Searching for the best DJ controllers is like drinking a sip of water from a fire hose. There is an absolute torrent of information and options, but which one is really the best for you?
Our team has already done all the leg work to find the best DJ controller in 2021. Here’s our rundown.
- What Is a DJ Controller?
- Our Expert Buying Guide: What features to Look for in a DJ Controller
- Which Company Makes the Best DJ Controllers?
- Top 17 Best DJ Controllers in 2021
- 1. Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000
- 2. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4
- 3. Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX3
- 4. Roland DJ-505
- 5. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
- 6. Denon MCX 8000
- 7. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2
- 8. Pioneer DDJ-400
- 9. Denon DJ Prime Go
- 10. Reloop Ready
- 11. Numark NVII
- 12. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S3
- 13. Numark Party Mix II
- 14. Pioneer DDJ-800
- 15. Denon Prime 4
- 16. Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX
- 17. Rane One
- What Is the Best DJ Controller for Beginners?
- What Is the Best DJ Controller Over $500?
- What Is the Best DJ Controller Under $500?
- What Is the Best DJ Controller for Scratching?
- What Is the Best DJ Controller for Traktor?
- What Is the Best DJ Controller for Serato?
- Frequently Asked Questions
What Is a DJ Controller?
A DJ controller is a valuable tool for almost any modern DJ. Though there are quite a few different models on the market, the idea is usually the same.
DJ controllers consist of a mixer, platters that mimic traditional turntables, and a set of controls. The entire controller interfaces with a computer or laptop, allowing the user to choose their DJ software.
Sounds pretty simple right? On the contrary, the varying controls and interfacing options make choosing between one standalone interface and another pretty difficult. That’s why you should keep reading the rest of our in-depth, expert buying guide.
Our Expert Buying Guide: What features to Look for in a DJ Controller
There are a wide variety of features built into DJ controllers. No two are exactly alike, so it’s good practice to understand what features to look for in the context of your DJing needs.
Your DJing Skill Level
If you’re an accomplished disc jockey, you are probably looking for a comprehensive setup with every single bell and whistle. You’re likely willing to spend top-dollar for a rig to control your software, and you’ll need every feature available.
Contrast that with a novice DJ who hasn’t ever done a show but wants to try their hand at mixing and arranging tracks for audiences. This novice DJ needs a simple controller that’s easier to master and available at an entry-level budget. They’re not going to need much more than a starter kit with two channels, a couple of platters, faders, and a handful of effects.
Pricing: Your DJ Controller Budget
Money isn’t everything, but spending more than $1000 on your first DJ controller makes little sense. So, be realistic in evaluating your needs.
More expensive controllers have many more features, more connectivity via multiple hookups, LCD screens, and a vast number of effects and controls for taking complete control of your music.
Number of Channels You Need
If you have multiple peripherals, you want more channels. A 2-Channel controller can control only two inputs. A 4-channel controller allows control of up to four, with faders for each channel. So, in theory, you could have a microphone, two vinyl turntables, and a digital audio source on one single 4-channel controller.
DJ Software You Require
DJ controllers typically require the DJ to use their chosen software. So, for instance, if you’re a big fan of Traktor’s line of software, you should stick with their products. The same goes for other manufacturers that use either Rekordbox or Serato software.
When buying a DJ controller, it’s imperative to understand all of its connection options. Otherwise, you run the risk of not being able to connect it to other hardware.
For instance, if your controller doesn’t have an XLR microphone input, you won’t be able to use the industry-standard XLR mics. Instead, you’d be limited to the type of input on your controller.
Make sure that if you have existing peripherals that you want to use with a new controller that you have the right connectivity options to make them work.
Dimensions and Weight
Some DJ controllers are portable, weighing barely ten pounds, and easily suitable for sitting on your lap during a ride on a train, plane, or automobile. Others are media processing and mixing behemoths, weighing more than thirty pounds, and taking up a whole table.
Aside from size and weight, truly portable DJ controllers have rechargeable batteries on board, so you are free from outlets during on the move sessions.
