The Controller Compendium (Best DJ Controllers in 2018)
Many DJs prefer to use controllers: dedicated pieces of hardware which allow hands-on control of DJing software. This guide will help you compare the best DJ controllers currently available, and make sure you’re well-informed, so that you can make a smart choice!
The development of robust DJ software, along with the hardware to control it, has been one of the most significant things to ever happen within the industry.
The hardware market continues to grow, and people are now able to choose a controller which fits their budget, workflow, and choice of software. This is wonderful news for DJs, but it also makes the shopping process difficult.
While the needs of every individual DJ will vary, this guide is meant to help you make an informed decision, so that you can feel confident when spending your hard-earned money.
For those who prefer to listen on the go, here’s an audio version of the guide:
This version was presented on The Passionate DJ Podcast – a weekly talk show dedicated to the art and science of mixing music. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or your favorite podcast app!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- What To Consider When Controller Shopping
- Top DJ Controllers: Premium (over $1000)
- Top DJ Controllers: Midrange (above $500)
- Top DJ Controllers: Budget (below $500)
- Modular Solutions
- What To Do Now…
What To Consider When Controller Shopping
✔ Software Platform
While DJ controllers are MIDI-assignable (and therefore customizable), they are usually designed with some software-dependent features in mind. For example, a controller with onboard screens might show the waveforms of the tracks you’re playing… but this will only work when used with the right software package.
If you’re looking for your first DJ controller, make sure you buy one that’s intended for the software you intend to use.
✔ Types of Gigs
You may want to consider what type of gigs you’ll be playing, before spending your hard-earned money!
If you’re a professional club DJ, or you run a mobile DJing business, be willing to invest in something sturdy and easily moved. If you’re a scratch DJ (or want to learn), good jog wheels and a responsive crossfader are your priority.
Bedroom/hobbyist DJs can choose whatever makes them happy, and fits within their budget!
✔ Connectivity and Ports
To ensure that you can get your sound output to where it needs to go, pay attention to connectivity options. Will your master output need to be delivered to a set of powered speakers? Will you be connecting to a club PA system? Do you need a booth output? All these things should be factored in, when deciding on a controller.
- Recommended listening: Know Thy Cables (The Passionate DJ Podcast, Ep. 120)
Top DJ Controllers: Premium (over $1000)
These controllers are the cream of the crop when it comes to full, in-the-box DJ solutions. They are professional grade, have a high level of hardware-software integration, and are rich in features. They also come with a premium price tag!
These full DJ mixing stations are geared towards the club DJ on the go, the performer who is interested in taking advantage of the live/remix elements of the included software, or the serious hobbyist willing to make an investment in their digital DJing habit. For some, they might be categorized as overkill.
In the premium lineup, you can’t really go wrong. It all comes down to a matter of what DJ software you want to control, the amount you’re willing to spend, and personal preference.
(For: Rekordbox) A beast of a DJ workstation, which also lets you be a VJ using Rekordbox Video.
- Pros: As the most feature-laden DJ controller in existence, you get a Pioneer Nexus type of workflow, with the added benefit of video mixing.
- Cons: Although successfully mimicking a CDJ setup, it still requires a laptop… and it’s about as expensive as DJ controllers get.
- Choose If: You want a comprehensive Rekordbox experience and top-quality, or video mixing is important to you.
Denon DJ MCX8000
(For: Standalone, Serato) Denon’s mic-drop includes features previously unheard of in its price range… no laptop needed.
- Pros: Operates fully standalone (no laptop!) via Denon’s Engine technology, or as a high-end Serato controller with dual USB and high-res screens, at an affordable price point.
- Cons: Serato DJ is still a more comprehensive experience than Engine… and standalone is 2 channel only (though you can use Engine and Serato simultaneously).
- Choose If: You want a killer dual-USB Serato controller at a killer price, plus handy standlone functionality.
Denon DJ MC7000
(For: Serato) Denon continues to up their game, presenting an impressive feature set at half the price you’d expect.
- Pros: Dual USB ports (easy DJ switch-overs and B2B), DVS capability, key-matching controls and rugged metal construction makes this controller a high-value purchase.
- Cons: It’s about twice as heavy as a DDJ-SX2, despite being slightly smaller.
- Choose If: You want a premium Serato experience, especially for more than one DJ at a time.
Traktor Kontrol S8
(For: Traktor) The flagship offering by Native Instruments provides the most tightly-integrated Traktor experience available.
- Pros: It provides the smoothest Traktor experience available, thanks to high-res screens with a smart UI. It gives easy access to Remix Decks & Stems, and is a great option for DVS users.
- Cons: The lack of jog wheels is a deal-breaker for some DJs.
- Choose If: You want the laptop out of your face, you are “all-in” on Traktor, and you need flexible standalone options.
