While traversing down the initial steps of DJing, I was on the hunt for a simple yet powerful DJ controller. One that was going to give me robust creative tools and wasn’t going to boggle my mind with complex features.
The Pioneer DDJ 400 is a phenomenal DJ controller with impressive mixing capabilities that touts a minimal club layout. It’s a perfect entry-level controller that’ll help you craft better DJing skills.
Things to Consider Before Buying a DJ Controller
A DJ controller combines all the equipment DJs need into one single unit. Rather than buying a mixer and two players separately, all the gear combines into one sleek device.
Plus, a DJ controller typically comes bundled with a copy of a DJing software to mix off a computer. Instead of buying everything separately, which can get pricey, DJs get an all-in-one system cheap.
DJ controllers are useful for DJs mixing strictly digital, as most support USB computer connectivity. They are lightweight and portable, which is great for DJs regularly on the go. I’ve been that guy lugging around several pieces of gear from show to show, and it gets exhausting.
For vinyl or scratch DJs, a DJ controller might not be the best option. Higher-end DJ controllers support multiple inputs from several players to integrate additional vinyl players and other devices. If you have the extra cash to shell out, then vinyl players & DJ controllers can work together. The budget limits most DJS, which leads them to a simpler 2-channel model.
While shopping for your ideal DJ controller, it’s essential to define your level of DJing proficiency. Lower-end models are barebones with limited creative tools. Entry-level DJ controllers have 2-channels with few or none effects, loops, hot cues, and sampling. Determine what elements you need for mixing, and that will guide you into the right DJ controller.
The Pioneer DDJ 400: A Quick Run-down
The Pioneer DDJ 400 is a USB powered 2-deck controller that gives beginner DJs some fun features for mixing. Unlike most entry-level models, the DDJ 400 comes with a decent set of FX, looping functions, and even sampling options. The controller can be used by elite DJs looking for a backup controller or one to be used at less-intensive gigs.
The controller’s connection options are basic. The Pioneer DDJ 400 has a headphone jack for headphone monitoring, direct to USB or standard RCA & 1/8 inch output for main speakers, and a ¼ inch mic out. The DDJ 400 comes with a copy of the Rekordbox DJ software.
Pioneer DDJ 400 Features & Benefits
Without a complete breakdown of the controller’s features, DJs wouldn’t know how the controller will benefit them. Let’s take a closer look at what the DDJ 400 has to offer.
Build & Layout
For the price point, the Pioneer DDJ 400 is built relatively well. It’s primarily plastic constructed, so it’s ultra-lightweight. You can easily transport the controller from house party to event space without breaking a sweat. Some DJs may scoff at the plastic construction, but It’s a rugged piece of gear that will hold up well against wear and tear.
Pioneer has refined the layout to mimic the company’s more advanced models. On the Pioneer DDJ 400, you’ll experience the company’s iconic look & design, just a bit more compact, that’s bread from the company’s elite product line.
Rekordbox DJ Software
The Pioneer DDJ 400 comes with a full version of the Rekordbox DJ software. Some controllers from various brands only bundle a trial or lite version. So, the DDJ 400 comes with a substantial free perk. The Rekordbox is a powerful DJing software with tremendous flexibility. Rekordbox can operate any Pioneer equipment, and even some gear made by other brands.
DJs can manage their music library via the cloud, thanks to Dropbox storage service. Rekordbox comes with a host of performance features, including a slew of sound effects triggered by the controller. It even has visual FX built-in for including lights or lyrics into a show.
The built-in tutorial mode is an incredible feature that not may controllers offer. It’ll get you up to speed on the necessary DJ skills and how to operate the Pioneer DDJ 400. While it’s not a comprehensive tutorial on DJing, it’s still a great way to get your feet wet in the fundamentals of DJing.
It’s quite refreshing to see a feature like this in an entry-level controller. Many DJs may call upon the tutorial to get started mixing.
Pioneer perfects newer generations by tweaking each model. While modifying the Pioneer DJ DDJ-400’s layout, in our humble opinion, the company squished the mixing section. It feels a tad bit cramped. It seems like your hands suddenly got a little larger just by operating the mixer.
The headphone cue/master knob and level knob used to be in the central part of the mixer but are now on the left side of the mixer section. The extra space delegated for the knobs was precious real estate for comfortable mixing.
Still, the mixing section has all the decent mixing features you’d expect from a Pioneer mixer. A 3-band EQ and dedicated lo/hi-pass filter gives DJs the essentials to EQ songs for mixing and transitions. Each channel has bright LED level meters, so it’s very apparent if you’ve set your amplitude too high. The trim knobs at the top are tactile, so DJs can dial-in volume levels efficiently.
There’s a dedicated FX section that I’ll cover down below. The channel faders and crossfaders feel fluid, with an optimal amount of resistance for a DJ’s fingers.
Located beside the mixing section, the FX controls on the Pioneer DJ DDJ 400 select deck 1, deck 2, or both deck FX together. Pioneer patterned the effects section off their top model DJM-900NXS2 but dumped it down a little bit.
There’s an FX select button that toggles down, or up if you hold shift, the available FX. While you can visually see which FX you are selecting in the Rekordbox DJ software, it would be nice to have an FX select knob, rather than just a button.
