For novice DJs and pros alike, controllers can be a great solution. They are one of the most affordable and versatile options, costing far less than a regular DJ player-and-mixer setup and packing in just as many, if not more, features.
However, if you’re interested in buying a new DJ controller, you’ll probably have noticed how many options there are, making it hard to decide. So, to help, here are our top picks for best DJ controller to ensure you find the right one for your needs.
If you’re searching for the best DJ controller for your needs, you’re probably wondering about which features you should be looking out for – so let’s think about some of the most important ones now.
Every controller has at least two channel faders and a crossfader, but if you want to be able to perform more than just the most basic transitions, you also need hi, mid and lo EQs on each channel. Without them, it is still possible to DJ – but what you can do will be extremely limited.
While some people still see manual beatmatching as the most fundamental part of a DJ’s craft, if you don’t want to spend hours mastering the skill – or you just want to get your records in time without having to worry about it – a sync button will save you all the hassle.
A necessary feature that all controllers must have is tempo adjust for each deck. However, if they are too short, they make beatmatching accurately much more difficult because you can’t make the tiny adjustments required.
This means you should look for a controller with long tempo adjusts that allow you to make the minute adjustments that allow you to get your two tracks perfectly in time.
In the days when DJs played with vinyl records, they would control the music by touching the record directly, and in the age of digital music, jog wheels are what replicates this function.
Just like playing with vinyl, jog wheels allow you to nudge the music forward, pull it back, scratch or perform backspins, and the best jog wheels should feel as natural and as close to using vinyl as possible.
The best ones are large enough to be comfortable to play with, they should be responsive and how low latency. If they are too small, unresponsive or inaccurate, it will be harder to use the controller effectively.
Most top DJs now usually have at least three players as part of their setup, and many insist on having four available – and one advantage of using a controller is that many of them allow you to mix with four decks without the need to buy extra equipment.
Four-deck mixing is no problem with only one jog wheel on either side, but the biggest issue is using four decks if you only have two channel faders.
This means if you are likely to be using three or four decks often, you should look for a controller with four-channel faders. The Pioneer DDJ-1000 in our review is a good example of a controller that offers this capability.
Another advantage of using a controller is that they often pack in lots of effects for you to experiment with, sometimes more than you find even on a top-end DJ mixer.
Most people will tell you that you shouldn’t overdo it with effects when mixing, but they’re fun to play with, and having the option can open the door to more creative sets – so check out what FX capability a controller has when choosing.
Yet another advantage of using a controller is that they often contain a built-in sampler, allowing you to play samples without the need to add any extra kit. This is something else to check out when buying.
Controllers are designed to do everything DJ players can do as well as everything mixers do. One of the features any decent player offers is hot cues, and even the most basic controller should also offer this function.
However, the same pads used for hot cues often double up for things like additional effects (again, see the DDJ-1000) as well as offering other features that can be fun to play about with.
The more advanced the controller, the more advanced features the performance pads will provide, so this is something else to consider when buying.
DJ controllers are designed to be used in conjunction with a laptop (and can’t be used without one). This means they all need dedicated DJ software, meaning the software they are compatible with is also a major consideration.
Traktor and Serato are widely regarded as two of the best DJing software packages, although Pioneer’s Rekordbox is also gaining more and more converts – these are three of the most popular pieces of software among the world’s top DJs.
If you have a preference for one of these – or anything else – you should check that any controller you are interested in is compatible with the relevant software.
Another point to consider is that some software packages require you to pay a subscription or one-off fee while others are free, so this is something else to investigate before making your final decision. Click herefor more information about the best free DJ software.
This cute DJ controller from Numark includes all the basic features that a novice DJ needs to learn the fundamentals of the craft. Along with the two channel faders and crossfader, it also boasts four pads for each channel – and four pad modes.
This means the pads can be used for hot cues, but they also allow you to use the auto-loop feature, manual loop or even drop samples into your mix.
One of the biggest advantages is that it comes Serato-ready, meaning you can jump straight in and start using it with one of the leading pieces of DJ software available. It also comes at a very affordable price point, making it a good pick for anyone who wants to try their hand at DJing.
This controller is small and compact, meaning you can take it anywhere. However, on the downside, the small jog wheels are fiddly to use, and you certainly shouldn’t expect to start pulling off any fancy scratching tricks with them.
Similarly, the tempo adjusts are very short, which will make it difficult to beat-match accurately for longer mixes – although it has a sync button, so you might not even want to bother with manual beatmatching.
Also, there is no hi/mid/lo EQ, so you will only be able to pull off the most basic transitions.
