Choosing The Right DJ Controller: DDJ-SZ vs. DDJ-RZ vs. MCX8000

Note: The image above of the three controllers does not accurately represent relative size. The MCX8000 is actually quite smaller than the DDJ SZ or RZ while the SZ/RZ are of the same size.

Who doesn’t love new DJ equipment? Choosing a new DJ toy may be fun at times yet there are many challenges in choosing the right one including cost, preference, finding the best fit, industry standards, and the equipment’s “cool factor.”

Before I get into choosing the perfect controller, let me tell you why I am making the switch.

It has often been quoted that a pair of turntables such as Technics 1200s trump CDJs and that controllers have the lowest cool factor. I would say that I agree with this contention.

DJML-Team-Laurier-DJs-2016My very first controller, the Vestax Spin, was a great toy – literally. The Spin was a step-up from being the dreaded laptop DJ but it wasn’t really all that special. If I ever brought the Vestax Spin to a nightclub, I would definitely be ridiculed. Nevertheless, it helped to establish me as a young, aspiring DJ. Unfortunately, although Vestax build-quality was good, the company declared bankruptcy in Q4 of 2014, predominantly due to fierce competition and the 2014 Japanese recession.

The Traktor S4 provided a lot more than the Spin with the 4-channel mixer, special FX, a larger interface, hot cues, and more versatile looping functions, just to name a few, and this is why I made the switch. Back in 2011, the S4 was up to its present-time standards used by several club DJs and Traktor was – and still is – one of the leading DJ programs used by pro DJs around the world. The S4 gave me an opportunity to be very mobile and setup/take-down really quick because of its compact nature allowing for portability – especially important for someone without a car.

DJML-Turret-February-2016Although I definitely enjoyed spinning on my Vestax Spin when I first started DJing and on my Traktor S4 for the past few years while building my DJ brand, I always felt that I had a “minority” controller when setting up beside the Nexus DJM + CDJ2000 or the Rane 68 + Technics 1200 setups. Also, I have always been asked by many colleagues as to why I am not using Serato, which many believe to be is the club standard. I do not completely agree because where Serato has its advantages, Traktor is versatile in many different ways including having special FX that Serato does not (and the list goes on). Instead, it is important for me to be well-versed in software that is used universally.

Ok, so now that we know why I am choosing to make the switch, the next question is which controller I am using… and yes, I am choosing a controller because I want something that I can carry around in one case – CDJs or TTs + a mixer would mean three flight cases or one really heavy one. (A workout would be nice but I am an aspiring medical doctor, not an aspiring bodybuilder.)

Since it is almost universally-accepted that controllers having the lowest cool factor, I made sure to choose a controller that was not only a contender in terms of size but also one that had features similar to having an actual Pioneer DJM900 or Rane 68 and with the same functionality of a pair of Pioneer CDJs.

I narrowed it down to three options: (1) Pioneer DDJ-SZ; (2) Pioneer DDJ-RZ; and (3) Denon MCX8000. All three controllers have a four-channel mixer and are constructed with metal.

Let’s start with the RZ. This controller does not natively support so many DJ programs because Pioneer is trying to build a brand for RekordBox. This means that the RZ was primarily designed with the objective of promoting RekordBox over all other DJ software to streamline. This is not surprising since any company – Pioneer in this case – would want to promote their own product above any competitor’s products. Unfortunately, the RZ has post-fader effects while the SZ does not – this doesn’t really matter though because of the Sound Color FX that they both have which makes the “overused” Echo FX an option. Aside from this post-fader functionality however, the RZ has similar – if not the exact same – layout and functionality as the SZ. The Pioneer DDJ-RZ is out.

Denon-MCX8000-Promo-Female-DJNow to compare the MCX8000 to the DDJ-SZ. What really draws me to the MCX8000 is the stand-alone functionality of the controller and the “cool factor” associated with the display screens on it. However, this is a questionable option considering it will definitely be more difficult to search for tracks on a small screen. Even more, Pioneer is a great example of a well-trusted DJ supplier going towards laptop controllers rather than stand-alone.

