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REVIEWED: Pioneer DJ Rekordbox 6.0
By Brian Mole.
It was just over ten years ago that rekordbox first emerged onto the market. Its competitors at the time were the very well-established Traktor and Serato, as well as others like PC DJ and OtsAV. At the time, Pioneer DJ had dominated DJ booths with the ground-breaking CDJ-1000 series of CD players and were in the process of releasing the CDJ-2000 and CDJ-900 media players which would replace their predecessors as the club DJ booth standard worldwide. rekordbox started life as a music management utility tool for preparing and organising music for performance on those players and evolved to also become a fully-fledged performance software.

Personally, I have been fortunate to be a user of rekordbox from the very start. It provided a really intuitive and reliable means for the mixing DJ to manage their library and perform without the need to carry a huge amount of CDs. Particularly for mobile DJs, this was (and still is) a massive plus!

Indeed, for many years, I used two CDJ-2000s and a DJM-900, networked together with an ethernet switch, connected to my rekordbox software on my MacBook in Export mode, to DJ all my weddings and other parties. This was an awesome combo which worked exceptionally well. Later, I converted to using controllers such as the DDJ-RZ and DDJ-1000, which I use to this day, in Performance mode. The latter has been totally stable, with no software crashes at all, during the last few years of solid DJing. Bear in mind that, as a full-time DJ, I work some 80 events per year, so that is impressive and reassuring.

So, from a standing start, over the past decade we have seen rekordbox evolve, become more stable, and grow to be the industry standard for DJs worldwide. We’ve even seen other notable manufacturers adopt the ability to use rekordbox-prepared media in their own players, which is great to see, especially as I find other music prep software to be much less intuitive and difficult to use properly!

Over the years, rekordbox has introduced a raft of new features which have been well-received, and have made the DJ's job far more enjoyable too. Up until rekordbox 5, the licensing model has been based on buying a license for Performance mode. This meant that DJs could prepare their tunes and play them on compatible hardware in Export mode, but if they wanted to DJ using the software they would need a licence costing around £100. Although this licence was bundled with some of Pioneer DJ's range of equipment, so not everyone needed to pay for it separately. In addition, there were chargeable add-ons for those wanting to use things like DVS or Video functionality.

So, that’s the history lesson over. It’s now the year 2020, with its unforeseen and unexpected challenges, but also a new version of rekordbox! Right back at the start of lockdown, Pioneer DJ released version 6 of their software with some fundamental changes and big new features. No sooner had the announcement been made, I saw the usual people complaining about this and that, “why did they choose now to provide a major new release, when all DJs are skint”, “I bought a licence and now I am being forced to upgrade to a new payment plan” etc... Sometimes, I wish I could switch off some DJ forums, the nonsense emitted is frankly annoying! Instead, let's actually look at the facts.

What Pioneer DJ has done is release a major new version of rekordbox, with the most new features added in a new release. The old licence key functionality is no longer supported in version 6, although if you wish to stick with 5, it still works. Version 6 now uses a subscription licensing model with three different levels. These are called Free, Core and Creative. The Free plan is, as you might guess, free, but now includes several features you previously needed a licence to use, including Performance mode. Core adds DVS functionality and is priced at £9.99 a month, while Creative adds DVS, Lyric, Video, Sequencer, RMX effects, vocal position detection, and Cloud sync, and is priced at £14.99 a month. There are special introductory offers available which expire on the 13th of July 2020. Some of the Pioneer DJ hardware also unlocks certain elements when connected to the computer running rekordbox. You can find the full functionality per plan described here:
rekordbox.com/en/plan.

To reiterate, if you have purchased a key for previous versions of rekordbox, they will still work with the that version, but not with the new rekordbox 6. You will need one of the new subscription plans. However, a key message Pioneer DJ is trying to convey with the new scheme is that the Free subscription plan on rekordbox 6 includes far more functionality than the old Performance Mode Key for rekordbox 5, so you haven’t actually lost anything if you transition to v.6 on the free plan.

However, if you decide to pay, there are some really quite special new features available. The Cloud Sync feature, in particular, is quite ground-breaking. What Pioneer DJ has done is cleverly taken the pain out of syncing your analysed music library (complete with the cues and loops you have prepared) between computers. This can be done with the aid of a Dropbox account, and for most mobile DJs, this will mean a subscription there too in order to get the storage capacity required. But, this really is a great move in my opinion as it makes physical storage issues disappear. A new app is also available to complement these features, and prepare your library on the go from anywhere. Forgetting to sync tracks from home is no longer a problem! There’s even a new Cloud column to show if the track is stored in the cloud and/or locally.

The user interface has also seen a few notable changes and the addition of extra new features. One extremely powerful feature, which I absolutely love, is Vocal Position Detection. In the waveform display, you can now see a Vocal Indicator which shows you when singing is taking place. This is incredibly helpfully for mixing to avoid vocal clashes. It is derived through some clever AI technology, although sometimes guitar solos seem to confuse the algorithm, but hey, it's a good start!

The new version of rekordbox also adds support for Ableton Link, which is a technology that synchronises musical beat, tempo, phrase and start/stop commands across multiple applications running on one or more devices. This is awesome news for the creative DJs out there!

A new option is also available to colour the waveform display to show the hi, mid and low frequencies in different colours. Although I'm really used to the old RGB (which is still there), this display option is actually much clearer, and I'm growing to like it.

Finally, another long overdue additional display option gives the choice of a white skin for the user interface. This looks hideous in dark environments, but for a daylight or outdoor gig is essential, and most welcome.

Any new software takes a bit of getting used to, and I have had a few initial issues transitioning from rekordbox 5, which has been absolutely amazing for me. Thankfully, rekordbox 5 can still coexist with rekordbox 6 on our computers, so we can switch back if there's an issue. The initial setup for a mobile DJ means analysing a huge record library. This takes many, many hours – in my case 43,000 tracks took over a day, and I am still seeing a few issues.

Although I have found that rekordbox 6 works well whilst DJing, it's sometimes slow to display the contents of playlists. I hope to see an update soon that will clear the remaining initial bugs which made it through to the launch version, and look forward to using it properly when the current COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, allowing us all to get back to work. I actually think Pioneer DJ’s timing for this new release was perfect, as I’ve have time to play with it properly before diving in head first at a gig! Thanks Pioneer DJ!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 102, Pages 80-82.
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