CDJ-900 User Review
back when technics were the standard and all we bought was vinyl records i rocked a set of techs just like the rest of us. ableton came on the scene and gave us live. i got excited about it and went fully digital. after getting burnt out on the “digital revolution” that was ableton live for djing purposes i decided i that i wanted to get another set of physical turntables because i really didn’t feel like i was djing anymore. i decided i wanted to go with the industry standard name brand and went with pioneer for some cd decks.
the only options i gave myself were the 2000s and the 900s. after a lot of compare / contrast i came down to the deciding factors being the following... do i need a pretty color screen? do i need hot queues? do i need a fancy little touch bar? no, not really. so i cheaped out and went with the 900s as their price tag didn’t hurt my feelings nearly as much as the 2000’s did.
i won’t muddle down a review with tech specs you can go look up on google. i’ll just hit the highlights and review how i use / have used them and my thoughts.
as cd decks they work just like every other pioneer cd deck. insert cd and go. no muss, no fuss. pitch control, pitch lock, its all there and it all works well. you can’t ask for much more.
my absolute favorite feature of these decks is its ability to play music off a usb drive. lucky me i have all my music backed up on a external usb hard drive. huzzah! when they arrived i went straight to that... i simply plugged up the hard drive to the usb port on one of the decks, read instructions on how the browsing worked and away i went. even better, there are connection ports on on the back of each deck. connect them with what looks like a standard ethernet cable for computer networking and two decks can share one usb drive.
simple browsing by folder hierarchy is very easy. push down the dial to select folders once you are on the right screen for folder browsing, turn knob to scroll, back button to back out. when you are on the track you want push down. track gets loaded. easy.
the decks will also work as controllers for traktor. i only used this just to play around with it and see how it worked just out of curiosities sake. i downloaded a demo of traktor for testing it out. the setup could be easier. you have to go digging into traktor’s setting and assign it to the software, and if memory serves me correctly i had to do some sort of update on traktor before the deck was recognized and worked. all in all just getting it up and running took me over an hour, and for a tech savvy person i feel that was too long. i can’t ding pioneer on this one though, the setup difficulty i had was on traktor’s end.
once it was up and going it worked well. i have not used any other dvs systems for comparison, but i can’t imagine these not working well for traktor in any situation. the platter reaction was very quick, all the button that were automatically assigned performed their functions well. again i didn’t get into this too deep because i was just curious how the decks worked with traktor. my overall impression was positive once it was setup and working.
one of the fun features this deck has that the 2000 doesn’t have is an auto beat looper. think of this as a built in sampler / beat slicer. you can make some very james zabiela sounds with this feature. if you look at this section you will see four buttons for actual beat selection, then a “beat select” button that will give you four more. long story short this selects how long the sample is.
one caveat of this feature however is it relies heavily on pioneer’s software end of the cd decks to get the stop and start points just right. without pre analyzing your tracks you can still use the feature, but you have to be very very exact on your timing when hitting buttons.
next is the slip mode, another feature the 2000 does not have. this feature will keep the track playing “in the background” on the deck while you scratch or play with the beat looper. a quick scenario...
eight beats before the start of a track’s drop you start playing with the beat looper chopping and slicing the sound, or you use the platter and do some scratching. slip mode is not on. what is playing on the deck is what is live. wherever you exit the beat looper or wherever on the track you stop scratching is where you are in the track. if this is the only deck playing through your mixer then the timing will not work out right.
turn slip mode on. eight beats before a track’s drop you start playing with beat looper or scratching. count eight beats and stop scratching or turn off the beat looper and you hear the track’s drop and the track continues to play as if you never did anything on the deck. presto!
in my opinion this combo makes this deck functionally superior to the 2000 for a turntablist or someone that wants to use the beat looper function a lot. it gives you a lot more on the fly options than a deck without these features.
so far it sounds like i really like these decks, and that observation would be correct. overall. unfortunately not all is well. i feel these decks have some major flaws that hold them back from being great and not just good.
