Pioneer came late to the digital DJing party, at least as far as controller DJing goes. But earlier this year it launched the DDJ-S1 and the DDJ-T1. We’ve already reviewed the DDJ-S1 here, but we’ve yet to take a close look at the DDJ-T1.
One of the main differences between the two controllers is that the DDJ-S1 is for Serato ITCH software, and the DDJ-T1 is for Traktor. When Traktor Pro 2 came out, Pioneer followed up with a Traktor 2 version of the software for the DDJ-T1, and we wanted to review the unit with this software in place, as this is what new buyers will be using it with out of the box.
First impressions and setting up
The unit is big! Everything is jumbo compared to the majority of DJ controllers, so it feels well spaced out, with big jogwheels (similar to those on Pioneer’s lower-end CDJ players), long-throw pitch faders, a decent-sized mixer section, and big play/pause and cue buttons in the typical Pioneer styling.
There are also big (removable) plastic feet raising the unit up to a good few inches from the surface it’s placed on, further adding to its stature. It’s a similar size to the Numark NS6, but bulkier due to those feet (however, it’s also predominantly plastic albeit with a metal chassis, so it’s lighter than the Numark unit).
It is mid metallic grey in colour with darker jogwheels, and a mix of mid-grey and black knobs and faders. Overall the impression is of a solid, imposing and built-for-business DJ controller, which while not exactly made with the most expensive components, is built to last and do a job.
Because of its size, you tend to adopt the pose of a “traditional” DJ much more when using it compared to tiny controllers, because you can stand in the middle of the unit and both hands then move out to the sides to control the jogs, unlike web using some smaller controllers, when from afar you appear to be DJing with fingers twiddling around in front of you!
A quick glance at the front reveals the mic and headphones inputs, and round the back are ins and outs, and the usual USB and power sockets (the unit comes with a power supply but can also work from USB power at a push, albeit with reduced LED lighting and no pretty jogwheel effects).
So to setting up. Install software (all units from late August 2011, ie a couple of weeks ago at the time of writing, come with Traktor 2 Pioneer Edition, but you can get a free upgrade if you buy earlier stock), install drivers (if on Windows), plug in, run setup wizard, set audio settings, and in theory you’re off.
The unit comes with a power supply but can also work from USB power at a push…
In my experience (as happened this time, and often with Traktor) it’s never that simple, but a reboot, a bit of unplugging and plugging in again and some head scratching seems to to lead to the onscreen controls finally responding to the unit.
So prior to getting stuck in, let’s observe that the jogs have lovely red LEDs to indicate movement around their circumferences; all the square and rectangular buttons have various yellow, green or red backlighting to indicate state; and that a big omission in my view is apparent: that of VU meters. Of course, there are VUs on the screen, but I want to mix looking at my mixer, not at the computer screen.
Let’s look at the software to start with. You get Traktor 2 Pioneer edition, which is basically the LE edition of Traktor with some of its more obvious limitations removed.
For instance, you can record with this version (I don’t think you can with LE on any other controller) and you can use four decks. Apart from that, it comes with all the main improvements of Traktor 2 – better waveforms, waveform zoom and improved sync being the standout ones. Overall, the software does what most users will require it to do out of the box, but controllerists would not live with the lack of “proper” effects (Traktor’s advanced mode is not available so you’re tied to six effects in total in chained mode).
Sample decks, what sample decks?
Of course, one of the big draws of Traktor Pro 2 is the sample decks. It is not possible to use Traktor Pro 2′s sample decks with the DDJ-T1 out of the box, as the supplied software doesn’t support them.
If you’re a Traktor Pro 2 user, there’s a mapping available officially from Pioneer…
However, if you’re a Traktor Pro 2 user, there’s a mapping available officially from Pioneer that allows you to use them; although it doesn’t map all functions, it does a decent job of mapping the main ones.
Such a post-release fix is always going to be shoehorned, not least because there’s no indication on the controls themselves as to their sample deck functions, but once you’ve learned them you’ll be able to at least use them. The Traktor Kontrol S4 has definitely got the edge here though as it’s currently the only Traktor controller out there actually designed to use the sample decks from the ground up.