(For: Serato) Get the feeling of mixing vinyl records, but the features of a modern digital DJ setup.
- Pros: 7″ motorized vinyl platters and slipmats feels a lot like mixing records, but you get all the benefits of DJ software and a digital collection.
- Cons: It’s huge and heavy, and there are no hardware filters (for standalone mixing), imperfect screens.
- Choose If: You love the feel of mixing vinyl, but prefer the convenience of digital DJing over a more cumbersome DVS setup.
- Pros: The quality is seriously pro-grade, and it closely emulates Pioneer CDJ workflow. Dual USB is awesome.
- Cons: It’s quite large… and for many, prohibitively expensive.
- Choose If: You want a club-standard feel (but not a Nexus price), you want high-quality pads, and you want the best screenless Pioneer controller available.
- Pros: A CDJ-esque controller which inherits high-quality pads and digital cue display from SZ, and the build quality you expect from Pioneer DJ.
- Cons: It’s smaller than the SZ but still bulky; no DVS support (without $99 upgrade).
- Choose If: You want fantastic in-the-box control, and a pro-grade feel, but a more reachable price than SZ.
Help Me Decide!
The ever-impressive DDJ-RZX is the option for DJs who also want to be VJs using Serato Video, and it provides a very Pioneer Nexus-like experience (though it still requires a laptop). Of course, it will be either too large, or cost-prohibitive, for many. If you’re willing to ditch the screens and don’t care about video mixing, the DDJ-SZ (or Rekordbox equivalent RZ) provides an excellent alternative while slicing at least a grand off the price.
For a very similar feel and approach, with a more reachable price, the DDJ-SX (or DDJ-RX) is the ticket. You still get all the major functionality, and save some cash in the process. Just note that you will need to pay for a software upgrade to use timecode.
For Traktor, the S8 is the most fully-featured and well-integrated controller currently available. The touch-sensitive knobs, high-quality onboard screens, and smart UI design make for a pleasant experience. However, you have to be willing to give up jog wheels. For more about the entire lineup of Traktor controllers, check out The Unofficial Traktor Kontrol Mega-Guide.
Denon’s certainly not playing around, these days. Their MCX8000 has an amazing set of features for the price, including the ability to not use a laptop at all (as long as you’re only using two of the decks…) As a Serato controller, you can’t be disappointed. The MC7000 is basically what you get when you take away the “standalone” functionality and screens. Both of these are excellent choices, and have been well-received by DJs and reviewers alike.
The NS7III is great for DJs who want the feel of vinyl, but the convenience of digital. The motorized platters are tension-adjustable and you can even switch between 33 and 45 RPM modes. Like all others in this section, the NS7III works with external inputs as a mixer.
Top DJ Controllers: Midrange (above $500)
“Bang for buck” is what digital DJing is all about, and this range of controllers makes for a perfect demonstration of this.
These controllers sit between the mid-and-upper-hundreds price range. While they are perhaps not as feature-rich as some of the premium options, today’s midrange controllers are very club-oriented and complete. These devices provide everything you need to DJ digitally.
These are all great options for the serious, but budget-minded, digital DJ. Today’s midrange controllers are impressive, and comparable with the Premium controllers of yesterday.
(For: Serato) Version 2 of the first “screened” DJ controller, with some welcomed enhancements.
- Pros: It’s a great value, with built-in screens and a slim design at a great price. Touch-sensitive knobs and responsive UI allow Serato users to get the laptop out of their face.
- Cons: There’s no standalone mixing, the pads are on the small side, and the screens aren’t quite as nice as the ones on Native Instruments controllers.
- Choose If: You want to use Serato, and you don’t want to stare at your laptop.
Traktor Kontrol S5
(For: Traktor) The S8’s younger sibling is a digital workhorse for serious Traktor fiends.
- Pros: It inherits Native Instruments’ smart interface from the S8, giving access to nearly all of Traktor’s features in a smaller footprint.
- Cons: No mixing of external sources (which means no timecode records). And, of course, no jog wheels for those DJs who demand them.
- Choose If: You’re a serious Traktor user who wants access things like Remix Decks & stems, but doesn’t care about hooking up decks.
- Pros: Fully USB powered, very portable, professional look and feel. The RR (Rekordbox) version was released later and includes RGB pads, Sequencer, and DVS access.
- Cons: The SR is missing standalone mixing and RGB pads from upper-tier DDJ units. Small tempo faders.
- Choose If: You want a truly portable Serato or Rekordbox setup, which should last a long time.
Advertised at $699
Reloop Mixon 4
(For: Serato, Algoriddim djay) A lovely four-channel offering by Reloop, whether using a laptop or a tablet.
- Pros: While it’s a terrific Serato controller, you also get four-deck tablet mixing via Algoriddim’s software. Reloop provides mappings for Traktor and Virtual DJ as well. That’s versatility!
