People have a lot of misconceptions about what it takes to be a DJ. The truth is that mixing music is a complex process. Being a good DJ takes some experience and the right equipment and software. DJs have to ensure that everything involved in the mix is giving off good quality sound, and they use DJ controllers to help do that.
The best DJ controller shouldn’t constrain your creativity. Sure DJ controllers have all kinds of feature components, including faders, wheels, knobs, touch strips, faders, backlit buttons, and more. But it’s not just about the gear. It’s also about the experience you create for the crowd. The controller needs an intuitive layout that doesn’t get in the way of the show; and not just any show. A truly epic show. And these are born from a combination of talent, the best DJ speakers and a great controller that lets you put it all together.
Given how important the DJ controller is to the experience, it’s essential to choose from the best DJ controllers on the market. There are plenty of options available to choose from out there, which makes it challenging to pick the right one for you. Different controllers are suited to different types of people, venues, and experience levels. Here’s a closer look at some of the best controllers available. Afterwards we’ll go over what a DJ controller is and how to choose the best one for your needs.
The Top 5 Best DJ Controllers in 2020
Denon DJ Prime 4 – Best Overall
The Denon DJ Prime 4 DJ controller comes with a handy 10-inch display – touchscreen, no less – as well as two mixers and a powerful processor that allows the controller to work without the aid of a laptop. The touchscreen offers clear information about the tracks, such as their BPM, song and artist info, pitch info, time, and more. All in all, the display should tell a DJ everything they need to know about their music.
The Prime 4 is so-called because of the four channels it comes with. Each channel features a 3-band EQ, dedicated dual-function sweep X, filter control, and gain control – perfect for any musical modifications you want to make. The two decks on the system can be split up to become four independent decks with their own track controls and looping controls, including a built-in automatic looping encoder.
Control your music through the highly responsive touch-sensitive jog wheels on the Prime 4. These wheels offer on-jog information about the track playing at that moment. The decks have built-in RGB backlit performance pads. These pads can be used to trigger all kinds of effects, including hot cues, rolls, loops, auto-loops, slicer loops, beat slices, and more.
As a standalone unit, the DJ Prime 4 comes with four USB slots, an SD card port, and a 2.5-inch SATA drive bay. The USB slots aren’t just for bringing your own tracks. These ports also allow you to mix and create your own music and save it directly to an SD card or USB flash drive. The Prime supports all kinds of music formats, including MP3, FLAC, ALAC, and WAV. If you want even more control over your Prime 4, then you can hook it up to a keyboard and control it however you want, whenever you want.
The rear of the unit features four RCA inputs, 2 XLR (6.3mm) inputs, 2 XLR (booth) outputs, 2 XLR (master) outputs, 2 XLR (zone) outputs, an RCA (master) output, and two headphone outputs (6.33mm and 3.5mm). The zone output, in particular, is useful as it allows you to send a playlist to another location without having to leave the dancefloor.
As a Denon device, the Prime 4 comes loaded with the proprietary Engine Prime Music Manager software. Engine Prime Music Manager lets you import digital music from all kinds of sources, including iTunes, Rekordbox, Traktor Pro, and Serato DJ. All the new music you add to the system is updated and analyzed automatically. Last but not least, the Denon offers support for StaglinQ for venues where there is room for lighting visual effects and videos.
Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 – Best for Clubs
The Pioneer XDJ-XR2 offers an all-in-one DJ controller system. The Pioneer can be used with Rekordbox music management software and is used a lot in clubs in particular. The controller features two USB-driven players built-in along with a 2-channel mixer. The control panel for the controller is the same as the one used for the CDJ/DJM series of controllers.
Like the Denon DJ Prime 4, the Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 features a touchscreen. The difference is that the screen is a little smaller here at 7 inches. The screen offers dual-waveform displays and complete QWERTY search, providing information about the music on both players at the same time, including the BPM, beat grids, and time of the song currently playing.
The decks have individual jog wheels, each of which is powered by the touch screen and offers a graphical display. The decks also have four pad modes, eight multicolored performance pad, and a long-form tempo slider. Each deck also has a separate reverse direction button, beat loop, loop slice, and vinyl jog mode.
Pioneer DJ has been hard at work promoting and selling their Rekordbox DJ software, so it’s not surprising that the XDJ-RX2 comes complete with a free license to use the software. That means people who enjoy connecting their controller to their laptops can use all of the great features of the software. There’s also the option of connecting to the Rekordbox export feature and sending your music directly to the decks over USB. This allows you to transfer music directly, instead of loading it on to a USB and then to the deck.
One great feature of this DJ controller is having access to Rekordbox Video. Some units come bundled with the Rekordbox Video software, but some don’t. The software lets you mix videos as you would music. This feature is one thing that makes the Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX2 such a hit at clubs. The downside is that the controller doesn’t come with Rekordbox DVS compatibility. As a result, you’ll have to use an external soundcard to use external CD players and turntables with DVS.
