DJs are the rock stars of the modern music world. Who doesn’t want to be able to show up at a party and play the music that makes the whole room dance? But while plenty of people would like to be a DJ few ever get a chance to try. It takes more than an MP3 player and a speaker to be a real DJ. If you want to spin like the pros you need a quality DJ controller. This is because DJing isn’t just about creating a playlist and pressing play, it’s about performing live and reacting to the vibe of the crowd. A good DJ needs to be able to switch songs on the fly, keep transitions as smooth as possible, and make sure that the audio mixing is right where it needs to be. The best DJ controllers make all these tasks as easy and intuitive as possible.
Choosing the right DJ controller can be a very difficult task. There are more differences between controllers than there are among other types of musical instruments. There are dozens of different stats and features you might see when you look at any given controller, and it can be hard to decide which are most important. That’s why we created this guide.
In this guide, we will look at the 5 best DJ controllers on the market today. We’ve found controllers that are perfect for beginners, bargain-hunters, and experienced DJs who are looking to make an upgrade. In addition to pointing out the top controllers available, we will also help you decide where your priorities lie so you can easily find the tools that fit your goals. A new controller won’t turn you into David Guetta, but it will ensure that you have the tools necessary to make the most from your talent and training.
Here is Surf’n’Buy’s list of the top 5 DJ controllers in 2019.
Top 5 DJ Controllers
1. Pioneer DJ DJ Controller DDJ-SB2
- Hit the top 4 rubber pads to trigger Hot Cue, Auto Loop, Manual Loop and Sampler, and the bottom 4 for immediate access to Play, Cue, Sync and Shift
- The DDJ-SB2 features large, low-latency jog wheels to give you great scratch response and accuracy
- Use the trim knob and level meters to quickly check and adjust the input volume on each channel
- Independent low/high pass filter dials are inherited from the premium DDJ-SX2 and DDJ-SR controllers
- Hit Filter Fade to add 2 high pass filters to the crossfader so you can manipulate both the volume and bass filters with one hand for effortless mixes. That leaves the other hand free to get creative with loops, cue, samples and FX
- Two channels.
- 4-deck control.
- Two 5.04 inch aluminum jog wheel.
- One 1/4 inch mic input jack.
- One RCA and two 1/4 inch headphone monitor output jacks.
- One USB B port. USB powered.
- Trim knob, filter fade, manual loop, autoloop, skip mode, talkover function, and Serato DJ FX.
- Four hot cues.
- MIDI controls.
- 24 bit/44.1 kHz soundcard.
- Includes DJ software.
- 23 inches long, 13.5 inches wide, and 5.2 inches high.
- 4.6-pound controller weight.
- 6.7-pound shipping weight.
- One-year warranty covering parts and labor. Additional protection is available.
- Requires 1GB of memory and Windows 7 or higher, or Mac OS X 10.8 or higher.
- Simple to setup – Aspiring DJs who have never touched a controller before will find it easy to setup and use the DDJ-SB2. All you have to do is follow the instructions.
- Sizable jog wheels – The wheels are surprisingly large given the compact size of the controller. This makes it very easy to use them quickly and accurately.
- Comes with three output jacks – Hook this controller up to your computer, speakers, and headphones all at the same time.
- Includes 1/4 and 1/8 inch headphone jacks – This way the DDJ-SB2 will work for you if you have either of these two popular headphone formats.
- Lots of features are built in – Includes all of the tools and features an aspiring DJ could want.
- Comes with a one-year warranty – You can purchase with confidence knowing that Pioneer DJ covers a wide range of possible issues.
- Extended protection is available – Three and four-year protection plans are available at extra cost.
- Affordable price tag – This controller offers an incredible value at its price point.
- Only includes Serato DJ Intro – If you want the full power of Serato, you will need to pay extra to upgrade to the full version.
- Driver installation takes time – To fully use this controller you need to go to Pioneer’s website to download and install drivers individually. This doesn’t take too long, but it’s more effort than necessary.
- No wheel light – The jog wheels don’t light up in use. This is mainly a cosmetic issue, but in especially dark venues it might be difficult to get a good view of them.
- Can’t use both headphone jacks at the same time – You either have to pick the 1/4 or 1/8 inch; you can’t use both jacks to listen on two sets of headphones. Not much of a problem, but it would be nice to have the option.
- Designed for DJS ranging from beginners to immediate – Anyone who needs the full features of a professional controller might need to pay more to get a controller designed for pros.
Learning to DJ isn’t as easy as many assume, but it doesn’t have to be unnecessarily difficult. It’s important to get a DJ controller that is designed to be intuitive for beginners. That’s why the DDJ-SB2 from Pioneer is so highly regarded; it makes learning to DJ as simple as possible. There is plenty of power packed into this device, but it’s also incredibly easy to unleash. The DDJ-SB2 is designed with beginners in mind, but it is more than powerful enough to be used by intermediate DJs and even aspiring professionals.
