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Return to DN-S3000 Page

Read Deft's pt2 review

Denon DN-S3000 Review - Part 1 - By Gizmo

Before we start, this review will be different to regular reviews. Instead of 1 person's viewpoint, we aim to give you as many totally different reviews on a product as possible.

By my own admission, I'm a newbie when it comes to CD turntables. While I see them as the future, the nearest I come to digital DJing is with Final Scratch. I do use Denon DN-S5000's on a regular basis but only for a quick cut up. So the opportunity to test drive Denon's new baby CD deck was jumped at. I'll be giving you an out of the box turntablist viewpoint with little or no comparisons to the more powerful 5000. 2 more reviews of this product are planned - to be carried out by Deft and professorBX. These will appear over the coming months on skratchworx.

Out of the box

It looks almost like the 5000 - same case, same platter so you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd bagged a 5000. On turning the 3000 round though, connecting up is way more simple. Having only line out, connection up to your mixer is a doddle. It's fair to say that you could unpack, plug in and start scratching within minutes - no complex assembly necessary. However - if you want the best from the 3000, put the kettle on, pull up a chair and read the manual - there, a lot more to this box of tricks than meets the eye and you might just miss something in your attempts to get to grips with the hardware.

Moving Platter?

Oh yes. Thankfully the 3000 - like it's big brother has a belt driven moving platter complete with slipmats and simulated clear vinyl disk. Because of this clear disk, you can add your own slipmats as well with any design you wish - indeed many can be found on the unofficial (thought it is used by the top Denon people) site www.dn-s5000.com. And for you vinyl purists who just can't do with out the feel of black plastic beneath your fingers - a 7" vinyl adaptor is supplied as well. You'll need a 7" single as used in a jukebox i.e. with no middle - otherwise find one with a punchout middle, screw the supplied adaptor to the stabiliser (the black disk on top of the player) and fix back on to the spindle. Denon recommends using a heavy record such as 45g in weight for optimum performance. In all honesty, I didn't much care for having a real piece of vinyl on the platter - I found it over heavy and actually loosened the stabiliser, reducing the feedback from the platter. It's all a matter of experimentation really to get the feel you're happy with. Initially I found the platter too slippy, but once I'd reverted back to the clear plastic platter over i.e. groove side down, I found I had much better control.

The platter spins at 45rpm. Initially this seems fast, especially on a small platter but within a short time, I became very comfortable with it. Having a belt drive, I believe it was felt that 33rpm wouldn't have handled the battering that we tablists give our equipment. Trust me - you soon get used to it. In fact, the subtlety of the handling actually allowed for better scratching on my part.

Not scratching vinyl - what's it like?

Well it's different. It sure does take some getting used to and requires an adaptation of technique to get the best from the deck. I found scratching to be no problem whatsoever. All the techniques I could do previously can be done on the Denon. In fact, some new avenues are opened up a little but not having to worry about vinyl. Firstly, needle jumps are a thing of the past. I found I could pat the platter like a bongo, opening up a whole world of faderless scratches. Secondly, because of the inherent movement and looseness of vinyl on the spindle, tablists tend to scratch with the bass EQ turned right down. Now, you can scratch with the EQ any way you please.

Whilst praising scratching on the Denon, I'm a little less comfortable with juggling on this deck. I'm a competent juggler - in no way at the level of a skilled battle juggler but I found manipulating the platter to spin back to exactly the same place trickier than I'd hoped. It lacks the weight to give that level of control on the platter. Perhaps at this point, the 7" vinyl adaptor would come into it's own. I'm not saying it can't be done - what I'm saying is that I found tough. Having only one deck as well made getting the necessary skill hard. After some hours of practice, I was able to reproduce some vinyl juggles with a TTX and a Denon 3000. I guess - like scratching - it's a matter of adapting technique. However, with it's cue/hot start facilities, the need to juggle in it's current form is less necessary. At the press of a button, the beat can be returned to a predefined spot on the CD at the press of a button. Whilst it sounds rather mechanical, some new techniques could be developed around these new facilities.

To MP3 or not to MP3...

One very serious advantage of the Denon decks over the Pioneer range is the ability to play MP3 files. The more featured 5000 has a firmware upgrade available but the 3000 has full MP3 ability right out the box. Almost without exception, MP3's are handled in just the same way as regular CD's. The only slight annoyance I discovered was when skipping through the tracks - hitting the 1 min skip button caused a 2 second pause. On regular CD's this didn't happen. Minor but annoying. As far as the format the MP3's must take, I was able to burn files to hybrid, ISO and MP3 CD formats without issue. All files were read with full tags in place. Generally though, the unit did seem to respond better to normal CD's - I noted a couple of instances where it seemed to lose it's place on the MP3 CD.

