Last updated: August 9, 2021

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Welcome to our big DJ controller test 2021. Here we present all the DJ controllers we have tested in detail. We have compiled detailed background information and added a summary of customer reviews on the web. We want to make your purchase decision easier and help you find the best DJ controller for you. You will also find answers to frequently asked questions in our guide. If available, we also offer interesting test videos. Furthermore, you will also find some important information on this page that you should definitely pay attention to if you want to buy a DJ controller.




Summary

  • DJ controllers allow you to control volume, crossfade and sound while mixing music from multiple sources.
  • The all-in-one controller is a stand-alone device that connects to the computer and allows you to control the volume. The modular controller, on the other hand, is often additionally connected to the mixing console and the audio interface.
  • The most important criteria when buying a DJ controller are weight and dimensions, compatibility, number of decks, jog wheels, connections, built-in sound card, included software and accessories.

The Best DJ Controller: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should deal with before buying a DJ controller

What are the advantages of DJ controllers compared to DJing with a mouse and computer?

  • With the mouse or the trackpad of the computer, you can only click on something with one hand. With the DJ controller, you can perform several actions at the same time, such as switching on an effect and adjusting the volume at the same time. This helps a lot when a fast song is playing.
  • The DJ controller gives an analogue output signal to an amplifier so that the music is heard better. This is very important for parties in clubs.
  • With the DJ controller, you don't have to look at the laptop as much because you get feedback from your fingers when you have turned a knob. It makes your work much easier and you look more professional. It also gives you time to observe the audience and notice their mood.
  • A laptop has only one audio output, which you will use for the speakers at the party. So you have no way to preview the tracks with your headphones. The DJ controller still has an audio output that you can connect your headphones to and control the volume independently.
  • Since you can't preview the tracks without the DJ controller, you can't pick a song that fits the mood during the party. So you can't find the place in the new song where you want to start it.

A DJ controller is easier, more professional and more versatile than a mouse and computer. (Image source: pixabay.com / Free-Photos)

What software does a DJ controller work with?

Most DJ controllers are sold with a special light version of the DJ software. These versions have few channels and effects. If you want to use more functions, you should buy a full version additionally. There are many different software programs that you can use with a controller. The three most popular programmes are Serato DJ, Virtual DJ and Traktor Pro(the latter is only bundled with Native Instruments DJ controllers). Your choice does not depend on your experience level, but on your DJ style and your expectations of the software.

Traktor and Serato are the industry standard when it comes to DJing. Serato DJ is more preferred by turntable and hiphop DJs and Traktor Pro is more popular in the techno and house scene. Ableton Live is a DJ and production software in one and is also used by professionals like Chris Liebing, Richie Wartin and Dubfire for live performances. The software costs about 50 to 200 euros, depending on your equipment. On the internet, you can find YouTube videos or articles that can help you choose, for example, the differences between Traktor Pro and Serato DJ. It's best to think about which DJ software you want to use before you buy.

Can I use a DJ controller as a standalone mixer?

There are DJ controllers that you can also use as a standalone mixer, but then certain functions are usually limited. Such functions can concern the effects and EQ section. It is best to check before buying whether and how well the controller is suitable as a standalone mixer. This includes especially the additional functions such as effects and EQ. However, if you mainly want to mix without a laptop, a DJ mixer might be more suitable for you.

How much does a DJ controller cost?

DJ controllers come in all price ranges - from the inexpensive device for DJ beginners and house parties, which can cost as little as 50 euros, to the professional device for which you should pay more than 1,000 euros. Below are the three price groups for orientation: The models for beginners cost from about 50 euros. They usually have 2 channels and a few connections for additional devices. The cheaper models usually do not have an integrated sound card. The mid-range DJ controllers are available for about 200 to 600 euros. They have more channels as well as more connections for microphones, headphones and USB cables.