This controller can take you far if you put in the effort to learn and utilize all that it has to offer. The only real downside is the fact that it only includes an introductory version of Serato DJ. Still, since most controllers come with basic programs, this can’t be held against the DDJ-SB2. If you want a great all-around controller that is perfect for beginners and intermediate DJs, then you can’t go wrong with the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 Portable 2-channel controller for Serato DJ. It’s wide range of features, excellent construction, and competitive pricing all add up to make the Pioneer DJ DJ Controller DDJ-SB2 our top option pick.
2. Hercules DJ Control Air S Series
- Dual-deck USB DJ Controller with touch and AIR control technologies, for PC and Mac; This controller offers an unrivalled features-to-price ratio and a modern, trendy design
- 2 pressure-detecting jog wheels to experiment with scratching (10 cm / 3.94" diameter); 8 progressive pads for controlling loops and effects
- Contactless AIR (Adjustment by Infrared) controls enabling users to master their mix without even touching their decks!; Dual built-in audio outputs (1/8") for mixing and previewing in headphones (1/4")
- Includes DJing software, DJUCED 18 Degree - a high-performance and intuitive application for mixing, synchronizing, beat matching and creating tracks; Specially designed for beginner and amateur DJs
- Mixing has never been as simple and fun; all you need is a computer, headphones and speakers!; Controller dimensions and weight: 13.78"(L) x 8.66"(W) x 1.1"(H) - 3.1 lbs.
- 2-deck control.
- Two 3.15-inch, pressure-detecting jog wheels.
- One 1/4 inch mic input jack.
- Two RCA, two 1/8 inch speaker output jacks, and one 1/8 inch headphone output jack.
- One USB B port. USB powered.
- MIDI controls.
- 16 bit/44.1 kHz soundcard.
- Includes DJ software and rotary LED light.
- 14.7 inches long, 9 inches wide, and 3.5 inches high.
- 2.2-pound controller weight.
- 3-pound shipping weight.
- Covered by two-year warranty. Additional protection is available.
- Requires 1GB of memory and Windows Vista or higher, or Mac OS X 10.7 or higher.
- Designed for beginners – The design isn’t bogged down with complicated features that won’t be used by anyone except for professional DJs. This is a great controller to learn on.
- Highly portable – At only 2.2-pounds it’s an incredibly light controller. It’s also the smallest controller on our list. Perfect for DJs on the go.
- Includes two RCA outputs – This ensures that you’ll be able to play your music in stereo.
- Includes DJ software – Get DJUCED 18 along with the controller itself. This software allows you to mix audio tracks together in real time and digitally output your live performances to share.
- Built-in USB cord – The controller is powered via USB and the cord is both built-in and retractable. This means you can extend it when you need to use it and retract it for easy storage when you need to transport it. This makes moving the Hercules Instinct S as easy as possible.
- Packed with a USB powered LED light – Hook this up along with your controller to add a light show to your musical performance.
- Comes with two-year warranty when purchased new – Make sure to register your product with Hercules to receive full protection.
- Optional two and three-year protection plans are available at little extra cost.
- Budget pricing – Bargain hunters should pay special attention to the Hercules Instinct S party pack.
- Lacks drum pads – This makes it harder to use the controller for producing music. It’s not a necessary feature, but some will miss it.
- Not the most durable – The construction is decent but not the best. Faders can fail with heavy use.
- LED light isn’t much of an added bonus – It’s a fun little toy but most people won’t get much use out of it. People with professional aspirations need professional lighting. Would have been better to shave a few more dollars off the price.
- May be too small – The smallest controller on our list might be too compact for someone. If you have larger hands you might want to look into a larger controller.
- Tiny jog wheels – More difficult to scratch on this controller than it is on others.
The Hercules DJ Control Air S Series is a fantastic little controller that packs plenty of power into a portable and affordable package. It’s a perfect device for anyone who wants to get a sense of what it’s like to DJ without having to make a massive investment of time and money. This controller is an especially good purchase if you are shopping for someone younger.
The compact design is perfect for smaller fingers, and the affordable pricing means that it’s relatively easy to replace. Still, don’t let this dissuade you if you’re looking to become a serious DJ. The Hercules DJ Control Air S Series has all the features a DJ needs to master if they want to go pro, even if this isn’t a professional-grade controller. This package is the most affordable deal available when you consider everything you get for one low price. That’s why the Hercules wins our pick for best buy option.
3. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 DJ Controller
- Updated MK2 hardware with new duo-tone design and improved fader reliability
- Plug-and-play support for hands-on control over TRAKTOR DJ for iPad and iPhone
- Silicone-damped jog wheels with aluminum top plates for high-resolution cueing and scratching
- Highly-intuitive 2+1 channel DJ performance system and flagship Traktor Pro 2 software with Remix Decks
- Plug and play with Traktor DJ for iPad and iPhone: Provides precision control, cueing, and club-ready output levels
- Two aluminum jog wheels.
- Includes one audio input.
- Includes two RCA output jacks, two 1/4 inch stereo output jacks, and one headphone output jack.
- 40 controls.
- 27 knobs.
- One USB port. USB powered.
- Four hot cues.
- Three-band EQ.
- Includes DJ software.
- 22 inches long, 13 inches wide, and 5 inches high.
- 5.7-pound controller weight.
- 8.2-pound shipping weight.
- Covered by one-year warranty. Additional protection is available.
- Requires 4GB of memory and Windows 7 or higher, or Mac OS X 10.9 or higher.
- Looks fantastic – It has the sort of design most people dream about when they imagine how a DJ looks. The contrast between the dark black and the colorful buttons makes this controller fun to look at and operate.
- Designed for use with the Traktor DJ portable apps – Use this controller to play music on your iPad and iPhone. Get your groove on while you’re on the go.
- Includes remix deck – This gives you a third channel to play with. Remix songs on the fly with all the freedom and power you could ask for.
- Customizable buttons – Set the cues and presets you want so you can achieve total control.
- Includes full software – When you buy this controller you’re also getting the full Traktor Pro S2 software. This isn’t an introduction version or a sample you have to pay for later, it’s the full version of a top shelf DJ software program.
- Protected by a one-year warranty – Extended protection is provided by three and four-year plans are available at extra cost.
- Disappointing documentation – The included documentation spends more time talking about the software than it does discussing the controller itself. This can be a problem if issues with the controller arise.
- Mic control is awkward – The button to adjust the built-in microphone is located in the back of the controller. This makes it hard to reach during performances. It can be easier to adjust gain in the software than on the controller, which is unfortunate.
- Not made from the highest grade materials – The plastic used to make this controller isn’t the grade you’d expect from a controller like this. It’s not fragile, but it feels cheaper than it should.
- Flimsy crossfaders – The faders are the most fragile part of this controller. It’s the part that is most likely to fail if you use this controller regularly.
If you’re looking to get started as a DJ it’s important to remember that the DJ controller is only part of a DJ’s toolkit. Top DJs need software that compliments their controller. Unfortunately, most affordable DJ controllers save money by bundling in cheap software. All of the controllers on our list include some sort of software, but only the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 includes the full version of a top-shelf DJ program. When you buy this controller you don’t just get a well-built piece of electronics; you also get Traktor Pro 2.
This software will allow you to get the most out of your new controller without having to spend any extra money on an unexpected software upgrade. Of course, if you just wanted a good piece of software you could buy it on its own. Fortunately, the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 would be worth a purchase even without any bundled software. It’s an attractive looking device that is loaded up with tools. There are titanium wheels, customizable buttons, and an array of well-built knobs that allow DJs to quickly achieve the sound they’re looking for.
4. Denon DJ MC4000
- Premium 2 Deck controller for Serato
- Includes Serato DJ Intro; user upgradeable to Serato DJ
- Touch activated jog wheels for accurate scratching and track cueing
- Dedicated Hot Cue and sample trigger pads with illuminated feedback
- Long throw 100mm pitch faders
- Two-deck controller.
- Two jog wheels.
- Two mic input jacks.
- Two 1/4 inch booth output jacks, two XLR output jacks, one RCA stereo output jack, one 1/4 inch headphone output jack, and one 1/8 stereo headphone output jack.
- One USB B port. USB powered.
- Ducking and Echo effects built into the controller.
- Constructed with steel.
- 24 bit/44.1 kHz soundcard.
- Includes DJ software and power adapter.
- 19.9 inches long, 12.3 inches wide, and 2.7 inches high.
- 8.9-pound controller weight.
- 11.9-pound shipping weight.
- Requires 1GB of memory and Windows 7 or higher, or Mac OS X 10.8 or higher.
- Made with steel – This makes it one of the most durable DJ controllers available. This controller is built to last, even after it takes a beating.
- Compatible with a wide range of programs – The MC4000 can be used with just about any piece of DJ software.
- Plenty of connections – Has two built-in input jacks, and seven output jacks. This controller can be hooked up to almost any device you need to connect it to.
- Lots of sampling tools – This is a great controller for anyone who wants to produce. It is easy to sample, slice, and program using the controller itself.
- Colorful buttons – This is a controller that looks and feels cool to use.
