Pioneer DDJ-SX Controller & Serato DJ Software Review
Overview: The Pioneer DDJ-SX Digital DJ controller is the latest and greatest Flagship (top-of-the-line) professional DJ controller from Pioneer DJ division that offers the most complete control over the newly released Serato DJ software which will replace the Serato Itch software for Serato DJ controllers. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is with the new Second Generation of Pioneer DJ controllers (DDJ-WeGO & XDJ-Aero) which now dawn the new metal-top jog wheels instead of the push-top design, and they all feel like they were built better than the original DDJ’s of a few years ago. Check out my Full HD-Video and written reviews after the jump.
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Review Video & Demo
Setup & First Impressions
The Pioneer DDJ-SX Digital DJ controller is the latest and greatest Flagship (top-of-the-line) professional DJ controller from Pioneer DJ division that offers the most complete control over the newly released Serato DJ software which will replace the Serato Itch software for Serato DJ controllers. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is with the new Second Generation of Pioneer DJ controllers (DDJ-WeGO & XDJ-Aero) which now dawn the new metal-top jog wheels instead of the push-top design, and they all feel like they were built better than the original DDJ’s of a few years ago. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is a very powerful controller with lots of controls that translate nicely within the new Serato DJ software. At the time of writing this review (January 2013), there are no other controllers that come bundled with the Serato DJ software and there is no other controller on the market that can control as much of the software as the DDJ-SX.
The DDJ-SX is the biggest and most substantial Digital DJ controller developed by Pioneer DJ to date. The DDJ-SX is longer and wider than the previous DDJ controllers and it has more weight to it as well. There’s a lot of buttons, knobs, controls, and pads that all add a great level of control to the Serato DJ software. Pioneer took a page from their CDJ construction-book by creating the DDJ-SX with a metal chassis and bottom panel with a plastic and brushed aluminum top panel. The mixture of metal and plastic is just right as the weight isn’t too bad for mobile DJ use but the construction still feels sturdy and that it will hold up to abuse. The jog wheels have an aluminum top and every knob has a metal post underneath for added durability. All of the EQ and effects knobs have a soft rubberized coating to them while the faders, Filter knobs, and Browse knob all have a hardened plastic feel. Everything here feels true to Pioneer-branded gear and it will definitely last a long time.
Serato DJ Software:The Serato DJ software is the new update to the original Serato Itch software and will eventually replace it as the premier Serato DJ software for Digital DJ controllers. This is a two or four-deck DJ software for DJ controllers that are Serato compatible. Users who have purchased DJ controllers that only came with Serato DJ Intro (a trimmed-down/limited and FREE version of Serato DJ software) now have a definite upgrade path to Serato DJ with this new software release. This upgrade from Serato DJ Intro will run $129 and $199 with a bundled Serato Video plugin for Video DJ mixing and playback. Controllers that are currently using Serato Itch will get a 100% free upgrade to Serato DJ software as soon as the Serato team goes through the list and releases them one at a time. Since the Serato DJ software was just recently released, only a handful of controllers can actually use Serato DJ until the company rolls out individual builds per each DJ controller that can use the software. By the end of 2013 most Serato-compatible DJ controllers will have Serato DJ available.
The Serato DJ software is very similar to Serato Itch, but there have been a few upgrades here and there that will allow for better visual representation and more control than before. The Serato DJ software has the Serato Scratch Live vertical and horizontal full-color waveform displays right smack in the middle of the opening screen. The waveform display also shows the beat-markers and beatgrid which make it easy for users to tell exactly where the beat “hits” are located. The Beatgrid can be adjusted in the software for more accurate BPM detection. Each Deck has a white circle with a needle-indicator which now displays the BPM, tempo, and both time elapsed and time remaining shown at the same time.
Each Deck within Serato DJ also displays up to four Cue Points and four Loops per deck even though the user can use up to eight of each. There’s also indicators for Loop length, half and double loop, transport controls, an eject button, keylock button, and buttons to save loops and cue points. There are also VU meters present for each deck to show the exact volume of each audio file.
Serato DJ has a Record Tab, FX Tab, and SP-6 (sampler) Tab similar to what is found in Serato Itch. When the user goes to the Record Tab, the middle of the screen shows the record function with a button to start and stop recording a set. When the FX Tab is pressed, the middle of the screen becomes an effect module that can now be used and manipulated. The effect module has FX Unit 1 on the left and FX Unit 2 on the right. Each FX unit can only have one effect at a time, but each effect has two or three different attributes that can be adjusted using the knobs and buttons in the software or hardware. This means that each deck can have up to two effects at a time. It would be nice to see multiple effects applied per module (similar to Traktor) but the effects in Serato sound really good and they get the job done more often than not. The Effects in Serato DJ are Delay, Echo, Reverb, Phaser, Flanger, LPF, HPF, combo HP/LP Filter, Distortion, and Ping Pong Delay. All of the effects are Post-Fader effects which means even if the DJ stops the deck or shuts off the sound using the fader, the effect will continue to play until the effect is complete.
