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Pioneer DJM-909 Mixer Review - By Gizmo - September 2004

A few years ago, a stunned DJ scene watched demo movies of the original CDJ1000 CD deck. It was one of those "do you remember where you were?" moments. I hastily swapped URLs with my mates so we could all marvel at this alien product that could scratch CD's. Sadly there was never a Pioneer mixer that really shaped up to the rigours of turntablism.

But never one to rest on their laurels, one year ago Pioneer released the DJM-707 mixer and it's rather more powerful and space age old bigger sibling the DJM-909. We've all oooohed and ahhhed at the futuristic bells, whistles and LED styling but underneath all the gloss, is it a good mixer or pure hype and looks?

The Basics

Out of the box and this thing is a beast. It's built to last (or cause a hernia) - you genuinely feel like this mixer will last for ever. It comes in marginally bigger than the usual 10" mixer but there is a lot under the hood on this one. Thankfully, the paint job is way better than it's younger sibling the 707. It would look perfect sat in amongst any DJ gear.

The layout of the 2 channel scratch mixer is pretty much cast in stone - bar a few odds and ends the crossfader, upfaders and transform switches are all in the same layout as the rest of the market. The 909 throws up no surprises in this area with everything more or less where you might expect them. The only things in the fader area are fader start buttons, transformer switches and a master level button. LEDs to indicate channel or crossfader starts and channel reverses are neatly recessed so they don't get in the way.

Pretty much everything else you might expect is on the front. Fader reverses are on the left, fader start on the right and curves in the middle. Interestingly, you can independently adjust the left and right curve of the crossfader as well as full curve control on the channel faders. In addition, you can also adjust the crossfader cut-in time via a knob sat between the crossfader curve adjust knobs. Adjustability is between 1 and 6mm - more than enough for anyone.

An interesting addition on the front is a foot pedal jack but what's it for? Well you can now turn the effects on and off with a foot pedal. So what you now have is the ability to keep scratching as normal with both hands and still drop the effects in when you want. And it's switchable between channel 1 and 2.

The top half of the mixer is jam packed with the rest of the controls. Quite obviously the mixer is dominated by the first touch screen on a scratch mixer (should that be any mixer?). This screen is mainly used as an interface to configure the effects but also has a crossfader curve section as well. More of that later. EQ knobs sit either side of this screen with mic channel controls on the left and the usual cue controls on the right. Essentially a very standard mixer in it's layout.

A minor gripe - while the transform switches are configurable at 45° angles, I felt (as do many others) that these switches are a little too close to the channel faders. I understand they can be removed but wasn't up for butchering a demo mixer!

The faders

The key feature on a scratch mixer is it's faders. We scratch DJ's unashamedly hurt our mixers big time in a quest for scratch perfection. Pioneer clearly realising this have thought hard about the crossfader and come up with something new. The result is a non-contact fully adjustable optical fader. Ecler were first out of the blocks with lag adjustability so Pioneer had to go one better and make the tension adjustable as well. Provided is a small Allen key to externally adjust the tension. It's not extreme but varies between very loose to a little stiff. You'd have to try them out to see what feels right for you. And of course there's full curve control but on both sides of the crossfader - like the Rane 56. And let's not forget the reverse as well. This is one amazing crossfader - you can totally customise it to suit your style. Obviously it's too early to say how long it will last but on paper, it will go on for years.

The upfaders are Alpha short body, as found in Stanton mixers and also the new Denon X100/300. Despite being reasonably cheap faders, they feel very solid and feature a very sharp cut-in and a decent lag as well. Overall, a well though out fader set. Pioneer just need to move the transform switch and it would be near perfect.

Left and Right

We'll look at the effects last so let's take a look at what surrounds it. As with most mixers, the mic section is on the left. It has rudimentary EQ controls as well. Also included is the ability to send the mic channel into the send/receive loop. And as seems to be a standard these days is a session feature - you can link external sources to play through the 909,but more than likely this will just be another mixer. And of course a button to route channel to the send/receive loop.

Next in line is EQ. Covering hi/mid/low, the range is -26db to +6db - respectable but sadly and very surprisingly for a mixer of this price it doesn't cut the EQ completely. You can also switch the EQ on and off via a toggle. At the top of all this is the source selector. Because this mixer is designed to be used with CD's and other sources at the same time (flip the 909 round and you'll see separate inputs for CD as well as a selectable line/phono), there's a source selector showing mic, line/phono and CD.

Moving across top the right hand side, We have the same EQ functions but the channel select is slightly different. Rather than routing the mic, you can push channel 1 through the right hand channel.

As usual, the cue section and master volumes are here. No surprises here with fully controllable master and session/booth output. What is handy is the ability to select between master, effect and channel - meaning you can check the effect before applying live. And channel 1 and 2 are cueable as well via a fader. To finish the setup off, there's the button to send the 2nd channel to the send/receive loop.

And now for something completely different

What sets the 909 apart from pretty much any other scratch mixer is the built-in effects module. Not entirely new for a mixer of course but pretty much a first (unless you include the Stanton SA12 Craze mixer) for a scratch mixer. What is a real first here though is the unmissable touch screen LED sat squarely in the middle. This is the nerve centre for the effects and also a visual reference for the fader curves.

