Pioneer was a relative newcomer to the controller market, having made an extremely high profile name for itself making hyper desirable and hyper expensive hardware. But in the last year, they’ve released two decent controllers, and the Ergo benefits from that experience. The first thing that strikes you is the lack of a power supply, but that’s because it’s entirely powered by USB. The second thing that strikes you is the intense lightshow that blinds you when you plug it in to your PC, but the Ergo is much more than an expensive bauble.
For starters, it’s a four-channel controller despite only having two channel strips. It also has features that threaten the more expensive DDJs and is compatible with VDJ, Traktor and the highly anticipated Serato Intro. Pioneer are heavily marketing it at newcomers and hobbyists, and at first glance it looks as if it’s the perfect first controller. Of course, features mean nothing if they’re badly implemented, and nothing exposes a controller’s weakness like an in-depth Skratchworx review. Did the Ergo survive? Read on…
Given that it’s a USB-powered ‘lifestyle’ controller, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Ergo’s only concessions to I/O would be a 3.5mm output for the headphones and a 3.5mm output for some speakers, but that isn’t the case.
On the back you’ll find a single pair of RCA connectors and a single pair of balanced 6.3mm jacks, both of which push audio out to your audience. You’ll also find a pair of line-level RCA inputs to which you can connect MP3 players, a CDJ, or whatever else you fancy. You can use the input to listen to something even if you aren’t running Traktor or VDJ by configuring it as your OS’s default audio interface, which is handy if you’ve only got one computer and the Ergo’s permanently attached to it. Next to the line input is its volume control and a switch that selects either the microphone or line input. MIC’s attach to the back of the device using a 6.3mm jack, which also features an input volume control.
Other than that, the Ergo features a type B USB connector for data I/O and power, a Kensington lock and both 3.5mm and 6.3mm headphone jacks on the front panel. The inclusion of both 3.5mm and 6.3mm jacks is phenomenally important considering the Ergo’s target market. Everyone has a pair of iPod style earphones, but not everyone has a pair of HD25s. Just imagine the tears on Christmas morning if your loved one unwraps their Ergo to find they can’t use it properly because they don’t have a 6.3mm adaptor. Thanks to Pioneer’s foresight, that’s a scenario they won’t have to experience this holiday season.
I’m really impressed by the relative wealth of I/O options on the Ergo because it matches those of the more expensive DDJ-T1, making it a credible and serious controller for the modern DJing hobbyist.
Browsing And Loading
Pioneer’s experience with its other DDJ controllers (and the MEP-7000) is evident here, and that’s no bad thing because selecting and loading tracks is fantastically simple and efficient.
You use a rotary control to either cycle through and expand folders (if you’re also pressing a Shift button) or cycle through a playlist. You can also use it to expand the browser screen itself. Tracks are loaded into decks using two Load buttons, with a Load button being located at either side of the rotary control. In Traktor, for example, pressing the Load button loads the currently highlighted track in to whichever deck is currently selected. It’s that simple.
You can also preview tracks using a button located just underneath the rotary controller. Press it and the currently highlighted track is loaded in Traktor’s Preview Player and played automatically. This is a neat and useful touch that could so easily have been overlooked, but its inclusion greatly improves the Ergo and enhances its position as a credible controller.
Even though NI’s Kontrol S series features browse and load controls, for some reason I rarely use them, preferring to use the mouse, but I don’t feel that way about the Ergo and always use its browsing controls. That’s possibly because it doesn’t feel as cramped as the S4, for example. In terms of browsing and track selection, the Ergo takes after the MEP and the DDJ controllers, and that’s certainly a good thing.
If the previous two areas have greatly impressed, the Ergo’s somewhat let down by its fader section. I say somewhat, because even though there’s a tremendous amount of play in them (think Numark M series) they have a decent amount of resistance to the channel faders and the crossfader’s light enough to push back and forth easily. It has to be said that there’s a clear and readily apparent delay when you close a fader quickly to cut off the sound. You’re only talking between half a second, but it’s there. Not that the Ergo’s alone in that respect; there are plenty of controllers that suffer from the same phenomenon.
A rather nifty feature, if a purely cosmetic one, is the illumination of the channel in time to the beat of the track playing through it. Say what you want about superfluous flashing lights, but in these dreary, austere and wintery times the pretty flashing lights are an upper for the soul.
The crossfader isn’t designed for hardcore, heavy duty turntablism, but for its intended audience its faders are plenty good enough.
