We thought the original Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB was one of the best entry-level Serato DJ controllers at the time. It packed some then-professional features like dedicated filter and browse knobs while looking the part. With the DDJ-SB2, the best entry-level “pro” controller just got better, with switchable four-deck controls, level meters, and trim pots. With compatibility amongst all the major DJ apps in the market today including Serato DJ and Rekordbox, this is the controller to beat in the sub-$250 range.
First Impressions / Setting up
The Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 ships with just a USB cable – no need for a power brick with it. It has a USB socket in the back, a pair of RCA jacks for the Master output, a 1/4″ mic in jack, and 1/4″ and 1/8″ jacks for headphones.
It comes with Serato DJ Intro in the box, but it’s compatible with Serato DJ through an upgrade. It also comes with a two-week free trial period for you to see if you like it enough to purchase the full version (and you should!).
The DDJ-SB2 is also compatible with Pioneer DJ’s Rekordbox DJ software. At the time of this writing, Rekordbox DJ version 4.1 has vastly improved both in stability and with its audio engine quality, so it’s starting to become a DJ app force to be reckoned with.
If you add in Virtual DJ 8 (you’ve got to pay the US$99 licence though) and the ability to map it in Traktor Pro 2, you’ve got a cost-effective and portable DJ controller that’s platform agnostic, letting you try out practically any major DJ software out there, or flit from app to app if you’re like me and you like to try out new things from time to time.
For this review, I tried it out with Serato DJ, so I just hooked it up to my computer and speakers and got to work.
I’ve been using a Traktor Kontrol S8 for a few months now, and it’s a real beast not just performance-wise, but physically as well. It’s big, heavy (I got the flight case), and wide, so my biggest problems with gigs are bringing the controller to the venue and setting it up in what always seems to be a tiny DJ booth made to fit just a laptop and little else. Combine this with the fact that I usually come after another DJ who has his or her own controller, and it makes for a ridiculous set-up situation akin to tap dancing with your hands.
Holding the DDJ-SB2 felt familiar – I’ve DJed with many controllers over the last few years, and there are controllers that feel kinda oversized (DDJ-SZ, and even the DDJ-SX2 come to mind), while there are ones that feel like tiny little plastic toys.
The DDJ-SB2, while indeed made of plastic, hardly feels like a toy – it gives me more of an impression that it’s meant to be a portable controller for the serious DJ, someone who uses a full club CDJ set-up but wants something handy for his or her next bar / pub gig.
All the features from the original DDJ-SB that made it an attractive proposition are still here: the chunky / responsive jogwheels, three band EQ and dedicated filter knobs, and the switchable bank of four pads that can be assigned to control Hot Cues, Auto Loop, Manual Loop, and the Serato SP-6 Sampler.
The DDJ-SB2 adds a few new features that make it better than its predecessor:
At the top of either channel is a small trim pot knob that lets you control the level of the track that you’ve got loaded. Serato DJ (and all other DJ apps) automatically compensates for the difference in level between tracks in your library, however sometimes it doesn’t get it 100% right. That’s why trim pots are so handy – they let you manually adjust this level compensation on the DDJ-SB2 itself quickly.
The lack of dedicated trim / gain knobs on the original DDJ-SB was one of its shortcomings in my opinion, and having them on here put it in the same channel control league as the higher tier DDJ-SR.
Metering was noticeably absent on the first DDJ-SB. That’s been addressed in the DDJ-SB2 in the form of a pair of five-segment channel level meters, with each segment consisting of a pair of eight LEDs. That means you’re always seeing the levels of both channels one and two in greater detail thanks to the multiple lights that make up just one segment.
There’s still no master output level meter onboard though, but it’s easy enough to see that you’re clipping or “in the red”, so just having this level of metering resolution in such a small controller is a huge convenience.
Switchable control for decks three and four
It’s now possible to control up to four decks with the DDJ-SB2: to control deck three, you just press the “3 Deck” button in the left deck, and to control deck four, you press “4 Deck” on the right. This assigns the jogwheel, transport, library, and mixer controls to decks three and four. It can be confusing at first, especially since there are only two volume faders on the controller, but you get used to it over time.
Pad Trans effect
Aside from Loop Roll, which can be accessed by holding Shift and pressing the Auto Loop button, the DDJ-SB2 comes with the Pad Trans effect button, which sounds like a gate effect – each of the four pads has a different time value (from 1/32 up to 1/4 of a beat). Like the Filter Fade effect button, which automatically adds a low pass and high pass filter to both channels as you move the crossfader from one channel to another, it’s an OK feature, nothing great nor essential.
The best entry-level “pro” controller just got better, with switchable four-deck controls, level meters, and trim pots (always handy folks, believe me).
With compatibility amongst all the major DJ apps in the market today, including Pioneer DJ’s own Rekordbox DJ, plus a relatively low price tag by Pioneer DJ standards, the DDJ-SB2 is a great second controller for club DJs who are already using CDJs for big shows, and would even make a great first controller for those about to get serious.
At the sub-US$250 price range, this is the controller to beat.