For many, many DJs, Pioneer simply owns the DJ booth. The ability to work with Recordbox on the computer, drop a USB stick in a bag, and then just plug into the ubiquitous CDJ is a level of convenience no one else can match. (Seriously, what other gig can you play with something you can fit in your pocket, unless you’re a harmonica player or beat poet?) But that raises the question – what can Pioneer do beyond their enormously successful mixers and digital players? The answer: they may now be set to extend that dominance.

We got one answer to this in 2014, when Pioneer moved into turntables with the PLX-1000. And Pioneer proved adept in the phonograph business: many DJs I know feel the PLX exceeds even the iconic Technics 1200. Now, having brought the high-torque direct drive turntable back from the dead, Pioneer is moving into another category others have abandoned. While Native Instruments and Akai ship drum machines that rely on your computer to operate, Pioneer is shipping a modern, standalone sampler/sequencer.

It’s called the Toraiz SP-16. (Still waiting to find out how you pronounce that. Tor-eyes? Tor-raise? Stand by.)

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That should already make MPC fans go wild – long disappointed by Akai’s unwillingness to make new hardware. But as if that weren’t enough, Pioneer also has this ace in the hole: they can bake “Pro DJ Link” right into the hardware so you can plug and play with CDJs.

(This also explains a teaser that leaked out last week.)

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Unfortunately, we don’t get a drum machine with design input from Dave Smith (maker of the Tempest) or Roger Linn (creator of the Linndrum and MPC). But we do get Dave Smith Instruments’ filters – one four-pole, resonant, low-pass filter, and one two-pole high-pass filter. This means Pioneer can claim they’ve got some “analog” sound in the box, and get some extra credibility from the legacy of the Prophet. The four-pole filter is from the Prophet-6 synth, and “inspired by” the original Prophet-5 filter from 1978. (CDM is currently awaiting some comment and clarification from DSI about exactly which filter designs are there.)

The filters are apparently a big deal to Pioneer, who make it a banner feature of the instrument and will feature Dave Smith himself at Musikmesse.

The low-pass filter has resonance and drive controls. The filter comes from the Prophet-6 synth.

For more details on how these filter differ from those in the Prophet-6, and what makes them special, we went to the source:
We talked to Dave Smith about those Pioneer sampler filters

Pricing, suggested retail: €1599 / £1279 / $1499, due in summer.

And the feature set is impressive, too:

  • 16-step sequencer with 256 patterns
  • 7-inch full color touch screen. (That’s not unlike what Akai just did with MPC Touch – though an important detail will be to see how the touch screen feels; it’s tough when Apple are setting the bar.)
  • 4×4 RGB pads, of course, which you can use with or without velocity. (Disco pads seem a necessary feature these days.
  • x0x-style step sequencing on the bottom, in addition to the MPC-style pad layout.
  • 16-tracks of real-time playback.
  • A whole lot of sample storage: 8GB of flash memory are built in, with 2GB of samples from Loopmasters pre-loaded.
  • Amp envelope and time stretching. I’m curious to hear how good the time stretching algorithms sound.
  • Touch strip for controlling pitch bend and “various parameters”
  • Pro DJ Link for sync, as well as MIDI clock (more on that in a moment)
  • USB and MIDI DIN (in and out/thru) onboard.
  • 8 audio outputs, 2 audio inputs, phone jack.

And it’s nicely portable: 436.5 x 261.2 x 74.3 mm (W x D x H), 3.2 kg.

I do suspect it’s not entirely finished, as some of the specs seemed unclear.

From the press photo cache, an interesting look at how the macro controls appear to work - and with the x0x-style step sequencer.

From the press photo cache, an interesting look at how the macro controls appear to work – and with the x0x-style step sequencer.

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I have a lot of questions, which I’ll try to answer in Frankfurt Thursday and in communications with Pioneer and Dave Smith. For one, I’m curious about how you’ll load samples onto the device. It does have inputs onboard, which suggests sampling from external sources – that’s also huge, and I’m curious to see how it works. They also haven’t revealed much about the sound design functionality or mixing/effects architecture of the instrument, apart from letting us know we can route sounds through the two filters.