All the controls you’d normally expect to find on a controller-based 3-band EQ section are present here. Bass, mid and high frequency bands each have a pot and each channel features a gain control. The EQ pots themselves aren’t particularly big, but they’re big enough, unless you want to move two adjacent pots simultaneously. The effect they have on sound is dictated by the software you’re using, but I’m pleased to say that they move smoothly, which is pretty much all that can be said about them. They exist and they get the job done.
If the deck platters look familiar that’s because they’re the same ones as those seen on the other DDJ controllers, except that these have been blessed with the welcome addition of a lightshow, but more on that later. The ergo also features all the controller deck staples, such as Play, Cue, Keylock, Vinyl Mode and Sync buttons. Somewhat unnecessarily, there’s pitch slider too.
The purpose of the Cue and Play buttons will become apparent to anyone after a quick play with them, even if you’ve never used a controller before. Thanks to the Shift button, you can even go straight back to the start of the track (when it’s used in conjunction with Cue button), which saves having to waste a hot cue for that purpose. The Keylock button also doubles a Tempo Range Selector, which is another function that might not get enough use to warrant its own button, but gets enough to warrant a hands-on presence on your controller. The purpose of each deck button is clearly labelled, even its secondary function, which means you can become accustomed to it with only a quick glance and a few goes.
The sync button lets you synchronise that deck with another deck or, with Shift depressed, synchronise it to the master clock.
The platter works as well as it does on the other DDJs. The scratch emulation isn’t as tight on the Ergo as it is on the Kontrol S2, but it’s good enough for some basic cuts and scratches. Strangely, I found the Ergo’s scratch emulation was better in VDJ than it was in Traktor.
I mentioned the Ergo’s platter-based light show earlier and, as pretty as it undoubtedly is, the lights do serve a purpose. Each platter is illuminated differently, depending on the Pulse Mode currently selected. The first Pulse Mode illuminates one quarter of the platter a christmassy red colour. The red light then revolves around the platter to signify the rotation of a spinning disc. The second Pulse Mode features the same red light, but it also lights the platter blue, the intensity of which is determined by the DJ’s ability to get two tracks in phase. If it’s a bright blue the beats match, if it’s a dim blue you’ve got a train wreck. You can see why it exists, but I’m not entirely sure it’s necessary. Surely you can tell if two tracks are in phase using your ears? Why do you need a light show to point that out to you?
The platter feels well built, which is a bit of novelty considering the build quality of the rest of the unit. It’s smooth, it’s a decent size, and it’s very nearly everything you could want from an entry-level jog wheel. What isn’t so good is the pitch slider, which wobbles at the slightest touch, but that’s not necessarily a problem because its inclusion on a modern controller is no more than a nostalgic nod to the past. That said, it performs the task set for it admirably.
The Ergo’s decks are well implemented and rival those of more expensive DDJs. The controls are adequately spaced and the jog dial is one of the best you’ll encounter this side of a Kontrol S2.
The cueing system is also straightforward and will be accessible and obvious to anyone, even if you’re new to DJing. The system is comprised of two Cue buttons, a Headphone Volume control and a PFL Mix control. If you’re familiar with cueing then you might as well skip to the next section because there’s nothing new here, but if the Ergo is going to be your first bit of DJing equipment it’s worth running through the controls.
The PFL Mix control lets you mix two or more tracks in your headphones to make sure they sound good together before you unleash them on your audience, while the Cue buttons are used to select the channels you want to hear in your headphones. The volume control is there to either deafen your hearing or preserve it. As with other DDJ models, the headphone amp is suited to the home studio rather than the club.
As mentioned earlier, the Ergo also features a Preview button that lets you quickly listen to tracks without loading them into a deck. This is handy if you can’t remember the name of a track or the remix and you want to check it’s the track you want to use.
The master section is just as straightforward and only consists of a Master Volume Pot and an Aux/MIC Volume pot. The Master Volume pot controls your software’s onscreen counterpart and the Aux/MIC Volume pot does the same. It’s worth noting that if you want the Aux pot to work in Traktor you’ll need to assign the Ergo’s Aux input to Traktor’s Input Aux within Traktor’s preferences. If that sounds difficult, it isn’t. It takes just two clicks.
Every DJing app has its own opinion of how things should be done, and to accommodate these idiosyncrasies Pioneer has seen fit to include a group of controls that it calls Function Controls.
Essentially, this group consists of a single pot and two buttons. The buttons are pre-mapped for VDJ and Traktor, and I’m sure they’ll be ready mapped to Serato Intro too, when it’s available. In VDJ the buttons control VDJ’s video transitions and effects. In Traktor, they control the Loop Recorder. The pot controls the Loop Recorder’s Dry/Wet control, for example, and the buttons control the Loop Record and Loop Play functions. Although it’s an incredibly useful set of buttons, the Loop Recorder and video mixing aren’t for everybody, and its location on the Ergo (at the left-hand side, out of the way) is entirely sensible and well chosen.