The Serato DJ SP-6 sampler has four banks of six samples that can play through any deck or straight to the master output and they can be as long as the user wishes. Samples can be played in three different modes which is trigger (press to start playback), hold (to play the sample until you let go of the button), and on/off (first press turns the sample on and the next toggles the sample off). Eeach SP-6 slot has a pitch fader, mute, nudge, keylock, and individual gain controls for accurate volume mixing.
One of the newest and biggest updates to the Serato DJ software is the inclusion of MIDI Mapping. Users can now MIDI map a separate controller to control the functions of Serato DJ that a current controller may be lacking, i.e. SP-6. The original controller for Serato DJ cannot be remapped in MIDI since Serato DJ (like Serato Itch) is a closed program for each individual device. Jog wheels cannot be mapped to the software, but almost everything else can. Serato DJ has a MIDI learn mode in order to make mapping easier. The user simply installs the drivers for the new Controller and use the Midi Learn mode to assign Midi controls to the button/encoder of your choice.
Front & BackThere are a number of inputs and outputs on the rear panel of the Pioneer DDJ-SX. There is a balanced master XLR output, a master RCA output, and a booth quarter-inch output. Both the booth and master outputs have separate volume controls on the top panel. The DDJ-SX has a total of four line level RCA inputs and two of those inputs (on channel one and channel two) can be used as Phono Level inputs. There are also two Microphone inputs (one quarter-inch and the other a combo XLR/quarter-inch) that can work on channel three and channel four. Around the back, there’s also a Kensington lock, a super-lock USB-B port, a push-style on/off switch, a DC IN for power, and a small hook that you can use for the power cable to make sure it isn’t accidentally disconnected.
On the front of the mixer there are two headphone outputs, one mini and one quarter-inch. The headphone volume knob is on the front as a rubberized pop-out style knob. The input select toggle switch for each channel is also on the front panel. The user can use the input select toggle switches to change between PC-Midi connection (Serato DJ mode), Line, Phono, or Mic per each channel. The crossfader curve control rubberized pop-out style knob is also on the front panel. Users can adjust this knob for a sharp cut for scratching or for a smooth drawn out fade for mixing. On the front right of the controller are two tiny plastic knobs that adjust the touch sensitivity of each jog wheel.
Mixing ControlsAt the heart of the DDJ-SX is a very powerful mixer. Right out of the box, the Pioneer DDJ-SX can work without software as a stand-alone mixer that can be used to blend and mix external Line or Phono level sources simply by connecting these sources to the RCA connections on the back to correspond to the channel of choice. At the bottom of the Mixing console is the crossfader. The crossfader feels just like the DJM series mixers (the 250 in particular) and most users will be satisfied with the scratch and mix performance of the crossfader. It has a very loose feel and the cut in distance is very low (about 1mm) when the curve control is set at the sharpest setting, making it ideal for DJ’s who like to scratch. The crossfader is user replaceable and I’m sure a model of the Innofader could be placed inside just in case users feel they want something better.
Directly above the crossfader is the crossfader assign switch for each channel. This means the DJ can assign any channel to either side of the crossfader or they can set each channel to THRU which plays independently of the crossfader. Next up is the linefaders. The linefaders are a bit more stiff than the crossfader and there is also a separate linefader in the middle of the channels that controls the volume of the SP-6 sampler. Above each line fader is a CUE button that illuminates to let the DJ know which channels will play in their headphones to cue the next track. Each of the CUE buttons double as TAP buttons which allow the user to drum the beat into the DDJ-SX to get more accurate BPM on the song that is playing on that particular channel. Above the sampler volume fader is a Master Cue button that allows the user to hear exactly what’s coming out of the Master output in their headphones.
Each Channel on the DDJ-SX has a real hardware Low Pass and High Pass filter knob which works with digital or analog decks as well as with the software. Each Channel has its own full-kill 3-band EQ and Trim (gain) knob at the top. Each channel also has its own 10-Bar LED level indicator so that the DJ knows the exact volume the source is playing at. In the middle of the mixer there is a Headphones Mix knob to fade between the MASTER and CUE section in the headphones. There are also rubberized knobs for the Booth Monitor Level and the Master volume level. There’s a Main LED level indicator dead in the middle of the DDJ-SX so DJ’s can keep track of the overall volume of the mix. Above each channel, there are FX buttons to toggle between FX1 and FX2 on/off. At the top of each Channel there is a load button so that users can load a highlighted track into each particular deck at the touch of a button. In order to highlight a track, the user has an oversized plastic encoder knob and a back and Load/Prepare button that can be used to navigate through the software music library.
