Why Are CDJs So Expensive? There’s a Perfect Explanation


Why Are CDJs So Expensive? There's a Perfect Explanation

CDJs are just a CD/USB playing unit with pitch faders, a large jog wheel, and perhaps a touchscreen if it’s more recent. 

So why on earth are they so expensive? Even units from less popular brands are still hundreds of pounds for one. What could possibly cost so much? Is it merely a case of companies increasing the price because they can charge so much? Or it’s something else?

There’s a lot of reasons, and we’ll cover them all. But let’s just say this before we begin:

CDJs are expansive because they are industry standard, a product that’s not consumable, are practically unbreakable and waterproof, have a high-end technology behind them, and support almost every digital format possible.

CDJ is not a simple USB/CD playing unit

There’s a computer, soundcard, touchscreen inside of it. We’re also paying for a premium digital to audio converter, the firmware/software developed to allow cues, looping, jogging, pitch adjustment, beat gridding, key lock, etc. 

It takes time to make all those parts work together and output in high quality, reliably. 

Remember, back in turntable days, each player played its own tune. The CDJ mimics that in a way where each player plays the track. CDJ screens were developed with this in mind to have the song information on the player with the song playing. 

However, the price isn’t merely based on the costs of all hardware parts. There are costs like research and development, marketing, a janitor cleaning their office, and donuts that need to be eaten.

CDJs are a product that’s not consumable

Customers only buy CDJs every few years, and some only once in nine years. Therefore the margins are relatively high.

Let’s imagine clubs all magically decided the DDJ-1000 is the new standard. They all install one, and they will want to hold on to them for a minimum of three years, more like five or six if they can get away with it. 

I’m curious if DJs who use controllers would just not upgrade for three-six years as it’s now the standard, or if they would still get worked up over next year’s model.

You’re paying for the brand, especially with Pioneer

There’s also some perspective of paying for the brand with Pioneer CDJs being the industry standard for DJing. Almost every festival that hosts DJs is going to have a set of CDJs.

And because of how regular they are, people are ready to spend more on Pioneer gear. And if folks are willing to pay more for Pioneer equipment, it only makes sense to price more for Pioneer equipment.

And if you have a monopoly like they do, well, then you can increase that margin and hold the price high.

Price also has a psychological effect. If you are in a shop and see one CDJ with a $200 price tag and another one with $900, which would you think is ‘better’ at first sight? Which one would presumably offer more quality without giving it a good look? Probably the more costly one.

CDJs are expansive because they are high-quality machines

CDJs are bulletproof and built to do one thing: playback and manipulate music. They are simply better and more manageable than the competition. 

Also, CDJs are built like a tank. You can comfortably expect ten years of use out of them. 

You certainly have NEVER seen a CDJ end a set because of a breakdown (not caused by user error like a damaged disc).

My CDJs were purchased used and are 7 years old. The technology is a bit outdated (no USB, no hot cues, no waveform display), but the units still run beautifully. I never had an issue with them.

Think about a CDJ as any other electronic. Professional laptops are thousands of dollars, Apple’s smartphones are hundreds, speakers are hundreds, etc. It isn’t totally about the cost of production, relatively the cost of design and engineering.

Professional gear for mission-crucial roles will always seem expensive without the real context. 70% of the price is due to the last 5% of the performance. If you want reliable, high-quality devices that cannot fail, you need to dish out for them.

CDJs are virtually waterproof

Why Are CDJs So Expensive? There’s a Perfect Explanation

CDJs are made to be easily fixable, almost waterproof,  and built to have drinks spilled on them without being internally damaged. They have fluid barriers that keep the mainboard safe that water doesn’t damage it when it is spilled. 

Also, when something is broken, you’re able to replace it without too much hassle. You can unplug and remove the battery and leave them off until the liquid has been removed or evaporated. Theoretically, you can dunk it in a bathtub (i.e., completely submerge it), and as long as there’s no power (from a battery or power cord), it won’t damage it.

With my CDJ, I once decided just to take it apart myself. I did that successfully – opened it up, took the whole jog wheel part out, and wiped the roller bearings, which had gone sticky from the beer. Put it all back together, and it worked like a charm.

There’s no need for a laptop with CDJs

Imagine being an international DJ and troubling about power adapters for your laptop or controller. The CDJ has a USB port and an SD card slot, universal standards. There’s no need to worry about what power supply to carry (or buy) when you have a USB flash drive.

The ability to have a variety of mixers and media players available for different artists is critical. It’s also simpler to swap out a damaged CDJ or mixer with a working one than to swap out a controller with one or more functions that aren’t running. A modular structure is just more convenient.

CDJ offers features that no controller offers

For the sake of argument, we’ll take CDJ-2000NXS2 – the industry standard on every DJ’s dream wish list and is still the favored selection of every big-name global DJ.

If you’re a club owner that hosts regular gigs and residencies of renowned DJs, then the CDJ-2000NXS2 is what you want to have in your DJ booth.

