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Thread: Pioneer DDJ-RR with Technics decks - low sound.. Pre-Amp?

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    Pioneer DDJ-RR with Technics decks - low sound.. Pre-Amp?

    Hi Iíve just connected my Technics 1200 turntables to my Pioneer DDJ RR controller and noticed the input levels are low even with the master and trim inputs turned up to high? I was wondering if itís worth getting a Pre-amp to go from each turntable to increase the level going into the DDJ? My thoughts on this are as follows;
    I would need to purchase one Pre-amp unit for each turntable?
    Would the input gain/sound quality be improved as I would be coming out of each turntable into the Pre amp and then back into the DDJ?
    Would the sound quality from the Pre amp then be lost coming back out of the main output of the DDJ?

    Appreciate anyoneís help

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    Moderator pete's Avatar
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    is the phono/line switch on the back of the DDJ RR set to phono?
    bored, curious, deaf or just bad taste in music?
    finally a mix by me
    and what's this, another shoddy mix...another dull mix

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    Quote Originally Posted by pete View Post
    is the phono/line switch on the back of the DDJ RR set to phono?
    Hi thanks for the reply, yes it is

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by nickmeister View Post
    Hi Iíve just connected my Technics 1200 turntables to my Pioneer DDJ RR controller and noticed the input levels are low even with the master and trim inputs turned up to high?
    I'm not familiar with the DDJ-RR but I've used 1200's, so before anything I'd check the cartridges/stylii (and the tonearm/headshell connections) as most pickup systems deliver a signal in the 5-10mV range so it isn't much to begin with.

    I've also read some people reporting that cartridge systems with no headshell (such as Ortofon, not the OEMs) put additional "stress" on the tonearm which causes problems along the way (the age old trick is to gently blow in the tonearm or moisten the headshell/cartridge connectors by using the tip of your tongue as a last resort, although it isn't adviced as the connectors get worse over time)

    I was wondering if itís worth getting a Pre-amp to go from each turntable to increase the level going into the DDJ?
    If I understood correctly the controller/mixer has both line and phono inputs; if so you'd likely want to use an RIAA/phono-to-line preamp and run it to the line inputs instead but in theory both solutions are viable (if the case was to use an external line preamplifier to boost the phono signal, however use caution because phono preamps are designed for very low level input signals)

    I would need to purchase one Pre-amp unit for each turntable?
    Yes. If you have an old mixer around for example you could test whether it solves the issue (ie. use it as a preamp)

    Would the input gain/sound quality be improved as I would be coming out of each turntable into the Pre amp and then back into the DDJ?
    Input gain : most likely yes.

    Sound quality : yes and no. You're actually bringing another link in the signal chain which basically adds some colour to the sound. Some may find it appealing, others not. This depends on the preamp design and component quality.

    Would the sound quality from the Pre amp then be lost coming back out of the main output of the DDJ?
    As above; all electronic circuits can sound very different. The current trend is that old/vintage designs (and external preamps with tubes etc) and units are used by some because they have a warm, rich sound whereas modern gear tends to sound clinical and thin, however this is very subjective. There are $5 preamps as well as $5000 preamps but the ones marketed for DJs are usually in the $50-100 range, I've seen some for as cheap as $20 (OT : in a blind test when tracking vocals a $5 preamp won, a conclusion was drawn that it was because it used a battery instead of mains power)

    But if it solves the issue (I'd figure metering & cueing being very challenging) it's most likely worth losing a bit of the sound quality from the preamps. Using just one as a DI box in the master would've been one option but solving gain staging early on is considered a more "sound" choice by engineers (with the exception that you need two)

    One thing to look for is attenuation/pad/duck switches, internal jumpers etc but I assume you have those figured out.

    Another thing is many devices (I assume the DDJ-RR has USB) on the market today utilise USB power and it's about closest to Satan's work since some laptops (I assume you're using one in your setup) aren't able to provide the required power to the unit via a USB port in which case it wouldn't probably even turn on, a powered USB hub (or using external power if it has one) could solve this but I highly doubt it's a question of low power to the preamps.