The "all-in-one" controllers cost less than the modular controllers. The upper-class DJ cont rollers cost from 800 euros. These devices have even more effects and technical features. The most expensive DJ controllers have the integrated audio interface and mixer system.

Price range Price Details
DJ controller for beginners approx. 50-200 € Only basic functions
Mid-range controller approx. 200-600 € More channels and effects, integrated audio interface
Upper-range controller approx. 800-2000 € More connections for the other devices, integrated mixer system

Can I connect my controller to my iPad or iPhone?

You can use your tablet or smartphone instead of your laptop. In this case, you also need the DJ software. There are many different apps for DJs these days, from free apps for beginners to professional programmes. The most popular DJ apps are:

  • Djay Pro by Algoriddim: has 4 channels and allows integration with Spotify, but one of the most expensive DJ apps. (5.99 USD for iPhone, 19.99 USD for iPad).
  • Cross DJ Pro: simple interface and many effects, but no integration with hardware (4.99 USD for iPhone and iPad).
  • Traktor DJ: only a small difference to the desktop version, but there is no synchronisation with it (1.99 USD for iPhone, 9.99 for iPad).
  • DJ Player Pro: allows integration with DJ hardware (mixer, controller) and streaming through Deezer, but the interface may seem too complicated for the beginners (free).
  • Rekordbox: the app to prepare the music database on the mobile phone (free).
  • Pacemaker: good for the beginners who are first interested in DJ-ing, but can seem too simple for experienced DJs (free).
  • Serato Pyro: easy to use and the app makes the playlists itself, but has few effects and features (free).

Which DJ controller suits me?

The answer depends on where and what you will be using your DJ controller for. Below we've created a poll to help you figure out which type of DJ controller is right for you. Which statement best fits your preferences? On the whole, you should buy an "all-in-one" controller if you are still a DJ beginner and if you are not that familiar with DJ equipment. For professionals, we recommend buying a modular controller because it is more flexible.

If you want to mix music at home, we recommend buying an "A-I-O" controller. For clubs and bigger parties, a modular controller is more suitable because you can use several devices.

Did you know that DJ controllers only appeared on the market in 2005? These controllers are control devices that are specially adapted to DJ software. They emulate classic turntable systems and allow the DJ to change the speed of the music track, operate an equaliser and also use effects as before.

Decision: What types of DJ controllers are there and which one is right for you?

A DJ controller is one of the most important pieces of DJ equipment. It allows you to control volume, crossfade and sound while mixing music from multiple sources. Unlike the mixer, a DJ controller does not mix the music itself. It is connected to a computer via a USB cable, and the music is digitally transferred from the computer to the DJ controller. DJ controllers are used by disc jockeys who want to take their DJ-ing to a whole new level. The DJ controllers can be with or without a jog wheel. The units without jogwheel are more compact, but most DJs prefer the controllers with jogwheel. It just depends on your DJ style and workflow. For hip-hop and techno, where scratching is used a lot, the models with the jogwheel are recommended. Basically, you can distinguish between two different types of DJ controllers:

  • "All-in-one" controllers
  • Modular controller

The "all-in-one" controller is an independent device that connects to the computer and can control the volume, while the modular controller is often connected to a mixing console and the audio interface. For each of these types, the necessary equipment and software is different, which brings individual advantages and disadvantages. In the next chapter, we will go into the details of each type and compare their advantages and disadvantages. In the following section, we want to help you find out which type of DJ controller suits you best.

DJ controllers are divided into "all-in-one" controllers and modular controllers. Which DJ controller suits you best depends on your needs. (Image source: pexels.com / Erkan Utu)

How does an "all-in-one" controller work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

With the "all-in-one" controller (A-I-Os), you don't need any other equipment besides a laptop for DJ-ing. The A-I-O controller contains an integrated sound card, audio interface and mixer section in one unit. The A-I-Os are connected via USB. This is perfect for you if you don't have a budget for additional equipment or if you are starting out with DJing. Most A-I-Os have the 2- or 4-deck integrated audio interface that can handle the digital-to-analogue conversion. This means you can mix 2 or 4 tracks at the same time. The built-in mixer section allows you to use effects and mix tracks without connecting a laptop.

