The Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV5 at first feels a bit cheaper than the very high-end REV7: It weighs a lot less (no motors built-in as it has static, CDJ-style jogs, not motorized platters), it’s a bit shallower, has rounded corners, and feels more plasticky. It’s a feeling compounded by the smaller performance pads and paddles than the REV7, and the fact that the jogwheels are not as high-end as those on, say, the CDJ-3000s, especially with regards to their somewhat underwhelming central displays.
However, that feeling does wear off when you start to discover its feature set, which is substantial, and the overall quality of the controls, which is high, including a Magvel crossfader. It basically has nearly all the software control features of the DDJ-REV7, and more, such as four-deck control and some useful and exciting new features not seen on any Serato DJ controller before. Unsurprisingly, since it has been launched after the arrival of Serato DJ’s Stems feature, it also goes all-in on Stems control, with some excellent stems functions.
The biggest change from the DDJ-REV7 apart from the switch to CDJ-style jogs (which of course, many will prefer over motorized platters) is that it has no external mixer capability; the REV7 has two phono/line inputs making it able to function as an external mixer too, but there are no such inputs on the REV5, with simply an Aux input for a single extra source. That said, it is no slouch on other inputs and outputs, with two mic channels, balanced and unbalanced master outputs, TRS booth outputs, and twin USBs for two laptops (USB-C), plus USB PD power (a transformer is supplied).
I have to say, it does feel weird having CDJ-style jogs on a unit that then has the pitch controls horizontal at the top of each deck, in classic scratch turntable style. It was a design decision that stretched people’s sense of how a DJ set-up should be even on the REV7, which actually did have platters designed to look and feel somewhat like real turntables, but it’s the first DJ unit ever with that CDJ feel and this layout. That said, while it may feel a bit weird, it is certainly not a dealbreaker, and the layout does make sense insofar as it allows the mixer to have a decent chunk of room in the middle of the unit (alongside full-sized jogwheels) without it all becoming too big.
Just like the REV7 (honestly, this unit is very similar in layout to that unit), the mixer section is based on the look and feel of the DJM-S series of scratch mixers, with the performance pads above the sparse two-channel fader/crossfader layout, FX control paddles (only software FX here), and the “classic” DJM-S7/9 EQs and gain control configuration. (Note that you can switch the EQs easily to Stems control for altering stems volume, which is cool, although the melody and bass are combined when you do this.)
Minor further differences from the DDJ-REV7 include the rearranging of the headphone controls to the front edge of the unit, the addition of a mechanical jog feel knob for each jogwheel at the expense of the physical vinyl brake adjust knob, and the addition of temporary cue buttons (the REV7 had a silent cue button, which has been ditched for the REV5).
Setting up involves the installation of an audio driver and obviously Serato DJ Pro, which requires registering an account on Serato’s website; it’s similar if you want to use Rekordbox, but we’re going to concentrate on Serato for the rest of this review, as most people buying this will be doing so with the intention of using it with that software, we suspect. Good to have Rekordbox too if needed.
It’s lovely to use. The size is just right, the jogwheels feel instantly great (if you’ve ever used any CDJs or controller with this type of “mechanical feel” jogs, you’ll be at home right away), and everything feels spread out just enough for relaxed, intuitive control. The lighting is bright but stylish, the RGB pads feel good and offer plenty of information across the pad modes to help you use them, and the two channels of the mixer – and especially the Magvel crossfader – is buttery smooth (note: not “Magvel Pro” like the REV7).
The concept of this controller is to offer deep and innovative control of the software, with a huge emphasis on making life easy for open format and performance DJs, and so it has four extra performance buttons above each deck that give you more control than normal (we’ll move onto those), as well as lots of clever additions, including auto BPM change features.
For more about the general feature set as this controller is based heavily on that one (and if you can’t make your mind up between the two, we have a Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV5 vs DDJ-REV7 article on the way).
For the rest of this part of the review, I’ll look at the newer and more innovative or unusual features of this unit that may be new to you: Auto Beat Transition, Piano Play, and Dual Decks.
This is a simple idea that will save open-format DJs having to do it manually. It’s for big, bold and noticeable BPM changes in transitions, that are kept tight and smooth by the feature.
The idea is that you select a length (between one bar and eight bars) that you want the computer to automatically change the playing track’s BPM across. Then, in its simplest guise, you hit a special “transition play button”; the BPM of the playing deck moves, over the specified number of bars, to the original BPM of the track on the other deck (when sync is active), or the BPM the track on the other deck is set to (when sync is not active).
The clever bit is that while this is going on, the track on the other deck is temporarily also tied to the BPM of the outgoing deck, so at any time you can start the other deck playing and the BPMs will be kept together, which is something it would be hard to do otherwise, especially if you weren’t using sync. The actual mixing, timing etc is up to you – this just keeps the BPMs the same while changing both.
However, there is one more cool thing. When you’re setting the number of bars you want an auto transition to be across, it’s simply three extra taps to specify which stems you want to play in the transition, to set an auto loop for the transition, and to set whether or not key lock is on for the transition. As soon as you press the transition play button to begin the BPM change, it also turns on or off your choice of stems, the loop length, and the key lock. So in effect, you’re setting these things just slightly ahead of time. This allows you to have all kinds of combinations going on in your auto beat transitions.