All of this makes an appealing musical instrument, and being a standalone device may already win over fans for the studio or live shows. But where Pioneer has an advantage is being able to market the same box to DJs – and make an argument that they could use the product in hybrid DJ/live sets. With audiences tiring of the same old routine, and a market ever more crowded with DJs (partly thanks to the ease of the CDJ), that could be a differentiation point.

And that’s where Pioneer’s own sync protocol gives them an edge. The SP-16 does support convention MIDI clock. But it also of course has Pioneer’s Pro DJ Link. The protocol uses Ethernet LAN cables to connect clock, transport, and beat information between decks. And it works across all recent Pioneer CDJ and mixer products. That means you will be able to bring an SP-16 to a gig, plug in via Ethernet, and then have turnkey sync support with the CDJs at a venue. All you’ll need is an Ethernet cable (and enough space to set your SP-16 in the booth). The sync option is really nice: Pioneer says loops and one-shots are synced to the beat clock of the CDJ or XDJ.

What’s better about Pro DJ Link (apart from not being MIDI clock)? Basically, you get actual bar and beat location information, which MIDI clock lacks. “As every DJ knows,” Pioneer tells CDM, “just getting the BPM right doesn’t mean perfect synchronization, you need to get the downbeat of a bar. In a sense, the Pro DJ Link does that for you if you let it do so.”

This PDF explains how connection works.

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Now, sure, the CDJ-2000nexus “sync button” is already something a bit controversial. And, sure, just as DJ traditionalists would say you should beatmatch rather than hit sync on a CDJ, they might also say you should be able to beatmatch with a drum machine or other device.

I don’t care what they say: I think the market has spoken, and DJs are glad for this kind of convenience. We live in a digital age where we expect our expensive machines to be smart enough to sync with one another. And as more of them do sync, and sync better, that expectation will only accelerate.

This, of course, raises a question: will sync be the exclusive domain of stuff with Pioneer logos on? Pioneer notes you’ll need to flash the SP-16 to the latest firmware to use Pro DJ Link, and makes some vague promises about future sync to DAWs and other tools.

But wait a minute here. What would happen if the SP-16 also added support for Ableton’s Link protocol? (Heck, the nexus CDJs already have a “LINK” button that looks a whole lot like what Ableton put in Ableton Live.)

That may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Pioneer and Ableton are naturally complementary: Pioneer is in DJing, not production, and Ableton Live is more a production and performance tool than anything like a CDJ or Rekordbox. And there’s nothing preventing Link from working in hardware – indeed, Pro DJ Link works over a network transport just as Ableton Link does. Having a hardware drum machine that synced effortlessly with a computer, minus the usual hassle of MIDI clock, would be a huge boon. I have no idea whether it could happen or not, but I do think a business case for the collaboration could be made at either company.

And, of course, all of this is a bit of a blow for Akai and Native Instruments – Pioneer got their first (or, in the case of Akai, uh … after Akai had left). Each have products that could work standalone; Akai in particular have legions of MPC fans who have been clamoring for something standalone. And with standalone hardware able to do more of the things that once only a computer could, the ongoing trend to standalone devices continues. I think the laptop value proposition and flexibility mean that software is going nowhere, but then it’s also nice to make hardware that is free from the burdens of OS updates and unpredictable performance.

It’s certainly a unit to watch. The price point means Elektron is still competition. But if they nailed the workflow, I’m sure the Pioneer piece is going to be an enormous hit.

Pioneer DJ Toraiz SP-16 news item [pioneerdj.com]

  • I’m not a huge fan of Pioneer, but this looks really awesome at first glance.

  • squirrel squirrel squirrel

    I use my Octatrack with CDJ’s and manually beatmatch, but man it is yet another thing to think about annoyingly when trying to focus on a performance. Syncing with CDJs for me is MASSIVE. Count me in.

  • Dubby Labby

    Peter, it has usb host for pendrive to load samples. It seems very interesting but I hope Roland came with something in between and updated variphrase technology. Somekind of “jog control” (they had something similar in vsynth) will be welcomed by “djing” community.

    • No, that’s right, Roland jumping in this space makes a load of sense.