Being the ultimate CDJ, this CDJ supports almost every digital format possible, which can be played through:

  • CD
  • DVD
  • USB drive
  • Laptop
  • Smartphone or tablet

Available digital formats include:

  • ALAC
  • AAC
  • AIFF
  • FLAC
  • MP3
  • WAV

Colors are also reflected on the screen, giving you access to other tagging possibilities like playlists and tracks. This allows DJs to quickly identify or group songs within large music libraries, making track selection far more effective and productive.

The tune ‘filter’ button adds more key functionality to track searching by enabling users to refine music by BPM, Rating, and Track Key. You can also filter tracks within a specified BPM range relative to the currently playing song. These track filters are also dynamic, which means that suggested songs will change as we switch to other tunes.

Why are CDJs “the Standard”?

Standards arise in any given industry for a mixed cocktail of reasons. From the businesses in whatever industry marketing or cutting sales to push their standards, to merely the right product getting traction, and further still sometimes weird and unconventional events.

Every environment is different, and a DJ needs to give a quality show consistently. A lot of what we do is muffled up in muscle memory. We grasp for faders, knobs, and buttons automatically. 

If you hop on a CDJ or a mixer you’ve never used for the first time, you’ll need to figure out how it operates, where the hot cues are, how they trigger, how the loop runs, how the effects section is set up, what’s in it, etc.

Having CDJs as “the standard” eliminates the hardware learning curve, leaving the DJ to focus on what people are there for – the music. If each club did not adopt the standard CDJ setup, the DJ would have to learn on the fly how to handle the in-house equipment, and the performance would suffer.

When a touring artist is playing 4-6 shows a week worldwide, they want to feel at home when they are in the booth. CDJs give that comfort. DJs KNOW how to use them. Then they only need their headphones and a flash drive to play at any major club in the world. 

DJs want to know where all their buttons and knobs were on stage, so it is a much more familiar experience and can deliver a good performance. And what is usually on stage all the time? Pioneer gear.

Pioneer broke first into the club market with high-quality CDJs

Pioneer had the first-mover advantage and a large install base. Because of that, many people learned about Pioneer CDJs, and they had the advantage of standardization. There were other CDJ solutions before theirs, but nothing that genuinely worked as well.

They built their reputation for durability over years of high-end abuse. The main reason their CDJs are the “club standard” is that they’re built like tanks. 97% of even the best controllers would not stand up to the same abuse.

Historically when all music was on vinyl, you got folks just mixing on whatever they could get at the very beginning of things. Tech 12s eventually started getting stability in clubs because they are amazingly well built, and clubs don’t like replacing gear. They weren’t marketed originally as DJ equipment; they were simply constructed really well, and through chance, they ticked many criteria that made them great for live DJing.

With a big push from Pioneer and DJs’ requests to install CDJs so they could move to a completely digital and thus lighter workload, CDJ’s gradually made their way on stage. 

A significant part of this involved Pioneer basically giving away a whole lot of free gear to high-profile DJs and clubs to make them the desirable, wanted brand, and everyone seems to have bought it.

CDJs are MUCH better than controllers

As someone who’s been spinning professionally for about ten years, CDJs are just more reliable and more powerful to use than controllers. Programs like Serato and Traktor can glitch out, laptops can crash, vinyl records can get dirty, USB cables can get messed up or accidentally unplugged. A CDJ is going to work all night perfectly with no worries. The only glitches I’ve ever experienced on my CDJs were the result of bad CDs.

      1. If you’re mixing on a controller, you run the chance of your software glitching, crashing, stuttering, etc. Meanwhile, CDJs have their own standalone processor built inside each unit that’s optimized specially for playing music. They can handle large audio files and never stop and think, all while delivering pristine quality audio output. 
      2. If something is not working on the controller, you need to replace the whole controller to find the problem. With a CDJ setup, you can change the mixer or CDJ.
      3. DJs are not limited to the layout set by the controller. Some want two CDJs on the left and a turntable on the right. Or turntables next to the mixer and CDJs on the outside.
      4. CDJs are built way better than controllers in terms of material quality and build quality. You can bang them around and work with them four times a week for years, and they will still work well.
      5. The audio card supports exceptionally high sound quality.
      6. You can play CDs, USBs, SD cards, control Serato, Traktor, Rekordbox, or virtual DJ, which can be midi mapped to any other program. 
      7. You can organize all your songs on your laptop at home and export them to a USB. When you plugin USB into a CDJ, all your playlists and loops, cue points, along with brightness settings, color settings, and other CDJ settings, are loaded up and don’t mess up unless you export your data wrong.
      8. DJs don’t want to tour with laptops and controllers. Traveling with headphones and 4 USB sticks is way more reliable and more comfortable if you are playing lots of shows.

Conclusion

In many cases, I think it’s a case of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” CDJs have been the standard for quite a while now, so they’re just what people are used to using, and any DJ who’s got a bit of experience playing out will know how to use them. 

I think it’s good to have something set as a standard so that way you’ll basically know what you’re going to have in a booth and won’t have any surprises when you get up there.

I also think we’re eventually going to see the CDJ and Laptop world combine, and that is when the real revolution will happen. Things seem like they’re in a massive transitional state right now with tons of custom gradually setups doing a whole lot of crazy stuff.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and throwing parties around the town. Tray has over 10 years experience of DJing at home and events.

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