The DJ-202 is the new entry-level controller in the Roland DJ controller range. And for an entry-level controller, it comes packed with a lot of interesting features.
It’s impossible not to see the resemblance to the Pioneer DJ DDJ-RB, in terms of overall design:
We are not going to go into the details here regarding the differences between the DJ-202 and the DDJ-RB, but suffice to say that if you are looking for an entry level Serato DJ controller, both will probably be on your shortlist, or at least, they should be.
The controller is encased in plastic and as a result is light and portable. This doesn’t mean it’s not well built: all buttons and knobs are tightly fitted and feel solid. The jog wheels are excellent, and frankly one of the best in this price range. More on that later.
The big attraction on the DJ-202 is the built-in sequencer and drum machine. Both are a bit cumbersome to operate since the controller doesn’t have any clear markings to indicate which pattern, drum kit or instrument sits behind the pads, but that comes with the low price.
Let’s dive into the details. If you prefer to go straight to the video review, check the bottom of this article!
Features & functionalities
The effects section on the DJ-202 is simple but effective: 3 buttons to select Serato effects, 1 button for TAP or to toggle between effect modes and a level knob sets the intensity of the active effect(s) and that doubles as a beats selector. Unlike the DJ-505, it’s not possible to assign the sampler/sequencer to the effects section.
The fact the level knob doubles as the beats knob as well can be a little confusing, as you might get the two (changing the amount of effect versus setting the beats of the effect) confused in the heat of the (mix)moment. But that is a small complaint.
The pitch fader
The pitch fader suffers the “Pioneer DJ’s entry-level controller disease” and is very small. Not ideal, but not unworkable either. Apart from the size, it’s smooth but weighted enough to be usable for manual beatmatching.
The jog wheels
The jog wheels on the DJ-202 are really remarkable. They are very responsive and the latency is one of the lowest I have seen in an entry-level DJ controller. Scratch DJ’s should be pleased!
There is also a dedicated slip/vinyl button. My only critique here is that there is no way of knowing if slip mode is on without looking at your computer screen, a small led indicator would have been handy here.
Performance pads, transport & sequencer/drum machine
As the title of this section suggests, there is a lot going on in this part of the DJ-202, and that is both a good and a bad thing. A good thing because you get a lot for your money:
- 8 performance pads to control hot cues, loops, loop rolls, sample, slicer…
- A built-in sequencer, usable with the Serato DJ sampler or the built-in drum machine
- 16 pre-recorded drum patterns ready to use
That’s a lot.
At the same time, the sequencer/pattern/drum machine functionality is hard to use, and you will probably need to go through the manuals to fully grasp it. There is no indication of what kit or instrument is under which pad, so you will have to memorize them in order to use them. This is both the curse as the blessing of the DJ-202, as including a separated sequencer, as on the DJ-505 and the DJ-808 would be prohibitive. So you get a lot for your cash, but it will take you a bit to get the hang of it.
The pads themselves are what you can expect in this price range. These are no velocity sensitive rubber pads found on high-end controllers and groove boxes, these pads are actually buttons that offer limited responsiveness and as such aren’t suited for finger drumming. But you couldn’t expect more, could you?
The mixer continues the same approach as the rest of the controller: simple but effective. Two channels, full kill EQ’s, trim and filter knobs per channel, a basic music library management & navigation section, everything you need to mix properly is there.
The line faders are well weighted, and the crossfader is nice and loose. There is a master VU, but no separated line VU meters.
A few interesting things are going on the middle section of the mixer. First of all, there are several knobs here: Master level, headphone cue/master, phones level and sampler level. I really like the fact Roland put these knobs here as this makes them easily accessible compared to having them on the front.
The sampler/sequencer also has a cue button, which is very handy, and again, rare on a controller at this price level. Below that, there are sync and start/stop buttons for the sequencer.
Inputs & outputs
The DJ-202 doesn’t have a lot of inputs & outputs. A simple, basic RCA stereo output, a microphone input with a volume knob on the back and the USB port to connect the DJ-202 to your computer. There is also a MIDI out port, which allows syncing the sequencer of the DJ-202 to an external midi device. That’s a nice addition, and it underlines the genes of the DJ-202.
The front panel is nice and clean, with a single 1/4 inch headphone jack input.
So overall, how good is the DJ-202? I would say, in the current offer of competing entry-level Serato DJ controllers I would put it pretty high, something like this:
- Numark Mixtrack Platinum
- Denon DJ MC 4000/Roland DJ-202
- Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2
- Hercules DJControl Jogvision
Yep, I think the Roland DJ-202 is that good. It really brings a lot of things together that I like.
If you are into sampling and sequencing, the DJ-202 is your dream startup controller. It brings you into a word of remixing and sampling for a very affordable price, and it supports Serato DJ, which means that when you are ready for something more high-end, you can keep using Serato DJ and move to different hardware.
If you couldn’t care less about samples and the built-in drum machine, then the DJ-202 is still a good choice: great jog wheels, very well implemented performance pads, easy to use mixer section… I put the Mixtrack Platinum above it simply because those built-in screens in the jog wheels are so cool and handy.
Roland has created a very competitive line of DJ controllers, and with the DJ-202, they have a winner on their hands in the budget low end of the DJ controller market.
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