal clear. The EQs kill properly and give you enough headroom to punch up any lacking track.
WOT NO METERS?
Normally, I’d include a section meters complete with an artsy depth of field shot deliberately hitting the red for artistic style. But there are none. Nowhere. Not on the controller, and not in DJ Intro either. Seems that the software has got so clever that you needn’t worry about running in the Red, and you could see it even if it was. The software based optional limiter ensures that you’re not going to distort your audio and helps you to keep your tracks playing at more or less similar volume levels.
And in practice it works well and makes the MC2000 much more of a plug and play experience. I miss the meters for 2 reasons:
1. It’s a visual part of DJing, even if many do run them in the Red.
2. Learning how to use sound properly is vital for those who move out of the bedroom. You can’t just turn up at a gig, plug in and run. Nor will the venue be happy if you start stabbing around at mixer controls trying to get your controller to work.
So while the target market doesn’t need meters, I think missing them out of at least the software isn’t wise. But rounding off this section, out of the box, the MC2000 is a solid plug and play affair.
Ins and Outs
Being a small wallet friendly controller, you shouldn’t expect it to be over endowed with stuff to plug other stuff into. And it isn’t – it has the essentials but nothing more.
Far left is the obligatory Kensington slot. Next up is the USB port – this is not only for class compliant connection to the computer, but also where the MC2000 draws power from. See the next section for more about this.
Then we have master output – just unbalanced RCA. I say “just”, but the reality is that unless your cable run to the speakers is more than 20-30 feet, RCA is fine. And given the size of most bedrooms, I think RCA is more than suitable for the MC2000.
Next is the auxiliary input, where you can drop an external line level source into the MC2000. Nothing too special in that of course, but this has a neat trick in that you can monitor the input before introducing it into your audio chain. It’s a handy addition that helps you survive a software restart, but does need the MC2000 to be connected to the USB port. So a full power off and on again is likely to give you a blip in audio playback.
Rounding off the rear is a 1/4″ mic socket with independent volume control. This is routed directly out to the master, so none of the effects love that mobile jocks like to have.
As far as headphones go, you get a single 1/4″ jack with onboard controls for volume and switching between master and cue output. Still not a split cue – why can’t more manufacturers offer this option?
One feature you won’t find is a booth output. Do I care? I do not. Will you find a booth in an average bedroom.? You will not, which is why I don’t care. If you’re needing separate monitors on top of your master output, you’re clearly way beyond the MC2000.
A Note About Bus Power
The MC2000 is bus powered i.e. it plugs into your laptop via USB and draws power from there. And in this instance, there’s no option for an external supply either. Traditionally, this has meant low audio levels and compromised LED activity.
In my Pioneer HDJ-2000 headphones, the volume delivered at full welly was loud but not deafening. It certainly didn’t feel to be too quiet, which is a good thing. As for master output – no problems here either. Through a mixer or direct to monitors, the MC2000 knocks out some serious noise. So have no fear about it being quiet.
As for the LEDs – the buttons deliver a superbly saturated colour, meaning that you can always see them in the dark, but they don’t deliver a lot of ambient light though. If you’re still a little unsure of what control does what, you’re still going to need a little help if you find yourself playing in a very dark space. In normal usage though, the bus power doesn’t compromise button brightness.
No real surprises here – the 60mm pitch faders have a nice stiff movement, a centre click and ranges of 8,16 and 50% selectable via the shift/key lock buttons. The resolution at the lower end is a very respectable 0.01%. That said, in the many hours of mixing I simply used the sync and nudged the jog wheel when sync doesn’t quite work.
The key lock is perfectly serviceable if not pushed too far. When speeding up, you can push it as you like as DJ Intro is simply removing audio. But when slowing down, the gaps have to be filled, and DJ Intro does a good job provided you don’t push it beyond 15% – maybe 20% in some cases.
An interesting side note about the pitch faders. On the MC2000, they’re a little stiffer than you might normally be used to. But if recent experiences with other controllers is anything to go by, this is actually a really good thing. When the pitch fader is so close to the jog wheel, it becomes much easier to accidentally nudge it when getting busy on the decks. This has been an issue for me on some controllers, but not this one. The stiffness is a nice insurance policy.
Loops, hot cues and samples
There was a time when I’d split each of these into separate sections. But seeing as the buttons are all the same, it makes sense to cover them off in one go, and also because they’re ridiculously simple to use.
About the buttons – after the years of users telling Denon to stick their soft rubber buttons where the sun don’t shine, Denon seem to have borrowed Numark‘s buttons stylings. These are the hard plastic variety that don’t get stuck under faceplates and register clicks properly. Not being squidgy means that sustained heavy hammering will leave you with sire finger tips. Normal use however is just fine.
