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Buyers Guide & Information

Best DJ Controllers Reviewed

Use this comparison guide to find the right product for your deejaying requirements. We compare DJ controllers for beginners to experts.

by

Buyers Guide & Information

Best DJ Controllers Reviewed

Use this comparison guide to find the right product for your deejaying requirements. We compare DJ controllers for beginners to experts.

by PITeam

by PITeam

There is a lot of misinformation about DJ controllers out there. Controllers are electronic devices used to mix music with digital DJ software, utilizing EQ pots, encoders, jog wheels, volume and pitch faders, touch strips, screens, backlit buttons, and more. They are typically very portable and can be used to play at home and gigs.

How DJ Controllers Work

DJ controllers are quite revolutionary pieces of equipment, considering how relatively complex turntables are, which were the only option before CDJs and controllers came along. There are standalone DJ controllers, but the majority work by connecting them via USB to a laptop installed with DJ software on it.

Usually, a controller will work specifically with a particular software program. This is referred to as being "native" to the software. If used together, all you have to do is install the included drivers, and the controller's buttons, faders, knobs, etc. will all be mapped to the software.

Most high-quality controllers will come with an audio card, allowing you to adjust audio output levels like you would on a DJ mixer.  Each model will also come with two jog wheels,  each wheel functioning as a turntable, essentially.

Each jog will have a track playing on it, and you can adjust the speed or BPM of a record with the pitch fader. In between the wheels, you'll find a mixer section where you'll have either 2 or 4 channels. Each channel will have 3 EQ knobs, representing the lows, mids, and highs, along with a volume fader for each to easily mix between tracks.


Benefits of Using DJ Controllers

DJ controllers are a more compact, affordable, and convenient option for many. They typically cost a fraction of what a DJ mixer would, not to mention a pair of CDJs or turntables, making them much more accessible. Aside from that, they're much more portable as they're lightweight and just a single unit, so you don't have to worry about lugging heavy equipment.

This means that you can use them wherever you have a power source. They’re also much less intimidating for beginners and are overall more user-friendly if you’re not familiar with DJ equipment, making it easier to learn how to DJ.


Choosing High-Quality DJ Controllers

Primary Usage

Where are you planning on using your new controller? Will you just be using it for yourself at home? Then you can get a heavier/bulkier option without worrying about it being difficult to transport. However, if you're planning on using it for playing at gigs, then you need to look for an option that's durable enough to hold up against regular transportation and being possibly jostled around at these venues.

DJ Software Platform/Compatibility

It's essential to consider not only the hardware but also the included software. Some software is not only more reliable than others, but more user-friendly. The bigger/more popular the software is, the easier and quicker resolutions to any questions or issues you may have as there will be a bigger support team and other DJs out there who can give feedback. Specific software programs may come with their own set of features.

Serato is the current market leader, initially gaining popularity with scratch DJs. It's one, if not the most beginner-friendly software program for DJs out there. The vast majority of its users are using controllers, though it can also be used with DVS/time code vinyl. 

Traktor is also incredibly popular, made by one of the biggest music production software/hardware companies: Native Instruments. Traktor is used by beginners and pros alike due to its capabilities and flexibility.

One of the most appealing features it offers is its remix decks, allowing you to really alter and play around with tracks or use stems, isolating certain portions of songs like just the drums, synth line, vocals, etc. However, it's best used with its own hardware, and mapping it to non-native controllers can sometimes be a bit of a hassle. 

Rekordbox DJ is considered to be the most “professional” software program, as it’s rare to find equipment in professional DJ booths that don’t feature its manufacturer: Pioneer. Rekordbox DJ is only one branch of the entire Rekordbox program, which is used on Pioneer’s CDJs. It has many similarities to Serato, but if you’re serious about becoming a pro or playing in bigger clubs, then Rekordbox is the way to go.

Size, Build Quality & Aesthetics

Size and portability are important, as you're most likely going to be the one packing it in your car/Uber/cab and carrying it in and out of the venue. Ideally, you want a nice balance of portability and good build quality. If it's too lightweight, it may not be made of the most durable materials which may not hold up well with repetitive use/practice and going out to play gigs in venues.

Everyone wants to play on cool-looking equipment, too. The truth is, DJ controllers are not equal when it comes to visual aesthetics. Some people like as many colors and flashing lights as possible, while others like more "serious-looking" setups with minimal lights and neutral colors.

Features & Functions

Different controllers are going to come with different types/number of features. The number of channels a controller has can quickly narrow down your options. Two channels is the standard, allowing you to mix two tracks at the same time and between each other.

However, some models feature four channels. Once you get into intermediate territory, you may feel bored with just two channels and want to start creating more elaborate mixes. If you're looking to get into techno, I highly suggest opting for four as you can take elements from various tracks and start creating new sounds, mixes, and "tracks" on the fly to elevate the listening and mixing experience.

Jog wheels are another feature to seriously consider. As you'll notice, once we start getting into the product reviews, some models come with jogs, and some don't. Jog wheels offer a more "authentic" experience/feel, as they more closely replicate the feeling of vinyl, allowing you to jog a track back or forth and nudge it to help with beatmatching. Non-jog models still let you move the track back and forth but is done so with buttons or other methods. 

