Technology continues to change the world around us, and the realm of DJ’ing has definitely not been an exception to this. Back in the day when I first started out with a Stanton mixer and two turntables I received for Christmas which my parents purchased at a garage sale, I thought I had it made. Although now that I think about it, it was much more difficult than I thought it would be — watching the DJ’s at Scribble Jam had me thinking I could be like them in no time. Boy was I wrong, but through practice I eventually got the hang of it. Flashback to now, with the rising popularity of digital based setups, we’re met with some more convenient and versatile DJ tools especially for those who were like us first starting out. Today we did some research and found the best controller for beginners.
What is a DJ controller?
A DJ controller is an external device that you hook up to your computer to emulate the traditional DJ setup and overall workflow. You can scratch, mix, control effects and navigate through your library that’s located on your computer. Back in the day, it was made up of the traditional DJ turntables and DJ mixers — however, technology has now allowed us to combine those into one piece of gear that syncs up seamlessly with your computer.
As we learned in our DJ equipment for beginners guide, controllers come in many different shapes and sizes, with some acting as all-in-one pieces of equipment and others specifically for a network of controls, such as an only FX control gear, mixer, or standalone scratching platters. We recommend an all-in-one DJ controller for beginners (see below as the one we chose is this). Most are universally compatible with most DJ software out there while others are not.
There are some brands that have their own software and gear specifically made for their program. Serato DJ and Native Instruments Traktor make some of their gear with certain buttons and features that only control functions of their own software. These are typically for more advanced users so we don’t recommend it for beginners — stick to the one we’ve chosen unless you want to read more about the others.
How to choose your beginner DJ controller
We have some considerations to take into account when shopping for your DJ controller. Here’s our checklist:
- What is your budget? The range is relatively wide here depending on how crazy you want to get. To our avail, the DJ controllers more geared toward beginners are pretty affordable.
- Which functions do you need? There are the necessary scratch plates, built-in audio interfaces, faders, knobs and sliders for effects, performance pads, and many more external control features you can get with a controller.
- What DJ software are you using? Some controllers are universal that work for all software, others are made specifically for. For more info if you still haven’t chosen, read our DJ software article.
Be sure to read our best DJ controller guide if you want some more options that may venture into the semi-pro or even professional realm. You may also want some DJ headphones to accompany your new controller to complete your list of gear needed to start scratching at once.
Our pick for the best DJ controller for beginners
The Numark Mixtrack 3 DJ Controller
We wanted to choose a controller that gave us all of the necessary features in a DJ controller that can give beginners an all-in-one experience. Firstly, Numark DJ equipment is one of the biggest names in the DJ industry so we get confidence in terms of reputation of the brand. They own a majority of the market in terms of DJ controllers and popularity, and the Mixtrack 3 is one of our favorites.
We firstly have two units for scratching to emulate turntables. They’re of very nice quality and you can also stop a track by touching the top of the platter. You’re also able to adjust pitch and tap into the loop, sample and hot cue modes to play around with your sounds further. The mixer in the center is also solid although not too fancy with crazy features: You get a crossfader (the landmark of a DJ setup), 3-band EQ to mess around with the levels and filters, and a huge plus we love is the library navigation in case you want to do it all from the controller and not fiddle around with your mouse to browse through tracks and sounds.
You just can’t ignore those performance pads on the Mixtrack 3, either. You have 16 of them, and they’re multi-function (backlit) to enable adding loops, control hot cues, and tweak samples. Next to this is a “touch strip” that allows for FX control as well as searching for tracks. Here at the Wire Realm we are obsessed with these since it’s always fun and a nice additive to be able to control some drum sounds or sample stabs via MIDI through the USB port. This DJ controller has everything and maybe even a little more than a beginner may like, but you can always learn these additive features later — it’s a nice investment while still giving us the mandatory features of a controller. Lastly, the software bundle is perfect for beginners.
If you don’t have a DJ software to go along with your controller yet, the Mixtrack 3 comes with Virtual DJ LE to try out. This allows us to start scratching and mixing right out of the box. It’ll take some learning of course, and if you’re into the software after trying it out and want to keep using it, you’ll have to upgrade to the full version but in our opinion it is a great software for DJ’s. An overall solid choice and we’re proud to say it’s one of the best DJ controllers for starters.
Main features and specs of the Mixtrack 3
- Weight: 4.5 lbs
- Dimensions: 10.4″ x 18.3″ x 2.0″
- Compatible with Mac and PC
- Touch-activated platters for scratching
- 16 rubberized pads (backlit with loop, sample and hot cue modes)
- Mixer section (with library navigation)
- Cross-fader and 3-band EQ
- 16 effects controls (8 on each side)
- Communicates to computer via MIDI
- USB-powered via your computer
- Software included: Virtual DJ LE, Numark Remix Toolkit
- Check pricing and reviews: Amazon US | UK
Other DJ controllers to check out
Hercules DJ Control Instinct USB
Here’s another one of our favorite starter DJ controllers. This almost beat out our top spot because of the affordability and overall functions, it just doesn’t have any performance pads built-in like the Mixtrack II. It has some of the most positive reviews we’ve read on the net and it’s a bit cheaper, so if you’re looking to save some money and can sacrifice the pads it’s of very high quality. The platters are solid and the mixing unit works as intended, and you also get a DJ software called DJUCED (which isn’t as widespread as Virtual DJ or others). Take a look at this if you want to save some money. It also got a top spot in our top 10 best DJ controllers article for a reason.
Behringer CMD Studio 4A
Behringer is one of our favorite music equipment brands because they literally make everything. They’re like the Honda Civic of gear — cheaper in price than a lot of others but give us a solid, long-lasting piece of machinery without much fancy stuff attached to it. What’s nice with this one is the 4-deck control and built-in audio interface (gives us a bit better audio quality if we’re recording the sounds). It also comes with a software called Deckadance LE software (made by the same makers of Fruity Loops) and is compatible with most out there if you have a different workstation. The touch-sensitive platters are 6″ and are awesome to scratch on, too. Grab this if you have a few more dollars, need a built-in audio interface but don’t mind missing the performance pads again.
We love Pioneer equipment because of the long-lasting build they provide. Here’s a higher end DJ controller and if you’re able to learn the features you can be better off long-term. It’s USB powered and has a built-in sound card and also gives us some extras like a filter fade function, hot cue, manual loop and sampler functions. We also love it (can’t you tell our fascination?) because of the performance pads built-in, albeit only four of them on each side. Lastly, we love the fact that it comes with Serato DJ intro, so you can try out one of the (if not the) most popular DJ software on the planet.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2
We can’t even count how many controllers NI has out for their Traktor software, but we wanted to provide this option in case you wanted to go this route. It most importantly comes with their famous Traktor DJ software, but also gives us some really nifty hands-on control with it. The performance pads are extremely nice quality, you get a microphone input, song management with direct iTunes integration and more. Not to mention it works well with iPad and iPhone software if you’re interested in that.
It would be more of a long-term plan by purchasing one of Native Instruments’ pieces of gear and Traktor DJ software (although this comes with it). Once you’ve purchased the bundle you can always add-on to the setup with their other various controllers and add-ons. A lot of people swear by Traktor while others Serato DJ, but if you’re a beginner grabbing a controller we’ve listed previously and trying out their trial software is probably your best bet.