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When I received my review unit in the mail, the first thing that surprised me was how light the DJ-808 is. Usually, top of the line DJ controllers are quite heavy, a testament to all the advanced technology they usually carry.
And even though the Roland DJ-808 is indeed light (around 15 lbs or 6.8 kg) the construction and build quality is top notch. Everything feels well made and while plastic is used everywhere, somehow the DJ-808 gets away with it.
When it comes to portability, the weight is a critical factor, and you won’t break your back carrying the DJ-808 to your next gig. It is, however, a big beast so good luck finding a decent spot in the average DJ booth.
The overall ergonomics and color scheme of the DJ-808 works really, really well. It’s easy to see what button or knob does what, and even the secondary functions hidden behind the SHIFT button are clearly indicated. This ensures that in the heat of the moment, you won’t lose precious time trying to figure out what buttons or knob does what.
What struck me most is the deep integration between the DJ-808 and Serato DJ. This is no quick certification job. It’s clear that Serato DJ and Roland worked very closely together to ensure a smooth and stable integration. And that shows. It all just works, and it works very, very well.
Features & functionalities
Let’s dive into the specifics of this very innovative DJ controller.
TR-S 16 Step Sequencer
The first thing you notice when looking at the DJ-808 is that it’s more than just a DJ controller. Sitting on top of the unit there is a the TR-S unit. This is a 16 step sequencer with built-in drum sounds from the legendary Roland TR 909, 808, 707 and 606 drum machines, and they sound like the real thing!
Now that might sound intimidating at first, but trust me, once you start playing around with it, the possibilities become clear. From simply dropping beats in your mix next to your regular tracks, to sequencing your samples to create entire tracks, the unit allows for so much creative expression, and all within an interface that is easy to understand and “to get into”.
The sequencer can also be operated through the performance pads – there is a “TR” mode available – and this allows for more creative and expressive pattern creation. Check out the video review for a demo of what I mean exactly.
VT Voice Transformer
There is a VT voice transformer as well, allowing you to alter your voice dramatically. There are knobs for EQ, Pitch, and Formant and there is even an Auto Pitch function that will adjust the pitch of your voice to the key of the playing Serato DJ tracks. Now I didn’t manage to make this (the Auto Pitch) work in my testing but that is surely due to my abominable singing qualities and not the DJ-808 🙂
Now I didn’t manage to make this (the Auto Pitch) work in my testing but that is surely due to my abominable singing qualities and not the DJ-808 🙂
The jog wheels on the Roland DJ-808 are absolutely amazing. Probably one of the best on the market. They are smooth, well weighted, and the latency is virtually zero, so using them feels natural.
They have LEDs in the center to indicate the position of the needle. I would love to see more manufacturers adopting the build in LCD screen that Numark has been fitting in the center of their jog wheels first with the Mixtrack Platinum and now with the NS6II, so hopefully, this trend will catch on and we will see more of this in the future. The center space of a jog wheel is valuable real estate on a DJ controller and should be used in the most efficient way.
There are SLIP and Censor buttons right next to the jog wheels, and that position works well.
Effects section & pitch fader
Nothing particular to say about the effects section, except that it’s well designed and works well with Serato DJ.
It’s a typical Serato DJ controller effect section with 3 knobs to control the effects, a beats encoder, a button per knob to activate the effect and a TAP button to manually set the BPM.
Transport & performance section
A key element in every DJ controller is the clarity and usability of the transport section. I firmly believe that when choosing a DJ controller, you need to feel comfortable with its ergonomics the first second you lay eyes on it.
If the first impression isn’t good, you will never be totally satisfied with it. In the case of the DJ-808, I’m absolutely satisfied with the look & feel. The different sections and functions are clearly labeled and separated into groups.
The key sync feature, that uses the Pitch ‘n Play plugin from Serato, is really cool and is actually the first implementation (sorry Denon DJ) that convinced me of its usefulness. Check out an example in the video below.
The loop section is self-explanatory, it just works. I wish more DJ controller manufacturers would go for simple solutions instead of trying to be original and ending up over complexifying things…
The performance pads are, obviously, of very high quality, and enable the usual Serato DJ performance features such as Hot Cues, Cue Loop, Roll, Slicer, Sampler, Pitch Play and more.
Additionally, there is the TR mode, that enables the sequencer mode, and allows you to sequence the drum sounds of the drum machine or your own samples. Great stuff!
Finally, we have the mixer section. The Roland DJ-808 has a fully independent hardware mixer, meaning that you can connect your media players and turntables to it without any problems.
The outputs are RCA and XLR master out, TRS Booth out. Inputs are RCA inputs for each channel (channel 1 & 2 are phono channels as well). There is also a MIDI out to sync other gear with the DJ-808, a USB hub, and the USB PC port.
The mixer itself is very neatly designed, with load buttons on top of each channel, effect selection buttons, trim knobs, a 3 band EQ, large VU meters per channel, the channel fx buttons in the middle and channel fx knob per channel, quality line faders and a replaceable crossfader.
The whole mixer layout is very clean, and the reason is that many options have been put on the front of the controller.
This makes all these features (line selectors for each channel, crossfader assign selector, headphone volume, mixing and inputs and finally the line & crossfader curves) a little less accessible, which should not be a problem as you won’t be changing these a lot during a gig anyway. But keep in mind that if you carry your controller in a case, changing these settings in a dark club could be difficult. I personally prefer a crammed mixer section but with all the knobs and switched within reach.
It’s fair to say I REALLY liked the DJ-808. It’s a unique blend of production gear combined with a superb Serato DJ controller, all that for USD 1.500. That’s a deal that’s hard to beat. The unit does feel a bit light, but the build quality itself is excellent, and ergonomically everything makes sense.
If you are big on jog wheels, the DJ-808 delivers. These are with ease one of the most qualitative jogs on a DJ controller ever, and the latency is almost non-existent.
The integration with Serato DJ is top notch, you will be combining sequenced samples and drum sounds with your tracks in no time. And while not everybody will be willing to bring those performance elements to their live sets, I’m convinced that little by little, bit by bit owning a DJ-808 will push you to be more creative, it’s just too hard to resist…