Having or using a crossfader is no longer the standard for DJs, so think about if it's something you need or want to have. Crossfaders are necessary if you're a scratch and hip-hop DJ, however, in dance/4-to-the-floor music, it’s rarely used.

Finally, consider the type of inputs/outputs the controller comes with. If you’re performing at venues, you’ll want to be able to connect to their master. Having a booth output is also important to have and will output the same mix as the master output but has its own independent volume control. This is important, so you can control the volume of the booth’s monitors to most efficiently mix while ensuring you’re not damaging your ears.

Easy to Setup

No one wants to have a complicated controller to set up, especially if you’re constantly connecting it at different venues. Ideally, all you should have to do is take the USB connection, hook it up to your laptop, your line out to the booth/master, and be ready to go.

Portability & Versatility

DJing is all about versatility, and can quickly get boring for you (not the audience perhaps) if your controller isn’t set up to allow you to advance your skills or expand on what you know.

4-channel controllers are going to offer more versatility than 2, as you can mix and tease songs in and out, playing up to 4 different tracks at a time. Remix decks and those that allow you to play with stems will also allow for more versatility.

Some models come with pads made for memory points, cue points, looping, samples, and so on. These pads can also make pulling off more complicated tricks and techniques easier, further expanding your repertoire.

Price & Warranty

Think about how much you're comfortable with spending on one of the best DJ controllers in the world? It's a smart idea to have a number or range beforehand, so you don't accidentally spend more than you wanted to. However, keep in mind that the more you spend, the more features you're going to have, like built-in screens, more channels, etc.  You can expect them to have better build quality, which means they'll last longer and serve you better.


10 Best DJ Controllers Reviewed

1. Numark Mixtrack Pro II

Our Top Pick

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

2

Dimensions

2” x 18.75” x 11”

Weight

4.15 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

RCA, Headphone Monitor (1/4” Jack, Mini-Jack)

Warranty

No

The Numark Mixtrack Pro II is without-a-doubt one of the best DJ controllers, offering up a solid selection of features and excellent build quality at an affordable price. It's one of the best choices you can make if you're a beginner just starting out. 

Right when you open the box, you’ll see that everything is either black, dark grey, or brushed metal. When you take it out, you’ll notice that it’s very lightweight and quite thin, making it simple to transport if you want to move it from room-to-room or even take it to a small gig.

The build is comprised of plastic. However, the faceplate is also of this faux brushed metal, looking a bit more sophisticated. A beveled top and curved bottom only add to the more upscale feel, and four rubber feet keep your controller right where you need it to be.

“Numark’s Mixtrack Pro II encompasses all the great and inspiring features from the original version but adds a bit of flavor and design enhancements to this next edition,” says Guitar Center.

Inside the box, you’ll also find some user guides and a USB cable to connect to your laptop. However, if you need to connect to an amp and speakers (aka if you’re not just mixing in your headphones), you'll need to get your own audio cable for RCA outputs. Setup is as easy as it gets; just plug the controller in by USB to your laptop, open up the software program, and you're ready to go!

I was a bit surprised to see that there wasn’t a software download CD or anything inside, so you’re expected to go online to download the compatible software, which is Serato. Serato DJ Intro is free, though you can also opt to purchase Serato DJ Pro or "rent" it per month for around $10. 

The jog wheels are nice and sturdy, though they are notably smaller than many other comparable models and even on the original Mixtrack. They're smooth and wobble-free, as well as touch-activated. That means you can run them in Scratch Mode to create a pitch bend effect by just touching the side/silver edge of the wheel.

The backlit rubber performance pads also feel nice and high-quality, though the fact that they’re located behind the jog wheels is very odd to me. It just doesn't seem like a very intuitive location, as you could easily touch the jog wheel as you're trying to press a pad. The pads provide the standard functions: cues, samples, loops, and effects. Effects can be chosen in Serato, but expect relative basics like echo, filters, and phasers.

Other than that, I also felt the EQ knobs of the two-channel controller were a bit close together, with the pitch faders being pretty close to the pads. It's a bit interesting that they opted for a master fader instead of a knob, which would've saved more space. The fader caps and EQ knobs are made of plastic and do feel a bit cheap, but this is typical at this price point. The pitch faders were pretty small, which makes learning to beat-match by ear rather tricky, but you can always refer to your screen to make sure each channel is on the right BPM anyway. 

On the right-hand side of the Numark DJ controller, you'll find two headphone sockets: 1/8" and ¼," along with volume control, USB, and twin RCA outputs for an amp and speakers.

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight enough to carry to gigs
  • Perfect for absolute beginners
  • Sturdy and wobble-free jog wheels

Cons

  • Not the best build quality

2. Pioneer DDJ-SZ2

Best Pioneer DJ Controller

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

4

Deck Control

4/Dual

Dimensions

3.87” x 34.25” x 16.52”

Weight

23.59 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

2 MIC, 2 Phono/Line(RCA), 4 CD/Line(RCA), 2 USB B ports, 2 headphone (1/4” Jack, Mini-Jack), 2 Master, 1 Booth

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

If you’ve read any DJ controller reviews, you’re likely to have seen the Pioneer DDJ-SZ2 ranking towards or at the top of them. Pioneer is currently the most respected brand in the DJ world as the creators of the powerful software, Rekordbox, and industry-standard equipment: CDJs and DJMs.

