The Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX6 is a four-channel hobby DJ controller, primarily for use with Rekordbox DJ, Pioneer’s own software – although it unlocks the full version of Serato DJ Pro too. It has some innovative features, namely “Merge FX” and the “Jog Cutter” pseudo-scratch feature, designed to let hobby DJs have more fun mixing. However, they are arguably gimmicks, and the “Jog Cutter” is hard to use. It also lacks some features you’d expect at this price point. The Serato integration is confusing, and limited compared to Rekordbox.
First Impressions / Setting up
The DDJ-FLX6 (the name apparently stands for “flexible”, as in, it works with both Rekordbox and Serato) is a big controller, nearly as large as the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000. But as far as build quality goes, it is nothing like the DDJ-1000, being of the same ilk as the cheaper DDJ-200 and DDJ-400 controllers – this is definitely a consumer device. It is grey rather than black, but still plasticky. The knobs, faders (including the short-throw pitch fader), and pads (one-colour, not RGB) are what you’d expect on a consumer controller – fine for home use, but on a controller this big it feels like they should be better.
It is a software-only controller, meaning you cannot plug in external equipment like CDJs, turntables, even a simple smartphone, to have any back-up music. If the computer crashes, the music stops. The DDJ-FLX6 does have a mic input, but this is routed directly to the outputs so you cannot apply effects to the mic, for instance, or record the mic using your software’s built-in recorder. You do get to decide if the mic goes to the Booth outputs or not, though, which is a nice touch.
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Speaking of outputs, the DDJ-FLX6 has Master and Booth, although curiously both are RCA unbalanced, with no balanced jack or XLR outputs – presumably the engineers thought people may use the second set of outputs when livestreaming. The recent Hercules Inpulse 500 had similar outputs. Am I missing something here?
(By the way, if you’re new to four-channel controllers like this and wondering how such a device can control four “decks” when it only has two physical decks of its own, there ARE two buttons to “switch” between each pair of decks, the left-hand two channels being controller by the left-hand physical deck, and likewise the right-hand.)
Wait, it works with Rekordbox AND Serato?
I feel a bit sorry for Pioneer DJ here. They took a lot of flak for not making their DDJ-1000 controller for Rekordbox work with Serato (they eventually released a Serato variant, the DDJ-1000SRT). Now they’ve released a controller that works with both, and they are still going to get flak for it.
Why? After all, on the face of it, this is great! Serato and Rekordbox are two of the biggest software platforms, and as beginners often don’t know what software they want to use, this gives them a choice. Even better, the DDJ-FLX6 unlocks with the full version of Serato, and comes with a couple of juicy Expansion Packs (Pitch ‘n Time and FX).
But the truth is that this is really a Rekordbox controller, and in just about every area, Rekordbox is better implemented. So much so that for a beginner, Serato would be a poor choice to use here. The effects are confusing with Serato (more later), the pads are all labelled wrong, the Merge FX are very limited compared to Rekordbox (again, more later). In short, I cannot recommend the DDJ-FLX6 for Serato use, especially for beginners or people new to the software.
The jogwheels are full-sized and excellent, with the classic Pioneer pro feel. They are capacitive, not mechanical, but that’s OK – they’re great to use, and have a useful jog position marker in the middle too.
But the very best jogs are only really important if you are a scratch DJ, and with seemingly much of the budget for the DDJ-FLX6 having gone on the jogs, that other essential part for scratch DJing – the crossfader – is very average on this unit. Sure it works, but the pair of them are a huge mismatch.
Honestly, overall the controller looks fine. It’s big enough to impress, and away from the club, has most of the features most DJs would want, most of the time. But it is far from a design classic, with the new dark grey plastic terrible at picking up every fingermark, and the stingy little performance pads and short pitch fader looking lost under those huge jogwheels.
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Take away the Merge FX and the Jog Cutter and this is a completely standard software controller – think Reloop Mixon 4, Denon DJ MC7000, Numark NS6II (although generally those are higher specced, better units than this one). It has four software channels, three-band EQ, Color FX knobs (they’re filter only when using Serato), eight performance pads, looping controls.
