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10 Best: CD Decks

We look at ten of the best CD decks across a range of price points, with affordable units for home use and fully-featured high end models making the grade.

The use of CD decks might have reduced slightly in recent years thanks to the increased popularity of digital DJing and a plethora of controller options, but that doesn’t mean to say the humble CD deck is on its way out. The majority of current models come with MP3 compatibility, allowing the DJ to plug a USB stick into the unit rather than fumbling with disorganised CD wallets – something particularly attractive to those who like to travel light, and even if you DJ primarily with vinyl, working knowledge of a CD deck is nigh on essential, particularly given the state of turntables in some clubs nowadays. With these points in mind, we’ve selected ten of the best CD decks in descending order of price – each with USB compatibility – from affordable practice units for those wishing to brush up on their skills at home to fully-featured units more akin to small computers for those wishing to get inventive with their sets.

Gemini CDJ250

For the most affordable CD deck in our top ten, look no further than the Gemini CDJ250. This deck features a front loading CD tray with anti-shock RAM buffering that allows you to play CDs, CD-Rs as well as prepared MP3 CDs, however, there is no utility for playing music stored on USB devices. Browsing CDs or folders can be done using the single push encoder that will allow you to both navigate and select music. The large jog wheel is a satisfyingly large across and features a rubber surface that helps you get to grips with your selected tracks. The wheel operates in three modes that allow you to get the most out of a variety of DJ styles, including cue search for quickly scanning through your music, pitch bend for nudging your beat mixes into tempo, and scratch effect for turntable style performances. There is a long pitch fader that is notched at the zero position with the addition of pitch up and down buttons. The pitch range goes between plus or minus 4, 8 and 16 per cent, and its position is indicated along with time remaining/elapsed information and track number information on the large back lit blue screen.

Although there are no built in digital effects, there is a reverse play option and a control for achieving vinyl-style brake effects. In addition there is a manual loop in/out/reloop feature, but there are no cue or hot cue functions present on this basic unit. It would be true to say that the build quality and feature set is not comparable to more expensive decks, but the chassis is extremely light and all the basics are covered admirably with built in anti-shock, a large touch sensitive jog wheel with three modes, more than adequate pitch control, manual looping, programmable with repeat mode. The CDJ250 is ideal for busy mobile DJs or vinyl DJs making the transition to digital, that just need the basics of CD mixing covered in a tidy, lightweight unit.

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Specifications:

 Power 240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 36x31x10
 Weight (g) 2.6
 Jog Wheel pitch bend, cue search, scratch modes
 Pitch Control 4,8,16 range, pitch hold/on/off
 Controls brake, reverse, repeat, programme, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files CD, CD-R, mp3 CD, WAV, AIFF, mp3
 Connections stereo RCA
 Software N/A

 

KAM KCD550

Also in the budget range of CD decks is the Kam KCD550 that, despite its affordable price tag, contains a surprising amount of user functions and features. It’s a front loading CD deck, with the ability to read CD, CD-R and MP3 CDs that can be browsed using the handy folder button and push encoder to navigate and select the required file. The KCD550 also sports a USB port on the top face, thus allowing you access to any USB storage device up to the size of 2000GB. There is a large pitch fader with pitch up/down buttons, as well as an adjustable pitch range and choice of search, CD or scratch jog wheel modes. There are controls for four hot cue/hot loops with manual loop start and end points as well as auto loop function and the direction of play can be reversed if so desired.

Surprisingly, on the KCD550 there are a series of built in digital FX, including flange, filter, echo, auto pan and chop (the duration and meter of which can be edited using the jog wheel). Further, it is feasible to edit the gain amount of each effect. There is the potential to select, edit and implement a program of tracks and if two machines are connected via the relay port on the rear then pause/play can relayed between two machines. Finally, this CD deck has the option of fader start control for use with any mixer that can accommodate the feature, thus making it possible to start the deck using the movement of the faders. Although, there is no doubt that the overall quality of this unit is not in the same league as more advanced unit, still its feature set is compelling and is ideal for use in small parties and for those new to digital DJing.