Good enough, but…
This unit is to me aimed at DJs migrating from other Pioneer gear (say, a two CDJ-350 and DJM-400 set up), and the software does the job to put the familiar functionality into their hands, with a few bells and whistles too. So it’s good enough in this respect; Pioneer has ensured that as far as Traktor LE goes, they’ve got the best version out there.
However, pro users and serious controllerist hobbyists will definitely want to invest in Traktor Pro 2, if not only to use the sample deck mapping and full-strength effects.
Traktor compared to other software
Of course, Pioneer has a Serato ITCH controller (the DDJ-S1) and also is about to release an as-yet-unnamed Virtual DJ-compatible device, so you can now buy controllers from this company for all three main software brands. So if you’re a new user with no experience of the software, you may ask: Which is best?
Of course there’s no quick answer, but if you want serious controllerism with full-strength effects and insane (if difficult) mappability, Traktor wins; if you want elegance, ease of use and the tightest hardware integration there is, Serato ITCH is your man; and if you want a mixture of ease of use, controller transparency (it works with just about anything) and a kind of down-to-earth hackable charm, Virtual DJ may be for you. This is the only one of the three that works with video, by the way.
(I’m just mentioning all this stuff for people who may be migrating to controllers from CDJs or vinyl and want to know the main options.)
OK, let’s look at the unit itself. The first thing you’re going to want to do is put a track on, and it works well in this respect – you just use the big browse knob top middle to navigate Traktor’s library (pushing the button in to click it opens/closes library view) and hit one of the load buttons to bring the track onto a deck.
Headphone cueing is exactly as you’d expect, with cue buttons for each of the four channels, and a cue/master headphone mix knob alongside a headphones volume control.
There are also, usefully, 1/8in and 1/4in headphone sockets on the front…
There are also, usefully, 1/8″ and 1/4″ headphone sockets on the front of the unit so you can plug whatever phones in you have – useful if you’ve lost the adaptor or left it in your drawer at home, as I’ve done more than once.
You can activate more than one cue, as it’s not an either/or cueing system – each cue is an independent toggle. On decent headphones, cueing volume is very loud indeed.
The mixer is an area where the extra size of the unit shines. It has four full channels with everything well spaced out. Starting at the bottom, the crossfader (non-replaceable) is in a sea of empty space which scratch DJs will appreciate (although to lack of hardware crossfader curve adjustment isn’t). It is also perfectly loose for cutting.
The channel faders have channel fader start buttons, which basically when activated allow you to autostart that channel by just opening its fader. This is beloved of mobile DJs but could also allow you to trigger pseudo-sample decks on decks C and D when the jogs and cues are switched onto decks A and B, simply by throwing their faders open. Good for idents, vocal drops and so on. I like them – although the buttons are a bit stiff to activate.
The decks are arranged in C-A-B-D order, which I like as it’s pretty intuitive – if you’re only DJing with two decks, then the two internal faders function as your main faders, and I’d wager that all but the most diehard four-deck demons still use A and B more than C and D.
Traktor has a (to me) rather complex system of master tempo to keep stuff in sync, and so each channel has master and sync buttons in order to let you choose it as the master or to pull it into sync with the other channels, and also there are FX activation buttons for each channel that allow you to choose either/both of the two available effects sections to be activated on that particular line. Effects are pre-fader, by the way, so no long echoes fading into the distance as you cut out of a track.
This is just a mapping thing, but it irks me as I don’t see why you wouldn’t set the mapping up this way.
The EQs don’t quite kill and as there are no separate kills, it’s not possible to completely remove the bass, say, from your mix as you could with 100% kill pots or separate kill buttons. This is just a mapping thing, but it irks me as I don’t see why you wouldn’t set the mapping up this way. However, having said that, they do cover a wide range of boost/kill.
The gains, master volume (and aforementioned headphone pots) are all smaller than the EQs, which is a nice bit of design, especially when you have section containing 20 such controls – keeps everything neat and functional.
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