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Denon DN-S1000 Audio/MP3 CD Player
Reviewer: Deft • Date: November 2005 • Price: £275/$399• Link: DenonDJ Site

Introduction

Although not strictly a turntablist product, we still like to cover all the bases here at Skratchworx - and we have a feeling there may even be some visitors to the site who don't just cut up aaaah and fresh 12 hours a day. To this end, we have here the rather cute mini-sized DN-S1000. Aimed at the slightly more budget conscious user who wants a neat tabletop interface with maximum portability, it's styled after it's bigger brothers but still retains an extensive feature set with even some extra effects thrown in for good measure. Can Denon successfully scale down their tabletop units and still retain the build quality and reliability required for the job?

First impressions are really dominated by the ridiculously tiny size of the unit - it's only just over 20x20cm. It weighs in at around 2.5kg - I reckon I could get two of these plus a small mixer in my record bag! The unit itself is finished to a high standard and doesn't feel cheap to the touch. It follows the same general layout as the rest of the series except that it has a cd sized static scratch disc and slightly smaller play / cue buttons. Considering it's size, it doesn't feel overly cramped. Overall, it's a very neat and smart package.

Main Interface

The unit has analog RCA and digital coaxial outputs, plus a fader start connector to trigger playback from compatible mixers (such as Denon's DN-X100 and DN-X300). Anyone familiar with the DN-S3000 or DN-S5000 will feel right at home. Everything is where you would expect it to be - pitch fader and pitch bend buttons on the right, play and cue on the bottom left, hot starts / looping on the top-right. The only slight difference is that the 'platter modes' and onboard effects are controlled by small circular buttons to the left of the scratch disc. The pitch fader has a decent amount of physical resistance with a centre click, and the rest of the buttons are the usual Denon rubberised style.

The scratch disc consists of a thin slipmat, silver insert and plastic cover disc which is all held in place by a mini-stabiliser. It's pressure sensitive - but we need to make the distinction between 'pressure' and 'touch'. The disc assembly essentially sits on top of another part which needs to be mechanically depressed in order to gain control. So you can feel a little click when you put enough downwards force in. It requires a minimal amount of effort, as it only needs to depress by about a mm or so. But, it will not engage if you just rest your fingertips on there. You'd be kidding yourself if you think this will give you 'realistic' vinyl control - it obviously won't. It's not really the selling point of the unit. I found it useable enough for cueing up, so it serves it's purpose. I'm not sure it has many advantages over any other kind of static jog dial - but then it does actually offer the ability to scrub audio back and forth which you may not get at this price point on other players. The scratch control has a couple of parameters in the presets menu to help you adjust it to personal taste. There is the stroke length - short or long, and also a setting for how quickly you want normal playback to resume after releasing the scratch disc (i.e. instantly or progressively more slurred). After a bit of thought, the stroke length setting can help explain the uneasy feeling you get using the scratch disc. By looking at how quickly the frame rate progresses on both these settings you can calculate approximately the equivalent normal vinyl RPM. The 'short' stroke length gives an RPM comparable to about 55rpm, with the 'long' stroke length around 85rpm. So you need a lot of movement to manipulate samples even on the short stroke length. I guess because of the scratch disc size you can't get down to a lower effective RPM as you wouldn't have enough divisions to relate to audio frames. It would be nice as an update if it were technically possible. The scratch sound is OK - it's certainly very obviously from a cd player but the difficulty of using the scratch disc for this purpose means it's hard to get a real feel for it.

The scratch disc also doubles as a method for pitch bending if you prefer to mix this way (works equally well as an effect!). You can toggle between scratch and bend/search modes via the button to the left of the disc.

What review of mine would be complete without a mention of pitch resolution? Well, the DN-S1000 has 0.1% steps on the 4%, 10%, 16% and 24% ranges. It also has a +/-100% range with 1% steps. When using MP3 discs, the 24% and 100% ranges are not available. The 16% and 24% ranges also have the trademarked Denon pitch steps glitch, whereby it moves up smoothly along the range when moving away from 0%, but jumps in double steps when moving back towards 0%. I am actually inclined to believe Denon purposely do this to annoy me.