- Ships with Serato DJ Intro – This DJ software will help any user start using this controller to play and mix music quickly and easily.
- Great for professionals – This controller is a worthy investment for anyone who has ambitions to work as a DJ.
- Drum pads aren’t velocity sensitive – This limits the level of control you can have when using the controller to play drums and other samples.
- Heavy – This is a heavyweight device. At 8.95 pounds it’s the heaviest DJ controller on our list. Not too heavy to carry around, but still the densest option we’ve looked at.
- Can be difficult to tell when the fader is half way – There could be a more noticeable sound or feeling when the fader is perfectly balanced. It’s too easy to leave things out of balance.
- Limited software – Comes with Serato Intro, not the full software. If you want to unlock this controller’s full power you’ll need to spend more money on full DJ software. You should budget accordingly.
- Denon customer service is hit or miss – The warranty for this controller looks good but it can be difficult to get in touch with Denton. It can take over a week to hear back from them.
- A little more expensive – Purchasing this controller might be a little harder to justify for anyone who isn’t sure about their goals as a DJ.
In our guide, we have focused on budget-controllers because that’s what most people are looking for. Still, you don’t have to spend a thousand dollars to buy a DJ controller worthy of professional use. One look at the Denon DJ MC4000 proves this. The MC4000 is a durable and powerful device that is great for any serious DJ. While other controllers are made of plastic, the MC4000 is made of steel. This makes it the strongest controller on our list. It’s also the heaviest, but at under nine pounds, it’s still easy to carry around.
If you know that you’re serious about becoming a DJ and you can afford the MC4000 then it’s a great choice to make. It might cost a little more upfront, but you can save money if you avoid an unnecessary upgrade in the near future. With a controller as decked out as the MC4000, you’ll likely have everything you could need or want for years to come.
5. Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
- Next Generation Feature Packed Controller : Ultra Portable two deck DJ Controller for Serato DJ Intro (Included) for Mac and PC with high resolution 5 inch metal jog wheels
- Connectivity Covered : On board pro grade class compliant audio interface with 2 headphone outputs and main output for seamless connection to mixers & PA systems
- Mix Control : Two physical decks outfitted with a crossfader, dedicated browsing controls, individual filter controls, touch capacitive jog wheels and independent transport controls access to critical, must have tools for seamless blending are right at your fingertips
- Enhance Your Performance : 16 multi function back lit pads with multiple pad modes for total control of cue points, auto / manual looping and sample playback to add some flair to your performance, plus 100 millimeter pitch controls and a multi function touch strip for dynamic FX control and strip search
- Spice Up Your Performance : Jump start your inspiration with 6 sample packs from Prime Loops including over 380 premium instrumental loops, drum kits, one shots, and more. A $200 value
- Two five-inch metal jog wheels.
- Includes one 1/4 inch microphone input jack.
- Includes, one 1/4 inch headphone output jack, 1/8 inch headphone output jack, and one RCA output jack.
- 16 customizable performance pads.
- One USB port. USB powered.
- Constructed from polymer composite.
- Four hot cues.
- MIDI controls.
- 24 bit/44.1 kHz soundcard.
- Includes DJ software and samples.
- 21.6 inches long, 9.2 inches wide, and 1.2 inches high.
- 4.1-pound controller weight.
- 5.5-pound shipping weight.
- Protected by two-year warranty when purchased from an authorized dealer.
- Requires 1GB of memory and Windows Vista or higher, or Mac OS X 10.6 or higher.
- Looks great – This is a fantastic looking controller. It has a sleek and extremely modern design that will make you look and feel like a professional DJ.
- Includes six sample packs – These sample packs add up to more than 380 samples.
- Durable but lightweight – The Mixtrack Pro is made from a polymer composite that is much more durable than plastic but lighter than metal. This gives it great strength for its weight.
- 16 multi-function pads allow for customization – Switch out the features controlled by these pads to make the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 your own. This makes the Mixtrack Pro 3 one of the most versatile budget controllers available.
- Available with or without RCA output – If you want the most powerful and versatile controller possible the RCA output is incredibly useful, but if you’re a beginner who is looking to save money this offers a decent way to cut costs.
- Lightweight – At just over four pounds this controller is very light for its size.
- Comes with a standard two-year warranty when purchased new from an authorized dealer. The warranty can be extended to three years if registered with Numark within 30 days of purchase. Contact the seller to make sure they are an authorized dealer to ensure that you receive the warranty you deserve.
- Extended protection is available – Two and three-year protection plans are available to anyone willing to pay extra for additional coverage. As of writing these plans are highly affordable.
- Pads aren’t velocity sensitive – This means that they don’t have the same precision and versatility as the pads on some other controllers
- Doesn’t have individual channel gain control – This means that you can’t easily adjust the volume levels of individual channels, which can be very frustrating.
