Roland and Rane each have products aimed at Pioneer’s offerings in the computer controller market. Both work with Serato software – but each represents a different approach.

If Pioneer’s hegemony in standalone players seems unshakable, there’s at least the computer arena in which to compete. Pioneer for its part has moved to strengthen its Rekordbox software as a computer DJ software rival to Native Instruments’ Traktor, Serato DJ, and others.

For the experienced touring DJ, that strategy may well be meaningless. If you view Rekordbox as a tool for prepping a USB stick that you play on the CDJs already installed in the club, you may not particularly care about what it does in a laptop/controller setup. But, there’s still a large market of people getting into DJing for whom both the Pioneer name and the company’s vertically-integrated offerings hold a lot of appeal.

The challenge for Rane and Roland – hook into the Serato platform instead, and try to be better than Pioneer at similar price points. And there’s some added maneuvering room here. Native Instruments’ Traktor line hasn’t really evolved much lately, hampered in part by aging flagship software. And I agree absolutely with DJ TechTools’ Dan White – it looks like Roland is poised to become Serato’s main hardware vendor while Pioneer and InMusic focus on their own integrated ecosystems. Also, you can often expect a Japanese manufacturer to have more patience to play a long game. Serato remains a big player in a number of markets (notably the USA and southeast Asia), so there’s some market to pursue.

But let’s consider each company’s angle.

Rane: A gimmick-packed battle mixer, a MIDI-only turntable

Rane, formerly independent, is now owned by InMusic. The Rhode Island-based music giant is the one that is gunning directly for Pioneer – not only with computer controller rigs, but also in the standalone player market. The new standalone Denon players are the first with any potential to unseat Pioneer’s ubiquitous DJ, by offering more features for the price. (I’m not going to comment on their odds, though – beating Pioneer’s entrenched position in the club market will be one heck of an uphill battle.)

For computer-based DJs, Rane has two offerings. One is a mixer packed with features, and one is a turntable re-imagined as a MIDI-only device.

Seventy-Two Battle Mixer

This is what happens if you cross Rane’s mixer tech with InMusic’s touchscreens and pads – and then go after Pioneer’s competing “Battle-Ready” DJM-S9.

Indeed, the Seventy-Two is essentially control-for-control a clone of the Pioneer mixer, with the addition of touchscreen, and in a Rane case.

The screen lets you access Serato’s waveforms and use internal effects. Like the Pioneer S9, the Seventy-Two features pads and controls intended for use with Serato effects, digital vinyl, and internal mixing. Unlike the Pioneer, those effects require Serato. (The S9 is more useful when used as a conventional mixer, in that it has internal effects.)

The controller can be assigned to other tools, though I’m unsure how access to the touchscreens works. (It might be hackable; generally these devices treat these displays as external monitors.) One commenter on DJTT notes that other Serato displays have been made to work with the popular Virtual DJ software.

US$1899, fourth quarter

Twelve – the computer-only turntable

This is the most interesting product of the bunch, to me. It’s basically a full-sized (12″!) motorized turntable, minus the tone arm and needle. So you can’t play records on it, but you can use it as a DJ controller. You connect it via USB, and then you have the tactile feedback of an actual turntable, without the hassle and unreliability of digital vinyl control.

Eliminating the tone arm may not please everyone. What you get in its place is what they call the “Strip Search” (which gives me not the most pleasant associations as a phrase, but okay). That touch interface at least has the advantage of hot cues, with access to eight points on a track you can access immediately – something you can’t do quite as easily by physically lifting and moving a tone arm, to be sure.

Full 12” Vinyl with motorized platter to control playback
Traditional, familiar turntable layout, no need to learn something new
Strip Search with 8 hot cue triggers access
5.0 kfcm High torque motor with Hi/Low torque adjust for more traditional setups
4 decks of control so you can use one, two or more (switchable on the top right of the unit)
Extreme precision—3600 ticks of platter resolution for seamless performance
MIDI interface via USB that can be connected to the SEVENTY-TWO or your computer
33 1/3 and 45 rpm platter speeds
8/16/50% pitch with precise dual resolution detented slider
Top Panel rotary and traditional Motor Off switch, allows traditional wind down effects

Of course, this immediately begs the question, why not ditch the laptop and use this interface for a standalone player? I suspect someone will do that soon, whether it’s InMusic (with their Denon or Rane brands) or someone like Pioneer. And a 7″ rendition of this also seems a no-brainer. But this is already interesting.

And I almost totally want one. Almost, because the darned thing is a whopping US$799. I’m trying to figure out the person who will pay twice the price of a normal turntable for something that won’t play records. Wealthy … uh … Serato clinicians? Don’t know. But as technology, it’s interesting, and could be a sign of things to come.

US$799, fourth quarter

Roland: Affordable, low-latency controllers

So, if Rane has some really interesting but high-priced products – more demonstration of where things might go than something to buy right now – Roland brings us back down to Earth.

