There is a lot of choices when it comes to DJ controllers for beginners. In this review, we check out a controller that offers some unique performance options rarely found at the lower price points.
Roland DJ 202
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. But is it a good first controller for DJs? Let’s see what it has to offer.
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.
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.
The Roland DJ 202 offers a clean layout with all the basic features you need.
For those that intend on using the sampler often there is a cue button located there as well. It’s a nice addition to 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.
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 that comes with full version software included.
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 Roland DJ 202 offer capable jogwheels that are great for learning basic scratch routines.
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 DJ 202 offers a great entry point.
The Roland 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.
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.
Most controllers aimed at beginners offer limited connectivity options. The Roland 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.
The Roland DJ 202 gives new DJs access to a MIDI Out option on an affordable controller.
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 that sets the DJ-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.
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.
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.
The Roland DJ 202 follows the same pattern in both size and weight as other entry-level controllers.
The Roland DJ 202 is a compact and lightweight entry-level controller.
It’s easy to transport to and from gigs and won’t take up a lot of space on your DJ work surface. At just over 2kg it’s also very light.
Build Quality & Design
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 Roland DJ 202 is an attractive controller with a similar layout to other beginner controllers.
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.
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.
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.
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 that 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.
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.
Read our full Pioneer DDJ 400 review for more detailed information.
Pioneer DDJ 400
Numark Mixtrack Pro FX Review
If the extra bells and whistles of the drum machine are a feature you are not excited about the Mixtrack Pro FX 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 for an upgrade.
Read our full Numark Mixtrack Pro FX review for more detailed information.
Numark Mixtrack Pro FX
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 Review
The Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 is another controller that comes with full version software. The S2 Mk3 is a high-quality controller with excellent features.
- Durable build-quality with excellent components.
- Clean design with a refined and logical layout.
- A closed ecosystem means you’ll be unable to use it with other DJ software.
Read our full Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 review for more detailed information.
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.
Roland DJ 202