In a pre and post NAMM world, you will have been bombarded with media of every conceivable kind relating to Denon DJ’s new Prime 4 controller. Wait… is controller the right word? I’ll get to that in a bit. Be it regurgitating the plush PR in a video, Instagramming from NAMM, or creating lush tutorials, you cannot escape the fact that the Prime 4 owned NAMM, both before the show and after.
But we didn’t go to NAMM — NAMM came to us, and the most excellent Paul Dakeyne from Denon DJ brought his good self for lunch, and for Dan and myself to paw at the Prime 4 for a bit. And we were impressed on both counts.
But that was many weeks ago, and I’m quite certain that every question that could be asked has been answered in one media outlet or another. I will however confirm the answer to the most often posed question — yes there will be horizontal waveforms in a future update. We offered a few suggestions about screen space while we had it with us, but I’m sure this single answer will have a few more people confirming their desire to throw money at the screen.
But instead of pushing out more of the same content, I want to talk about the wider implications of the Prime 4, and what it means to the DJ industry. And to you as a consumer of this never-ending conveyor belt of fresh shiny.
IT’S NOTHING NEW
The DJ industry finds itself in a rather strange place. We may be looking at this incessant stream on new units, but bar the odd exception (haptic jogs for example), what’s being pushed as new is in fact quite old. It’s just a bit bigger and a bit better — consider most units a greatest hits compilation.
The workflow of analysing tracks and writing them to a USB is well established. And putting a hard drive inside a unit is classic Denon DN-S5000 stuff too. This is basically decade old tech, repackaged, and infused with the processing power that is now available. A huge touch screen is a welcome addition though.
Now, before Denon DJ’s PR department starts shouting at me about the Prime 4 being the first standalone 4 channel controller, I will clarify my statement by saying the first that has been announced. Many years ago now, I saw a four channel standalone unit, and it worked. And that’s all I can say.
I just find myself endlessly amazed at how boundary pushing the industry has been in the past, but the market just hasn’t been ready for the slabs of next level shiny that have been put in front of it. I’m expecting a hybrid turntable/media player to come out again, and for the market to lose its mind where previously it did not. But I digress.
MCX8000 — A FALSE START
Having seen the future some time ago in the relatively distant past, I’ve been waiting for that moment when the now would catch up. And when the MCX8000 controller imposed itself on the scene like the alien mothership in Independence Day 2, I hoped that the wait was over. “Wait… it’s only standalone two channels?” moaned the collective voice at DJWORX Towers, and subsequently the DJ scene too. And while it was a beast of a controller, it felt incomplete.
No worries — the Serato logo adorned the chassis. It was still a four channel controller, if still tethered to a computer.
PRIME 4 — A REAL START
As you might expect, the rumour mill coming up to NAMM was spinning at full speed. With knowledge and experience, it has become easier to sift through the mill’s output and work out what is true and what has started as wishful thinking and spun out of control into conspiracy theory level bullshit.
And then the teasing started, and of course as is my way, I busted out the CSI level image analysis (well tweaked curves), and the features of the new Denon DJ device revealed themselves. Not all of them you understand — my MO is well known, so certain features were disguised ahead of time to maintain the air of mystery. It didn’t stop me pulling out the features that others missed though.
And eventually, the full majesty of the Prime 4 was apparent, and the first full four channel standalone… something was released.
I ponder the question of exactly what the Prime 4 is. As a standalone unit, it’s not really a controller. But nor is it a media player in the conventional sense either. This is evidenced on the Prime 4 product page, a place bereft of mentions of controller, media player, MIDI, or HID. Denon DJ repeatedly states that the Prime 4 as a system. And as a complete all-in-one in need of nothing else, I can see why.
One of the very first things that became apparent was the lack of Serato branding. For a device of this kind to have none of the usual logos on was quite novel. But for me it signalled the start of something else, in effect Denon DJ cutting the cord and going it alone. It’s just more evidence of my long-held theory of Denon DJ turning their Engine Prime desktop software into a complete DJ package rather than just a library manager.
It’s not that the Prime 4 won’t work with Serato DJ Pro — it will in time according to the original PR. I’m just not convinced that it needs to work with a laptop at all. I know that a great many of you are balls-deep into the Serato ecosystem, but since using the SC5000 Primes, I’ve felt no need to add a computer to the workflow, other than to organise my library. I don’t miss it, and if anything welcome not having to use it at all. Less moving parts and all that — one less thing to worry about failing in the heat of the moment. This would explain the enduring popularity of CDJs in the face of seemingly superior options.
THE FUTURE IS HERE – WELL ALMOST
As the industry continues to tie itself to trade show schedules that don’t necessarily align with real life and real events, we’ve all seen the Prime 4 but are still waiting for it to hit the shops. But from our brief play in the Worxlab, we’re mightily impressed with what we saw, and via the huge screen, what we touched too.
There is a genuine feeling of the future having arrived, as if it’s the first day of the rest of our DJ lives. OK, that’s infused with a huge dollop of inMusic hyperbole, but a four channel device that looks like a controller that isn’t connected to a computer feels like freedom from tethered tyranny. That means no more looking across or up at the laptop and hoping it doesn’t crash, plus your focus remains in front of you rather than… well over there somewhere.
What I like about the Prime 4 is the lack of compromise. It would have been easy to simply one-up Pioneer DJ’s XDJ range by just adding a couple of extra channels. But they’ve taken it a few steps further to leap ahead of their arch rivals. Right now, Pioneer DJ does seem to be taking its sweet time to respond to the Prime hardware, if indeed it feels that it needs to.
The difference here is that while Pioneer DJ dominates in the booth, the wider market is open season. And Denon DJ already has a good grip of the mobile market which offers them a better way to build the market share is needs to have any chance of edging Pioneer DJ out of the booth. Indeed there was a certain “yada yada yada where the two channel version?” in the social media comments. The appetite is there for maybe less instead of a constant stream of more.
SUMMING UP THE PRIME 4
Given the reception from NAMM, the Prime 4 is off to a good start. First impressions count, and experience shows that they usually last. Thankfully the things that have been picked up on largely focus around screen usage, and noises have already been made about making fixes before it’s even arriving on retailer’s shelves.
More than anything though, for me it signals the start of a move away from laptops. Not entirely you understand, but there will now be a series of standalone alternatives now that Denon DJ has added to the start made by Pioneer DJ’s XDJ units, and before that with Stanton’s SCS.4DJ. What will be interesting is how the scene perceives such units — if you were to glue together standalone Pioneer DJ units, you’d have much the same thing for a fraction of the price for most people. But people do love to defend their choices.