Control-wise it is missing some small things I’d like to see (parameter buttons for the pads, a key sync or key shift hardware button, a slip button, better effects controls – more later) and the pitch faders seem almost comically small for such a large controller (again, it feels like a mismatch), but it’s generally all here.
The truth is that what you can do with pretty much any DJ controller nowadays is amazing, and this is no exception. And when it comes to the advanced functions, in recent years it has been all about the pads.
The performance pads
The small, “clicky” single-colour pads behave differently depending which software you are using them in.
In Rekordbox, the pads let you do things like play a sample as if it were a musical note (“keyboard mode”), trigger multiple samples, shift the key of the track entirely, loop beats, jump around in the track while keeping time, manipulate samples, add one-touch (“pad”) effects, and more.
Meanwhile in Serato, you get a reasonable range of performance features here too, with the ubiquitous hot cues joined by loop roll, auto loop, cue loop, slicer loop, Serato’s sampler and the new Sample Bank feature for quickly loading tracks or samples to the deck for scratching.
Infuriatingly, though, with Serato the pad functions don’t line up with the labelling – I’m not sure how the could have got around this to be honest, but it is definitely annoying, and that’s coming from a DJ who’s used Serato for a decade. I think a beginner would just be totally lost.
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With Rekordbox especially then, the pads are great, and you don’t really miss the RGB. But this controller isn’t being sold on the pads, or the general features. It’s being sold as something new, something with exciting possibilities for the hobby/home DJ. So we should look at those things specifically – and we’ll start with the Merge FX.
The idea of the Merge FX is to let the DJ create those huge build ups and drops EDM DJs love to do at festivals. Each active deck has a Merge FX effect available, and the effect is applied via a large knob top right of the crossfader.
You press the knob to turn the effect on, and turn the knob clockwise to intensify it, and anti-clockwise to reduce the intensity. The overall effect is built by a combination of a sample (such as a clap, snare etc) and an effect (such as echo, filter echo, etc).
When you’ve hyped up your audience enough by simply turning the knob to increase the intensity of the effect, you press the button again, and a “release effect” triggers, with an optional sample too, tailing off. This is meant to release the tension you built up, and you’re then meant to start the next track playing – instant transition, no need to worry about the key, genre or BPM!
Depending how you view this kind of DJing, this is going to be potentially great fun to you, or anathema – an exciting way of adding to your sets, or an “echo-out on steroids” for people without the ability to properly programme music or figure out how to transition between their music.
To me, it’s a “confuse the hell out of your audience so you can play anything you want next” feature. Fun and innovative, but ultimately, you wouldn’t want to use it often.
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In Rekordbox, it at least has some potential – you can alter the volume (pressing shift and turning the Merge FX knob does that), and there is a panel built into the software where you can choose your samples and effect combos to come up with your own choices.
But in Serato, it is poor. You only get four choices, they are unsubtle, ill thought-out, and limited. If you are looping, for instance, and hit Merge FX, with two of the four effect combos the software inexplicably cancels your loop! And there is absolutely no way to change anything – you are stuck with what they have given you (think loop shortening, echo/reverb, a bit of phaser and white noise). It’s unsubtle, and unimpressive. It is “once at the end of night”-stuff, at best.
If you found the Slicer function confusing when it arrived on DJ controllers, this is not going to be for you. Basically, it is a way of “scratching” without actually scratching, and I just didn’t get it.
Here’s how it is meant to work: You turn it on by pressing the “Jog Cutter” button top-right of the jogs. Then, when you touch the jogwheel, the music jumps to the selected cue point (or not, if you turn this off). Now, by moving your hand backwards and forwards, you manipulate the sound. Move forwards to one of six areas on the jog (imagine the jog cut into six slices) to select a scratch pattern, and move backwards to trigger it. The crossfader cutting is all done for you.
