Best DJ Controller for Beginners
You’ve been watching from the sidelines for long enough and now you’ve decided to make the leep and become a DJ yourself. You know that you need a DJ controller but have no idea where to start as a beginner. Does this sound familiar? If so, this guide is for you.
With thousands of dj controllers on the market, a huge range of price points, and a seemingly endless pool of features, the word ‘overwhelming’ is an understatement. Don’t worry though, I’m going to hold your hand through this process of finding the best beginner dj controller that will allow you to get a taste of digital DJing without breaking the bank (at least not too much).
To make this process as smooth and easy as possible, we’ll break up this guide into three parts that will help you understand the process for selecting the best DJ controller for beginners.
Step 1: Understanding the Criteria
Features: Pretty much every DJ controllers for beginners or advanced DJs will all have at least a few universal features such as level mixers, a crossfader and an EQ. The level mixers and crossfader simply control the levels or volume and allow you to mix two tracks together by turning one track (or song) up while turning the second track down. Most controllers will also have a jog wheel for each track that acts as a digital version of a record. The jog wheel is what allows allows you to slow a track down or speed it up, match two beats together by adjusting the tempo, and in some cases even scratch. Even entry level controllers will also often have more advanced features such as effect selectors, cue pads, and vinyl or CD mode.
Hardware: There are two components to selecting your hardware, what kind of computer you’ll use and the quality of the controller itself. If you’ll be learning to DJ on an iPad or iPhone, your controller will often be more compact and have a fairly limited set of features. Most beginner DJs, however, learn to DJ using an actual laptop. Almost every entry-level laptop DJ controller is going to be compatible with both Apple and PC computers.
The second important thing to understand about hardware is the quality of the actual controller itself. If you get the chance to actually play with a couple controllers you’ll start to understand what I’m talking about. The quality of the knobs, the sensitivity of the cue pads, and the speed of the jog wheel will vary significantly between different controllers. Cheaper controllers tend to have a more plastic or ‘tinny’ feel, while the more advanced and expensive controllers tend be heavier-duty and more smooth.
Software: Choosing the right software for your DJ controller can be whole a separate guide in itself, so for the purpose of this guide on choosing an entry level dj controller to begin with, we’ll stick to Serato and Traktor. These are both very intuitive applications designed for DJing and the difference between the two is really a matter of personal preference. Most controllers are designed for one or the other and often come with a light and free version of the software, so it may be worth reading a few guides on Traktor vs. Serato to help you decide which one you want to start with.
Price: Now that you understand the basics of selecting a DJ controller, you need to determine your budget. Fortunately, there are so many different makes and models of controllers on the market you can literally find one for any budget. You can get a cheap controller for under $100 while some of the higher-models sell for well over $1000. Since you’re still a beginner, we’ll focus this guide on controllers that are under $500.
Best DJ Controller Under 200
Our choice for the best controller under $200 in the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3. The Mixtrack Pro 3 has all of the basic standard beginner and advanced features including one plug setup (USB), a built in soundcard, touch sensitive metal jog wheels, and 8 backlit cue pads on deck (16 total pads). This model also comes with the DJ Lite version of the Serato software. The major advantages of this controller are the price and features. For under $200 you get a fully loaded DJ controller with the Serato software. This disadvantage of this controller is that some of the knobs and dials feel cheap. It is difficult to scratch with the jog wheels and the sensitivity of the crossfader leaves a bit to be desired.
It’s worth noting that this controller comes in two different styles: without and without RCA plugs. The version without RCA plugs is a bit cheaper, but I highly recommend spending a bit more to make sure you have an RCA output. The RCA output will make it much easier for you to hook your controller up to speakers or a sound system.
Best DJ Controller Under 300
We’ve selected the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 portable 2-channel controller as our choice for the best dj controller under $300. If you know anything about professional audio or DJ gear, then you are probably familiar with Pioneer. Pioneer is pretty much a household name in the DJ space and is known for making a wide range of DJ gear.
The DDJ-SB3 boasts an intuitive and easy-to-use design that comes with features developed by the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff. Fully loaded with 16 pads, a nice jog wheel and some advanced effects, this controller is an excellent choice for the beginner DJ with a small budget. This model also comes with the DJ Lite version of Serato, so you are ready to roll right out of the box! You’ll just need some headphones and music.
Best DJ Controller Under 500
If you’ve got a little bit of budget to play with, the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 is definitely the way to go. The Traktor S4 is not only our choice for the best controller under $500, it’s also our overall top pick for the best dj controller for a beginner to learn on. Like the other lower-cost controllers listed above, this model contains all of the basic features of a two channel mixer such as a crossfader, 8 cue pads for each track (or channel) and a great EQ mixer. What really makes the S2 standout is the quality of the hardware. The knobs and dials are all extremely solid, the jog wheel has the perfect level or sensitivity and responsiveness, and the multi-colored backlit cue pads are fun to play with. If you get the chance to put hands on one these controllers, you’ll immediately understand the difference in quality. If that wasn’t enough, the Traktor S4 also comes with the full version of Traktor Pro 3.
Native instruments also makes a different model of this same line of controllers called the S4. Similar to the S2, the S4 is a great quality high end mixer. The S4 is a bit bulkier and comes with 4 channels instead of 2 allowing the user to dive into more advanced multi-track mixes.
The Traktor S2 and S4 are such profilic pieces of gear, some of the top DJs in the world have been seen performing with these controllers. Producers and DJs such as Dubfire, Pete Tong, Zedd and Porter Robinson have all been spotted rocking these controllers out in the wild!