The controller generation is in full swing! The landscape of DJing has changed and it will never go back, controllers have proven themselves worthy of use by the world’s very best, converting CDJ mixers, laptop mixers, and even die-hard turntablists.
Once seen as purely a ‘convenient’ option, or a portable solution, controllers have now evolved into fully fledged devices that are capable of helping DJs execute insane performances. They can be extremely creative devices, packing tons of features into small footprints. They can also be simple and streamlined, putting emphasis on the music and its transitions. Controllers can be anything – that’s their main strength!
Controllers have power, flexibility, portability and let’s not forget – value. They also pack decks and mixers into one unit. That can save you thousands. The price of decent vinyl turntables and a mixer far exceeds that of a controller, even high-end controllers will cost significantly less before you even think about buying music on vinyl! As for CDJs, controllers blow them out of the water from a value perspective!
So, in light of the controller’s awesome characteristics, let’s review 10 of the very best available at multiple price points!
|Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3
|Serato DJ Lite
|Numark Mixtrack Platinum
|Serato DJ Intro
|Hercules DJ Control Inpulse 300
|DJUCED 18° DJ
|Serato DJ Intro
|Hercules DJControl Starlight
|Serato DJ Lite
|Numark Party Mix
|Virtual DJ LE/Serato DJ Lite
|TRAKTOR S4 MK3
|TRAKTOR PRO 3
|Hercules Universal DJ
Things to Consider before Choosing a DJ Controller
DJ controllers come in tons of shapes and sizes with various features at various price points. Knowledge of the main variables is crucial. Check out this short guide on DJ controllers.
First and foremost, a controller is named a controller because it controls software installed on your laptop. Your laptop acts as the ‘processor’ and the controller is basically a well-engineered peripheral, almost like a mouse or keyboard, that allows you to control your DJ software.
DJ software is extremely important and it will largely guide your choice of controller. Most controllers are tailor-made for software. You can change your software and in the case of Serato, things are a little more flexible, but generally, every controller comes shipped with a copy of some DJ software.
- Pioneer use RekordBox.
- Native Instruments uses Traktor
- Most other manufacturers use Serato
Yes, it is possible to run a Pioneer controller on Serato, etc, but it’s not always easy!
Pioneer used to use Serato but quickly expanded their RekordBox software for their controllers. RekordBox has all features you expect from top software including time-stretching, awesome FX, a slick high-def layout and integration for use with Pioneer CDJs and other equipment.
Native Instrument’s long-term software Traktor has always been a little innovative with its remix deck feature which turns a deck into a 64-slot remix deck for mashing loops and samples. With lots of additional peripherals like the Kontrol F1, Traktor fits a niche for producers.
There from the start, Serato now features modern features like pitch-stretching, comes with tons of awesome FX, multiple layout displays and high-def layout for 4k displays. Once always known for its vertical waveforms (you can set them up horizontally, though), and now, Serato has become the most popular UI and graphical interface amongst DJ software. Serato is supplied with many controllers that aren’t made by Native Instruments and Pioneer and therefore, it’s probably the most popular software overall.
Which one is for me?!
Only you can decide! Traktor might suit producers and creatives, RekordBox is the only choice for Pioneer fans and Serato DJ fills all the gaps with arguably the most popular piece of DJ software given its cross-controller compatibility.
I/O stands for input/output. Inputs allow you to connect other decks to your controller, essentially doubling up your controller as a mixer. With extra inputs, you can connect CDJs, timecode vinyls or plain vinyl decks.
In terms of outputs, controllers usually have either 16-bit outputs or 24-bit outputs. 24-bit is higher resolution, meaning better sound quality through top sound systems. Some of the controllers here use 24-bit, which is considered the ‘pro’ benchmark. The truth is this only matters through serious large-scale sound systems.
Not every controller is machined out of metal, in fact, very few are! Plastic is simply better, it’s stronger, shock resistant and cheaper to manufacture. That keeps prices down and durability up.
Cheaper controllers often have durability on their side. Think back to the Nokia 3310 – it was plasticy but indestructible. A similar concept applies to controllers!
Bottom Line: Pioneer have created some excellent controllers and this lies towards the mid level of their market. It’s superbly well engineered, comes with some great features and is built to last.
Pioneer need no introduction as a manufacturer. They’ve always been spot on when manufacturing all types of audio gear from car head units to mixers, decks and now, controllers. The DDJ-SB3 is at the lower end of their price brackets but it’s still built to an awesome standard. It’s an excellent entry to mid level controller at a superb price.
