Back at NAMM 2015 (that’s the one from over a year ago), Denon DJ pushed out the first images of a product that signalled a huge change in the relationship between Serato and its hardware partners. Up until fairly recently, Rane and Serato had enjoyed an exclusive DVS relationship, but then Serato decided that it wanted to start seeing other people. So they did, and Denon is the first and only company outside of Rane to put out a Serato specific audio interface, and that interface is called the Denon DJ DS1.
The question is what can Denon bring that Rane interfaces can’t? Let’s dig in.
First thing — while I’m talking in detail about the actual hardware, the Denon DJ DS1 is a complete package to get you up and running with Serato DJ as a DVS. So that’s hardware, cables, and control vinyl/CDs in one box. You’ll need to register with the Serato site to download your copy of Serato DJ, but there’s nothing else to pay over the box price.
Something to note — the vinyl in this first run is the Punky Reggae Party pressing which on its own adds value. It’s a pretty package too, with some attention being lavished on the Denon ID, which is a good idea considering parent company inMusic’s premium direction for the brand. It’s ironic that it’s such a big box for such a small box, but you can’t get away from vinyl being 12″ really. That said, with the current 7″ fascination, perhaps a 45 version will hit the market. I was actually going to run that as an April fool, but as an idea it could work.
To clarify — the Denon DJ DS1 is designed for two decks only. Nomenclature wise, I would have called it the DS-2 to make it exactly clear what it does. But who knows — perhaps this will be the only interface coming from Denon, or perhaps it just means the first, or indeed the only one. These days, people seem happy to spend a lot of money on a mixer and interface combined, so my guess is that Serato will be focussing on that — the new Mixars Duo is evidence of this.
And here is the key feature of the DS1 — it’s tiny. Not jeans pocket tiny, but it is significantly smaller than any Rane interface, even the SL2 that is the natural competitor. And having seen inside many a DJ’s bag, space is absolutely at a premium, so taking up what is around 40% less space is a worthy saving.
Build wise, it’s a little tank. The small frame lends to the sturdiness, and is a single extruded case with end plates to cover the innards. The RCAs and USB feel solid and likely to withstand a lot of unplugging, so my overall feeling is one of quality. I do recommend a small soft case to keep the DS1 safe in the harsh environment of a DJ bag though.
And usually with space-saving comes inevitable feature cuts. But in the case of the DS1, it’s feature for feature identical to the SL2, except that there’s no external power for the Denon DJ DS1, and is USB powered only. This is the biggest technical difference between the Rane and the Denon interfaces — when powered, the Rane interfaces can be played through so that DJs can swap laptops over and not have to disconnect the interface. I suspect however that the DS1 is pitched as more of a personal device and not a shared install, so while it would be handy to have the power option, I imagine that the largest proportion of users don’t really need it. To be clear, you can still play through the DS1, but it has to be connected to your laptop AND running Serato DJ in thru mode, because it needs power.
And while on the subject of Serato DJ, the DS1 is explicitly designed for it. So for those hoping to find a small replacement for an ageing SL1, the DS1 will not work with Scratch Live. It’s worth adding that it’s a handy class compliant compact audio interface too, and supports up to 96kHz sampling rate, which is an advantage over the SL2’s 48kHz rate. I remain unconvinced of the actual value of 96kHz in normal use, but people seem to care about it.
SIDE NOTE: There’s a Mac firmware upgrade (v1.01) that disables the ability to adjust the system level volume when using the DS1 as an audio interface. I get the reason for it, but I like having the flexibility. I didn’t upgrade and the DS1 worked just fine.
It’s just like any other interface of its kind — install software, insert turntable RCAs into the front, USB to laptop, and RCAs from DS1 to mixer line inputs. All being well (and it certainly was for me), the Denon DJ DS1 will work without any extra drivers or setup. It plugged and played without a hitch with the new Serato DJ v1.8.2. and the latest 1.9 beta under OS X 10.11.3, including scratching with Pulselocker tracks. Sound wise… as with anything digital that depends on the source, but it sounded… like there was nothing wrong with it. Seems like a strange phrase to use, but everything these days sounds great. So it becomes a matter of whether you can find anything really wrong, and I couldn’t.
I could go into detail, but it would be pointless. Using a DVS interface is a transparent thing — plug, play, unplug, done. With such a simple device, there’s no interaction at all, unless you need to switch the inputs to line level to accommodate CDs with timecode. The whole experience is set and forget. But I will bring up the point again about optional power on the SL2, because it’s an important one if you plan to share your DS1 in a venue. It’ll only play through while being powered by USB and running Serato DJ, so in this respect the Rane SL2 does definitely have the edge but at a price. It doesn’t mean that you can’t use a DS1 in a shared environment, but it will make switchovers a little more difficult.
SUMMING UP THE DENON DJ DS1
Comparisons must be made with the SL2 because in a shop you will be faced with just the DS1 and the SL2 as direct competitors. The key points are:
Size: The Denon DJ DS1 wins hands down. And in your average DJ bag, size matters.
Price: Coming in at £259, it’s on average £90/$100 cheaper than the SL2. You have to work out if you want to pay the extra for a proven DVS name and the additional power feature.
Features: Almost identical, but the ability of the SL2 to be powered and remain connected to play through when a laptop is unplugged may be key for some people. The SL2 also works with Scratch Live, but that’s old software now and it’s time to move on.
Ultimately, the Denon DJ DS1 is a cracking DVS package. It draws a new line in the sand for size and price, and unless you absolutely must have the Rane logo in your life and the power features, the DS1 is most probably the go-to two deck Serato DJ interface.