A Year With Pioneer’s DDJ-S1

The Pioneer DDJ-S1 is just over a year old now, having been announced at NAMM 2010. While a number of other controllers have come on the market since, how well does it hold up? And if we were to compare it to the VCI-300, what makes the S1 superior?

When I first heard about Serato’s program to launch their Itch platform a few years back, I was overjoyed. Finally, a way for me to play gigs using my Serato software setup without having to lug turntables around. While most of my gigs are in nightclubs where two Technics 1200s and a Rane TTM57 are the norm, I find myself booking more high-end corporate and private events where I’m responsible for providing the equipment. Anyone who’s ever lugged a pair of 1200s in flight cases or a coffin from point A to point B, knows that this is a cumbersome and frustrating process of schlepping around 30+ pound giant electromagnet driven turntables, all for the sake of accurate turntable control. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile cause.

Then came the Vestax VCI-300, the first real attempt at a portable turntablist based mobile DJ solution for Serato Users. Given Vestax’s extreme participation in the turntablist movement, this thing was slated to be a game changer.

In my two year tenure with the VCI-300 as my preferred mobile device, I’ve gotten to know quite well the pros and cons of this benchmark device, and although it well completed the task at hand, and it’s an expressive mobile DJ controller that is built for the well-versed turntablist, it definitely left me yearning for the next big thing, which seemed to have arrived in a shiny new Pioneer DJ box.

The DDJ-S1 was Pioneer’s first delivery into the controller world, concurrent with the DDJ-T1, and at first glance it looked like some sort of futuristic hybrid between a set of CDJs and a DJM-800. Coming in at just over 27″ in length 12″ wide and just over 11 pounds, this package is just the right size for a convenient yet robust mobile DJ device.

After spending nearly an entire year with the controller, it’s clear what makes the DDJ-S1 a quality controller, and what needs a little bit more work – here’s the breakdown:

What Makes The Controller Great:

About The Right Size
While I do love the compact package of the VCI-300 because it fits inside my small DJ pack, its size appears toy-like. When booking high-end corporate events, I often feel like my professional DJ equipment should be large enough to look “professional”. The other Itch controller offerings I’ve demoed to this point are either too large, too heavy (hello, NS7) or generally too awkward in form/package to easily move around. The DDJ-S1 seems just about right, in terms of not being too big or heavy to conveniently move.

Proper Headphone Cue
The headphone cue on the VCI-300 was as basic as possible, there are no easy push button cue on/off buttons and it requires you to fade from cue to master every time you want to hear what is coming out of the speakers vs. what you are trying to prefade. This is a huge challenge when mixing with an In-Ear-Monitor system and none of the current DJ mixers I’ve seen, use this system. The DDJ-S1 has an almost identical system to its every popular DJM-800 cousin which is arguably the worldwide standard for club mixers, this similarity makes headphone cuing a snap when coming from the DJM800.

Proper FX
I must admit I have not demoed the VCI-300’s FX extension box, but from the start, I like my compact mobile devices as stand alone units that dont require additional setup or external boxes. The DDJ-S1 has an array of basic FX that seem to be built in to the audio mixer portion of the device (they are native to the mixer and not the software like the SSL’s built in FX). However, I dont like the inability to tweak FX to custom settings.

Proper Power Situation
In attempts to make the VCI-300 more convenient to sell worldwide Vestax sells the unit without a power supply, relying solely on USB power. This becomes quite a headache when plugging and unplugging the computer while an auxilary source was in use.  The DDJ-S1 is basically a powered mixer that can be run completely independently with both external mic inputs and a second aux in that can be operated without a computer running- very convenient if you need music playing but don’t want to leave your computer running.

Nice Control Layout
While the VCI-300 does pack a number of features for its dainty size, it leaves much to be desired: the jog wheels are minimally passible for the discerning turntablist, the EQs have a really stiff feel and being a Dicer user, I often look for the fourth and fifth cue buttons.

