This past summer I made my first foray into buying a DJ controller. I know its a crazy world: the same year Shure discontinues their needles, including the much loved N44-7, Dougie buys his first controller: these are crazy dj times. After a year of researching, I eventually settled on the Roland DJ-505 from their Aira series of Serato controllers (DJ-808, DJ-505 and the smaller DJ-202). This series of controllers are, coincidentally, Roland’s first foray into making a dj controller.
Why did I choose the Roland DJ-505?
I settled on it, primarily, because of its much toted low-latency platters and its sound card. For the most part it is the same layout and price point as your Pioneer DDJ-SR2. The Roland also comes with a free Serato Tool Kit license (which includes Serato Pitch ‘n Time DJ, Serato Flip, and all Serato DJ FX packs) for free. Which I hadn’t purchased yet, so that was a plus. But its most distinct feature, which makes it stand apart from most controllers, is the addition of the TR-S drum machine (Roland style step-sequencer/drum machine) on top. When I first saw it last year, to be honest, I thought it was a bit gimmicky. Do I really need an addition of a drum machine? Will it sound monotonous, repetitious or worse shoes in a dryer when I combine the drum machine with the songs from Serato? And to be honest, my initial impressions have been really good. As long as your grids are lined up you can get some really good results. The drum machine features the sounds from Roland’s classic TR-707, 808, or 909 sounds or you can even use your own samples. But what really sold me was the inclusion of a midi out that send midi clock tempo (e.g. send midi out to a 303, Volca, MPC…).
Track Freeze Problem (THE BAD)
My first impressions were good….until a couple months into it. While using my DJ-505 with Serato DJ at home, I started getting this reoccurring error. This anomaly usually happened while I was manipulating the left platter (sometimes the right) and sometimes in conjunction with performance pads / play button. The track would “freeze” in Serato. By freeze, I mean the play button in Serato would be engaged (blue / active) but the track would not play. Even on the controller the play button would be engaged (green) but the track itself would not advance. You could hit the cue points or pads and it would respond normally: it would go to the cue point, you would hear the sound and could even hold them down to make the track play normally. But as soon as you release the button it would stop. You could switch to another channel (e.g. 1 to 3) but inevitably the same problem would occur on those channels as well, until both/all channels were stuck. The time frame for such an occurrence could happen from two minutes to three hours into DJing.
The only thing you could do to remedy the situation is to turn off the DJ-505 and turn it back on, which would take about 25 seconds. However, 25 seconds of silence might as well be an hour when you are DJing to a crowd. When the music or sound stops at an event, it feels like the air is being sucked out of the room. There will be booing, there will be chanting of: “turn it on!” Because of this I have been hooking up my laptop’s 3.5mm jack to an external mixer. In case it happens I can segue to something on iTunes. Not a perfect work around, believe me, but the only one I can think of. The only other precaution you can take is to limit the use of the platter altogether, however, a controller you cannot touch is a bit ridiculous.
So, after a bit of research I found out it was not an isolated incident with many owners complaining about this problem with not only the DJ-505, but the 202s and the DJ-808 as well. So, with warranty in hand, I contacted Roland (Canada) and currently, my unit is in the Roland shop being fixed for a SECOND time. The repairs people at Roland have been courteous and helpful. Its not their fault that Roland released this half-baked “concept”. But I am beginning to lose faith.
UPDATE: After having received my DJ-505 back (twice) it appeared to be working for about a year, then the problem returned. As it stands I would NOT recommend the Roland DJ-505. I highly enjoying using the DJ-505 features. Its light weight, platter response, soundcard, drum machine and midi output are all desirable features and a lot of fun to use. My recommendation: if you buy one make sure you hold your receipt tightly for warranty, in case you got a bad one. This defect (which I assume is due to the platter contacts) affects some of the units. What percentage is unclear.
Roland DJ-505 Review
- Great soundcard (for Serato DJ) for an under $1000 CAD.
- Low-latency platter (very responsive *when it works)
- Roland TRS-808/909 style Drum machine/step sequencer
- Midi Out (sends midi clock out)
- Comes with free Serato Tool Kit license
- Some units have a defect, that freezes Serato tracks.
- Phono inputs do not sound good (might not be ideal for the centre of your set up)
- Some tracking problems with certain needles when used with a turntable
- No onboard effects (all in Serato)