      It is pretty funny not see Akai in the market they created, though. (And furthermore, you could show someone this and hide the logo and have them believe it’s a recent Akai product! It’s very similar to the MPC Touch in appearance.)

      • Dubby Labby

        In the official introduction video you could see “load samples via usb or from 8gb internal memory” so it should mean from pendrive, storage recording and downloading (I expect somekind of editor maybe vst integration like rmx1000).
        Akai lost the path dealing with Maschine but Apple had some blame on this due they bring us “ipad pro” 2 years later (the lighting migration and the non-charging adaptors could be a title for a tv show) and akai, NI and so shifted to desktop or win10 standalone (Do you remember the prototype?)
        In my experience when Pioneer enters in new kind of gear it is only when it is stablished (contradictory with its name lol) but I expect a iMaschine/Traktor dj apps focused towards ipad pro and this time I hope (praise) for not taking so looong NI!

        Roland is usually a deception… 🙁

  • FS

    im so glad it’s stand alone. i salute Pioneer for making this. I’ve been wondering why developers have not be taking advantage of the modern tech we have to create incredible new units based on the workflows we’ve all grown up to love. bravo Pioneer. now other developers, more serious standalone sampler / beat machines!

  • Virtual Flannel

    Questions. Can it sample from the input? How is the sample slicing and editing? Basically does it do everything I want in a MPC?

  • Will

    Oooooh! Great to see another stand alone sampler with a ‘big’ name (er, two) on it.

    With Octotracks and used stand-alone MPCs both coming in cheaper, they are really going to have to nail workflow at that price point. Even occasionally see MPC-5000s for less and maxed out 1000s with paid JJOS for 1/3 the price. Of course, the MPCs aren’t exactly ‘performance’ oriented which I’m guessing this will be.

    Questions!
    Can a track be polyphonic? Can tracks be recorded off the steps without having to manually shift them? MIDI tracks? To what extent can you record to and manipulate the sequencer without hitting stop?

    Can you sample and edit and load and trigger a sample without hitting stop?

    At what point in the chain are the DSI filters are involved. Is it per track? Per bus? Master only for “dj style” whole mix effects? I’m assuming the latter.

    I see a shift button but only one control with a shifted label (length). What gives?

    Also noticed that each pad on the screen has the pad number and then “SMPL” as if SMPL is changeable. Is it? Perhaps to MIDI?

    What are the ‘User1’ and ‘User2’ modes?

    • Gunboat_Diplo

      Octotrack has a steep learning curve compared to recent MPC hardware. I wonder how the Pioneer will do?

      • ElektronOverlord

        OCTATRACK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • cooptrol

          haha yes, it’s annoying

        • Gunboat_Diplo

          The Oct*a*track is a piece of junk. The Oct*o*track is where it’s at, son. Also, it’s Spiderman, not Spider-Man.

  • partofthepuzzle

    At what point does it still make sense to use two (or 3 or 4) big Pioneer decks AND a external Pioneer EFX box AND an external sampler/sequencer – all to do what you can do with Traktor rr Ableton Live and a single controller? Plus the price: I’m sure the Smith filters sound great but $1600 – ouch.

    I’d much rather see Native Instruments incorporate Ableton’s new Link feature in Traktor and Maschine.

    P.S, So Pioneer has decades of gear with CDJ/DJM/EFX/XDJ-XXXX style names and they named this Toriaz? SMHWLOL! (Shaking my head while LOL’ing)

  • Freeks

    Specs don’t tell much.
    Phrase sampler or real sampler?
    If it’s real sampler then what is the polyphony?
    Does it have song mode or is just for live triggering of seqs?
    Is there digifilters per part or is there only one master filter?
    No other modularion than envelope? No even lfo?

  • Yanakyl

    Ah looks interesting, separated outs is what I want, if you can route the in to the filter before recording its a huge thing. What makes me wonder is: 16 steps sequencer????? Which lead to my last big buying point: quantising must be optional!
    Otherwise even half the price is too much for me… Overall I just hope, I’ve been waiting for a modern sampler with pads made for live performance and separated outs! Just hope I can bang some 8 bar loops with no quantise.

