Many DJ controllers offer minimal differences in features from one model to another. In this review, we check out a unique and capable offering from Roland. A DJ controller that blurs the line between producer and DJ.
Roland DJ 808
The Roland DJ 808 is unlike any other 4 deck DJ controller on the market. Its innovative design and features set it apart. But with so much going on is it the right controller for you?
The Roland DJ 808 offers DJs the ability to dabble in producing. It also helps bridge the gap between established producers wanting to get into DJing. Let’s break down what this innovative controller has to offer.
The Roland DJ 808 offers an expansive and feature-packed mixer section.
The main mixer gives you access to 4 primary channels. Each channel offers a full 3-band EQ along with Trim control. Each channel also offers an FX knob. Completing the package is a dedicated VU meter for each channel to monitor your levels. These Channel faders are customizable based on your preferred curve.
Below each set of EQs, you’ll find channel faders along with Cue buttons to send the signal to your headphones. Above the Trim control, you’ll find two buttons for activating either FX 1 or FX 2 for that channel. More on FX later in the review. Located above these buttons are load buttons for each channel.
The Roland DJ 808 offers a total of 5 channels.
The Roland 808 also offers a 5th fader for control over the TR/Sampler along with a Cue button. Located above this 5th Fader are 4 channel FX buttons. These buttons activate the corresponding FX. You can then control the FX via the FX control knobs. There is also a Master output VU meter with a dedicated Master Volume knob. Browse controls complete the mixer section.
The crossfader is also customizable via switches on the front of the unit. You can set the crossfader assign along with the crossfader curve.
The mixer section has everything a DJ needs to customize their controller and mix in the style they want. Access to VU meters per channel is also a step up from other similar controllers. It’s a clean and concise design that’s very impressive.
The Roland DJ 808 is compatible with Serato DJ. Full version access to the Pro version along with the Pitch ‘n Time expansion.
Serato is among the world’s best DJ software platforms and offers extensive support to a wide range of controllers. Learning Serato will open up a world of opportunity if you do wish to change controllers in the future. It’s robust and feature-packed software that many professional DJs use. The added Pitch n’ Time expansion adds to the value on offer here.
Integration is also precise and well-executed. Dedicated controls over Key Sync and Loops are also a step up from other controllers.
The jogwheels are also impressive for a controller this size. They are not the full-size jogwheels you’ll find on some controllers But, they are big enough to comfortably scratch on. They offer a good amount of heft and weight.
The Roland DJ 808 jogwheels feel great to use.
The jogwheels also feature smalls screens that indicate track position. Switching between channels is also easy via the dedicated Deck buttons. You’ll also have access to Slip, Vinyl, Censor, and Reverse modes.
Extra controls also elevate the functionality of the jogwheels with the ability to set and adjust grids using the jogs. A handy feature if you are dealing with variable BPM tracks.
Long-throw pitch faders are always a welcome sight. Precise and accurate control is critical for beatmatching. Something that long pitch faders excel at.
Integration with Serato Pitch ‘n Time for control over the Key of the music you are playing also allows for precise control over the output.
As is common with modern controllers a Sync function is also available. This will automatically match the beats based on the beatgrid set in Serato.
The Roland DJ 808 offers 8 RGB performance pads per deck. These performance pads handle many functions. They have an excellent feel which lends itself well to creative performances.
A total of 16 performance pads are available on the Roland DJ 808.
The first pad function includes Hot Cue for the setting of Cue Points along with Cue Loop as a secondary function. The second pad opens up Roll and Slicer. Two very popular pad functions to create tension during you mix and remix tracks live. The third pad gives you access to TR and Pattern modes. Use TR to activate one-shot sounds while Pattern is for preset sequences. The final pad offers Sampler and Pitch Play.
Between all these functions you’ll have plenty of control over your performance. Plenty of flexibility to inject unique additions to your sets and establish a creative DJ style.
The Roland DJ 808 continues its expansive set of creative mixing options with dedicated FX banks. Each bank offers activation of 3 FX along with dedicated control knobs. A beat knob completes the control options. Serato DJ Pro offers an extensive set of FX giving you plenty of choices.
Both FX chains are easily accessible for the primary 4 channels via dedicated activation buttons. You can also use the FX chains on the drum sequencer. A well-thought-out and comfortable workflow for adding FX to all elements of your mix.
The drum sequencer on the DJ 808 is the most advanced in the Roland DJ range of controllers. It is a unique feature that you won’t find from other DJ controller companies.
The drum sequence features iconic kicks, snares, claps, and hi-hats from the TR 606, 707, 808, and 909. These familiar sounds have formed the backbone of some classic tunes. And with the DJ 808, you’ll have access to them at your fingertips when DJing.
The drum sequencer is a unique feature to the Roland DJ range of controllers.
For the unfamiliar, there is a learning curve that may feel daunting. The layout of the sequencer is natural but getting your head around all the functions takes time. But, once you’ve had a chance to play around with it you’ll realize the enormous potential here.
Recording sequences and storing them for playback is intuitive. You’ll also have granular control with 4 level faders and parameter adjustments like Attack and Decay.
This sets the DJ 808 apart from other DJ controllers. It becomes more of an instrument than just a DJ controller.