fit and finish
when the ups man dropped these off at my house i was giddy as could be. i was like a little school girl. when he passed the boxes off to me from the back of his truck my first thought was “oh no, they sent the wrong thing. this box is feather light.” i opened the boxes to make sure before i signed for them and sure enough they were the right product. when i got them in my music room i feverishly opened the first box and what i pulled out wasn’t the product that i expected from an industry standard company, but a cheaply made feeling plastic piece of chinese mass manufacturing.
i was sorely disappointed as these decks cost over a thousand dollars per unit. if they were in the six to seven-hundred dollar price range i could probably forgive the crappy “feel” of these decks, but at over a thousand dollars pioneer should be utterly ashamed of themselves. i could go on and on about this as it is a very sore spot for me with an investment this size but i’ll just leave it at that.
for bedroom usage there will be zero issue with these. they will sit in place and the feet will probably “stick” to the table surface just like mine have. for mobile djing i suggest some sort of carrying case or coffin setup as the deck’s cheap plastic case, if dropped from moderate height, can / will crack easily. i have not had any issue with any of the writing or graphics wearing with my moderate usage.
next is the rekordbox software that pioneer uses. previously mentioned in this review is how the software helps the timing of the auto beat loop feature. if you are familiar with traktor or ableton live or any piece of software that auto analyzes an audio files waveform then you will understand what rekordbox does. if not, it simply analyzes a song and puts “markers” where every beat is. a file is saved on your usb drive and the deck reads the information as it loads the track. once the track is loaded the deck knows where all the beats are.
regarding the auto beat loop feature and even the simple loop in / loop out on the deck, it works really well. wherever you loop everything is always in perfect time. i was extremely excited about this when i first dug into it because it was a lot like ableton live in regard to helping keep everything sounding on time and flawless. unfortunately the rekordbox software is utter crap.
after i did some reading i found that rekordbox is powered by mixvibes. i was not familiar with this software at all, but the fact that it performs so poorly as a pioneer product does not speak well for their software or pioneer using it in my opinion.
there are a lot of little complaints with the software that i could get into but i’ll skip all of it and get to the deal breaker. at the time when i was trying to really get into using the software there was no “sync” between the deck and the software like your ipod / iphone does with itunes. any and all changes had to be made in rekordbox. data is only sent one way... rekordbox to the cd deck. save some cue points on the deck? too bad! save some loop points on the deck? too bad! you better have a crystal clear memory or immediately fire up your laptop and set the points in the software or you are out of luck.
once i stumbled across this issue i got on pioneer’s forum and found a lot of other users complaining about this very issue and pioneer’s response was pretty much “sorry, that’s not a feature our software supports.” what should their response have been? “we are sorry, and if this is such a big deal to our community we will be sure to address it in future updates.” at this point i wrote the software off completely and went without it. i had dumped a lot of time making sure it wasn’t me just “not getting” the software and i was utterly frustrated with it. no sync function between deck and software absolutely killed it for me.
at the time of this writing pioneer could possibly have fixed the issues i had as well as adding some sort of sync feature, but i don’t really care. i was completely put off from the software from the word go and put off by pioneer’s poor community service attitude in general. my setup work fine without the rekordbox software being another link in the chain.
pioneer is unquestionably the industry standard for cd decks. there really is no valid argument to state otherwise. are there better products out there? possibly. are these decks any better than brand x’s offering? i think something like that boils down to personal opinion. is the price point a good for the product? absolutely not. overall i am happy with these decks, even though i feel that pioneer put me over the barrel and had its way with me on the price. had i known the issues i would have had with the product before i bought them i probably still would have bought them, high price and all. call me a fool for that, but it is nice walking up to a set of pioneer decks and not having to figure out the nuances and workings of a deck i do not own. the 900’s functionality as a stand alone unit is nice, and the auto beat loop and slip mode make for some nice sounds and flavor in your mix.
if you have the money to spend on the decks and opt to not go with the 2000s like i did for the reasons i did then you will probably be happy overall with the purchase. just beware of the cheap feel of the unit and user unfriendly software end.
functionality / features 5/5
ease of use 5/5
fit / finish 2/5