The DDJ-S1 doesn’t have everything that I want in my turntable replacement, but it’s a whole lot closer. The jog wheels have quite a bit more expression as they are slightly larger then the VCI-300 and have a chase light that’s equivalent to the sticker on a record. It also sports five cue buttons as well as a complex array of looping controls. Also worth noting is the ribbon control/strip search that helps the user quickly scan through songs.

What Needs Improvement

Durning my months of using the unit, I also found some significant inadequacies which I hope can be fixed with improved software implementation:

Looping Is Based On CDJ Looping
I understand that one of the goals of this controller is to lure CDJ users over to the Itch platform, however its counterintuitive to base the looping system on the CDJ rather then previous versions of Itch or Scratch Live. The most efficient means of implementing looping would come from a seamless functionality unification between SSL and Itch so that users wouldn’t have to “relearn” the software when going cross platform. At the very least, why not offer a toggle between “CDJ” mode and an “SSL” mode?

Vinyl “start/stop” adjust is a single control knob
This is a huge shortcoming in an attempt to externalize what was previously an internal Itch setting. The standard setting for this control should be to be set to an instant start and a slightly delayed stop (to simulate the stop button on a technics 1200 turntable). This is achievable on the VCI-300 as it is an internal control, as well as on the CDJ1000 as there are 2 separate knobs for “start” and “stop”, but in the case of the DDJ-S1, I see no way to have an instant “start” and a delayed “stop”, arguably a major design flaw (which I hope can be remedied in a software fix).

“Rev” button should be replaced with “Censor”
Reverse has never been a prominently featured control in SSL nor Itch, but the “censor” key is a valuable tool and has been an essential control since the early versions of SSL. I understand that there’s a “Reverse” button on a CDJ but again, I feel the Itch control set should take precedence over the CDJ or at least allow either option as an adjustable setting. At the moment the “censor” function can be accessed by a Shift+Reverse key combo- a bit more cumbersome.

Sync Button Issues
The Sync button is in a very vulnerable location for accidental trigger. When resting my palm on the device to ride the tempo slider, I found myself dangerously close to pushing that button which could cause the songs to jump out of sync.

EFX Issues
Neither the Echo nor the Delay allow for a clean echo trail from either track in the classic echo style of either the Pioneer DJM-800 or the Rane TTM 57. An echo on a DJ mixer should allow the user to engage the track and allow the echo to decay after the source has been eliminated from the master bus. This is done on the DJM-800 by assigning the Echo to crossfader A or B and on the TTM57 by assigning the echo to the Flex FX. This shortcoming could be remedied in a software/firmware update, but at the moment, the Echo/Delay is barely effective on the DDJ-S1.

The filter selection is also lacking and the S1 would greatly benefit from a universal combo HPF/LPF filter like on the DJM-800/900 which has now also been added to Rane’s new Sixty-One and Sixty-Two DJ mixers. The combo filter on one knob is by far the most effective filter effect for any mixer/control surface.

Final Thoughts

After nearly an entire year with this DJ controller, I can safely say that this is not quite the “perfect” turntable surrogate, but it’s getting much closer. Since Pioneer seemed to pretty much nail the footprint and basic hardware controls, it seems that with some tweaking and innovation most of the shortcomings can be resolved with improvements to the software.

Grade: B
Solid work, Pioneer!

From the Editor’s Desk: DJ Solomon wrote this article last week just before his untimely passing. He was a very close friend to me and loved writing about his passion:  DJing and DJ technology. Therefore, we thought it would be fitting to run the article as planned because he would have wanted to share it with the world.  – Ean Golden

DJ Solomon

SF Weekly published an obituary on DJ Solomon detailing his life and career, read it here


  • Kc Supreme

    Hi! Can anybody say anything about xone:dx controller? Compare it with ddj-s1?

    • Sideroomjunkie

       Don’t get the DX. That’s why I’m shopping around and looking into the S1.

  • Emranogilvy

    Why haven’t you mapped your custom settings for ddj t1??

  • dj mettrax

    my next controller is the 4 deck ddj s4!!! with vdj pro7 i play with the vms4 controller from american audio and the controler is fine ore soo heavy to go to a gig!!! i wont a controller 4 deck and 5kg maximum and not 13kg with the traktor ore the vms 4 ore the ddj s4 all have 10-18kg its heavy to go to the gig!!!

