Denon’s smallest standalone DJ controller offers unparalleled portability, but is that enough? Greg Scarth finds out.
What do we mean by portability, and why is it good? The portable DJ controller market can be confusing at times because there are so many different answers to those questions. One person might think that a four-deck controller with a laptop is a portable setup, others might insist it’s got to be the tiniest possible standalone unit. Some might want portability in order to take their own setup to gigs, while others might want to play at small parties, friends’ houses, or even in the idyllic outdoor spaces that often appear in DJ brands’ marketing photos.
Denon’s Prime Go follows an undeniably portable approach; it’s a compact, two-deck model that slots under the Prime 2 and Prime 4 in the range. It’s a true standalone player, meaning that you don’t need to plug it into a laptop or connect a mobile device to play music; just plug in a USB stick or SD card of your choice and get started. You don’t actually need to set up your crates or playlists in advance, since the Prime Go can analyse tracks on the fly, but you can use Denon’s Engine Prime software to manage things or import music prepared using other software such as Pioneer’s Rekordbox. As a bonus, the Prime Go is also battery-powered, with an internal lithium-ion battery offering up to four hours of use on a full charge.
At heart, the Prime Go is a shrunken take on Denon’s now well-established Prime Series player formula, sitting below the Prime 2 in the range. It’s based around the embedded Engine OS software which is at the heart of Denon’s range. It’s very small, at just over 40 cm wide and 27 cm deep, so just as with most compact controllers there are some compromises in terms of the design and layout of controls. The jog wheels and pitch controls have been kept small so as not to take up too much space, and Denon have gone with a slightly unorthodox horizontal arrangement for the EQ controls on each channel. That space-saving effort is mainly to accommodate the large, 7-inch touchscreen, which is the heart of track selection and visual feedback. Cue and play buttons are similar to those found on the brand’s flagship SC6000M media player, although the side-by-side arrangement might take some getting used to for DJs whose muscle memory is locked into the more familiar setup with one above the other. Overall, it’s a good balance, with the central mixer controls and touchscreen being the main focus, plus plenty of space around the performance pad sections above each jog wheel.
Given Denon’s expertise and experience in the controller market, there are no shocks or surprises in terms of performance and functionality. Setting up the unit is about as easy as it gets for any controller, then you’ll find that the options available to you are also professional-level stuff. That excellent touchscreen is the focal point, with the option of vertical or horizontal waveforms and intuitive gesture controls like swiping to browse tracks and pinching to zoom. The effects are Denon’s usual high quality, with a mixture of Beat FX and sweepable effects/filters in the mixer section. Although there are only four small trigger pads on each deck, their dual-bank functionality means you have quick access to eight hot cues plus powerful loop and roll options that you’d find on bigger controllers.
In practice, the option to run on batteries might not be as big a deal as it first seems, but admittedly that largely depends on where you intend to use the Prime Go. There are relatively few scenarios where mains power wouldn’t be an option at all. As such, it’s hard to think of too many realistic settings where you’d expect to mix using the Prime Go’s battery and, presumably, some battery-powered speakers or PA system. It might be easier to think of the battery option a bit more like you’d think of the battery in a laptop: it adds that extra dimension of portability for certain occasions (like switching from a bedroom practice setup to a bigger pair of speakers in your living room), but you’d still usually plug it in when you were intending to use it for a while in the same place. Even so, in slightly more normal times, when socialising with friends becomes a thing again, I can imagine it’d be a lot of fun to set up the Prime Go in the park with a battery-powered speaker and enjoy a few hours of alfresco disco. The Prime Go is definitely a unit that you’d feel happy packing up and taking out with you, and it’s small enough that it’s easy to pack into a large rucksack or a dedicated DJ bag.
All of which is secondary to the main point here, which is that the Prime Go is, regardless of portability, a powerful and capable DJ player. It’s hard to think of anything that can match its all-round skill set, compactness and price tag, particularly when you take the battery power option into account. The closest rival would realistically be a laptop and controller, which trades off a fair bit of portability and simplicity. With the Prime Go, Denon might just have invented their own new market sector.