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Denon DN-9000 Review



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Gary Job

A year or so ago, a flatbed CD player came out, which looked like a scaled down vinyl turntable and for those looking for  no-frills alternative to turntables enabling them to go wik,wikki,wik, pretty much built a coffin for even the latest "better than  Technics" turntables.  That same player was also a great way of warming up the venue (don't touch the heatsink !!) Before  nailing the lid on that particular coffin, its now time to gracefully rest that flatbed CD player inside too.  Enter the Denon.   The Denon DN-D9000, to be precise.  For the first time in several years, a player has come out which offers considerably  more than "all-the-same-buttons, just laid out differently".  Read on....

Its happened to us all hasn't it.  You've got a full dance floor, and somewhere between your tapping foot, your drumming  fingers, and your brain, a track pops into your head.  It's the track that's going to mix in perfectly to the current one and will  drive the audience into a rhythmic frenzy.  In less than a minute though, your hopes are dashed as you discover that the track  of your dreams is in fact on the same CD that you're already playing. "Oh dear" you mutter, as you cue up some other track  and watch the dance floor frenzy cool, and the bar queue lengthen....

Picture the above scene with your new Denon DN-D9000...The track you want next is on the same CD that you're already  playing.  NO PROBLEM.  You press the "Alpha track" button select any track on the CD that's already playing, even the  same one.  Cue it up, listen to it in your headphones, adjust its pitch, get the beats sync'd up with the track that's playing out  to your audience. (which is still playing regardless),  slowly move your mixer crossfader over, and watch the audience go wild.  After a sip from your pint, you pat the control panel of your Denon, accompanied by a soft word of praise. Owning one of  these units is just like having 2 copies of every CD in your collection (but uses less space).

Unlike some other players currently "leading" the market, however, the Denon DN-D9000 doesn't just have one  (previously) "great" feature, bundled with and a few hum-drum ones.  The amazing Alpha track feature is just one of several  world-first features on Denon's latest musical miracle. 

Tradesmans Entrance
The back of the drive unit gives you your first idea that there is something very special about this unit. This double CD  player has 4 (2 pairs) of RCA Phono sockets PER DRIVE = 1 pair for Master (normal) CD output, and another pair for the  Monitor (Alpha track) CD output.  This means of course that you can plug the unit into no less than 4 of your mixers  inputs/channels at once, giving you the ability to play, or just cue up any of the 4 outputs through your mixers headphones,  just like having 4 separate CD sources.  In the rare event that you'll be attaching this unit to a baby/2 channel mixer, you  can choose to have both Master and Alpha tracks playing down just 1 pair of phono's per CD-drive.  With the output level of  the alpha track being gracefully controlled by you, on the Denons own controls.

The main connecting lead, running between the control panel and the drive units is well designed with a positive locking  mechanism, to prevent accidental removal.

The rear of the main drive unit also boasts digital outputs, for 100% clean feeds to mixers or digital recording devices.  Its  note-worthy that the digital outputs on the '9000 still perform perfectly even when the Pitch of the track is changed, and even  when loops are being used.  Another "world first".

Other rear features include the remote fader start connectors, which, unlike some other manufacturers "latest" offerings,  work with any "standard" mixers fader starts, not tying you to buying the same brand of mixer & CD-decks, if you want  fader start.  You can also pre-set the '9000 from the front panel pre-sets to say how you want the Fader starts to work when  you (cross)fade away from the signal (go to Pause, or return to Cue point).

The front of the main drive unit, is fairly straight forward. Thankfully, Denon have sensibly stayed well clear of slot loading  CD-drives, which pull your CD and dust and smoke, into the player.  In addition to the two CD-drawers, there's a well  protected power button, an open/close button for each drawer (in addition to the two featured on the control panel) and two very bright blue LED's which light up the CD drawers when open, aiding you while loading your precious disc's in the near  dark environments that we all work in.  Thoughtfully, the LED's also flash to indicate when the drawers are about to move.   This is especially useful considering the speed that these drawers close....faster than a Cash Register in  Dixons, on Christmas Eve.

