At first glance, the biggest change is the new screen, which has grown from just over six inches to seven. The display isn't only larger, it's also touch controlled—a feature found on the CD-less XDJ released in late-2014. However, if you have used the XDJ, you won't recognise the GUI of the NXS2 since Pioneer has redesigned it for the new flagship. Apart from the screen, new Shortcut and Track Filter buttons have joined the Back and Tag Track controls around the rotary wheel.
Besides the Cue section, that's about it for aesthetic changes, and for good reason. Familiarity is very important for a DJ, especially in a dark, hazy, unpredictable club environment. Muscle memory only kicks in when you feel completely comfortable with what's in front of you, so a familiar set of controls can really help you focus on the art. These may be subtle changes, but they're not insignificant. If you're using the NXS2 for the first time in a club, give yourself 15 to 20 minutes to get used to the update, especially the relocation of the Back button.
Once you're settled, you can get more creative and explore what else is on offer. You can now choose an RGB waveform with darker reds representing louder, lower frequencies and lighter blues indicating quieter, higher ones. In fact, colour has become a big aspect of the NXS2. The USB port for your thumb drive now has an assignable coloured LED outline, so sticks can be identified at a glance. Up to eight cue and loop points can be assigned colours in rekordbox to easily identify certain sections in any given track—purple will represent when a weightier kick comes in, for example. These colours are mirrored on the screen and the cue button itself. There are various other colour-tagging options for tracks, playlists and devices, all aiming to keep screen-checking time to a minimum.
The Track Filter button introduces a new concept to the 2000 range. Holding down the button brings up a series of filters, including BPM, Key and Rating. Here you can tell the CDJ to only show tracks within a 3% range of the currently playing track's BPM, for example. You can also combine filters, so a track may lie within a 3% range and only be in a related key. Close the window and once you press Track Filter in any playlist or collection, it will apply those filters, whittling the available tracks down to ones that meet the criteria. What's better is that it's dynamic—load another track on the master player and the filtered tracks will change with it depending on its BPM, key and so forth. It's a very cool feature that's not dissimilar to Traktor DJ for iPad's Recommended Tracks function, though with more control. Rather than being a lazy option, it can offer suggestions you'd never considered, or quickly bring a large playlist under control.
As the CDJ's feature list grows, so does the need to customise it. The new Shortcut button gives you access to some handy settings without menu diving. These include waveform colour, My Settings Save, Load and new functions like Phase Meter type, Hot Cue Autoload settings and one of the most important new additions: Quantise Resolution. It's now possible to set fractional quantise resolutions, meaning you can go all the way down to the 1/8th of a beat. This is definitely a welcome addition, but I still wonder why you can't assign quantise to performance aspects like Loop In and Out points and Hot Cues, while keeping it switched off for fundamentals like transport control. Assigning quantisation and separate resolutions to individual functions would be a very welcome update.
Speaking of Hot Cues, there are now two banks of four. Simply pressing an available button as the track is playing will assign the cue. Slip mode lets you re-trigger parts of the track while it continues to play underneath, which can lead to some interesting creative options. Another new feature, Needle Countdown, lets you set a point later in the track for the CDJ to count down to in bar format rather than seconds or minutes. This will be really useful for planning build-up effects or getting ready to set a loop on the fly if the waveform alone isn't giving you enough information.
So what about the touch screen? Although it does offer some performance options like Loop Mode and quantised 1-Beat Jump, it's hard to recommend them over tactile buttons that perform the same general function. Timing-based features are always risky on a touch screen, especially in a sweaty club. Though the screen performed well in tests, it's things like the tagging, Track Filter and the new QWERTY keyboard where it makes most sense.
Pioneer DJ has upgraded the sound quality to 96kHz sample rate and 24-bit depth, and added a 32-bit digital-to-analogue converter. FLAC and ALAC formats are now also supported, a long-awaited request for many. The extra lossless codecs are welcome but the upgraded resolutions will be a future-proofing addition for most as the majority of music stores don't offer 96/24 downloads. One very interesting new feature is the ability to hook up a Pioneer DDJ-SP1 controller directly to the CDJ for access to all Hot Cue points at once. Let's hope this feature will soon be opened up to any MIDI controller.
The CDJ-2000NXS2 is excellent, and it should be—it's a flagship product with a price tag to match. The new features won't have DJs demanding it on their tech rider, but the touch screen, Track Filter, more Hot Cues and extra lossless support are all very welcome additions. Debates about the price will continue, but the fact remains that the CDJ-2000NXS2 is a key improvement on an industry standard.
Ease of use: 4.4