This is a great group of controls to have and if you don’t want to control the Loop Recorder or video mixer you can always delete the mappings and make them your own.
The DDJ-T1 has the best Traktor FX controls that I’ve ever used, so I was expecting something approaching its design on the Ergo. As it happens, the Ergo comes pretty close, but it lacks separate buttons for FX selection. Instead, the Ergo gives you limited control over FX selection if you use the Shift button, which is more awkward than it sounds. I much prefer to use the mouse instead.
The controls themselves are perfectly adequate and the spacing of the FX pots is more generous than I expected it to be, but not as generous as I’d like. Although the Ergo comes with VDJ, the FX section is heavily influenced by Traktor, and each FX section features one Dry/Wet control and three effects parameter pots. Underneath these pots are four buttons, one for switching the effect on or off and the others for toggling context-specific options.
Happily, the fun doesn’t end there. Not only do you get the obligatory FX unit controls, each deck also gets the much-loved Filter control. Located above the FX Unit buttons and away from the regular FX section so as not to be confused with it, the Filter control lets you accentuate tracks just before a breakdown or some other event, or make mixes sound more natural. I really wasn’t expecting to see a Filter control on the Ergo and its inclusion really boosted my opinion of the Ergo.
Even though Traktor Pro 2 has four FX units you can only control two using the Ergo, but let’s face it – that’s enough for anyone. Each deck can be assigned to one or both FX units using two buttons that are located just under the Filter knob. This location makes them easy to reach and engage if you’re using the EQ pots, the hot cues or the FX section.
The buttons are well illuminated and the controls work perfectly. The section looks clean and uncluttered, which invites use. That’s something that can’t be said of the Kontrol Series, which I often ignore because it looks too cramped and overwhelming. Are the Ergo’s FX controls as good as the DDJ-T1’s? No, but for a controller of this price they’re excellent.
As is often the case with controllers, the Ergo only has four hot cues. To set a hot cue you need only press an unlit hot cue button. To delete a hot cue you simply press a lit Hot Cue button and the Shift button simultaneously, and to trigger a hot cue you press a lit Hot Cue button. That’s all very standard stuff and if you’ve ever used a controller before you can walk up to the Ergo and get drumming without thinking. If you’re new to controllers and DJing then your learning curve will be no more than a gentle, unnoticeable incline.
If anything, the Hot Cue buttons are a little small, which could make hot-cue drumming or hitting them problematic, but you’d have to be extremely clumsy to miss them. There’s also plenty of space between them and the sample buttons, which is vitally important. The size and responsiveness of the Kontrol S2’s buttons make them the better choice if you’re keen hot cue drummer, but if you’re using the them to mix, the Ergo’s hot cue buttons are easy to exploit and you can have a lot of fun with them.
The Ergo features four Sample buttons per deck, and they work in much the same way as the hot cues. If you have a loop running in Traktor, for example, pressing an unlit Sample button stores the loop in that sample slot. The sample can then be used as you want by pressing the Sample button. Again, this is all very straightforward stuff and even if you haven’t used a controller before you can quickly get to grips with the Sample buttons just by playing around with them.
In addition to the buttons, you’ve also got a dial to the right of them that controls their volume, which is actually a very handy feature to have.
Personally, I’ve never been that enamoured with sample decks, and so I couldn’t get excited by the inclusion of four sample buttons on the Ergo, but if you’re a Traktor user you can easily remove their mappings and use for them for something else, such as hot cues.
Everybody loves loops, and with good reason. With the help of some well-selected hot cues and loops you can easily cut up and edit tracks while you mix, so it’s good to know that the Ergo features a comprehensive set of loop controls.
The most obvious loop controls are the in and out buttons. Simply tap the Loop In button to set a start point for your loop and then tap the Loop Out button to set the end. The buttons are located away from other controls and can be hit easily without missing them or hitting another control. The Ergo also features a rotary control for setting auto loops. Twist the control left or right to define the length of the loop you want to set and then push it to set the loop. You can, of course, change the length of an active loop as it plays.
Again, the controls are so easy to use you can easily work out how to use with a few minutes play. In fact, there’s so much room around the controls and their location is so natural I found myself preferring them to those of the Kontrol S4, and even the Kontrol S2. Your eyes aren’t intimidated by clutter and your hands have no trouble finding them when your gaze is elsewhere. This is a great implementation. Well done, Pioneer.