It is quite a bit more expensive than our previous product, and while it’s still a great model to learn on, the larger investment may be more appropriate for intermediate to advanced DJs. Offering a kind of mirrored CDJ-style setup, this Pioneer controller will perfectly prepare you to play in bigger venues and hone your skills.

Right when you receive it, you'll see just how big it is. You can tell by the weight of it that it's the real deal - a professional piece of equipment. The 4-channel controller is perfectly spaced out, once again drawing comparisons to your typical CDJ2000NXS/DJM setup.

Even the aluminum jog wheels are about the same size, coming with the same illuminating On-Jog Display, which provides you with info about the current playback status and position for improved precision. Scratching feels natural on these, and you can also adjust the tension and backspin time to your liking.

The low latency can handle double-handed scratch moves, which is pretty rare for a controller! You can also choose to use Slip Mode, keeping tracks playing while using loop, scratch, or reverse. 

 Coming with Serato DJ Pro, you'll be able to take advantage of extra features like key shift, key sync, pitch play, and Serato Flip. While any kind of DJ can use these to their benefit, they’re most used among hip-hop/scratch DJs and those playing EDM and can seriously take your skills to the next level.

The 16 backlit performance pads (8 under each jog wheel) feature different LED colors, so they're easier to differentiate. Hot Cues, Roll, Slicer, Sampler, Cue Loop, Saved Loop, Slicer Loop and Pitch play are all at your disposal. The velocity feature means that the effect's intensity changes depending on how hard you press the pad, which also brings a whole new aspect to what you can do and how much control you have.

In addition, you'll find 4 different effects knobs at the top of each side, and you can choose your desired effects in Serato. Just below them is a touch strip that allows you to need search for fast, precise, and intuitive searches.

Under each of the four EQ knob sets, you'll find a dedicated silver knob that is used for the included Colour FX: Echo, Jet, Pitch, and Filter. These are what you'd find on most modern DJM models, once again allowing you to become familiar with pro DJ booths.

Under that, are the volume faders, with each one made of a sturdy metal material. Finally, at the bottom is a Magvel fader, which comes with metal shafts and a contact-free magnetic system, which is the most durable and swift money can buy. 

For excellent sound quality, you’ll also find a high-performance D/A converter and low-jitter crystal oscillator that’s perfect for even the biggest sound systems. The DJ controller Pioneer has constructed is definitely not one to gloss over.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Excellent sound quality and latency
  • Wide variety of effects and performance pad features
  • Perfect for learning how to play on CDJs and DJMs

Cons

  • A bit big if you’re limited on space or carrying it to gigs
  • Rather expensive in comparison to other models

3. Pioneer (DDJ-1000)

Best Rated Model

Compatible DJ Software

Rekordbox

Number of Channels

4

Deck Control

4/Dual

Dimensions

2.89” x 27.87” x 14.23”

Weight

13.23 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 Booth, 2 Master, 2 MIC inputs, 2 headphone (1/4” Jack, Mini-Jack)

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

We’re back yet again with another Pioneer DJ controller, but this time with a non-Serato model: the DDJ-1000. In fact, it was specifically made to work with Rekordbox’s Performance Mode! As it comes with the Rekordbox DJ license key in the box, you don’t have to worry about buying it. While the DJ midi controller isn’t reinventing the wheel, it’s incredibly user-friendly, intuitive and has a full CDJ2000NXS2 style.

It’s hard to deny that Pioneer really cares about the build quality of their products, and the DDJ-1000 is exemplary. While it is comprised of a plastic base with various metal faceplates, it's substantial and sturdy.

Much like the previous model, it also comes with 4 channels with trim pots, three-band EQs, Color FX knobs, and an assignable Magvel crossfader. The pots and faders also feature the Pioneer CDJ/DJM feel, with a great amount of control and heft to each component. 

You’ll find two jog wheels, which are also very solid and mechanical. They’re very responsive and easy to use, making beatmatching and scratching that much easier and reliable. The screen displays in the center of each jog are very impressive, featuring a high resolution and frame rate to display album art, the track’s waveform and time, along with a phase meter to help you better transition and mix between tracks.

As the first Pioneer DJ controller to feature double hardware effects sections, you’ll see the traditional DJM effects, along with some that are unique to just this model! The Sound Colour FX feature: Dub Echo, Pitch, Noise, and Filter, which are controlled by the silver knobs on each channel.

Then, you get 14 Beat FX which you'd use through the rotary switch in the dedicated section, like on a DJM: Low Cut Echo, Echo, Delay, Spiral, Reverb, Transformer, Enigma Jet, Flanger, Phaser, Pitch, Slip Roll, Roll, and two Mobius Effects which are cool because you can loop effects into the other, widening your possibilities.