    It's also important to keep in mind that most of the external RIAA preamps on the market are targeted at audiophiles, ie. it's a very niche market and finding one within a reasonable price range that's not crap can be tough. There are DIY kits, I've assembled a few but I'd figure it's not worth the trouble in your case.

    I've read some people use preamps (along with tubes, external DAC's and bunch of other hoodoo) at sound system installs for reasons I mentioned earlier which is why there can be very affordable, off-the-shelf options for all-around use as well as very expensive, esoteric ones for more exquisite tasks.

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    Quote Originally Posted by efinque View Post
    I'm not familiar with the DDJ-RR but I've used 1200's, so before anything I'd check the cartridges/stylii (and the tonearm/headshell connections) as most pickup systems deliver a signal in the 5-10mV range so it isn't much to begin with.

    I've also read some people reporting that cartridge systems with no headshell (such as Ortofon, not the OEMs) put additional "stress" on the tonearm which causes problems along the way (the age old trick is to gently blow in the tonearm or moisten the headshell/cartridge connectors by using the tip of your tongue as a last resort, although it isn't adviced as the connectors get worse over time)



    If I understood correctly the controller/mixer has both line and phono inputs; if so you'd likely want to use an RIAA/phono-to-line preamp and run it to the line inputs instead but in theory both solutions are viable (if the case was to use an external line preamplifier to boost the phono signal, however use caution because phono preamps are designed for very low level input signals)



    Yes. If you have an old mixer around for example you could test whether it solves the issue (ie. use it as a preamp)



    Input gain : most likely yes.

    Sound quality : yes and no. You're actually bringing another link in the signal chain which basically adds some colour to the sound. Some may find it appealing, others not. This depends on the preamp design and component quality.



    As above; all electronic circuits can sound very different. The current trend is that old/vintage designs (and external preamps with tubes etc) and units are used by some because they have a warm, rich sound whereas modern gear tends to sound clinical and thin, however this is very subjective. There are $5 preamps as well as $5000 preamps but the ones marketed for DJs are usually in the $50-100 range, I've seen some for as cheap as $20 (OT : in a blind test when tracking vocals a $5 preamp won, a conclusion was drawn that it was because it used a battery instead of mains power)

    But if it solves the issue (I'd figure metering & cueing being very challenging) it's most likely worth losing a bit of the sound quality from the preamps. Using just one as a DI box in the master would've been one option but solving gain staging early on is considered a more "sound" choice by engineers (with the exception that you need two)

    One thing to look for is attenuation/pad/duck switches, internal jumpers etc but I assume you have those figured out.

    Another thing is many devices (I assume the DDJ-RR has USB) on the market today utilise USB power and it's about closest to Satan's work since some laptops (I assume you're using one in your setup) aren't able to provide the required power to the unit via a USB port in which case it wouldn't probably even turn on, a powered USB hub (or using external power if it has one) could solve this but I highly doubt it's a question of low power to the preamps.

    It's also important to keep in mind that most of the external RIAA preamps on the market are targeted at audiophiles, ie. it's a very niche market and finding one within a reasonable price range that's not crap can be tough. There are DIY kits, I've assembled a few but I'd figure it's not worth the trouble in your case.

    I've read some people use preamps (along with tubes, external DAC's and bunch of other hoodoo) at sound system installs for reasons I mentioned earlier which is why there can be very affordable, off-the-shelf options for all-around use as well as very expensive, esoteric ones for more exquisite tasks.

    Thanks for the reply, I will give at least one of these methods a try.
    I also just had a thought, I wonder if there was a way of increasing the levels in the Rekordbox software?

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by nickmeister View Post
    I also just had a thought, I wonder if there was a way of increasing the levels in the Rekordbox software?
    Good question.

