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Capturing The True Essence Of Sound New!

From Lewitt Audio's Pure Tube Microphone to Sennheiser's Profile USB Microphone, these studio microphones offer precise audio quality to the users and deliver crisp, clear sound. read more

Articles September - October 2023

Photo Feature: Studio Showcase New!

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Articles September - October 2023

Mastering The Art Of Sound With Donal Whelan New!

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Articles September - October 2023

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Mumbai Studio Explores New Verticals With Genelec Monitors New!

The combination of Genelec Smart Active Monitors and digital audio interface delivered an ideal monitoring solution for BOING Recording Studios. read more

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IRAA Awards 2023: Jury Reflections New!

Read about IRAA Jury's perspective on the bigger questions in the music industry - AI for music production, the status of mega consoles, & emerging trends in sound recording & mixing. read more

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Gray Spark Audio Opens New Studio For Academy Students New!

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Firdaus Studio: Building A Sonic Paradise For Recording Artists New!

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Articles September - October 2023

Naveen Deshpande Elevates Stand-Up Comedy with Bespoke Lighting Designs New!

Naveen Deshpande, a renowned lighting designer, made heads turn through his recent collaboration with India's leading stand-up comedian, Zakir Khan, during the latter's international tour. read more

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The Indian History of Popular Media Players for DJing (Part two)

In case you missed it - part 1 was all about vinyl roots, emergence of Compact Disc/digital music and the ingenuity of Indian DJs by making simple players like the Sony CDP-S45 work in their favour. We all know what the currently vivid & flexible landscape of DJ technology looks like - so that’s what part 3 would be all about. In this part, I am going to focus on this blip of an era (post S45s & pre Pioneer CDJ2000s + ‘laptop DJing’) where dual CD players like Denon’s DN-2500F & Pioneer’s CMX-3000 (later followed by their CDJ-1000) reigned supreme. And on this sojourn, we continue to see more ‘all-too-familiar’ patterns between 1) ‘prosumer’ demands through the times & 2) attentive & seriously keen-to-impress brands laying the foundations for future standards in the digital domain, resulting 3) directly proportionate technological leaps & bounds.

Denon DN-2500F - The dual CD player archetype

Dual CD players were (& still remains) a popular design for media players due to various factors. Single CD players (like the Pioneer CDJ500) were viewed as expensive players - as you simply needed 2 of them. Two decks also meant two different power cables. This & its design didn’t have a lot of flexibility for its placement inside a DJ console. In light of these factors, dual CD players were comparatively a big hit. It would comprise of the main driving unit (comprising of power, dual CD trays & eject buttons), the remote faceplate where you had dual screens & functions to operate, the slick 8 pin remote cable & a singular power cable. The remote cable would power & illuminate the remote from the main unit. They were both 19” rack mountable units. The fact that you had a separate (yet wired) remote allowed you to have the interface close to the mixer & tuck away the CD trays under the console. These features also made them super portable for its time. There were many brands who tried to persuade prosumers by building players with this same design. But in the mid to late 90s, Denon’s DN-2500F was the king amongst all dual CD players.

But what factors made them the number one choice? All credit goes to the rapid digital technology development & its quick implementation by Denon. This resulted in faster & more tactile players. For example, they were able to reduce the standard play/pause button’s 2 second delay to 0.01 seconds! Single/continuous play and elapsed/remaining time modes for each track on the screen were god sent features for all DJs. Jog dials were new on these players (something which even its predecessor - DN-2000F - didn’t have) giving you the initial impression of the possibility of scratching on them. However, they were used to scan through fractions of the song’s time to make precision cue points & loop markers with the inner ring and the outer ring of the jog dial was used for quickly scanning through tracks. It also had the seamless loop feature which actually gave DJs a peek in to shape of things to come. This sole feature gave a lot of DJs inspiration to use these players as modern remix machines compared to analog turntables. Pitch bending was again something which was attained through 2 separate + & - buttons, which gave it a whole different feel when you were ‘riding’ 2 songs together as one. All in all, there was something reassuring about watching its iconic fluorescent green LCD screens - fully illuminated in dark DJ consoles across the nation.

