The music industry has undergone dramatic changes in the past few years. With the proliferation of the iPod and other MP3 players, the world has embraced portable-music gadgets on a level far beyond that witnessed with the Walkman craze in the '80s. Grabbing hold of this popularity and the advantages of its portable technology, the engineers at Cortex developed the HDC-1000, a revolutionary unit that allows you to DJ from any USB storage device. With its “intelligent music database management,” you can create databases that allow you access to your music incredibly fast, and with controls that are similar to existing digital-playback devices, you will immediately feel at home. Imagine walking into a club with only an iPod and a pair of headphones and being able to access more music than you could carry in cases full of CDs.
Upon opening the box, rather than reading the manual cover to cover as usual, I decided to just plug in the HDC-1000 and figure out how it works. The setup was fairly easy; for tabletop use, there are mounting stands that screw into the rackmount holes, with self-adhesive rubber feet to prevent the unit from sliding around. After connecting RCA cables from each side of the HDC-1000 to my DJ mixer and connecting the included AC adapter, I powered up the unit and was asked to connect a USB device, so I plugged in my video iPod and was ready to roll.
STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE
The first step is to select the desired storage device. While there are only two USB ports available on the HDC-1000 — one in front and one in back — you can also use a powered USB hub to expand your capacity to as many as four devices at a time. After you select a device to use, you need to perform a “database creation” for the HDC-1000 to properly communicate with that device. Once I created the database on my iPod, I was asked to verify the database, and after doing so, I was greeted with an introductory message.
There are several choices on the top-level menu for how to scroll through music. You can search via iPod playlists, song or album titles, artist names, genres or by creating a String, which allows you to find a specific word or string of words within the database. Being an iPod user accustomed to making playlists in iTunes, I naturally chose to search through my music using my existing playlists. Scrolling through songs is easy and intuitive; you can use either the jog wheel or the direction arrows to maneuver up and down through the list of titles and then select whichever tune you want to play by pressing Enter. The HDC-1000 does not default to Single mode, which plays one tune at a time, so I had to refer to the manual to figure out how to do that. If you press and hold one of the Shift keys, and then press the Single button, you can put a side of the HDC-1000 into Single mode, which conveniently auto-cues a track. Pressing the Single button without pressing either Shift key will display whether Single mode is on or off. If you are planning on playing an entire playlist and don't need to worry about mixing tunes seamlessly, you can leave Single mode off, and the HDC-1000 will continue playing until it reaches the end of the playlist. You can also place the unit in Shuffle mode, which uses search criteria to select tracks in a random order. For example, if you select All Songs, the unit will randomly select tunes from all that are on that particular list. If you search by Artist, then tracks from only that artist will be selected for playback. The same technique applies if you search by genre, album, String or even the File Browser. You can turn Shuffle on and off by pressing Shift + Info on each side of the unit, and the LED screen will flash the corresponding message to let you know which mode you have selected.
Once you have a track selected for playback on each side of the HDC-1000, it behaves like a Pioneer CDJ unit. You can pitch playback up or down using the pitch-control fader, but you will need to turn on the pitch control first by pressing the Pitch Bend (+) and (-) buttons simultaneously. I love having pitch-bend buttons, which allow for small momentary adjustments in pitch while you're mixing and provide a welcome alternative to constantly riding the pitch fader or using the jog wheel to make similar increases or decreases in pitch. The HDC-1000 offers pitch ranges of ± 4, 8, 16 and 24 percent, which provides a wide level of flexibility depending on your music style. In 4- and 8-percent modes, the resolution of each pitch increment is 0.05 percent, which allows for precise adjustments and is essential for tight beat matching during longer mixes. There are two methods of changing the pitch mode: holding down the Shift key and using the Pitch Bend buttons to scroll through the pitch ranges or by going into the Setup menu, which also allows you to change the pitch bend-response speed, the Jog mode and the operating-system language. If the Jog mode LED is not lit, the jog wheel will perform pitch-bend adjustments. But if you press the button, it will illuminate the LED, and the jog wheel will then be able to search through the track that is playing. Another feature that is common to CDJs is switching between time elapsed and time remaining, which can be selected on the individual sides by pressing Shift + Time or globally by pressing the Time button.
I noticed there is a slight delay between when the Play button is pressed and when playback begins, so I spoke with a Cortex product developer, who recommended that I install the latest software update, which should be available to the public by the time this review is published. After installing the update to a USB flash drive and powering up the HDC-1000 with that drive connected, the HDC automatically recognized the new firmware. Upon completing the update, the unit powered down, and after I turned it back on, the start-delay problem had been fixed. The update also supports Variable Bit Rate (VBR) MP3 files, the French and Spanish languages and the addition of USB keyboards for controlling all of the HDC-1000's functions. That is a very cool addition, making navigation through the database even faster than before.
LICENSE TO DRIVE
Because the HDC-1000 allows you to use any USB mass-storage device, you have many options other than an iPod, including external hard drives, flash-memory drives, CD/DVD-ROM drives, memory-card readers and other portable digital-music players. To test this capability, I loaded two folders of music on a 512 MB flash drive. For the HDC-1000 to recognize the new storage media, I needed to follow the Database Creation steps previously mentioned. Then, when prompted to select a device, I chose the flash drive on one side of the HDC-1000 and my iPod on the other. A cool trick is to press Shift + Power to change devices while the unit is on, which saves you having to power down and back up whenever you add a new device. Rather than using a playlist on the flash drive, I used the File Browser to navigate through the two folders of music I had loaded. Once I had selected a particular tune, the music playback and manipulation functioned exactly the same as it did with an iPod. That could mean big things, such as no more burning or labeling CDs before gigs and simply dragging-and-dropping music files onto the flash drive, or a quick update of playlists on my iPod to make my latest tunes ready to rock. With a little preparation, all my tunes could be laid out in simple, easily accessed folders organized by date, bpm, style or whatever criteria I choose to help breeze through my library during a gig.
If you decide to use a larger storage device, such as a hard drive, you may want to use the Database Creation software, which is available for download on the Cortex Website for both PC and Mac. This software performs the same function as the HDC-1000 in that it creates a database of all of your music on a designated storage device, but it uses your computer's processing power to speed through a large library. It is important to note that any hard drive you use with the HDC-1000 must have only one partition for the unit to function properly. PC users who have NTFS-formatted hard drives — which are common with Windows XP or later — must use the Database Creation software to access music on those drives. It is also recommended that you use dedicated music drives that do not contain any other files when using the HDC-1000.
Some DJs may lament the demise of vinyl in the industry, while others will find the convenience and features of digital media more important than the perceived coolness factor that spinning records may still possess. For those who are looking for the ultimate in portability and a wealth of media-storage options combined with a playback interface that most users will find to be both familiar and easy to use, the Cortex HDC-1000 could be the perfect solution to take your DJing to the next level.
HDC-1000 > $849
Pros: Easy to use. Wide variety of media-storage options. Intuitive interface. Highly discounted street price.
Cons: Requires some setup before use. May require a dedicated hard drive.