The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 is the successor to the immensely popular DDJ-400, which was the benchmark beginner DJ controller. In this review, we take a detailed look at this new entry-level option from industry juggernaut Pioneer and see what it offers for both new and experienced DJs.
The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 is a superb 2-channel DJ controller. It has all the hallmarks that made the DDJ-400 a massive hit while also introducing some new features which reinforce its position as the best beginner DJ controller.
The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 improves in nearly every area compared to its predecessor. It’s a powerful, compact, and feature-rich controller for both seasoned and beginner DJs. Let’s jump into the details!
The heart and soul of any DJ controller is the central mixer section, and the Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 offers a refined and capable mixer that features all the fundamental elements DJs need.
The layout is reminiscent of PIoneer’s club-level gear, so it inherits a natural and familiar workflow that will make it easy to transition to professional equipment. As with many compact controllers, it is a little cramped, but that is hard to avoid with a controller this size. Despite this, you’ll have no issue accessing the various knobs and buttons.
The middle of the mixer features two channels with a complete 3-band EQ for each channel. These go down to -26dB, but you can set them to full kill within the software. Each channel also offers trim control for volume adjustment and a Channel FX knob.
The mixer section features everything a DJ needs.
Each channel also features channel faders that offer just the right amount of resistance. Buttery smooth and ideal for smooth transitioning. The crossfader is looser but not too loose and more than capable for exploring scratching techniques.
Central channel meters highlight your levels, but no Master Level meter exists. Not something I expect from a controller at this price range but still worth mentioning. The central section also features a navigation knob and load buttons at the top for remote access to library browsing.
To the left of the main mixer, you’ll have access to the microphone volume control and headphone controls that feature both Level and Cue/Mix knobs. You’ll also find two buttons for the new Smart CFX, and Smart Fader features, but more on that later in the FX section. To the right of the mixer is the Master level knob, along with an easy-to-use FX strip.
The layout is nearly identical to the much-loved DDJ-400, and I am pleased to see that Pioneer has decided to stick with what was already a winning formula. It’s logical, professional, and contains all the essential features a mixer should have.
The jogwheels on the Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 also see a slight update from the previous model. They retain the same size and feel comfortable to use but now feature a matte finish, resulting in fewer fingerprints and a slightly grippier feel.
Capable jogwheels with smooth spin.
They are also relatively large for a controller this size. At 111.6mm (4.4 inches), you’ll have enough space and feel to get to grips with scratching. But if scratching is your primary focus, the DDJ-Rev1 offers larger jogwheels that feel a little more comfortable.
The rubberized edge is perfect for nudging, and the spin strikes a good balance. Some jogwheels on beginner controllers feel a little too loose, while others offer too much resistance. You won’t be able to adjust the tension, but for an entry-level controller, these jogwheels feel great.
This is another area where the DDJ-FLX4 leaves its predecessor in the dust. While the DDJ-400 was an exclusively Rekordbox controller, the DDJ-FLX4 is compatible with Rekordbox and Serato DJ.
One of the appealing aspects of the DDJ-FLX4 is that it unlocks full performance mode access for Rekordbox. Rekordbox is Pioneer’s DJ platform which offers a comprehensive and detailed list of features. Having access to all the features at this price is fantastic. With Pioneer dominating the club scene, learning your way around this platform is essential.
Two of the world’s most popular DJ software platforms.
Beyond Rekordbox, the DDJ-FLX4 is also compatible with Serato DJ, the other heavyweight in the DJ software scene. But it doesn’t unlock the full version, so you’ll need to pay extra to upgrade to the full Serato DJ Pro experience. Despite this, it is still excellent to have the flexibility to try out one of the world’s most popular DJ software options.
Moving beyond a laptop or PC is also on the agenda. A substantial update to the Rekorbox app is on the way in early 2023, which will open up DJing with your smartphone or tablet. There is also excellent integration with music streaming services with access to TIDAL, SoundCloud Go+, Beatport Streaming, and Beatsource Streaming.
Build Quality & Design
The DDJ-FLX4 also features an updated look that more closely aligns it with their other entry-level controller, the DDJ-Rev1. The matte gray finish and orange highlights are appealing, and this controller doesn’t look like a toy like some entry-level options.
I’m also happy to see the matte finish. The previous DDJ-400 mixer section and jogwheels were prone to fingerprints, but this new model resolves those issues, ensuring your decks look slick and clean at all times.
Slick modern design with a matte finish.
The build quality is also excellent. While there is an abundance of plastic, it doesn’t feel cheap like some other beginner controllers. The pads feel great and can handle some punishment. The knobs and faders are also fantastic for a controller at this price point.