While the channels represent the routes you can use to bring music into your controller, the decks represent the actual controls. Typically, each deck will allow you to control fade and EQ.
So, for example, if you have a simple playlist spinning on channel one, you can prepare and mix a playlist on channel two, with different settings on that deck. When you’re ready, you can fade out deck one and fade in deck two.
Premium controllers have expansive controls on each deck.
The frequency range of a DJ controller refers to the range of the equalizer’s ability to manipulate sounds. If you have a very narrow frequency range, you won’t be able to customize your music’s high treble and low basses.
Most modern DJ controllers have an outstanding range, but the top and most expensive models offer precise control of even the lowest lows and highest highs.
DJ controllers all perform basic functions. More complicated controllers expand on those basics, adding more controls, connections, and functions.
If you want to simply mix some tracks and fade them in and out with each other for a dynamic DJ performance, you’ll only need a basic controller. If you want to control lighting, video screens, and control music from multiple peripherals, you’re going to need a bit more functionality.
Some newer controllers bring a simple optical screen or a touchscreen into the controller. Some models even have multiple screens for visual feedback and the manipulations of cue points, and more.
A DJ controller does not have to have a screen. But, some of the models with screens also act as true standalone controllers, freeing you from the need to link to a computer. The software, mixer, and control options are all on your DJ controller. Obviously, these models tend to be pretty pricey.
Which Company Makes the Best DJ Controllers?
The biggest names in DJ controllers are probably Pioneer, Denon, Native Instruments, and Roland. Each company and its controllers have particular strong suits, and pricing varies considerably, so it’s impossible to say which company makes the best controller.
But, in terms of market share, Pioneer is the dominant manufacturer.
Top 17 Best DJ Controllers in 2021
1. Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000
The DDJ-1000 from Pioneer is considered one of the top DJ controllers available. Here’s why.
The DDJ-1000 expands on the capabilities of the already feature-loaded SX3. It has two full-size jog wheels with a color LCD display, multi-colored instant effects pads, four channels, and reasonably intuitive controls. The LCD displays beats per minute (BPM), playback time, and other vital info for synchronizing sounds and tracks seamlessly.
It comes with two USB connections for using multiple computers, intended and designed for use with Rekordbox DJ software.
This controller is a flagship model DJ controller, and it carries the commensurately high price tag you would expect.
- Dual USB connectivity
- Color LCD displays
- Two microphone inputs
- Onboard memory for true standalone use (no PC needed)
Read our full review: DDJ-1000: A DJ Controller Review
2. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4
The NI Traktor Kontrol S4 is a genuine all-in-one DJ controller with complete hardware and software integration that can make anyone a DJ.
This controller integrates seamlessly with Traktor’s Pro 3 DJ software, with completely matching functions and an identical layout. You don’t have to worry about leaving your controller and using computer controls for certain commands or effects. Everything is at your fingertips through the controller.
The jog wheels are precise, with realistic feedback thanks to a proprietary magnetic braking system that mimics the feel of traditional turntables. Visual feedback via the control buttons and easy-to-use, consistent faders top off the excellent ergonomics of this DJ controller. There are two mic inputs,
This model also features an updated sound card, so it is louder and clearer than its predecessors, as well as upgraded meters, making it easier to see your different output levels.
- Packed with upgrades over previous models
- Full hardware and software integration
- Excellent ergonomics
- Professional feel and design
- The controller is small, making it feel cramped
- Won’t operate as a standalone controller
- Not inexpensive
3. Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX3
This DJ controller from Pioneer is full of features for taking full control of the Serato DJ Pro software.
This is a 4-channel controller that expands on the capabilities of its predecessor, the DDJ-SX2 controller. This unit is supremely powerful but portable, weighing in at about thirteen pounds. Its jog wheels have lower latency for seamless control, but it retains the familiar layout of the SX2.
With multiple microphone inputs, dual USB ports, four inputs, and plenty of outputs, this controller allows you to have three vocalists, two computers, multiple expansions, and a whole array of speakers, all working in sync at the touch of your fingers.
Use the Performance Pads to instantaneously trigger Serato DJ Pro features with instant colorized feedback.