For a lot of DJs, all of these features mentioned above were way more than enough for its time. This model was yet crammed with a barrage of other features like, +/-16% pitch range, auto/manual key correction, an 8 second sampler, a voice reducer & a cheeky brake effect. At a time where Pioneer’s CDJ500 players were the ‘cream of the crop’, the DN-2500F was yet the most popular player amongst top club installations & local sound vendors - due to its price & form factor. Within the following decade, there were many more successors to this model in the Denon family (like 1800F, 2100F, 2600F, D4000 & D9000) but they were just crammed silly with more buttons & features - which made them intimidating machines to work with. Denon was the most popular DJ brand in the nation during this time & they were the sponsors for the biggest DJ battles throughout India. Now, I need to reiterate that these were popular players. But not the best. For most high end electronic products, quality is directly proportionate to the pricing of devices. Camp Pioneer steered away from cramming up the minimal interfaces of their players with a barrage of digital features. They took their own sweet time with it. Their CDJ500 & CDJ500S players remained their flagship models through the turn of the century. They never ventured into building dual CD players. Until sometime in 2001, when they announced the launch of the newer CDJ1000 players (more on these later), which could accurately emulate the vinyl feel that most old school DJs & turntablists were missing in the digital domain. But quickly after the launch of this product, there was the announcement of their first foray into dual CD players - the second iteration of which gave birth to the legendary CMX3000 player.

Pioneer CMX-3000 - The new contender

In my personal opinion, Pioneer has always been forward thinking with its research & development for value added features. At a time when Denon was going crazy by cramming more buttons (& features) into its successor models, Pioneer took precarious steps into literally ‘pioneering’ a handful of features - which later became the foundations of their current Rekordbox environment. Another thing what I have observed about this company is that they first develop a small (but solid) pool of features & sparsely integrate them across all their models - big & small. Due to this ethos, you would find particular features which may not be present in their flagship models, but easily available in their budget models - making them special in their own right. Right after the mega launch of the CDJ-1000 model, launching the budget CMX-3000 player was a brilliant move. They were competitively priced (for the price of two CDJ-1000’s you could get almost three CMX-3000 units) and for the first time Indian DJs on a budget got a chance to experience the ‘ease & feel’ of operating on Pioneer systems.

Only a few DJs would remember that the CMX-3000 was the successor of the short lived CMX-5000 dual CD player model. In this model, Pioneer had already delved into Auto Beat Mixing - a raw precursor to the now sophisticated ‘Master & Sync’ feature - which was never introduced again in the following models. However, their early foray into this direction forced them to do revolutionary R&D on their beat/BPM detection algorithms ( which have become staple features now). With the CMX-3000, you could read the BPM of the tracks in each player now. Once they cracked that algorithm, they moved on to a one button four beat emergency loop feature - which still is a saviour for many inattentive DJs. You could pitch bend with the super cool jog dial now around the circular screens - giving you the feel of riding a CDJ-500 or 1000 on a budget player. A pitch range upto +/-100% urged its user to get wildly experimental in their DJ sets. It’s tray-less CD slot system was also much appreciated, as CD trays were easily susceptible to mechanical failures due to daily wear & tear. For the first time we could see the emergence of the now staple Hot Cues feature - where you could memorise 3 cue and/or loop points anywhere within one CD. Very few people were aware of the fact that each player had a massive data memory, holding cue/loop information for a maximum of 1000 CDs. Each player ‘remembered’ each CD played on that specific player. As this memory was not swappable, some DJs preferred to operate on their own players to deliver smart performances. This memory later became swappable with the aid of SD cards on the CDJ-1000 & its successors. CD text info was now readable on the screen and with the waveform display feature, you could now see the sonic peaks & troughs in your audio file.

All of these groundbreaking features made the CMX-3000 a mighty successor amongst dual CD players. This model was highly popular between 2002 & 2007 - giving Pioneer a foot in the door opportunity in penetrating the latent Indian DJ market with their best technologies. You could simply say that the smooth experience of working with CMX-3000 players made the Indian customers feel generous about loosening their purse strings for the CDJ-1000 & all the following models of its ilk.

Pioneer CDJ-1000 - The shape of things to come

With the turn of the century, Pioneer launch its breakthrough flagship model - CDJ-1000 - in 2001. Sticking to their familiar single player model, they were at home in delivering a top quality product and a worthy successor to the CDJ-500. The biggest feature of this player was the much hyped introduction of the ‘Vinyl’ mode. With the help of a non-rotating touch sensitive jog dial & a circular display in its centre, DJs could now control digital audio files with their finger tips - in the same fashion as a turntable. The quest of decades for building a true ‘digital turntable’ was finally achieved. As there were no moving mechanical parts (motor, tone arm etc.) there was no fear of needle jumps in wild DJ routines. But the non-rotating jog dial didn’t exactly give the feel of a real turntable (which wasn’t a big deal to adapt with a bit of time, knack & practice). All over the world, the Vinyl mode feature was the much needed final push for many old school DJs to stop gigging with records & go convert them into CD collections.