Greater pitch resolution essentially costs more cash to implement, so it's going to be the first thing to go when cutting costs - or at least when you need to balance the feature set. 0.1% steps are pretty standard at this price level (Pioneer Cdj-200 aside), and it's a personal choice as to how much resolution you need. Combined with the pitch bend buttons and with key-lock engaged you can happily mix to the same standard as with better resolution. I'm happier with more resolution, others may not care at all. 0.1% steps do have an advantage in that you get to the optimum pitch much more quickly! The pitch control has a time-stretch mode (key adjust, master tempo, or whatever else you want to call it). For those who don't know, it means the key is locked at 0% adjustment but you can change the tempo of the track. Digital artifacts (pre-echo, smearing) occur as quickly as all other dj cd players in my experience. It's a neat way to not hear pitch slurs when adjusting mixes though.

Feature Set

For such a small unit, the DN-S1000 packs quite a punch in the feature department. There are 3 main groups of effects and also 3 'platter modes'. The platter modes are quite simple - they emulate a turntable braking or starting up (brake and drag-s respectively). You can control the timing for each to your own preference. There is also a reverse function (limited to 10secs when using MP3 files).

The effects are an echo/loop, flanger and filter. The echo has timings from 1/4 beat to 2 bars and once engaged you use the scratch disc to control how much is mixed in with the original signal (i.e. like a wet/dry balance). You don't need any pressure on the scratch disc to do this, and once you get to 'full wet' the echo loops indefinitely until you move back to a fraction dry (track timing progresses as normal, so you can drop back into the right place when coming out of the loop). The 'amount' of the selected effect is visually monitored in the display by a series of dots, which works better than it sounds! Once you have a full echo loop running you can actually cue up another track, even from another disc. This works best via recalling a MEMO cue point - and then drop mixing the next track in. Once playback of the next track starts the loop echoes out naturally.

The flanger works in a similar control method, with the cycle frequency adjustable via the parameters knob and the amount of effect added controllable via the scratch disc. The sound is fairly obvious and not amazingly smooth but does the job well. The filter effect group has low-pass, mid-pass and high-pass choices. The scratch disc sweeps the frequency point towards the target band and is responsive enough to get some good rhythmic manual sweeps going - an automatic LFO-sync'ed filter would be nice though. The good thing about the effect buttons is that they remember your last settings so you can use them to punch the effects in and out. The flanger and echo effects clearly need a good BPM reading to work to as they are timing sync'ed. The onboard BPM counter works pretty well for most styles, but there is a tap button if it is struggling.

As well as the effects, there are two hot-starts / loops available - which is a great creative extra for a cd player. The hot-starts can be flipped to stutter mode and B points set and adjusted to give loops for each pad. Loops can be exited and relooped at will. My review unit actually had a slightly damaged A2 pad, which wasn't as responsive as it should be. It clearly had been used but I hope this isn't indicative of the long term durability. I never had any problems with my DN-S5000 for the 18 months I had it, and the pads appear the same. Hopefully a fluke.

The DN-S1000 has one final trick up it's sleeve - next track reserve. In conjunction with the MEMO function (you can save 1000 sets of cue, loop and pitch modes / positions for audio cds), you can have another track on the same cd drop mix or crossfade quickly into the one currently playing. Once you have set/cued the next track you want, you only have a finite amount of time to flip across because of memory usage, but it's still a smart feature once you get the hang of it.

MP3 Compatibility

Everybody loves MP3s! The DN-S1000, in keeping with the rest of the Denon range, can playback MP3 files burnt onto an ISO9660 cd-r/rw. It can display artist, title and album ID3v1 & ID3v2 tags. There are also a variety of search methods to find your files and navigate through any folder structure you may have. Some of these rely on a certain common naming nomenclature, but it works better than I remember my DN-S5000 doing. You can't save MEMO points for MP3 cds and there is so much crippled when using VBR encoded files that it's barely worth using them at all. Stick to CBR and you will get the most out of the unit. The only other obvious restriction when using MP3 is the amount of time you can scrub through or reverse the audio, due to decoding / memory limitation. This shouldn't really impact anyone too much.

Final Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by the DN-S1000, it's a smart little unit with some clever features. It really is a jack-of-all trades in the nicest possible way, and Denon have made a decent set of choices for the feature set and where it should sit in the market. A lower effective RPM for the scratch disc and a way to free-wheel without applying pressure would be nice, but this was never a specialist scratch product to begin with. It has a solid set of effects and overall you'd be hard pushed to find much wrong with the unit. It handles all the basic features your average aspiring digital dj will need and even has some cool facilities for track transitioning within the unit.

If it fits with your needs, you won't be disappointed.

Rating - 88%

Thanks to Denon UK for loan of the unit



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