All in all, a solid option for anyone who is curious about DJing but who doesn’t want to spend a fortune on gear. Alternatively, a good pick if you need something light and mobile. If that sounds like the kind of thing you need, this controller could be worth a look.
Small and portable – easy to take with you anywhere
Serato-compatible – can also be used with other DJ software
Four pad modes – offers features such as hot cues and looping
Affordable price – great entry-level option
Easy to use – ideal for people who want to learn the basics
Small jogs – don’t expect to start scratching on these
No hi/mid/lo EQ – can only pull off the most basic transitions
Here’s another controller from Newmark, this time a slightly upgraded version compared to the very basic model we looked at above.
This version has a more convenient layout that is easier to use, and it also has hi/mid/lo EQs, so you’ll be able to try some more advanced mixing techniques.
Like the other version, it’s compact, lightweight and portable. We also love the built-in lights – this is not a serious controller you’d want to use at big gigs, but it would be great fun to bring along to house parties.
One negative is that although it comes with a “license” for Virtual DJ, this is actually only for a one-month free trial – after which, you have to pay. However, you can still use Serato Lite for free, so this is not a huge issue.
Also, we find the buttons and jog wheels are still all a little small, so if you’re used to playing on full-sized equipment, you’ll find using this a bit fiddly.
However, having said that, if you’re looking for a way into DJing, this controller is an affordable option that boasts all the basic features you’ll need to learn – and if that’s all you’re looking for, this could be a smart pick.
Convenient layout – makes it more user-friendly
Hi/mid/lo EQs – gives you more flexibility and control over your mixes
Portable controller – ideal for mobile DJs
Serato-ready – can be used with Serato DJ software
Built-in lights – perfect for house parties and more
Need to pay for Virtual DJ software – only a 1-month free trial included
Fiddly size – jog wheels and buttons are all too small to be comfortable
If you’re looking for the best controller currently available, Pioneer’s DDJ-1000 is probably it – arguably the only competition it has is the slightly more recent DDJ-1000SRT, which is the same controller but for Serato instead of Rekordbox.
It is so packed with features that many DJs won’t even use half of them. Highlights include LCDs on the jogs (something Pioneer might include on their next CDJs?) as well as the multi-function performance pads – we especially like the pad FX.
One of the biggest advantages of this controller is that it is designed to replicate the feel of a full club setup. This is the closest you’ll get to playing on a pair CDJ-2000NXS2s and a DJM-900NXS mixer – but for about a tenth of the price.
You also get four channels – with four individual channel faders – making it much more convenient for four-deck mixing.
One downside is that many users have reported crackling and distortion when running it with Windows – and I’ve even heard this happen on a Mac. However, there is a fix that makes the problem disappear, so it’s not a huge deal.
(The fix works perfectly – I’ve tried it myself. Pro tip: if you have different power settings on your laptop, make sure you apply the fix to all of them. Otherwise, the problem will reappear when using a different power setting.)
The only other downside is that it isn’t cheap. However, everything Pioneer makes is expensive (some people might prefer the word “overpriced”), and if you want the best equipment, you have to expect to pay more to get your hands on it.
In short, this is a top-end controller and the ideal option for anyone who wants to own the closest thing to a full club setup without spending around $10,000. This controller is full of features and is a pleasure to use, making it a highly recommended pick for serious DJs.
LCDs on jogs – spend less time looking at your laptop
Based on full club setup – feels like playing on CDJs and a Pioneer mixer
4 channels – with 4 separate channel faders
Performance pads – including pad FX mode
Includes Rekordbox license – no need to pay for a subscription
For the budding DJ with big ambitions but a small budget, this entry-level controller from Pioneer is an obvious pick. At the top end of the scale, Pioneer is the industry standard, and the advantage of buying Pioneer is that it’s easy to transition from one version to another.
That means if you start out on one of these, you can easily learn how to use a DJ-1000 or DJ-1000SRT or even the full CDJ/mixer combo.
This mixer is designed for Serato, so if you prefer Rekordbox, you can go for the very similar DDJ-400 instead – check here for more details about the Serato vs Rekordbox debate, and here’s a video dealing with the same topic.
We like the way Pioneer has upgraded the layout of this controller compared to the previous DDJ-SB2. Things like the looping function are more intuitive to use and more closely resemble similar features on higher-end equipment.
All the other features are here that you need, including FX, performance pads with hot cues and so on. You can also use this controller for four-deck mixing, although it can be a little awkward since there are only two channel faders.
However, if you are familiar with more expensive Pioneer equipment, this controller may feel a bit cheap and plasticky – although this doesn’t affect its performance.