The DDJ-SZ has been tried and tested and Pioneer is like the Apple of DJ equipment. Denon itself is more likely to disappear than any Pioneer-produced device because of Pioneer’s established and trusted line of products – products found in almost every club while you would be lucky to guest perform at ten clubs and seen one Denon product. The DJM-style mixer attached to the SZ, the non-mirrored, CDJ layout decks, and native compatibility with Rekordbox, Serato DJ, Virtual DJ, djay Pro, Mix8Deck, and Traktor Pro 2 (which I am accustomed to using) makes it a strong contender. To build on the argument of mirrored decks, should one be scratching comfortably, the pitch control on the left side of the MCX8000 gets in the way of the jog wheel and hitting this could throw a mix off and be a point of embarrassment in a high-energy nightclub, especially for other club promoters who might be watching me. On that point, I really don’t need a hundred drunk people running up on the stage or booing me. The SZ also has jog wheels around 202 mm while the MCX has jog wheels of about 140 mm. Part of the reason behind a larger controller is not just because I want a bigger, cooler controller; the jog wheels of the S4 were so small that it made scratching a bit annoying. The SZ is definitely an upgrade from that and much larger than the MCX platters – a point for the DDJ-SZ. Also, I always plan on using a laptop which means that the added functionality of the MCX being standalone is something I would rarely use.

On the point of laptops, the SZ has two sound cards and thus dual-laptop input which will allow for seamless transitions between two DJs. With the layout of the SZ being similar to club-standard CDJs, there should be no worry in another DJ being able to quickly navigate his or her way through the controller while using whatever DJ software they feel comfortable with (as long as the proper mapping is downloaded, of course). So let’s say you’re a Traktor DJ but your colleague is a Serato DJ, there should be no problem in both of you being able to DJ using the same controller, saving the need to have two setups for DJs who work together with different music specialties and software comfortability.

Another argument I found was that the MCX8000 was smaller than the SZ making it much more portable. However, although the SZ may be a bit larger, the weight remains similar with the SZ weighing in at 22.92 lbs and the MCX8000 at 18.39 lbs. I really don’t see a big difference here, especially with the new Pioneer DDJ-SZ-specific flight cases having roller wheels.

DDJ-SZ-ColourOk, now if you’re thinking oh I want the SZ now but it is 2.5 years old so a new DDJ-SZ2 controller is bound to come out soon, you don’t really have much to worry about. Why? Well, with Pioneer releasing its own line of RekordBox controllers including the DDJ-RX and DDJ-RZ, the focus will be on these two controllers rather than the SZ. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing because you will still get the same level of excellent customer and technical support from Pioneer.

In terms of price, the MCX8000 retails for $1599 CAD/$1299 USD while the DDJ-SZ can be purchased for $2829 CAD/$1997 USD. Now, you may ask if it is really worth paying nearly $1200 CAD/$700 USD for the SZ over the MCX8000. I really do believe that you get what you pay for and not only as previously mentioned has the SZ been tried and tested while being up to industry standards whereas the MCX8000 is very new and has already been found to have freezing and latency issues, the mirrored layout, and unstable Engine software. (Side note: it has been possible to pick up a new SZ in the US for even cheaper and I actually purchased mine bundled with a Pioneer-branded flight case, all-inclusive from The DJ Hookup.) For those of you who I have not convinced otherwise, although these MCX issues can hopefully be fixed with firmware updates such as the upcoming Engine 1.6, it is not really something I would want when picking up a controller that I want to use properly right out of the box.

I hope that this post outlined the pros and cons to each controller and why I ended up choosing the Pioneer DDJ-SZ.

What do you guys think? Are you convinced? What would you have chosen?

–DJ Mocha Love (DJML)

Special thanks to deejdave and Ragman for helping me out with this decision!

Stay tuned for the next blog post coming out on July 12th, 2016! Topic: The fate of DJ controllers… Are TTs and CDJs going to make controllers obsolete?