- Limited software – The included software isn’t the full version of Serato. Getting the full suite of options from Serato requires separately purchasing a software upgrade.
- Subpar slider construction – The sliders are prone to damage when used for prolonged periods of time. They’re the weak point on a controller that is durable overall.
- Slider can’t change the fade/pitch curve – This needs to be addressed inside of the software, which takes users away from the controller unnecessarily.
If you’re looking for flexibility, then the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is a great choice. This is because it comes with 16 performance pads that can be customized as you see fit. This means that you can use this controller to prepare for performances that other devices couldn’t dream of doing. All of the controllers on our list are great for performing live, but this controller stands ahead of the rest when it comes to producing. If you want to create your own music, you’ll find the Mixtrack Pro 3 to be an incredibly powerful tool. This all comes with a two-year warranty, as long as you purchase from a dealership that is authorized by Numark.
How to Distinguish a Quality DJ Controller from a Cheap One
Try and find out what the controller is made out of. Is it made entirely from plastic or is it a mixture of plastic in metal? You should also look into what grade of material is used. There are some plastic controllers that are fairly sturdy because they are made with thick and high-grade plastic. If a controller feels flimsy, then there’s a good chance it will start to fall apart with extended use. This is an especially big issue when it comes to the knobs, buttons, and sliders that might break or snap off. If you’re willing to buy a controller that doesn’t feel like a toy, then chances are your controller will continue working for the foreseeable future. The same can’t be said for controllers made from cheap and flimsy materials.
Used vs. New
If you want to get the highest quality controller you can, then you have to buy a new model. Buying used might save you money, but you can’t really know what you’re trading away. Even the most durable controllers can be significantly degraded by improper handling. It can be hard to tell how a controller has been treated, especially when you’re shopping online. Investing in a new controller might cost you more upfront, but if it saves you from making an unfortunate purchase, then it will be money well spent.
Factors to Consider When Purchasing a DJ Controller
If you’re looking to perform as a DJ, then you’ll have to carry your controller around with you. You’ll quickly learn that you can’t just pick up someone else’s controller and play your own set like you might be able to with more traditional instruments. To make performing as painless as possible, you should try and get a controller that is mobile enough for your purposes. Look at the size and the weight of each controller and imagine what it will take to move it around wherever you need to go. Of course, if you’re just going to use the controller in your own home then a larger and heavier controller might serve you fine.
You always need to remember that a DJ controller is a complicated piece of electronics, and that means that you can’t plug it into just any piece of equipment and expect it to work. Not every controller is compatible with every piece of DJ software or operating system. Think about the computer you’ll be using your new controller with and check on its specs. Your computer’s operating system and memory may limit the type of controller you can use. It’s also worth thinking about what software you’ll be using your controller with because different controllers are built for different programs. If you’re looking to upgrade to a better controller, but you want to stick with your current program, then it’s especially important to find a new controller that will allow you to continue without making too many adjustments.
Most DJ controllers can look fairly similar at first glance, but the features that are packed into each device can vary widely. It’s not enough to look at a controller; you need to read the list of features to see what all it offers. You might see an impressive array of buttons, but you need to know what those buttons do before you can decide if they hold everything you need. Find out how many channels a controller has, whether the different channels operate independently, and how much control you have over the sound that’s being played. Being a DJ is all about mixing at least two separate tracks, and if you want to create smooth mixes, it helps to have control over pitch, tempo, gain, and other audio qualities.
When you first start out your path as a DJ you’ll probably be so focused on learning the basics that you don’t realize the importance of customization. But as any experienced DJ will tell you there comes a point where you find your own approach to the art of DJing, and when that happens you’ll want customization. For example, you might decide you’re more of a producer than a performer, and you might need more buttons that will help you create and modify samples. If your controller has an array of customizable buttons, you can achieve your goals without having to buy an entirely new controller to suit your new approach.
Inputs and Outputs
On their own, a DJ controller is just a box of metal and plastic. If you want to make music, you’re going to need to connect it to speakers and/or headphones. This requires output and input jacks, and the type of built-in jacks decide what sort of equipment will play nice with your new controller. For example, if you love your headphones and their 1/4 plug then you need to get a controller that is compatible with them.
It might be hard to tell just looking at pictures, but the materials used to make DJ controllers can vary widely. From cheap plastic controllers to heavy duty devices made with steel the options available run quite a gamut. The more serious you are as a DJ, the more you should look out for high-quality controllers made from steel and heavy duty plastic. Controllers made from cheaper materials are more likely to break. Even if the body of the controller itself doesn’t crack, it’s almost worse to deal with a slider snapping off.
