Engine DJ is the fastest-growing DJ platform for “standalone” DJ equipment. Since its launch with the very first Denon DJ Prime units back in January 2019, it has been developed at a rapid pace. With the addition of yet more frequently requested features just announced, we thought now would be a good time to share some things about Engine DJ you may not know – including a peek into some of those forthcoming features.
Whether you’re an existing user wanting to bask in your choice, or interested in trying a DJ unit that uses Engine DJ, this list will hopefully inform and entertain you.
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What gear uses Engine DJ?
From Denon DJ, the Prime 4, Prime 2, Prime Go, SC Live 4/Live 2 all-in-one units, and the SC6000/6000M and its predecessor the SC5000, all run this platform. From Numark, the Mixstream Pro, Mixstream Pro+, and Mixstream Pro Go would be your choices.
Of these, as far as we can tell only the SC5000, Mixstream Pro and the Prime 2 are no longer available, the rest still being current products. (Manufacturers are usually cagey about these things, understandably perhaps, but that’s our reading of the current state of play.)
7 Surprising Facts About Engine DJ
1. It used to be called Engine Prime
When Denon DJ launched the standalone Prime 4 back in January 2019, the unit needed embedded software in order to work, as of course it is a standalone DJ system.
The embedded software needed to manage the library, and handle all song manipulation etc. It also had to have a laptop component, for preparing music to export to USB to run on the console. That software was called Engine Prime, because it ran on the Prime hardware (which soon expanded to feature the Prime 2 and SC5000 Prime players too).
The point is: It was for a specific type of product from one brand. It was only later that it was spun off to be called Engine DJ, got its own website, and was embedded in more products, including the Numark Mixstream units.
2. The desktop software wasn’t very good at first
Looking at Engine DJ’s Mac/Windows software now (which as a reminder, is used to prepare music in order to use it with Engine DJ-enabled hardware) – it’s pretty accomplished. Indeed, more refinements are due soon, the biggest one for us being the imminent addition of smart playlists.
But it wasn’t always that way. Apart from the general worry of new hardware being launched that relied on a totally new platform, back at the start of Engine it was the desktop software that we always felt let it down, being basic and often buggy. Maybe it was because the biggest competing system – Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox – had an excellent Export mode to achieve a similar function with that brand’s gear, which fine-tuned our sense of the gap between the two…but the comparison was nonetheless stark.
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Yet nowadays, the gap is much smaller. For us, the biggest missing feature right now is “smart”, ie rules-based, playlists – but we’re told that this is due in Engine 3.1, a major upgrade to the platform that is coming mid-June 2023. For the record, other additions in this Engine upgrade will be 29 new effects, and Touch FX control – exciting. Certainly Engine DJ’s desktop component is up to scratch nowadays.
3. It’s the only DJ software that works with Amazon Music Unlimited
Since music streaming services became a “thing” in DJing (it all started when Algoriddim’s djay software integrated with Spotify, a service that has now sadly turned its back on the DJ software market), the services available have settled down to just a handful – usually TIDAL, SoundCloud, Beatport and Beatsource. Most DJ software and systems incorporate some or all of those.
Yet currently (and uniquely), Engine DJ also adds another service – Amazon Music Unlimited. Sadly it doesn’t work in all Engine Prime-equipped gear: We are told it is because a special chip is needed for the music file authentication in the units, so it only works with recent (and presumably all forthcoming) Engine DJ kit.
But it is a smart move, as one of the strong areas for Engine DJ equipment is the hobby/mobile DJ world, people who you’d assume wouldn’t turn their nose up at streaming their music on their DJ gear from a service that they may well already subscribe to – especially since the withdrawal of Spotify from DJing, the “DJ friendly” services are all somewhat niche.
As with all music streaming services on Engine gear, this can all work wirelessly too, thanks to the built-in WiFi on the units.
4. Engine DJ controls lighting, both home and pro
Lighting has become a big thing for many DJs in recent years, brought about by the “LED lighting revolution”. Bright, cool (literally) and cheap LED lights have revolutionised the industry, moving a long way away from the hot, heavy, unreliable and expensive tungsten light fixtures of previous generations.
Now any DJ can buy great lights to add to their DJ set-up, and Engine DJ has built-in control for such pro “DMX” lights, via the subscription software SoundSwitch, a lighting control platform that is embedded directly into all Engine DJ-powered units. This means it is possible to run a great lighting show at your gigs directly from your DJ gear’s touchscreen.
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But a feature we’re particularly fond of (and that is free) is built-in control for consumer “smart light” systems. Wirelessly, it is possible to hook any Engine DJ-equipped system up to both Philips Hue lights and to Nanoleaf smart lighting, so that if you have lighting from these manufacturers, you can control it at home in the same way. It’s an immediate and fun way to add a whole new dimension to living room parties.