- Expansion packs enabled
- Low-latency jog wheels
- Dual USB connections
- Enhanced vocal controls for three mics
- Fairly complicated
- A bit expensive
- Model is hard to find
4. Roland DJ-505
The Roland DJ-505 builds on Roland’s legacy of outstanding drum kits.
The DJ-505 has two channels and large platters designed for easy scratching. They are low-latency, so you don’t have to worry about lagging. This controller contains built-in editable drum kits from other Roland controllers (like the TR-909, -808, -707, and more) and works well with the Serato DJ Pro software.
Thanks to its line and phono inputs for turntables or other kits, it can also operate a standalone controller.
The DJ-505 has balanced XLR outputs, so you can connect with professional sound systems. There are even separate outputs for connecting directly to a sound booth and two separate sets of headphones. There is even a MIDI output to sync with external devices and sequencers.
- Dedicated pads for Serato DJ Pro effects
- Built-in drum kits
- License included for multiple Serato expansions and software
- Professional outputs
- Single microphone input
- Only two channels
5. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
This DJ controller is at the top end of the Traktor line of DJ equipment.
The layout of this DJ controller is quite different than many others on the market. Touch strips take the place of jog wheels, and the large platters are gone. A simple, intuitive display with easy-to-find controls and the addition of a ‘seek’ mode allows a DJ to instantly play any part of a track.
Designed to take advantage of Traktor’s Pro 3 software features, this controller is a workhorse. Two full-color displays and touch-sensitive controls and knobs allow for simple access to controls and information.
- 30 touch-sensitive knobs for integrated software control
- Dual bright, colored, displays
- Instant seek to any part of a track
- Multiple specialized views for beats, browsing, effects, mixing, and more
- Some reports of power failures
6. Denon MCX 8000
This premium DJ controller carries its own independent, built-in performance software.
The MCX 8000 from Denon is a standalone option for DJs who want the independence of performing without a link to a PC or laptop with only a thumb drive library of music needed. It can also interface seamlessly with the Serato DJ Pro software on a separate computer, offering DJs the best of both worlds.
Dual microphone inputs beat grid display and editing via graphical waveforms, and three separate USB plugs provide the user with plenty of premium features to play with. Switching between the USBs offers seamless transitions, as well as redundancy in the case of a peripheral hardware crash.
Fade all four channels independently to take control of vocals, mixed tracks, and all of your sounds without compromising any of them. Two complete high-definition displays, network connectivity for lighting and video control, and built-in instant effects round out this comprehensive package.
- XLR outputs
- Twin microphone channels
- Powerful onboard DJ engine for standalone use
- Serato DJ Pro software included
- Twin HD displays
- Multiple links and ports for complete integration at the professional level
- Very pricey
- Onboard software isn’t as fast as high-end PCs and laptops
7. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2
The Traktor Kontrol S2 is a plug-and-play DJ controller with two channels and a relatively low price point.
It’s fair to say that in terms of price, this is an entry-level DJ controller. But it has some professional features that make it appealing for a range of DJs, from novices to pros.
Oversized jog wheels make nudging, scrolling, and scratching easier. A convenient layout of the controls for cueing, adding hot cues, samples, and adjusting the tempo makes mixing tracks quick and easy.
Assign different loops and cue points, access them via the eight quick jump buttons, and keep the crowd moving, always in sync with the beat thanks to the powerful software.
- Tempo sync is seamless
- Customizable user interface
- Cueing and mixing is easy
- Four deck compatibility
- Excellent portability and connectivity via multiple ports and hookups
- Microphone gain control is on the back of the unit
- No XLR microphone input
- Plastic, sometimes flimsy feel
8. Pioneer DDJ-400
The DDJ-400 is among the top DJ controllers available for beginners. And it’s sold at a reasonably accessible price point.
This DJ controller is similar in appearance and design to the DDJ-1000. It feels well-made and solid, though it uses plastic, not metal. It has two channels, miniaturized CDJs, and comfortable, solid fader controls.
This DJ controller looks, feels, and plays like controllers that cost far more. Sure, it lacks additional channels and some connectivity, but it’s no surprise that this model is a favorite of beginners and travelers alike.
