Despite the protestations of the die-hard old skool vinyl crowd and their never-ending loud vocalisations espousing the unique qualities of vinyl, the fact of the matter is that these days DJing is all about digital devices. While it is true that vinyl sales have seen a decent boost of late, most of these releases are aimed at collectors and will never see action in a DJ booth — and when it comes TO volume of sales, DJ controllers dwarf turntable sales by as much as 600 percent.
So clearly these days for manufacturers and DJs alike it is all about the controllers, and so it is hardly surprising that an ever-intensifying controller war has been fought in recent years, with the industry giants all wanting the crown of ultimate DJ controller for their flagship devices.
Two DJ controllers that have earned reputations as being the best of the best are Pioneer's DDJ-SZ and Numark's NS7II — both of which are second generation versions of extremely popular controllers. Both of these controllers are packed to the gills with the kind of cutting-edge technology that keeps DJs awake at night.
In some ways the NS7II and the DDJ-SZ are very different controllers, each with their own set of unique features. Both of these controllers have their own distinct character that will appeal to different DJs in terms of performance style, personal taste, work-flow as well as their familiarity (not to mention the love or hate) of CDJs and turntable-based DJing. However, there is also a lot that these two controllers have in common, such as being designed to work with Serato DJ.
Both these controllers have fully featured four-channel mixers and two large deck sections, which have very similar-sized platters. So on paper at least, both of these controllers have similar basic specifications — but the cost of ownership is surprisingly skewed in favour of the NS7II. This retails at around £979, compared with the much larger figure of £1749 that's required to take home Pioneer's DDJ-SZ.
Of course, given the popularity of the DDJ-SZ, it is clear that many DJs are willing to pay this higher price, and thus it is safe to assume that there are features to be found within this device that make it worth the hefty price tag. But it is also worth noting that it always makes sense to shop around and do one's homework to find the right controller for your own personal needs and preferences — which isn't always the most expensive option.
When un-boxing these controllers the first thing that is immediately obvious is the rather impressive size and weight. Both have huge footprints requiring the same sort of space that two decks and a decent-sized mixer would require. In terms of sheer weight, the NS7 is the heaviest thanks to the all-metal construction, while the DDJ-SZ is the largest overall.
Both controllers have four-channel mixers complete with channel faders, three-band EQ, individual channel VU meters and effect control knobs for Serato DJs effects. Unique to the DDJ-SZ are the built-in Sound Colour Effects as found on Pioneer's high-end mixers, as well as a dedicated channel for external inputs with gain controls for each of the two external input channels and combined low and high EQ knobs.
The NS7II has its own special set of features in the form of touch-sensitive effect knobs with three modes and a strip of LEDs, which serves as a BPM meter to give visual feedback on how closely beat-matched tracks are.
The design of the deck sections slightly differ, with Pioneer opting for a more packed and busy (bordering on cluttered) control surface, and Numark keeping things more minimal with a fairly sparse design where all of the various controls are well spaced. The deck sections are mirror images of each other on the NS7II, whereas Pioneer have kept to their CDJ-style side-by-side layout — and both controllers are dominated by lovely large jog wheels.
The DDJ-SZ features the same style jog wheels as found on the CDJ2000, complete with the lovely LCD display at the centre. The NS7II is all about those seven-inch motorised platters with vinyl and slipmats, which really do feel like SL1200 turntables and will instantly melt the heart of anyone who grew up playing vinyl.
Both controllers share more than a few features, such as MPC-style pad control buttons which are slightly sexier on the DDJ-SZ thanks to the colour assign feature, and both have strip-search-style touch controllers, with the NS7II winning the design award here thanks to the illuminated edge and better positioning than the DDJ-SZ.
Of course, one of the big selling points of the DDJ-SZ is the almost identical layout and work-flow to the CDJ2000, which will be instantly familiar to most professional DJs and offers the chance to gain familiarity with the CDJ way of DJing at a much more reasonable price than the cost of a pair of CDJ2000Nexus players.
The decision to buy any DJing equipment ultimately comes down to personal choice, and what feels right for one DJ may not for another. We cannot stress the importance of getting some hands-on time with any controllers that DJs may be considering purchasing.
That said, as a general rule of thumb DJs who have been born and raised on turntables and enjoy a bit of turntablism along with a side order of scratching are likely to find that the Numark NS7 is their preferred weapon of choice, as nothing can beat the feeling of real vinyl on a proper turntable-style rotating platter.
Of course, that's not to say that Pioneer's DDJ-SZ can't be used to devastating effect when it comes to cutting and scratching, but it does take a little time to get used to the CDJ-style platters when coming straight from turntables. DJs who are experienced with CDJs will take to the DDJ-SZ like a duck to water and there is also the additional advantage of the CDJ work-flow and response that will make DDJ-SZ owners feel right at home when using CDJ players — for those times when their controller is not available or won't fit into DJ booths.
There is no argument that the NS7II is a fantastic controller that will suit many DJs perfectly, especially given its rather keen price point but when it comes to features the DDJ-SZ wins out — neatly justifying the extra cost. Features like the eight-inch CDJ2000-style jog wheels with LCD display, dedicated effects, filter and oscillator channels, colour assignable MPC pads and dual soundcards make the DDJ-SZ a force to be reckoned with.
For club DJs especially, the fact that the DDJ-SZ has the same work-flow and nearly identical features to the CDJ2000 is likely to be a deciding factor when choosing between these controllers, especially as few DJ boxes will be able to accommodate the massive size of either the NS7II or the DDJ-SZ. Given the impressive weight of both of these controllers, the novelty of lugging them around between gigs will wear off very soon indeed. The truth is, no matter which of these controllers DJs may purchase, they will have picked a winner. Both are fantastically designed and engineered pieces of professional DJ equipment built to the highest standards.
Pioneer DDJ SZ - £1749
Build Quality 9
Ease of Use 8
Value For Money 8
Sound Quality 9
Large eight-inch CDJ2000-style platters, colour assignable MPC pads, dual soundcards for multi-computer connection.
The strip-search touch pad is located poorly and is easy to accidentally engage, the control surface layout is bordering on cluttered, and this is one big controller both in terms of size and price.
Pioneer's DDJ-SZ deserves its status as their flagship Serato controller. It is beautifully designed, packed to the gills with great features and offers great value for money for those who desire a CDJ layout and work-flow.
Numark NS7II - £979
Build Quality 9
Ease of Use 9
Value For Money 9
Sound Quality 9
Fantastic seven-inch motorised platters complete with slipmats and vinyl, uncluttered and user-friendly control surface, dedicated hot cue buttons and illuminated effect knobs.
This controller is heavy! Especially if combined with a proper flight case.
Numark's NS7II is a fantastic controller thanks to the amazing platters that feel almost identical to an SL1200, the beautiful build quality and its all metal construction.
WORDS: Scott Gates
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