Although not mentioned in the manual, the drawers will also close automatically if pushed the first millimetre. This is  probably not recommended but, its nice to know that if you accidentally brush against an open drawer, it will close quickly,  rather than stay out for more knocks.

(Mission) Control Panel
The layout of the 3-rack unit control panel has been carefully designed so that the display remains visible even when you are  using the controls.  This may sound like a logical, common-sense idea, but apparently some other manufacturers don't have  any common sense - evident by them slapping displays in the middle of jog wheels, which are then hidden by the users hand/wrist when you're using the search controls - Doh!

All of the Denon DN-D9000's main action keys are large rubber buttons, which not only illuminate internally, but glow in  different colours to show different modes, making the unit even more user-friendly.  For example, the drawer open/close  button (which sensibly cant be operated when the disc is playing - we've all done that too, haven't we...), glows Green  internally, when you can use it, Red when you cant.   The Cue buttons, Play Buttons (Yes, I do mean plural, remember you  can play two tracks from the same disc, each side !), The looping controls, the sampler buttons, all glow internally, colour  coded, and even dim or bright if you're half way through a function, guiding you and confirming whats on and off etc.  Its like having Mr Denon as your Roadie.

Each of the two multi-coloured displays are sensibly located NON-centred, so your view of the display is not blocked by your  hands reaching for the controls.  Ample LED's compliment the colour display and identify which buttons are on/off etc.  To  reduce the button-count, and give everything a well-spaced feeling, several of the non-primary buttons, perform extra functions if you hold them for longer than a second.  Both static, and where needed, scrolling Text displays clearly inform you  of anything that's happening, without cluttering the display with bounce-to-the-beat graphics.  The status of each of the four,  nest-able seamless loops are clearly shown, with Open, looping, and Exiting loops all depicted.

Its not big, but it is clever
One of the first ways that the Denon DN-D9000 shows its intelligence, is that as you rotate the selector knob to select the  tracks, the BPM of each track is secretly calculated without you even going near the Play button.  Its not big, but it is clever.   The BPM read out incidentally, changes almost immediately when you change the pitch control.  For unusual tracks, you can  use hit the Tap key, to the beat, to enter the tracks BPM yourself.

Not only is the Auto/Manual BPM counter, a handy feature for mixing, but all of the studio quality effects that the unit offers  are synchronised to the beat. No more tricky mental calculations to work out that a track running at 133BPM needs your  separate effects unit to be set to about 451.1278 milliseconds.

"Cut that out !!!"
But that's not where the DN-D9000's problem solving abilities end.   Do your audience hate the way that many of today's  dance tracks suddenly drop all their beat, and enter a quiet ambient/trance section (eg: Castles in the Sky - 30 seconds into  the track, or PPK's Resurrection)?  By the time the beats come back, half your audience have picked up their handbags  (even the girls) and drifted back to the bar.  Sound familiar?

Or how about that track that's great to dance to, but has a verse that contains enough explicit lyrics to earn you a hard stare  from the organisers wife? (The '9000 has another way around this *&#@%@ problem too !! - See the "Dump" effect,  mentioned later)

Mobile Jocks in particular, does this sound familiar? You've got 2 minutes left of the evening, the village hall caretaker has  made sure that you've seen him glance at his watch six times in as many minutes, and has told you he's going to pull your  plugs out "on the dot".  You cue the last track up and tremble when you see its over 3 minutes long and has one of those distinctive endings that everyone's going to notice if you fade it out early.  NO problem.  Whilst cueing the track, press a  button at the beginning of the section that you don't want played (maybe the middle chorus and that usual lengthy  instrumental break a third of the way through), press another button at the end of the section and cue back to your start point.   When you play the track, the player seamlessly misses out the Spliced section as if it were never there.  Hey presto,  your 3 minute nightmare, just turned into a 2 minute dream.

Everybody pitch in
The range offered by the pitch control is remarkably wide.  Even while a CD is playing, you can change the range between  +\-4%, 10%,16%, 24% and even 100%.  At this last setting, you can bring the CD to a complete halt !!! or have it ticking  over at a fraction of its normal speed.  Without getting too technical, the incredible microprocessors within the Denon (2 per drive) are able to keep the key, exactly the same, regardless of any pitch range you are using, without any hint of the singer  on the CD sounding like a deep voiced lumberjack, or a squeaky chipmunk. 