Some of the other features of this model were the reverse mode, start/stop speed adjustment in the vinyl mode, x2 zoom in the wave form display, 3 x hot cue buttons, a multimedia card reader (for memory, hot cues & loops) and a handy CD eject lock. Along with these, Pioneer’s trademark BPM detection algorithm, Master Tempo & front loading CD slots became highly evolved mainstay features in their CDJ (& XDJ) lineage. In a step-by-step fashion, the company introduced various little updates, which eventually developed into the foundational elements of its Rekordbox system.

Pioneer had struck gold with the CDJ-1000 making it the industry standard CD player across the world. By the time it’s 3rd iteration - CDJ-1000MK3 - was introduced in 2006, the player could now read .mp3 files out of data CDs. By then Pioneer had realised that CDs were soon going to be obsolete & tried making players for newer media formats like DVDs (with video), SD cards, USB flash drives & directly interfacing with computers. Through forever keeping a keen ear to the professional DJ market, they eventually outdid their previous accolades with the launch of the CDJ-2000 players. More on that in the next edition.

Lessons from the ‘Burning’ days gone by

As a foot note for part 2 of this story, I was compelled to highlight certain attributes, lessons & learnings of the CD era, which today has lost its reverence. If you want to know the pros & cons of media players of any era, then it is imperative that you understand the format & medium in context to the era. Even though we had entered the digital DJing age (in the 90s) with CDs - you need to understand that it was still a nascent technology. The CD had its own practical limitations for DJing. One aspect was any DJ’s literal visual memory of all the songs on one CD. In comparison to its predecessor the vinyl - where you may get a minimum of 1 (single) & a maximum of 10 (album) songs on a record with unique cover art as visual cues - CDs could accommodate anywhere between 10 to 25 songs in each (as audio files). With CD writers getting cheaper, DJs also got the power to compile songs from various albums into a power packed & private compilation disc. However with more & more songs, it got tougher for DJs to memorise the exact location (CD & track number) of a particular song within a collection of say 300CDs. So, a hand-written/printed track list went hand in hand along with the CD into the DJ’s working collection. CDs were also purely used for audio purposes first & they were used much later on (in our timeline) as a data storage medium. The idea of reading/writing .mp3 files from/on your CDs was implemented in players much later on & it turned out to be highly counter productive for DJs. This same recall factor also didn’t work with data CDs as it had provisions for endless folders packed with .mp3 files. Memorising maximum 25 audio files on a single CD was more practical than hundreds of files in a folder structure. Compared to these times of the past, this same provision is not a big problem in 2018 due to present availability of features like - bigger/better display screens & smart search features (along with a QWERTY keyboard).

The act of making audio CDs out of blank CDs using a CD writer & burning software was called ‘burning’. One major factor amongst CD DJs was the condition/state of the lens of these players. As most of these players were used on a daily basis, they went through heavy wear & tear. Now if your player had a weak lens, then none of your CDs would be ‘read’ on it. This worked the other way around too i.e. if you didn’t ‘write’ (or burn) your CDs well. CD writers were getting cheaper (& writing speeds on them were getting faster) day by day. If you wrote your CDs on a high speed, then you could get it burned within 4-5 minutes. But writing on high speeds only worked well with data CDs (not audio CDs). If you wrote an audio CD on a high speed, then the data would not be etched deeply into the memory of the CD. If you played this same CD on a player with a weak lens, then you were bound to get a flashing error message on its screen. So, in order to compensate for these factors, audio CDs were preferably burned on a lower speed (preferably 8x). This used to take a lot of time (10-12 minutes). Personally, I used to use this time to manually write the track list for this CD - using a pen & card paper. Factors like these, track compilation within a CD (on a micro level), creating different sections within a CD wallet (on a macro level) & many more, developed a specific CD burning workflow for DJs - each tweaked & tuned with endless trials & errors. Collecting digital music files, compiling, burning audio CDs & all in all, building a practical CD wallet/collection/library - seems almost like a lost art in 2018. However, in all its amazement, it is not from an era long gone by (say only 15 years ago). However, we can still take big cues from this era for making sense of the endless digital file clutter which is inevitable in all our foreseeable futures.


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