The Technics 1200 is the industry standard for a DJ turntable – anything else is an imitation. For DJ CD players, Denon and Pioneer have long battled for control. I started with a Denon dual deck 2000 and later a 2500. A twist of fate brought a pair of Pioneer CDJ100s into my life and for more than 10 years, those little guys still run like clockwork. They keep on playing while taking a beating. This is one reason why I have been anxiously awaiting a DJ controller from Pioneer. After years of using a Numark Total Control and then the Vestax VCI-100, the Pioneer DJ-ERGO-v looks like it could be a worthy replacement.
What Is It?
The Pioneer DDJ-ERGO-v DJ Controller is a USB-based midi controller that works with both PC and Mac systems. Specifically made to work with Virtual DJ software, the unit joins the Pioneer line of controllers for Traktor (DDJ-T1) and Serato (DDJ-S1).
Layout – First Look and Feel
Imagine two CDJ 100 CD players with a small mixer compressed to fit in the width of less than two vinyl records and you’ve got the basic layout. On the top, there are two banks of effects controls with triggers and knobs. An effectively placed center knob finds and loads songs on both sides of the mixer. The back has all the inputs (switchable microphone/auxiliary RCA), outputs (RCA and quarter) and a USB connection. The front has both quarter and eighth inch headphone inputs.
The unit is lightweight yet feels really sturdy. Just about all the knobs have center-detente and the large size jog wheels feel quite similar to CDJ decks. The sliders for volume and pitch control are firm and very responsive which makes the crossfader feel a little bit flimsy by comparison as there is little resistance to it.
The DDJ-ERGO-v was simple to setup. On the Mac, I installed Virtual DJ LE, plugged in the Ergo, started the software and it was ready to go in under ten minutes. The controller is also compatible with Serato DJ Intro and Traktor 2 via downloads from the Pioneer website. As soon as the DDJ-ERGO turns on, the machine lights up and I am not talking about a small light… EVERYTHING lights up and starts flashing. If you are going to use this in a dark club, there won’t be any problems finding you – you might not even need a light show.
As someone who has laptop DJed for nearly ten years, I am a bit set in my ways. I am used to my controller working and running in a certain way. When I review new equipment, I have to remember that there is more than one way to skin the proverbial cat. With that in mind, controlling Virtual DJ with the DDJ-ERGO was a no-brainer. The unit is easy enough for a newcomer to use with lights that help sync up beat mixes (mix pulse), those that show the beat pattern (beat pulse) and ones that identify when a track has been loaded (launch pulse). FX pulse lights also indicate on which deck the FX are being used. Going back and forth between tracks was quite simple to do with the pitch controller. The outside of the wheel makes a great nudge to help catch the beat while the top surface skips quickly through the track. The sync button takes a little getting used to – rather than just syncing the track to the other playing – there is some trick to set it to the master deck each time you switch sides. It took me a little while to figure this out.
With the basics out of the way, the time came to really dive into it. When switching from audio to video mixing, I wasn’t crazy about how video transitioning was controlled by a button rather than a slider. You simply press a button and it transitions the video for you. I went into Config and changed the crossfader to become a video crossfader rather than audio. It took less than a minute to figure this out and I was then able to control the video transition speed. (Note: If you do this, make sure that the audio crossfader is set to its center before you change it. After I switched it to be a video crossfader, it took me a few minutes to realize that I had to switch to mixer controls to set the audio back in the middle.)
The auxiliary input in the back is a nice touch as you can plug in an iPod or an external cd player to run through the mixer. The only catch is that there is no way to monitor what is going to come through. In other words, there is a volume control for an auxiliary input, but you can’t tell what’s playing until it’s live. The switch to control auxiliary/microphone is on the back which makes it a little awkward to switch. In contrast, the illuminated buttons that allow you to control and switch between two separate decks are perfectly placed and easy to use. Another awkward point is the positioning of the tempo control. I am used to a controller being mirrored: cut it down the middle and everything is symmetrical (like the Numark Total Control and Vestax VCI-100.) By mirroring two CDJ decks, the left tempo control is right next to the volume sliders for mixing. I can see myself hitting the wrong slider by mistake. The saving grace here is that the volume slider is illuminated by a light flashing to the beat.
This also brings up the light show. While the flashing lights are very useful for beginners, they get almost excessive after a while. Luckily, the light show can be disabled by pressing SHIFT+Vinyl. If you don’t disable them, it looks like you are riding a bike with training wheels. However one set of lights that are notable missing are volume/gain levels. Virtual DJ lacks a master volume level meter and so does the DDJ-ERGO-v.
Overall, the DDJ-ERGO is quite solid and works great right out of the box. Most of my critiques are personal preferences about things I don’t like in a controller.
– The back legs of the DDJ-ERGO slope the unit up so that it covers the keyboard of the laptop. As someone who uses the keyboard to search for song titles and artists, it’s a useless feature for me. The legs can be removed with two screws.
– The auxiliary/mic inputs are a great feature but with no way to monitor/preview them in the headphones, they could be a crap shoot when using them live.
– The knobs in the center for cue/headphone volume are a little too squeezed in between the EQ knobs. Another centimeter on both sides would have made a world of difference.
– The left deck pitch is too close for me to the volume sliders. Though that might just be my being used to having those controls mirrored in a layout.
– The sync/shift operation take some getting used to.
– There are no LED meters for volume levels of line or master output.
The DDJ-ERGO is a very well-designed controller clearly aimed at the novice DJ that can definitely be used by any experienced DJ out there. It’s a really great value at $699 when compared to everything similar on the market – especially when you consider the unit offers both RCA and quarter outputs with really good sound. Pioneer makes solid, high-quality gear that lasts a long time. The DDJ-ERGO feels like it can take a lot of abuse and keep working. If you are on the market for an all-in-one software controller and sound card, the DJ ERGO-v is a great piece of gear at a very competitive price.
What is it: A hardware controller with sound card bundled with Virtual DJ LE.
Who is it for: DJs from entry-level to professional.
How long does it take to set up: About 10 minutes.
What is required for its use: PC or MAC
Difficulty level: 2/5 (1 is easy, 5 is difficult)
Are there any limitations of the included software: Virtual DJ LE is usable in a club situation but there are limitations with the amount of decks, video output and effects it offers.
Reviewed November 2011
Ranking: 4.5 / 5