The looping is as you might expect – assuming you’ve taken the time to chuck your music library at DJ Intro and analysed it properly, auto looping works flawlessly – flawless but hopelessly limited. For some reason, Serato only see fit to give you a 1 to 8 beat range. Want to do some cool breakdowns before a drop? Tough luck – you’re not doing it here unless you hit a cue point repeatedly to simulate it. And you can’t save loops either. Tsk tsk Serato – bad form. It feels like a calculated ploy to get you to upgrade to the full Serato DJ package.
Hot cues hold no surprises either. Define and delete them on the fly, or create them in DJ Intro’s offline mode. One oddity – you get 5 hot cues in the software, but only hardware access to 4 of them.
There is a limited sample player too. You get 4 slots where you can drag and drop one-shots or full tracks. Once in there, you can press the button to start, and shift press to stop. There’s also a volume control, again another shift control. And despite appearances, it’s just 4 samples – this is not the SP-6, nor is it 4 samples per channel. And you can do very little with them either outside of start, stop and adjust the overall volume. Yes, you can define the start point from saved cue points, but this sample player is useful for one-shots, beat fills and little else. Do you know what’s rather annoying about this sample player? It has on-screen meters. Changing the volume doesn’t affect them, so it just feels like another reminder of the actual channel meters you want but can’t have.
Overall, I think that this section offers enough for the target market (except for the shamefully crippled autoloop), but seasoned pros looking for a small backup machine with have to factor in the cost of Serato DJ to get the full fat features.
What would a controller be without effects? Lacking that’s what. Thankfully, DJ Intro offers 3 effects per deck with a wet dry control and a knob to control the beats parameter. It’s a small but perfectly formed selection of compromising of high pass and low pass filter, echo, phaser, flanger and reverb. Quality wise, they’re good for the target market, and frankly good for the wider market too. The lack of adjustment is made up with being able to apply 3 of them per channel, even if they are only pre-fader – a limitation removed in the full Serato DJ package. Clearly not a hardware limitation and a deliberate move.
It might seem like a meagre selection, but it’s all to easy to get lost in effects. It’s quite possible to over-bake effects usage and to turn a previously nice mix with a full dance floor into a clusterfunk of out of control effects madness. Less is more in this case, and is perfectly pitched for the beginner.
Having covered off the hardware, let’s take a look at DJ Intro, other maps and if the upgrade to the full Serato DJ is worth it.
Serato DJ Intro
The success of the MC2000 is largely down to the software that fuels it. Serato DJ Intro is their foray into the entry level market and is essentially a subset of their full Serato DJ package. It’s 2 channels only (because that really is enough to learn with) but has the essentials to enable anyone to put together a decent mix.
Without going into every nook and cranny of DJ Intro, I’ll break it down into easily digestible lumps. My feeling is that the software should be almost invisible to the user, and is simply a library and readout for the various controls. So for me, going into too much detail is actually a little pointless at this level.
The layout is pretty simple and broken into 3 areas:
Decks: Everything to do with playing your music is here. You get a neat self-contained box per deck with a graphic representation of each deck showing duration and a vinyl marker for position. At a glance, you get the track name, artist, playback BPM, elapsed/remaining time, pitch range and setting as well as indicators showing sync, key lock, and playback mode. You also get a complete waveform view showing all the cue points.
Between them are a couple of waveform displays designed to assist you with beatmatching, one being the overall tempo match, and below that is a snapshot of the current playhead showing the hotspots of the beat.
Depending on your preference, you can switch between 2 different deck views. My preference is for smaller decks with a much larger detailed horizontal display of both waveforms, around 8 seconds worth in glorious Technicolor with all cues showing in fill colour. Alternatively, you can switch to slightly bigger deck boxes, ditch the beat matching aids and just have small vertical
Given the sheer plethora of visual aids, not to mention the magic sync button, there’s almost no reason that you should be able to beat match pretty cleanly in a short amount of time. And then you can learn to mix… but that’s not for this review.
FX/Samples: The area in the middle is given over to displaying the 2 FX slots and the sample player. Not at the same time, but it is possible to hide them completely and give over the display to the library.
Library: A simple and uncomplicated view of your music collection. You can create your own crates and drag your music (just the names not the actual files), or work with your iTunes library. it’s worth pointing out that the library you create is the same one used with ITCH, Serato DJ and Scratch Live. So if you accurately analyse and hit cue thousands of tracks in DJ Intro, should you upgrade, it’ll all be there.
