While I agree that Pioneer DJ is one of the biggest names on this market, I don’t necessarily agree they have the absolute best at beginner DJ controllers.
And I don’t say they are bad, far from it. This is a quite crowded market, and companies need to distinguish themselves from the competitors somehow.
Two of the most common entry-level controllers in this industry are the Hercules Inpulse 500 and Pioneer DDJ 400. Not only are they very affordable, but they are easy to use for those who want to get started and offer great sound quality.
Hercules is trying to be as beginner-friendly as possible: the Beatmatch Guide is a fantastic idea, and the DJ academy integrated into DJuced is a good starting point.
I did extensive research on this because I was buying one for my son. Almost bought the DDJ-400 but ended up with the Hercules Inpulse 500.
This is his first controller, he’s new to the DJing world, but it’s really great for him! The build quality is phenomenal, jog wheels are real big, and the performance pads have great tactility.
But which one is a better choice for you?
If you’re looking for a more affordable controller and superior DJ software – Rekordbox DJ that you get for free, go for the DDJ-400. But if you want a great build, a better beatmatch assistant, and a BPM tuner, opt for the Hercules Inpulse 500.
However, both are excellent choices, and you can’t go wrong with either.
In this article, I’ll try to compare these two controllers objectively and hopefully help you decide between the two.
Why Hercules Is a Decent Competitor to Pioneer
Hercules is recognized in the DJ world as an entry-level brand. You’ll notice that every year the company is becoming more innovative and releases some very nice equipment.
“The only person more frustrating than a slanderer is one unwise enough to listen to him.” (Criss Jami “Killosophy”). You may ask Pioneer fanboy which Hercules controllers he tried and if he ever touched the 500.
Hercules began computer DJing in 2003 when Pioneer had no interest in computer DJing. They developed today’s controller format (2 decks, central mixer, 2 x stereo out with 1 for master, 1 for preview), so without Hercules, Pioneer fanboys may still use only CDJs.
Hercules’ gear lifecycle is more lasting than Pioneer’s thanks to more prolonged driver support:
Hercules’s first DJ controllers (DJ Console Mk2 (released in 2005) / Rmx (2008) / 4-Mx (2011)…) still receive driver updates each year and then still run in today’s macOS.
In contrast, Pioneer first controllers: SEP-C1 (released in 2008) / DDJ-S1 & T1 (2011) / DDJ-Ergo (2012), are not compatible with today’s macOS / See list of Pioneer DJ support in Catalina with the comment “Models that are not noted below are no longer supported.”
Hercules gives ASIO drivers for each controller with audio to decrease latency in Windows and protect users from Windows updates altering the audio (as disabling audio inputs when disabling Cortana / muting the 2nd output or virtualizing audio after games setup…).
Pioneer hasn’t got ASIO drivers for home controllers as DD-SB3 or 400. Rekordbox built-in ASIO engine avoids latency with the DDJ-400, but with other software such as VirtualDJ, Traktor, or Mixxx, the lack of ASIO drivers adds latency and trouble in WASAPI audio settings after Windows updates.
Inpulse 500 vs. DDJ-400 Comparison
Hercules Inpulse 500
|Software compatible||DJuced, Serato, Virtual DJ, Traktor, Djay||Rekordbox|
|Pads||RGB backlit||Single-colored backlit|
|Output||RCA + 1/4 inch||RCA|
|Headphone jack||3.5mm + 1/4 inch||3.5mm|
|Deck-level VU meters||9 steps||5 steps|
Why Did I Choose Inpulse 500 Over DDJ-400 for My Son
I ultimately went with the Hercules for my boy (16 y.o.) because it’s a bit larger, and he preferred the feel of its metal cased knobs and metal construction. I saw that it has more inputs/outputs and offers more features for the money.
I liked the Inpulse’s build quality, feet risers, mic, and aux inputs. You typically don’t see those inputs in this price range.
He preferred its overall layout compared to the DDJ-400 when we were shopping around, and the RGB pads are a nice touch along with the beat align light. You may as well leave that on even once you get onto beat matching by ear (just as a visual reminder).
The Inpulse 500 is relatively new, whereas the other controllers have been on the market for a few years. My son wanted something fresh and not dated. I agreed.
The Inpulse 500 comes with DJuced, which is Hercules’ version of Serato. He uses it with Serato Pro, but DJuced is also pretty decent, and you get a full version out of the box. The Hercules has several features disabled when using Serato Lite, so you either need to pay for Pro or use DJuced.
DDJ-400 is Solid, but Inpulse 500 is Built Better
Most DJs seem to agree that Pioneer gear is very well made, and I’ll attest to that as well. I own the Pioneer DDJ-1000, and they all seem very well built and of high quality.
Altough it’s built well for a cheap controller, the DDJ-400, because of the lower quality plastics throughout the controller’s casing, just doesn’t have that solid feel that is common for Pioneer DJs.
In contrast, Inpulse 500 has a better build quality, metal casing, and all in all, is the nicer-looking beginner controller.
The knobs and sliders are fully metal, the pads are rubberized and have a smooth, positive click, and the shell feels solid and sturdy. It has larger jog wheels and rubberized performance pads.
I also appreciate the colored pads. They’re a godsend to my son because he has dyslexia and when pads are all the same color, his brain fritzes out a bit. You can generally only get those only on high-priced controllers.