If you’ve never used a DJ controller before, this model is relatively easy to set up, and there is even a tutorial mode to show you the ropes. You’ll also receive a copy of the Rekordbox DJ software.
- Professional ergonomics and layout
- Software included
- Tutorial mode
- Plenty of effects and features
- Some controls are a bit cramped
- Still not that easy for a beginner to master
Read our full review: DDJ-400: A Review
9. Denon DJ Prime Go
The DJ Prime Go from Denon allows DJs to ditch a traditional DJ controller and opt for a standalone solution.
Sure, this is a DJ controller. But it’s also a bit of a departure from a traditional setup that requires linking peripherals. It brings a 7-inch monitor, direct connections to memory cards or portable hard drives, wireless streaming (with certain partners like TIDAL), and a full complement of the sort of controls you’d expect to see on a typical controller to your DJ party.
But, the DJ Prime go has something very unusual. It features a rechargeable battery for up to four hours of full performance without being tied to a wall outlet. That’s pretty impressive and makes outdoor DJing more accessible and the entire package much more portable. And, there’s also a port for linking with DJ lighting systems.
- Lithium-ion rechargeable battery power
- Standalone performance and capability
- 7-inch touchscreen with gesture controls
- An array of connections to booths, speakers, and mics
- Full complement of controls and effects
- Lacks XLR booth output (¼” instead)
- Only two decks
10. Reloop Ready
This is a simple, entry-level DJ controller that stresses portability over some features.
If you find yourself needing a compact DJ controller solution, the Reloop Ready might be the answer you need. It sits perfectly on top of a 13-inch laptop, so you could conceivably mix beats on your commuter train or in the back of a car. It comes with a copy of Serato DJ lite, so the Reloop Ready is a great starting point for a new or aspiring DJ.
The Reloop ready is also upgradeable to the Serato DJ Pro software and other apps. It has touch-sensitive jog wheels for tactile mixing and scratching, and it’s available at a relatively inexpensive price point.
- Extremely lightweight ( less than three pounds)
- Very portable
- Very limited connection options
- Only two channels
- Accuracy of touchpads is lacking
- No tempo range adjustability
11. Numark NVII
The NVII is an updated version of Numark’s previous NV Serato controller for DJs.
The layout of the Numark NVII is a departure from the previous version. The board’s reorganization features added gridlines for easier beat-matching, and the interface supports 5-column sorting for searching music via multiple criteria, all through dual 4.3” inch full-color displays.
Enjoy mouse-free navigation of your media library, easy-to-read and straightforward displays for cue points, effects, waveforms, and more. Control up to four Serato decks without ever needing to open your laptop.
Tactile controls include dual 5-inch platters, sixteen backlit pads with multiple modes, and professional-quality crossfading, plus all the stand FX, EQ, and filter knobs a DJ can need.
Multiple outputs and a USB 2.0 connection for a computer are standard.
- Integrated displays
- Control up to four decks
- Multiple sorting columns for song title, artist, time, BPM, and key
- Dual 5-inch metal platters
- XLR outputs
- Serato DJ included via download
- Cannot connect to most turntables
- Not a standalone controller
12. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S3
This is a four-channel controller for DJing across four decks, but it doesn’t break the bank open.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 is a great place to graduate after learning on a two-deck controller. It adds that much more flexibility to your DJ game, with faders, EQ, cueing, and full effects control for each deck. Eight pads allow you to control everything on each deck with versatility and dexterity without becoming overwhelmed.
More expensive controllers can boast of more controls and other upgrades, like touchscreen controls and more. But, the S3 comes with plenty of features to master, with dual jog wheels, assignable pads, eight effects, three filters, and a bit of portability as well. You can also use Soundcloud Go + to add in an endless library of songs.
- Dedicated XLR input and Output
- Controls are not overwhelmingly complicated
- Inexpensive pricing for a 4-channel system
- Full Traktor Pro 3 license included
- No power button
- Lacks some features
- Some quality control issues
13. Numark Party Mix II
This is a fun, entry-level controller that will be entertaining for a novice and is appropriate for kids as well.