- Cons: No external sources except a straight-thru mic… not even an aux input. Software DJs only.
- Choose If: You like having software options, or you want the ultimate iPad controller.
Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
(For: Traktor) The second revision of the game-changing S4 is still a great option for Traktor-heads.
- Pros: It’s intuitive to use, boasts a ton of functionality, has strong community support, can be used with timecode, and can even be used for Traktor DJ on iOS.
- Cons: There’s no standalone mode, and few customization options. Starting to get long in the tooth.
- Choose If: You’re a 4-channel Traktor user, but prefer jog wheels over onboard screens.
Reloop Terminal Mix 8
(For: Serato) Top-notch Serato control, in a sleek (but tough) exterior.
- Pros: You get great quality, solid controls, large jog wheels, and full Serato DJ included.
- Cons: There are no dedicated “Master Out” or 3/4 channel meters, and no inputs for decks for standalone/DVS.
- Choose If: You only plan on mixing “in the box” with Serato, and you want one of the best dedicated controllers for that task.
Reloop Beatpad 2
(For: DJAY) A compact controller especially for those who are all-in on tablet DJing.
- Pros: The compact footprint and tablet-oriented designmeans it will fit easily into any DJ booth. Spotify access is great for DJs who take requests.
- Cons: For a controller geared towards DJAY and having only two channels, some DJs will have trouble justifying the price.
- Choose If: You are a DJAY user, you want to mix primarily on a mobile device, and you want something reasonably-sized.
Help Me Decide!
The midrange controller market is extremely competitive… which is great news for us, as consumers!
The Numark NV was the first controller to include onboard screens. The NV2 improves on the original with some nice details, such as smart touch-capacitive jog wheels which “learn” your style. This is a terrific option for Serato DJs that don’t want their laptop front-and-center, and at a great price.
The Traktor Kontrol S5 is a killer value, basically being an S8 with slightly less control over Remix Decks (and without DVS support). What remains is essentially the same premium experience that you get out of its more expensive sibling. Of course, the ever-popular Kontrol S4 is still a great option for those who don’t need screens. The MK2 features tight software integration, basic Remix Deck and Flux Mode support, and even iOS compatilibity. Check the Unofficial Traktor Kontrol Mega-Guide for more info.
Reloop has a solid foothold in the bang-for-buck department, and all their controllers feature solid construction and big heavy jog wheels. The Mixon 4 is the ultimate iPad controller, but also works with just about any DJ software you throw at it. The Beatpad 2 is another great tablet-oriented option (if you’re willing to use DJAY instead of more “industry standard” software), and the Terminal Mix 8 is one of the best options for Serato users.
Of course, Pioneer has their own entries here as well. The DDJ-SR and DDJ-RR are controllers which give you that professional industry look and feel; however, they are only two-channel. The RR made several improvements over the SR, but requires you to use Rekordbox. Serato DJ users will want to opt for the SR, after noting the differences between them.
Top DJ Controllers: Budget (below $500)
These entry-level controllers are great for new DJs wanting to get their feet wet without making a huge investment. They’re also well suited to seasoned DJs wanting a backup, or extremely portable, solution.
While you won’t always find the extremely sturdy construction of the professional grade stuff, the market has matured in this price segment… today’s budget offerings feel more like pro audio gear than the toys they used to be.
If you’re a beginner DJ, you’re on a strict budget, a casual hobbyist, you primarily play another media format, or you simply want the best bang-for-your-buck… these could be the digital mixing devices for you.
Numark MixTrack Platinum
(For: Serato) A techy upgrade for this extremely popular budget offering from Numark.
- Pros: It’s very spacious, has long-throw pitch controls, includes touch strips, and gives terrific visual BPM feedback. Conveniently, it’s powered by the USB connection.
- Cons: The annoying loop functionality and so-so drum pads.
- Choose If: You have “fat fingers”, you want to learn manual beatmatching, and you like chunky jog wheels.
(For: Rekordbox, WeDJ, DJAY2, VirtualDJ) A compact controller with sleek design and versatile software support.
- Pros: With a small footprint, great software support, iOS compatibility, and a clean design… the value cannot be overstated.
- Cons: The unorthodox layout may require some adjustment, it has tiny pitch faders, and it looks a little more “toy-ish” than other controllers in this price range.
- Choose If: You aren’t sure which software platform you want to try, or you want a lot of functions in a tiny space.
- Pros: It’s a smart budget choice, with a similar look and feel to its bigger brothers. The jogwheel tension feels like CDJs, and they are more “professional looking” than many budget controllers.
- Cons: Limited FX controls, and a lack of master output level metering.
- Choose If: You like the “Pioneer style” of design/feedback, you want to try scratching.
Traktor Kontrol S2
(For: Traktor) Budget-friendly access to big Traktor power.
