MCX8000: Setting New Standards
It was just over two years ago that the seemingly always-growing, Rhode Island-based inMusic Brands added Denon DJ to its portfolio, following the execution of a licensing arrangement with Denon’s owner, D&M Holdings. The move brought Denon DJ under the same roof as Numark—the acquisition of which inMusic head Jack O’Donnell made back in 1992 that essentially started the entity that now carries the inMusic name.
At the time of the Denon transaction, there was a lot speculation about what might happen with the move—would the two brands be folded into one? In the time since, however, inMusic has chosen to keep Numark and Denon DJ on separate paths.
At Winter NAMM 2016 in Anaheim, Calif., Denon DJ was proudly displaying proof of the company’s strategy to keep the brands distinct—and of the synergies that inure from what is certainly an ability to share creative and technical expertise within the family—in the form of the new MCX8000 controller. This new offering is positioned firmly at the high end, giving the Denon DJ brand a four-member controller family that covers a lot of territory in both price, and capability.
First Impressions: The MCX8000 makes a pretty powerful first impression when unboxed. In short? This is no toy; it’s serious gear, with a serious footprint. It’s a big, beefy unit, solidly constructed, with a metal cabinet, four channels, and enough buttons, knobs, sliders and displays to make a DJ standing in front of it wonder for a moment if he or she is at the controls of a small jetliner. (Thankfully it’s not that intimidating in practice, nor does it require that level of training to use quite effectively.)
Perhaps the primary feature of the MCX8000, and certainly arguably its most important, is the ability to provide a full set of capabilities without a laptop or computer of any kind. With a pair of on-board color displays, USB connectivity, and much more, it’s essentially ready to use the moment you set it down and power it up. And to test that theory, that’s how I started my evaluation of the unit, but more on that in a moment. It’s important to note that the MCX8000 is also a full-function controller for Serato, the full version of which is included in the purchase.
The MCX8000 is dominated by its two rotary encoders, full-size platters reminiscent of CDJs with which most DJs will be quite familiar. On the back panel, evidence of the pro-level target market is in evidence with the connectivity options there; booth and master outs are predominantly XLR (although RCA is also provided for the masters), various RCA inputs for external signals (such as CDJs) across all the four channels (two of which are phono/line switchable), plus mic inputs.
Set-Up & Use: As is the case with virtually all DJ hardware these days, software (to the extent you need it) and full documentation are not provided in the box; rather, you’re directed to the company’s web site for a download. I decided to skip all that, and see what sort of success I might have just throwing a small collection of EDM on a USB key, plugging it into the MCX8000, and firing the unit up. So how’d it go? Seamlessly. It was simple enough to figure out how to load tunes from the stick, and quite literally within a few minutes of unboxing I was able to knock out a capable performance. Snap!
Denon DJ refers to the standalone capabilities as “Engine mode,” and this mode is greatly enhanced through the use of the Engine music management software on a computer of your choice, available via free download. The Engine software provides music library preprocessing to support the MCX8000, as well as the Denon DJ SC2900 and SC3900 media players (or “CDJ” in the usual parlance, although that term is often associated with one of Denon DJ’s competitors). Through the use of the Engine software, the MCX8000’s Engine mode provides a much fuller set of capabilities, allowing you to navigate your music by other attributes, notably key (great for people like me who use the popular Mixed in Key software to tag their music with Camelot key notation) and BPM. Definitely worth the time and effort if your usage model is this standalone mode.
As I mentioned earlier, however, the popular Serato DJ software can also enter the picture, and it, too, is a free download away. Connect the MCX8000 to a computer or laptop via USB, and Serato automatically recognizes it and unlocks its full feature set, without the need to register, enter serial numbers, or anything else—a nice touch, frankly. Virtually everything about the MCX8000 remains exactly the same once you fire up Serato, and if you’re familiar with the software (or truly, even if you’re not), you’ll be DJing with it within minutes.
The MCX8000’s four channels can be used as Serato channels, or external input channels. The middle two channels can be used for Engine mode, with content from either of two USB devices plugged into the unit’s dual USB ports conveniently located on the top panel. The cool part is that you can freely mix and match any of these, at any time, providing extraordinary signal source flexibility. What’s more, the USB devices can be independently ejected, removed and replaced without cycling power or affecting playback from other signal sources. Not only does this allow a single DJ to segment a music library across multiple USB keys or drives for different types of gigs, but makes handoff between DJs incredibly easy—and it all happens (literally) without skipping a beat. (That includes, by the way, Serato support; you can plug or unplug the MCX8000 from your computer, while playback continues in Engine mode.)
The entire transition between everything is seamless. Quite honestly, the only single thing you notice right off is that the selection of effects is greatly expanded via Serato; you can access its full set of effects capabilities on any channel that’s set for Serato playback. Engine mode does provide three basic effects that seem a bit oddly chosen to me, but they’re still useful.
One obvious standout when you look at the MCX8000 would be its dual LCD color displays. On the surface, at least, these displays more or less prove the point I made earlier about inter-brand synergies within the inMusic family. While the functionality isn’t identical, it seems relatively apparent that both the displays and the technology behind them are leveraging the same R&D that brought these displays to inMusic’s Numark brand with the NS7III and Dashboard. Be that as it may, the displays prove their worth in the MCX8000 and then some, allowing visibility into the USB-based music libraries you might choose to use, as well as visibility into effects, playback waveforms, music metadata, and general status. While quite powerful as-is, I would have liked to have seen more configurability in the types of information that are displayed on-screen. It also seems like a natural candidate for a touch-screen, as opposed to the array of physical buttons and controls that wrap each display.
One of the standouts of the MCX8000 for me may seem strange for some potential users of the controller: Dual microphone inputs. While not of great value in a club setting, perhaps, mobile jocks like me will likely appreciate the touch. For weddings and event work, I always like to have one mic for me, and a separate one that can be used for best man toasts and the like. The MCX8000 does it all one better with two-band EQ—separate controls for each mic—plus a variable echo effect. It’s collectively a rather nice (and useful) capability set.
It goes without saying that the MCX8000 offers the full array of functionality one might expect, and which don’t really need calling out. But to mention a few, you get 3-band EQ on all the channels, a single-knob HPF/LPF filter on each channel, all sorts of looping and cueing capabilities, and so on. I found the response curves for the rotary encoders to be dead-on and natural, and a touchstrip-based “needle drop” function was also a great and truly useful addition. Also of note: The unit’s headphone connection has “split-cue” capability and the controller offers natively Serato’s “Pitch Play’ feature via Serato’s Pitch ’N Time DJ Expansion Pack.
Conclusion: With a street price right in the neighborhood of $1,300, the MCX8000 represents an investment to be sure, but for mobile DJs it’s an outstanding choice with its range of signal sources and dual mic support. For those reasons, as well as its superior ability to allow DJ handoffs to happen transparently, it makes a great pick as the “standard” set-up for a club or bar environment. Even solo DJs willing to deal with a bit of extra heft will find it packs enough power to justify both the expense and the extra effort required for its transport. In short, the Denon DJ MCX8000 establishes a wholly new standard in DJ controllers.