A very useful tip I picked up along the way – I personally see album art as a wast of screen space. But it was pointed out to me that for dyslexic DJs it’s a life saver. Luckily you have the option to toggle it on and off.
I could dwell on each part, but to me, it’s so simple that it requires no further detail. Besides, we have a detailed review coming. The hardware is the key here, and DJ Intro is the perfect foil for the MC2000. All you need to know is that together, the MC2000 and DJ Intro are a near perfect partnership.
Upgrade to Serato DJ?
This is the burning question on a lot of users’ lips. Is it really worth dropping the former $199 and now $129 to get the full fat Serato controller offering? A full review that will come another time, and we are after all reviewing the MC2000 out of the box, so let’s look at the specific features that your money gets:
Better effects: The iZoTope effects are top-notch, and offer much more flexibility over specific parameters, and you can apply them to both channels and the master. You certainly wont be found wanting with these, especially as they’re post fader as well. But there is a big limitation with Serato DJ – you are limited to one effect slot per channel with a huge amount of control, but in DJ Intro, you can chain 3 effects per channel, albeit with just a little bit of control. I hope this is something that can be switched on and off – a simple/complex toggle perhaps, or even a completely different mapping.
MIDI Mapping: The ever-growing complexity of software is well known. And ITCH’s selling point was 1 to 1 mapping, and while being a strong selling point, it was also a massive limitation. Thus Serato decided to open up DJ to mapping. Not full on start from scratch mapping like… well all the other software out there, but a limited secondary controller mapping. So you can now add say a Vestax PAD One to trigger samples directly with the MC2000 by simply selecting the feature on-screen and pressing/moving/selecting a control. It’s important to remember that Serato DJ doesn’t have mixer controls, hence not being able to fully map to any 3rd party controller. And and you can’t remap your MC2000 either
Recording: Here is where I get a little annoyed. To me, this should be a basic feature of DJ Intro. As a noob DJ, the only way I could hear my progress was to record my mixes to cassette and listen back. But if you’re a DJ Intro noob rocking the MC2000, recording is hard, and involves hanging some recording device from the back of the hardware, which sadly means you can’t run speakers from the back at the same time. Even a 128k lower quality file from DJ Intro would be OK to throw around Facebook and Soundcloud. Even the most basic of iOS apps have recording.
You get a lot of other bits and bobs too like advanced crate management and proper loop breakdowns too. But I’m still torn at to whether I’d upgrade or not. I really feel cheated with DJ Intro’s loop breakdowns and lack of recording, making the extra $129 feel like an obligation to get the basic features as they should be.
Virtual DJ and Traktor
On the whole Virtual works just as Serato DJ Intro. Platter response is good, and the mapping is logical bar some minor odd behaviour. Effects are pre-fader though, and as far as I can see, there’s no MC2000 skin. But it works, and because of Virtual DJ’s architecture can be tweaked to work how you want. And the story is pretty much the same with Traktor 2.5 and 2.6. The same mapping works for both versions and feels just as usable as VDJ, albeit with a slightly higher latency. But that’s not really a surprise for Traktor.
The choice of software is down to your own preference. Serato DJ Intro feels great, if lacking a couple of important features. Serato DJ is overkill but offers by far the best performance for a price, whereas Traktor and VDJ are perfectly serviceable but don’t feel as good as Serato’s offerings.
Damn – I’ve written a lot of words for this little controller, so I’m going to keep this brief. The Denon DJ MC2000 is a marvellous little controller. It’s a high quality compact unit that feels great and works incredibly well out of the box. Top marks to Denon for this. My real negative points lie with Serato DJ Intro, namely the crushing disappointment (not an overstatement either) of 1 beat loop breakdown limit and the complete lack of recording. Personally I’d trade a couple of effects to have these features added in. But Serato want you to buy the full fat Serato DJ, which does fix these omissions and more. Fingers crossed that the balance can evolve and find a better fit for beginners.
Having got Pioneer’s WeGO and Vestax’s new Spin 2 to cover next, I can’t really say that the MC2000 is my favourite small controller just yet. All I know is that I’m a big fan of this small but perfectly formed controller.
Quality: Absolutely top-notch. Mostly metal, the MC2000 is one solid lump of controller goodness.
Features: The controller itself is great and has more or less everything the target market needs, but it’s the missing elements in DJ Intro that let it down.
Value: Considering the build quality and range of software it works with, the value is high. This should just keep on running, and be serviced perfectly well by Serato DJ Intro.
The Bottom Line
If you want an entry-level controller that just works out the box, but has a solid upgrade path too, the Denon DJ MC2000 should be at the top of your list.