And that’s in stark contrast to where Roland entered, with the DJ-808 they added to their AIRA line last fall. The DJ-808 was cool, but … weird. It did Serato control, TR drum machine sequencing, and VT vocal transformations, but at a high cost – both in money and size.

But the new controllers from Roland bring price and size in line with competing options – enough that have probably become your best bet if you’re in the market for a Serato controller.

Both also have the same ultra-low-latency performance featured on the DJ-808 (though they lack the high resolution of the 808 platters).

The US$699.99 DJ-505 gives you most of what the DJ-808 did, plus a bundle of Serato DJ and Serato Tool Kit (for most additional features), and can be upgraded to Serato digital vinyl control.

The US$$299.99 still performs most of the controller tricks and TR functionality, with Serato Intro.

Both have TR (808 and 909) drum sounds and hands-on controls for them; the DJ-808 includes the full TR-S sequencer onboard.

The DJ-505 looks like quite a buy. It’s still a standalone mixer. It doesn’t have the VT vocal transformer effects of the DJ-808, but it still includes a mic input and some basic effects. And you get hands-on controls for both Serato and the internal TR sounds.

But as entry-level offering, the DJ-202 is no slouch, either – and it looks to be portable, too. Really, the only reservation you might have is buying into Serato as your DJ tool, depending on your preference. (Then again, if the Roland gear catches on, alternate tools like Virtual DJ may soon see support.)

The DJ-202 could also give Pioneer’s DDJ-SSB2 a run for its money.

In fact, figure that this low end of the market is where most of the sales is. (DJ TechTools observes that the Pioneer SSB2 is the best-selling US controller.)

And Native Instruments, while I’m a fan of Traktor, it really does feel like your offerings have fallen badly behind. Curious what your next move is.

Standalone, anyone?

At the low end of the market, it’s clear why computers aren’t going anywhere.

If people walk into a music shop and want a DJ tool that’s flexible and cheap, there’s nothing quite like spending under $300 and getting a full-fledged system. In fact, even for a couple hundred dollars more, you might get something that works with your computer and still functions as a mixer. Even with cheap embedded computing and touchscreens, you can’t change the fact that people already own laptops (or iPads) with lots of internal storage and big displays.

But you also can’t change some of the problems with laptops. Bringing them to gigs and fitting them in a booth is a pain. Audio can be unreliable and tough to configure.

It’s still impressive to me that there are so few standalone options. Denon has its own CDJ rival and even an all-in-one (though massive and expensive) coffin.

But once you see products like AKAI’s new MPCs, which are essentially controllers with their own computer inside, it’s not hard to imagine where things will go. What about a DJ device you can take out of a flight case and plug directly into a mixer? There’s no question that makers like Roland, InMusic, Native Instruments, and others all have the technical capacity to make such a device.

While we wait, though, my prediction is this: when those hit, the whole direction of the market will change fast.

Bets, anyone?

  • lokey

    to me, it all comes down to how open and easy it is to repurpose the rane12. can i pipe this into ableton, and use it to control a m4l patch?

    • Oh, indeed… it’s all MIDI output.

      That said, I think you can find a cheaper controller/mixer unless you’re really looking to spend nearly two grand on this!

      The bigger question is how you access those displays (particularly if you want to use their touch input)

      • Dubby Labby

        If Rane is intelligent they will release a SDK like Ableton did with their Push2 and Novation did with their Lpro.
        If not hackers will do it but sales will be hurt since an standard needs to work with others players or die.
        Right done: Ableton link.
        Wrong done: NI stems.

    • Dubby Labby

      M4l patch? Once again…
      You can do it with Ms.Pinky patch or with Scratch Track vst…
      I have lots of ideas to implement this right (and recover and even i prove the Bridge/Mixtape features..) but at the end is easy to use Traktor and its controllers for the most “logical” setup (aside you are into experimentalism with turntable as generative tool)
      NI should deliver some tools with Maschine or with DAW or partner. It’s a must if they want to found their lost path IMnotHanymoreO.

      • I still hold out faith that someday NI will get the standalone hardware thing. 🙂

        • Dubby Labby

          Well as Apple copycats they should release an embed mixer and shit out themselves. It’s usual to say A to keep people buying their selling products meanwhile they develop something which broke the compatibility. Apple did it with macintel, NI did it with scratchamp2 drivers s they have the background to do it properly once again and users will be pleasant and forget on an on…

        • FS

          i do think Akai hit the nail on the head with the new MPC’s, use it it with or without a computer, i think that’s a pretty stellar archetype and would seem like a no-brainer for Maschine and Push to follow.

          on the DJ side, it comes down to what your goals are when you DJ. if you’re a turntablist you’re going to need what feels like a real turntable but when your aim is to move a crowd, aside from scrutiny form other DJ’s and the aesthetic of the gear under your fingers, a great DJ could play a highly memorable set from an iPhone. the promise from many new products is an increase in creativity and it’s easy to think “if i only had that new gear i’d be able to soar” and i think that’s a big percentage of what many new offerings bank on, even though they do present some cool features.

