Pioneer's CDJ range of CD-spinning decks are a permanent fixture in most clubs around the globe. Now there's a new variant aimed at the serious bedroom DJ: the CDJ-400.
The deck takes the best bits of the CDJ-1000, adds a few new features such as iPod and USB playback, and packages it all in a more compact form.
The front panel is dominated by a dual-mode jog-wheel that aims to simulate the process of mixing with vinyl. In vinyl mode, touching the top of the jog-wheel stops the track dead; spinning the wheel forwards or backwards then 'scratches' the current track or loop, while releasing the wheel resumes normal playback.
Spinning the outer rim in either direction gives the track a subtle push forwards or backwards – handy for pulling a drifting track back into sync. When not in vinyl mode, the whole wheel speeds up or slows down the track without stopping it.
The standout feature of the CDJ-400 is its USB compatibility. This lets you play tracks direct from just about any USB source, including iPods. You're free to browse your tunes via genre, track name, artist and playlist using the little LED screen, and it works just as well with memory sticks (as long as you've tagged your MP3s correctly).
Three types of scratch effects are new for the CDJ-400 – Bubble, Trans and Wah – although how often you'll use those is open to question. Our answer: not very often.
Of more use are the Jet (phaser), Roll and Wah effects. Wah works like a filter – spin the platter anti-clockwise to emphasis the bottom end, or clockwise to take out the bass and midrange altogether.
The tempo/pitch control is switchable between +/-6%, 12% and 100%, backed up with a key-lock option to maintain the pitch whilst changing the tempo. Tempo recognition is accurate to the nearest BPM, which makes rough pitching quick and easy when cueing up a new track.
Loop the loop
Looping has been improved too. There's still a loop in/loop out control, but you can also loop a single bar with one well-timed button press, then subject it to those effects, chop it up on the fly and hit the Exit button at any point to return seamlessly to the main track.
If there is one thing we'd change, it would be the dual-mode operation of the effects and jog-wheel controls. A momentary lapse of concentration is all it takes to cut the sound completely.
That aside, the CDJ-400 is a great performer. The USB/iPod input means you don't even need to bother with CDs any more, and there's even USB/MIDI output to allow the deck to be used as a controller for virtual DJ systems.
As a springboard into the world of professional DJing, it's unbeatable.