It’s a good feature, and one that I suspect many open format DJs will love – but it’s easier to watch than explain, so do take a look at the video accompanying this review to see it in action.
This is a clever one. Some boffin at Pioneer DJ has realized that in this layout of the mixer, you’ve got all of the performance pads right next to each other, eight across the bottom. “What if,” you can hear the designers thinking, “we treated the eight performance pads across the bottom row as the eight keys of an octave of a piano, and five of the eight above as the ‘black’ keys?” And so Piano Play was born, building on the Pitch Play idea where you specify a cue point, and then can “play” that cue point (basically, triggering the track from it) “across” the pads at different pitches.
It’s much more intuitive having this across all 16 pads, making it far easier to “play” new riffs with existing melodic elements like a synth note or vocal stab. You engage the pad mode, choose a hot cue, then play away – the “black” keys are lit blue, the white keys, white. You can use the parameter buttons to cycle up and down the pitches to give you a wider range of notes, and you can even select major and minor pentatonic scales to show you easily notes that may work in a riff. This means you don’t need to be “musical” to play something that sounds good, or at least, not instantly bad.
What would have been really, really good here would have been the ability to play chords, but it is strictly one note at a time – a shame, but nonetheless a great improvement on Pitch Play.
Above each jogwheel are a set of extra performance buttons, exactly as on the REV7. The scratch feature from the REV7 is gone now though, replaced by Stems. Tapping the “Stems” button lets you turn all four stems in Serato (vocal, melody, bass, drums) on and off, or tapping the Stems button twice lets you instantly solo any of these.
With two extra selector buttons, you can also control the first four pads of your Hot Cues, Saved Loops, Scratch Bank and Sampler from this area. It’s all designed to give you extra control over performance pad functions, so you don’t have to switch modes so often on the pads. It’s useful to have these extra controls, and I suspect DJs will settle on a feature they like to leave this set to for their style of play – and it may not actually be stems, because stems on the “real” performance pads are cool thanks to their pad FX on the bottom four pads.
As befits a controller with no external decks, the effects controls are for Serato’s built-in effects. You get on/off control over six independent effects, and the ability to switch between two banks of effects from the unit itself. There is a wet/dry knob and two up/down beats buttons for setting the cycle length, and of course there are two paddles for momentarily or persistently turning the effects on and off.
It strikes the right balance between control and flexibility; you’d set them up as you want them, then everything is right at your fingertips. This set-up definitely favours setting multi-FX in Serato. You can turn more than one on at a time by pressing an effect’s button – and while holding it – pressing another one.
Because the REV5 can control four decks (in the standard way, with “layer” buttons), it also boasts a “dual deck” mode, where you can lock each of the left and right-hand side pair of decks to each other, treating them effectively as one deck, so you can scratch etc the pair together. It’s fiddly, especially because it’s only a two-channel mixer in this unit, but it’s there for the more technically minded DJ to make use of.
The rest is pretty much as with the REV7 that came before it – that is to say, this is a really nicely specified performance controller.
Things like pitch range, pitch reset, slip mode, key lock, shift and sync (sync now respecting fuzzy keymixing, at long last – well done, Serato!), censor/reverse, auto and manual looping on the software front, are joined on the hardware front by dual USBs (USB-C now), dual mics with individual levels (but joint EQ), jog feel adjust for the platters, and physical crossfader curve controls.
Also worth pointing out that there are 12 pad modes including split pad mode where you can have the first four pads for two modes across the eight pads. You access the “third” set of modes by double tapping a pad select button, and two of these are user-definable.
As a software controller for Serato, this is right up there with the Rane Four for the depth of control it offers, bringing things to the table that even the Rane Four doesn’t have. But at the same time, it lacks things from that unit too, the one I suspect you’d miss the most being four physical mixer channels.
The real question is: How usable is all of this? Certainly, a lot of the features are fiddly, and will take some practise – but performance DJs are used to that, and the features are all here if needed.
I think the REV5 should have had more external inputs for the money because while it brings new ideas to the table, it is still a bit less well specified than the REV7 – it is definitely not just a REV7 with fixed platters. However, apart from the lack of a standalone mixer, it is well specified, well made, and with high quality controls.
Again, though, while the jogwheels are nice (and they have natty vinyl-effect top plates), they have one single, fixed, and not to me massively useful in-jog display – another step-down from the REV7. Some of these features would have really benefitted from in-jog status displays.
I feel that overall, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV5 will appeal to some Serato DJs, but definitely not all. If you prefer static jogs, generally DJ on two channels but appreciate having four for flexibility in routines, never plug external decks in but need pro ins and outs (auxiliary music source, mics, balanced outputs, booth etc), and – most importantly – want to do things that push the boundaries of DJing, there’s a lot to love here.
But if you just want the best Serato controller there is, and a better all-rounder, I think by a whisker that’s still the Rane Four – but you’ll pay more for it.