An added FX select knob would minimize the time taken from looking up at the software to select an FX. It’s not that big of a deal, especially if you do most of your mixing in the DJ software and often use a mouse in the process.
Two beat buttons let you program the FX to sync with the song’s BPM automatically or shorten or lengthen the beat or effect manually. They function exceptionally well.
There’s a level/depth knob to tune an effect’s application on top of the music, and an on/off switch to cut or add FX in a flash.
The DDJ 400 jogwheels are noteworthy, with capacitive jogwheels that are touch sensitive and respond spontaneously to your fingers. I’d say they’ve got too much responsiveness at times, that if you slightly bump them on accident, they’ll react. DJs need to be cautious while maneuvering around the DDJ 400’s Jogwheels.
They look flashy with a glossy top that also adds palpable traction to the fingertips. The rubber rim surrounding the jogwheels bring your thumbs naturally into the mixing process. At 5 inches in radius, Scratch DJs won’t get the surface area like regular turntables, but they’ll get every bit of resistance and heft with the DDJ-400’s jogwheels.
Most beginner DJ controllers have short pitch faders, which make beatmatching a grueling process. The Pioneer DJ DDJ 400’s long pitch faders allow you to tweak pitch down to millimeter increments – improving precision in matching the two deck’s tempos. The DDJ-400’s extended pitch faders optimize the beatmatching process for beginner DJs.
At the top of each deck, you’ll find the looping section similar to a Pioneer CDJ or XDJ. The controls aren’t straight forward like a simple loop in / loop out controls. It takes some practice and getting used to it.
Tap the loop in button once to engage the loop and tap it a second time to begin a four-beat auto loop. Press the exit button to escape out of the loop, or to re-engage the previous loop. Press The cue/loop call buttons to make the loop double or half time. The cue/loop call buttons also let you cycle through preset loops in the software, which is useful for DJs that do their due diligence in preparing before the set.
If the DDJ 400 perks your interest but doesn’t exactly have what you want in a DJ controller, check out these other similar options with a little bit of a different spin.
Pioneer DDJ 200
The DDJ-200 is a fantastic DJ controller for those that are just getting their sea legs underneath them in the DJing world, or who want a fun party favor for people to play around with at the next Friday night hang out. It’s a basic DJ controller that still has the stylish Pioneer club-style hang out. There’s no crazy effects or fancy mixing features on it.
It conveniently supports consumer-based playback methods, like playing tracks from phone apps and cloud streaming services. Anybody can get their start DJing on the DDJ-200. Plus, it doesn’t cost too much and is very compact.
- Basic DJ controller that’s cheap and compact
- Supports streaming services such as Soundcloud, TIDAL, and Deezer
- Mix directly from a computer or mobile apps like WeDJ for iPhone, djay, and edjing
You can check out our review of the Pioneer DDJ-200 here.
Roland DJ 202
If the DDJ-400 doesn’t have enough production value that you need, the Roland DJ 202 steps the mixing possibilities up a notch. It’s got many features of a full-sized professional controller in a durable, compact format. Built-in drum kits and sampler into the DJ 202 will help you produce beats on the fly.
It comes with Serato DJ Lite, which will give you a proper perspective on the top-dog in DJing software. The controller has two channels, but you can connect up to four decks on it. Mic input has gate, hi-pass, reverb, and echo FX to add extra flavor to vocalists.
- Pro music production features like built-in drum kits, sampler, and sequencer
- Eight sounds in each drum kit: Bass drum, snare drum, closed hat, open hat, top, rim, clap, ride
- Two-channel, four-deck DJ controller
- Mix on Serato DJ Lite, a version of the industry-leading DJing software
The DDJ-SB3 is another beginner DJ controller by Pioneer but has some key differences that distinguish it between the Pioneer DDJ-400. It’s got larger jogwheels for scratch DJs that need a little more room to work their fingertips. Pioneer departs from their Rekordbox DJing software and bundles the DDJ-SB3 with Serato Scratch Lite, so you can master the art of scratching even further.
You don’t even need to use the jogwheels to add scratches into the mix with the DDJ-SB3’s pad scratch feature. You can add scratches reproduced from the iconic DJ jazzy Jeff’s custom scratch samples.
Whether you’re a beginner or veteran DJ, the FX Fade feature will smooth out the transitions between songs. Choose from eight combinations of four FX Fade patterns.
- Large, low latency jog wheels for incredible scratch response
- Bundled with Serato Scratch Lite DJ software
- Pad Scratch with eight samples from DJ Jazzy Jeff’s prolific scratch recordings
- FX Fade patterns to smooth-out transitions
The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is featured in our 15 Best DJ Controllers of 2020.
Most beginner DJs don’t know where to start to train up their DJing skills. The Pioneer DDJ 400 gives a DJ incredible mixing options and creative tools to bring their DJing level up a few notches.
The long pitch faders help any DJ dial-in beatmatching quicker. The Rekordbox DJ software with the Beat FX section on the controller will elevate your mixing style. The capacitive jogwheels are super-responsive to a DJ’s fingers and make scratching and beat nudging a natural process.The Pioneer DDJ 400 is worth a once-over if you are a beginner DJ or an advanced DJ needing extra gear. Click here to get the full scoop on the Pioneer DDJ 400 and to make a purchase!