Best DJ Controllers for Scratching in 2020

Scratching is a legendary DJ technique, a staple of classic turntablism and helped form the art of DJing into what it is today. Scratching, some may say, is a lost art now we’ve all but fully converted to digital DJ equipment like controllers and real vinyl is less popular for DJing.

After all, scratching is a vinyl thing, right?!

Wrong!

There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t scratch on digital equipment. No matter what digital mixing method you choose, controller, CDJ or DVS, you’ll be able to scratch with practice. Tons of pro scratchers use these methods now and whilst DVS retains the true feel of vinyl and is preferred by some, CDJs and controllers are still very popular and highly usable for scratching, many are becoming the weapon of choice even for top scratchers.

What is Scratching?

A little background first. Scratching is a DJ technique whereby the DJ manipulates the turntable to create sound effects. The term ‘scratching’ comes from the fact that on vinyl, this would mean the needle is literally scratching on the record as it’s slid back and forth.

Scratching can produce effects that are rhythmic or melodic. You can scratch lyrics from tracks, parts of a beat or sections of melody. By controlling the movement and velocity of the scratch, you can create some very interesting effects.

Scratching is a pretty unmistakable technique and people will know if you’re doing it, it’ll give you a lot of attention from the audience! Everyone loves scratching, it’s a rare skill, not because it died when digital equipment rose in popularity, but purely because it’s damn hard!

How Do You Scratch?

That’s a difficult one! There are actually loads of ways to scratch. With enormous practice and dedication, scratchers (also known as battle DJs) have become some of the most skilled musicians of our time. Scratching uses a combination of turntable movement and crossfader manipulation.

Here’s a quick round-up of the main scratching techniques:

1.) Baby Scratch – With the crossfader open, you simply move the record back and forth to create a back-and-forth scratching sound. This is the simplest technique and can be used to cue a track and drop it on the beat.
2.) Forward/Back Scratch – This is the same but the crossfader is closed during either the forward or backwards movement so the scratch goes in one direction. Useful for the end of a set.
3.)Chirp Scratch – This complex scratch involves letting a small segment of sound play before closing the crossfader and then pulling the track back whilst opening it again to create a backwards ‘chirp’.
4.)Tear Scratch – The tear scratch involves lots of small jerk-like movements forwards and backwards. It creates a ripping sort of sound.
5.)Transformer Scratch – This is the technique of rapidly opening and closing the crossfader to produce rhythmic sounds during the scratch.
6.)Flare Scratch – Similarly, the flare scratch involves opening fader in patterns to produce clicky effects.

The Controllers

So what are the best controllers for scratching? You can scratch with almost any controller, it’s just that some are better optimised or engineered for DJs who use the platters a lot for either mixing or scratching. Smaller, lower quality platters will generally mean it’s hard to scratch but it’s still possible, especially if you just want to add some basic scratching techniques to your DJ technique arsenal.

RANE Twelve DJ Digital Turntable

Bottom Line: An extremely cool and unique piece of DJ gear for those who are serious about scratching and using a deck that retains all the true feel of a vinyl system.

Let’s start with something rather unique. The Rane Twelve is a scratch-specific controller in the form of a turntable that retains the look, feel and functionality of real vinyl. This awesome controller is super-authentic with its full-size 12” direct-drive platter that can handle intense and rigorous scratching with ease.

This is designed for those dedicated to the art of scratching and it doesn’t come cheap. It is a proper piece of kit designed with pros in mind and that’s how it feels to use. Scratching on this is a delight and with a control strip and sample buttons, it augments the scratching process to arm DJs with a huge palette of effects.

To use this controller, you’ll need a Rane DJ mixer and they’re not cheap. You can also hook it up to your PC to record in scratches. It’s a one-of-a-kind piece of kit and for die-hard turntablists are going digital or those who are really serious about learning to scratch, it’s exceedingly hard to beat.

Pros

  • Superb build quality and feel
  • Unbeatable for those looking to combine digital with the feel of real vinyl
  • Fits easily into a Rane system

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Inflexible to use without Rane gear

Pioneer DDJ-1000

Bottom Line: A proper all-purpose controller that is suitable for any user ranging from beginners to pro-level DJs, scratch enthusiasts and anyone in between. 4-channels for multi-deck mixing and plenty of features to keep everyone happy.

One of Pioneer’s top offerings in the DDJ range, this controller has become an industry staple for all sorts of DJs hailing from all corners of the scene. It’s obviously a superb controller, built to last with tons of awesome features and top components. Actually, this looks and feels like Pioneer’s famous DJM600 mixers combined with CDJ-900s and that’s how it feels to use.

The large turntable platters are awesome for scratching and they certainly lend an advantage over smaller-diameter platters. The platters also feature an extremely useful LCD display in the centre of each that displays vital information about the tune as well as the position of the platter.

Build and Features

This is a 4-deck controller that lies at the top of Pioneer’s DDJ range. Beyond this, we have the Nexus line of controllers. This controller will need you to attach a laptop with DJ software, unlike the Nexus line. It’s built like a rock and though it’s obviously quite large and cumbersome, it’s as well put together as you’d expect from Pioneer. There are 4 channels built into the mixer, so it truly is like having a 4-channel mixer with two decks attached – perfect for existing CDJ users.

It has both RCA and XLR outputs which is great for outputting to high-quality club systems. There are all your usual sample and FX pads too, and one cool feature is that it has dual USB output so you can connect two laptops and mix back-to-back or seamlessly transition between DJs.