5. Who’d have thought it? Engine DJ has had Bluetooth built in all along!
How’s this for an Easter egg? The Engine DJ team recently told us that it will shortly be enabling Bluetooth input on Engine DJ gear, meaning you will be able to – for instance – stream music directly into your Engine DJ set-up from your phone. It’s a feature that does appear in some DJ gear, but which in the four years since Engine was first available, nobody’s guessed has always been there. It’s due in v3.2, summer 2023.
As far as we can tell, it will work in all gear released since January 2019 that runs Engine, which would be a real bonus for all users. We’ll have to wait for confirmation of that – but for now though, we know for sure it works with the Prime 4.
6. Fuzzy keymixing is coming , making key sync actually useful
Did you know there are two sync buttons nowadays on DJ systems, “beat sync” and “key sync”? The former obviously gets the beats lined up so you don’t have to do it manually, meaning smoother mixes, faster. The latter, on the other hand, is all about making the musical keys match, so the melodic elements of tracks “in the mix” sound good together.
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Keymixing is a huge leap forward in DJing that’s been made possible since digital DJing first arrived – but in all DJ software initially, key sync was an unusable disaster. At the start, it followed needlessly strict rules about what music “goes” well together when “matching” the keys, resulting in songs being moved comically too far away from their original musical keys when applied – think chipmunk vocals, or conversely, female vocalists sounding like deep-voiced men. Not good.
For many years here at Digital DJ Tips we’ve taught DJs to match musical keys using what we call fuzzy keymixing, a better way of doing so that means songs never need move more than a note or two up or down from their original keys to match, yet still achieving usually great results. Slowly the industry has caught on, and nowadays Pioneer DJ, Algoriddim’s djay Pro AI software, the new DJ.Studio app to name a few have adopted our fuzzy keymixing approach to harmonic mixing.
The good news is that now, Engine DJ has too. Engine DJ’s fuzzy keymixing implementation will be an option in the summer 2023 v3.2 software upgrade, and it can’t come a moment too soon for us. Great to see yet another big manufacturer seeing the light on this one.
7. You can now DJ from your laptop on Engine DJ-powered gear
The whole point about Engine DJ (and standalone DJ gear from other manufacturers, too) is that you DJ without a laptop. You prep your music on a laptop, export it to a USB drive or SD card, plug that into the DJ gear, and play away.
But you may not always want to do that. Certainly for me, if I get some new music, or come up with a new playlist for a mix, it’s a drag to go through that stage of exporting on laptop and plugging into my DJ gear just to get playing – I want to experiment there and then, direct from the laptop plugged into my gear. Well, since March 2023, you can do so on Engine DJ. You just plug your laptop in to your Engine DJ-equipped gear, and you can use what Engine DJ is calling “Remote Library” mode.
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If you’ve ever used Export Link mode in Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox, you’ll know what this is. It’s not full-blown DJ software, not at all. Rather your laptop becomes effectively a huge hard drive for the Engine DJ gear, giving you – as the name says – remote library access via your DJ gear. You get the benefit of the big laptop screen (if you want) for browsing your library, but the DJ gear continues to do the work, not the laptop. But it solves my problem, and DJs are loving this new feature.
Remember I mentioned that a big worry when the Prime 4 heralded the arrival of Engine DJ (then Engine Prime) back in January 2019 was that the manufacturer wouldn’t keep up development work on the software, impacting the usefulness of the hardware?
These worries were not unfounded, because for instance the DJ system that came before the Prime 4, the Denon DJ MCX8000, had inferior software to Engine Prime/DJ, that was not well supported in the long run, and has by and large now been left behind – unfortunately along with that unit’s users.
However, so far – and it’s been nearly half a decade – those worries have proved unfounded regarding this generation of Engine. Indeed, Engine DJ development is, if anything, speeding up. Apart from what has been mentioned above, recently we’ve seen another huge addition, namely a sampler – something we thought would never come to Engine, as a standalone platform. We were wrong.
Will stems ever come to Engine DJ?
So what of that other big “elephant in the room”, real-time stems DJing? The ability to split your tracks into vocals, instruments, bassline and drums, for on-the-fly creative mixing and mashups? It’s now arrived or announced in all major DJ software platforms, but not in standalone systems like Engine DJ and Pioneer’s Rekordbox standalone gear.
Here’s our thinking, starting with an important point. One of the things to remember with Engine DJ is that it is a platform that has shown particular appeal for hobby and mobile DJs, DJs who are away from Pioneer DJ’s stranglehold on the pro DJ booth. When thinking about what features Engine DJ’s team may want to add, see it through that lens.
And what’s for certain is this: it’s the hobby DJs who have taken real-time stems to their hearts, and are pushing demand for that feature, far more than the pros are (who would just prep stems ahead of time for their highly choreographed sets).
So – until recently, we’d have said “never” on this one (after all, it’s a complex and processor-intensive feature), but with all the recent additions to Engine DJ, now we’re not so sure. Put it this way: If anyone is going to do it, you’d put your money on it being the Engine DJ team.
Watch this space for all that’s new of course – and meanwhile, do let us know your thoughts on this subject below.