    I've never used Rekordbox (you should ask Pioneer or someone else here who does) but for example Traktor lets you switch a Track deck into Direct input which passes through any audio (timecode signal, CD audio etc) from the assigned channels but I can't remember whether it lets you use the gain controls (or FX), it may have something to do with internal/external mixer modes (ie. where the actual audio processing takes place, in the box or within the controller/audio interface)

    This means the audio goes through AD/DA converters (even if it's timecode; with records, ie. analog medium such as vinyl this isn't necessarily desirable by some I'd think)

    I was about to suggest checking the software settings but I assume the DDJ-RR does the RIAA conversion and preamplification in the device itself (like my old Hercules controller did) in which case the computer would have to send control data to the device's circuits to adjust the volume (similar to VCA automation I guess) and I highly doubt any manufacturers would implement such feature in a DJ mixer/controller (although it would be neat, in a geeky sort of way but very useless at the end of the day)

    To confusion of many digital DJs there are two or actually three types of devices; MIDI controllers, controllers with an inbuilt mixer/audio interface and mixers with partial MIDI functionality/audio interface and sometimes it's hard to distinguish which category the unit in question falls into because they approach the audio processing very differently.

    -----

    A MIDI controller doesn't do much else than send MIDI to a laptop. Some may have an audio interface for output (master/cue) but no inputs for plugging external gear.

    -----

    Controllers with inbuilt mixers and interfaces have the ability to do so, ie. function as standalone units (such as yours) but like stated setting them up with software can be a bit confusing at times (I for example would very often forget the software gain/EQ bypass/kill switches, I/O routing, internal/external modes etc)

    The MIDI jog wheels, response times, latency, build quality and stability have improved greatly over the years too (I got my first controller ca. 2008 when they were considered an emerging technology)

    -----

    Mixers with MIDI and an audio interface (Traktor Scratch Certified etc) are probably the most straightforward to use with a DVS system but the downside is the cost (and serviceability/compatibility in the long run, I'd figure)

    Another thing is that the MIDI functionality can be somewhat limited (or nonexistant) so you'd be looking to pair one with a deck controller or two (A&H Xone 1D or 2D, NI Kontrol F1 etc), but the good news is you have a very versatile setup (a lot of the big names in EDM use very similar rigs for their "live" shows)

    -----

    To return to your original problem (if the problem isn't in the controller/mixer); many buy used 1200's and they've been in production since the 70's, with some units never being serviced so it could be a wire, connector etc that is causing the problem. Luckily it's also a very well documented device so there could be a service instruction somewhere on the internet regarding the problem (tonearm, connectors, internal wiring, RCA cables/ground wire etc)

    Also, there are different types of pickup systems, such as moving magnet (abbreviated as MM) and moving coil (MC) and they are more or less "compatible" with different phono preamps because they may offer varying output voltages and impedances (in troubleshooting it's always logical to start from the source, I also forgot to ask whether you checked the turntable output with another device)

    If it's the phono inputs causing the problem your best bet is to contact Pioneer directly because the PCB's are most likely built using surface-mount components and as such impossible to service at home.

  7. #7
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    Thanks for the reply again,

    I actually went into the Rekordbox settings and you can change some of the settings in there and the headroom. I played around with it and had increased the overall output, it just means I have to reduce the gain on the digital tracks I’m playing and increase the tracks on vinyl to get a decent balance. Rekordbox also shows the master output so you can keep an eye when going into the reds. This seems to be working well so far.
    I am conscious when playing around with the headroom settings that I don’t distort anything.

    Also going back to tube preamps I’ve seen some of those nobsound mini tube preamps and was wondering if I send the master output from the dj controller to my hifi amp so I add the tube warmth to the sound? It’s a shame that you can’t use VST plug ins with Rekordbox as I have a Focusrite Liquid Mix with all the analog emulations which would be perfect.
    Quote Originally Posted by efinque View Post
    Good question.

    I've never used Rekordbox (you should ask Pioneer or someone else here who does) but for example Traktor lets you switch a Track deck into Direct input which passes through any audio (timecode signal, CD audio etc) from the assigned channels but I can't remember whether it lets you use the gain controls (or FX), it may have something to do with internal/external mixer modes (ie. where the actual audio processing takes place, in the box or within the controller/audio interface)

    This means the audio goes through AD/DA converters (even if it's timecode; with records, ie. analog medium such as vinyl this isn't necessarily desirable by some I'd think)

    I was about to suggest checking the software settings but I assume the DDJ-RR does the RIAA conversion and preamplification in the device itself (like my old Hercules controller did) in which case the computer would have to send control data to the device's circuits to adjust the volume (similar to VCA automation I guess) and I highly doubt any manufacturers would implement such feature in a DJ mixer/controller (although it would be neat, in a geeky sort of way but very useless at the end of the day)

    To confusion of many digital DJs there are two or actually three types of devices; MIDI controllers, controllers with an inbuilt mixer/audio interface and mixers with partial MIDI functionality/audio interface and sometimes it's hard to distinguish which category the unit in question falls into because they approach the audio processing very differently.