  • Stinger_831

    What about an input for booth monitor

  • Mark

    Aah… oops… RIP Solomon… =(

  • Mark

    Strange that the real leaders in Itch hardware have not been mentioned…. V7 (if you want motorised platters) & NS6 (if you don’t).

  • Jherr11

    RIP DJ am and Solomon, that sucks..

  • I remember when I saw Solomon demoing Final Scratch on Tech TV back in the day. Always moving forward with technology. He will be missed.

    The only thing holding me back from buying a DDJ T1 is the lack of booth and XLR outs. Other than that, it’s exactly what I want. If they would make two of the four channels standalone and scratch enabled for my turntables, it would be a huge plus and I would most certainly be willing to pay for that. I would replace my mixer at home with one of these and probably just use the midi controller/mixer combo itself to gig. But in all honesty booth and XLR outs please. I was actually quite disappointed Pioneer didn’t refresh this line for Winter NAMM 2012. Come on Pioneer, this isn’t the first professional device you’ve ever made.

  • SmiTTTen

    Solid article. Solid individual. This planet could do with a lot more like him. 

  • Bubu

    I have had the s1 for one year, and this equipment also started my dj hobby, (although I bought the numark mixtrack pro to get started) I never had so much joy and creativity in mixing music. Yes I’m a Noob but with the s1 I achieved one of the hardest obstacles in my life, my first gig! It was music to everyone’s ears as to mine and it was spectacular. I love music and I have always wanted to dj but never before never could afford turntables. The s1 was very sacrificial to me at my worst of times but I will never have regrets. It’s been a pleasure to have even embarked with pioneer knowing that this was their first controller specifically born for a new computer driven digital era, Serato itch, that I can bet every dollar that the next one will be an even greater beast! The s1 is has been heavenly for me to touch, and i cherish it like my baby. yes there are some flaws but honestly there are not many, and its going to be the same quality as it was born to be, many years later. The only other way to go is SSL from here on, but i believe that this controller can definitely suffice and there is no way a party will suffer with this equipments efficiency to perform. Only thing I really wish to see in the new s2 whenever its released is the filter effects and wish there was a knob just like the new pioneer djm 250, for hpf/lpf instead of having to sacrifice my effects especially while on the fly. Anyways just my 2 cents as a Noob, most likely gonna be laughed at cuz I’m a Noob, just wanted to express my gratitude and unconditional love for this equipment and what it has brought to me and my dj crew, RIP Dj Solomon, and god bless his soul…. He will definitely be mashing it with DJ AM!

  • Markku Uttula

    I haven’t used DDJ-S1, but I seem to recall that on every Pioneer mixer before the DJM-800 the internal fx were only “post fader”. On those, if you wanted to use the echo like is described in the article, was to fade the song out using the gain/trim knob. I wonder if this could be achieved similarly on the DDJ-S1, since it apparently also has trim controls?

  • The T-1 looks like junk in comparison to the itch offering, shame this controller isn’t available to T2, it’s not for me but I’m sure it would be well recieved by traktor users.

    “Anyone who’s ever lugged a pair of 1200s in flight cases or a coffin from point A to point B, knows that this is a cumbersome and frustrating process of schlepping around 30+ pound giant electromagnet driven turntables, all for the sake of accurate turntable control. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like a worthwhile cause.”

    Exactly the reason why I’ve had and soon to be getting a controller back in my life, on controllers with hi res jogs I can virtually achieve up to 80% of what I can do on a battle set up any way, besides none of the gig’s I do require me to do 5min scratch solos. So a controller usually wins over lugging TT, mixer and all the DVS faff.  
     
    RIP Soloman, 34 is far to young for anyone to pass to the other side,

  • Haze324

    Good article on DJ Solomon.  Encourage you to read it.

    http://www.beezo.net/?p=5303

  • Noelflava

    RIP Solomon. Awesome DJ, awesome mixes, and inspiring in so many ways. 
    Sad to see such a talented soul pass. 