Looping is essential for many DJs: beginners and pros, alike. What it does is "loop” a section of the track of your choosing. You can use this loop to "tease" one track into the next or use it to help mix tracks when there are vocals that may otherwise clash into each other, among other things. This looping section features the standard yellow buttons, and you can also choose to use Auto Loop, which will automatically give you a 4-beat loop to use.

The DDJ-1000 features the exact same performance pads as the DDJ-SZ2, springy and responsive enough to be used regularly without fail. Connecting to professional PA equipment is also a breeze, due to the Booth, 2 Master, and 2 MIC inputs.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Intuitive loop section
  • Wide variety of effects and performance pad features
  • Screen displays on jogs show you vital track info

Cons

  • A bit big if you’re limited on space or carrying it to gigs

4. Pioneer DJ DDJ-400

Best DJ Controller Under $250

Compatible DJ Software

Rekordbox

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

2

Dimensions

2.3” x 18.98” x 10.72”

Weight

4.63 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 MIC (1/4” Jack), USB B Port, 1 Master (RCA), 1 Headphone (Mini-Jack)

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

If you’re looking for the best DJ controller under $250 but still want quality, take a look at the Pioneer DDJ-400. The Rekordbox-compatible unit is great if you're looking to improve your skills. 

"It's a solid first controller for those looking to get into DJing and for club and pro DJs who are looking for a compact set-up they can use at home or on the go," says Digital DJ Tips.

The 2-channel controller comes with 3-bad EQs, trim pots, filters, volume faders, and a crossfader. The pots and faders are made of plastic and aren’t quite as swift as those on more expensive models, but they get the job done.

Featuring two jog wheels, they're quite small but not a big deal if you don't have overly large hands. They're touch-capacitive, responsive, and even a bit solid when you compare them to similarly priced models. The glossy top of the jog offers just a bit more grip, and the rubber rim helps with this, which is extremely useful when pitch bending or gently nudging a track backward or forward.

The pitch faders used to adjust the BPM or speed of the track is longer than some comparable models out there, but they're still not as long as I would've liked them to be. However, they're by no means weak or difficult to work with.

I was impressed by the looping section, which is just like what you'd find on the DDJ-1000 and SZ2. It's easy to loop in and out, even offering an auto loop function. FX controls are located in the Beat FX section, which is actually not all that intuitive, but the model comes with an exclusive tutorial video series that shows you how to use them, along with mixing tips.

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact – perfect for transportation
  • Intuitive loop section
  • Wide variety of effects and performance pad features
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Not the best build quality
  • Not as fully-featured as more expensive models

5. Numark DJ2GO2

Best Budget/Cheap DJ Controller

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

2

Dimensions

1.32” x 16.92” x 3.36”

Weight

4.63 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 MIC (1/4” Jack), USB B Port, 1 Master (RCA), 1 Headphone (Mini-Jack)

Warranty

No

If you’re on a budget but don’t quite want to spend enough to get the DDJ-400, then I have the perfect selection for you: the Numark DJ2GO2. I guarantee you won’t find a Serato DJ controller at a lower price than this. It comes with everything you need and nothing you don't, so if you're looking to get your bearings as a DJ, this is an excellent choice. 

I personally love the Numark DJ2GO2 for when I'm traveling. As I don't need to pack it in a separate case or worry about it taking up a lot of room or adding extra weight, I can just tuck it in my backpack, and I can practice wherever. The low profile and very small design won’t take up a lot of room on a desk or table, either.

Coming with Serato DJ Intro, all you have to do is plug it into your laptop via the included USB cord, open Serato, and you're ready to go. Despite its small size, it surprisingly comes with a built-in sound card, so you don't need an interface or anything like that.

You'll find two jog wheels, a sync button, cue, play buttons, and a crossfader, with a pitch fader on each side to adjust the speed of your tracks. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with any EQ controls, so your mixing will be fundamental. However, if you're really on a tight budget and want to start learning your skills, then it’s a nice way to break into it.

What you do have is four different pad modes to completely control cue points, loop, and even sample! In my opinion, I would've instead used this space for EQ controls, as this is more of an essential function of a DJ rather than sample pads.

Finally, it has a pro-grade audio interface with a 1/8" headphone output and 1/8" main output to be able to connect to any mixers, powered speakers, and audio recorders.

Pros

  • Lightweight and small – perfect for transportation
  • Very inexpensive
  • Works with Serato
  • Very affordable

Cons

  • Not the best build quality
  • Very limited on features

6. Pioneer (DDJ-SR)

Best DJ Controller for Scratching

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

4

Dimensions

21.9” x 12.6” x 2.6”

Weight

9.7 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 MIC (1/4” Jack), USB B Port, 1 Master (RCA), 1 Headphone (Mini-Jack)

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

As you can see by now, Pioneer is undoubtedly the most prominent brand when it comes to DJ gear. They really do have something for everyone, every genre, every style, budget, and so on. The DDJ-SR is perfect for the semi-pro/intermediate who is looking to advance their skills quickly, or more specifically, a scratch DJ. That's not to say a beginner couldn't use it, though it is a bit more complex than beginner-tailored models.

