There’s no doubt that 2020 was been one hell of a year. With a pandemic completely shutting down nightlife and wrecking the music industry as we know it, 2020 took quite an unexpected turn that left many DJs, producers, and music lovers scratching their heads a bit. But not all was lost this year –– a massive amount of new music gear, both hardware and software, was released. And with the ongoing quarantines across the globe, that gave us plenty of time to experiment with them.
The DJ TechTools team got together with a few of our longstanding gear contributors to explore our favorite picks of last year. From the Rane Seventy and Denon Prime Go to the V10 and beyond, dive into our top gear of 2020 below.
In third place on my list, the Rane Seventy filled a pretty big void by providing a much needed alternative to the aging DJM S9. It also showed that Rane was actually listening to their customers by specifically addressing a lot of complaints raised about the Seventy-Two. Just a solid follow-up to the Seventy-Two that proved this new InMusic Rane is here to stay.
I doubt too many people expected Pioneer to take on the Rane Seventy-Two head-on with DJM-S11 with their next mixer. With one of the most intuitive workflows out there, this is my second choice for best gear – it’s filled to the brim with innovative and premium features. I think we haven’t really felt the repercussions of this mixer yet. I anticipate a host of inspiring routines and videos coming out from some high-level tablists in the coming months.
Any other year, the Prime GO might be in 3rd place or given an honourable mention, but 2020 is not like the other years. We saw the release of an array of amazing gear in the last 12 months. The DJM-S11, the DJM V10, the Rane Seventy and Seventy-Two MK11, the CDJ-3000, the Rane Twelve MK2, and the Denon SC6000 players all came out this year. Yet it’s this diminutive, portable media player that really shone the brightest for me – which is why it’s my top pick.
For most of 2020, I had no gigs and barely left the house. I was also constantly struggling with anxiety, fear, and paranoia. Through all that, one of my biggest sources of happiness came from biking around town with a Prime GO in my backpack and just DJing in different parts of the city. Sometimes I was with family, sometimes I was alone, sometimes I was entertaining people nearby, sometimes I was just lost in my headphones, but every time is just pure joy. Fully-featured, standalone, battery-powered, and coming in a compact package, it is the perfect piece of gear for covid times – which is why the Denon Prime GO tops my list of the best new gear of 2020.
Honorable mention: djay Pro AI/Virtual DJ 2021 with realtime stem mixing
While not technically hard “gear,” I would be remiss not to mention these technological advances. Coming from an unlikely duo of companies, realtime stems could be the future. Although this technology is not perfect, the potential for this is enough to turn the industry on its head!
The Denon DJ SC6000 media player was, without a doubt, one of the most earth-shattering products we’ve seen in awhile. The SC6000 took the feature-laden power of its predecessor, the SC5000, and upgraded it into a club-ready, highly durable package. The device offers dual-layer control, an iPad-sized display, a massive and buttery smooth jog wheel, performance pads, and many other exciting features. Denon players have already proven their durability, surviving rain, travel, and the other harsh conditions on Laidback Luke’s and Tiesto’s tours.
The MPC One may be more oriented towards producers and not DJs per se, but it is still very relevant to both crowds. The MPC One, in its most simplified form, is a $700 standalone MPC. It works for beatmaking, sampling, and yes, live producing. The art of live production is one of the foundations of DJing and electronic music itself, and with the renaissance of hardware devices flooding the market, live remixing and producing while DJing is becoming more and more popular. The MPC One provides a great way to sample, add loops, add FX, and play synths while DJing, all without the hassle and immense CPU requirements of using multiple softwares.
I’ve never been a big fan of “club standard” mixers like the DJM-900. While they are intuitive to use, they tend to lack deeper routing and sound-sculpting control. The DJM-V10, however, was a brand new breed of mixer released by Pioneer DJ. It features a wide variety of advanced features: 4-band EQ, a master isolator, extra send/return control, and six channels. Another downside to mixers like the DJM-900 is they only have four channels, which forces advanced live act DJs to utilize an extra live console. The V-10 will hopefully mark the start of a new trend with DJ mixers, reversing the trend of “simplicity over power” seen in many of today’s mixers.
