The middle of the three Serato controller from Pioneer’s latest batch, this is basically a cut-down, two-channel DDJ-SX. If you’ve been DJing for a while and are looking to upgrade from your current controller onto a mid-tier professional kit, you should definitely have the DDJ-SR on your list somewhere near the top: It’s a solid device that will last you a long time if you take care of it, and it’s also a controller that’ll grow in complexity and function as your needs and skill as a DJ develop through the years.
First Impressions / Setting up
Having unpacked the rather hefty unit (it’s almost 10 pounds!), laying it on my DJ desk leaves a rather fetching sight: two large silver jogwheels and two rows of performance pads underneath them are what caught my eye at first glance. The upfaders feel solid, and the crossfader is smooth and produces a nice click as you move it back and forth against the unit’s faceplate.
The rear connectivity includes a pair of 1/4” jacks for your master output, a pair of RCA jacks and another pair of 1/4” jacks for your booth output with volume knob, a USB port and an RCA auxiliary input pair for connecting an audio device. You can set the booth output to be your master out via a switch here, perfect for connecting to a soundsystem or mixer that uses RCA jacks. The front of the unit has the standard 1/4” headphone jack, a 1/8” headphone jack (for consumer grade phones), and a 1/4” microphone jack with volume knob for hooking up a mic to your set-up.
The unit’s facade is a metal plate that clearly labels all functions as well as all the fundamental shift layers, making for a very sturdy face that can endure the rigours of absolute DJ performance. The rest of the unit is made of a hard plastic, and while I think it would’ve been great to have an all metal enclosure, it still feels quite solid. This hybrid construction also makes for a lighter controller, although it still weighs a bit. I like this a lot more than the Traktor Kontrol S4, which feels plasticky altogether, and found the DDJ-SR to be a happy medium between plastic controllers and more robust, all-metal controllers like the Reloop Terminal Mix 8 and Denon MC6000 mk2.
The knobs in the EQ section are made of chunky rubber, while the larger-sized filter knobs for each channel are made of a hard plastic, which I thought was a nice touch to ensure that you can properly discern between the Low EQ knob and the filter even in a very dim DJ booth. The browser knob is oversized and has proper detents, making searching your library using it an actual joy.
The overall layout of the deck is very intuitive, making the “two decks and a mixer” experience a familiar one. This is a two channel, four deck controller, so if you want to access decks three and four there are buttons on either side of the unit that let you enable them. This is much smaller than the DDJ-SX, so of course some functions are missing: there aren’t any touchstrips here for needle search, no centre LED ring within the jogwheels showing play position, and no separate metering on individual channels. However, the DDJ-SR isn’t just a watered down version of the SX, as we’ll see later on…
The DDJ-SR operates via USB, so getting it up and running is just a matter of plugging the supplied USB cable in. The package comes with a full version of Serato DJ and, as you’d expect, installation and registration of this software is a breeze. If you’d prefer to use it with another piece of DJ software (Traktor, Virtual DJ, Cross DJ), just download the proper mapping and get going. For this review, I used an existing copy of Serato DJ that I have.
Once powered up, it’s fantastic how much of a 1:1 relationship this hardware controller has with Serato DJ: Every labeled function, every parameter performs as you’d expect it to. If I had to, I could literally purchase one of these units before a big performance, get it out of its box, hook it up to my laptop and the club’s soundsystem, and have unwavering confidence that it’ll deliver full functionality and perform at 100%.
As with any traditional DJ controller, the jogwheels are of paramount importance. The jogs on the DDJ-SR are large, measuring six inches in diameter, and have a nice resistance to them when you push and pull. Absent in the DDJ-SR are the centre LED rings that show you play position, just like on a CDJ, replaced instead by a static circular graphic. This may be a deal breaker for some, but I never really liked having to look at my jogs to know where I am in a song, so personally I didn’t miss having it.
These aren’t thin jogs, either: They’re chunky and rise above the controller’s faceplate, giving you enough real estate to perform accurate pitch bends. The placement of the pitch faders to the right of each jogwheel might get in the way of DJs with larger hands, but this is a rare exception.
I’ll admit that I liked to use sync a lot in the past with my other controllers (Denon MC6000, Traktor S4 and a Livid CNTRL_R), but only because I didn’t really enjoy using their controls for pitch bends and beatmatching. With the exception of the CNTRL_R (which didn’t have jogs to begin with), I never liked using their jogwheels due to their small size.
Scratching was also a fairly unimpressive affair because of their limited diameter and the lack of “feel” that a larger jogwheel surface area offers, but ever since I got started on the DDJ series (starting with the DDJ-SB), it’s as if I’ve rediscovered the joys of DJing all over again, just because their jogs are so darn good. The DDJ-SR takes this even further by having even larger jogwheels, and I just notice myself sometimes noodling around for hours using it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had so much fun with a digital controller, and I haven’t even got to using the performance pads to their fullest!
This is a two-channel controller, and as you’d expect there’s only a pair of EQs here in the standard Pioneer DJM format: Trim, High, Mid, and Low, plus a Filter knob. Do note that this is not a standalone hardware mixer and, as such, these are not hardware EQs and filters, they only control the parameters in your software. The rubber knobs provide an excellent grip, while the larger filter knobs also feel like quality. Between the two knob columns you’ll find your master level knob and your headphones mix knob. Located here as well is the sampler volume knob which, I feel, makes for a less cluttered layout compared to an upfader, which is the case on a DDJ-SX.