Not everything is an upgrade over the previous model, as Pioneer DJ saw fit to remove the ethernet port from the controller. This means users would be unable to use Link to connect their controller to a larger setup. This isn’t too much of a downside, as it wasn’t like this was possible with the earlier model if you had a CDJ connected. Even so, it’s still something of an omission and something many will be disappointed to see gone.
Pioneer DDJ-SB3 – Best DJ Controller Under $300
The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is the best DJ controller under $300 and offers some of the best value for money on the market. You can’t go wrong with a Pioneer controller of any kind because they always build their products to last. The DDJ-SB3 is suited to both beginners and expert DJs, which offers a surprising amount of functionality and power given the price. The controller is suited for bedroom, mobile, and club DJs thanks to the wide variety of features.
For a start, the controller comes with the Serato DJ Lite software, but it still works well with other programs. Just plug in your controller and Serato DJ Lite will be available for download. You’ll have no problem getting the software going and using it to manage your music. With presets tailored for the controller immediately applied, you’ll be able to mix without set up. You will have to pay to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro.
The controller syncs up to the software so that you can control everything through the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3. The great thing is that there’s a soundcard built directly into the controller. All you have to do is plug it into your computer, and away you go. There’s no need for any external hardware, such as a separate audio interface. You can directly hook up your best DJ headphones and monitor everything real time. Every controller on this list has this feature; But at this controller’s price range it’s actually rare for a controller to have a soundcard.
In terms of features, the controller comes with a three-band EQ and trims and an uncluttered two-channel mixer. There’s also the ability to browse and manage through music libraries, high pass/low pass filters, and separate channel VU meter so that you can control music levels on the fly. One area where the DDJ-SB3 falls a little short is in the rotary knobs. The knobs work fine, but they don’t feel as good as the more expensive versions do.
The deck comes with responsive 128mm jog wheels. It’s great that the wheels perform so well, but, unfortunately, they aren’t backlit as they would be with more expensive models. Despite this setback, they are touch-sensitive and do just as good a job for scratching. You just might have some trouble seeing them in a dark club, and they won’t look as cool as other models do.
The deck includes eight performance pads to control cues and loops and add samples to mixes. There’s also the standard transport control buttons that let you choose tracks and fast-forward or rewind to individual parts.
There’s the option to do some traditional beatmatching, as well as the option to sync up and do an automatic beatmatch if you’d prefer. Don’t forget to consider the small pitch sliders if you opt for the manual beatmatching option. It can be more complicated than you’d think to work around the sliders. If anything, perhaps Pioneer should remove them from any models they come up with in the future.
Even with the small problem of the small sliders, this DJ controller is among the best options for beginners. It’s the kind of controller that grows with you. It could also be used by experienced DJs thanks to the Serrato DJ software that lets you create your own mixes and have a lot of fun.
All in all, this is a great little DJ controller. The small size makes it suited for mobile DJs in particular as it is easy to transport and take to venues. The small size does work against it a little, however, as the controller doesn’t have the weight to stand up to rigorous scratching or those with heavy hands.
Denon DJ MC6000MK2 – Best Mid-Range DJ Controller
The Denon DJ MC6000MK2 is a great mid-range DJ controller suited for experienced DJs and mobile DJs that need something versatile. The controller connects to computers quickly enough thanks to a plug-and-play system. Just hook the controller up, and you’re good to go. The controller is designed for Serato DJ in particular, with a free introductory version of the software included in the package. It doesn’t cost much to upgrade to the full version of Serato – and you should have no problem using the Denon with another software if you want.
One reason you might want to consider upgrading to the full version of Serato is that the controller is compatible with Serato video. There’s a video button included in the mixer section of the controller so you can create your own videos. Feel free to switch between audio and video during a set or use them both together to create an unforgettable experience.
What makes the Denon DJ MC6000MK2 such an excellent choice for mobile DJs are the two microphone channels complete with EQ controls and a knob for mic echo effects. The mic ducking feature is another advantage for the mobile DJ. This feature allows a DJ to talk over the music without any problems. The feature works by automatically reducing the volume of the music for you, so you don’t have to shout over it.
The mixer can seem a little too busy at first as everything is clustered close together. It can take a little practice to get used to handling the mixer without a problem. It’s all too easy to find yourself hitting two switches at once. This is one controller that isn’t for people with big hands.
The good news is that everything is put together better than it seems. The controller actually has a very intuitive layout that makes it easy to use, despite the troublesome people might have. The VU meters, 3-band EQ with gains, four channels, and crate navigation features are all within reach and easy to use as you want to create the perfect set.