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Specifications:

 Power 240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 36x31x10
 Weight (g) 2.8
 Jog Wheel vinyl mode, normal mode
 Pitch Control 8, 16, 100% range, pitch bend buttons, long pitch fader
 Controls 4 x cue buttons, loop, push encoder navigation, folder, relay, programme
 Supported media/files CD, CD-R, mp3 CD, USB storage device
 Connections 2 x RCA, remote fader start, relay, USB A, digital out
 Software N/A

 

Numark NDX400

This affordable CD deck from Numark gives DJs the option of playing from CD and CD-R as well as MP3 CDs that allow more tracks to be stored on a single disc. Not only can you access your music from the front loading CD deck, you can also connect a USB flash device. The 7” jog wheel features touch sensitivity with vinyl, search and scratch modes for comprehensive platter control, including the ability to perform vinyl style brakes with a reverse feature. There is a single pitch fader with pitch up and down buttons, as well as a control for changing the pitch range with a master tempo button that allows the key of the music to be unaffected by pitch changes.

The NDX400 has the ability to store three hot cue points as well as loop in/out and reloop features with a digital display for user feedback, including text display for folder navigation, BPM display and time display. Although this unit doesn’t feature theMIDIcapabilities of more complex players or music management software, it does cover all the basic controls needed to put your digital music in the mix and it builds upon this with hot cue and looping functions. This is the ideal deck for a beginner or intermediate user that is looking to add CD/digital mixing to their skill set.

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Specifications:

 Power 115-230v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 22x30x11
 Weight (kg) 2.8
 Jog Wheel Touch sensitive
 Pitch Control 4,8,16% range, long pitch fader, pitch bend buttons, key lock
 Controls 3 x hot cues, loop, reverse mode, vinyl brake
 Supported media/files USB storage device, CD, CD-R, mp3 CD
 Connections stereo RCA, remote fader start
 Software N/A

 

American Audio Radius 3000

The Radius 3000 from American Audio is a reassuringly sturdy CD deck that features anti shock memory as well as the option of playing your music from a USB storage device or SD card. The jog wheel is touch sensitive and offers visual feedback in the form of an LED that circles around the outside edge. There are three modes of operation for the jog wheel; scratch, normal and auto cue scratch, which takes you back to the start of the track in scratch mode when you touch the platter. There is a sturdy feeling pitch fader that is notched in the central position for easy orientation, with pitch up and down buttons as well as standard pitch range adjustment control and key lock modes.

In addition to the more standard CD deck functions, there are four cue buttons for saving and recalling hot cue points as well as manual loop functions. It’s also possible to sample sections of music and assign those samples to any of the cue buttons. If that wasn’t enough of a departure from the usual CD deck fare then you will be pleased to hear that there are also a set of seven built-in digital effects, including filter, echo, pan and phase, amongst others. The intuitive design of the effects section allows you to edit the duration and width of these effects live. Finally, there is the option of turning the entire unit into aMIDIcontroller for use with your DJ software of choice. This fully featured and reliable deck doesn’t feature the highly involved music management software of its rivals but it does offer a database management program for building searchable folders for your digital files stored on USB or SD card devices. There is also a dedicated headphone output on the rear panel with control over level, which comes as a surprising addition. The Radius 3000 is for confident DJs, including professional mobile DJs, that want a fully featured deck, with plenty of flexibility in a single, tough unit at an affordable price.