It is fiendishly hard to get your head around, even harder to get anything decent to come out of the speakers, and if a DJ of 30 years cannot understand it (albeit one who is not a scratch DJ, but still…) I guarantee few others will.
It’s not hard to learn to perform a baby scratch or even a few cuts for real, and even in Pioneer DJ’s own promo video, the segment demoing this feature quickly gives way to somebody doing some real scratching – wisely, I’d say.
I do hope someone proves me wrong and we see some great uses of this, but while this was maybe a fun feature when triggered via the pads (the infamous “Jazzy Jeff” scratch mode on the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3), I just don’t get this at all, and feel it is best rapidly forgotten.
A bit of history is worthwhile here. You see, as of the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000, Pioneer DJ abandoned the “controller” paradigm when it came to effects.
The paradigm was this: DJ software came with two effects engines, each with three effects (you also got the choice of just a single effect per effects engine, with much more control).
You got wet/dry, “beat” (how quickly the LFOs cycle), maybe a parameter or two. You could assign each effects engine to your choice of channel or channels. The controls on DJ gear were mapped to give you total control over what I just described.
When Pioneer DJ launched the DDJ-1000 controller, it changed things up. Instead of having controls as I just described, the controls were more like those found on club mixers, such as the DDJ-900NXS2.
Indeed, with the DDJ-1000, even though the software (Rekordbox) still had effects built in as I just described, the hardware didn’t control them at all. In that unit, they were actually hardware effects.
Later, with the Rekordbox DDJ-400, Pioneer DJ maintained the “club-style” effects control, only this time, you were controlling the software effects, as it had no hardware effects of its own. It was limited, but they managed to make it work.
On to the DDJ-FLX6, then. Here, the “effect strip” is a little more complex than that on the DDJ-400, but in some ways, it’s actually worse (for instance, there is no way of selecting effects from it – you have to do that on the screen).
Still, you get the usual on/off button, the Level/Depth knob, the Beat buttons, Channel Select (a single button that cycles), and FX Select – the latter simply cycling through the six effects you have selected across the two effects engines.
It is strictly one effect at a time, and so what you basically have is a choice of six effects, to be triggered individually. The layout suddenly seems convoluted once you realise this. There’s an obvious software/hardware mismatch, but nevertheless it’s passable.
But in Serato, you CAN leave effects “on” as you move away from them, cycling through all six. That means, on the plus side, you can have more than one effect playing at once (although you still only get to choose a single “destination” – master output, deck 1, etc). But when you “return” to an effect that is clearly on, the effect button doesn’t flash to tell you that effect is on, as it did before you moved away from it – which makes using the effects highly confusing.
Overall, the effects seem to have been shoehorned into the chosen knobs and buttons here for both platforms, but especially Serato. In the long run, I think Pioneer DJ should revamp the way effects work in Rekordbox to pull into line with how they map them on their controllers.
Now here’s a function that deserves praise. It isn’t new, but it is good. By holding down shift and pressing a deck select button, the two channels on that “side” will be ganged together. You can stop, start, scratch, and so on, and they will behave as if as one. It’s a great feature, and especially useful when, for instance, you have an acapella on one deck and an instrumental track on the other – you can treat them as a single track easily this way.
That said, I did manage somehow to make the two decks drift apart when experimenting with this feature in Serato – not sure why or how I did that, and it could have been user error…
I have no complaints about the sound quality of this unit – it sounded a good as any other consumer DJ controller on our studio monitors. As it is “bus powered” (meaning you don’t need an external power brick, it takes all of its power from the computer), it could be that the audio is a bit quieter than some, but I didn’t notice it.
The headphones amp is loud and punchy, and you get 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone sockets plus a volume and cue/master mix knob – all of these are on the front of the unit. No split cue though, which is not surprising at this price – maybe it would have been a wise addition? After all, it would be nice for the “lockdown generation” to be able to DJ in headphones anywhere, any time, no?
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There are VU meters for all four channels, but no master VU meter. I think that is fine – I’d much prefer it that way than the other (just masters). That said, the meters are quite dim – do not expect to be able to see them if DJing outdoors in sunshine, for instance. Again, this is a product of the bus power.