Although, ultimately, Hercules Impulse 500 is still a budget controller, its size, plus the metal plate under the mixer section, makes it seem well built for its price, validating the redundancy.
None of the controllers is more compact than the other. There’s not much difference when it comes to weight and dimensions.
DDJ-400 (2.8 kg) is 0.4 kg lighter than the Inpulse 500 (3.2 kg) but a bit wider. Again, the material on Inpulse is heavier and feels more expansive, so somewhere you get some, somewhere you lose some.
The DDJ-400 is more similar to CDJs
If you plan to turn this into a profession and/or intend to play in clubs or professional equipment, the DDJ-400 might be a better option since the layout is similar to the flagship gear, and you’ll be using the same software.
Pioneer has been making all of their controllers similar to their CDJs, their premium line products used by the world’s most popular DJs.
DDJ-400 is following this trend by having a more club-oriented layout, so the DDJ is great if you want a controller to get used to the setups that you can later find in many clubs.
The Hercules controller is not really as similar to the CDJs, but it’s not too far. Opposite Pioneer’s circle-shaped, the play and cue buttons are rectangle-shaped.
If you’re just doing house parties or bars, the Hercules would be plenty, and I don’t think you’d feel restricted with it by any means.
With DDJ-400, You Get Superior DJ Software for Free
The big issue with Hercules is software. When you buy it, you get the full version of their proprietary software DJuced, which people used to find a little buggy at times. Lately, though, it got much better.
But it’s not all that bad. You can download MIDI mappings for Djay Pro 2, Traktor 2 and 3, and Virtual DJ.
Also, Inpulse 500 is Serato compatible as well.
You can download Serato Lite for free, but you can’t use many of the Hercules controller’s features.
That being said, Serato Pro works beautifully with the Hercules, and that’s the combo that my son uses now. I find it to be quite powerful and stable.
He loves the song suggestion feature for practicing mixing on the fly. It’s like the DJ equivalent of a tennis ball cannon.
DDJ-400 comes with the fully-featured Rekordbox 6 (vs. DJuced or Serato Lite) – which saves you $100 on the upgrade expense alone. It will most probably keep its value better as well for when you require an upgrade.
Pioneer ensured that this software works well with their controllers and players and has achieved this mission. Many DJs praise Rekordbox DJ for being intuitive, simple to use, and at the same time having sufficient tools to satisfy even the most demanding DJs.
Also, DJuced DJ software only supports a relatively small number of controllers out there, unlike Rekordbox, which supports many controllers on the market.
If you plan on mixing on Rekordbox/Pioneer gear down the line, then yeah, the DDJ-400 may be the more suitable choice.
Hercules Inpulse 500 Has the “Beatmatch Guide” Function
Both controllers are aimed at the entry-level market, but there’s a clear winner when it comes to which one is better for beginners, and it’s undoubtedly the Hercules.
Beginner DJs usually struggle with even the simplest of tasks, such as beatmatching, and this is where the Hercules Inpulse 500 really shines. It has certain key features that will help a DJ in different important parts of the mixing process.
The Inpulse 500 features a function called “beatmatch guide.” This fancy little feature consists of two arrows that lead you to turn the jog wheel when you’re adding a track to the second deck.
A super useful feature for anyone who has not yet learned to beatmatch manually, and if this is your case, you have to really consider this controller. Using the Beatmatch Guide is definitely better than getting comfortable with the sync.
Prices at the End of 2021
There’s not much difference in the price between these two. As of November 2021, the figures we can find on Amazon are:
Hercules Inpulse 500 – around $300
Pioneer DDJ-400 – around $250
As we can see, there is a difference of around $50. When we take into account pro software, we see that Hercules is a bit more costly. But you don’t need to buy it right away. DJuced DJ software that comes with Inpulse 500 is more than enough for a start, and it’s getting better with every update.
If you want a beautiful controller with a gold-colored metal backing plate for the mixer in the center and attractive, eye-catching gold markings that stand out, you should take a look at the Inpulse 500 Gold edition.
Hercules Inpulse 500 Gold Edition (with Serato DJ Pro license, more functions, more loops, and more cue points) – around $450
Hercules’ unique features are hard to find in any other controller, let alone controllers manufactured by Pioneer.
Let Me Help You Decide
Both controllers are solid and great for beginner/intermediate DJs. My son went with the Inpulse 500 for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, he prefers the larger size and heftier build of the Hercules -The DDJ-400 doesn’t feel bad by any means, but it is definitely a little more plasticky feeling, and to us, the Hercules just felt better to use.
Most people will tell you DDJ-400 for sure, but I HIGHLY recommend the Inpulse 500 as a first controller. Way more features for just a little more money (if you include buying an additional DJ software – let’s say Serato Pro) than the 400.
For learning how to DJ, there are TONS of videos on the internet you can find on the DDJ-400, but learning-how-to-DJ videos never demand the exact same equipment. And in your learning phase, it will be more about having fun than looking at every tutorial there was online.
DDJ-400 has gained a lot of hype over the past few years, and it is undoubtedly an amazing controller. It’s just that it’s clearly shadowing the Inpulse 500s capability.
Hercules Inpulse 500, with DJuced or Serato DJ Lite/Pro, I can guarantee if you continue on this DJ journey, you won’t need to buy a new controller any time soon!