Dropping halfway through 2020, the curiously-named VirtualDJ 2021 does not half-step when it comes to its impressive stem separation for analyzed tracks. Three stem separation modes – two 3-stem options and one 5-stem option – let you drop or mix parts such as Vocal, Kick, Bass, Instrument, and Hihat in and out of a mix with often stunning accuracy. Comprehensive DJ controller support makes it easy to assign the stems to channel strip knobs or controller pads for performing on-the-fly remixes and mashups. Also, new Shapes waveforms delineate track waveforms into three dynamically shaded sections for vocals, beats, and instruments, so you can see them as you adjust their levels with the stem-separation controls.
VirtualDJ 2021’s separated stems still don’t sound quite perfect, but they do sound better than anything else that came before this year, and the vocal, hi-hat, and kick isolation are particularly good. This opens a new world of options for your performances.
In 2020, Algoriddim rolled out its artificial intelligence-powered Neural Mix technology across its djay Pro AI software for iOS and MacOS, as well as a separate Neural Mix Pro MacOS program. The Neural Mix modes in djay Pro AI break tracks into either two parts (Instrumental/Acappella or Percussive/Tonal) or three parts (Drums/Harmonic/Vocals or Drums/Bass/Melodic), and each part has volume level, mute, and solo controls. There are also Neural Mix crossfaders for blending the stem parts between decks.
For producers/remixers, Neural Mix Pro lets you export up to six different stem parts per track, including batch exporting of stems for entire playlists, and loop exporting with pitch control. Like the stem separation in VirtualDJ 2021, the audio results of the Neural Mix software aren’t exactly flawless, but sound quite impressive and are very usable for productions and DJ sets.
The new Restream Studio from Restream.io is not specifically a DJ product, yet was one of the most relevant pieces of technology for DJs to adopt in 2020 while live venues were shut down. Restream Studio simplifies the process of multistreaming to more than 30 platforms, such as Twitch, YouTube, Mixcloud, Twitter, Steam, Facebook, etc., all from a web browser without the need for third-party apps like OBS Studio.
Some of the Restream Studio tools include graphic overlays for your logos and messages, backgrounds, automating social media alerts, and real-time engagement with your audience. Restream can also archive your videos and audio for you to download. Investing in your livestreaming game now in order to build your audience may even have residual benefits once live music venues are back up and running.
Steven Slate Audio VSX Modeling Headphones – Founder’s Edition Closed-back Studio Headphones with Modeling Plug-in
This is perhaps favorite purchase during quarantine besides my XDJ-XZ by Pioneer DJ. These headphones have changed my ears as a producer with their overall quality of sound and comfort during long sessions. My current studio setup isn’t exactly ideal for referencing with monitors, so being able to model my music in different spaces like a nightclub, different world-class mixing studios, car speakers, and a choice amount of professional headphones and earbuds is not only time saving, but game changing. The VSX headphones were designed to provide a flat response serving as a “blank canvas” for the plug-in, which proves to be true. I know these look like your regular run of the mill headphones, but I can attest that Steven Slate crafted these very thoughtfully with every producer and mixing engineer in mind.
Runner-up is the Pioneer DJ XDJ-XZ, a stand-alone controller. It gives that industry standard NSX2 feel and fun without breaking the bank. They’ve basically taken the layout of the XDJ-RX and blew it up to the size of regular CDJs and a DJM mixer. A few extra features have been added to this product to enhance the mixing experience, like the touch pads for hot cues, looping and sampling, and the 3 band EQ on the master channel, giving you complete control of your main output frequencies. For the price of one CDJ-2000 MK2 Nexus, you could get yourself the XDJ-XZ and basically plug-and-play, as long as you’ve got a USB stick or laptop running Rekordbox or Serato loaded with music.
This year, I had to learn how to use an Akai MPC Live II very quickly, and, within a few days, I had to teach someone else how to use theirs. Not only was I able to pick up the fundamentals through ease of use, but I was able to teach them in only four one-hour sessions on how to use theirs. For the amount of time I got to use this, it’s no doubt that Akai has revolutionized the way you can produce music portably, wirelessly, and through Bluetooth. Definitely worth checking out if you’re a producer on the go.
Well there you have it, folks – our favorite picks from this year on the DJ gear front. What pieces did you love that came out in 2020?