Some existing players offer this key/master tempo feature to a certain degree, but most (even the well known brands) start  adding deep chopping/clipping/throbbing noises when asked to cope with much more than a few % pitch change, due to lack  of processing power.  The processors in the Denon handle all the master key/master tempo ranges without "non-9000" distortion on all, but the most extreme pitches (mind you, I think that even the sugar-babes themselves might sound a bit  distorted too, if asked to sing "Freak like me" at minus 70% pitch.

Round and round 
Denon were one of the first to introduce seamless loops to the frustrated DJ, who found that popular tracks were just too  short, and that the 12" remixes were often too different from the standard "Radio edit" versions that the audience wanted.  Also, buying two copies of every such track, enabling the track to be extended by mixing the track back into itself, was just  too expensive. 

Does this unit have seamless loops? Of course it does...8 of them to be precise (4 per drive), as with most seamless loops,  there are no time limits as to how long a loop can last.  And of course, when you press exit at any time while the loop is  playing, the track just carries on perfectly from the end of the loop.

Each drives 4 loops can be nested, eg. A loop within a loop (within a loop, within a loop !!), or used independently.  So, if you'd  like to loop a tracks intro, to make it easier to mix it into a track that's already playing, then loop the end of the track, to  make it easier to mix the next track into it, you've still got two seamless loops left for creative looping of the middle portion  of the track.  You can also change the end of a playing loop instantly, shortening the loop each time, until your down to a tiny  loop (like a snare drum), looping several times per second, until you release the loop by pressing exit.

Unusually, if you set up a loop while the tracks playing (live), and don't get your timing quite right (giving yourself either no  beat, or a double beat, at the end of each loop) , you can adjust not only the the loop exit point, but unlike other players, also  the loop entry point - ALL while the track is still playing, until its perfect.  On other players, you'd have to just Hit "Exit" a  live loop, and cover your reddened face.

Particularly useful for "off-air" adjusting longer loops, is the Denon's ability to play you just the few seconds before the end  of the loop, then the beginning few seconds after the loop.  These few seconds being the only parts you really need to hear to  make sure the loop is on-the-beat.  The alternative, without this feature, would be to listen to your whole loop, making brief  adjustments on each pass until it sounds "right". This is a seriously good time saver.

Off to a Hot start
Hot starts are a great mixing tool and the Denon has 6 of them, again per drive, making 12 in total enabling you to instantly  jump to precise point (set by you) on any track on a CD.  In practice, you could set up a hot start for the first beat of the intro  on track 4, and jump instantly to that point as your current track starts its instrumental break.   Another great use of Hot  starts is to stutter parts of a track, just like you might do with a sampler, but with the advantage that the rest of the track continuing to play, unlike a sampler that would stop playing at the end of its Sample time.  An option on the hot starts section  enables you to have your selected hot starts play only whilst you're holding down the button, further enhancing the creative  options.

As mentioned elsewhere in this review, the Denon 9000 effortlessly allows you to combine several functions at once.  So a  few seconds scratching ending in a rapid back spin of the platter, followed by a  hot-start, to resume the track from exactly  where you want it too, is a stunning effect, but simple to do.

Thanks for the memory
If you like the sound of what you've heard so far, and are thinking that it would be a shame to turn the unit off, losing all of  the Cue points, pitch, Loops, hot starts and splice settings that you've perfected, fear not.  The Denon offers you 5000  memory slots for storing such information at the push of a couple of buttons.  Recalling the information is simple too.  When  you insert a disc in the player, an icon on the display appears if the player knows that it has memory information about a  track on that disc.  At the push of a confirmation button, all the previously worked out loops, splices etc are loaded up in  seconds.  A friend of mine regularly curses two single CD players that he bought recently, for although they have loop  memory feature, he can never remember which of the two players he stored the track settings on, for any particular disk.   This causes him the hassle of having to attempt the mix manually, or playing some other track in the one player, just to free  up the player holding the memory information.  Like previous Denon's, the player will automatically recognise and load  memory information for any CD, placed in either drive, regardless of which drive the memory was stored on.