  • baju-baju

    Very interesting. Me wantee!

  • SyntheticJuice

    looks very interesting.. I have so many questions about the workflows for live sampling, slicing, sequencing, looping, phrase/scene building.. Hopefully more vids and a manual will be released soon.

  • Nagasaki Nightrider

    Who wouldn’t want good analog filters in their sampler? Great idea. One thing nobody seems to be talking about, however, is the sequencer. If it’s a pain in the ass to use, the Dave Smithiness and abundant blinking lights are going to be small consolations at that price point. All I know for sure is that whoever approved the name of this thing was very high.

    • It’s a shockingly un-marketable name for such a neato piece of gear.

  • Sandy Salu

    Nice idea idea to cooperate Dave Smith filters to a sampler. It seems like a nice competitor to Akai MPC Touch.

    Pricewise is this maybe a bit out of hand!

    toraiz-sp-16: 1599 eu

    Akai MPC Touch: 700 eu

    • mckenic

      Akai MPC Touch: 700 eu
      + Laptop: Around €800-€1000.

      • heinrich zwahlen

        yea but are not going to have a laptop that is also usefull for many other things anyway? I’d rather have that so i can also upgrade it separately with better hard and software.mI really don’t see the andvantage of replacing the laptop in that regard..not to mention the superior display and file management functions.

        • mckenic

          That is fair enough and a perfectly valid choice – I personally prefer dedicated gear that does one thing well. And I am NEVER buying another piece of software as the ‘hub’ of my workflow again (particularly N.I. stuff). In reality one could use a €500 iPad & audio interface to do most anything this, the MPC Touch or Maschine can do. You just have to compare like for like when folks bring up price. This is a stand alone sampler with analogue filters, touch screen, 8 gig of memory and a sequencer. To do the same with the MPC Touch you wont get away with just paying €700 – you also need a €1k-ish laptop to run it. It will have to be hella special to make me upgrade from my JJOS Mpc 1000 – but finally there is another alternative to an aging mpc1000 or Beat Thang!

      • Right, well, this is always why laptops aren’t going away – the value proposition.

        Because at this point it’s actually pretty hard for most people to get by without owning a computer, they’re not factoring that cost into the equation.

        On the other hand, some people *are* willing to pay a premium for dedicated hardware.

        And so both categories continue to thrive.

        • wetterberg

          I think you’re right to go up against the “hardware only” fetishists, Peter. This is after all “createdigitalmusic” in a world of computers. We need less either/or, and more “¿porque no las dos?”

  • Polite Society

    Looks great, but i’m not seeing any hint that it’s actually a sampler, it’s a sample playback machine. It does have a stereo input, but that might be the usual play audio through the onboard filters/effects thing that always seems to be tacked on. If it does though, and it has the ability to play chromatically past 1 octave and/or polyphonically, it might replace my octatrack.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    A bit pricey no doubt and why would i need a hardware drum machine if i can use Maschine as a plug in inside Ableton already now? Just asking.

    • Gunboat_Diplo

      because it’s a dedicated hardware drum machine. you won’t have to worry about your laptop becoming the bottleneck in your system. it’s built for ‘gigging’, while a laptop is not.
      if I have maschine, I still need an audio interface, right? a stand-alone sequencer and all that is just that: STANDALONE

    • Yermom

      It’s all about workflow. That said, I have enough workflow options already. This is more expensive than an Octatrack and I bet not quite as refined. Analog filters are great, but I have a eurorack modular and the Elektron dark trinity, as well as some Moog desktop options, so I have filters I can run things through. I have a weakness for grooveboxes, but I somehow find my resolve easily enough when they’re over $1000 and I already made an exception for DSI’s Tempest and the Elektron gear, but I want to be floored with intuitive workflow or sound for my attention to return to the idea of a $1600 sampler.

  • Box Bunny

    „Sampler with analog filter“ or „Rompler with analog filter“?

    Please advise.

  • Cubilas

    I want to know, as most everyone else does… Is this really a sampler? Or just a sample – playback unit.
    Please tell us it is an intuitive sampling workstation with unique and easy to use chopping abilities..
    I will be waiting.. 🙂