Pioneer DDJ-SB Serato DJ Controller Review
The Pioneer DDJ-SB is the recently released entry-level Digital DJ controller for the Pioneer and Serato DJ lineup. This new compact and fully USB-Powered controller has the familiar 16 Performance Pad layout, aluminium-top jog wheels, built-in Low Pass/High Pass filter knobs, and comes bundled with the Serato DJ Intro software for the very low street price of only $249.
Review Video & Demo
Setup & First Impressions
The Pioneer DDJ-SB is a great new addition to the more powerful and more expensive DDJ-SZ, DDJ-SX, and DDJ-SR while still maintaining lots of the features and functions that are found on the pricier models. The DDJ-SB has a new trick up its sleeve called the Filter Fade mode that allows DJ's to crossfade the music while simultaneously implementing a High-Pass filter. The DDJ-SB still has the familiar aluminum top jog wheels, hot cues, loop controls, effects, and sample controls right where they are expected. The Pioneer DDJ-SB come bundled with Serato DJ Intro instead of the full out Serato DJ software which definitely helps on the price and the ease of use for beginners.
The Pioneer DDJ-SB has a very compact footprint and is made of mostly plastic. The plastic does feel thinner than that found on the higher DDJ-SR/SX models, but it still feels like it will hold up through normal use. I would be careful during transport and make sure there is a bag or case protecting it when it’s not in use. The overall compact size of the DDJ-SB makes it easy to find a bag or case as it’s about the same size as a Traktor Kontrol S2 or Vestax VCI-380.
Mostly all of the buttons on the DDJ-SB illuminate a very bright amber color to let the user know what is active at a glance. The 16 rubber performance pads provide a tactile feel with an audible click when pressed and they have quick response for performing DJ's. These pads perform various functions including Transport controls on the bottom rows (Play/Pause, Cue, Sync, & Shift), and Hotcue, Loops, and Sampler on the top rows. The DDJ-SB does not come with a power supply and it must be connected to a computer at all times in order to run the unit with software. All of the lights are still very bright and the volumes of the headphone and RCA main outputs are adequate enough for live performance situations even while running off of only USB power.
The DDJ-SB is a fully MIDI-mappable DJ controller that can work with almost any DJ software out on the market today. For this review, we only tested the unit with the supplied Serato DJ Intro software package that comes with the controller, as this is what most users will end up using when they purchase the unit. If users want more control and a fuller DJ software experience, then DJ’s can upgrade to the full Serato DJ software for only $129 extra. All of the functions written on the DDJ-SB in red are functions that only Serato DJ Pro users will be able to use including Hot cues 5-8, Loop-Roll, Hot-Loop, more sample banks, and Slip mode. At the time of writing this review, there were no available mappings for Traktor on the Numark website, but I found many different mappings online with a simple google search.
The setup of the Controller is extremely simple. Inside the box, there is only a USB cable and a software CD that contains the windows drivers and the Serato DJ Intro software. Users can either install the software from the disc or they can head to the Pioneer and Serato websites to download the necessary files. Once it’s all downloaded and installed everything is just simple plug and play. Users don’t have to fiddle with any extra options or preferences either... Simply plug in your speakers through the supplied RCA outputs, plug in a headphone and microphone into the side panel of the unit and you’re ready to play your digital audio files through the software and the DDJ-SB. There is only a single RCA output on the back to output your set. There are no additional outputs besides the headphone jacks located on the right side of the unit. There is a quarter-inch microphone input also located on the right side of the unit with its own dedicated volume knob as well.
The Pioneer DDJ-SB has all of the main features and functions that a DJ’s need for mixing and beatmatching. All of the knobs (EQ’s, Effects, etc.) have a hard plastic feel to them but they allow for easy and adequate adjustments that always line up with the software. The three-band EQ knobs are FULL-KILL when completely turned down and they sound good overall. A big plus for the DDJ-SB is the inclusion of High/Low Pass filter knobs for each deck. At this price-point you don’t usually see filter knobs, but it’s great to see them on the DDJ-SB. In the upper middle of the entire unit, there is an oversized Browse knob, back button, and a Load left and Load right button for file navigation and for loading new tracks onto the decks. The Headphone Level and Cue/Master controls for headphone monitoring are found in the middle of the DDJ-SB along with the two CUE buttons that are used to pre-listen to decks A and B before mixing live. The single Master Level volume control knob is also in the middle of the controller.
The Crossfader feels like it is of average quality but really good for mixing and fading. The crossfader has a loose feel but it has a rather long cut-in distance which isn’t ideal for scratch DJ’s but after a bit of time, I was able to pull off a good amount of scratching after adjusting to the length. The crossfader curve can be set to either Mix-Mode or Scratch-Mode by adjusting the crossfader curve knob within the Serato DJ Intro software settings. Above the crossfader is the new Filter Fade button that illuminates in blue when activated. When in Filter Fade mode, the crossfader will work as a way to fade the music as well as to activate a High-Pass filter on the track that is being faded out. This is a really neat feature that allows for new mixing possibilities while only using one control to do multiple actions. The Filter Fade mode works very well in practice and it is surely fun to use.