          • Dubby Labby

            Old news limited by software. After these Rane product hardly we will see an standalone NS7mk4 or standalone Dashboard (as Peter suggested) due Serato dependency (and zero interest on linux port stated time to time in their forums)

            Akai did it with Mpc (with some drawbacks and drama) but almost it controls all the sides of the development (hard and soft) meanwhile Rane was bought by inMusic, Serato wasn’t so…

            What you are asking for maybe could be delivered by Pioneer and NI (due to Peter answer to my first comment and some rumours about thud rumble NUC mixer) or even by Denon… Numark and Serato had the chance but bad business plan seems to get them into a dead road. If twelve/seventy-two become a win or fail it’s a matter of time but I feel the market has shifted long time ago and those units aren’t the “standard” gear for djs anymore. Pioneer seems the winner in the long run (from the time where they laugh at xponent controller to be the market flooder) and probably they are going ready to release a game changer when RB gets mature.
            NI doesn’t seems interested in the A>B mixing anymore (or almost not in the old school way) so let’s see what they bring. ATM the software is only updating few cosmetic things as their new open beta points.
            New hardware? The Roland controllers seem the best idea they could copy but of course they need some kind of hardware partner since they haven’t the expertice (or are toooo lazy)
            An embedding platform for the software will be welcome making all it’s non class compliant controllers almost pseudo-standalone. Delivering real iOS apps alongside could help in sales too now where the iDevices show how cappable are (Bm3, djplayer, etc)

  • Dubby Labby

    My mouth and my fingers hurt about this. It’s obvious Pioneer and Numark have to step up and bring some sort of standalone turntable (Pio) and standalone Dashboard (Numark) or burn in hell to be so greedy and sell that into bits.
    Embed computers or even updated firmware into existing products like Pioneer ToRaiz (to make it work with timecode/digital turntable/cdj as MAIN control and bring true groovebox scratching ala The Bridge) it’s doable and should been delivered in some moment. The sad part is feeling it’s going to be late since I feel Twelve very outdated as you pointed Peter.
    Do you remember about Cdx/ttm hacks?

    Strip search?


    NI has stated time ago they are software company, if embed solutions are seen as computer or computerless it’s up to them. My thoughts:

    I wanted a job time ago, now I just want to forget about all of these and focus on my iPad blocswave/Launchpad with hardware and just be happy. Djs are crazy (to say something gentle…)


    • Well, Native Instruments has upped their hardware aptitude, so don’t knock them out of it…

      Look, Twelve looks great. It’s just expensive, and for now appears to require being tethered to a computer. Actually, it’s probably the Seventy-Two that really doesn’t make sense.

      What’s the point here? Why not ditch the mixer components but let the Seventy-Two act properly as a standalone library manager, with the Twelve a the decks?

      Or, ditch the Serato control features, and let the Seventy-Two focus on being a standalone mixer?

      What really baffles me is this sort of weird, computer-dependent compromise. Don’t get me wrong; I of course love computers. But these don’t really look like they’re designed as computer accessories, either. They’re trying to fit multiple categories at once, and so they wind up being very expensive but unfocused solutions – and it’s not just Rane, it’s sort of the whole industry.

      The hacks, I agree, were probably more interesting. Maybe we just need a new batch of hacks. 🙂

      • Dubby Labby

        Djing has been stagnated partly by Intel/mac strategy; partly be #realdijing mindset (also lawsuits and other weird actitudes like Pioneer early days against controllers).
        The point is there is still room for creative tools in djing terms but brands and users still seem themselves as “enterntainers” more than “musicians” and that’s what is killing the Artform itself (don’t talking about scratching directly, talking about turntable instrumentalization).
        I have clear where the dots are going and maybe we will see some of them happening soon (Pioneer could be the revelation) but price will never be right to the economy. Hint: Djm2000/nexus was a fail like NI Stems but both pointed the right direction.

        If someone with dsp and/or embed/raspi knowledge wants to develop the next “BIG” thing before Pioneer/Numark find it profitable, just drop me a mail. My fee as concept designer and software/hardware assistance are near to zero for open projects and 100€/h for any brand or professional project interested. I have bills to pay and I’m boring of this shit xD

  • chaircrusher

    I bought turntables and a mixer 25 years ago, and I have vinyl records. When I see a DJ set done with laptops & controllers, or CDJs, what makes them a worthwhile experience could be done just as well with the old all-analog setup.

    In fact all these gizmos & widgets tend to make for plenty of boring DJ sets. So you play ? tracks at once? Bully for you, but couldn’t you find records that don’t require stacking the sound so high to be emotional and exciting? Play loops? I’m betting the producer who made those records is way better at it than you are.

    And in closing, all y’all kids get off my damn lawn.