Jog WheelsThe jog wheels on the DDJ-SX are fantastic. Gone are the push-top style jog wheels of the last generation of Pioneer DJ controllers and they are replaced for these aluminum top touch-sensitive jog wheels which produce an accurate one-to-one operation within Serato DJ. The jog wheels have a good weight to them and they are loose enough to do decent backspins and scratching/juggling. The sides of the jog wheel have a dented texture so that it can be used to nudge and slow-down the playing track for beatmatching.
The center of the DDJ-SX Jog wheels have LED indicators which shows needle position, hot cue points, and loop points similar to the CDJ line of CD decks. The jog wheels have a button for Jog Mode which allows the user to switch between VINYL mode (scratching possible with the top aluminum plate) and Jog Mode (nudge and slow down track by using the top aluminum plate). The Pioneer DDJ-SX also has the Slip Mode button which allows the DJ to manipulate the jog wheel, use loops, cue points, etc, while the play-head continues to play the track so that the play position of the track never loses its place. This means users can do whatever they want to the track in terms of manipulation when the SLIP mode button is activated and the track will still remain on-beat and exactly where it should be if no one touched the track during playback.
The Jog wheels are also capable of going into Dual Deck Mode. This means that if there are tracks playing on Deck 1 and Deck 3 (or Deck 2 and Deck 4) at the same time, the user can press the Dual Deck Button and scratch or backspin-control both decks at the same time with the same jog wheel. It’s a cool new feature to have that no other DJ controller has ever done before. This probably works best with EDM style music, but I’m eager to hear how other DJ’s incorporate it into their sets. Also included in the jog wheel operation is the Tempo slider. These extra-long tempo sliders work very nicely and they have a decent resistance to them making it easy to ride the pitch to beat match. There is a Tempo Range button above the Tempo slider that changes the range of the slider to 8%, 16%, 25%, 50%, and Wide.
Deck ControlsThe most eye-catching feature on the DDJ-SX is the inclusion of the 16-performance pads that control multiple functions similar to the Vestax VCI-380 and the Novation Twitch. These 16-performance pads have a rubberized feel to them and they are made for performing. There are 8 pads per deck and all of them are velocity-sensitive (meaning they know how hard you hit them) and they have a blue backlit to them as well. These pads don’t have the absolute click-sound that you get when you press the buttons of the Traktor F1, but you can still see per the backlit when each button registers an actual hit. I didn’t have any issues using the pads and they are sensitive enough to register the hit even when pressing the corners or sides of the actual Pad. These Pads are used to control Hot Cues, Roll, Slicer, and Sampler. The breakdown of each Pad control feature is listed below.
Hot Cues – These 8 pads turn into 8 hot cue points for each deck when Hot Cue button is pressed at the top. To set a cue point, simply let the track play and press a Cue Point pad at the time you wish to save the Cue. In order to recall the cue, simply press the button. To delete the cue, hold down the shift button and press the pad of the cue point you want to delete. It’s simple, clean, and lots of fun to drum in cue points with the pads.
Slicer – These 8 pads turn into eight small “slices” of different sections of the song that is currently being played. Basically the Slicer divides a portion of the song into eight smaller pieces that can be rearranged and played back in different order depending on how and when you hit the pads. The software remembers where the song would have been during playback if you hadn’t touched the slicer in the first place, so the song returns to the normal playing position when you are done “slicing” it up. There are two slicer modes where one remains on a loop of those 8 slices, while the other mode allows the user to keep that individual slice going throughout the song as long as the pad corresponding to that slice is held.
Roll – The loop roll divides the 8 pads into 8 small pieces of an audio track which can be manipulated and pressed for some cool mash-ups while the track continues to play underneath it all and comes back in when the user stops pressing/manipulating the pads.
Sampler – In order to get the sampler mode on-screen, the user must use a mouse to bring it up. A mouse must also be used to sync the sample to what is already playing in the master. There are a total of 12-samples per side for a total of 24 samples that are ready at any given time. The First six buttons are the actual sample banks while the two remaining buttons allows the user to scroll through the (4) pages of available sample banks. When the sample button is pressed, the sample plays in the mode that is selected.
To the left of the performance pad section is the hard plastic/shiny Pioneer Play/Pause and Cue buttons that are also found on the CDJ’s and a small shiny Sync button above them in order to quickly match the BPM of the track in the deck with the master deck. To the right of the performance pad section is the separate Loop control area. In the loop section, users can activate an auto-loop, shift the loop to make sure it’s on beat, grow or shrink the loop, or manually select the in and out points of the loop. Users can also transfer loops into the Sampler section by saving it to an empty Sampler Bank on the pads.
