Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review – Affordable and Feature Packed

We live in a time where we are spoilt for choice when it comes to entry-level or beginner controllers. 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.

The Core Sections Of A DJ Controller

There are many products out there which claim to allow you to “DJ”. Not all of these products have the core components required to properly learn how to DJ. Proper DJ controllers emulate the look of a traditional DJ setup.

A good DJ controller will have at least 2 channels that can each be monitored independently via your headphones. This allows you to cue up and prepare the track you plan on mixing in.

The controller should also have EQ options to affect frequencies. At the least, it should allow you to control the low and high end. Ideally, you also want to be able to adjust the mid frequencies.

Jogwheels are not mandatory but do allow for greater control and flexibility. If you do want to learn to scratch you’ll need them.

Channel faders and a crossfader are also important. Basic functions like Play and Cue should come standard. A tempo slider is also needed so that you can learn to beatmatch.

If a controller doesn’t have these core features it will be difficult to learn the art of DJing.

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 performing on DJ equipment with a laptop in the background.

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 stable and fully featured software. It is also compatible with a large selection of DJ controllers from many of the big-name manufacturers.

Pioneer’s RekordBox DJ is another popular choice. It’s Pioneer’s take on the DJ software platform and is receiving consistent updates and improvements.

Native Instruments Traktor Pro is also very popular. It is generally specifically designed to be used with Native Instruments controllers.

Virtual DJ is also a choice. Offering flexibility to be integrated with a range of controllers it has proven to be a good choice for beginner DJs.

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.

Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review

The Pioneer DDJ SB3 is the third in a series of dedicated Serato DJ controllers. It promises to give you all the fundamental tools to get you started in DJing. Drawing inspiration from Pioneer’s more expensive models it’s also a great backup for seasoned professionals. With so many entry-level controllers available does the SB3 still stand as one of the best? Let’s check out some of the pros and cons.

Pros

  • Quality Jogwheels
  • Logical And Professional Layout
  • Affordable Entry-Level Option
  • Good FX Options
  • Up To 4 Channels Available.

Cons

  • Comes With Intro Software
  • Scratch Effects Are Average
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Features

Now let’s take a deeper look into what the Pioneer SB3 offers DJs looking at buying an entry-level controller.

Features of the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 DJ controller.

The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 includes Serato DJ Lite, 2 channels with access to 4 decks, medium-sized jogwheels, and a short pitch fader.

Trusted Brand

When buying DJ equipment I always recommend people stick to trusted brands. Pioneer has a long history of producing quality DJ equipment. They have established themselves as one of the leaders in the space. It’s not uncommon to see their gear in clubs both small and large.

When you buy equipment from a trusted brand like Pioneer you know that the product has been well built and designed with years of experience. Larger brands also have better support and there is more information available to you online if you run into trouble.

There is always room for new contenders to rise to the top. But, if you are starting on your DJ journey stick to the big names.

Included Software

The Pioneer 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 SB3.

Mixer Section

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.

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.

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Jogwheels

For those interested in scratching the Pioneer SB3 offers solid jogwheels. They are a decent size considering the size of the controller. Made from aluminum they feel sturdy and durable. Good responsiveness makes them a good starting point for the scratching enthusiast. 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.

Performance Pads

Speaking of scratching this is where the SB3 tries something new with the Pad Scratch mode. Developed with Jazzy Jeff they are meant to be a beginners 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.

FX

Speaking of effects the Pioneer SB3 does come with a good range of them. 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.

Dimensions

Dimensions of the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 controller.

The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is lightweight and sized to be portable.

Pitch Faders

The pitch faders on the SB3 are on the small side. This is one of the drawbacks with 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.

4 Channels Available

The Pioneer SB3 is a 2-channel controller but it does have the capacity to control up to 4 channels. The left side handles channel 1 and 3 and the right handles 2 and 4. You can switch between channels by hitting the buttons located near the jogwheels.

While having access to four channels is a nice touch it can be fiddly. Switching between channels to make fine adjustments to your mix becomes a game of remembering where you are at. Beginner DJs may find it confusing. You can, of course, ignore these extra channels and as a new DJ, I’d encourage you to do so. Once you have mastered the basics you can begin to explore mixing with more channels.

Build Quality

Pioneer continues the tradition of good quality entry-level controllers. While the SB3 is still mainly plastic it is well built. Good materials have been used and the controller will be able to handle consistent use. As always treat your gear well and it will last even longer.

Connection Options

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.

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.

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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. While more experienced DJs still see room for improvement it is a highly rated option for new DJs.

Text Reviews of the Pioneer SB3

Other Options

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 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
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>> FULL ROLAND DJ 202 REVIEW <<

Pioneer DDJ 400

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
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>> FULL REVIEW – PIONEER DDJ 400 <<

Denon DJ MC4000

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
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>> FULL DENON MC4000 REVIEW <<

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 on 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.

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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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