Denon DJ SC3900 Review
Bring that funky beat back! Denon DJ has just announced it’s soon to be award winning digital turntable media controller, the SC3900. This is a breath of fresh air in the world of DJing amidst a growing number of all-in-one DJ controllers that have been introduced in the past 3 years. Not to say that I don’t like controllers any more, I love them, but it has been quite some time since I truly got excited about a CD player, especially one that has a ton of very hot features at a pretty reasonable price. The SC3900 boasts a nine-inch rotating vinyl high-torque turntable which is certain to make turntablist finger’s wet with anticipation, and compatibility with Serato Scratch Live, and Traktor, as well as it’s new “Engine” PC direct software. You are able to mix and scratch direct from USB devices, CD’s (all media formats), laptop, as well as conventional DVS systems without the need for timecode discs. You also have the ability to connect via the network between SC3900′s and to your iPad using the Engine app for file analysis, management and loading. This is pretty much the final frontier of digital turntables for now and we were completely stoked to get ours in for an exclusive demo. Here’s what we found.
Engine is DDJ’s second generation Music Manager Software designed specifically with the SC3900 and future models in mind. With Engine, a DJ can manage any files on any USB drive to any of the players connected via a router. This also allows users to play files that reside on their computer by any of the players connected. Engine can manage up to 100,000 files per drive or db.
What’s really incredible about Engine is the searching capabilities of the system. Because Critical Audio processing is done at the actual player and not in the computer, ENGINE searches a DJ’s database of hundreds of thousands of files at speeds that leave other software systems in the dust. And again, because the processing is done at the player level, the DJ does not need a super powerful computer like other software systems. Even an off-the-shelf $299 netbook from Target fits into the minimum specifications to run Engine with up to four players. This is a great feature for those DJs who have yet to move, or are reluctant to move to a computer based DJ system.
Engine will also feature an iPad app to monitor the set. Assuming the user connects the players to a router with wireless capabilities, then Engine for iPad gives the user the ability to load songs to any connected player (again, up to four) and create playlists, etc… Also gives them a large touchscreen display to monitor there set/performance. NOTE that the first generation of the iPad app will not allow the user to physically engage PLAY of a machine, nor are they able to play audio files that reside on the iPad. But as we all know, this technology probably isn’t too far away.
The platter of the SC3900 (although it looks like the S3700) has been completely redesigned to mimic the feel of a real direct drive turntable. Complete with a new direct drive motor that has adjustable Start and Stop times, as well as adjustable torque (weight) the SC3900 is the first Controller and Digital Media Turntable that stands up to the traditional vinyl that many artists are used to. Turntablists won’t feel like they’re cheating on their 1200′s. But they will be, willingly.
Hybrid MIDI mode
Just like the S3700, the SC3900 has the DDJ HYBRID MIDI Mode to control various DVS based DJ software applications. Also included in this new HYBRID MIDI mode is the ability to turn on the button LEDs, which is a feature customers have been requesting since HYBRID’s launch and not available on the S3700. In theory this allows for use with DVS based software without the need for timecode CDs.
Seamless Source Switching
To switch between sources on the S3700 meant the user had to effectively shut down the playback of the device to switch source modes. The SC3900 now allows users to freely select tracks and files from any of the source mediums on the fly with absolutely seamless operation. This is massive because you can easily switch sources and browse and prepare your upcoming tracks without interrupting the playing track. GENIUS.
The SC3900 now employs a Player Link function that allows the DJ performer to share files from one USB HDD or thumb drive across up to 4 players. All of the players connect to a standard off-the-shelf network router and then tie to each other. With the Link function only one HDD is needed and all files on that drive can be accessed by any of the players. Therefore in a 4 player setup, the user still has three available USB ports to plug into should they need to. And again, any of those files would be made available on any of the four players. Take THAT laptop DJs. Seriously, we’ll take it.
Road Test and Demo
Construction and Design: Okay, so the reason why this demo was so much fun was ultimately because of the turntable itself. It was dreamy. To be fair, I have enjoyed using my Kontrol S4 over the course of almost two years, but I really have a deep affinity for the feel of vinyl on my fingertips. As a DJ who learned the craft over twenty years ago on turntables, the SC3900 represents a return to my roots, but without the headache of the extra record crates, slip-mats, cartridges, and extra stylus’. It’s not as heavy as a Technics 1200 and it’s more compact without compromising performance. The 9-inch vinyl record and slip-mat is the perfect size and feel for any serious turntablist looking to make the switch to digital. The torque is incredible and there is absolutely no lag or drift from the loaded track and you never have to worry about the quality of your vinyl or your needle skipping on this turntable. Denon nailed it. There is currently no jog wheel or platter on the market, whether on a controller or CD/media player, that feels as accurate as this one on the SC3900. I seriously can’t wait for all of you try it out.
