Imagine with me for a second, getting two Pioneer CDJ 2000-Nexus, with a Pioneer DJM 900-Nexus plus additional functionality specially designed to work with Serato, all for the price of one CDJ 2000-Nexus
This is the situation we have with the newly announced Pioneer DDJ-SZ. First of all, I want to point out that I’m pretty anti-controller. I like my CDJs and have never really been interested in using a controller. That should speak volumes about just how excited I am about this new controller. To give you a feel for what the DDJ-SZ offers, I’ll look at the positives as well as the few drawbacks of this controller.
Professional Grade Setup for a Reasonable Price
The big advantage of this controller is that it gives you the same functionality that you would get with a DJM 900-NEXUS and two CDJ 2000-NEXUS. This is an industry standard gear set up, and buying all of this equipment would cost about triple what the DDJ-SZ costs.
There are lots of awesome features on this controller that I’m going to omit talking about because they already exist on the DJM-900/CDJ-2000 setup, and they’re replicated in a similar fashion on this controller. These features are things like colour effects, brake control on either deck, sync, excellent looping controls, etc. With this controller you basically get all of the things that make an industry standard Pioneer setup what it is, at a fraction of the cost. So rather than going over all the excellent capabilities of a top of the line Pioneer setup, I’ll talk about the additional benefits this controller gives you.
The first major benefit of this controller is the Serato optimization. This is the only controller on the market that works so fluidly with Serato. This works via a nicely laid out software effects section. The downside is that this replaces the normal DJM 900-NEXUS effects section, although Serato DJ has a new updated effects engine that’s far superior to the old one. Furthermore, with the DDJ-SZ, you can apply two FX to any channel or to the master, making this superior to the DJM 900-NEXUS effects section in the long run.
The controller also has play heads on the actual deck that count down to your next cue point (there’s a similar effect in the software but this is the first time it’s been applied to a controller). This makes dealing with upcoming cue points easier and allows you to use cue points as markers for when to start a loop or FX rather than just points to jump to in a track.
There are also jog wheels which allow you to search through your library or create instant doubles. The library search feature is excellent as it gives you another way to keep your hands off your laptop. Even better is having some on-deck instant double controls, which will be a welcome function for turntablists.
Finally, there’s also a pads section. Both decks have an excellent set of large and useable pads that can be mapped and colour coded so you can map specific colours to certain drops. These pads have functions for looping, cueing and sampling. They really go above and beyond the capabilities of a normal CDJ 2000-NEXUS. Their smooth integration with Serato gives you a lot of room to play around and try new stuff, making them a powerful feature of this controller.
Two DJs at Once
This is a really well done feature on the DDJ-SZ. First of all, you can connect two Serato DJ laptops at once. This makes switching over at the club dead easy. Second, using the two deck control on either side, two DJs can easily go back to back in the club if they want to. Using the deck switch button on the side of the controller makes this incredibly easy as it allows you to treat the individual decks on each side as two decks for each DJ. The fader layout in the middle is designed to make it easy for two DJs to share the controller, and if you take the controller’s size into account, it makes sense for two DJs to be able to work at it fairly easily. Finally, if for whatever reason one DJ’s laptop gets unplugged, the controller will automatically switch to the other laptop, making laptop failure with two DJs easier to deal with if it ever happens.
So what’s wrong with the DDJ-SZ then? Well, the main issue is that it doesn’t take CDs or Flash Drives. This means that the DDJ-SZ won’t be a viable permanent installation for a nightclub because many DJs prefer to use a flashdrive rather than a laptop. This also means that if your laptop fails and you’re the only DJ, you’re not going to be able to just jam your flashdrive into the controller and get a quicksave like you would with any newer Pioneer CDJs
That being said, this shouldn’t discourage anyone from considering the DDJ-SZ. If you’re already a controller fanatic, there’s no question that this is a great piece of gear. If you’re still into two decks and a mixer, you should consider this an upgrade as well. Even for Serato users with two CDJ 2000-NEXUS setups, this still has a lot more functionality to offer you.
If you want to learn more about DJ’ing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School Spin Academy.