If you ever get close to filling up all 5000 memory slots, you can either delete the contents of specific memory slots manually,  or let the Denon delete a block of the oldest memory slots for you.

In addition to the above memory, the Denon also allows you to program the order of favourite tracks (like a playlist) on up to  6 CD's.  This is really useful for background music applications, before the main nights entertainment starts and again, the  Denon will recognise CD's (again, in either drive) which you've stored a playlist for track listings, and will load the program  up almost instantly..  You can even insert track numbers into one of the six programs/playlists without having to start  programming from the beginning.

Free Samples.... 
Well actually 4. (OK, I admit that was a lousy pun).  Despite what some confused sources currently have listed.  The Denon  has 2 Samplers PER DRIVE. Each sampler holds 15 seconds of sound.(enough for a full 32 beats of most dance music).   Each sampler can be played/triggered manually to your hearts content, seamlessly looped, have its start and end points  trimmed, stuttered, and even played in reverse (and even looped in reverse if you want it).  The samples can even be  included in various ways with the Effects and platter section of the player. (more on this later). 

Great Effect-ations 
As if all the above (and theres still more to come) wasn't enough, the DN-D9000 has a selection of studio quality audio  effects, which can be applied to either the main track, the Alpha track or the samplers.  The 4 effects include Flanger, for  those whooshy jet aircraft effects, Delay, Filter (2 filter effects for those popular remix effects where the track starts off like  its being played down a phone line, then builds to full-bandwidth sound - at your own speed),and Transform; 2 effects, one of which even transforms between the playing track and the sampler!! Offering 6 in total, with the two each of the Filter and  Transform effects.

Any or all of the 4 types of effects can be selected at the same time.  Also all the effects are sync'ed up automatically using  the units auto BPM counter (with manual override), so that the effects "fit-in" with perfect timing to the track you're playing.    Each of the effects can also be adjusted with various parameters, and their inclusion in the mix can be separately adjusted  from dry (no effect-original signal only) to Wet (all effect - no original signal audible), or anywhere in between. 

Each effect can be configured to your hearts desire, then switched on and off/bypassed as required.   Want to know what your  flanged/delayed and transformed effect is going to sound like on that alpha track, that you're about to play? You've guessed  it, No problem....Smooth transitions between the original (un-effected) track, and the "wet" (Effected) track are facilitated  with the platter wheel, which simply glides your effect in, or out, if the "instant on/off" that the Bypass switch gives you, is too  much.

That's Wheely, wheely great
Ok, you've seen the pictures, and you've probably noticed that large 70mm Rubber coated wheel, with rich blue back  illumination, on each deck.  What does it (The platter) do? Well, quite a lot.

The rubberised surface gives much better control over the platter than real vinyl, or indeed it must be said, over the  "friction-challenged" control offered by other players that have tried to make their platters look/feel like grooved vinyl.

What you cant tell from any of the photos, or web-shots is how reassuringly professional the platters feel. (and I don't mean  that I've been fondling that "Smoke gets in your eyes" group from the '60's)  The platter movement on the '9000 is silky  smooth. The platters feel solid, and I suspect have quality bearings "deep down".  Give'em a spin, and their momentum will  keep them rotating for a good 10 seconds or so.

The Platter also has several effects/modes all of its own, separate from the effects already mentioned.  Drag Start, which  gives you an adjustable "speed up time", slurring the track like an old belt drive deck would do, when you press Start.  Brake  effect, which slurs the track down to a stop, like when the power plug falls out of your turntable. Reverse Play, which (wait for  it) reverses the direction of playback each time you press Play.  Tail echo, which is BPM synchronised (and user length  adjustable) to give a pleasant remix type ending when you hit Pause. 

Finally, and very cleverly, the Dump function, which plays the running track backwards when you activate the dump, but  when you de-activate it, it plays from where the track would have got to, had you not activated the feature.  Although difficult  to explain in words, this feature has been used several times on recent releases to disguise offensive words in Radio edits.   EG:

Shaggy and Ali G - You know he really said "Erection" but it sounded like he was singing "noitcerc", or when  Afroman's "got high" mentioned what he was going to eat a "yssup" but the tracks flow, or beat didn't suffer.

