Not a lot has changed aesthetically from the original NXS. A huge part of becoming an industry standard is familiarity and Pioneer DJ have done a good job of adding extra features without upsetting the expected layout. Those features include a much-needed parameter knob in the Sound Color FX section, multi-band signal routing for Beat FX (though it's a simple on/off control rather than the volume knobs of the 2000) dedicated send and return controls, a USB port, two USB soundcards for easily swapping laptops between sets and a completely redesigned audio engine.
What does all this mean for the humble DJ? Firstly, the Sound Color FX were a solid addition to the DJM range but could be hit and miss. For instance, sweeping through the filter tended to add harsh resonance and volume fluctuations. Now you can change some of the parameters, such as the tone of the filter, delay feedback on the Dub Echo and reverb tail on Space. They're welcome additions, and although there's still no sweet spot on the filter like on some other mixers, the Sound Color FX are evolving into powerful creative tools in their own right.
A dedicated Send/Return section with a USB A port replaces the MIDI area on the top right. The Return input can then be routed back into any available channel and have Sound Color FX applied to it. This is a very nice addition since it allows audio input and output via a single USB cable. I tested it with an iPad running the Live FX app and the mixer was instantly detected and worked perfectly. Now that the MIDI DIN port has disappeared from the back of the mixer, the Send and Return USB port sends MIDI Clock continuously, but with no start/stop control. It's definitely a simplified approach and hints further at Pioneer DJ's intentions for the future of the booth, but you'll need to use a MIDI to USB cable or similar to connect any DIN hardware.
There are also some new effects to play with that run through the new multi-band FX Frequency function. Though Pioneer DJ hasn't disclosed what frequency bands the Low, Mid and Hi buttons represent, they make delays, reverbs and other spatial effects much more usable as they no longer swamp the low-end, for example. Though the effects have always sounded good, the in-depth control just wasn't there to make the most of them—now the new multi-band options turn them into infinitely more usable and flexible tools. What's also welcome is the larger X-Pad, which includes new beat division selectors. Now you can move quickly from an eight-bar effect to one-eighth of a bar with a press of a button. For more careless control, sliding your finger across the middle of the X-Pad sweeps through the beat division options. These upgrades to effects control and routing have completely revamped the way they work, with little-to-no change to the layout, and they still sound great. However, it would be nice to see external control of the effects via USB MIDI.
The sound of the mixer was also future-proofed with a new 96kHz/64-bit DSP, 32-bit DAC and 24-bit ADC, as well as the addition of 64-bit double precision floating-point architecture per channel. There are also dedicated Clip LEDs, separate to the red LED segments on the metering. This means that once the signal is converted to digital to be processed by the DSP, you don't have to worry about digital distortion—the signal can only clip once it's been converted back to analogue again at the master stage, where there's also a dedicated Clip LED. If you use the SPDIF outputs of the CDJs into the digital input of the DJM and activate the Peak Limiter on the DJM's utility mode, theoretically you will never clip. This should go some way to counteracting the redlining issue that many DJs face when starting their sets. Now there is no doubt: if the Clip LED is lit you're distorting, and no in-house limiter can save you. The sound of the mixer is noticeably improved, particularly in regards to bass and depth. If you couldn't hear the difference between 320kbps MP3s and lossless audio before, you will now.
After testing the mixer with the new CDJ-2000NXS2 I returned to play my regular London club and its original NXS setup. Although I didn't find myself longing for the CDJ upgrades, I did miss the additions to the DJM NXS2—not only the parameter knob and multi-band effects but the new 3.5mm headphone jack (no more lost adapters), detailed LED metering, robust faders and most importantly, the sound.
There are some negatives but they'll only affect certain users: the mic port has moved to the back to make space for an extra USB slot and with the introduction of Rekordbox DJ, Serato DJ is no longer natively supported, at least at the time of writing. Having addressed some fundamental issues and tweaked what made the DJM line versatile in the first place, Pioneer DJ have made the DJM-900NXS2 a front-runner. Being a jack-of-all-trades often comes with compromises but Pioneer DJ has counteracted some of the key concessions and the DJM-900NXS2 is infinitely better for it.
Ease of use: 4.5