The Line faders have much more resistance to them and they are good enough for mixing. There are no VU Line Level Meters or Gain knobs on the unit to make sure your music is at the correct levels. The only indicator you get as to the level of your track is through a small red on-screen indicator in Serato DJ that lets you know when the mix is at the limit. It would have been nice to have either full LED meters or a Gain knob to get the levels just right, but Serato DJ Intro does an adequate job of getting most of the levels even from the start.
The eight rubberized performance pads found below each jog wheel are really fun to use. These pads are different than the ones found on the bigger sibling DDJ-SR/SX/SZ as they have an audible click to them when they are pressed. They still have nice feedback and they feel good when drumming or performing with them. These pads are not velocity-sensitive, nor do they light up different colors but they do a great job of indicating when something is active or inactive with its solid illumination. The top four pads are used for Hot Cues, Auto Loop, Manual Loop, and the SP-6 Sampler. The bottom four pads are used for the main playback such as Play/Pause, Cue, Sync, and Shift.
In order to cycle through the different modes of the top pads, the user must press one of the mode buttons above the pads to activate the particular mode. When in Cue Mode, the top four pads are now hotcue triggers that can be set by pressing the button when the track is at the correct position and deleting them by holding the shift button and pressing the corresponding hotcue pad. When in Auto Loop Mode, the first pad is a 1/8-bar autoloop, second is 1/4-bar autoloop, third is 1/2-bar autoloop and the fourth is a 1-bar autoloop. When in Manual Loop Mode, the first two pads are Loop In and Loop Out, while the third pad exits the loop and the fourth pad is used to grow or shrink the loop count. When in Sample Mode, the four top pads correspond to the four sample decks within Serato DJ Intro that allow the DJ to trigger samples on the fly.
The Jog wheels on the Pioneer DDJ-SB are very well made and they have the familiar aluminum top that makes them feel great to the touch. They feel like they have high resolution with one-to-one operation and the weight and tension are good for backspins, cueing, and scratching. They don’t really shake or wobble and they react well to the touch. The top is touch-sensitive aluminum while the silver sides are used for nudging and slowing down the music for beatmatching. The Jog wheels can be in either Vinyl Mode or Mixing mode depending on the style of play that is favored. You can toggle between the two modes by pressing the Vinyl button next to each Jog Wheel. The Tempo sliders work nicely for beatmatching and they have a good amount of tension to them and a center-click to let you know when you are at absolute zero. The tempo sliders are a bit on the small side, but they are accurate enough for beatmatching duties.
Above the Jog wheels are the effects controls. On the Left is the FX1 and on the right is the FX2. There is only one knob that can control the three different effects of the module. Once the effect is selected using one of the three buttons, the level knob will then adjust the level of the selected effect. If multiple effects are selected, then the knob will react to them all. When shift is pressed and the level knob is turned, it changes the Beat count of the effect.
Conclusion / Recommended For
In Conclusion, The Pioneer DDJ-SB is a great entry-level, compact, and lightweight DJ controller with an intuitive layout that makes it easy for users to upgrade to one of the bigger DDJ-Serato controllers in the Pioneer lineup. The Numark Mixtrack Pro II has one of the easiest setup procedures I have ever come across making this a great candidate for beginner or entry level users. The Mixtrack Pro II comes bundled with Serato DJ Intro and is fully MIDI mappable to any DJ software the user wishes to configure. The Numark Mixtrack Pro also has the familiar 16-Rubber Performance Pads that control Transport Functions, Hot Cues, Samples, and Loops.
On the downside, there are no Gain knobs or Line Level Meters to show a DJ exactly where the volume of each track is while in the mix. It would have been nice to see one or the other in practice here, but Serato DJ Intro does a decent job of getting the levels right within the software. Also, being a beginner style controller, there are a limited number of inputs/outputs and the all-plastic construction must be protected during transport/storage to avoid any serious damage. Overall, the Pioneer DDJ-SB is a welcomed addition to the new Pioneer DDJ Serato controller lineup and its perfect for any new or beginner DJ’s who wants a compact DJ controller with everything needed to start DJing right inside the box.
Pros & Cons
- Very Compact & Lightweight
- Simple Serato DJ Setup Procedure
- Nice Aluminum-Top Jog Wheels & Accurate Crossfader
- Comes bundled w/Serato DJ Intro & Is Fully MIDI-Mappable
- 16 Rubber Performance Pads for Transport Control, Sample, Cue, & Loops
- Thin Plastic Construction
- No Gain knobs or Volume Level Meters
- Limited Inputs/Outputs