The most appealing part of the Party Mix II DJ controller from Numark may be its inexpensive price point. But, with two deck control, plug and lay connectivity for iOS, Mac, and PC, a well as an array of controls for effects, loops, cueing, and sampling, there is plenty of meat on the bone.
This isn’t a cheap DJ controller, and it’s not a toy. It’s just a scaled-down version of the more expensive DJ controllers, making it more accessible to novices, outright beginners, and creative kids on a budget.
It comes with Serato Lite, and its two large jog wheels are touch-sensitive and satisfyingly solid. You can also stream music from other leading providers. Finally, you have the option of spending just a few more dollars to add party lights and built-in speakers.
- Extremely inexpensive
- Pro-style ergonomics and controls
- Plenty of capability
- Fits in a backpack
- Excellent starter controller for a beginner
- Limited connectivity
- Minimal inputs and outputs
14. Pioneer DDJ-800
The Pioneer DDJ-800 sits somewhere in the middle of the price range for DJ controllers.
Think of the DDJ-800 as a scaled down version of the -1000 model. It lacks the two additional channels, but for a 2-channel controller, it has the volume, ergonomics, and connectivity you would expect on a much more expensive controller.
- Affordable pricing
- Professional, compact, portable interface
- LCD screen
- Limited channels (2)
- Limited software connectivity (Rekordbox only)
15. Denon Prime 4
The Denon Prime 4’s central touchscreen and multi-core processor make it a standout performance model with a striking appearance.
This DJ controller is almost peerless on the current market. Its 10-inch touchscreen isn’t just a novelty. It is the heart of an intuitive interface, enabling the user to access the power of this comprehensive DJ controller.
All the usual features are onboard, but there is also dedicated XLR Zone outputs for sending music to a second room, dedicated industry-standard XLR inputs for two separate microphones, wireless streaming accessibility (with partner services like TIDAL), jog wheels with HD displays, and StagelinQ connection for controlling lighting and video.
This all-in-one controller works seamlessly with Serato DJ software and offers a look to the generation of DJ mixers and controllers. It even has a ‘censor’ mode to filter out profanity in songs. It’s a premium choice for professional DJs.
- Powerful processing
- Standalone capability
- Incredible array of creative tools
- 10-inch multi-gesture touch screen
- Plenty of connections, inputs, outputs, and data-linking
- Massive weight (33 pounds)
- Wallet-busting price tag
16. Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX
The Pioneer DDJ-RZX has an impressive three-screen design.
Any review of the DDJ-RZX will likely begin with a focus on its three 7-inch touch screens. That’s because they give at-a-glance information such as track names, BPM, and the song’s key, using the deck display mode. Then, with the press of a button, enable mixer display mode and see waveforms, loops, hot cues, and more.
A DJ can also use the displays to trigger and adjust effects and parameters using your fingers to fine-tune things to your liking, all without needing a mouse or your laptop screen. Don’t worry, though. There are still traditional large jog wheels for mixing across 4-channels.
Two XLR microphone inputs with dedicated equalizers and a free license for Rekordbox and Rekordbox video are also standard features.
- Three touch screens
- Dual XLR mic inputs
- Impressive array of controls, inputs, and outputs
- Heavy at 35 pounds
- Increasingly hard to find
17. Rane One
The Rane One DJ controller brings the feel of traditional vinyl turntables into the modern, digital age.
The Rane One is definitely unlike any other controller in this review. Its twin motorized 7.2” platters can easily make it feel like you’re scratching on a vintage turntable, adding a level of tactile feedback that is lacking on even the highest-end all-digital models.
But with Serato DJ streaming, two-deck vinyl turntables, dual USB connections, and an integrated DJ mixer, you’re not going to feel like you’ve been stuck at the Ritz with Run DMC since 1985.
- Traditional turntable-feel and feedback
- Impressive connectivity, XLR inputs, and XLR outputs
- Dual USB connections
- Ample FX and plenty of customization options
- Pricey, especially without any touchscreens
- Only two channels
- Not a standalone controller
- Heavy at 33 pounds
What Is the Best DJ Controller for Beginners?
