Pioneer DDJ-SB3 2-channel Controller Review
When you want to up your game you need to find a piece of gear that can bring you to the next level. Pioneer does just that with the entry level professional DDJ-SB3 controller. It’s very beginner friendly but the features quickly set it apart as a professional DJ controller. As you get used to the device you’ll quickly find out that it’s above it’s price point. To take an audio term, it’s essentially a prosumer model.
If I was interested in a high end professional controller I would take a look at the DDJ SR. With exceptional sound quality and an easy to accustom to layout you’ll quickly learn to use it to it’s fullest potential. The quality of the materials is to be expected of a mid tier controller. It’s made of plastic but has a feel of Pioneer quality and feels more like a portable piece of equipment than a permanent install.
Deck Swapping and other Features
The DDJ-SB3 is a four deck controller and two decks share real estate on the device. It has two buttons on it to switch between the first and second deck on each side. This allows you to Cue up three different tracks and manage four at once. This alone pulls it out of beginner territory as it essentially doubles the complexity but also triples the capabilities of the controllers ability to create. With the four deck control it heavily outclasses competition at the price point.
This isn’t totally unrestrained control though. The only issue found with this feature is that you can’t adjust both deck 1 and deck 3 (Or decks 2&4) at the same time because they share the same jogwheel, library, transport and mixer interface. The only thing you can adjust separately is the volume levels of each deck. Meaning you have to do some juggling and this adds a bit of a learning curve for new users. The real art happens once this toggle is mastered.
Another interesting feature is the pad trans. This is a decent feature for the price point but common. Hot Cue lets you set PADs to a point and returns the track to that point, you get up to 8 on a deck. Auto loop lets you set a seamless auto loop for different beat amounts. Roll which allows you a momentary loop while held down. You can also set up a manual loop. You can also set up a sample bank for easy access to 8 samples. Letting you create and experiment with new beats in the moment.
The DDJ-SB3 comes with the Serato DJ intro software which is a trial/limited capability software intended to get you started. This is one of the most important aspects of this purchase for customers. The software itself is a light software and an additional cost is found here. So in addition to the device you’ll need to buy an upgrade to get the most out of the hardware.
In order to get the full use and capabilities of the SB3 controller you’re required to do paid upgrade to full functionality software. At the time of writing the full upgrade to Serato is $129 USD. This full upgrade solely works with the DDJ-SB3. Or you can opt for a subscription of $10 a month. Another option is the Serato DJ Suite which works with all supported hardware that’s a controller that can be mapped. This is the premiere program of the company and it costs $299 or 14.99 a month. So if you’re intending to do a more complex studio or show build you’re going to want to go for a full license multiple hardware program, whether that’s Serato or another one.
It’s highly recommended to use Serato and Pioneer with the device because it’s difficult to map to another program but if you have the technical skill you can easily do so and the SB3 integrates with DJay Pro (Mac), Licensed Vitual DJ8, Deckadance, Tracktor Pro 2, Algoriddim, Rekordbox. Most DJ programs can be mapped and have their own mapping templates set up for the DDJ-SB3 because it’s so popular. You have to download drivers for your laptop to integrate with the device allowing you to connect.
The DDJ-SB3 hardware is excellent for it’s price range. At these ranges you’ll usually find hard plastic buttons. But this piece of gear has rubber pads which are much more responsive, quiet and durable than the hard plastic buttons found on cheaper controllers. High durability aluminum jog wheels mean it won’t break from overuse. These jog wheels are low latency and high accuracy, a perfect combination. They’re very easy to scratch with and they work great. The software and hardware communication is next level, meaning that even back-spinning and beat juggling sound professional. This also sports high and low pass EQ filters to filter out frequency bands on inputs. Allowing you to filter fade and easily control the volume and bass filters for mixing. The Numark Mixtrack 3 is comparable in these regards, but the SB3 keeps the crown.
You can monitor and make transitions in your DJ headphones with LED level indicators. It has tempo controls, and trim/gain controls. Has on controller metering for levels. While these may seem like trivial additions, they make for an extremely easier time. Trim pots allow you to set the level of the loaded track. Sometimes DJ software gets this wrong and this lets you fix that issue before it even hits the board. With the LED metering you’re capable of seeing exactly where your tracks sit and most controllers at this price point don’t have this capability. Note that these are for inputs and the songs running on their own. This doesn’t relate to the master output through the RCA ports on the back. That said it’s a huge plus and fixes the clipping problem before it starts.
This controller is USB MIDI. The only issue with this is you need to be careful if using a USB hub because of Power Splitting. But as far as region compatibility this means it can work in both 110 and 220v power regions as long as you have a laptop because it just plugs into the laptop USB. This device only communicates with the computer through the USB, there are no ports to stick flash drives to bring portable media solutions.
The onboard soundcard is an excessively high quality high bitrate 24 bit 44.1kHz sampling card. It has a standard 20-20kHz frequency range and a very impressive 90dB SNR. With an almost imperceptible distortion. The only thing that limits your sound quality on this piece of equipment is your recording software and the quality of the files input into the computer. It has a mic input but it’s a balanced 1/4 inch input over a standard XLR connection meaning you need an XLR to 1/4″ Cable. This means you can have one input into the device. You won’t be able to use it like a sound mixer with multiple channels. The mic input itself has trouble balancing without reaching feedback, so do your best DJ speaker placement. For output it uses an unbalanced RCA. The main RCA output is for the signal. These cables are not included and need to be purchased separately. It has two headphone monitors, a 1/4 jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Only one output can be used at once disabling the second port. There is no master output volume on this guy which is difficult for gain staging and adjusting to the right output level.
Pioneer did a home run with the DDJ-SB3 at every metric. The price point alone for the quality and the features makes this the top choice for controllers in it’s price range.
- An outstanding top of the line soundcard, only limited by files and sources.
- User friendly and good introduction to professional DJ controllers
- Trim Pots and metering for media ingest
- Four Deck capabilities
- Mic input is not standard XLR? Also hard to control to not create feedback.
- Requires a software upgrade for integration with most software.
- No USB Data Stick integration.
- No metering on master output.