- Pros: You can access all basic functions of Traktor in 2 decks, and you even get great mobile support with Traktor DJ for iOS.
- Cons: The “Booth output” is half-assed.
- Choose If: You’re an iOS DJ, or you’re a Traktor user who prioritizes portability.
Gemini Slate 2
(For: Serato) One of the slimmest and lightest ways to have proper Serato DJ control.
- Pros: It’s about as small as all-in-one controllers get, giving you extreme portability, yet giving you access to all of Serato DJ’s major functions. USB power means it’s easy and fast to set up.
- Cons: Very small pitch faders make manual beatmatching a chore, and the unorthodox side-mounted audio connections can make things awkward. No on-board gain controls.
- Choose If: You need extreme portability and want to use Serato DJ.
Denon DJ MC4000
(For: Serato) A well-built, professional-looking device which is great for mobile and club DJs alike.
- Pros: The MC4000 is feature-rich when it comes to practicality. Club and Mobile DJs will both feel at home.
- Cons: In some ways, it’s stripped down: there are only four pads, and there aren’t many fancy features like Slip Mode and Slicer.
- Choose If: You want a no-fuss, professional Serato experience at a reasonable price.
Hercules DJControl Jogvision
(For: Serato) How to get professional-grade jog wheels, and good build quality, on a budget.
- Pros: Its brushed plastic, build-quality, and massive jog wheels with visual feedback will give confidence when shelling out your hard-earned cash.
- Cons: Those big lovely jogs come with a few compromises, such as limited pad functionality, combined FX/looping controls, and small-throw pitch faders.
- Choose If: Your priority is quality jog wheels and visual feedback from Serato.
Help Me Decide!
Please note that these controllers are fully capable and functional devices in their own right, but some of them will ship with “lite” software… so make sure to factor in a paid upgrade for any software features you want to use that aren’t already included.
Numark has been releasing impressive budget offerings in the controller market for years. The Mixtrack Platinum continues this legacy, improving on the ever-popular Mixtrack III by adding visual BPM feedback straight to the unit.
Another company known for their impressive budget alternatives is Hercules, and the DJControl Jogvision delivers. The “Air Control” function seems a bit gimmicky, but with big chunky jog wheels and clever LED feedback, it’s a solid choice.
The obvious choice for Traktor in this range is the popular Kontrol S2. Not only does it ship with the full version of Traktor Pro 2, but it’s perfectly suited for iPad DJing with Traktor DJ. It even allows you to access Remix Decks on a third channel. The S2 is a proven performer in booths across the world.
The Denon DJ MC4000 is a solid option for mobile DJs (due to its solid rugged metal design, talkover option, and minimalist design), but will still feel right at home in the club. Or, for one of the most portable Serato options on the planet, consider the Gemini Slate 2.
Finally, we’ll wrap things up with Pioneer. The DDJ-SB2 is one of the hottest-selling controllers around, provides that pro look and feel that many Serato DJs desire, and is a great option for anyone who wants to try scratching. (Rekordbox users can choose the DDJ-RB for a similar experience). The DDJ-WeGO4, while being a bit unusual in its button layout, is another great iPad option and is one of the more portable options around.
So far, we’ve discussed all-in-one solutions. But what if you want to put together a setup piecemeal? This is where modular controllers come in.
While complete solutions are great, many people like the flexibility provided by a modular setup. This allows you to buy different “sections” at a time (such as a mixing controller vs. a deck controller).
For example, two Traktor Kontrol D2 controllers + a Kontrol Z2 mixer makes for a great all-around setup:
Check out The Unofficial Traktor Kontrol Mega-Guide for more information on Traktor components.
Often, modular controllers are used for adding functionality to an existing setup (rather than trying to piece together an all-in-one controller a la carte).
For example, at gigs around town, I often play on Pioneer CDJs (in HID mode with Traktor, which is like using them as controllers). In these cases, I bring a Kontrol X1 with me. This allows me to handle Traktor’s FX section (and other basic functions) while using a traditional hardware mixer.
Sometimes, companies will release a controller specifically for some new DJ software functionality. For example, controlling Remix Deck (Traktor Kontrol F1), adding Serato Flip capability (Reloop Neon), or adding cue point control to turntables with the Novation Dicer.
You can shop for modular DJ controllers in our online store.
What To Do Now…
Buying DJ hardware is only part of the equation. Our aim is to become better DJs through Passion and Purpose. Whether you’re here because you’re an aspiring DJ looking for your first setup, a seasoned DJ looking to upgrade, or just curious… I’d like to invite you to check out my weekly talk show: The Passionate DJ Podcast.
Our show features inspiring stories, interviews with famous DJs, tips to increase your DJing skill, industry news, and much more. New episodes come out every Monday.
Subscribe now via iTunes or via your favorite Podcasts app, and never miss an episode!