As a Rekordbox controller, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX6 fills a gap for a reasonably priced, four-channel model. And on the surface, it looks nice – great jogs, decent size, lots of lights. It is going to look good on livestreams and it is going to look good on social media videos. It can instantly sound impressive too, as some of the the noises you can make with the Merge FX do indeed sound epic.
And maybe that is the idea. In this time of extended lockdowns, where hobbies rule and social media is how people express themselves, maybe that is the aim here – a fun home device that’ll help bored hobby DJs to play passable DJ sets, and do some of the “clever” sounding stuff they see their heroes doing on the big stages.
A Tik Tok-style clip from the official Pioneer DJ promo video for this controller. Is this the intended audience? Then why hamper the unit with all those ostensibly club-friendly features, when it lacks so many technical club basics?
But if that was the brief, they could have done it so much better by ditching any pretence of it being a “pro” device, and making a better job of the usability and balance of features for that market. As it is, I fear it will confuse beginners (especially Serato users).
A controller of mismatches?
It feels a bit like a controller of mismatches. It is too big and expensive a controller to get away with consumer build quality. The jogs are brilliant, but the crossfader lets them down. The controls don’t really control very well what the software can do, especially with Serato, where for me it is a dealbreaker.
Budget has been spent on the “standard” Pioneer DJ looping controls (which to my mind has never been as good as the “single encoder” loop control that has become standard elsewhere), and the memory cue buttons, both functions that are presumably there because Pioneer DJ wants continuity across its range for aspirational DJs – yet this controller is clearly not for aspirational DJs. It is for hobby DJs who have outgrown the DDJ-200 and DDJ-400 – yet in “pro” tech spec, it doesn’t step any closer to the DDJ-800 or DDJ-1000.
One exception to that statement is that the DDJ-FLX6 has a booth output, but no DJ is going to want to play with this controller in any venue big enough to have booth speakers – plus, when you have “booth” and master, having them both as unbalanced outputs doesn’t make sense.
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The Jog Cutter and Merge FX are clever ideas, and innovation is to be applauded, but if you don’t understand what these things are doing, it is not going to help you to grow as a DJ – and if they are not easy to use, they won’t help you sound good, either.
In this case, Merge FX at least is clever, fun and easy enough to use, but it’s still gimmick (I doubt we’ll ever see it on pro gear, though I may be proved wrong!). And Jog Cutter just confuses me and everyone else we’ve shown it to.
Now, it may just be that people will come up with cool and clever things to do with the DDJ-FLX6 – but anyone getting serious about their DJing will soon miss more obvious things, like proper control of the software effects, external inputs, and a bit more durability.
Why not a DDJ-600?
I’m intrigued as to why Pioneer DJ didn’t made a “DDJ-600” controller, a well-considered step up from the DDJ-400, but below the professional brace of the DDJ-800 and DDJ-1000 – something we could recommend to our Rekordbox users who are still hobbyists but want four channels, and who one day want to play in pro DJ booths.
Sure, such a controller would have lacked some of the features of the more pro models, but the money spent on the gimmicks here could have gone on adding at least some features that a $600 controller should have. A Rekordbox equivalent of what the Traktor Kontrol S3 is to the Traktor Kontrol S4.
Still, it remains true that the DDJ-FLX6 is the only Rekordbox controller at this price point, and if you take away the poor effects control, and the gimmicks, it is still quite good fun to play on. Which brings me to the awkward task of having to score it.
For Rekordbox, it’s a 3/5 from me, and as this is primarily a Rekordbox controller, that is the score we have used on this review. But for Serato, it’s a 2/5 – I just can’t recommend it, and I’d direct people to the Numark NS6II or the (now discontinued) Denon DJ MC7000 in a heartbeat.
If Pioneer DJ hadn’t tried to make this a Serato controller too, and had redirected some of the budgets towards adding some of the much-needed omissions, it would have been a better device.