Wouldn't you love to have a CD player designed just for you? It would have all the features you love about your current player but each one would be slightly better and of course, there would be more features. That's exactly how it felt when I first laid eyes on the CDN-90, Numark's latest flagship dual CD player. Although their previous flagship, the CDN-88, has given me reliable service since its introduction, I still found numerous suggestions to pass on to Numark. They've taken those suggestions (and a few more) and put them into the CDN-90.
The CDN-90 offers all the features one expects in a flagship CD player, real-time scratching, key lock, built-in beat keeper, cool digital signal processing (DSP) effects, synchronized start between players, multiple loops and unique styling. Of course, the CDN-88 offered these too, but with less panache. The CDN-90 offers more effects, greater control of the effects and the ability to layer up to four effects on top of each other.
Other features include digital output and a MIDI interface. You can also save up to 3000 cue points (limited to three per disc). The best part is that they added all this extra capability and actually made the interface simpler to use than its predecessor. That's no small feat.
Look and feel
Whereas my CDN-88 is flashy like an Italian sports car with its bright red finish and colorful LEDs, the CDN-90 displays the muted Teutonic efficiency of a fine German sedan. The matt-black surface features neatly arranged, low-profile buttons and soft green and blue lighting. It projects a strictly business appearance.
Low-profile plastic buttons on the CDN-90 replace the high-profile rubber buttons found on its predecessor and on most competitors. The buttons have a tactile coating that felt good and worked well for me. Time will tell if Numark will win converts from the diehard fans of oversized rubber buttons. My only problem with the controls was the shiny knob of the pitch slider that felt cheap for a flagship product.
Numark wisely gave each effect its own clearly labeled back-lit button. There is never any confusion as to which effect is active even when you have four of them layered on top of each other. A dial knob was employed for track selection. Each click advances the knob by one track and pressing the knob advances by ten. I found that unnecessary however. The knob was plenty fast and I frequently scrolled right past the desired track.
A large blue LCD display keeps you well informed of the player status and settings. I was particularly pleased with the feedback it gives while adjusting the effects. On the downside, the display exhibited excessive glare at low observation angles under both fluorescent and natural light conditions. This is something DJs will need to consider when choosing which space to fill in their rack.
We have come to expect excellent sound from all CD players these days. And this player is no different. The scratching sounds natural, the effects sound good, even when layered on top of each other, and the key and pitch controls work flawlessly. What really separates this player from others is the control it gives you with each effect. This player lets you customize it to your own tastes.
Four scratch modes control how the player reacts when you use the light touch jog wheel. My personal preference was the third mode that scratches from the buffer memory and releases at the point where the player would have been had you not scratched. It is essentially a bleep function. Other modes will stop or continue play when the dial is released and the last mode will scratch from a preset cue point.
Turntablists will enjoy the fully adjustable speeds for platter start and stop. You can even adjust these times while the track is playing, just like on a turntable. The echo effect provides pre- and post echo control. The control is conveniently given in fractions and multiples of the beat rather than in absolute time. The pre-echo nicely imitated the effect of poorly grooved single. Unfortunately, there is no control of the wet/dry mix of the echo (or any other effect).
The CDN-90 offers DJs the unique ability to customize the fader start feature. You can control whether it acts as a cue or a pause button and you can determine what kind of control signal it acts upon. This offers some intriguing possibilities. For instance, one could wire a simple remote switch to control the CD players. Single-ops can now play musical chairs from the dance floor instead of from behind the console.
Every DJ wants a unit that loads quickly. The CDN-90 load speeds are acceptable but not remarkable. Track-to-track search speeds, however, produced an unacceptable pause between random tracks. Who knows, maybe this is something that can be fixed with a downloadable firmware upgrade.
Downloadable upgrades are a great feature found in many new CD players. DJs can add features and fix bugs without sending their units back to the factory. Unfortunately, software upgrades can't fix all problems. And while this player sings beautifully while it is playing it also produces a noticeable hum when it's idle. I suspect the source is the internal signal processor producing digital noise. I recently debugged a similar hum coming from another manufacturer's flagship CD player. I was able to eliminate that hum by simply placing inexpensive ferrite chokes around the cables between the control and transport sections. Unfortunately, I didn't have an opportunity to try this with the CDN-90. I have informed Numark about the problem but don't know if this is a systemic or a single unit problem.
The CDN-90 is capable player with a feature set befitting of its flagship position in the Numark product line. There isn't space to describe all its nuance and capability here. I can only say that I was still building my appreciation when I had to return the player. The flaws discussed earlier don't seem so serious that Numark can't offer fixes for them. They may also not be of concern to all DJs. That brings us to the bottom line. The attractive feature set and competitive pricing of this unit will allow many DJs to expand their skills and upgrade their performances.
It wouldn't be fair for me to end this review without recognizing two individuals at Numark for bringing us the CDN-90. The first is Chris of the product-marketing group, who listened to all my product suggestions. The second is Elliot of the R&D department, who spent late nights turning those suggestions into reality.