    -----

    A MIDI controller doesn't do much else than send MIDI to a laptop. Some may have an audio interface for output (master/cue) but no inputs for plugging external gear.

    -----

    Controllers with inbuilt mixers and interfaces have the ability to do so, ie. function as standalone units (such as yours) but like stated setting them up with software can be a bit confusing at times (I for example would very often forget the software gain/EQ bypass/kill switches, I/O routing, internal/external modes etc)

    The MIDI jog wheels, response times, latency, build quality and stability have improved greatly over the years too (I got my first controller ca. 2008 when they were considered an emerging technology)

    -----

    Mixers with MIDI and an audio interface (Traktor Scratch Certified etc) are probably the most straightforward to use with a DVS system but the downside is the cost (and serviceability/compatibility in the long run, I'd figure)

    Another thing is that the MIDI functionality can be somewhat limited (or nonexistant) so you'd be looking to pair one with a deck controller or two (A&H Xone 1D or 2D, NI Kontrol F1 etc), but the good news is you have a very versatile setup (a lot of the big names in EDM use very similar rigs for their "live" shows)

    -----

    To return to your original problem (if the problem isn't in the controller/mixer); many buy used 1200's and they've been in production since the 70's, with some units never being serviced so it could be a wire, connector etc that is causing the problem. Luckily it's also a very well documented device so there could be a service instruction somewhere on the internet regarding the problem (tonearm, connectors, internal wiring, RCA cables/ground wire etc)

    Also, there are different types of pickup systems, such as moving magnet (abbreviated as MM) and moving coil (MC) and they are more or less "compatible" with different phono preamps because they may offer varying output voltages and impedances (in troubleshooting it's always logical to start from the source, I also forgot to ask whether you checked the turntable output with another device)

    If it's the phono inputs causing the problem your best bet is to contact Pioneer directly because the PCB's are most likely built using surface-mount components and as such impossible to service at home.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by nickmeister View Post
    I played around with it and had increased the overall output, it just means I have to reduce the gain on the digital tracks Iím playing and increase the tracks on vinyl to get a decent balance.
    This is a very common problem as you can clearly hear the difference (in dynamics, perceived volume and audio quality) between a digital file/CD and a vinyl record, and it can be traced to the way the audio is mastered before cutting it on vinyl. RIAA equalization plays a role here, and I've read some engineers refuse to cut tracks with too much bass because they'd be unplayable (the needle would skip by itself with low weight, or when cueing)

    Digital audio however doesn't have this limitation but may introduce nasty compression artefacts and digital distortion. I believe some people doing sound system/booth installs are trying to fix this contrast by adding those devices in the signal chain (either by using a preamp/exciter on the vinyl sources or a tube preamp/DAC etc to warm the audio from digital devices)

    Also going back to tube preamps Iíve seen some of those nobsound mini tube preamps and was wondering if I send the master output from the dj controller to my hifi amp so I add the tube warmth to the sound?
    Most likely yes but I see no real reason why, it's another thing if you're running an audiophile nightclub or something. Tubes (or valves like they call them in the UK) also compress the sound somewhat, this is because they act slower compared to transistors in terms of on-off switching.

    Also, tubes and stereo can be an engineering/servicing nightmare I've read as you need matched pairs which is expensive and requires cherry-picking. Tubes also need regular biasing (plus they break very easily, and lose some of their edge over time)

    Another thing is unusually high heater voltages (I remember seeing tube circuits with ~100-200V supply rails) and AC in some applications coupled with low overall effeciency (in other words the device draws a lot of current compared to what it outputs)

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