Roland DJ 202 Review – The Creative Focused Beginner Controller

There is a lot of choices when it comes to DJ controllers for beginners. All the major gear manufacturers offer an entry-level option with only a few differences between them. One of the challenges is finding a controller that opens up the more creative side of DJing. This aspect of DJing is often locked behind the more expensive gear. In this review, we check out a controller that offers some unique performance options rarely found at the lower price points.

Going Beyond Basic Mixing

The fundamentals of DJing is to transition from one song to another. This keeps the crowd dancing and having a good time. One of the first skills you’ll learn is beatmatching and simple transition techniques.

Once you have mastered those initial techniques there is a world of extra creative options that open up. Taking that next step to further your skills will help you become a more accomplished DJ. It will also give you extra skills to handle even the most difficult of transitions. Beyond that, it will allow you to create unique and creative mixes which can set you apart from other DJs.

Close up photo of a MIDI drum machine.

Adding peripheral MIDI gear opens up your creative mixing possibilities.

One of the challenges is having DJ equipment which gives you access to extra features to help you hone these skills. Many entry-level controllers have limited features which can slow down your growth. A controller with more features can prevent you from having to upgrade early. It also allows you to dip your toes into the various other creative options available to DJs to see which ones you’ll be more likely to use. This can then help inform any future upgrade purchases you may want to make.

A controller with a good range of FX options allows you to practice adding in FX for more creative mixes. Access to extra channels also opens up the door for layering of tracks and samples. Capable jogwheels can make the process of learning scratch techniques easier and more rewarding. Then there is the addition of peripheral MIDI gear to extend your DJing into a more performance-minded experience. Keeping these future skills in mind can help you choose whether a controller is a suitable option for your DJ journey.

Roland DJ 202 Review

The Roland DJ 202 is a Serato DJ controller. It positions itself as an entry-level version of their higher-end DJ 505 and DJ 808. Roland has offered up a unique and very Rolandesque version of a beginner DJ controller. But is it a good first controller for DJs? Let’s see what it has to offer. 

Pros

  • Built-In Drum Machine
  • MIDI Input Option
  • 4 Decks Available
  • Responsive Jogwheels

Cons

  • Comes With Intro Software
  • Controlling Drum Machine with Performance Pads is awkward.
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Features

The Roland DJ 202 is a unique contender in the beginner DJ market. Let’s dive into some of the features it offers including some not found on other hardware in the entry-level space.

Features of the Roland DJ 2020 DJ controller.

The Roland DJ 202 includes Serato DJ Intro, 2 channels with access to 4 decks, medium-sized jogwheels, and a short pitch fader.

Built-In Drum Machine

One of the main features of the Roland DJ 202 is the built-in drum machine. No other controller at this level offers this feature. You can access 4 of the legendary Roland drum machine presets. This includes the iconic TR-808. These drum sounds have been the backbone of many hits over the years.

Having the ability to trigger these and create patterns opens up a lot of creative options. Inspired by the higher end Roland models like the DJ 505 and DJ 808. But that is where things start to break down as you’ll discover in the next section.

Performance Pads

The performance pads offer you access to control and set your hot cues, loops and extra performance features like the slicer. These pads also double as your controls for the drum machine which is where things get a little complicated.

The higher-end Roland models have a dedicated section at the top of the controller to activate and manage the drum machine. This makes for a much simpler process of setting up your sequences and loops. Everything can be activated within a few button presses and you can get back to the rest of your mix. But, the Roland DJ 202 requires you to navigate through various levels to set parameters. You need to access the drum kit and then set what element you want to alter. For example, you can alter a kick drum and then sequence based on 16 beats. Since there are only 8 pads it requires even more hoops to jump through to set beats 9-16.

Considering this is a budget controller I understand that this function had to be linked to the pads to keep costs down. It still doesn’t discount the fact that it takes a combination of memory and fast control to achieve simple sequences. This functionality will likely overwhelm all but the most dedicated beginner DJs.

Included Software

Serato DJ Intro is included to get you up and running with one of the most popular DJ software platforms. Keep in mind that the Intro version does have features missing. If you want access to all the features you’ll have to pay for an upgrade to the license. If you are on a tight budget you may want to get a controller which comes with full version software included. 

Mixer Section

The mixer section houses the full suite of features you need to DJ. 3 band EQ along with a Filter and Trim knob gives you control over the music. This section also has the master volume controls and headphone cue/master controls as well as headphone volume. It also offers Sampler level control here as well. All these functions are easily accessible. As a result, you’ll be spending less time making adjustments using your laptop or computer.

For those that intend on using the sampler often there is a cue button located there as well. It’s a nice addition for a controller at this price point. Once again it highlights the performance-orientated nature of this controller.

VU meters are also present but only represent the master output. This will be enough to keep your gain under control. For individual channel monitoring, you’ll need to refer to the software.

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Jogwheels

One of the better aspects of the Roland DJ 202 is the jogwheels. While they are not huge they are still big enough for accurate control. Especially when you consider the size of the controller. The latency is super low at 5ms making them very functional for scratch DJs. The jogwheels have a good feel and resistance to them. Once again for those wanting to get into the scratching side of DJing the 202 offers a great entry point.

