October 21, 2014

Pioneer DDJ-SB Controller: Your New Best Friend? [REVIEW]

DDJ-SB-Angle_300dpi
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One of the first reviews I wrote for DJ Times was about the first-ever Serato Itch all-in-one controllers. The unit was simple in nature, reliable, and heavy as hell.

Well, fast-forward five-plus years and the DJ controller world is hotter than ever. Almost nobody carries records any more, and when I say no one I mean me. Whether it’s with Serato, Traktor, Mixvibes or any other software alternative, DJing with a laptop is hands-down easier.

So with that said, I introduce the all-new Pioneer DDJ-SB, a fully functioning DJ controller with every bell and whistle imaginable.

Welcome to Controllers

Are you new to the DJ world? OK, let me first break down what it means to be DJing with a controller. The controller—in this case, the DDJ-SB—acts as both the mixer and two “turntables.” While, of course, there are other features, let’s just keep it simple for now. The second piece is your laptop and accompanying DJ software—this will be your proverbial record bag. When you connect your laptop to your controller, you as a user are able to play and manipulate those tracks (records) similar to a traditional DJ setup (via the DDJ-SB controller).

Software

When the world started to move to DJing with a controller, New Zealand-based Serato Audio Research—having already stuck gold with its Scratch Live DVS product—released a light version of its software called Serato Itch. Over the years, this software has been slowly phased out and Serato released Serato DJ and Serato DJ Intro products. And to be honest, other than a couple of visual tweaks to the user interface, there is not a whole lot of difference between the Itch, Serato DJ, or even the original Scratch Live.

The commonality between all of Serato’s platforms is that they all work, all the time, and with very few bugs. Today, we are talking more about the Pioneer controller, but I will say if you are familiar with Serato Scratch Live, you will like Serato DJ;  and if you are new to Serato products overall, I can tell you that it is an extremely intuitive software. Also, I can almost guarantee that anyone can understand 90-percent of the software functionality within 20 minutes.

DDJ-SB-side
Pioneer DDJ-SB: Portability matches performance.

Feature Overview

Alright, now that we have mentioned all of that, let’s take a harder look at the Pioneer unit. Just when you think Pioneer can’t dig any deeper or price any lower, it surprises you its all-new DDJ-SB. While the device could be labeled entry-level, it is far from basic, is impressively lightweight, and completely matches the needs of the modern-day DJ.

The DDJ-SB is a 2-channel DJ controller specifically designed for Serato DJ Intro or, if you feel like upgrading, Serato DJ. Similar to the look and layout of both the DDJ-SX or DDJ-SR, the DDJ-SB has a 3-channel EQ, four total rubber performance pads per channel, dedicated channel filter, six control FX, which can be layered or assigned to either channel, the all new “Filter Fade,” two jog wheels, and Serato track select and load navigation.

You might be asking yourself, “What’s that mean?” It is simple. When Pioneer was designing the DDJ-SB, it did everything in their power to make this device as comprehensive as possible, while also keeping the size and weight at a level that even my grandmother could carry from her house to a gig.

As it is likely that if you are reading this you are fairly familiar with a 2-channel DJ setup, let’s skip through the part where I say the jog wheels and crossfader work great for scratching, the EQ couldn’t be tighter, and using the search and load functionality for track selection gives you memories of an aching back—as you recall all the vinyl you lugged around vs. turning a knob and pushing a button. Rather, let us skip to the three pieces of functionality the DDJ-SB contains, which will change the way you play your sets: Filter Fade, Performance Pads, and Layered FX.

Key Features

Filter Fade is an all new piece of functionality that Pioneer has specifically added to this controller and, in my opinion, it makes complete sense. The idea behind the Filter Fade functionality is to allow tracks to be mixed naturally using a crossfader by adjusting the volume of the left and right decks, as well as the high-pass filter parameters. From a technical standpoint, the high-pass filter of the left and right decks is linked with the actions of the crossfader, and the deck volume is adjusted while applying the base filter. This allows tracks with different styles or BPMs to be mixed smoothly and, from a user perspective, makes mixing and transitioning from song to song much easier and smooth—perfect for those who are DJing for the first time.

Performance Pads are like hot cues, but way cooler. The idea behind these pads is to allow a user to set cue points to start, stop, and loop a track. The even cooler part of these pads is that you can do all sorts of live remixing in a much more natural performance manner, giving your sets a completely new sound, feel and flavor.

The last piece of functionality comes with the six FX knobs. In previous editions of controllers, FX knobs could only be assigned to a single channel and/or only one FX parameter could be used at a time. With the DDJ-SB, there are six FX knobs which can be layered and combined, allowing an individual to create an all-new sound and give the track a unique feeling.

General Setup

It is not right to provide a proper product review without talking a little about the setup. Outside of downloading the Serato DJ Intro software from serato.com, all you need is a PC or MacBook, a USB cord and your favorite pair of headphones. The DDJ-SB is powered off your laptop and the controller has a built-in soundcard, which means you can connect directly from your controller to the speakers. The last piece of setup to note is that the headphone jack provides both an 1/8- or ¼-inch headphone output—perfect for both standard DJ headphones and everyday headphone.

Conclusions

From top to bottom, this controller does everything that an aspiring and experienced DJs could ever want from such a unit. Add up the functionality with its light weight and $299 price point, and you might find that the DDJ-SB quickly becoming your new best friend. Well-done, Pioneer.

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