We’ve had a lot of requests recently to shed a bit more light on Pioneer DJ controllers and how they stack up against each other. With two new models (the DDJ-RX/RZ) on the horizon, the question for many DJs is “Which Pioneer DJ controller will suit my needs?” Read on for our analysis of the lineup and recommendations for all types of DJs.
Why Compare All-In-One Pioneer DJ Controllers?
Traditionally, DJ Techtools has had an inclination to Native Instruments and Traktor gear – not for any reason beyond it being the most interesting and exciting platform for us. But now the playing field has truly leveled – with Serato DJ stepping up their game in terms of effects (read our Serato/Traktor FX comparison), key detection/syncing in the just-launched 1.8 Public Beta and opening up to a diverse array of hardware. At the same time, Pioneer has launched their own DJ software, Rekordbox DJ – which works with all of their hardware.
Based on industry sales data, Pioneer has dominated the DJ markets over the last year – with the DDJ-SB-2, SX, and SR taking the top three slots for most popular DJ controllers. This means not only are these controllers a favorite among DJs, there also are going to be more of these floating around the used market for years to come.
But Pioneer has crowded their product line with seven different models of all-in-one controller currently in production. Which ones are right for what type of DJ? We break them down with our recommendations below:
For The Beginner DJ / As A Backup Controller
- Controller: DDJ-SB2
- Good For: Intro DJs looking for a very simple platform with all of the controls
- Price: $249 (DJTT store)
- Buy Now or Wait?: Just released – buy now.
- Compatible With: Serato DJ (Intro included, $99 to upgrade), no Traktor mappings, no Rekordbox DJ Support
The DDJ-SB2 is very much the king of the Serato DJ Intro controllers, with the update to the second generation adding in trim knobs on both channels and VU meters. The SB is unique in that it has a Filter Fade (similar to our FaderFX on VCI-100/400 SE), which allows DJs to high pass filter both tracks with the crossfader for easy bass mixing.
However, the build quality does tend to match up to the price. We’ve heard some complaints about the jogwheels and non-RGB pads not feeling up to the standard for the rest of the DDJ-S line. Theoretically you can also use this controller to control four decks, with buttons to switch to decks 3 and 4, but we wouldn’t recommend it for a DJ who plans to do a lot of four deck mixing.
The input/output on the SB2 is pretty simple – a stereo RCA out, two headphone outs (1/4″ + 1/8″), and a 1/4″ mic input with adjustable gain. The unit has no inputs, so it doesn’t work as a standalone mixer.
The Only iOS Pioneer DJ Controller
- Controller: DDJ-WeGO3
- Good For: iPad DJs, Super-Portable Rigs
- Price: $297 (Amazon)
- Buy Now / Wait?: Released Sept 2014, probably safe buy for now, especially since Rekordbox DJ support announced
- Compatible With: Serato DJ (Intro included, $99 to upgrade), Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ (LE included), Algoriddim djay for Mac (included
This two-channel controller was seemingly designed to get Pioneer DJ gear into Apple Stores around the world – and it worked. The unit is prominently compatible with Algoriddim’s djay iOS software, and has an onboard iPad connector/charger port. Note that Pioneer made this a proprietary port, so if you lose the included Lightning cable, you’re out of luck.
Unique features include “Pulse Control” – which can flash the lights around the jogwheels in time with the BPM of each track, or with the rate of the FX while they’re being controlled by the jogwheels. We particularly enjoy the around-the-jogwheel loop/transport controls which are a smart aesthetic decision for a real streamlined, compact workflow.
It naturally operates as a normal controller as well with other DJ software, and Pioneer’s new DJ software has built-in support for the controller – the only budget controller to get that status so far. It also comes in a few different colors (Black, White, Red).
- Controller: DDJ-SR
- Good For: Complete Serato two-channel control – ideal for mobile gigs
- Price: $599 (DJTT store)
- Buy Now/Wait?: Probably wait unless urgent – released September 2013. We expect this to follow the path of the DDJ-SX/2, and there will be an incremental update with RGB pads and a few minor control changes
- Compatible With: Serato DJ (included), Rekordbox DJ, Traktor TSI available
In 2014, this was the most popular DJ controller in the United States – by far (it sold twice the number of units than the DDJ-SX). We’re not surprised, because this is where the DDJ line starts to really shine – the full performance pads feel great, as do the jogwheels.
The jogwheels on the SR and SX2 are both about the same in quality – not quite CDJ level, but definitely larger, flatter, and more accurate for scratching than the S4 or VCI lines (at least when using with Serato DJ – the jogwheels feel nowhere near as good with Traktor). Watch some cutting action on the SR below:
Additionally, this is where the line starts to become “professional” – it includes controls for Slip Mode, has master and booth outputs, an Aux In RCA port, and 1/4″ mic input. That’s why this unit makes such a good option for working DJs – similar to the new Kontrol S5, it’s just the right amount of I/O for it to be useful in most wedding/corporate/mobile gigs.
As with the DDJ-SB, you have the option to control four decks with buttons on the side of the jogwheels, but without dedicated channels we don’t recommend it for regular four deck use.