This is a 2-channel controller with excellent innovative features like pad scratch, designed in collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff. Pad scratch enables you to recreate scratching sounds at the touch of a button!
Some of these controllers are still bundled with Serato Lite which can be upgraded to Serato Pro but others will ship with RekordBox – check before ordering! They work perfectly with both softwares.
The controller is intuitively laid out, it’s small and portable but not too cramped which is excellent. It has 8 pads for each deck, some of which control features like beat jump, looping and FX and some of which control the sampler. Dedicated play/cue buttons round this controller off, marking a step up from the DDJ-SB2 which lacked these vital features.
- Pioneer quality at a value price
- Pads and pad scratch feature
- Well laid out and fantastic build quality
- You’ll need to upgrade software to get the most out of it
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 Portable 2-Channel Serato DJ Lite Controller Highlights
Bottom Line: Large and laden with cool and useful features, Numark has created an insane controller for this very slim and attractive price. A superb creation from a top manufacturer.
Numark are industry veterans and their mixtrack series is probably the best selling series of controllers of all time. They combine quality with innovation in a package which is excellent value and highly usable at every level of DJing. It’s amazing how cheap this controller is given its features.
Whilst it has a plasticy built, this controller is durable and strong. It’s pretty large but that lends the advantage of space, which is excellent if portability isn’t an absolutely crucial issue. Also, this is a 4-channel mixer with 24-bit output and a suit of excellent pro-level features, so it’s not designed to be the smallest controller on the market anyway.
A headline feature is the LCD screens on each deck which display information like BPMs and song duration. This is something we see on very expensive controllers so to think you can get it at this price is quite spectacular. These displays allow you to take less glances at your laptop, so you can concentrate on the controller and the mix itself with minimal hassle.
Like the Mixtrack Pro 3, to which this controller is very similar, each deck also has a touch-strip for easy song navigation. With a 4-bank FX pad selector, large 100mm faders, 3-band EQs and quality large aluminum platters, this controller beats its price in every respect.
- Innovative and fully featured
- Large and spacious
- A bit plasticy
Numark Mixtrack Platinum – DJ Controller for Serato DJ with Integrated Sound Card Highlights
Bottom Line: Newish kids on the block Hercules have come up with a budget controller which can hold its own and with its special software, DJUCED, DJs can get a leg up with its superb practice modes.
Hercules have broken the trends by providing a controller which is shipped with its own software, DJUCED. Firstly, lets be clear that you can easily run this controller with Serato, however, don’t overlook the bundled software as it really does have some excellent features!
This controller is cheap but it features all the main components like 3-band EQs, quality jogwheels and faders and a decent build quality for such a compact device. It is small, so don’t expect a super spacious controller but do expect to be able to chuck this in a reasonable bag if you need to travel, etc.
DJUCED is designed to help you learn to DJ and provides free access to a DJ academy with seasoned professional tutorials. It also has a tempo suggestion mode, which enables you to quickly match tempos. You can turn on intelligent beat grids for beatmatch assistance and finally, there is a playlist generator which matches tunes based on keys and BPMS.
Even better, though, is the ‘Energy’ function. There is a small LED on the controller which glows either red or blue based on the energy level of a tune. This is calculated from BPM and key information. You can then choose music which matches the energy level in order to keep your mix stable and consistent. Awesome!
- Cheap and compact
- Intelligent software
- Works with popular software too
- Quite cramped
Hercules Inpulse 300 Highlights
Bottom Line: Industry veterans Denon have produced some top quality controllers but this is still one of their most well known. It’s fully club ready and won’t disappoint in any department.
This isn’t a new controller, but its held its own towards the top of the entry to mid market. Denon have been around for a long, long time and this controller is built to a tremendous spec. It’s built beyond its price bracket and looks super smart, fitted out with top quality faders, EQ pots and gains. 100mm faders combine with awesome aluminium jogwheels which are reportedly incredibly smooth to operate.
A 24-bit output ensures great sound quality through top sound systems – this is an excellent quality output for the controller’s price.
This controller will work fine with any software and mappings are available for the main players. Serato is probably the preferred software of choice, though. Overall, this is a flexible controller that isn’t tied down to software. Other features include triple-bank FX and 4 pads per deck for loops and samples. This is a simple and effective controller for any user.
