The DJ-808 is the first DJ controller by Roland that introduces the company as a player in the DJ market. I had the pleasure of playing on the DJ-808 when Roland Canada launched its flagship Inspiration Centre in Toronto. The DJ-808 is an exciting DJ controller for many DJs, especially with the addition of the 16-step TR-S Sequencer. After my first gig using the DJ-808, I was curious to find out more and tried it out for a test run in my studio.
The DJ-808 is a large DJ controller that's made of sleek matte black plastic and features 24 bit/96 kHz audio fidelity. The layout is straightforward, with a four-channel mixer in the centre, decks on either side and TR-S Sequencer and VT sections on top. External instruments can be connected via MIDI or Roland's AIRA Link USB, so you can jam along with Serato using Roland's AIRA instruments.
Installation is simple; download the driver for the DJ-808 from Roland's website and download Serato DJ. Once these two pieces of software are installed, simply open Serato and the DJ-808 is instantly mapped to Serato. Within minutes, you can be up and running on the DJ-808.
On the back of the DJ-808 there are two RCA phono/line inputs, a phono ground and two RCA line inputs. There's also three USB ports, two XLR Master Outputs, an RCA output and 1/4” booth output. There's an XLR microphone input to connect a microphone, and Mic Sensitivity adjust. There's also an input for connecting Roland's power supply, which comes with the DJ-808. It's worth noting that in order to connect turntables or CDJs, a Serato DVS license must be purchased.
In the middle of the DJ-808 is the mixer section. The controller features a four-channel mixer, with trim, a three-band EQ and an assignable FX filter on each channel. There's a fifth channel in between channels one and two that can be used for either the TR-S sequencer or the Sampler. Serato's FX can be assigned to any mixer channel by pressing either FX 1 or 2. Channel Effects are available on the DJ-808 in the centre of the mixer, and a Dub Echo, Jet FX, Noise or Filter can be assigned to any of the four FX knobs. I liked the sound of all four FX; they can be utilized creatively in a DJ set. One nice addition would have been to have an FX knob on the TR/Sampler channel so that the DJ-808's Channel Effects could be applied to sequenced rhythms.
On the front of the mixer are 1/4” and 1/8” headphone jacks, as well as volume and mixing controls for the headphone cue. The Line input for each channel is set on the front of the mixer, and the crossfader curve adjust and channel fader slope can also be adjusted. Overall the DJ-808 has an intuitive layout and the controls are well designed and spaced.
It's a snap to get started playing the DJ-808. It's helpful if you have knowledge of how to operate Serato, but DJs who haven't used Serato or DJ controllers will be able to learn to navigate this controller. Tracks can easily be loaded into Serato by using the Rotary selector, and there are Load buttons on top of each of the channel strips. The deck sections located on either side of the controller control four decks; the left-hand side controls Decks 1 & 3 and the right-hand side Decks controls 2 & 4.
In the Deck Section, there are many familiar DJ controller features, including a Jog wheel, Tempo slider, Key Sync button and Loop Area for engaging loops. The Jog wheel is quite large and feels good under your hands. I found it could be used for basic skratching or to make small adjustments to the pitch of the track you're playing. More unique features on the DJ-808 include eight Performance Pads and the Pad Mode select, which sets the parameters for pad modes including Hot Cue, Roll, TR and Sampler. I particularly liked the Roll mode, which allows you to enter into Slicer mode and slice parts of the track that are playing. The velocity sensitive pads are good quality, respond quickly when pressed and feel good under fingertips.
Undeniably, my favourite part of the DJ-808 controller is the 16-step sequencer that's located at the top. The sequencer lets DJs create a rhythmic track that can be layered or added to grooves that are playing in Serato using the sounds of the TR-909, TR-808, TR-707 or TR-606 rhythm machines. It's a simple sequencer with only kick, snare, closed hat and hi-hat sounds, but I feel these drums sounds are enough to add unique percussive patterns to your sets. The Sequencer syncs with Serato's tempo and there are useful controls for adjusting the Trim, Attack (for the BD and SD ony) Tuning and Decay of each sample. I like the fact that there are faders for each drum sound, which allow you to mix each drum's volume individually. In the TR-S section, there's also controls for Serato's sampler with four banks of eight samples available. Serato's sampler can be controlled with the TR-S sequencer, which opens new possibilities for those who are open to experiment. The TR-S sequencer is a great addition to the DJ-808 controller; one that really makes this controller stand out from the rest on the market.
My one wish is that the overall level of the TR/Sampler was a little louder; I found even with the TR/Sampler fader all the way up the drum sounds were sometimes a little quieter than the tracks in my collection. Other than that, the TR-S Sequencer makes the DJ-808 a joy to use and provides an all-in-one solution to DJs who'd previously been bringing their TR-8 with them to gigs.
On the right-hand side of the controller is the VT section, where vocal effects can be applied to mic inputs. This is an interesting section for DJs who work with emcees or do a lot of vocal work themselves. A good feature is the ducking section, which lowers the output volume of any sounds that are not mic sounds when the mic input is active. There's also an Auto Pitch button, which pitch corrects vocals and Pitch, Formant and Reverb knobs to further tweak and transform vocal sounds. The mic effects are a wonderful addition and may save DJs who enjoy using live vocal FX the cost of buying Roland's VT-3. All around the VT section is another innovative addition to this controller.
I think that the DJ-808 is a solid and stylish DJ controller that will benefit many DJs. I see it being most useful for mobile DJs, home use or perhaps in a club install in a small to medium-sized venue. One of its strengths and drawbacks is its size. It's a rather large controller, which makes it easy to use because it's well laid out, but its footprint makes it a challenge to take on the road. That being said, additions like the TR-S Sequencer and VT section might make it worthwhile to carry to gigs. Overall, it's a well-made and intelligently designed controller. It's perfect for DJs who use Serato, although at the present moment there are no mappings available for other DJ software programs. I recommend you try out this new controller yourself to formulate your own opinion and see if you think the DJ-808 has what it takes for Roland to make it in the DJ market.
Pros: TR-S Sequencer and VT Section, Large jog wheels, Great layout and design.
Its size could be challenging to take on the road, no FX knob on the TR/Sampler channel, fairly pricey controller, no mappings available for other DJ software programs yet.