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Specifications:

 Power 240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 27x36x11
 Weight (kg) 3.6
 Jog Wheel touch sensitive, tension control, scratch, normal, seek
 Pitch Control pitch bend buttons, long pitch fader, 4-100% range, key lock, pitch lock
 Controls 4 x cue buttons, loop, auto loop, DSP effects, sample, duration/gain control
 Supported media/files CD, CD-R, mp3 CD, mp3, AIFF, WAV, USB storage device
 Connections stereo RCA, digital out, headphone out (6.33mm), USB A, USB B (MIDI) SD card
 Software Database management software

 

Reloop RMP3 Alpha

For an alternative professional CD deck you would be wise to pay attention to the RMP3 Alpha from Reloop. This large CD deck is able to play CDs or MP3 CDs, and it also has a USB slot on the top face, allowing users to access music stored on said devices. It even comes with a database builder for PC users that aids the speed in which USB drives can be analysed. The large jog wheel is touch sensitive and operates in pitch bend and scratch mode with the ability to change the start and brake times using the handy XY buttons that flank the main display. Along with extensive pitch control, that includes an adjustable pitch range up to 100%, long pitch fader, key lock, pitch bend and pitch lock buttons, the RMP3 Alpha comes with a handful of quality DSP effects including filter, echo, phaser and flange. The effects can be manipulated in real time using the XY buttons or the jog wheel, the duration of which can be handled by the dedicated buttons on the side.

Cues, hot cues and loops are also a major part of the feature set on this deck with four cue pads as well as sample and hold options. For added control over effects and syncing there is a tap tempo option as well as an auto BPM sync button. There is a shift button for accessing some of the more advanced data storage modes, and this becomes increasingly useful when you discover the full MIDI potential of this deck as it can be hooked up to a laptop via USB to control DJ software such as Traktor or Serato. The RMP3 is a realistic alternative to more expensive units on the market, and its price belies a professional feature set that includes the ability to link two devices together to play from a single USB device, as well as more unique functions, such as the ability to choose the next track whilst the previous one is still playing. The RMP3 Alpha is designed for DJs that want the flexibility to play from multiple sources, including MIDI control, in a unit that won’t break the bank but at the same time doesn’t skimp on specifications.

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Specifications:

 Power
 Dimensions (cm)
 Weight (kg)
 Jog Wheel
 Pitch Control
 Controls
 Supported media/files
 Connections
 Software

 

Pioneer CDJ-350

Pioneer present a simple CD deck in the form of the CDJ350, which contains all of the basic controls you would expect from the industry standard bearers in DJ technology. The unit will play MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF files from CDs, CD-Rs or CD-RWs from the front loading slot, or from USB storage devices connected to the top loading port. In addition, it will play files up to 24bit/48kHz in resolution. Pioneer’s propriety music management and playlist creation software, Rekordbox, is also supported by the CDJ350, making it possible to load tracks directly from your laptop to the player via USB. Also it is possible to save play-lists directly from the unit. The pitch fader has a tempo range selector as well as a master tempo control that allows you to keep the pitch of your music whilst changing the tempo. The jog wheel is a departure from those found in more advanced Pioneer decks, but it does include a vinyl mode that will let you perform scratch type effects.

Included in the feature set is a BPM lock function that aids beginners in learning to beat match by setting a master tempo that enables selected songs to play at the assigned tempo automatically. There is an auto loop function that encompasses four beat loop, loop divide and hot loop operation In addition, the CDJ350 can control DJ software such as Serato or Traktor using high resolution HID/MIDI over the USB port situated on the rear of the unit. This deck is in line with the quality of other Pioneer CD decks in the range, with less features and a smaller jog wheel. However, it does include a fully operational display that gives plenty of user feedback including a beat display function as well as the more obvious BPM, time, track and pitch information that you would expect to find on Pioneer CD decks. This unit is for serious DJs that want to make good use of the Rekordbox software to prepare their sets, with an affordable Pioneer product.

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Specifications:

 Power 230-240V AC
 Dimensions (cm) 22x29x11
 Weight (kg) 2.3
 Jog Wheel touch sensitive, vinyl mode
 Pitch Control 6,10,16% range, master tempo
 Controls BPM lock, beat loop, manula loop, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files CD, CD-R, mp3 CD, mp3, AAC, WAV, AIFF, FAT16, FAT32, HFS+, USB storage device
 Connections stereo RCA, fader control, USB A, USB B (MIDI/HID)
 Software Rekordbox music management software

 

Denon SC2900

The Denon SC2900 is closely related to its vinyl-emulating sibling, the SC3900. They both feature the Engine music management software that aids users in building playlists with cue points and loop preparation before they hit the DJ booth. Instead of a motorized platter with vinyl style control however, the SC2900 has a 7” touch sensitive jog wheel platter with LED cue and position markers that give useful visual reference to the DJ. Without the turntable-style vinyl emulation this unit is much more suited to club style DJs, although performing some turntable tricks isn’t out of the question.