An Addition from Mark Settle – Serato DJ Intro
A starting comment about aesthetics and ergonomics. The obvious slapyouaroundthefaceness looks of Ergo are for some (mainly the majority of traditionally conservative DJs) a step too far. But as mentioned previously, the Ergo is not for them, but is instead is aimed at the more image conscious new DJs – the ones who probably do care more about how it looks with their shirt than how it sounds. I’ve grown used to the looks, but not the size. I feel it’s too big (not big enough to stop me nudging the left hand pitch when getting busy), but at the same time offers a larger unit to make new DJs feel as if they have a DJ setup in front of them rather than a more portable controller for seasoned pros.
When we first received the Ergo, support for Serato’s DJ Intro had been announced, but not released. Thus Pioneer were somewhat reticent to have us tear it to shreds using buggy beta software. It has however been released, so I’m happy to add my own Mac based DJ Intro experience to compliment Andrew’s Traktor and VDJ musings.
Pioneer needn’t have worried at all. I only had Ergo for 48 hours for photography, so whilst I didn’t hammer the crap out of the Ergo for hours on end trying to find something wrong, I was however very pleased at how well Ergo and DJ Intro played. To be honest, it’s not a surprise as they were obviously planned to be friends for a long time.
Installation is a breeze, and once running, you’ll find any existing Scratch Live or ITCH crates ready for action, which makes the Ergo a cheap and logical alternative to Scratch Live DVS users. And considering DJ Intro is allegedly a beginner’s package, it offers quite a lot of what might be considered pro features.
It’s worth noting that DJ Intro is, and will probably always be 2 channel software, which means that some controls are left unmapped. But as a 2 channel controller experience, Ergo and DJ Intro together is highly effective and fully featured for the target market of beginners. Some will dismiss the lack of finer control, but Ergo isn’t from them.
Buyers will be very pleased to have Virtual DJ LE and DJ Intro as full options on this unit. I’d happily use DJ Intro as the default 2 channel experience, but dip into Virtual DJ Le if I wanted 4 channels or video.
Buying the Pioneer brand carried much kudos, and also having the Serato logo on the same box as a supported option only makes the Ergo more attractive. It’s a wise move for both brands, and gets a thumbs up from me.
That is all.
The Ergo’s not going to win any awards for build quality, but that isn’t much of an issue because it’s not designed to take hardcore punishment in a club. It’s designed to let home-based hobbyists enjoy and master the art of mixing, and in that respect it’s a fantastic controller. The layout of controls is exceptionally good and although the FX controls pale in comparison to those on the DDJ-T1 they’re as well positioned and as well spaced on those of any other similarly priced controller.
Not having to accommodate an extra plug is also a clear bonus. All you have to do is attach the Ergo to a free USB slot on your PC and you’re good to go. The fact that you have a choice of compatible software from the start is also a major plus. Bored with Traktor or VDJ? Simply boot up Serato’s DJ Intro for a touch of something different.
Its natural competitor is NI’s Kontrol S2, which is more expensive and is pretty much tied to Traktor (unless you fancy doing a bit of MIDI mapping). On the plus side, the S2’s build quality is much better and it has more accurate scratch emulation, but if you’re a new DJ or a keen hobbyist the Ergo provides plenty of smiles, plenty of features and shed-loads of convenience. In fact, I reckon it’s good enough to dent sales of the other DDJs.
Features And Implementation
The Ergo packs pretty much all the features of the DDJ-T1 into a unit that costs much less. The DDJ-T1 is the better choice if you’re set on using Traktor, but otherwise the Ergo provides advanced looping, hot cue and FX controls in a small and convenient package.
The controls feel a bit cheap and the plastic surround was a bit ‘spongy’, but it had a good hammering from the Skratchworx team and survived.
The Ergo’s audio interface is basic, but it’s perfectly adequate for home use and sounds pretty good. Remember that your software and track quality has a bearing on sound quality too.
Value For Money
This is a tough one. You’re getting a lot for your money in terms of controls, but the build quality could be better for the money and the Kontrol S2 isn’t much more. I suppose that means the Ergo nets an average score in this category.
The Ergo packs plenty of controls and four channel control into a small form factor. Its build quality leaves much to be desired, but its price, its features and the multiple software choices make up for it. This is a great controller if you’re new to DJing.
Massive thanks to Rob Anderson, Martin Dockree, Rik Parkinson and Rebecca Harkin of Pioneer GB for loan of the review unit.