Pioneer DDJ-T1 review

Another day, another digital DJ interface: hardware controllers for Traktor and other mixing software occupy an expanding market, to be sure, and Pioneer's latest entry into the upmarket side of the fold is a beefy contender. Its differentiating features are distinctly vinyl-flavored: a pair of grooved, free-spinning jog-wheels with lighted time indicators and a pair of "needle search" touch strips. Are they forward-thinking innovations or just another cultural tip of the hat to an ancient medium? Click on to reveal our deepest thoughts on the gunmetal-tinted, Terminator-inspired* DDJ-T1.

*Terminator inspiration purely conjectural

Right out of the box you'll notice that the DDJ-T1 is more "envelope" than "8.5 by 11" in the dimensions department. It's wide -- just a hair under 27 inches -- and slightly more than a foot deep. If you've ever brought one of these interfaces to a club, you've already learned to ignore the strange looks you get when you tell them you'll not be using their industry-standard Serato hookup, thank you very much. But if you were thinking about sharing the booth with other equipment you might want to, you know, change your outlook pretty quickly. This thing needs its own tabletop for sure.

Like some other serious controllers on the market, the DDJ-T1 requires its own unique installation of Traktor (you guessed it: "DDJ-T1 Edition," which is included in the box) to function properly. We tried importing DDJ-T1 controller settings to our usual versions of Traktor (Pro and S4 Editions), but the controller mapping just wouldn't play nicely with us. This trend is frustrating, to say the least: we've been using the S4 edition for a few months now, and all of the library information we had created there went completely missing in the DDJ-T1 edition. So plan on re-building and re-analyzing any playlists you had had in any other version other than Traktor Pro. Bite that bullet, though, and you'll ready to rock in no time.

The shining five-inch jog wheels were a little more vinylesque on top than we were expecting: the slightly grooved brushed metal concoction felt just right under our fingertips. There seemed to be a lot more play in these wheels than in other controllers, so that when you give it a good spin it will continue to rotate for a brief period after you take your hand off. This is another nice vinyl analog (no pun intended, y'all). Pioneer has definitely put everything it learned from producing top-of-the-line CDJ jog wheels right into the face of the DDJ-T1: they are hands-down the best jog wheels we've ever encountered in one of these controllers. The "Needle Search" touch strips lay a scale model of your songs across a five-inch strip to give you a quick and easy way to skip around. We didn't find it particularly useful, as we're still mouse-and-keyboard addicts. But we could picture this being a great way to further remove your hands from the computer, if that's what you're going for.

We came to be very impressed with the visual design of the box. Our normal weapon of choice is the Traktor Kontrol S4 box, a definitively matte-black affair. The DDJ-T1's semi-reflective dark silver finish was a really nice change: for some reason it seems to provide more contrast to the text printed on the body and the knobs themselves (by the way, they're hard potentiometer-style knobs, not "infinite"). The knobs in the transport section are all black, while their friends in FX are gray - the main FX buttons and knobs are also set within a dark gray square. While it may not seem like a huge deal on paper, it's really nice to look at in person. With so many knobs in such a small space, every little dividing line becomes helpful as you're trying to navigate the face of the controller. When we switched back to the S4 we ended up really missing all of this subtle differentiation and contrast between sections.

There are other nice touches that pepper the DDJ-T1. We REALLY love the fact that there are two headphone outs -- one is 1/4-inch and one is 1/8-inch, in case you left your adapter at home. This is one of those "duh" ideas that makes it hard to believe every modern DJ device doesn't feature it. There are also two removable legs that give the unit a little boost off the table -- just enough room to slide your laptop body underneath. It's a really nifty trick, but we can't really picture ourselves wanting to go without the keyboard to search for tracks by name. The larger-than-necessary play and cue buttons help solidify ties to more analog-feeling hardware. Partly because of all the horizontal real estate available on the DDJ-T1, there's a kind of verbosity at play here that we're really into: very little is abbreviated. "HEADPHONES" has all of its vowels instead of being just "HPN." And whoever thought you'd have the luxury of fitting the word "FAVORITES" on a controller? We also really came to enjoy the browse and load section: it's super-intuitive to jump back and forth between browse and deck modes and load selections into any of the four decks via a dedicated load button for each.


These days, you have loads of options with DJ controllers, so it really just comes down to what you prefer in a box and what you can spend. At $1,099 it's clear that this top-of-the-line interface isn't for everyone. But if you're in the market for something to add permanently to your studio, or don't mind dealing with the wide footprint and heft if you're traveling, it's hard to go wrong here. The big, honking jog wheels and familiar Pioneer mixing elements bring the experience a little closer to vinyl, and we can see this box luring Serato users into a less turntable-inhabited world. The whole package looks and feels cohesive enough that you can kind of forget what you're using and just hone your DJ craft like DJ AM would've wanted you to.