Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 is one controller that probably needs no introduction by now. With its highly controversial features and star-studded backing, the latest offering from Pioneer DJ and Serato DJ has certainly got the community talking. Today Crossfader takes an in-depth look at just what this entry-level controller is bringing to the market and if those features are worth the hype.
As the 'S' in its name suggests, the DDJ SB3 is a Pioneer controller built for Serato DJ Lite, however using the controller with other platforms such as Rekordbox and Virtual DJ is possible if you're willing to map the functions and buttons. You can learn more about MIDI mapping in our tutorial video. Being an entry-level controller it comes bundled with Serato DJ Lite, however, if you chose to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro ($99) in the future the SB3 will work just fine. Setting up is as simple as plugging in the single USB cable after launching the Serato DJ Lite software and connecting a pair of speakers to the RCA master out. Windows user may need to install a driver.
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 provides some great improvements over the previous generation whilst retaining its entry-level feel. The capacitive jog wheels remain on the smaller side, as do the pitch faders. Both however are responsive and work great in this form factor, especially now the faders are a-symmetric, a downside of the older SB2's design. One great improvement is the inclusion of dedicated cue and play buttons. Long gone are the days of sharing the rubber performance pads, well done Pioneer here! Speaking of the performance pads, we still retain 8 pads for use with hot cues, the new FX fades, the sampler and of course those controversial Pad Scratch modes.
“The DDJ SB3 feels and looks a more premium package compared with it's older sibling, the A-symmetric pitch fader is a much-welcomed improvement”
The 2 channel mixer features a crossfader alongside total kill 3 band EQ, trim knob and a dedicated high/low pass effects filter for each channel.
Inputs and Outputs
Being an entry level controller the Pioneer DJ SB3 has pretty basic inputs and outputs. There is a unbalanced RCA master out rather than a balanced XLR. However, this shouldn't be a worry to any of the target market as these controllers were never designed to be used in the professional sector. Unfortunatly there are also no external inputs, so no chance to plug in an iPod or phone for example. However, you do find an unbalanced jack mic input on the rear of the unit with a dedicated volume level. We would have liked to see the volume level moved to the front for better access but it does the job. The limitations don't stop there with the headphone jack only being a 3.5mm(iPod style) port rather than the more robust industry standard of quarter inch.
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Hardware Controls
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 controller borrows great features and design cues from the more expensive models. This gives young DJ's a familiar and great introduction into the world of FX, Performance Pads, Looping and more. Build quality is what we have come to expect from Pioneer, small and lightweight but sturdy enough for it's intended use, no complaints here.
The dedicated loop section is great to see on a controller of this size and works really well, as do the two FX sections, found at the top of each deck. The Serato DJ Lite effects are great but rather limited. You can always upgrade to Serato DJ Pro which will add Isotope FX packs to your collection, should you feel the need. It's worth pointing out that the effects are now post-fader, so unlike the SB2 you can pull the fader out of the mix and the effects will carry on. This is great for performing echo outs!
You'd almost be forgiven to forget that this controller brings two brand new solutions to DJ's. Of course, the “pad scratch” feature has stolen the limelight but the SB3 also brings “FX Fade” to the party. This is an interesting blend of high pass filter, low pass filter, loop playback and last but no means least, the backspin. For each effect you get two options, these manipulate the playing deck and it's volume. Simply press the pad and leave the faders alone. Just beware of leaving the fader up once you've unselected the FX or loaded a new track into that deck!
Pad Scratch Mode
Now onto the most talked about feature on this controller. The pad scratch mode gives you the ability to have DJ Jazzy Jeff take over your track with anything from a simple baby scratch to one of his more complicated routines. This is simply done by holding down one of the performance pads. The feature is actually embedded into the hardware, unlucky other Serato users, no Jazzy Jeff for you to MIDI map sadly.
The scratch effect only affects the first hot cue so you can't call upon Jeff in the middle of a playing track sadly. The effect also relies on you letting go of the pad on time, otherwise, it will release your track offbeat. As Jamie points out in our in-depth video review, using sync whilst playing with the pad scratch feature can be a bit of odd affair. For this reason, we recommend turning sync off.
The effect is great fun but just like the controller itself, will only introduce you to the art of scratch DJ'ing. It's a great place to start and gives you something to copy and work upon as your skills develop.
“Personally I think its great, you won't suddenly turn into Jazzy Jeff and overusing them will make you sound robotic, it's just a great way of introducing you to the turntablism and scratching world without breaking the bank” - Jamie Hartley
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 costs $249/£230/€260 which represents fantastic value for money and a great way to get yourself into DJ'ing. Features aside the hardware is worth every bit of the money, looking and feeling very similar to bigger and more expensive units available. The new layout and buttons really do improve over the previous generation and with no extra cost to the user!
The performance features won't turn you into a complete DJ overnight but they give new DJ's a solid and brand new way to practice. Giving automated fade and scratching examples, to work on and improve upon in time. It's a well thought out and rounded package that gives a little extra over its rival controllers. We are sure it will be very popular over the next few years.
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Video Review:
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Performance Video:
Great layout with new dedicated buttons.
Solid build and tactile pads.
Fantastic new FX and scratch Modes.
Use of 3/4th deck is difficult
Microphone controls hard to reach
Only 1/8 jack headphone port
Other Controllers To Consider:
Numark Mixtrack Platinum