Advantages
  • No other devices needed besides the computer
  • Cheaper than a modular controller
  • Integrated audio interface
  • Integrated sound card
  • Integrated mixer system
Disadvantages
  • Still no operation possible without a computer
  • Has less flexibility than a modular controller
  • Doesn't look as professional, "toy look"

The A-I-Os are used most by beginners and are therefore cheaper than the modular controllers. They are not as professional as the modular controllers and sometimes have the so-called "toy look" But they are perfect for the small parties or the parties at home. Although they are called "all-in-one", don't forget that you always need a computer for it.

How does a modular controller work and what are its advantages and disadvantages?

Modular controllers connect to multiple controllers, mixers and other equipment to form a larger DJ setup. For this, you often have to buy an additional sound card. These controllers are also connected via USB. Sometimes the modular controllers have an integrated audio interface, but they usually don't have an integrated mixer unit. They are therefore smaller than the "all-in-one" controllers and are often set up next to a mixing console. These controllers are more flexible than the A-I-Os because you can choose the mixers and audio interfaces yourself.

Advantages
  • Smaller than an "all-in-one" controller
  • Flexible to use and combine with other devices
  • Looks professional
  • Better suited for large parties
Disadvantages
  • Often requires additional mixing console
  • Sometimes also requires audio interface and sound card
  • Can seem a bit complicated to beginners

They have more functions and look professional. These controllers are more expensive than are the A-I-Os, but they are perfect for the big parties in the clubs and are used by professional DJs. Although you learn more effects and functions with the modular controllers, this type of controller can seem a little difficult to beginners because you have to work with multiple devices.

Buying criteria: You can compare and evaluate DJ controllers based on these factors

Compact or large, with or without jog wheels, for laptop or smartphone - what kind of controller do you need? If you are still not sure, we have written the most important criteria you should look for when buying a DJ controller in the following section. When choosing a controller, you should pay attention to the following criteria:

  • Weight / Dimensions
  • Compatibility
  • Number of decks
  • Jogwheels
  • Connectors
  • Built-in sound card
  • Screen
  • Included software
  • Optics
  • Keyboard
  • Accessories
  • Balanced outputs
  • Separate master and booth outputs
  • Volume level meters
  • Fader quality

Weight / Dimensions

The modular controllers are more compact than the A-I-Os because they do not have an interface and mixer section. The jog wheels usually take up a lot of space, so the A-I-Os with the jog wheels are bigger. With the modular controllers, it's important to be compact because you will still have several devices on the table. With the A-I-Os, it's better to buy a lighter model if you want to bring your controller to a party. The dimensions of the controllers vary depending on what functions they have. The controllers with big jog wheels and the big audio system can be 60cm long. The smaller models are about 40cm long. The modular controllers can be even smaller. The smaller and lighter your controller is, the easier it will be to bring it to a party. The weight of a controller varies from 0.4 to 6 kilograms.

Compatibility

When buying, it is very important to research which controller is compatible with your devices. Today, most controllers are compatible with Windows or Mac, but only some are compatible with iOS and Android. Therefore, you need to think about this in advance. You can also use internet forums to find out exactly which controller works best with your device. Nowadays, there are many apps that allow DJing with a mobile phone or a tablet. If you want to keep up and try these apps, you should buy a controller that is compatible with iOS and Android.

Number of decks

The more the number of decks, the more tracks you can mix through the controller at the same time. The cheapest models have 2 decks, the more expensive ones have 4 or 6. If you have 4 channels, you can use two for mixing and the other two for playlist preparation. Your choice here simply depends on your DJ style and workflow. If you are still a beginner, we think 2 channels will be enough for you. Some professionals also use only 2 channels because they simply don't need any more. If you want to mix more tracks or need a few more channels for playlist preparation, we recommend a controller with 4 or 6 decks.