The USB-powered kit is easy to use and set up, which is helpful if you're planning on taking it to gigs. The compact design is also very lightweight, so if you're planning on transporting it frequently or are limited on space at home, it's a solid choice. Made of plastic, it doesn't have the best build quality out there, but it's still pretty sturdy, which the steel faceplate helps with.

Coming with Serato DJ Intro, it still offers quite a few features, but I was a bit disappointed that a controller of this this level didn’t come with the Pro.

Each component feels pretty nice and tough, albeit a bit rubbery in regards to the performance pads. As the setup is asymmetrical, it may take a bit of getting used to for those who are already used to mirrored deck setups. Each comes with 8 performance pads, 4 effect selection controls, 3 FX knobs, and tempo faders.

While at first glance, it just looks like a 2-channel controller, if you look closer, you'll see that each deck comes with a Shift key. When pressed, it will switch over to a 3rd or 4th deck, meaning you can start using 4 tracks at the same time if you want!

As one of the best DJ controllers for hip hop, it has some handy features in the performance pads, like looping, rolling, slicing, and more to create broader horizons to your creativity. Coming with Pad Plus, you get to take effects to a new level. My personal favorite is using the slicer pad, making each pad become triggerable effects like reverb fadeouts, which sound fantastic and help create a smooth transition.

If that weren't enough, you'll also find 12 FX software packs, and you can purchase more if you'd like to expand further. Just like with many other Pioneer controllers, you can only use 3 at a time, so you'll need to choose wisely.

These are controlled by the little knobs above each jog wheel, which aren't the most conveniently located, but do just fine as long as you're careful not to hit your jog accidentally. That is unless you have it running in Slip Mode. In that case, it will just keep playing as normal. You can have a loop going, scratch, trigger samples, and it will still keep playing.

Overall, this is the best DJ controller for scratching and is one to keep your eye on for a good middle-of-the-road option.

Pros

  • Lightweight and small – perfect for transportation
  • Listed at an affordable price
  • Works with Serato
  • Helps improve skills for intermediates/semi-pros
  • Great for scratching/low latency

Cons

  • Not the best build quality (but not the worst, either)
  • A bit limited on features

7. Numark Mixtrack Pro 3

Best DJ Controller for Beginners

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

2

Dimensions

1.1” x 21.6” x 9.1”

Weight

5.64 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 MIC (1/4” Jack), USB B Port, 1 Master (RCA), 1 Headphone (Mini-Jack)

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

Are you just starting out but don't know where to begin? Let me present to you the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3: quite possibly the best of its kind at this price point. While there are a few different controllers on this guide that would make sure you excel as a beginner, there are some select features the Mixtrack Pro 3 has that the others lack. 

"It has all the necessary features considered to be entry-level, and can deliver a solid performance straight out of the box," says DJ WORX.

Right out of the box, I loved this design. The smooth, brushed black body is thin, sleek, deep, and a bit wider than what you'd get from the DDJ-SR, so consider that when you're figuring out how much space you have for it. However, it is quite light, so transportation should still be straightforward. Black matte turning knobs and faders look modern and very aesthetic, with red-backlit buttons, jog wheels, and red-and-blue performance pads.

One of the unique features on this beginner DJ controller is the long-throw pitch faders, which are practically impossible to find at this price point. This makes it so much easier to learn accurate beat-matching – even by ear as you have the room to be precise. Along with that are touch strips to allow for quick scrubbing through tracks and other features. A vast improvement upon the Mixtrack Pro 2 is the deeper jog wheels, which feel more sturdy and give you something a bit more substantial to move.

The 2-channel controller comes with 3-band EQ controls, a volume fader on each, and a crossfader in-between. These do admittedly all feel a bit cheap, though what can you expect from such an affordable model? They work just fine, but I won't pretend that the crossfader is made to be used for scratching or anything like that. I also enjoyed the simple effects section, which comes with 3 effects per each side.

The Numark Mixtrack 3 DJ Controller works with Serato, coming with Serato DJ Intro though you'll have to go online and download the software. The plug-and-go style requires you to plug it into your computer via the USB. 

Pros

  • Lightweight and compact – perfect for transportation
  • Listed at an affordable price
  • Works with Serato
  • Excellent for beginners

Cons

  • Small/limited function performance pads

8. Numark NS711

Best DJ Controller for Hip Hop

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

4

Deck Control

4/Dual

Dimensions

17.5” x 30” x 5.3”

Weight

35.8 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

1 MIC (1/4” Jack), USB B Port, 1 Master (RCA), 1 Headphone (Mini-Jack)

Warranty

n/a

If you’re a hip hop DJ, then there’s literally no other competition for the Numark NS7II– it outranks everything else by a landslide. 

"But the question remains, is this really the best DJ controller money can buy? The short answer is ‘probably' unless portability is high on the list of features that will sway the decision to hand over the cash," says DJ Mag.

The Numark DJ controller does make portability quite challenging, as it's quite a beast in every aspect – weight and size included. Weighing just over 35 pounds, you will have to lug it around if you need to take it somewhere. However, it's definitely not lacking in professional features and quality components. If you read any Numark DJ controller review, this is not debated.