While some controllers can operate without the help of a laptop, you’ll find that most pros are never far from their portable computer. This is because DJ software is incredibly helpful when it comes to unleashing a DJ’s power when performing. With this in mind, it’s easy to understand why most DJ controllers are packaged with some piece of DJ software. Most of the time the software is a basic version of a professional-grade program. You might get to try out a top program like Traktor, Serato, or Ableton Live for a few weeks but eventually, you’ll have to pay for the upgrade or downgrade to a free version. It’s important to find out what you’re getting with your purchase, so you know whether or not you’ll have to budget for a separately purchased upgrade or not.
If you can get a DJ controller that looks cool, then you absolutely should. It’s worth it just to feel cooler when you step up to perform, but it can also be a very practical move. Venues don’t just hire DJs because of the music they play; they’re also looking for performers who can create a certain vibe. The top DJs are often as famous for their visual style as they are for their music. So if you can afford to spend a little extra money to get a controller that looks as cool as it sounds then it’s well worth making the investment.
Make sure you know what sort of quality assurance you’re getting with your purchase. Some companies go out of their way to make sure that their customers are satisfied. Others simply ship their product out and hope that any problems that arise don’t get taken to court. Make sure that you don’t just look at the manufacturer, try and find out anything you can about the seller. Some manufacturer’s only cover controllers purchased from authorized retailers, while some sellers offer protection for products that don’t come with a manufacturer warranty. If you find a particularly good deal it might be worth taking a risk, but you should at least know any risks involved.
Best DJ Controller Brands
The Pioneer DJ Corporation is an offshoot of the Pioneer Corporation, a consumer electronics company that was founded in Tokyo, Japan in 1938. Their parent company was involved in bringing music to the world from the beginning; they started out selling radios and repairing speakers. Over 50 years after Pioneer’s beginning they released the CDJ-500 in 1994. This device was the very first flat-top CD player made specifically for DJs. 21 years after the release of that first product the Pioneer DJ Corporation became a separate entity, focused entirely on providing top-quality DJ equipment. Since their foundation, the DJ world has gone from vinyl records to CDs and finally digital files. Throughout all of these changes, Pioneer has kept up with the times, allowing them to remain in the game while so many competitors have fallen behind. They produce everything a DJ needs, from mixers to decks, to headphones, and more. With a long track record and an excellent pedigree, it’s no surprise that Pioneer DJ products are beloved by DJs across the globe.
Hercules has been one of the biggest names in the world of DJing for over three decades. Still, their biggest claim to fame wouldn’t come until 2003. The invention of the first Hercules DJ Console greatly simplified the process of using a controller and computer together to mix sound. It was the very first dual-deck controller built from the ground up for use with personal computers. This put them ahead of the game, you now all the most popular controllers have followed Hercules’ lead. The company has an incredibly diverse product range for a company that remains focused on personal audio. They don’t just make controllers; they also make headphones and speakers built specifically for DJs. Other products include sound cards, wireless speakers, and webcams. Within their DJ line, you’ll find a variety of products designed for every skill level. Their most basic controllers are perfect for learners just tipping their toes into the water, while their top-shelf products are used by professional DJs across the globe.
The name Denon has been associated with music for over 100 years now. It was founded in Japan back in 1910. They started out making electrical music players, and they have continued to build on this beginning for over a century. Few companies have the sort of history that Denon does. They sold the first LP records in Japan, helped create one of the first eight-channel digital recorder, and built the first motor-driven active platter. This innovation continues today as through Denon DJ, the DJ department that was spun off from the larger company in 2011. They produce controllers, players, speakers, headphones, and software that allow DJs to unleash their full power. While their top selling models are digital controllers like the Denon DJ MC4000, they still make turntables that work with vinyl. They might be focused on the future, but they still remember where they came from.
There are few companies that can claim they’ve been there since the birth of the modern DJ. Numark is one of these companies. They were founded in 1971 in Edison, New Jersey. This put them at ground zero for the height of disco and the birth of hip-hop. While other companies from this time fell behind Numark kept up through innovation. They built the first sampler into a mixer, built a DJ system around a hard drive, and created a DJ system for the iOS. This small sample shows the ambition that Numark has; they’re dedicated to helping DJs at every level. That’s how they’ve survived for more than 40 years and spread across the globe.
In 1996 the Native Instruments company was founded in Berlin, Germany. It started out in the Kreuzberg district of the city, and even though it has changed buildings over the decades, it is still in the same neighborhood. They are known for their high-quality software and hardware. Even DJs without a Native Instrument controller use their program, Traktor. It may be one of the most important and powerful digital DJ programs available on the market. The Kontrol line of DJ controllers is another Native Instruments product that is used throughout the DJ world.