The beat goes on

... and on and on. One of the biggest advantages of digital decks is looping. Play the break you want, hit the "A" button to define the start of the loop, "B" to end it. It doesn't stop there - the trim feature allows you total control over the loop. you can spin the disk to move the start and end point to achieve that total seamless loop. And here's the killer - you can scratch and hot start the loop as well. Oh - did I forget to mention the keylock facility as well? You can also lock the key of the loop and speed it up and down as you wish up to 100%. This means (as if I have to spell it out) that you can loop any break you want and practice over it for hours on end but without the record wear on your prized vinyl.

Sample Platter Sir?

As with many digital devices these days, the 3000 has a built-in sampler. Capable of sampling 15 seconds of sound and with a pitch range of +/- 24%, you have pretty much the same options available to you as looping. And the volume of the sample is independantly adjustable as well. And because it's a sample, you can still play it and scratch it without a CD loaded - giving you the option to change over to a new CD seemlessly. One limitation - you can't sample MP3's. I'm a simple vinyl DJ and having loops and samples all going at once messed with my old mind. I'm sure with some practice, you'd be able to create some nice sets with all these features, but it's a little daunting at first.

So what's it sound like?

I'd love to say it sounds exactly like vinyl but it doesn't. It is however pretty damn close. Using regular audio CD's, the digital overtones are only really noticeable when scratching really slow or fast - the absence of grooves becomes apparent. And these extremes of scratching do occasionally lead to the platter forgetting it's exact position in the track. When scratching MP3 - depending on the encoding quality of course - the audio is just the same high quality, perhaps with a slightly increased digital feel. The reality is that if playing out, unless people can see the decks, nobody would ever know the difference. And unless you really listened in detail to a recorded track, I'm pretty sure you'd be hard pushed to tell the digital from the vinyl.

Smack my Pitch Up

A bone of contention with vinyl decks has always been limited pitch adjustment. The Vestax decks pushed the limit all the way up to 50% which is becoming the norm. Being digital however means that the 3000 can push the limits further still. With presets ranges of 4, 10, 16, 24, 50 and 100% and anywhere inbetween, there's also a full keychange facility as well - right up to 99%. Makes for some interesting effects at the lower end.

Bells and whistles

In an attempt to emulate vinyl further, Despite having an instant start/stop feature, Denon have even gone as far as adding a brake and drag to the start/stop button. You can vary the amount of force as well with convincing effect.

Taking full advantage of the digital capability, there's also instant reverse and dump buttons. You can either have instant reverse that does just that - reverses the audio until you hit start again. Or you can have the audio reversed that will pick up where it would have got to had you not reversed it - just like the censored lyrics popular with todays hip hop acts.

CD Text is also supported so you can easily label up your sound files and samples on the CD when you burn it. 

Upgrades

One thing that can be said about the Denon decks - they're upgradeable with easily downloadable updaters. And we're not just talking minor fixes. The Denon DN-S5000 for instance has a full upgrade to make it fully MP3 compatible. And I'm sure as time goes by, more of these upgrades will appear. Continuing the theme of easy user upgrades, the entire drive mechanism is easily user replaceable. This allows for rapid fixing if your deck gives up part way through a set.

One Small Moan

Battle DJ's travel all over the world for their art. Essentially, they take vinyl, slipmats and carts with them and within reason, they can perform their sets on most vinyl deck setups. In the case of CD decks, how do you transport your carefully set up samples, loops and cue points? Other existing CD decks and upcoming ones as well use SD technology so in principle you can slot your SD card into the same sort of deck and be away. One of the toted advantages of CD's is their portability and the lack of need to carry around heavy record bags. Sadly in the case of this and the 5000 model, there's no way to do this. In fact - you're simply replacing heavy vinyl with heavy Denon CD decks. You can - via a cable - transfer data from Denon deck to Denon deck but it still means having to carry around your decks if you want to battle - unless of course you don't need to use the full features of the decks. Note to Denon - fix this problem.

In Summary

Denon - I love the 3000 and you can't have it back. Seriously though - it's a quality well thought out lump of CD spinning loveliness. I'd recommend this to 2 groups of people - the first is new DJ's looking to get into CD turntablism. The 3000 offers all the features you'd need to get up and running. To this group, I'd recommend buying a pair. The other group is seasoned tablists. I've found the addition of a single 3000 invaluable to my setup and has allowed me more creative freedom than I'd thought it would. Buy a 3000 and enjoy the fun. However I wouldn't recommend this group goes out and replaces their current setup with 3000's. My gut feeling is that the price difference between the 3000 and the 5000 isn't enough and to maximise the creativity, I'd say save a little more and buy 5000's instead.

Rating - 9/10

Pros - High quality box full of features giving outstanding vinyl emulation. Perfect for beginner or for addition to existing vinyl setup.

Cons - Price point a little too high compared to bigger 5000 model. Lack of transfer of loop/cue data via SD media.

Big thanks to Silvio Zeppieri from Denon USA and David Morbey from Denon UK for the loan of the demo unit. 



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