The build quality can't be beat, which is comprised of a metal and matte anodized faceplate on each deck. Quality is very consistent throughout the model, with the backlit rubber pads featuring a sturdy plastic trim. Some knobs are made of plastic and some of rubber, though the majority also come with metal shafts to ensure they hold up to rough use.

Let’s now take a look at perhaps the most unique and attractive feature for many: the motorized 7” platters. Coming in somewhere between a static jog wheel and a real turntable, you'll put the platters together with an Allen screw, holding the vinyl to the motor spindle. This allows you to adjust how it spins on the included slip mats to your liking.

What's really cool is you can even opt to add your own 7" vinyl and slipmats! Switchable torque allows for further customization, but I did find that the low setting is still stronger than most turntables currently out there.

Startup and spin-down time is no more than 4 seconds, and all you have to do is press a button to do so. With Slip Mode, you'll be in your element, being able to scratch and loop without the track stopping. You can also take advantage of Reverse and Bleep, which is an instant reverse censor – perfect if you forgot the track you're playing isn't already censored.

To quickly scrub through tracks, you'll find a touch strip search, which makes it so much easier to get back to the beginning of a record without hitting any pre-planned cue points along the way. However, it's not quite as accurate as some Pioneer models.

With a 100mm pitch control and rubber knob, you’ll easily be able to beat-match with your ears or your eyes. Right below them, you’ll find pitch bend buttons which is also fun to use, though you can also use the vinyl for pitch bending, too. The model comes with options of 8, 16, and 50% pitch ranges, along with the master tempo you’ll find on DJMs.

The 4-channel controller makes it easy to start mixing more than 2 tracks/elements at once. Each channel comes with 3-band EQs along with post-EQ/pre-fader meters and filters, which is impressive as much as it is useful. The crossfader curve is also professional-level quality and also comes with crossfader assign switches to choose how you want the fader to work between channels.

One more feature that sets this model apart from the rest is the silver-topped, capacitive knobs. Not only do they respond when turned, but also when touched! For example, if you press the Shift button and then an EQ button, that EQ range is ultimately killed for that particular channel. However, if you press Shift and the "touch" button, it will stay killed, so you don't have to keep pressing Shift.

As far as effects goes, you’ll get 2 banks of 3 effects that are similar to what you’d find in the less pricey Pioneer controllers. Coming with 3 rotary encoders and a notched encoder for the beats parameter, you have complete and precise control over them. While it’s a bit confusing at first, you’ll soon find that they flow well and allow for a natural workflow. The touch encoders also work here to give you more options.

The 2 sets of 8 pads are durable though I personally prefer the velocity-sensitive pads of other controllers. Coming with Serato DJ Pro, you’ll be able to select any of your preferences and record your sets without having to purchase anything or upgrade.

Pros

  • Comes with unique 7” motorized decks that can be used just like vinyl
  • Huge array of effects and unique touch-capacitive features
  • Comes with Serato DJ Pro
  • Excellent for professionals and hip hop DJs

Cons

  • Very heavy and big

9. Denon DJ MC4000

Best DJ Controller for Beginners

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

2

Deck Control

2

Dimensions

19.9” x 12.3” x 2.7”

Weight

8.95 pounds

Analog Inputs/Outputs

2 MIC inputs, two ¼” outputs (Booth), 2 XLR outputs, 1 RCA output, one ¼” and one 1/8” stereo headphone output

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

Denon draws many similarities to Numark in its build quality and jog wheels, though this model is significantly more compact and transportable. If you’re a modern, working DJ who needs a sturdy yet portable model that won’t let you down and is listed at an affordable price, you can’t go wrong with the Denon DJ MC4000, the best DJ controller under $500.  

As one of the best-looking controllers out there, you'll find it's almost entirely a glossy black, with various backlit buttons coming in white, orange, and blue. The black metal doesn't scratch or dent easily, which makes it perfect for regular travel. The jog wheels are also very sturdy – not too wobbly nor too flimsy.

Another reason why this Denon DJ controller does so well for DJs of all experience levels is the logical and intuitive layout. The 2-channel controller isn't big, and everything just makes sense when you use it. Featuring two MIC channels with echo and twin-band EQ for each, you can tell that this controller is made for live performances.

Long-throw pitch faders also had me impressed, making it easier to not only learn beat-matching by ear but to overall have a better performance each time you use them. You can also take advantage of the key lock button, which also works as a pitch fader range control.

Below the jogs are 8 different pads but be warned that 4 of them are actually transport controls. The top 4 are hot cue pads, so don't expect the performance features that other models come with.

You can loop your tracks with the 4 buttons above each jog, or click Auto Loop to automatically create a loop at the length of your choosing – either 4 beats, 4 bars, or 8 bars. The three-bad EQs are nice to use, offering a good amount of control and heft. The Filter knob for each channel is just a bit bigger, but everything operates smoothly.

