Azer Tests Out the New Roland DJ-808
Roland and Serato recently teamed up to produce the Roland DJ-808, a DJ controller for Serato DJ with MIDI sampler and built-in drum machine and vocal transformer. Roland got in touch with Chase editor-in-chief, Azer, who’s also resident DJ at ‘All Eyes On Hip Hop’ and asked him to test out their new controller. Here, Azer gives his breakdown of the Roland DJ-808.
To be honest I’ve never used a controller before. I started DJing 15 years ago when, as a hip hop DJ, vinyl records and turntables where the only way to go. When Serato came out 10 years ago we were mind blown as it opened a whole new world of being able to still use turntables and vinyl but play tracks that were not even out yet.
I have loved Serato ever since, the software was always rock solid, fast and easy to work with. The fact that a lot of venues don’t maintain their turntables made me switch to CDJs and Rekordbox. But in comparison to Serato DJ, Rekordbox can be a pain in the ass and Serato DJ is still the best DJ software out there.
Roland has never been a DJ brand, and I’ve never used a controller either (I’ve never been much of a fan), so when Roland asked me to test out their DJ-808 controller, I was reluctant at first. However the fact that they had developed this machine for and with Serato and the fact that it includes their legendary 808 drum machine sparked my interest.
If you don’t know what the Roland 808 drum machine is: the 808 came out in the early 1980s and was one of the first programmable drum machines. It’s the machine that was responsible for Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ - released in 1982 - which was a hip hop milestone and had paved the way for other genres such as techno, house and trance. The 808 has been playing a crucial role for the sound of hip hop ever since.
I’ve always known how important the 808 was for hip hop but it wasn’t until I saw the 808 documentary when I played in Singapore last year that I realized how significant this machine has been for music evolution in general. The 808 has been used in probably every electronic music genre since it came out in the early 80s. It was a favorite instrument for genre defining artists like Goldie, Diplo, Richie Hawtin, Pharrell Williams and many more. Marvin Gaye used it to produce his biggest hit, ‘Sexual Healing’, when he was living in Ostend and the 808 even defined the sound of Phil Collins.
So when the best DJ software brand collaborates with the brand who created a piece of equipment that made such an impact on electronic music it's time to pay attention.
I first met up with Mak Tongia in the Key Music Store in Sint-Niklaas. Mak has been working for Serato for a long time and recently moved from Serato’s homebase New Zealand to London. Nowadays he’s also working for Roland. As I have no experience with music production, Mak was the perfect person to explain me how this machine works.
This might indeed be the first and only instrument for the producer DJ
I also got to take the Roland DJ-808 home to test it out for a few weeks. What immediately caught my attention was how solid this controller was built. As I’m used to vinyl and CDJs the platters on the controller feel a bit small to me but I guess it's only a matter of getting used to. They do feel durable and apparently have the lowest latency of any DJ controller available.
After installing the most recent Serato DJ version and the correct DJ-808 driver the controller works fluently together with it. Using the buttons on the controller you can select and load tracks and set and trigger loops and hot cues without ever touching your computer, making DJing much more hands-on and fun. The pads are pressure sensitive and they control cues, loop rolls, the Serato software sampler, the TR-S and Pitch Play. Furthermore the controller has knobs to control Serato DJ FX.
To my surprise, the built-in Roland TR-S drum machine not only has 808 kicks, snares, claps and hi-hats but it also includes those from the 606, 707, 808, 909 drum machines. The whole TR-S fluently syncs up with serato. In a matter of seconds you can loop a sample in Serato and program or live tap a beat right on top of it.
When plugging in a mic the VT voice transformer is also a fun thing to play with as it can pitch your voice to match the key of the track you’re playing in Serato. You can also plug in other DJ gear like turntables and CDJs. It even supports AIRA and MIDI so you can plug in production gear like effects or keyboards and seamlessly sync your sound to Serato DJ.
All these options make the Roland DJ-808 a tool with unlimited possibilities both for DJs and producers or live performances with a band. So, whether you're a DJ who wants to get into production, a producer who also does DJ sets or a DJ in a band, the Roland DJ-808 and you would be a match made in heaven.
With 6,8 kg it's quite heavy for a controller which might be a downer for some. But then again this isn't a controller for somebody who only wants to do traditional DJ sets. It's a tool for DJs or producers who want to bring something extra to the table. Think of it as a keyboard player in a band who also needs to carry his instrument to gigs.
As Roland and Serato pointed-out, this might be "the first and only instrument for the producer DJ"
Check out some more pictures:
Head over to the DJ-808 website for tons of more info.