Faders and metering
The upfaders on the DDJ-SR have a bit of fight in them, which may or may not be good depending on your style of DJing. The crossfader here is a non user-replaceable one unlike in the DDJ-SX. It’s a smooth crossfader, and there’s a crossfader curve knob at the front of the unit as well as a fader reverse switch.
Instead of individual meters on each channel of the controller, the DDJ-SR has a single meter in the centre of the unit with a switch that allows you to view your master output level or the levels in channel one (left meter) and channel two (right meter). The levels of decks three and four are displayed whenever you enable them on the controller by pressing the appropriate deck select buttons.
The large browser knob is located at the top of the unit, and responds well to make perusing your library fast. Pressing the knob lets you browse within a crate, and pressing it again takes you back to your crates list or file folders. There are two buttons under it, the one on the left is essentially a “back” button, while the right loads a selected song into Serato’s Prepare list. The shift layer of the left button lets you select from Serato DJ’s five views (Vertical, Horizontal, Extended, Stack, and Library), while the one on the right switches among the different Area functions of the library (Files, Browse, Prepare, and History).
There are load buttons on either side of the browser knob that lets you load the highlighted song in your library onto the decks. Pressing them twice in quick succession creates an “instant double” of whatever is playing on the other deck; handy for a beat juggle or scratch performance. The shift layer for these load buttons lets you sort a crate according to BPM or artist.
The effects section on the DDJ-SR is made up of two sets of four rubber knobs and four buttons below them, and you can find them on top of both jogwheels. Depending on what you have set in Serato DJ (single effect or multi-effect mode), the first three knobs and buttons let you get hands on with certain parameters, while the fourth knob and button pairing serve as a note length selector and tap tempo button, respectively. You can assign them to either channel simply by pressing the FX Assign button. The shift layers for the knobs let you scroll through the effects settings, while pressing the fourth button lets you jump between FX modes.
The DDJ-SR comes with eight backlit, velocity-sensitive performance pads. You can select their functions (Hot Cue, Roll, Slicer, and Sampler) using the row of buttons above them. These are fun to use during a live set, and setting hot cues, juggling them and triggering samples and one-shots becomes an all-inclusive affair thanks to Serato DJ’s SP6 sample player. Roll becomes a feature that’s easier to manage as the beat length gets spread out amongst eight pads, allowing for more intuitive creation of build-ups, and using Slicer is easy because the corresponding pad lights up as the slices progress.
New to the DDJ-SR is the Pad Plus mode, which is an extra shift layer for the Performance Pad function buttons (Hot Cue Roll, Trans, Combo FX, and Sampler Roll). Hot Cue Roll lets you perform rolls on cues that you’ve placed within a track, and Trans is a transformer that cuts your music in and out at pre-determined lengths of musical time. Combo FX lets you use the pads as on and off buttons for effects that you’ve selected in a deck, and Sampler Roll lets you execute rolls with audio in the SP6 sample player, perfect for creating drum rolls and the like.
Transport and loop section
There are sync, cue, and play/pause buttons for each deck on the left side of the performance pads, and on the right you can find your auto loop and manual loop button. A pair of parameter buttons and a beat length display occupy the space below the loop section.
I tested the DDJ-SR extensively for a few weeks in the lab, and I was just really impressed with how it performed: For me, it wasn’t over-featured but at the same time there were no corners cut. It’s definitely a no-nonsense controller for DJs who want a solid piece of kit that works straight out the box but who want just a little more than two jogs and a crossfader.
I would’ve wanted it to have also been a hardware mixer like the DDJ-SX, but that’s maybe asking for too much, especially since this runs entirely on your laptop’s USB connection, making it a truly portable DJ controller that’s right at home in any small party yet looks and functions like a true professional unit that can carry its own with the big boys in a large venue: This doesn’t look like a toy, and it certainly doesn’t feel like one.
It would’ve been nice if they had implemented the multi-coloured backlit pads like in the DDJ-SZ, but that’s just me. A user replaceable crossfader would’ve made dropping in that new Innofader an easier affair, but I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to drop by a service centre to have them do it for you. Having longer meters in the mixer section of the controller would’ve also been great, but I suppose that’s asking for too much (even though Pioneer gear seem to always be on the pricier end of things).
With the introduction of the monolithic DDJ-SZ earlier this year, it becomes clear where the DDJ-SR is placed in the Pioneer catalogue: It’s the professional portable controller that you can use in a club or at home. It serves as the perfect foil to its larger, heavier siblings (DDJ-SX and SZ) which are more of a chore to transport. It’s also the more refined, polished brother to the DDJ-SB, having more elegant features (eg larger jogwheels, eight performance pads compared to the SB’s four) and capable of delivering a DJ experience that sits comfortably outside the range that the DDJ-SB can offer even at its best.
For the money, I can’t recommend this enough. If you’ve been DJing for a while and are looking to upgrade from your current controller onto a mid-tier professional kit, you should definitely have the DDJ-SR on your list: It’s a solid device that will last you a long time if you take care of it, and it’s also a controller that’ll grow in complexity and function as your needs and skill as a DJ develop through the years. It’s definitely not something you’ll buy and discard a few months later after you’ve outgrown it.
• Special thanks to Gregg Alina and Pioneer DJ Philippines for lending us a DDJ-SR for our review.