Also, we don’t like that it takes a 1/8” headphone plug rather than a full-sized 1/4” one – this is another point which adds to the less professional feel of the controller.
However, these are not major issues and shouldn’t be deal-breakers. Otherwise, this is an excellent option for novice DJs who plan to upgrade to more expensive Pioneer equipment in the future.
A great entry-level controller with everything you need to learn the basics – so a big thumbs-up from us.
Intuitive controls – better design than the earlier DDJ-SB2
Familiar Pioneer layout – ideal entry-level controller if you plan to upgrade
Performance pads – with hot cues and other functions
FX feature – with 3 different effects
Possible to play 4 decks – although only 2 channel faders
Slightly cheap feel – not high quality like top-end Pioneer gear
If you don’t want to go the Pioneer route, this controller from Native Instruments could be another option worth considering.
We like the simple and intuitive layout of the controls, and we especially enjoy the mixer FX section that offers you eight effects and three different filters, allowing you to get more creative with your mixes.
The large jog wheels are a plus, as is the fact that it comes with a license for the highly regarded Traktor Pro 3 software – there’s no need to spend money on other software if you buy this controller.
There are some downsides to mention, however. First, if you enjoy scratching, this won’t allow you to do more than some simple baby scratches, so it’s not a good pick for turntablists.
Also, it isn’t cheap – it’s more expensive even than comparable Pioneer controllers – so perhaps it isn’t ideal if you’re on a budget.
In short, a solid option that could be worth investigating if you want to look at alternatives to Pioneer equipment – and if that sounds like you, this controller could be worth checking out.
Intuitive layout – ideal for learners and no problem to pick up
Mixer FX section – includes 8 effects and 3 filters
Portable controller – great if you need to carry it to gigs
Large jog wheels – comfortable and responsive
Traktor Pro 3 software license included – don’t need to pay extra
No good for scratching – not a good pick for turntablists
Expensive option – more expensive than Pioneer entry-level controllers
If you’ve always wondered what DJs do and are interested in learning the basics yourself, this controller from Hercules is designed to teach you the fundamentals, helping you master essential techniques like beatmatching.
This is not an easy skill to pick up, but the beat assist function will help you get it down in no time.
We also like the way this unit has all the features you need to get started, including hot cues, loop capability and channel EQs.
Another plus is that it comes with its own dedicated DJ software, so you don’t need to worry about paying for a license.
That said, it only runs with the software that was designed for it, so if you want to learn on something like Serato, this won’t allow you to do it.
Also, it’s small and plasticky, making it feel a bit like a toy. However, at this price point, that’s something we’re willing to accept.
This would be a great pick for anyone who wants to try their hand at spinning a few tunes – and could also be ideal for kids who love playing about with music. If that’s all you need it for, this could be just the thing.
Designed for beginners – a great tool to learn the fundamentals
Beat assist function – helps you master beatmatching
Comes with DJ software – don’t need to pay separately
Plenty of features for a beginner controller – includes looping and EQs
Easy to use – intuitive layout and simple to understand
Small and plasticky – feels a bit like a toy
Only works with DJUCED software – can’t use with more advanced software
The DJ-202 from Roland is an entry-level controller and more. What makes Roland controllers stand out from the crowd is that they include onboard drum kits – essentially, they pack in features from Roland’s famous drum machines to let you add percussion to your mixes.
Other than this, this other big positive is that this mixer includes a lifetime license for Serato’s DJ Pro software, the software this controller has been designed for. This will save you about $100 compared to paying for Serato separately.
Other positives include the size, since it’s compact and portable, the high build quality and the fact that you can use four decks – although there are only two channel faders.
On the downside, it is noticeably less intuitive to use than some other controllers. Also, the buttons feel quite stiff – although this is supposedly deliberate to ensure you don’t hit them by mistake while you’re playing.
To summarize, another solid pick if you’re looking for something other than a Pioneer machine – and you’ll love it even more if you like the idea of having an onboard drum machine on your controller. Reasonably priced and reliable, this could be another option worth considering.
Serato DJ Pro included – lifetime subscription
On-board drum kit – based on Roland drum machines
Compact and portable – ideal for transporting to parties and gigs
4-deck mixing capability – although only 2 channel faders
High-quality build – this feels like a quality product
Slightly unintuitive controls – not as easy to use as some other brands
Stiff pads – but designed so you don’t hit them by accident
As you can see, there are plenty of great options to choose from to suit any skill level and budget. If you’ve decided that controller DJing is the way to go but are having trouble choosing your equipment, any of the picks from our review would be a great place to start.