Above the Dual Deck control button is the Grid Adjust and slide buttons that allow users to adjust the Beatgrid of a song on the fly. Above the Grid buttons is the reverse button that will allow the track to play in reverse. Above each jog wheel is a long Needle Search touch-bar that allows DJ’s to easily cycle through a track by touching the area on the strip where they want the song to play from. All the way to the top of the Pioneer DDJ-SX decks are the effects controls. Above the left deck there is an FX1 module and above the right deck there is an FX2 module. Both effects modules have four rubberized knobs and an illuminated button underneath each knob to set different parameters of each effect. So far, Serato DJ only supports one effect per module, but the other knobs and buttons are used to change the different effect parameters of each effect.
Conclusion / Recommended For
There were only a few minor gripes with this setup package that I could find during my tenure with the DDJ-SX. The first one is the limited effects options which only allow the user to add two effects per channel. I suspect that Serato DJ will one day have an upgrade to include multiple effects per module, but as it stands, there’s only one per. The second gripe with the DDJ-SX is the lack of SP-6 sampler controls. With the DDJ-SX, users can only play the sample, but they can’t change pitch, effects, and other parameters without touching the computer. I’m sure many users will end up purchasing an additional controller to MIDI Map within Serato DJ for the sampler functions, but it’s worth pointing out that you can’t do much more than play the samples using the DDJ-SX hardware.
In Conclusion, the Pioneer DDJ-SX Digital DJ Controller with Serato DJ is an excellent and truly professional all-in-one mixing solution for any DJ who wants great sound quality, performance style controls, and a full DJ software package to get the most out of their controller experience. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is currently the only DJ controller to come bundled with the full version of Serato DJ. You get lots of functions and controls to work with in this powerful DJ package. The DDJ-SX has the cool 16 velocity sensitive backlit performance pads that control hot cues, samples, Roll, and Slicer and they are perfect for performing and drumming. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is also a true four channel stand-alone mixer with hardware filter knobs for each channel without the need of connecting it to a computer. Each Channel and the master output has their very own LED-Level meters so the DJ always knows the volume of each individual channel whether it’s a digital MIDI channel or an analog external deck channel. The Serato DJ software also has improved effects over Serato Itch which makes for a much more enjoyable effect application for the DJ. The Pioneer DDJ-SX is recommended to any intermediate to professional level-DJ’s who want to use a powerful controller that works in perfect harmony with the new flagship Serato DJ software. The DDJ-SX would also serve as an excellent primary DJ setup for those who want the absolute best DJ controller that Pioneer has made to date.
Pros & Cons
- Flagship Pioneer DJ controller Bundled with Serato DJ Full software
- Intuitive 16-Performance Pads to control the Sampler, Hot Cue, Roll, & Slicer
- Stand Alone Mixer with Hardware Filter Right Out of the Box
- LED Level Meters for Each Channel & Master
- Improved FX and FX controls
- Limited Effects options (Only two can be applied simultaneously)
- Limited SP-6 Sampler Controls
Features & Specs
Built-in sound card
Comes equipped with "NEEDLE SEARCH" that provides intuitive control by simply touching the controller for quick searches
Push-button type knobs (front panel knobs only) designed with portability in mind
Adjustable cross-fader curve to suit any type of sound
Comes with the "CH FADER START" function that uses channel fader control to play/cue tracks being played on the deck
Space of each side of the DDJ-SX more convenient for installation
Software: Serato DJ
Input terminals:CD x 2 (RCA), combined LINE/PHONO x 2 (RCA), MIC x 2 (XLR AND 1/4 inch combined PHONE x 1, 1/4 inch PHONE x 1)
Output terminal:MASTER OUT x 2 (RCA x 1, XLR x 1), BOOTH OUT x 1 (1/4 inch PHONE), HEADPHONE MONITOR OUT x 2 (front 1/4 inch PHONE, MiniPin)
Other terminals:USB B terminal x 1
Frequency range:20 Hz to 20 kHz
Total harmonic distortion:0.003% or less
S/N ratio:105 dB (PC)
Supplied AC adapter:Power source AC 100-240 V 50/60 Hz, rated output DC5 V
External dimensions:664 mm (W) x 357 mm (D) x 70.4 mm (H)
Serato DJ Requirements:
Applicable OS (Windows):Windows 7
32-bit: (CPU) 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, (Memory) 2GB
64-bit: (CPU) 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, (Memory) 4GB
Applicable OS (Mac):Mac OS X 10.7.4/10.6.8
32-bit: (CPU) 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, (Memory) 1GB
64-bit: (CPU) 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, (Memory) 4GB
Display resolution:1,280 x 720 or higher resolution
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