Just like vinyl? - No! BETTER than vinyl !!! 
Firstly, if your one of those oppressed soles, who is getting increasingly hacked off that you cant get as good a selection of  vinyl as readily as you could even 6 months ago, but like to have a little scratching session now and again, so simply HAVE  to keep your Technics SL12's (and all the cartridges, styli etc), prepare to be released from your shackles.   While one other  CD player manufacturer has made a player that is almost as good as scratching on vinyl, Denon set their sights higher and  have successfully surpassed that.  Its fair to say that the DN-D9000 offers "Better than vinyl" scratching. 

Here's how.  Like most features on the DN-D9000, the scratch feature offers different settings/parameters.  In this case,  namely forward sound only, Backward sound only, Forward & Backward sound.  The scratching can be set to work on the  playing track(s), or the Samples.  Think of the cash you'll save in replacement crossfaders.  No more having to change you input/transform toggle switches with a pen tip because the shaft snapped off during a particularly heavy transforming spot  you were doing a few weeks back.   The only people who will not appreciate this feature, are the Spares department at your  mixers manufacturers.

As with almost all the Denon DN-D9000's features, you can use several features at once.  Want to scratch to your hearts  content (with or without hammering your mixer faders), over a seamlessly looped beat, while manually firing off one set of  sampled vocals at the start each "chorus", and firing off another sample at the end?  Mixing in another track off the same  CD?  You do?   The Denon DN-D9000 will do it for you, and even more simultaneously too...and that's using up only one side  of the player.  

Is all that scratching making you itch? Well, the platter is also used to search forwards and backwards through tracks,  adjusting the start and end points of loops, samples etc. 

Let's get personal
Do you get fed up with switching on some of your gear and have to immediately change a few things to get'em just the way  you like it?  Changing the Time Elapsed display to Time Remain perhaps? Does your equipment do "convenient" things, that  you recognise are a good idea, but just don't quiet work exactly how you'd like them to?  Like the way the CD drawer of your  current player chooses to auto-close, at the same moment you're loading the next CD? (oh, that distressing sight of a closed  CD drawer, with half a CD poking out. (not at all distressing when it happens to someone elses CD of course).

By no means a first for the DN-D9000, but certainly a feature that other manufacturers seem to be oblivious to, is pre-sets.   The 9000 allows you to set the way you want various features to work, then it remembers them, giving you those settings as  soon as you  switch on.  These settings can be changed by you of course at anytime of course, either briefly, or as your new  presets..  

The 9000's presets give you control over things which are normally "factory set".  Such as which Time display you'd like  (Elapsed/Remain), how many seconds the CD drawers stay open before auto-closing, how long before a drive will stay  inactive before dropping into "Sleep mode" (to further enhance longevity of the quality drives), whether you'd like the  auto-cue on or off (This cues each track to the music start, which as you know, is rarely at 00mins:00secs:00frames).    

Very nice till it breaks
Once you've used your Denon for a while, the last thing you want to do, is have to send it away for one reason or another.   Indeed, being a double CD player, it would be a shame to lose the whole player for a few days for a CD drive to be replaced,  when the other CD drive is working perfectly.  NO problem (this phrase is starting to become a catch-phrase for this player).

The CD drives are independently USER removable.  The manual even tells you that you're allowed to remove them, and  even what the part number for the replacement drive.  Four screws, a low-voltage power cable, and a ribbon/data connector  later, your old drive is out, and the new one is in.  All possible while the other drive is still playing a track.

What will they think of next?
Nowadays it seems that as soon as you buy something, "they" bring out something, which does even more.  NO problem.   The Denon has a certain amount of future proofing, in the way that its software is  upgradable simply by inserting a CD  containing the upgrade data, into the drive and powering up.  OK, don't expect any software upgrade to suddenly give your player twice the number of loops, hundreds of hot starts, or give you twice as much sampling time, it wont.  But there are  already rumours of a software upgrade to allow MP3 files to be played and manipulated on the DN-D9000, being released in  the Autumn/Winter 2002, stealing the already diminished and humbled "thunder" from other manufacturers, current attempts at counter releases to this new world-leading player.  Read More


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