The SC2900 also features the ability to link decks together to play from a single USB device  or computer, and features the same Burr Brown 24 bit converter that is found in the SC3900. The SC2900 also has MIDI capability that helps users get control over their DJ software of choice, and this time the SC2900 works out of the box with the Native Instruments Traktor LE 2 software that ships with the unit. The jog wheel features adjustable touch sensitivity as well as independent control over start and stop times, with a single pitch fader with selectable pitch range as well as pitch bend buttons. Unlike the SC3900, this unit features a slip mode that allows you to loop, scratch or reverse  your music and jump back into the original track at the point where the slip mode was originally implemented, making it a useful tool for live editing. With a solid build quality and an affordable price tag, the SC2900 provides a valuable piece of hardware for club DJs of all experiences.

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Specifications:

 Power 230v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 46x5x32
 Weight (kg) 5.8
 Jog Wheel touch sensitive, tension control, LED indicator
 Pitch Control 4-100% pitch range, pitch bend buttons, pitch fader, key lock
 Controls BPM sync, tap tempo, slip mode, 4 x hot cue buttons, auto loop, loop, reverse, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files USB storage device, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, mp3 CD, mp3, AAC, AIFF, WAV
 Connections stereo RCA, digital out, fader start, LAN link, USB A, USB B (MIDI)
 Software Engine music management software, Traktor LE 2

 

Pioneer CDJ-850

This mid-range CD deck from market leaders Pioneer is intentionally designed for budding professional DJs to experience the operational duties that are available on more advanced decks in the Pioneer line, but with a more modest price tag. Most conspicuous is the full size jog wheel that has been a part of the Pioneer CDJ story since the very beginning. The pitch fader, pitch range selection button and master tempo button are also present and correct, as is the MP3, AAC, WAV and AIFF compatibility. CD and CD-R/RW discs are inserted into the front loading port, and as expected, any USB storage device can be accessed using the top loading USB port. As with other decks in the Pioneer line, the Rekordbox music management software plays a key role in aiding DJ set preparation by providing the facility to create play-lists, set cue and hot cue points, as well as organising loop points. The display screen features a dynamic wave representation that helps performers visualize break downs, build ups and drops in their music selection and is the only deck in the Pioneer series that includes a tag list editing operation that lets you think ahead and prepare set lists on the fly.

As well as the expected auto beat loop feature and manual loop cue control, the CDJ850 can be used as a high resolution HID/MIDI controller for use with DJ software such as Serato (for which it is an official accessory) and Traktor; to this end there is a dedicated USB port on the rear for connecting to a laptop. One of the only features that is noticeably absent is Pioneer’s ProDJ Link LAN connection, which allows two units to sync and play from a single USB source. Being the market leader, it is logical that you will find Pioneer CDJs in every bar or club all over the world and as such it makes sense that DJs would be wise to be familiar with how they work. The CDJ850 is ideal for DJs of all levels of experience in a wide variety of environments.

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Specifications:

 Power 230-240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 31x36x11
 Weight (kg) 3.3
 Jog Wheel touch sensitive, tension control, vinyl mode
 Pitch Control 6-100% range, master tempo
 Controls auto loop, 4 x hot cues, loop, reverse, folder, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files CD, CD-R, mp3 CD, AAC, mp3, AIFF, WAV, USB storage device
 Connections stereo RCA, fader start, USB A, USB B (HID/MIDI)
 Software Rekordbox music management

 

Denon SC3900

For turntablists that are more used to the feel of vinyl, the SC3900 from Denon comes as a comfortable alternative to vinyl decks. With a 9”platter, complete with a vinyl disc for realistic simulation, and a high torque direct drive motor, all of the performance techniques of scratch DJs can be performed using digital files with confidence and familiarity and without having to worry about needles skipping or vinyl degrading. Along with CDs, this player also allows you to access music stored on USB devices or external drives, and to facilitate the organisation of your library of music, Denon has developed some music management software entitled “Engine”. This software allows you to set cue points and loops before you set foot in the club, rather like how Rekordbox works for Pioneer decks, and is available as an app for the iPad.