Pioneer has also done an excellent job of fitting in all the features within a small footprint while retaining the look and feel of their more expensive club-level gear.
With an attractive design, professional layout, and durable build quality, there is nothing to fault.
The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 features tempo faders that offer good resistance allowing you to make fine incremental adjustments. You can also adjust the tempo range within the software. These are not full-length tempo faders, but they are long enough to get the job done.
Mid-sized faders with perfect resistance.
If you have the desire to learn to beatmatch by ear (and you should), these faders will be up to the task. I’d have liked to see longer faders, but considering the small footprint, Pioneer has done an admirable job of providing faders that are at least competent.
Beat Sync is also available if you don’t want to mess around with the faders and prefer the software to match and align your tempo.
As with each iteration of Pioneer’s entry-level flagship controllers, the pad section sees some minimal changes. But once again, there is no point in fixing something that was already very comprehensive.
You’ll have access to eight rubberized pads for each deck with a range of useful performance features. There are eight modes in total, with four primary and four secondary modes, which you can access using the shift button.
Plenty of performance pad modes to explore.
The all-important Hot Cue is available to set and manage your Hot Cues. Following this up is the Pad FX 1 mode. This allows for expressive FX manipulation based on presets within the software. Easy and fun to use. The next mode is Beat Jump for quick movement forward and back throughout the track. The last primary mode is Sampler for one-shot samples.
The second set of modes features Keyboard for pitch play with Hot Cues and Pad FX 2 for access to a further eight performance FX.
Beat Loop, previously one of the primary modes is now relegated to a secondary mode. It is a quick way to set loops, but I feel Pioneer wants you to focus on using the loop controls at the top, hence the shift to the second row. The final mode is Key Shift which allows you to alter the pitch of the track.
Combined, it is a staggering amount of performance flexibility and an excellent way for new DJs to experiment and refine their mixing style after grasping the basics. The responsive nature and feel of the pads add to the appeal.
There are some exciting changes in the FX department with two new additions. Pioneer continues to experiment and innovate on its FX offerings. Sometimes with mixed success, but the execution of these new features on the DDJ-FLX4 is superb.
The most exciting is the Smart CFX. Each channel features a Channel FX knob that, by default, offers a low pass and high pass filter. A staple for many DJs and a useful mixing tool.
But that’s not the exciting part. Activating the Smart CFX opens up eight presets that combine effects in interesting and creative ways. Each effect is perfect for transitions and building energy within your set. The combinations are effective, with each having a unique flavor. Smart and simple to use, it adds flexibility to your mixing technique via just one knob.
The new Smart CFX feature adds flexibility beyond a basic filter.
The other significant addition is the new Smart Fader feature. One of the challenges many new DJs face is how to handle transitions between songs with a big tempo difference. It’s an acquired skill that is difficult to perfect and requires precise control over the decks and mixer.
But the Smart Fader simplifies this process by making a variety of adjustments to tempo and EQ as you move the crossfader from one track to the other. With an added echo, it makes moving between genres much more inviting for beginner DJs.
This is an ideal feature for mobile DJs that play weddings and handle older music and requests that challenge even the most seasoned DJs. These new features are both perfectly executed and a step in an exciting direction.
Pioneer offers a deep range of FX within Rekordbox.
On top of these new features, you’ll still have access to a comprehensive set of FX controls on the mixer. You can quickly scroll through Rekordbox and Serato FX easily and apply the FX to channels 1, 2, or both. Access to beat length controls and Level/Depth gives you complete control over the FX.
With two new fun-to-use and practical features, the existing FX section reminiscent of Pioneer pro-level gear, plus the addition of Pad FX, there is no shortage of creative flexibility at your fingertips.
There are no changes to the looping functions from the previous DDJ-400, and there didn’t need to be. The In and Out buttons offer a placement that will be familiar to anyone who has used Pioneer gear.
It is easy to set loops and then adjust the size of those loops by using the nearby ½ or 2x buttons. A quick 4-beat loop button is a handy way to set a loop instantly, and memory loops are also available.
Familiar and easy-to-use looping section.
With access to Beat Loop on the performance pads as well, you will be well covered to both create and manage loops throughout your set.
One thing worth highlighting is if you are coming from either Traktor or Denon gear, the looping workflow is different. There is no encoder, so it can take a little time to get used to the change in flow. For everyone else, it will be very familiar, and for aspiring pro DJs, a loop workflow that you’ll need to get used to if you plan on using professional Pioneer gear.
Pioneer has made a few changes in this area as well, but some fundamentals that are a must for some DJs are still not present.
At the rear, you’ll have access to a solitary Master Out RCA option. I would give the DDJ-FLX4 an instant 5/5 if only it offered a balanced XLR or TRS output. Alas, it is an entry-level controller, and it is hard to be too critical. There is also no booth output which might be a dealbreaker for some.