For Scratching

Scratchers will benefit from large-diameter, high-quality jog wheels. They feel like CDJs and whilst some may still cry that this isn’t the ‘vinyl feel’, people have been scratching effectively on CDJs for many years now.

Pros

  • Superb multi-purpose controller
  • Pioneer quality
  • Excellent job wheels for scratching

Cons

  • There are even better jog wheels for scratching around now

Numark NS7III

Bottom Line: A large feature-packed controller with an extremely broad set of features including motorized decks that rotate with digital vinyl decks on top of them, effectively simulating the real thing!

This is a true beast of a controller with virtually every feature you could think of and more. It’s designed to be a bit of an ace-of-spades, a Nexus killer. The key difference with the Nexus series though, and the main reason why it can’t easily be compared, is that this controller still requires the service of a laptop whereas the Nexus doesn’t.

Still, this controller is superb and it has a particularly cool feature that benefits scratchers. The turntables on this are actually motorized – this was a first at the time – meaning they spin around like vinyl turntables! This even comes with decks that feature faux vinyl that digitally emulate real vinyl records.

Essentially, scratching on this digital controller genuinely feels very close to the real thing. You can grab and move the platter like you can on a real deck. It’s pretty astounding and captured the hearts of many top DJs who incorporate scratching into their sets.

Build and Features

Other than its superb motorized turntables, this 4-channel behemoth has some awesome LCD displays and control panels that make mixing more efficient and streamlined, whilst also decreasing how much you need to look at your laptop.

It’s loaded with FX modules and sample pads, as you’d expect from this 14kg controller! Obviously, this isn’t for the faint-hearted but it’s hard to beat in many ways. The pads use Akai touch technology, another huge benefit for scratchers or anyone who wants to effectively add triggered samples to sets.

With RCA and XLR output, this controller is geared up for pro use and that’s where it’s found itself. It can’t be a Nexus killer without being standalone (not requiring a laptop), but with its superb turntables and other features, it’s a controller legend.

For Scratching

The motorized decks are a game-changer. You can even change the torque between soft and hard. They allow you to scratch and manipulate the turntable with digital reliability and precision but with an analog feel. That’s the combo scratchers are always looking for, right?

Pros

  • Has pretty much everything you’ll need in a controller
  • Motorized decks are awesome
  • Akai pads are another excellent feature
  • LCD displays are clear and reliable

Cons

  • Super heavy at 14kg
  • Motorized turntables are more breakable than normal ones

Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3

Bottom Line: One of Traktor’s flagship offerings, the Kontrol S4 MK3 is still the best for those who belong to the Native Instruments cult. It’s a professional 4-channel controller that packs the tech and features for all types of DJs including scratchers.

Native Instruments have had a rocky reputation as they’ve constantly competed with Serato and Pioneer and haven’t always come out on top. Traktor went from the one-and-only DJ software to somewhat of an outsider, but recent resurgence means NI is back and better than ever before with new software that puts the sword to RekordBox and Serato.

This controller has been around for some time but it’s a firm favourite of thousands and combines a slick design with innovation and attention to scratchers and other battle DJs

At its core, this is a 4-channel mixer that stands out from the crowd with its extremely solid and pleasing aesthetic style. The buttons and faders are expertly engineered, as are the large jog wheels that feature state-of-the-art haptic feedback that increase their realism and also assist scratchers in finding cue points.

Build and Features

This is a rock-solid controller decked out with premium hardware including superb faders and with a 24-bit high-quality output that provides top-drawer audio to even the biggest systems, it isn’t left wanting when it comes to professional use. There are two LCD screens, one per deck, they’re more minimal than on other controllers but they’re very sharp and easy to read.

There are mappable velocity-sensitive pads, FX modules for both the master and each channel and high-quality play/cue buttons for each deck. This controller works perfectly with Traktor and its remix decks function that allows DJs to load samples and loops and control them with the S4’s pads. This adds another layer for those looking for a scratching/performance-focused DJ system.

For Scratching

The jog wheels on this awesome controller are superb and feel great. They’re not massive, but they’re very agile and they’ve been built with scratching in mind since Traktor’s professional userbase are largely performance-focussed DJs. The haptic feedback is exceptional and it really augments the scratching and mixing experience

Pros

  • Pro DJ controller in every respect
  • Haptic feedback on superb jog wheels
  • 24-bit high-quality output
  • Integrates perfectly with Traktor

Cons

  • Won’t get the most out of it with other software
  • Fairly pricey despite its advancing age

Summary

Scratching is a legendary DJ technique, anyone that adds scratching to their sets or routines will stand out from the noise – scratching is difficult but it’ll win you a lot of attention from the crowd and other DJs!

You no longer need to own vinyl and pricey vinyl decks to scratch. Controllers can easily cater to scratching with a little practice but some, like those listed here, have a few tricks up their sleeves to make scratching more effective and efficient.

The Pioneer DDJ-1000 benefits from its typically Pioneer hardware and large-diameter CDJ style platters. It’s a superb all-rounder that will please anyone trying to scratch.

The Traktor S4 MK3 is built to expert standards with high-quality output and superb hardware, the haptic jog wheels are ideal for scratchers.

The Numark NS7III is hard to beat on outright features, it’s a true beast, may be overkill for some, but the motorized decks are pretty groundbreaking. In a category of its own, the Rane Twelve is very cool and will really please those who simply cannot compromise on the feel of real vinyl.

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