Choosing the Best DJ Controller for Your Needs
When it comes to DJ controllers size matters. If your controller is too big, it might be hard to carry and impossible to fit where it needs to go. On the other hand, if the controller is too small you might find that it’s hard to operate comfortably. Measure out the space where you’re planning on storing your controller and see how much room you have to work with before you go looking at different controllers. If you set a hard limit, you can easily eliminate controllers that are too large for your available space.
The modern DJ does much more than just going up on stage and playing records. Superstars like deadmau5, Diplo, and Tiesto are as famous for their original songs as they are for their club performances. If you have the right DJ controller, you can use it to make songs like you might use an MPC. Look for drum buttons, sampling tools, and recording features. These days you don’t even have to leave the house to be a popular DJ, some people find that they’re more comfortable in the studio than in the club. If you have any dreams of creating your own original compositions, look to see what sort of production features are built into the controllers you’re looking at.
Make sure that the controller you get plays well with the other equipment you might use. The most important thing to look at is the computer requirements. DJ controllers work in conjunction with computers, and if you have a weak computer, then you’ll need to get an older controller that is less demanding. You should also look to see what sort of audio inputs and outputs are built in to make sure that the controller works with your headphones and speakers. If you’re looking to perform live, you should look at venues you might play at and see what sort of wiring they have. You don’t want to buy a controller for a big performance only to realize that your controller isn’t compatible with the venue’s sound system.
If you’re buying a well-reviewed controller that was produced by a trustworthy company, then you can generally trust that your new controller will last you a long time. Still, even experts make mistakes from time to time. If your controller arrives damaged what will your options be? If you purchase a controller that isn’t covered by a warranty or any other sort of protection plan you will probably be out of luck. When making a sizable purchase over the internet, it’s incredibly important that you get some promise of quality in writing. If you want to shop with confidence, you should know for a fact that a faulty controller will be repaired or replaced.
Your first goal should be finding a DJ controller that allows you to play the sort of sets you want to perform, but that doesn’t mean that you have to ignore the design of the controller itself. People don’t just envy musicians because of their talent; we also love the way they look when they’re performing. Besides, if your instrument looks cool, then you’re more likely to want to practice with it. This is why it’s worth getting a controller with buttons that light up in every shade of the rainbow when you hit its buttons. This feature might not improve the sound directly, but if you like the way it looks, then it can still help to elevate your performance. You need a controller with substance, but don’t feel like you have to ignore style.
DJ Controller Accessories and Parts
Before looking at specific accessories, you might purchase it’s important to note that different DJ controllers require different kinds of accessories. There aren’t one-size-fits-all accessories when it comes to DJ equipment; you need to make sure that the accessories you purchase are compatible with your controller.
Hard CASE for Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 DJ Controller. By Caseling
Please note that this case was specifically designed for the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2. The other controllers on our list should also fit in this case because the DDJ-SB2 is the largest we looked at, but it’s worth looking to see if you can find a case that fits the controller you choose perfectly.
PYLE-PRO PLPTS25 Laptop Computer Stand for DJ
As a DJ you’ll need to be able to develop a setup that allows you to arrange your tools so you can use them effectively while practicing and performing. Whether you’re on stage or in your basement, you’ll need to figure out how to arrange your laptop and controller so you can access them as needed. It’s best to figure out your desired setup while practicing, don’t assume that you can just show up at a venue and insert your tools into their setup.
This is a recipe for disaster; you want to be able to focus on controlling the crowd rather than struggling with a new setup every night. A good laptop stand will allow you to store your laptop above your controller so you can fit both in a small area and use them both at the same time with minimal effort. The model we’re linking to is just an example, make sure you get a stand that fits your laptop correctly.
AKG K 240 Semi-Open Studio Headphones
Quality headphones are an absolute necessity for any serious DJ. To begin with, chances are you’ll need to perform in silence if you live in an apartment building. No one wants to hear a beginning musician at all hours of the day, but you’ll need to practice around the clock to become the best that you can be. And even when you start performing you’ll still need headphones that let you hear the music you’re playing with the best possible clarity when the noise of the speakers and the audience is making it hard to actually get a sense of what you’re playing.
AmazonBasics 2-Male to 2-Male RCA Audio Cable – 8 Feet
As a DJ you’ll need to get very good at dealing with cables. Unless you’re going to be playing music using your laptop speakers, you’ll need cables to connect your DJ setup to speakers that will broadcast your performance out to your audience. Most venues have cables, but you should still be prepared with your own so you know exactly what you’re dealing with. There are plenty of different cables you can invest into but RCA cables are a good choice for hooking your controller up to stereo speakers.
Tips and Tricks
Practice Makes Perfect
Don’t think that you can just step up on stage and wing it as a DJ. A DJ controller might be quite different from traditional music instruments, but it still takes practice to perfect. Be prepared to spend dozens or even hundreds of hours alone with your controller before performing in front of a live audience.