Unlike the DDJ-SX, the SR can run on USB power alone – no power adapter needed (checkout DJTT Audio optimized USB cables here)
- Controller: DDJ-SX2
- Good For: Serato DJ four deck control
- Price: $997 (DJTT Store)
- Buy Now / Wait?: Buy now, released Aug 2014, unlikely this unit will get an update soon.
- Compatible With: Serato DJ (included) Rekordbox DJ, Traktor TSIs available
Compared to the SR, these two units are fairly similar, just with the addition of two more decks – but there are a few additional features that make this an important step-up:
- XLR Out: For some DJs, this is critical to have balanced master XLR outputs – it certainly makes it way easier to connect up to a typical soundsystem!
- Standalone Mixer: Way more I/O on this mixer overall, in addition to 2 phono/line RCAs, 2 CD RCAs, there’s also two mic inputs – one is a combo XLR/quarter and the other just a 1/4″.
- Strip Search: The convenience of being able to jump around in a track you’re cuing up with just this touch strip is A+
- Dual Deck Control: a feature that makes a jogwheel control BOTH decks at the same time (1+3 or 2+4)
On both the SX2 and the SR, we’re impressed with the shift-layer controls and that they’re all labeled clearly. Every Pad Mode has a shift layer, as well as all the loop, FX, tempo, and parameter controls. Having a clear second layer to a controller is great because you become more efficient at using just the controller to do things – it’s very similar to learning keyboard shortcuts.
The Beast: DDJ-SZ
- Controller: DDJ-SZ
- Good For: DJs who don’t mind a huge controller, the top-of-the-line centerpiece gear
- Price: $1999 (DJTT store)
- Buy Now / Wait?: We’re not sure what else Pioneer would do to this controller to release a second version – maybe add USB recording function and Serato Flip controls? Either way, it’s a good buy now as any new version would be incremental.
- Compatible With: Serato DJ (included), Rekordbox DJ, Traktor TSI available
When we reviewed this massive controller, we dubbed it the “Cadillac of DJ Controllers” – and the title still stands true. They’re big and heavy, but they’ve got almost everything that you could want out of an all-in-one DJ controller.
We particularly like the dual USB ports/soundcards – making it easy to switch between DJs (and even share some of the mixing controls to do a B2B set), as well as the onboard FX and oscillator FX (cheesy, but fun).
The jogwheels absolutely feel better than any other of the DDJ line – they’ve got that nice CDJ-2000nexus weight behind them. There’s onboard DVS inputs, and of course it operates as a standalone mixer just like the DDJ-SX2.
Rekordbox DJ’s First Dedicated Controllers
- Controller: DDJ-RX / DDJ-RZ
- Good For: Dedicated Rekordbox DJ users
- Price: $997/$1997 (Both now in the DJTT store)
- Buy Now / Wait?: They will be out later this Fall – but it is worth noting that we might expect to see a two-channel DDJ-RR in the future?
These are the two newest additions to the DDJ lineup, and they’re where things start to really get confusing. Pioneer has essentially created clones of the DDJ-SX2 and DDJ-SZ for their own Rekordbox DJ software, but with a tiny number of controls changed and labels rewritten to match up with the software.
That being said, many of the other DDJ controllers work just fine with Rekordbox DJ, so what’s different?
- Pad FX, Slicer, Slicer Capture, Sequencer labels which match up to the software controls
- Sound Color FX buttons which will be apparently customizable with future Rekordbox DJ plus packs
- Rekordbox DJ license included (a $129 value)
So far we’ve only had a brief afternoon of hands-on with the DDJ-RZ – which you can watch in action below:
These are absolutely pricey controllers – and right now we’re not sure what the level of compatiblity is with other non-Rekordbox softwares – so your best bet is to try using Rekordbox DJ’s free trial before you go out and nab one of these units.
Standing Alone: XDJ-RX
- Controller: XDJ-RX
- Good For: An all-in-one setup without a laptop
- Price: $1499 (DJTT store)
- Buy Now / Wait?: Just released earlier this year – good to buy now, although many wonder if a 4-channel version might come out eventually.
Are there other all-in-one controllers from Pioneer (and other companies) on the market? Yes – but none of them deliver as close to a computer + controller experience as the XDJ-RX. This workflow is the hybridization of all-in-one controllers with media-player gear like the CDJs – and it works really, really well.
Essentially, two CDJ displays stacked on top of each other with additional FX information make up the large LCD screen. There’s basic pad controls under each deck, the best Color and BPM FX are right on the unit, and there’s even dual USB ports to use to load tracks from or to record to.
Older Pioneer DDJ Controllers
We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the discontinued models that are still fairly prominent in the used gear market – and talk about why they might or might not be wise investments:
- DDJ-SX: As the update to the SX2 was purely incremental and mostly cosmetic, these are still great buys – and often you’ll be able to find them for less than $700.
- DDJ-T1/S1: Some of Pioneer’s first forays into the controller world, these units never really felt completely polished, and they have stopped being supported. Note that they don’t have Rekordbox
- DDJ-ERGO: Also another discontinued unit that is better left that way – it was designed for Virtual DJ, but the button layout and controls feel a bit awkward. Better to look for a used SX!
- SEP-C1: Wait, you found one of these units from 2008? Impressive. Buy this one if you want start your own museum of DJ controllers!
Have a recommendation of your own for Pioneer controllers? Let us know in the comments below.