Along with the motorized platter and the music management software, the SC3900 has a player link function that allows you to connect multiple machines to a single USB device. With the possibility of controlling your favourite DJ software of choice via MIDI by connecting the hardware to your laptop, the SC3900 features a hybrid mode that will allow you to use DVS without the timecode control CDs. The vinyl emulation includes extensive and independent control over the start and stop times as well as a reverse mode, while the pitch control range is also adjustable, and there are additional controls for pitch bend and key adjust with a single tap tempo button for precise BPM control. The audio conversion is performed by well regarded Burr Brown 24 bit converters that will hold the integrity of a faithful digital reproduction. The SC3900, with its motorized platter, is one of the most universal deck surfaces available and is suitable for both battle style performers as well as club DJs.

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Specifications:

 Power 240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 37x33x13
 Weight (kg) 5.8
 Jog Wheel 9” motorized platter w/vinyl simulation, touch sensitive, tension control, vinyl mode.
 Pitch Control 8-100% pitch range, pitch bend buttons, key lock
 Controls auto loop, loop, hot cue, 4 x cue pads, BPM sync, tap tempo, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files USB storage devices, CD, CD-R, CD-RW, mp3 CD, AAC, AIFF, mp3, WAV
 Connections stereo RCA, digital out, fader start, LAN link, USB A, USB B (MIDI)
 Software Engine music management software. ASIO driver

 

Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus

Pioneer’s dominance in the development of CD decks has been further cemented by the fully featured CDJ2000 Nexus. Taking up where the popular CDJ2000 left off, it includes the clever Rekordbox software that has been developed by Pioneer to ease the preparation of performances, allowing users to create playlists, and store cue, loop & hot cue information before leaving the comfort of home. Once you have prepared your music it’s a simple matter of transferring the files to a USB storage device, or if you prefer, you can hook up your laptop to the player using a LAN cable and load music files directly. It works the other way too, meaning that any cue or loop points made live in your set can also be transferred back into the software along with your playlist for later review. There is a new quantize function that makes all loop & cue points trigger in perfect time by snapping points to the beat grid prepared in the Rekordbox software that is, incidentally, available as an app for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android devices with the ability to load tunes using WiFi. Coupled with the hardware’s ability to play from CD, DVD or SD cards, the CDJ2000 Nexus is a true multi-media player.

The CDJ2000 Nexus also allows the possibility to connect and sync four machines together, with dedicated master and sync controls. Using the loop and cue commands, it is possible to re-edit your music completely on the fly, and with the included slip mode it is possible to have the original track playing along, muted, underneath. Mix in key is aided by a simple traffic light system that indicates which songs will mix well together, and along with the improved jog wheel, tension control and master tempo functions, the Nexus can control your DJ software of choice via high resolution MIDI/HID implementation. With a quick load time and robust build quality, the Nexus is the CD deck that can handle DJs with the widest and most diverse skill sets in any number of performance environments, and is suitable for beginners all the way up to professionals.

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Specifications:

 Power 240v AC
 Dimensions (cm) 32x41x11
 Weight (kg) 4.7
 Jog Wheel touch sensitive, tension control, vinyl mode
 Pitch Control range up to 100%, master tempo,
 Controls needle search, fwd/reverse direction, loop in/out/reloop, 3 x hot cue buttons, push encoder navigation
 Supported media/files CD, DVD, SD card, USB storage device, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch (over WiFi)
 Connections stereo RCA outputs, digital out, LAN link, fader start control, USB A, USB B (HID/MIDI)
 Software Rekordbox music management software