  • JulioSparkz

    I bet it’s a lot easier getting gigs in heaven anyways… RIP!

  • The picture in the obituary is crazy… He has a DJ AM sticker on his laptop.. spooky

    • Sambo

      I thought the exact same thing.  That’s some creepy pasta right there.

      Also, well-written unbiased article genuinely meant for review and not for the sale of goods.  We need more reviews like this!

  • Haze324

    RIP Solomon.

    I recently got the S1, and I have previously owned an S4, VCI300 and NS7. By far my favorite is the S1. All of the highlights in this review are dead on.

    A few notes thought.
    The effects are not native to the mixer, they are native to the software. They are not “pioneer” effects, the are serato itch effects. The echo out can be accomplished, but I agree it’s not as good as traktors or the DJM 800. I will add that the S1 soundcard is awesome and the effects sound much better on this controller than others.

    Also the start/stop is the same set up as higher end CDJs (900 and 2000) it works very well, same as slip mode.

    I think a few more updates to Itch and this thing will only get better.

  • Jimibarrz

    rest in peace bro, and journey well in Heaven!
     

  • Rest In Peace.

    All the best to you where you’re spinning now.

  • Djjordan3g

    Rest in peace! God bless you and your family!

  • xoduzz

    respect. rest in piece, thank you for the article

  • Capro

    Wanted to mention that none of the knocks on the VCI-300 apply for me. Extremely happy with it even though I got it just before the price drop. 

    RIP Solomon.

  • Geoff Manch

    I too have owned this controller for almost a year, and my complaints are few and far between. I DJ with a friend and can definitely relate to the ‘sync’ button being haphazardly placed…it’s messed us up a number times. I agree 100% with your echo EFX beef..the trail isn’t nearly long enough to justify a clean paused + echo effect in dramatic moments on a mix. 

    The DDJ-S1 also presents a competitive advantage to DJs in that its set-up time is virtually zero. Takes me seconds to set up, unlike other DJs with myriad hardware. My biggest complaint is that the sync feature isn’t nearly as reliable as Pioneer advertises. My partner bought an S4 a month back, and the sync feature has outperformed the S1. Otherwise, it’s a great controller that deserves praise. 

  • Jfd6812

    Damn dude. I thought that was a great review before I even realized Solomon had passed. So crazy. Thoughts and prayers to Solomon’s family and friends.

  • Mr. V

    Great Review & My condolences to the Solomon’s & The Dj Techtool’s Family, Sounded like Solomon was a great guy R.I.P.

    – Mr. V.

  • Deecodameeko

    damn, RIP DJ Solomon…

  • Anonymous

    Puts it all into perspective, doesn’t it? RIP fellow DJ, deepest sympathies to your family and friends.

  • Zoshik

    ?? ?? ????? ?? ??? ??????????,? ????????? DDJ S1 ? ??? ???????,? ?????? 400 ??? 350 ?????!!

  • guest

    dude you are such winer when reviewing products. a real dj can use any gear and can adapt. saying the ns7 is heavey? are you 5? what do you expect, it’s solid. sucking from traktors teet you will always be biased.

    • guest

      damn do i feel like an ass. i didn’t see till after that solomon posted the review. if i seen that at the top i would have been more respectful. my apologies. respect to solomon. rip. although i do agree with my post, and its my opinion, i do apologize. damn it.

      • PlayRitePrado

        Your an Idiot… 

    • Spacecamp

      Dude, have you felt the NS7? I’d prefer to just lug 1200s at that point. 

  • RIP DJ Solomon! Such an awesome guy who contributed so much to the DJ scene, community, and the future of what we do! 

  • Estling

    Nice article, I was so into buying this when I got started, but I chose the S4 instead because of better marketing. But maybe this is what I’m getting next 😀

  • firestormjosh

    damn thats terrible news. my thoughts go out to his family and the community.

  • Anonymous

    Rest In Peace… Now you Spin from up high. Bless

  • Anonymous

    RIP Solomon! Informative indeed.

  • r.i.p. solomon kahn i hope you are in a better place. 

    my heart goes out to your fiancee and family.