FX

Dedicated FX controls sit at the top of the controller. You can select from 3 Serato effects and adjust both the beat length and intensity via the knob located next to the FX buttons. This is more than enough for a beginner DJ to dip their toes into adding FX to their sets. It would have been nice to have a dedicated knob for both beat length and intensity.

One of the other ways the Roland DJ 202 differentiates from the competition is the addition of effects to the mic channel. Popular choices like delay and reverb are available to add some extra flair to an attached microphone. Once again it highlights the direction Roland wanted to go with this controller. Stepping away from only DJing and moving into performance elements.

Dimensions

Roland DJ 202 Dimensions

The Roland DJ 202 is a compact and lightweight entry-level controller.

Pitch Faders

The Roland DJ 202 suffers from a similar problem that is often found on entry-level controllers. The pitch faders are short. When it comes to these smaller more portable controllers space is always at a premium. Often one of the things that’s trimmed is the pitch fader. It is a shame as one of the first skills you should master as a new DJ is beatmatching. Using short pitch faders does make this task more difficult but not impossible.

4 Deck Controller

The DJ 202 has a very similar approach to channels that other Serato controllers offer. You can control two channels at a time but can access up to 4 decks. You can toggle this via the dedicated buttons located at the bottom right of each jogwheel.

While it’s great to have this functionality I’ve always found it to be fiddly to jump between decks and remember what deck you are currently on. In the heat of an epic mix, it’s easy to get lost. You can experiment with 4 decks but it won’t feel as smooth and a dedicated 4 channel controller.

Connection Options

Most controllers aimed at beginners offer limited connectivity options. The Roland DJ 202 comes with one RCA master output. This is worth noting. For example, the popular Yamaha studio monitors (the HS series) do not have an RCA connection option.

It also offers a microphone jack and volume control option at the back of the controller. I’d have preferred this on the front as it’s hard to see what volume you have set when it’s located at the back of the controller.

There is also a ¼ inch headphone jack on the front. If you do own a pair of DJ headphones with a ⅛ inch jack you’ll need to get an adapter. For example, many of the Pioneer DJ headphones come with an adapter. But many cheaper headphones won’t come with one.

There is one more connection option which sets the 202 apart from other entry-level controllers. A single MIDI output on the back of the controller next to the USB port. This allows you to plug in external compatible MIDI devices. This does open up your creative options. You can plug a synthesizer in for example and layer arpeggios in time with the music.

Build Quality

The jogwheels, knobs, and sliders feel solid and responsive. The rest of the controller isn’t as nice. It is a budget controller so there is plastic as far as the eye can see. It does give it a hollow almost flimsy feel. In practice, it can still take some punishment but it’s hard not to feel like you could break it with aggressive use.

The performance pads are serviceable but are more buttons than pads. There is no velocity sensitivity like you’d find in higher-end gear. The dominance of green lighting is both good and bad. Good in that it’s a nice change of color compared to other controllers but bad since no other colors are present. The higher models have more color options included for the pads. 

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What Others Have To Say

The Roland DJ 202 is a popular entry-level controller with many people happy with their new controller. But, beyond the surface, there are concerns around the clunky implementation of the drum machine feature.

Reviews for the Roland DJ 202 controller.

Other Options

There are other options available to the new DJ or DJ looking for a compact controller. Let’s check out some other choices.

Pioneer DDJ-400 Review

If the prospect of having to pay extra to unlock full version software is putting you off the DDJ-400 could be a good alternative. Modeled after Pioneer’s higher-end line it offers plenty of features and full version software.

  • Full version Rekordbox DJ included.
  • Longer pitch faders for easier beatmatching.
  • Slightly cramped mixer section.
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>> FULL REVIEW – PIONEER DDJ 400 <<

Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 Review

If the extra bells and whistles of the drum machine is a feature you are not excited about the Mixtrack Pro 3 is another solid Serato controller.

  • Very long pitch faders for beatmatching.
  • Offers excellent features at a very affordable price.
  • Comes with intro software so you’ll need to budget in an upgrade.
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>> FULL NUMARK MIXTRACK PRO 3 REVIEW <<

Denon MC4000 Review

Connection options set the Denon apart from other controllers in the entry-level space. While more expensive it is a good bridge between beginner controller and more advanced gear.

  • Heaps of inputs for maximum flexibility in connection choices.
  • Professional design backed up by robust build quality.
  • More expensive than other entry-level controllers.
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>> FULL DENON MC4000 REVIEW <<

Should You Buy?

The Roland DJ 202 is an interesting offering for the new DJ. It offers extras that many controllers at this price point do not offer. I do wonder though how many new DJs would need these extra features. Even discounting those features it has all the capabilities that you need to get into the world of DJing. Even if you don’t end up using the extra features it does offer exceptional value. If you see yourself wanting to move into the more creative performance side of DJing it’s a great beginner 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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