Coming with Serato DJ Intro, you’ll probably want to choose to upgrade to Serato Pro is you’re playing gigs at venues. This means you will have to spend a bit more, though I did appreciate they tossed in a 50% coupon to make costs a bit lower.

Pros

  • Great metal build quality
  • Listed at an affordable price
  • Works with Serato
  • Excellent for professionals
  • Looks visually aesthetic
  • Long-throw pitch faders

Cons

  • Only 2 channels
  • Doesn’t feature many effects/performance pad features

10. Roland (DJ-808)

Best 4 Channel DJ Controller

Compatible DJ Software

Serato

Number of Channels

4

Deck Control

4/Dual

Dimensions

2.5” x 18.87” x 11.75”

Weight

4 pounds 11 ounces

Analog Inputs/Outputs

¼" MIC in, RCA phono Master Out, PC Port, USB B, MIDI Out, DC-In Jack

Warranty

Yes, 1 Year

Roland is an absolutely legendary company, gaining fame for creating the TR-808, a drum machine that quickly became the most iconic electronic instrument in the world. The manufacturer is still one of the most popular today in music production of all electronic genres, so it's no surprise that when they came out with their DJ-808, DJs also went crazy for it.

Working with Serato and coming with their DJ Pro, right when it arrives it’s ready to be used. Both the look and build quality were impressive, though not necessarily surprising considering the brand’s history of creating quality. While it’s not outright bulky nor heavy, it weighs just enough to let you know that it can withstand regular transport and use. This 4-channel controller is the perfect option if you’re looking to add something else in your performances. It is, after all, an instrument, too.

What makes the DJ-808 so unique is that it comes with the drum machine (TR-S) built into it. You can route the sounds through Serato with FX applied to them, which takes it to a whole new level, creating sounds not otherwise possible with the 808 alone. Coming with a MIDI sample step sequencer, you can save up to 16 patterns at once. If that weren't cool enough, you'll also get a vocal transformer, which is perfect if you're a singer or like adding vocals while DJing, which honestly not enough people do. 

Moving down the controller, you'll find the "ultra-low latency" jog wheels. Below them are 8 RGB performance pads each, with 4 being velocity-sensitive. Loop, pitch, sync, mode select buttons, and transport controls are all there. As they are velocity-sensitive, the parameters are changed by how hard or soft you press the pad, which also adds up to a meticulous live performance.

In the mixer area, you’ll find 4 different channels with 5 fader channels. The 5th one in the center Is what controls the volume of the drum machine and sampler, so you can use or not use it at your leisure.

If you’d like to use the DJ-808 without Serato, you can do that too. Thanks to a great selection of inputs and outputs, you can quickly hook up additional hardware/external audio sources. Sound quality is some of the best I've heard, though this also isn't necessarily surprising. 

"The output level definitely has some of the best headroom of any controller we have played on. It's truly built with sound quality and build quality in mind," says We Are Crossfader.

Pros

  • Great metal build quality
  • Comes with built-in 808 drum machine
  • Comes with Serato’s Pitch ‘N’ Time
  • Excellent for professionals
  • Looks visually aesthetic
  • Can be used alone, without Serato

Cons

  • Not ideal if you don’t find value in drum machines

DJ Controllers vs DJ Mixer

A DJ controller is a kind of all-in-one system, where you have transport controls for each deck, volume, EQs, and speed controls. You have everything you need to DJ with a controller (along with a laptop/software for some controllers).

On the other hand, you can take a DJ mixer kind of like the area of the controller where you'll find the EQs, volume faders, volume trim, etc. This is a unit completely separate from the CDJs and turntables. The dedicated mixing suite will have inputs for these units, however. 

Mixers offer reliable and quick connectivity and have a rear panel with an array of different inputs/outputs. The vast majority of mixers will come with 4 separate channels, though this may vary. You'll typically find 3-band EQs on each channel: lows, mids, and highs. However, mixers from Allen & Heath often have 4-band EQs, where you'll get an additional port to further control the mids for extra detail and control.

A&E mixers also usually come with kill switches or, when turned to the left, will completely kill that frequency. Pioneer mixers, which are the industry standard, will not completely kill the signal when the EQs are completely turned to the left, though they come close. Mixers are usually more expensive, though if you get an older, used model, you can save quite a bit of money.


How to Set Up a DJ Controller

Most times, setting up a DJ controller is quite simple – especially if you're only going to be mixing at home. First, you want to make sure that the corresponding DJ software and drivers for your DJ controller are already installed on your computer.

Once you've done that, it's just a matter of plugging it in via the included USB cord, into your laptop. Open the software program (usually Serato or Rekordbox), and it should automatically recognize your controller.

If your controller allows you to connect to ¼" speaker cables, then you are already ready to go. However, if it does not, you'll need an audio interface that can. This is if you're going to connect to passive speakers. Powered speakers are much easier to work with and may use ¼" speaker cables, XLRs, or RCA cables.


How to Use a DJ Controller

Using a DJ controller may not be the most natural process for everybody. Let's take a look at how to properly operate them.

