When I first started DJing equipment was big, bulky, and expensive. With the rise of the digital era came the introduction of DJ controllers. This opened up the world of DJing to more people. Allowing an affordable entry point for anyone with a passion for DJing. In this review, I’ll cover one of the most popular entry-level controllers available today.
Pioneer DDJ SB3
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 is the third in a series of dedicated Serato DJ controllers. Drawing inspiration from Pioneer’s more expensive models it’s also a great backup for seasoned professionals. Let’s check out some of the pros and cons.
Now let’s take a deeper look into what the DDJ SB3 offers DJs looking at buying an entry-level controller.
The mixer section is fully featured for an entry-level controller. The crossfader is light and will make quick cuts a breeze. 2 channel faders with individual VU meters allow you to make sure your channels stay out of the red. However, there is not master VU meter so you’ll still need to reference the software to keep your mix out of the red.
A full 3-band EQ sits above the faders allowing you to control low, mid, and high frequencies. This means you can adjust your mixes for the best transitions. An added high and low pass filter knob is also a nice addition giving you further control and flexibility when mixing. Dedicated gain knobs are also present allowing you to control the volume of each channel.
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 offers a logical mixer section with access to everything new DJs need.
Individual cue buttons for each channel allow you to select what you hear in the headphones. But, there is no cue/mix knob. Instead, there is a master button. I’ve always preferred a dedicated knob for this but it doesn’t prevent you from properly cueing up and preparing your tracks.
At the top of the mixer is a browse knob for selecting tracks in your software. There are also load buttons to instantly send the selected track to the decks. Having these options helps to keep you engaged with your gear and not looking for your mouse.
The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 comes bundled with Serato DJ Lite. This basic version of the software is fine, to begin with. It will allow you access to all the core features you’ll need to start DJing. The issue comes when you want to start expanding your skills and want to take advantage of all the features. At this point, you’ll need to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro. Keep this extra expense in mind if you do want to buy the DDJ-SB3.
For those interested in scratching the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 offers solid jogwheels. They are a decent size considering the size of the controller. Good responsiveness makes them a solid starting point for the scratching enthusiast.
Made from aluminum the Pioneer DDJ SB3 jogwheels feel sturdy and durable.
Extra controls are located around the jogwheels to alter how they respond. You can choose between having them behave like vinyl or CDJs. Having the ability to set your preference directly on the controller is a convenient option.
The pitch faders on the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 are on the small side. This is one of the drawbacks of entry-level controllers. Longer pitch faders make it easier to learn how to beatmatch. Finding space on a compact controller for these longer faders can be difficult. As a result, most beginner controllers have small pitch faders. You can still learn to beatmatch using them but it would be great if future models could have longer pitch faders.
Speaking of scratching this is where the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 DJ controller tries something new with the Pad Scratch mode. Developed with Jazzy Jeff they are meant to be a guide into the world of scratching. It will assign pre-designed scratch modes to your selected cue points. While this is a fun feature it does feel a bit gimmicky.
The Performance pads also allow you to set hot cues, activate one-shot samples and apply a trans effect. This trans effect applies an on/off sound to your track for a clever effect that is quite useful to add variety to your sets.
The other function is FX Fade, which is a great tool for beginners. It has preset effects that will be applied to the track. These effects align with the track to allow for easier transitions. This is a good stepping stone for new DJs to become familiar with how effects are structured. It also teaches you how you can incorporate various effects into your set. Once you come to grips with these you can then manually add effects using the dedicated FX controls at the top of the controller.
Connection options are pretty bare bones. But, it is to be expected at this price point.
Two Master RCA ports are on the back. Keep in mind it doesn’t come with RCA cables. You’ll need to buy or use a set you already own to connect the controller to some good studio monitors or your sound system. There is also a ¼ inch microphone input located on the back with volume control.
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 offers a limited selection of connection options.
A USB cable is provided to connect it to your laptop or computer. This is also how the unit is powered.
There is a ⅛ inch connection for your pro DJ headphones located on the front. If your headphones have a different plug you’ll need a converter as there are no other headphone connection options.
The Pioneer SB3 does come with a good range of FX options. To unlock all the options you’ll need to upgrade the software. The FX controls are basic with only one effect active at any time per channel. A dedicated wet/dry knob is also present to allow you to adjust the effect. For a new DJ that is all that you’ll need. For the more experienced DJ, it is a bit limited in choice.
The Pioneer DDJ SB3 is another example of how compact DJ gear has become. Easy to find space on your table for DJing at home. Also compact enough to take to house parties.
The DDJ-SB3 is lightweight and sized to be portable.
Build Quality & Design
Pioneer continues the tradition of good quality entry-level controllers. While the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is still mainly plastic it is well built. Good materials have been used and the controller will be able to handle consistent use.
Like many entry-level controllers, the SB3 is primarily made from hard plastic.
As always treat your gear well and it will last even longer. I’d even suggest a flight case or dust cover to extended the lifespan of your gear.
What Others Have To Say
The SB2 was a knockout success and was a very popular entry-level controller for new DJs. The SB3 with its smart layout and more grown-up feel has attracted many positive reviews.
What Is DJ Software?
The majority of DJ controllers are designed to be used in tandem with DJ software. DJ software allows you to organize your music collection for use with your controller. Using DJ software you can analyze your music to see the waveform and get extra information like BPM and Key.
DJ software has become integral to the modern DJs workflow.
There are many choices when it comes to DJ software but there are a few big names in particular. Serato DJ is one of the most popular choices amongst DJs. It has a reputation as a stable and fully featured piece of software. It is also compatible with a large selection of DJ controllers from many of the big-name manufacturers.
When buying your first controller it pays to know a little about the software which comes bundled with the hardware. Keep in mind some controllers will only come with trial or lite versions of the software. You may need to then invest in the full version of the software.
The Pioneer SB3 is not the only contender in the entry-level market. There are several other good alternatives available that offer a few different features. You can also learn more about these in our detailed DJ controller reviews.
Roland DJ 202 Review
For the more production-oriented DJ the Roland DJ 202 is a good alternative to the DDJ-SB3. It offers an in-built drum machine so you can create beats on the fly. It also sports a Midi input option to allow you to expand with other pieces of Roland performance gear.
- In-Built Drum Machines
- Midi Input Option
- Feels A Little Hollow
Read our full Roland DJ 202 review for more detailed information.
Roland DJ 202
Pioneer DDJ 400 Review
Pioneer has another entry-level option with the DDJ 400. It’s the flagship beginner controller for their RekordBox DJ software. A tutorial mode is also included in the software to help new DJs get to grips with the basics. Longer pitch faders also help beginner DJs learn to beatmatch.
- Full-Featured Software Included
- Longer Pitch Faders
- Slightly Cramped Mixer Section
Read our full Pioneer DDJ 400 review for more detailed information.
Pioneer DDJ 400
Denon MC4000 Review
If you have more to spend the Denon DJ MC4000 is a good choice. It offers more connection options and is aiming as the go-to portable controller for mobile DJs. Solid construction and a smart layout nudge this controller into the middle tier of options.
- More Input Options
- Professional Design And Quality
- Only 4 Performance Pads
Read our full Denon DJ MC4000 review for more detailed information.
Should You Buy?
Pioneer has done it again with the SB3. A smart redesign to align it closer to their more expensive gear is a good move. It allows new DJs to learn with affordable gear without then having to relearn everything when upgrading. It has everything you need to get started. While having to upgrade software is an added expense it’s still a great value controller. I have no hesitation recommending the Pioneer DDJ SB3 to new DJs looking to buy their first controller.
Pioneer DDJ SB3