Loop controls on the Roland DJ 808 are also simple and easy to use. Each deck offers a dedicated section where you can activate and control loops. Auto loop along with a manual loop in and out button is available. Once activated you can also halve or double the length of the loop.
Loops are an excellent way to control the pacing of your set. They are also useful for a variety of transition techniques. When you factor in the performance-driven nature of the 808 I’m happy to see effective and easy-to-use looping controls.
The Roland DJ 808 continues the performance-driven design mentality with microphone controls. You’ll have access to a dedicated section to control various features. A level and 2-band EQ give you initial control. Beyond that, you’ll also have access to 3 FX. Pitch, Formant, and Reverb. There is also Auto Pitch available.
The Roland DJ 808 offers excellent control over microphone output.
These controls add even more creative freedom. Layer a drumbeat on the sequencer, live vocals, one-shot samples, FX, and music all at once.
The Roland DJ 808 is well equipped in the connection department.
The back of the unit offers XLR and RCA for Master output along with a TRS Booth output. Balanced options for both Master and Booth are great to see. This makes the 808 capable of handling most professional DJ sound setups.
Four RCA line-in options allow for the connection of external gear like CDJs or turntables. Setting the thru from PC, Line, or Phono is easy via small switches on the front of the unit. MIDI out is also present for further flexibility. One primary XLR/TRS combo jack is also available for a microphone.
The other addition that Roland includes is two USB ports. These ports support AIRA gear for further customization of your DJ setup. This is a great way to further explore creative live mixing.
The front panel completes the connection options with both ¼ and ⅛ inch headphone jacks. Both Mono Split and Stereo options allow you to control audio output to your headphones.
Roland hasn’t pulled any punches with the expansive options available. If you are a producer or professional DJ the 808 is up to the task.
Due to the Drum Sequencer, the Roland DJ 808 is on the larger side. It does fall within the average for 4 channel controllers when it comes to width. But, it is deeper due to the large sequencer section.
The Roland DJ 808 is a large controller but still portable.
At 15 lbs. (6.8kg) it is solid while not overly heavy where it would be difficult to take to a gig.
Build Quality & Design
Roland has an excellent reputation for quality. The DJ 808 is no different with excellent components throughout. From the pads to the knobs and the jogwheels, everything feels solid and premium. Sound quality is also excellent via the 24bit/96kHz audio interface.
The Roland DJ 808 has a lot of features but the layout is well organized.
For a controller with these features, the layout is also good. Distinct color separation of elements prevents it from becoming a swarm of buttons. But there is still a lot going on here. While it isn’t the best-looking controller it does ooze quality and professionalism in both layout and design.
What Others Have To Say
There is plenty of praise for the Roland DJ 808. People love the expressive nature of the controller and the high-quality sound output.
The Legendary TR-808
The drum sequencer found on the Roland DJ 808 harks back to one of the most famous drum machines in history. The TR-808 had an inconspicuous start in 1980. Developed by Ikutaro Kakehashi it wasn’t very popular. Most musicians at the time found the sounds “too electronic”. But this very feature would help launch a multitude of genres.
The cheaper price point lured in underground musicians and before long was invigorating new music scenes. Hip-Hop, Acid House, and Detroit Techno were among the first in the new genres to emerge on the back of this revolutionary drum machine.
Modern EDM has its roots in the music created with the TR-808.
The ability to program beats inspired new creativity in the underground scene. To this day the TR-808 is one of the very best and most influential drum machines in history. Even modern artists continue to apply these iconic elements to their productions.
With the Roland DJ 808, you can experience some of the creative wonders that early music pioneers experienced.
If you are looking at performance-focused controllers there are some alternatives to the DJ 808. Here are some other controllers worth considering.
Pioneer DDJ 1000SRT Review
The DDJ 1000SRT is another excellent 4 channel controller. It retains excellent control over Serato DJ Pro but offers larger jogwheels and a closer-to-club design.
- Large full-size jogwheels with onboard displays.
- A familiar layout that is great for preparing for gigs using club gear.
- No direct control over Serato FX limits creativity.
Pioneer DDJ 1000SRT
Roland DJ 505 Review
If the high price point of the DJ 808 is a deterrent the Roland DJ 505 is a cheaper yet still functional alternative. You’ll still have access to a range of excellent performance features at a cheaper price.
- Offers a built-in drum sequencer with an excellent range of control features.
- A more affordable price point for DJs on a budget.
- Build quality is not as good as the DJ 808.
Roland DJ 505
Pioneer DDJ REV7 Review
Drum sequencers are one way to explore creative mixing. Turntablism is another expressive form of DJing. If you prefer to focus on that side of DJing the DDJ REV7 is an excellent alternative.
- The motorized platters offer a vinyl-like scratching experience.
- High build quality including a Magvel Fader Pro crossfader.
- Only offers 2 mixing channels.
Should You Buy?
The Roland DJ 808 is an excellent controller for the right type of DJ. If you are a producer that wants to get into DJing this is the controller for you. The expansive set of creative options blurs the line between producer and DJ. The live performance functionality allows you to express yourself with ease.
It’s also great for DJs that want to move beyond DJing and into more complicated production or remix work. With the excellent build quality and tight Serato integration, the DJ 808 is easy to recommend to performance-oriented DJs.
Roland DJ 808