At the front is a ⅛ inch headphone port, so you’ll need an adapter if your headphone offers a ¼-inch connection.
USB-C connections are great, but it lacks balanced outputs.
A ¼ inch microphone port is also at the rear, and for the first time, Pioneer’s entry-level option routes the microphone audio via USB. This is a monumental change as it makes setting up to stream your sets with a microphone infinitely easier. Previously you’d need fancy workarounds or eternal gear to get your microphone working, but now it is ultra-easy. This a perfect change, considering the growth in streaming DJ sets.
The other notable change is the addition of USB-C connections. The unit can now charge your smartphone or tablet using the power from your laptop to the controller and then through to your device, and it’s a big step up in convenience.
My only potential concern is that USB-C connections can be a little fragile, so having a spare cable on hand might be worthwhile on the odd chance that your main cable gets damaged.
The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 is a compact and portable controller. Ideally suited for travel with a footprint that is very manageable. Ideal for pro DJs that want a small controller with a Pioneer layout to practice on and equally great for taking around to a friend’s house to throw a party.
Compact, lightweight, and portable.
The unit is lightweight at 4.63 lbs. (2.1 kg). Despite the low weight, it doesn’t feel flimsy or poorly built. Once again an ideal choice for travel that could even squeeze into some larger backpacks.
Pioneer has an established reputation for offering an approachable range of DJ controllers, and the DDJ-FLX4 is no exception. It is not the cheapest DJ controller, but the value offering is superb.
With extensive features, it has all the fundamentals new DJs need while having enough depth for deeper exploration and more creative mixing.
You won’t grow out of this controller as rapidly as you would some entry-level options. A perfect entry point into the world of DJing.
The Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 is a popular controller for beginner DJs with a growing amount of positive reviews. The dual functionality with both Rekordbox and Serato DJ has made it a firm favorite, but some people do highlight the need to spend extra to unlock the full version of Serato. The clean design and deep set of functions are also often highlighted.
Room To Grow
One of the challenges of recommending a controller to a beginner DJ is there is always the inevitable point where a new DJ will outgrow their gear and seek something with more features.
There are multiple cheap controllers out there, but they all have things that hold them back, whether that is an awkward layout, minimal creative options, or in some cases, restrictive EQ sections.
As a new DJ, you want a DJ controller that will allow you to expand your skills naturally. It’s a big reason why the DDJ-FLX4 is so appealing. It has all the fundamentals you’ll need while giving you ample extra features to develop your DJing style. Access to comprehensive software is another must-have, and the DDJ-FLX4 opens you up to two of the world’s biggest platforms.
There might come a time when you might outgrow the FLX4. Perhaps you’ll want access to 4 channels or a controller with a screen. Still, the beauty of the FLX4 is that everything you learn will naturally translate to the next step up of professional gear, making it the ideal beginner controller.
There is no denying that the Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 is an excellent DJ controller. But different DJs have different needs. Below are some alternatives that might be more suited to your needs.
Pioneer DDJ-REV1 Review
The DDJ-Rev1 is the other entry-level controller in the Pioneer line-up. This DJ controller features a scratching-oriented approach with a battle-style layout. An ideal beginner controller for scratch DJs.
- A battle-style layout that mimics a traditional turntable and mixer layout.
- Large jog wheels for a better scratching experience and FX paddles.
- The performance pads are a little small and cramped.
Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX Review
Another enticing option in the beginner DJ controller market is the Mixtrack Platinum FX. It’s an easy-to-use and capable controller with some features you won’t find anywhere else at this price.
- Long pitch faders and the jogwheels feature screens showing critical information.
- FX paddles are fun and easy to use. Also excellent value for money.
- It comes with Intro software, so you’ll need to spend more to unlock the Serato DJ Pro.
Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 Review
The other beginner controller worth considering is the Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3. This robust DJ controller offers excellent features while maintaining an approachable price.
- Excellent quality materials and a tough shell ensure longevity.
- It comes with full-version software, so there are no extra hidden costs.
- It only works with Traktor software, making it a little restrictive.
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3
Should You Buy?
The Pioneer DDJ-400 was the standard for beginner DJ controllers. Following it up is no easy task, but Pioneer has smashed it out of the park with the DDJ-FLX4.
All the fantastic features that made its predecessor the standard are present, along with innovative new features that don’t feel like cheap gimmicks. Excellent layout, software flexibility, fun FX systems, improved connectivity, and reliable Pioneer quality.
The DDJ-FLX4 is the perfect choice for new DJs and a worthwhile portable second controller for seasoned pros, and I have no doubt it will be a smash hit.