Jogwheels

With the jog wheels, you can easily scratch for hip-hop or techno music. Most "all-in-one" controllers have jog wheels. The bigger the controller, the bigger the jog wheels. You should buy a controller with the big jog wheels if you have strong or big hands. The small jog wheels take up less space and are better for you if your hands are not very big and strong. Several models have pressure-sensitive jog wheels for extra sensitive operation. The cheaper a DJ controller is, the less sensitive the jog wheels are. Some controllers have a touchpad instead of jog wheels, which has the same function.

Connectors

The more connections your DJ controller has, the more additional devices you can use. For each device, e.g. a microphone, headphones, speakers or a mixer, you need its own connection. It is even more important for modular controllers because they do not have an integrated interface and mixer section. If you want to connect your tablet or mobile phone, you should still have a port for it. When you buy a controller, always ask if it is compatible with your tablet or smartphone. It can also be helpful if you can check in advance what ports you need in your DJ controller. They all have a USB port, but some models also have CV/Gate and/or MIDI ports. Check which cables you use for your other devices so you don't have to buy an extra adapter later.

Built-in sound card

A sound card allows you to record, synthesise, mix, edit and play back sound signals. Before buying the device, you should ask yourself what effects you want to see in your controller: should it also function as a pickup? Should it have reloop and faders? Should it be able to change the voice? With a built-in sound card, you can send tracks to headphones and speakers regardless of your computer's sound card quality. If there is no sound card in your controller, you can only play music through your computer.

In such cases, you can connect your laptop to a hi-fi system using the headphone output. For larger PA systems and club systems, you should buy an external sound card. External sound cards cost from 50 to about 200 euros. The built-in sound card should have at least 24-bit resolution and a sampling rate of 44 kHz. This is a minimum requirement so that your controller sounds good even on large club systems. Meanwhile, there are also DJ controllers with sound cards that work with 36 bits and up to 96 kHz. However, 24 bits and 44 kHz are completely sufficient.

Screen

Before you buy a DJ controller, you should decide whether you need the device with or without a screen. With the screen, you can see different information from the software without having to look at the computer. The bigger the DJ controller, the bigger the screen. The DJs who prefer compact controllers use the controllers without the screen because it takes up space and on the controller.

Included software

You should always consider what software your DJ controller comes with. For example, if it comes with the Lite version of Serato DJ, it means that it works best with Serato DJ. If you want to use Virtual DJ or Traktor Pro2 with this controller, you can do that too, but it will work a little slower because it was made for Serato DJ. Traktor software only works with Native Instruments equipment. If you already have DJ software, you should check in advance if the controller you want to buy is compatible with your software. It's always better if there is any included software, so you can get acquainted with one software and, if you need more features, buy the full version later. If you find that you don't understand the programme at all, you can buy another software.

Optics

There is an opinion that the A-I-Oss have a "toy look". If you want to look professional, you can buy a modular controller and add more devices to it, so you have a professional DJ system. The colour of the controllers is also an important aspect: most models are white and black, but there are also coloured options. For parties, several DJ controllers also offer lighting support: there is a built-in light show in some models to set the right mood at the party. If you're having a party at home, your living room can become a nightclub for the evening.

Keyboard

Some models of DJ controller have a built-in keyboard, or piano keyboard. With the keyboard, you can easily play a beat or a few chords. This, of course, enhances your DJing and ensures a professional look. If you want to have a controller with the keyboard, you should first decide how many keys you need. The compact models offer 25, 37 or 49 keys. In these models you will find keys as well as pads and knobs. There are also larger keyboard controllers that have 88 keys. One disadvantage of these controllers is that they take up too much space on the table. In addition, the compact models cost less.