The best DJ controller for beginners is the Pioneer DDJ-400. Its layout and features will allow a beginner to grow into it once they master the basics. There is still a bit of a learning curve, particularly when using the looping section.
But, it’s available at a reasonable entry-level price point. If a user does progress beyond the capabilities of the DDJ-400, the controls on their new professional DJ controller will be fundamentally familiar, as the DDJ-400 is a mirror image of many top designs.
What Is the Best DJ Controller Over $500?
The best DJ controller over $500 is the DDJ-1000 from Pioneer. It has everything you need for professional DJing, including 4-channel mixing, multiple USB ports, dual microphone inputs, and all the controls you’d expect to see on a premium controller.
What Is the Best DJ Controller Under $500?
The best DJ controller under $500 is the Traktor Kontrol S2. Its layout is intuitive and familiar, with jog wheels, triggering pads, and a better-than-average EQ. It’s small enough to fit into a cramped space and runs the full version of the Traktor Pro 3 software.
All in all, this is a budget-friendly controller that goes well beyond the needs of a beginner DJ.
What Is the Best DJ Controller for Scratching?
The best DJ controller for scratching is the Rane One. It brings old-school, tactile feedback to your scratching game with its motorized platters, and even the most electronic platters don’t match up well when it comes to scratching.
But this controller still has plenty of modern electronics, so you don’t have to worry about feeling too old school.
What Is the Best DJ Controller for Traktor?
The best DJ controller for Traktor is the Traktor S8. Its design allows the user to take complete control of Traktor’s flagship Pro 3 software.
What Is the Best DJ Controller for Serato?
The best DJ controller for Serato is the DDJ-SX3 from Pioneer. While the Roland DJ-505 is also right at the top of the list of Serato software controllers, the DDJ-SX3’s controls work flawlessly The best DJ controller for Rekordbox is the DDJ-1000 from Pioneer. It allows masterful software control, with an expansive range of effects, large jog wheels, and exceedingly high performance.
The biggest drawback is that it is so complicated to use due to its in-depth controls.
Frequently Asked Questions
These questions about DJ controllers come up quite frequently, so we did our best to answer them all for you in one place.
Why do I need a DJ controller?
A DJ controller makes controlling your mixing software much more manageable. Instead of burying your nose in your computer screen and clicking away with your mouse, you can use the mixing board on a DJ controller as your primary interface with your software.
You don’t need a DJ controller to simply play a playlist. But if you want to crossfade tracks, mix multiple music sources, add effects, loops, and take advantage of your software’s full functionality, you will need a DJ controller.
What is the difference between a DJ controller and a CDJ?
In their original form, CDJs replaced vinyl record players, so DJs could take advantage of CD technology and play digital music. They offered DJs the ability to manipulate CD music files much like the traditional turntable DJ could. Now, CDJs also usually can play stored music files from hard drives or SD cards.
Very high-endCDJs can also act as DJ controllers, allowing a DJ to mix sounds and control playback on a computer’s software instead of relying on the media on the CDJ. Otherwise, a CDJ needs to have either a DJ mixer or a DJ controller to control its playback.
What is the difference between a DJ mixer and a DJ controller?
A DJ mixer mixes audio signals. A DJ controller sends signals to a computer to tell the software running there how to mix audio. It’s a subtle difference on paper, but in all practical ways, mixers are very different from controllers.
Can I connect my phone to a DJ controller?
Yes. But not every phone connection is the same, and phones don’t usually have enough power to drive a professional DJ controller.
You’re probably better off using a dedicated piece of hardware or even an iPad to stream music to your DJ controller.
What DJ Equipment do you need with a DJ Controller?
That answer depends on the controller you buy. Some are meant for use in concert with peripheral input devices and need a computer connection. Other designs allow you to perform standalone mixing but still usually require speakers.
You also have the option of linking video screens and lighting with some DJ controllers. Some models offer integrated speakers and lighting, but they tend to target beginners. with the software, offering incredible feedback and precise control to the DJ.