A little about the effects themselves - there are 50 in total. Some are the generic one you'd find on any good effects unit, others are very mixer-centric and some are downright out there. One particular twist on the usual effect genre is the ability to use the faders to adjust the effect. And these fader effects can be assigned to either the channel faders or crossfader as well. Particularly unusual effects are the vocoder and synth. While effects such as delay will add an instant depth to any scratch session, these new effects will bring a more musical flavour to your style. Think tiny Vestax Faderboard and you get the idea. The synth in particular allows you to play notes on your channel fader and the tone is fully changeable from gut-churning sub bass right up to dog annoying tones.

For a full list of effects, check out this movie.

Also built in is an auto BPM feature. This will automatically determine the effects application to a channel, freeing you up from manually tweaking the effect until it matches. If however, the auto BPM doesn't pick up the beat, you can manually tap the tempo and it's picked up instantly.

In terms of effect application, there's a neat toggle switch. Not only can you lock the effects on, you have an instant spring loaded switch so you can easily apply the effect as if doing a transformer scratch. Even more flexibility!

The effects are broken up into 3 banks of presets, each bank having 3 assignable effects. As you see, there is a bank button for easy selection. And these banks are fully editable - it's as easy as hitting the bank edit button and scrolling through the list until you find the effect you want. Hitting the memory button fixes the effect into the desired slot on the bank. Easy peasy.

While these effects are presets, they also have adjustable parameters. While you can determine how much of the effect is applied to the channel with the mix depth knob - min means none, max means nothing but effect - the effects themselves have selectable parameters. You can see from the picture on the right that the top of the display gives an overview of what's going on - effects frequency, low/mid/hi and the BPM. Hit this button to pen up the parameters window.

This is just one example of adjustable parameters. Ingeniously, you can have the effect work across the 3 broad EQ ranges, either none, some or all of them. The actual effect determines what appears in this window - in this case delay. So at the tap of a button you can instantly change how the effect works.

To see how the effect parameters can be changed, including using the channel fader, check out this short vocoder effect demo.

What Pioneer have managed to do is squeeze a whole quality effects unit into a scratch mixer. The range, quality and adjustability of these effects is awesome. But this has one major bonus over an external effects unit - you can independently effect each channel. Normally the send/receive loop send the combined mixer output to the effects unit. While you can control how much of each channel goes out, you can only apply one effect to the output. With the 909, each channel has it's own effect. But just to complete the setup, there's a send/receive loop as well. So you can use the built-in effects or add on an external unit as well.

Previously mentioned is the curves screen. When selected, the screen shows the curve for each channel and the crossfader as well. The curve setting is shown as a numeric value as well as displaying the approximate curve. In addition the fader reverse setting is displayed, as if the adjustable crossfader lag - between 1 and 6mm.

This is more of a nice addition than anything essential but every product needs a wow factor - and this is it. To see it in action, check out this short clip.

The screen contrast and brightness is also adjustable via wheels on the back panel of the mixer.

There's no denying that an awful lot has been crammed into one small area but it has been done with thought and not compromising the functionality. Everything a button press or two away. I do however have concerns about it's robustness. In general usage in the skratchworx lair, the touch screen seems pretty rugged, but I wonder how it will measure up in a playing out situation? A few over-heavy wacks on the screen - especially when rather less than sober - may well do the screen some lasting damage. I hope that Pioneer have designed the screen to be easily and cheaply replaceable.

In conclusion

The 909 is undoubtedly a premium product at a premium price. It's most definitely a wow product and owning one gives you a massive status lift. More importantly, it does everything you could want from a scratch mixer and then some - and it does it well. But this isn't just a battle mixer - the creative opportunities opened up by this unit are immense and yet to be tapped by anyone in the scratch scene.

If I just wanted a "battle" mixer, I wouldn't buy one, simply because of the wallet breaking price tag and the fact that they aren't used in any battles. But I would give more than serious consideration to the 707 - essentially a 909 with the effects and screen. If however you want a supremely high quality "scratch" mixer with every bell, whistle and creative option known to man, then this is the one for you. In the hands of the right DJ's, this mixer could take turntablism to the next level.

One last thing...

What are those little multi-pin ports for?

Rating - 9/10

Pros - Quality • fader and it's adjustability • Effects
Cons - Price (ouch) • EQ's don't kill • transform switch position

You could also try...

Well there's nothing like it out there right now apart from the Stanton SA12 Craze mixer with it's tiny effects bank. So imagine adding an effects unit to one of the following:

Pioneer 707 - Baby sibling to the 909. A very good scratch mixer.
Rane TTM-56 - THE scratch mixer of choice
Allen & Heath Xone 02 - Overlooked but outstanding mixer.
Ecler HAK 360 - Another overlooked mixer.

Also on the horizon is the Rodec Scratchbox - shaping up to be a high-end mixer killer.

For more info see - the official Pioneer mixer site

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