Pioneer DDJ 400 Review – Best DJ Controller for Beginners?

Selecting an entry-level controller is quite a challenge. I remember when I bought my first controller there were not that many choices available to beginners. These days there is a much larger range of entry-level controllers available. While it is great to see so many options, not all are created equal. You want a quality feature-packed controller that will make learning to DJ both easy and fun.

Why Buy A Beginner Controller?

DJ equipment can be expensive which is why the development of the beginner controller was so important. It has now opened the door for anyone with a passion for DJing to get started.

Entry-level controllers serve many purposes. They are more affordable than professional DJ equipment which makes it easier to get started. They are also more compact which makes them an excellent choice if you don’t have a lot of room. It’s also more applicable if you plan to be a hobby bedroom DJ. Even professional DJs like to use entry-level controllers as a backup to their regular DJ equipment.

Close-up photo of a 4-channel DJ controller.

A beginner controller has fewer channels and features but is a great starting point for new DJs.

These controllers can also offer all the main functions you need to effectively DJ. They won’t have all the extra bells and whistles of more expensive controllers. This is both good and bad. It’s great for new DJs as it’s less daunting to learn the functions and features available. Limiting distractions while learning to DJ can also help in solidifying your core skills. On the negative side of the spectrum, you will begin to feel limited as you become an accomplished DJ.

Luckily buying beginner DJ equipment doesn’t mean you’ll be a worse DJ. A good quality controller will allow you to practice and master all the fundamental skills you need to learn. Also despite the stripped-back features, you can still create some amazing mixes. I’ve seen some amazing sets performed on entry-level controllers. I’ve also seen some absolute trainwrecks performed on expensive gear!

If you are a new DJ I recommend you begin with a quality entry-level controller.

Brands You Can Trust

The other thing to keep in mind is what brand of controller you buy. There are several “toy” DJ controllers out there which claim to be DJ equipment when they are glorified Hi-Fi systems. They offer very basic features and are not what you want to use when learning to DJ.

I recommend sticking to quality controllers from brands which have a long history in the DJ space. These controllers are the gateway to more professional equipment. They’ll also have all the core features you’ll need to learn how to DJ.

Pioneer DDJ 400 Review

When it comes to quality well-established brands you can’t go wrong with Pioneer. Pioneer equipment is likely what you’ll find in most clubs around the world. With such a solid reputation in the high-end market, it was only natural for them to offer an entry-level controller.

The Pioneer DDJ 400 promises to offer any aspiring DJ all the tools to learn how to DJ. It also serves as one of the most natural progression paths to more professional gear. The DDJ 400 is the successor to Pioneers successful DDJ RB. It’s the flagship entry-level 2 channel controller for Pioneer’s DJ software, Rekordbox DJ. Let’s find out what it offers and whether it’s a good controller for beginners.

Pros

  • Professional Layout
  • Rekordbox DJ Software
  • Tutorial Feature
  • Long Pitch Fader
  • Expansive FX

Cons

  • Smaller Mixer Section
  • Smaller Performance Pads
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Features

Let’s dive into the details of the Pioneer DDJ-400 and see what it offers both the beginner and more experienced DJ.

Features of the Pioneer DDJ-400 DJ Controller.

The Pioneer DDJ 400 comes with full version rekordbox DJ, 2 channels, medium-sized jogwheels, and medium length pitch faders.

Industry Standard

This is where it’s hard to fault Pioneer. With each iteration of their entry-level controllers, they have evolved. The DDJ-400 is no different and is now even more closely aligned in layout and look to it’s more expensive siblings.

They have taken inspiration from their flagship NSX2 set-up and tried to deliver the same layout in a compact package. This makes it easier to transition to more advanced equipment. Jumping onto a more advanced DJ setup can be daunting. Anything that eases that transition is a huge benefit.

Full Version Software

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of the controller itself it’s worth discussing Rekordbox DJ. This controller comes with a full license for the software. Many other controllers made for other DJ software will only come with an intro or trial version. Keep this in mind when comparing the DDJ 400 to other controllers.

Rekordbox DJ is solid and dependable. Constant updates from Pioneer also shows they are in it for the long haul and are listening to the community. Having a full copy of Rekordbox will save you money when you’re starting.

Mixer Section

While I do like the DDJ400 it isn’t without some faults. One area which could use improvement is the mixer section. It does offer all the basic features you’d expect in a controller.

2 channel faders and a crossfader sit at the bottom.

3 band EQ and a dedicated filter and trim knob for each channel are also present. This gives you full control over each channel and the ability to properly EQ your mixes and transitions. Individual channel meters also allow you to keep an eye on your levels and avoid hitting the dreaded red zone.

A good variety of FX options are also located on the central mixer but I’ll cover them separately later in this review.

The main change is the movement of the headphone cue/master knob and level knob to the left side of the mixer section. In the past, this has been located in the central part of the mixer. Due to this change, the mixer section has a lot less space to work with. This makes it feel a little cramped and especially noticeable if you have big hands. While not a dealbreaker it seems like a bunch of space is wasted.

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Jogwheels

For the scratch enthusiast, the jogwheels are a decent size. Especially for a controller of this size. They are also responsive.

A smooth finish on top is coupled with a rubber edge. They have a nice amount of heft and resistance to them and do not feel flimsy. While they will never be as nice as the bigger jogwheels found on more expensive equipment you can comfortably scratch with them.

