The two main DVS solutions—Traktor Scratch from Native Instruments and Scratch Live from Serato (in conjunction with Rane)—are the yin and yang of the DVS world. House and techno DJs have historically leaned towards Traktor because of it's multitude of effects, advanced sampling and looping capabilities, and most controversially, the sync feature. Serato users tended to come from a scratching or hip-hop background, and praised it's solid tracking, ease-of-use and stripped-back interface. Over the years however, these lines have blurred, as musical styles, supported hardware and features have changed. For example, Serato now also provides a sync function, much to the chagrin of some OG users.
Following the success of its rekordbox file management program and DJ-friendly turntables, Pioneer has introduced its own DVS software. It's being sold as an add-on to rekordbox DJ, which is itself an add-on to the free, basic version of rekordbox. rekordbox DJ is a fairly new proposition and one I have yet to try out with CDJs due to my own lack of funds. But with the introduction of DVS, it's now within reach.
When purchased separately, rekordbox DJ and the DVS expansion come in at around €200. This is a little steep considering this doesn't include the compatible hardware needed to provide hands-on control of your music. That's where the DJM250 MK2 comes in. Priced at around €350, it's ostensibly an update of the original DJM250 that Pioneer released way back in 2011. It cribs the look, feel and some of the features found on Pioneer's higher-end mixers, presenting them in a simple, sturdy two-channel box. Importantly, it comes with both rekordbox DJ and the DVS add-ons at no extra cost. Pick up a pair of Pioneer's RB-VS1-K control vinyl (sold separately for some reason) and you're good to go.
The MK1 enjoyed some success for being the simplest and cheapest way to get your hands on a Pioneer mixer at home. Familiarity was key. If a four-channel DJM series mixer is what you'd normally go for in a club but you didn't have the space, funds or need for your own, owning a DJM250 made a lot of sense. The MK2 continues this logic and jettisons some of the MK1's quirkier elements, such as the mobile DJ-friendly faceplate and fader-start controls—a feature that I doubt got much use. Features include three-band, full-isolation EQs on each channel, a mic tone input control, adjustable crossfader curve switch (though disappointingly, no channel fader curve options), a Magvel crossfader, independent filter knobs on each channel with a global resonance control and the usual trim and level controls. One nice touch is the dual headphone inputs, allowing for 1/4" or 1/8" mini jacks to be inserted, which is something of a lifesaver considering the number of 1/4" headphone adaptors DJs lose on the regular. The rear panel is a similarly solid affair, with dual master outputs (XLR and 1/4"), phono and line RCA inputs for channels 1, 2 and the Aux, plus an unbalanced 1/4" mix input.
The USB-B port on the back gives away the MK2's killer feature. The built-in soundcard allows for full control of rekordbox DJ by connecting the mixer to your computer via a USB 2.0 cable. It supports simultaneous audio input and output, meaning you can record your mixes or digitally rip records. This also explains the conspicuous lack of a physical record output, which may irk some who prefer to use handheld recorders. Personally, I've found recording straight through to rekordbox to be a simple and high-quality sounding solution. Mixers with built-in soundcards have been around for sometime now but have generally been packaged up into expensive four-channel club mixers or complex scratch mixers from the likes of Rane and Native Instruments. To get one at this price, which works seamlessly with rekordbox DJ, is quite a score. It's closest rival in this respect would be the Xone:23C from Allen & Heath. While this mixer does have a built-in soundcard, it's lack of certification from either Traktor, Serato or rekordbox means the only option is the bundled Mixvibes Cross LE software, a competent but underused application that is some way from the being an industry-leading proposition. The Xone:23C also tips the scales at around €50 more than the MK2.
rekordbox DJ looks and functions much like Serato DJ but is skinned in the Pioneer style, with numerous cues (pun intended) lifted from their CDJ range. Some of these cues, such as the design of the deck/tempo/needle position indicators, translate better than others, like the cue and play/pause buttons. The basic layout is pretty much identical to Serato DJ, with five different options. You can choose between vertical or horizontal waveforms in either two or four deck options or a browse mode that minimises the decks and maximises the track library sections. Setting up for DVS playback is a breeze, with the automatic calibration offering a simple and accurate solution that should have you ready to go in a couple of seconds. Absolute, Relative and Internal modes are all present and correct, as are the optional sync controls. You'll recognise all the built-in effects from Pioneer's flagship mixers, and they sound much the same. You'll need a MIDI controller to make the most of these as the MK2 doesn't have any MIDI assignable controls.
Track playback is smooth and mostly faultless. My regular DVS setup is Serato Scratch DJ running through a Rane SL3 box, which on my 2013 Macbook Pro results in the odd audio dropout and skipping waveform. Not so here. Hot cues are also seamlessly integrated, with the eight pads on either deck offering one touch creation, deletion and immediate jumping between points. This happens perfectly on beat when Quantize is enabled, too. The pads also offer a number of different options, including Pad FX (offering predefined but editable groups of useful one-touch effects), Slicer (essentially a looping beat-repeat option that temporarily enables Slip mode) and Beat Jump, which lets you skip forward and backwards in beat increments. Below this is an expansive, syncable sampler section, with up to 64 slots available and a pattern record/playback option. It's maybe a bit much when used with DVS mode however, negating the simplicity of the software.
There were some niggles. Occasionally the beat grids didn't quite match up despite being set up correctly. This manifested itself as one deck being slightly ahead of the other on screen when both tracks were totally locked in. However, use your ears and not your eyes and this becomes a non-issue.
In terms of the mixer itself, the option to dial in the resonance of the filter is an incredibly welcome one. Pioneers have until very recently suffered from an aggressively resonant filter that offered no adjustable control. While this might be completely fine for certain types of music, for subtler styles it proved almost unusable. However, even with this new feature, it still gets aggressive pretty quickly. While at its lowest setting you wouldn't be able to tell the difference between using the filter in high-pass mode or removing the bass with the low-end EQ, turning the control up only slightly reveals a distinct lack of subtlety. At the highest setting it even appears to self-resonate. This might sound awful, but in the right situation it's possible to create some interesting rhythmic sounds. The naming conventions of the filter section are a little vague and somewhat confusing in this context. It's clear that they've copied over these controls from their higher-end models but while those mixers had multiple effects that warranted loose terms like "parameter" and "sound colour FX", here the only option is a high/low-pass filter with resonance control. As such, labelling that better reflected this would surely improve the experience for newer users.
These concerns are minimal and don't take away from the fact that this mixer, at this price, is unrivalled at present. It offers a familiar route into the world of well-built, well-featured hardware and DVS software that competitors can currently only offer at a noticeably higher price-point. The ability to use one piece of software to organise, prepare and play your digital music both at home and in the club is also something of a boon. Some might see Pioneer's creeping dominance of the DJ booth as a bad thing but if it leads to cheap, enjoyable and useable products such as the DJM250 MK2, it can also be pretty hard to argue with.
Ease of use: 4.1