Accessories

When you buy DJ equipment, don't forget to buy cases for your console so that they are protected. For travelling, the hard cases are perfect. You'll also need some cables so you can connect several devices, e.g. USB or MIDI. You also need to buy good headphones to protect your hearing. There are also professional hearing protection devices and speaker covers. If you have too many cables and devices that you want to cover up at the party, you can buy a DJ screen.

Balanced outputs

Balanced outputs, or "balanced outputs", will ensure that your mix sounds good even with long cable runs. Like DJ mixers, expensive DJ controllers have balanced XLR and 6.3 mm jack outputs. Even if you don't have an XLR output, you should at least have a balanced 6.3 mm jack output. This is the only way your music will sound good on big speakers. However, you can only benefit from this if your cables and speaker inputs are also balanced.

Separate master and booth outputs

As with DJ mixers, a separate booth output allows you to hear your mix directly on speakers behind your DJ booth. This is important if you want to play professionally in a club. However, it can also be an advantage at private parties. Your mix sounds different on speakers than through your headphones. The reason for this has to do with the physics of sound waves. So if you listen to your music through separate monitor speakers, you will get a better sense of what your audience is hearing. This can increase the quality of your mix.

Volume level meters

As with DJ mixers, level meters for each channel can help you tremendously. This will obviously make your work at the DJ booth easier.

Fader quality

Make sure that you get non-contact, optical, magnetic or electric faders for DJ controllers. Unfortunately, carbon faders are often used for cheap DJ controllers. Of course, these are cheap to produce, but they also wear out more quickly.

Facts worth knowing about DJ controllers

How do I set up my DJ controller?

If you have just bought your first DJ controller, here are your next steps:

  1. You should read the controller manual carefully. In the manual you will find the important information about the use of the controller and the positioning of the important effects.
  2. If you don't have the software yet, you should buy it and download it. You can check in advance on the internet which software works best with your controller. You can also try trial versions so that you make the best choice.
  3. Once you have downloaded your software, you can connect the DJ controller to your laptop or tablet via USB cable. You can also find the positioning of the connector in the manual.
  4. If you have a modular controller, you should connect your unit to the mixer and audio interface.
  5. If there is no built-in sound card, you should buy an external sound card and connect it.
  6. In the end, you can connect the controller to the headphones and/or speakers and listen to the music.

How can I improve my DJ skills?

If you have already learned the basic functions of your DJ equipment, you can follow these tips to improve your skills: Keep in touch with the audience.

Did you know that DJ stands for disc jockey? This term, which comes from English, refers to a disc or record and jockey to a rider or driver. In the original sense, a disc jockey was someone who played records on the radio or later in discotheques and clubs.

Always try to find the right tracks to match the mood of the dancers.

  1. Read more articles and textbooks about the history of DJ-ing and dance music. This will help you learn about the main music trends. Below is, for example, a trailer for a documentary film about DJ culture in Germany.
  2. Watch the interviews of professional DJs where they give the important tips and tricks.
  3. Try to get to know several softwares. Maybe you will find some new functions and effects.
  4. Watch the tutorials on YouTube that can explain the new effects and functions as well as give the examples.
  5. Go to parties and listen to how other DJs do it. Maybe you can find something new for you.
  6. Use smartphone apps to save the music you liked on the street. This will help you when you make a playlist.
  7. Read the latest news about DJ-ing so you can stay up to date.
  8. If you always want to have the latest models of your consoles, you can make a wish list and follow the websites of your favourite manufacturers.
  9. Follow the new music trends so you can guess what the audience will like.
  10. Then, when you feel like a professional DJ, it's time to get a DJ name to match.

Hearing protection for DJs

For DJs, there is always the risk that the hearing cells can get damaged, and with the lost hearing cells, your hearing power deteriorates. As a DJ you work with loud music and it is very important that you act when it is not too late for your hearing. To protect it, you can use the cheap solutions like cotton wools or earplugs (about 20 euros) as well as the high quality professional earmoulds (about 180 euros). You also need good headphones to protect you from the high ambient noise.

Picture source: pexels.com / Stephen Niemeier

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