Pitch Faders

Another big improvement is the extended pitch faders. Usually, compact entry-level controllers come with small pitch faders. This makes beatmatching by ear more difficult. Having a longer pitch fader allows for more precise adjustments to the tempo. Having this available does make it easier for new DJs to learn beatmatching by ear.

FX Options

Many entry-level controllers move the FX part to the very top of the decks. This can make it feel a little unnatural and detached from the rest of the controller. The Pioneer DDJ 400 has these functions right on the central mixer for easier access. This makes it more natural when you are in the middle of a transition and want to layer in some extra FX.

Beat FX are also available which applies the FX in time with your tracks. This makes adding in effects sound more harmonious and natural for more professional sounding mixes. There is also a range of sound color FX available as well for even more creative options.

Dimensions

Dimensions of the Pioneer DDJ 400 DJ controller.

The Pioneer DDJ 400 is a portable, lightweight and compact DJ controller.

Performance Pads

8 rubber pads are located on both decks. This is the other notable change from previous Pioneer entry-level controllers. Previous controllers had slightly larger pads. While not a huge difference it’s still worth mentioning. Luckily the pads still feel great.

These pads are used to set hot cues, activate pad FX, enable Beat Loop or Beat Jump as well as Key Shift and sampler. Heaps of creative choices gives you more room to explore and expand your DJ skills once you master the basics.

Looping

Looping has been overhauled from previous Pioneer entry-level controllers. It now has controls more in line with CDJ and XDJ decks. You can set your loops that are stored in Rekordbox DJ for an instant call back as well as set loops on the fly. An auto 4 bar loop option is also available. You can also halve or double your loop length. The expanded options are a welcome change. This makes it easier to master loops and then apply those skills on more advanced Pioneer equipment.

Connection Choices

The DDJ 400 plugs into your laptop or computer via USB. A headphone jack is located on the front for your DJ headphones. This will allow for proper cue monitoring and preparation. The built-in soundcard allows you to play the master directly out of your computer or you can connect your active studio monitors. Beyond that things are a little sparse. A master RCA out option and an unbalanced mic option are the only other connection options available on the back of the controller.

I don’t expect a massive amount of connection options in a controller at this level. However, it is something worth considering if you have an existing sound system that you want to connect. Having only an RCA out option does limit your choices.

In-Built Tutorial

Another new feature is a dedicated tutorial mode. This covers the basics of connecting up your gear as well as the features of the controller. It also guides you through some basic DJ skills to give you a foundation. While not an amazing all in one crash course in DJing it is a nice addition. Learning about your controller and the fundamentals is the first learning curve every beginner DJ has to tackle. Having some help for new DJs to overcome those first steps is a move in the right direction.

Build Quality

For an entry-level controller, it’s built well. However, don’t expect super-premium materials at this price point. The bulk of the controller is still plastic but it doesn’t feel flimsy.

It’s still lightweight enough for easy transportation over to a friends house. I’d suggest you invest in a flight case or bag if you do plan on taking it out of your home regularly. The most important thing is it can take a bit of a beating from regular use.

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What Others Have To Say

I’m enjoying the selection of features and layout that Pioneer has chosen for the Pioneer DDJ400. But what do other people who have purchased it think? It seems most agree that for a beginner DJ you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option.

Text Reviews for Pioneer DDJ-400

Other Options

The DDJ 400 isn’t the only option available to beginner DJs. There are some other compelling options available.

Pioneer DDJ SB3

One of the most popular Pioneer entry-level controllers is the DDJ SB3. Offering a Serato software option as an alternative to Rekordbox is good for DJs. It also has a higher focus on scratch DJs.

  • Offers up to 4 channel mixing with deck swap.
  • Quality jogwheels for scratching.
  • Only comes with an intro copy of Serato.
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>> FULL PIONEER DDJ SB3 REVIEW <<

Numark Mixtrack Pro 3

Lots of updates to the Mixtrack Pro line of controllers has moved this controller higher up the list of potential options.

  • One of the most affordable entry-level controllers.
  • Long pitch faders for easier beatmatching by ear.
  • Offers an updated design but still looks a little bit like a toy.
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>> FULL NUMARK MIXTRACK PRO 3 REVIEW <<

Roland DJ 202

For the more creative and production minded DJ the Roland DJ 202 is a good alternative. Offering features that are not very common for other entry-level controllers.

  • A built-in drum machine for on the fly beat creation.
  • Midi input option to expand with other Roland production gear.
  • Feels a little flimsy and hollow compared to other controllers.
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>> FULL ROLAND DJ 202 REVIEW <<

Should You Buy?

The Pioneer DDJ 400 is one of the best DJ controllers for beginners. Offering everything you need to get started right out of the box with full-featured software. While the entry-level market for controllers is cluttered you can’t go wrong with a brand like Pioneer. Even for experienced DJs, it’s nice to have a compact option that mimics more professional gear.

Offering that natural upgrade progression path to more advanced DJ gear is great. It makes it a compelling option for DJs who have ambitions of playing on better gear or in clubs down the line.

I have no hesitation in recommending this controller to anyone looking to get into DJing.

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Patryk Biernacki

Patryk Biernacki

For over 20 years I've been involved in the world of DJing. Now I want to share my experience so that DJing is more accessible for anyone with a passion for music.

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