Imagine the situation — I’ve spent the weekend banging in A LOT of words about Denon DJ’s new MCX8000 über controller. The next day, WordPress gets an update which butts heads with scheduled database maintenance, and throws away every draft we have. No worries, back to the last backup because my host backs up every day right? Not the database it seems… bugger.
So I’ve been tied up with prior commitments up until this week, and I figure it’s time to revisit the review. It’s always quicker second time around, but I’ve decided to run an experiment. Allow me to explain.
Our reviews are full of opinion glued together with a hefty amount of prosaic verbiage. And as I started to hammer the key facts back into my keyboard, it struck me that what you gear hungry DJs want is the fluff-free bullet points. So this time around, that’s exactly what I’m going to give you, essentially a list of things I feel that are important to point out, free from excessive words that just get to the heart of the matter.
Denon DJ is back. Well it never really went away, but inMusic has decided to put the brand firmly at the forefront of your mind again. They’re doing this by making Denon DJ their premium offering and putting out products that sit comfortably in that slot, and reflect the intended quality.
As an established Serato DJ partner, it makes sense to stick with tried and trusted option. But wait… there’s something different about this one… the word standalone is being bandied around, and Denon DJ’s old Engine software is being pitched as the way to do it. Intriguing and worrying at the same time, Engine 1.5 is an update that has stepped outside of the desktop and lets the MCX8000 run without a computer, reminiscent of Stanton’s SCS.4DJ.
So less of the words and straight into the aforementioned details.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE MCX8000
- It’s a DNA blend of Serato, Denon DJ, Numark, and Pioneer DJ as well.
- The random “drop controls where there is a space” design ethos of old Denon has gone. My finely tuned design principle approves of everything logically lining up.
- It’s big, bigger than the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 it’s pitched at. Actually it’s bigger than almost everything, but probably feels significantly so because it’s not deep.
- The build is solid. Mostly metal, with bolted-on metal pots, and withstands a good shake and twist without rattle or creak. It doesn’t feel artificially heavy either, but I’m not about to pull this apart to see if “quality enhancement plates” are included.
- I like the fully symmetrical layout. Pioneer’s pesky pitch in the middle of the controller bothers me. Symmetry pleases my hands as well as my aesthetic sense too.
- All pads are rubber, all buttons are hard plastic, and the vast majority of knobs are rubberised.
- The obvious comparison is with the Numark NV. But side by side, they’re chalk and cheese, that cheese most probably being a particularly fine vintage cheddar.
Summing up: The MCX8000 is a massive slab of controller that is a good reflection of the premium image it is aiming for. Despite my abject boredom with the Serato cookie cutter ID (they’re all looking the same despite coming from a range of companies), it feels great and sits well within its peers. And by well I mean slightly looking down upon them.
- 45mm faders, with line faders having stiffer tension. If the lines could have just stretched to 60mm…
- Cross fader feels good and can (allegedly) be swapped for a mini Innofader.
- No direct crossfader reverse, but crossfader assign does the same thing.
- Hardware crossfader control for Engine, and software too for Serato DJ.
- Channel faders get software reverse in Serato DJ.
- Yay for headphone split cue.
- Yay for channel meters.
- EQ is odd — kill to 10dB on high and mid, but only to 6dB on bass. No wonder I found it lacking when trying to crank it. Otherwise sounds great.
- Acts as a full analogue mixer, with only channels 3 and 4 having line/phono switch. Not a complaint, just worth mentioning. Who would ever run this with 4 turntables anyway?
- The hardware effects work with all inputs.
- Having booth out is cool enough, and two band EQ on it is even cooler.
- Denon’s mobile massive will be happy with dual microphones, each with EQ and echo too, all independent of Engine and Serato DJ.
- Cue button on/off light difference needs to be greater.
- Yes, it sounds good. It’s Denon.
Summing up: Denon DJ has made enough mixers now to nail this section. And bar a few quirks, they do.
- Feels the same as every other Serato based deck out there. Serato’s grip is firm in this area.
- The 5 inch touchable area jogs feel good, and spin backs feel fairly natural. But performance in Serato DJ is better than Engine — feels more accurate.
- I like the LED light ring, and prefer the single LED being on rather than a fully illuminated ring with one LED off. This is a hardware feature so works for Engine or Serato DJ.
- No amount of scribbles, spin backs, or endless fast cueing would make it drift in Engine or Serato DJ.
- Why oh why is there only one shift button per deck? We don’t have fingers like ET so some shift operations are two handed.
- The touch strip is handy, and it turns out what I thought to be a bug (can’t scrub in standalone but can in Serato DJ) is actually a feature.
Summing up: The Serato DJ experience is consistent across all of their controllers. The addition of the screen just means less laptop interaction.
- Serato controllers are like PCs — same OS, but different hardware. It’s just that all the hardware is becoming very similar. It means you can walk up to any Serato DJ controller and dig in.
- Screens aside (which are very Numark NV like), this is a classic Serato DJ controller experience. It’s even got a Flips button. But we’ve been here many times before — not covering it all again.