Read the Manual
When you first get your new controller, you’ll probably be so excited that you can’t help but plug it in and start playing around. Unfortunately, DJ controllers are a little more complicated than most musical instruments. Getting everything set up and installed correctly can take time and patience. You can avoid a lot of trouble by reading the manual that comes with your controller and following written procedures carefully.
Use Material Created for Your Controller
There are many similarities between DJ controllers, but there are also plenty of differences. This means that you can’t pull up a random Youtube tutorial, follow along with it, and assume that it will help you with your controller. Something as simple as button layout can vary quite a bit between different controllers, which means that if you aren’t careful, you can waste a lot of time pressing the wrong buttons and wondering why you aren’t getting the right results.
Categorize Music Carefully
As a DJ one of the most important things you’ll need to be able to do is arrange your music library. When you’re just starting out it might be easy to remember the details of all the music you might play, but as time goes by and your library develops you’ll need to find ways to quickly search for the music you need in the moment. Most people like to group their music together by genre but this is just one method and it isn’t necessarily the best. Consider labeling music using tempo and mood so that you can create innovative and effective mixes.
Pay Attention to the Crowd
It’s tempting to try and create a setlist and stick to it, but this can be a big mistake. Every audience is different. Even if the same people are going to come to your next concert, their mood is going to be different, and the way they might react to any given song will be different. You need to pay attention to see if the audience is feeling your performance, and if they aren’t you need to be able to switch things up on the fly.
Watch Your Volume
People might like their music loud but that doesn’t mean that louder is always better. You don’t want to let your music get into the red because that’s where sound gets distorted and things can start turning ugly. Always keep an eye on the levels and adjusting things when they get too close to the edge.
Don’t Rely on Automation
DJ controllers and software today comes with plenty of automated features that will do a lot of work for you, but you can’t use these tools as a crutch. For example, pressing the “autogain” button can help you to keep your music levels from diverging too much, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll get the best possible results. A computer might automatically crank up the volume of a poor quality song file and create distortion that sounds fine to a computer but will hurt the ears of your audience. People hire DJs because robots haven’t mastered the art of playing and mixing songs, so don’t try and pawn all your work off on your tech.
Learn to Check BPM
You need to know how many beats per minute each song in your library plays at. Few things are more jarring than transitioning between two songs with radically different BPMs. Please understand that it’s not necessarily enough to rely on data from other people. Web sites might list the wrong BPM, or you might end up with a file that is slightly different from the standard version. Get a program like Mixed in Key that can check BPM for you and then mark the file with the most accurate BPM rate possible.
Listen to Yourself
What you hear and what your audience hears can be surprisingly different. When you’re in the middle of a performance, it’s easy to get so wrapped up in the details that you lose track of the overall feel of your performance. Many beginning DJs spend so much energy focusing on the perfect transition that they don’t realize that the two songs they are mixing don’t fit together. You can get a real sense of how you’re doing by recording your live performances and practice sessions and then playing them back later on. This might be painful at first because you’ll hear all your mistakes but that’s why it’s important. If you want to improve you need to figure out your weak points and then work to address them.
Consider Taking a Class
You can learn to use your controller on your own, but you don’t have to. There are classes out there where experienced DJs will show you how to get the most out of your new instrument. Online videos and books can give you all sorts of useful information, but they won’t be able to interact with you and correct mistakes you might be making. If you’re just starting out the advice of someone more experienced can help you build a solid foundation and avoid common mistakes that can turn into bad habits. If you can’t find a formal class in your area, you can sign up for an online class or seek out a more experienced DJ who might be willing to give you some pointers.
All of the five DJ controllers we looked at have something special to offer. Still, a few stand out from the crowd. To begin with, if you only want to look at one controller, we suggest that you check out the DDJ-SB2 from Pioneer DJ. If you’re focused on getting the best controller at the lowest price, then the Hercules DJ Control Air S Series would be our top recommendation. The other three controllers all have their unique strengths, but those two controllers cover the needs of most people shopping for their first DJ controller. Buying a quality DJ controller is a necessary first step, but in the end, your success as a musician will depend on how much effort you put into learning to use your new tool.
Don’t worry if you’re still not sure which controller you should buy. Feel free to return to the Surf’n’Buy’s section titled “Choosing the Best DJ Controller for Your Needs” so you can find out what you need. Consider listing your priorities as you read the section so you can stay focused as you look at different options. You don’t need the most popular controller; you need the machine that fits your unique needs and goals. Figure out your top priorities and start eliminating controllers that don’t have your must-haves. Once you narrow down your choices, you’ll have an easier time making your final decision.
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