  1. 1
    Take a look at the ports on the rear of your controller. You’ll almost always find RCA outputs, with one port being red and the other white. You’ll want to use them with the corresponding red and white audio cables. These will then hook up to the speakers of your choice.
  2. 2
    No matter which software program you're using, you'll be able to connect your laptop to your controller, and the program should automatically recognize it. You'll likely see two circles pop up on the screen where the library used to be, with each representing a "deck" or jog wheel.
  3. 3
    Most controllers will come with a little knob that will allow you to select a track from your library. You can use specified keys next to the knob to choose which deck to load it to. Make sure you’re not loading it to a deck that’s already playing because it will stop the playing track, which is not what you want.
  4. 4
    The vast majority of controllers come with 8 pads below each jog. Often the bottom 4 are transport controls, letting you start, pause, cue, etc. your tracks. Sometimes, there will be completely separate buttons dedicated to playing, pausing, and cueing. Cueing a song is helpful to see what it sounds like, and sometimes, the cue will automatically take you back to a specific cue point you've created.
  5. 5
    Pitch faders are typically on the side of each jog wheel. They vary in length, and generally speaking, the longer they are, the better. Small pitch faders make manual beatmatching extremely difficult, though not impossible. This is because the precision isn't quite as easy to hit, as each pitch fader, no matter the length, is typically set at a range of +- 10 BPM. So, if you have a long-throw fader, it's going to be much easy to get it on the correct BPM without having to look at your screen. Of course, some DJs don't find interest in manual beatmatching, especially as many controllers today have the "Sync" function.
  6. 6
    Sync will automatically sync up playing tracks (up to 4) not only in BPM but in beats. If you're curious about how to count beats and what they are, check out this video.
  7. 7
    The jog wheel or “platter” is essential in DJing, allowing you to scratch, to nudge it to adjust the beats, or even temporarily adjust the tempo to match your already-playing track.
  8. 8
    EQ controls vary per controller, but most will come with 3-band EQs. This means that there are 3 different knobs – one that controls each band or frequency range of the music you're playing. The bottom knob controls the lows – basslines and kick drums are found here and are typically the most powerful frequency range of dance music as well as hip hop. The middle knob controls the mid-range, where most energy is usually found. This is where the vocals generally lie, along with the main melody and most other instruments. The top knob controls the high frequencies, where you'll find hi-hats, many synthesizers, and more. You'll use these to mix between tracks.

This is a great tutorial to find out more about EQ mixing.


DJ Controller: Common Issues & Fixes

Hands-down the most common issue with DJ controllers is their software program not recognizing it. The first thing you want to do is make sure that your USB cord is appropriately working.

If it is, then plug it into your laptop, and your computer should automatically start searching for the appropriate drivers or ask your permission to. With Serato, you can find all of these on their website, though most Serato controllers will already come with a CD loaded with just about everything you need. Keep in mind that sometimes drivers install incorrectly. It doesn’t hurt to uninstall the drivers and then re-install them. This often solves the issue.

Another common issue is that it’s not being recognized as the correct device. Go to your Sound Panel and make sure that instead of your controller is selected as the right audio device, that you're selecting anything else. This could be the mixer or it could be your laptop’s speakers. This will often fix the issue of it not being recognized in your software program.

Another common issue is glitchy faders and jog wheels. Luckily, this almost always has a simple solution: cleaning! If you’re having issues with your crossfaders, try to clean out any grime that may be hanging out. Make sure to use a soft cloth that you’d use to clean glasses on the jog wheels as they can be sensitive to scratching.


Frequently Asked Questions

How much does a DJ controller cost?

DJ controllers vary widely in cost. They can be as little as under $100 and up to almost $2,000. The price will vary depending on the build quality, size, features included, screens included, and more.

Can you scratch with a DJ controller?

Not with every controller, but if yours has low enough latency, then absolutely. It helps if you have a working crossfader, as well.

What are the best DJ controller brands on the market?

Pioneer is hands-down, the most successful and famous DJ controller brand. As they're the creators of the pro-standard CDJs and DJMs, it's no wonder why. Their controllers will set you up for success, inherently preparing you to be able to use their pro-level products. However, Denon and Numark are also very successful, creating high-quality, tough, yet user-friendly products.

What is a CDJ deck?

Each "deck" is made to represent what was once a turntable. The deck will come with its own jog wheel, set of transport controls, performance pads, pitch fader, and usually a set of FX.

Where is the best place to buy DJ controllers?

Amazon is the best place to buy DJ controllers, as there is such a wide variety. Not only that, but they offer the best prices in comparison to anyone else, and will ensure your controller operates properly and gets to you safely. You can read user reviews as well to make sure you’re really getting what you want.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve had the chance to essentially learn about everything you could ever want to know about the best DJ controllers in 2019, which model is the best one for you? If you’re still undecided, allow me to reiterate how much I love the Numark Mixtrack Pro II. It has a great build quality that will be able to hold up to regular use and transportation and looks great on top of that.

It's intuitive to use and works with Serato, which is currently one of the best software DJ programs out there. On top of all of that, it's incredibly affordable! What more could you want? However, what's most important is that you select the perfect product for you. I hope that this guide has helped you to do exactly that. Thanks for tuning in, and happy mixing!


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