Denon DJ SC3900 Overview and Demo UniqueSquared
Set-Up: Right off the bat the SC3900 was very easy to set-up. The turntable, slip mat, and vinyl were easily aligned and installed in a matter of seconds. The size is slightly smaller than a Pioneer CDJ-2000, lighter and actually a little less bulky. I set up a pair of SC3900′s with a Denon DN-X600 battle mixer and linked them with a CAT-5 cable. That way I was able to read and load all of my music to both SC3900′s from one thumb drive on the USB input. It took only a few seconds to load my libraries and files to either turntable, and if I wanted to switch to reading tracks from a CD or my Engine enabled laptop it was as easy as pushing a one of the source select buttons on the Heads Up Display. It had been a minute since I had played without using a laptop, and honestly I really miss it.
Aligning Tracks: The SC3900 makes it very easy to align my tracks because the pitch adjust has a range of 6 percent to 100 percent and it is very accurate. I like to mix really quickly and the BPM display immediately gives me a great reference point to adjust my incoming track. Once I grabbed the first beat of the incoming track on the turntable, I can throw it on the “1″ or set a cue point on the Hot Cue buttons so I could trigger start too, if I wanted. But seriously, why should I do that when I have such an accurate high-torque turntable at my disposal? Anyway, I like to set a kick and a snare on separate Hot Cue buttons just in case I want to drum in the intro. It’s seriously easy and accurate on the SC3900 to play like a controllerist or a drummer because the buttons are more like pads.
Loading and Playing: So loading and playing the tracks was easy and as expected from this CD player and it was time to test the looping accuracy. You can loop your music manually using the loop In and Out buttons, and easily exit or reloop the segment using a separate dedicated button. I however, like to use the Auto-Loop button. I can set my loop using the plus and minus to the left and right of the Auto-Loop button and then just hit it when I want the loop on or off. The HUD tells me how long my loop is set from 1/8 beat all the way to 32 beats. I stick with 16 beats because it makes sense musically and I usually want to play the whole intro coming in or the whole chorus, phrase, or outro mixing out. The loop is pretty accurate but you might encounter some glitches if you don’t hit it perfectly or the track is not perfectly analyzed. LUCKILY, you can edit the start and stop points of your loops by holding the shift button and using the turntable to accurately fine tooth the beginning and end of your loop. SUPER COOL.
I really enjoyed using the SC3900 and I think it is a vast improvement from the S3700. The layout is cleaner, there are 4 hot cues, and the ditched the on-board effects. Actually, the absence of effects on the SC3900 in my opinion is a good thing. On a CD deck they are often just a novelty considering the better quality that you find in DJ software and professional club mixers these days. The Hybrid Mode (originally introduced in the S3700) is another feature that will score high with me if it can be used with Virtual DJ Pro, Serato Scratch Live, and Trakor with zero latency. In theory it can, but we had limited time with ours and did not get the chance to try it. We will be certain to update you guys when this is officially released and we get them in stock. Denon’s Engine software is also very intriguing. It is likened to Pioneer’s Rekordbox with many similar features, but with Engine’s wireless network compatibility with iPad this indeed could be huge. Ipad integration in the DJ world is such a hot trend at current and Denon was very wise to anticipate this with Engine. We are very excited to see how this develops.
As far as its place in the market, the SC3900 will certainly give the Pioneer’s CDJ range a run for the money. This is Denon’s flagship deck and it is roughly half the price of the Pioneer CDJ-2000, but with a smoking hot high-torque turntable. We all know that production of the Technics SL-1200 turntable has ceased for a few years now, and although Vestax, Numark and a few others continue to produce quality turntables, it will never be the same. So most pure “true school” twelve-inch vinyl-only enthusiasts might eventually have to make the switch if they hope to continue working through the next 20 years. This is where Denon and the SC3900 have the edge. Turntablists and vinyl enthusiasts will most likely swarm to the SC3900 with its rotating platter over any Pioneer CDJ, especially because the Denon range is more affordable. Let’s not forget about traditional mix and blend, non-laptop, and DVS DJs, and even controllerists. All the bases are covered with the SC3900 as far as media compatibility, network, link and midi functionality, and the exceptional layout. It could very well be the final frontier, for now anyway. At the end of the day it will take some major endorsements from big players for the SC3900 to become the industry standard, but I truly believe it has a great shot. Please feel free to share your questions, thoughts, hopes, and dreams with us in the comments below. Until next time, happy gigs!