- You get the pitch play feature, which is very cool indeed if you’re creatively minded. It needs the Pitch N Time expansion pack, but that comes with the MCX8000.
Summing up: If Serato DJ is your thing, the MCX8000 delivers a class leading experience. Everything is there, plus the Pitch Play feature too. Double thumbs up.
WITH ENGINE 1.5
- Engine is a library manager, and not full DJ software. It makes plugging USBs into the MCX8000 much easier, but you can wing it with just a drive full of un-Engined music.
- I had issues trying to get Engine to work with iTunes. Once we’d worked out that you must have the “Share iTunes Library XML with other applications” box checked, I ended up having to trash the libraries on my iMac and MBP and remake them to get it to read them. On one machine I can understand, but on both… I hope it’s teething troubles and not a theme.
NOTE: Denon DJ assures me that this is an isolated incident — no other reports.
- You can’t do any Engine magic directly to iTunes tracks. You must create playlists and import them first. The Engine magic happens only to tracks loaded into Engine directly.
- Engine 1.5 can’t handle Stems files. Just an observation — not much else can either.
- Because of the lack of beat grids in engine, Slicer is hit and miss. The BPM must be correct, and you have to hit the slice bang on beat.
- Serato DJ import is supported and includes hot cues. It’s limited, and only works by dragging Serato DJ tracks into an Engine crate. It’s not a sync thing though. But it does work well on a basic level.
Summing up: As a library manager, Engine has the basics, enough for you to throw a USB device at the MCX8000 and work efficiently. It’s cool that it can also use your pre-hotcued Serato tracks too. And while it’s not without its problems, it’s a good first stab for managing your standalone MCX8000 experience.
ENGINE 1.5 vs SERATO DJ
One thing I’m not going to bullet point is that Engine only runs standalone mode for two channels only. For those looking to the MCX8000 as a way to leave the laptop at home, this is a big slab of controller to only get two channels. I can only hope that future updates of Engine change this, and that the PC switch can be used for Engine to make four channels, otherwise this is doomed to be a two channel standalone unit only.
Denon DJ did point out that there isn’t another 4 channel standalone unit on the market right now (which is correct), but it looks like a four channel controller, and the marketing doesn’t go out of its way to point out two channel only for standalone.
- Engine only has one effect in play per deck from a choice of three in total.
- Engine’s effects are pre-crossfader and post line fader, so echo gets shut off when you close the crossfader. Serato is all post fader on every fader.
- On the plus side, Engine is much smoother on the screens than Serato.
Summing up: The MCX8000 is first a foremost an excellent Serato DJ controller. Engine is along for the ride, but certainly isn’t driving.
- While possible, running Serato DJ and Engine at the same time seems totally pointless (switchovers maybe). But should your laptop crash, it’s handy to know that Engine and a USB drive will bail you out. Denon DJ pointed out more traditional use of running turntables or CDJs into 3 and 4 and using digital decks on 1 and 2.
- Pretty much any style of DJ can walk up to the MCX8000, plug their assorted DJ stuff into it (if there’s room left), and make noise. It really is a swiss army knife.
- Using decks of any sort with the MCX8000 is weird. They’re just so far apart.
- In Engine standalone mode, you only get an awkward one letter via a shift function search that only works on the first letter of the title, and there’s no sort either. So those with disorganised or large libraries might struggle with this. But we’ve always said that preparation is key.
- If you’re buying this for the standalone performance, you’ll probably be disappointed.
- But if you’re getting it as a Serato DJ controller, you really won’t disappointed at all. Not one bit.
THAT ETHERNET PORT
There’s something brewing with the MCX8000 and that’s the ability to send metadata out of the ethernet port to drive other gear. For example, you can set up a light show in whatever software you use on a per track basis, so that when it receives the track tags, it knows what program to run. This gives you the flexibility to change tracks on the fly, and the light show will respond accordingly.
It’s still secret sauce right now (called Stage LinQ), but we’re aware of one company working on something that will work with this that shows a great deal of promise.
So let’s get the negativity out of the way. Engine working standalone is for me sadly lacking. I couldn’t have been more disappointed to discover only two channels, and then came across other shortcomings that just dulled my experience. For me, it’s important to think of the MCX8000 first and foremost as a Serato DJ controller, but with the added bonus of basic standalone operation via Engine 1.5.
That said, Engine does work and will happily get you through a set without too many problems. And bar a few bugs that need squishing, the future looks bright for Engine, which I sense is rather the point of dropping it into the MCX8000 in the first place. Denon DJ has to start somewhere when trying to change the world. It’s just not happening with this unit.
The MCX8000 is however as fully featured a Serato DJ controller as you can get, including working as a Serato DVS mixer (you need to pay for the plugin) too. And if I were just to review it purely as a Serato product, then it would be top marks across the board, especially with the mobile friendly features too. If you’re in the market for such a thing, buy one today. The price point (although it has gone up £50 since launch) compared to its peers and the full feature set makes it great value for money.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The Denon DJ MCX8000 is as good a Serato DJ controller as you can get right now. And the standalone Engine operation is a solid signal for the future of Denon DJ.