- Awesome build quality
- 24-bit output
- Excellent jogwheels
- Two channels only
Denon MC 4000 Highlights
Bottom Line: Similar to the Hercules Starlight, this is an excellent highly portable DJ controller. It’s cool, small and enables you to say ‘yes’ to anyone asking for a DJ to mix at events or parties.
So we’ve had the Hercules Starlight, it’d be rude to not also include Numark’s own take on the super-small controller market. This is a highly successful ultra-portable DJ controller for Serato and it sure punches above its tiny weight!
This controller has enough features to execute awesome mixes. It’s not a toy, but makes an awesome gift or backup controller. It’ll fit across a laptop at just 35cm, which means you can stick it in tiny bags for transportation anywhere. It has 2 tiny jogwheels, small but precise BPM faders and 4 pads per deck for triggering loops and samples. It’s a real gem that allows you to practice and perform wherever you go, which is its top and headline feature.
- Very small
- Works very well
- Have to get used to the small size!
Numark DJ2GO2 Pocket DJ Controller with Audio Interface Highlights
Bottom Line: Tiny and effective for traveling DJs, this is an awesome device which can go with you wherever you go. Perfect for parties, practice, and performances of all kinds!
Now for something completely different. This is one of the world’s smallest controllers, designed to fit into bags, cases, even coat pockets! It’ll fit along the length of a laptop or similar, perfect for desktop DJing.
It’s actually an extremely useful bit of kit, though. Its portability means you can practice mixing anywhere. From creating mixes to running through your set, this controller is perfect for the travelling DJ. Also, it’s great for just mixing to yourself or a few mates in your room, or for parties of any size really – it’s extremely flexible once you get used to its novel size!
There’s nothing to say you couldn’t execute a proper mix with this controller, though. It has two jogwheels, little tempo faders which are surprisingly precise, 4 performance pads per deck and a filter for mixing out the highs or lows of your tracks. Basically, that’s everything you need, all available in a remarkably small package.
Obviously, the key feature of this controller is its size. It’s incredibly useful and as a second or backup controller. Also, since you can take it anywhere, it’s perfect for whipping out for an impromptu set!
- Works very well
- Did we mention the size?
- Filter is quite limiting
Hercules DJControl Starlight Highlights
Bottom Line: Small, strong and super cool in design and nature, the Numark PartyMix lives up to its name and more! This is a highly effective little controller.
Numark up again! We’re not surprised though, Numark’s dedication to the industry is supreme and this is another awesome controller at a stupid price! The PartyMix isn’t designed for pro large-scale club use, but it will hold its own in most lineups. Still, it is designed for parties in mind, whether that be house parties, small scale events, birthdays, weddings, etc!
At its core, it’s a simple 2 channel controller with smallish decks, 2-band EQs and a special feature up its sleeve, more on that in a minute! It also has two sets of 4 pads per deck for loops, FX, cues and samples.
Made from hard plastic, this controller is super durable. It can survive the thrashing of a house party with ease. It’s also super-light and very portable, perfect for impromptu house party sets or outdoor sessions.
So what about that secret feature? The PartyMix has its own built-in LED light show! 3 LED lights built into the pack sync with the music to provide an excellent little extra for parties and events. Add a smoke machine and it’s actually quite impressive! It might seem like a gimmick but given this controller’s excellent price, you really can’t fault it.
- Small and portable
- Very strong
- Awesome light show
- 2-band EQ
Numark PartyMix Highlights
Bottom Line: A proper pro 4-channel controller from NI, this controller uses the latest version of Traktor to enable you to mix power-packed sets full of creativity.
Time for a Native Instrument’s controller. The Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 is the updated version of the MK2 released since Traktor upgraded their software. It sits towards the higher end of Traktor’s controller range and it isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s manufactured from high-quality components and it looks and feels great. However, it really does pack so many pro level features into its small form – this is a real serious piece of kit.
This is a 4 channel controller which allows for the connection of external decks, whether that be CDJs, timecode vinyls or simple vinyl or CD decks, etc. It has a pro 24-bit output which sounds excellent. It’s club ready in terms of its I/O and is fully revved up for the biggest venues.
The high-tech jogwheels feature haptic feedback for realistic control, they feel great! Otherwise, the components used in this controller are clearly top-quality, using NI’s recognizably appealing designs on rotary faders and faders.
3-band EQs combine with high/low pass filters, mappable RGB pads and deck and master FX. There are also 2 fantastic LCD displays per deck which display key song information, they’re more clear than the competition’s and really do look awesome!