Use the controls to set loops, control effects, hot cues, and set up an auto-sync function. The jog wheels on the controller feel nice and look good, thanks to a silver design. Like the rest of the controller, the wheels are a little small, but it won’t be an issue for most people.
The four rear line inputs on the controller allow for access to the DVS function. The DVS function lets you connect a CDJ or use phono with the turntable through the Denon DJ MC6000MK2. There’s also the option to set timecodes for vinyl and CDs to play them traditionally and have the music move itself.
The Denon DJ MC6000MK2 comes in at a svelte 4.1 kilos, making it a transportable option good for mobile DJs in small venues. Even so, the controller is robust and well put together despite the small and light frame. All in all, this is a great DJ controller that should make any DJ happy, no matter their skill level or experience.
Pioneer DDJ-800 – Another Excellent Mid-Range Option
Pioneer is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to the best DJ controllers, and the Pioneer DDJ-800 is no exception. This 2-channel Rekordbox-dedicated controller features several pro tools for DJs, a full-color display, effects, and trigger performance pads. The design of the DDJ-1000 was clearly influenced by the design of the Pioneer DDJ-800. The setup for the machine is similar to that of the NXS2.
The jog wheels on the DDJ-800 are versatile and easy to use. The wheel tension can be adjusted for more accurate and effective scratching and rewinding. The on-jog displays for the controller offer all of the information a DJ could need, such as playback time, positioning, BPM, and waveforms.
The Pioneer DDJ-800 includes eight backlit performance pads used for trigger modes like pad FX, sampler, beat jump, and hot cues. There’s also a 100mm pitch fader that also adjusts the tempo, a master tempo control button, quantize button, manual looping controls, and a slip mode built into the controller.
Pioneer took the Beat FX and Sound Color FX features from the DJM series and built them into the Pioneer DDJ-800. The controller also features a separate Beat FX display that lets you see the BPM for a song and the FX you have running. The two channels on the controllers have 3-band EQ control, gain control, a cue button, and a dedicated rotary control for the Sound Color FX.
The Pioneer DDJ-800 comes with two RCA (Line/Phono) inputs, an RCA (auxiliary) input, a 6.3mm TRS jack input for microphones, a ¼ inch TRS jack input for mics, an XLR (master) output, an RCA (Master) output, a 6.3mm TRS jack (Booth) output, a 6.3mm stereo phone jack output for headphones, and a 3.5mm stereo mini-jack for headphones. The microphone inputs come equipped with 2-band EG control and independent gain controls, so you have plenty of control over your microphones.
One standout feature for the Pioneer DDJ-800 is that it is the first controller to feature the new Feedback Reducer. This feature is used to detect the frequency of feedback signals automatically and reduces those signals so that they don’t get in the way of performance. The feedback reducer works automatically can be set to light or heavy reduction, depending on how you want to use it and how much feedback you expect to face.
What is a DJ Controller?
You’ll have a pretty good idea of what a DJ controller is if you’ve ever seen a MIDI keyboard controller. A DJ controller is like that, but for a DJ. These controllers have all kinds of features and functions to help DJs in their work.
Controllers have all of the components and features a DJ could ask for, such as faders, jog wheels, knobs, and more. You might be wondering what the point of buying a DJ controller is if you already have a MIDI keyboard you use to control everything. A DJ controller lets you control everything straight through the equipped components rather than having to fiddle around with a program or app on a computer or phone.
Controllers make it easy to edit and manage music through the onboard controllers. More expensive controllers have sound cards and outputs for DJs to connect devices such as headphones and preview music before playing it out loud.
These controllers generally come with two turntables/CDJs and a mixer. The turntables access the software in the controller to add an effect to the beat. More advanced controllers allow users to map their turntables and outputs to serve different functions and customize how the controller works. Other components can be included or added to the controller to create even more effects and add extra functionality.
DJ controllers run via some sort of software that translates the signals from the device. A controller is generally packaged with some official software or other recommended software, but they should work with just about any kind of DJ software. Most controllers run using MID and HID communications protocols. These protocols are the industry standard, so you should have no problem getting the controller to work with whatever software you use. Even so, you should double-check the compatibility before making a purchase, just in case.
How to Choose the Best DJ Controller
Now you have some ideas about what the best DJ controller is, you need to consider how to choose between them. The right controller for you is one that suits your budget, has all the controls and features you want, and works with your preferred software. There are several pricing options for controllers, so start by setting a budget. Once you have a budget, you can think about your personal preferences and go from there. Beginners need to choose a controller that has a lot of options and controls as these are easier to use.
Don’t forget to factor in the DJ software the controller is compatible with. The software translates the signals to and from the controller. You should choose a setup that either comes bundled with proprietary software or works with the software you use.