Finally, with Traktor, this controller integrates superbly with the remix deck feature. This allows you to operate two normal channels and two channels of remix decks for performing custom loops and samples. For producers, this keeps Traktor highly appealing – it’s a very creative and innovative feature that hasn’t really been matched by others (yet!)
- Pro I/O and build quality
- Works perfectly with Remix Decks
- Awesome quality LCD displays
- Quite pricey!
Traktor Kontrol S4 MK 3 Highlights
Bottom Line: The best ‘pro’ controller at a reasonable price, Pioneer have created an awesome piece of it which can provide for the most demanding DJs. An excellent club-ready device!
Moving up a notch in price, now. The Pioneer DDJ-800 is a tremendous controller. It’s geared for pro use but it isn’t a bank breaker like Pioneer’s highest end controllers and instead, it sits right at the very top of the mid range market. It’s fairly small for a powerful controller, much smaller than its bigger brother the DDJ-1000.
For comparison’s sake, the DDJ-1000 weighs 1.4kg more and is much bigger, but it comes with 4 channels whereas this controller has just two – this is the key difference between the two.
The DDJ-800 has a classy build and it’s sure to turn some heads. Strong, light and highly durable for such a densely featured bit of kit, this controller can stand up to some road wear, though we wouldn’t recommend chucking it about or anything!
The two large decks have impressive LCD displays with key info like BPM, song duration and cue points. You can adjust the feel of the decks to make them more resistive or smoother, which is great. With a 24-bit output and space for connecting external CDJs or decks, the I/O section of this controller is club-ready.
This controller is more of a pro 2-channel controller than anything else and though it comes with the usual FX banks and pad controls for loops and samples, it’s a bit of a ‘purists’ controller. The LCD displays allow you to mix without looking at the laptop, so you can concentrate fully on the mix itself.
With RekordBox bundled, this controller is ready to roll. The controller actually acts as a licence, so you can plug this in to any laptop with RekordBox and use the full version of the software. It fits very well into Pioneer’s modern DJ ecosystem – it’s a thoroughly up-to-date controller.
- Superb quality
- Acts as a licence key – no faffing about with software and laptops during sets
- Awesome LCD displays
- Only 2 channels are easily operable
Pioneer DDJ 800 Highlights
Bottom Line: Quirky and highly useful, there is more to this little controller than what meets the eye. It’s one of the only controllers with Bluetooth connectivity options!
Hercules are becoming a key innovator of the entry level cheap controller market. This controller is excellent in that it provides everything you need at a cheap price in a convenient little device. 3-band EQ, decent faders and decks, etc, all the basics are present and accounted for. It comes with its own software – DJUCED – as mentioned for the previous Hercules controller, but is very easy to map to other software, especially the free Serato Lite.
However, what gives this controller its name ‘Universal’ is that it has an innovative abilty to connect to other devices. You can connect this with a USB to your laptop, as standard, to your laptop and to a phone or tablet via Bluetooth, allowing you to operate FX of your portable device or finally, you can purely use Bluetooth to connect it to your tablet!
This is awesome for all types of DJs but for parties or functions DJs – weddings, birthdays, etc, it’s a powerful feature. You could actually leave the room, or walk around whilst mixing! With some automixing features courtesy of DJUCED, this makes the Universal DJ a pretty useful niche device for many DJ uses.
As mentioned, you can map it to Serato Lite easily for more ‘traditional’ mixes – this controller really does live up to its name!
- Small but has a 3-band EQ
- Excellent connectivity options
- DJUCED is very useful
- None really
Hercules Universal DJ Highlights
All of these controllers are excellent. You can’t nail down the best because they’re all very different! The standards are high and these days, you don’t have to pay the earth for awesome DJ kit, which is great. There’s something for everyone – every controller provides its own little angle or niche which might just capture your interest.
Pioneer might capture many people because of their super-slick designs and awesome hardware but then, there is the cost. Still, you could argue the proven reliability of these controllers is worth every penny!
Cheaper controllers here from Numark and Hercules go so far for their price tags, they’re excellent value and really don’t slack.
Native Instruments have their own quite custom setups and Traktor might just capture some user’s imaginations with its creative potential.
Other controllers which don’t ‘conform’ will work with Serato Lite, which is free. This makes them extremely easy to setup and use.
Essentially, there is something to fill every gap in the market. Numark and Hercules proved that by creating the smallest ‘proper’ controllers on the market, small enough to fit in small bags.
In short, the standards are so high and the diversity so broad that it’s extremely hard to go wrong with any of these controllers!
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