Buying the best DJ controller depends on quite a few factors regarding not only the DJ but the setup you’re envisioning in front of you. I remember back in the day in the early 2000’s on Christmas getting my first Stanton mixer, turntables and some random records my dad had lying around in our garage. It was a pretty defining moment in my music making endeavors; however, I quickly realized scratching a record wasn’t as easy as my 15-year-old self thought it was. Being like DJ Abilities or Cut Chemist wasn’t as simple as moving my hand to what I thought the scratch would sound like. Nowadays however, there’s a lot more to learning to be a DJ than getting a pair of DJ turntables and a traditional DJ mixer. The digital era is in full effect and there are numerous routes to take when it comes to DJ controllers. We highlight the top 10 best in the market to help you choose the exact DJ controller you need. But first, let’s review a bit.
What is a DJ controller?
As a staple point nowadays for what DJ equipment even is, regardless if you’re into two turntables and a mixer or software and MIDI only, having a DJ controller is more of a requirement. Controller is a pretty common word if you’re engulfed in the music equipment and gear industry like we are. We’ve seen MIDI keyboard controllers dominate the market in terms of being some one of the most popular pieces of equipment available today; however, what about those who aren’t just piano players? A DJ controller works like this, but allows you to control your DJ software externally. This can vary depending on which DJ controller (and software) you end up grabbing — tweak FX, change BPM, sync tracks, change and edit cues, and more. Some even come with drum pads if you want to jam here and there during your set!
Depending on which controller you grab, you get a myriad of choices in terms of external control — way too many to list here. Geared towards those who specifically use DJ software, some of the models we’ve chosen give you an all-in-one controller with JOG wheels (turntable emulation), a mixer, some drum pads and other FX controls in one piece of machinery. Others only give you a mixer, while some are specifically for just FX, such as sliders, rotary controls or kill switches. This is why we ended up going with 10 and did our best to find the best DJ controllers with different shapes, sizes and personalities to give you options during your search.
How to choose your DJ controller
- Your budget? This before all is always our most important factor to take into consideration. Since DJ controllers come in all different shapes, sizes and packed full of specific features, this is quite arbitrary and will depend on the few more factors we have listed below. We recommend being patient if you do find the perfect controller and don’t have the cash yet. This is an investment for the long-term.
- What software will you be using? Our best DJ software and DJ apps guides will help here if you want some further reading. However, our question here is, do you already have your DJ software? Some of these DJ controllers even come with their own, often tailored specifically to the controller itself. We have the popular Serato DJ which works with most controllers, Native Instruments Traktor which is only compatible with N.I. pieces of gear (some features that is, otherwise you can still use it with other controllers feasibly), and many more out there. Keep in mind that some of the DJ controllers can only work for certain software, although there are others that are completely universal. If you haven’t chosen your DJ software yet, some even come with the trial or even full versions of them if you need a bundle.
- What kind of controls do you need? DJ controllers vary widely in terms of what kind of controls you get — some just deck, mixer, external functions, MIDI, drum pads, or some all-in-one. Be sure to keep in mind which controls you’re actually looking for and which you are not — it’ll save you some dough and you won’t get a piece of gear that’s half useless.
- Do you perform live, record in the studio, or both? We love performing as well as staying in the lab all night until the sun rises making some tunes. Keep this into consideration for the portability and size option of controllers, the aesthetics they offer (some RGB backlit for cool looks as well as easy remembering of controls), and other features that are geared towards a specific setting.
Our top 10 best DJ controllers
The following is the result of some pretty rigorous research around the net as well as speaking to the most experienced users out there. We made sure to cover all price points and include DJ controllers with and without some features we thought were necessary/extra. Let us know which one you end up going with, and for those starters, don’t forget to read our best DJ controller for beginners guide.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2
Cue in the beastly Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2. What can really say that completely describes this giant? Most virtual DJ’s will say it’s either between Serato DJ and Traktor. Native Instruments is one of our favorite gear creators, and Traktor is becoming very famous among the DJ scene. First and foremost you need to know that you must use their software with the controller, so if you don’t have that yet you’ll need to buy both which can start to add up. However, only let that steer you away if you’re on a strict budget; otherwise, grabbing this combo is one of the best investments you can make if you’re truly serious about your DJ’ing. This model we’ve chosen actually comes with Traktor Pro 2 so it’s a plus if you need both. The main features of the S2 Mk2 includes a built-in, high quality audio interface, iPad and iPhone integration, visual feedback, a 2-deck controller, rotary control (1,000 counts per revolution), and very high quality jog wheels for natural feel. The mixer is awesome and the faders are slick — actually, the whole design is seamless. The build is stable so you’re investing in a years worth of gear here. Grab this if you want one of the best DJ controllers and Dj software combinations ever. They have other models available as well, albeit with different features (the S4 Mk2 for a few hundred bucks more plus some other mini controllers). It’s nice because N.I. gives us some options to pertain to our needs. Check them out to see if they work for you, we just went with one of the middle, all-in-one models here. DJWorx’ Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk2 review has some good info on it as well.
- Weight: 5.7 lbs
- Dimensions: 43.8 x 30.8 x 6.7 cm
- 2-deck controller
- Pro-grade mixer with multi-effect units
- RGB backlit buttons (trigger cues, loops and samples)
- 3-band EQ
- Two high-res jog wheels
- Built-in audio interface (two high-gain stereo outputs and master/monitor control)
- Interface is 24-bit/96 kHz sound quality
- Microphone input (gain control and mute button)
- Front panel headphone controls
- Direct iTunes integration
- Connects via USB 2.0
- Comes with full version of Traktor Pro 2
- Check prices: US | UK
Denon DJ DN-SC2000
Here’s an incredibly solid pick as the best DJ controller with the Denon DN-SC2000, although it gives it a bit of a different spin with a single deck (you can however control two) but it gives some cool additional features. Mostly used and highly compatible with Traktor and Virtual DJ, it’s USB powered so you don’t have to hassle with an adapter and it provides a very solid steel construction for great stability. It can control two decks at once but you’ll have to switch among them (color coded for easy remembering). It also gives us mapping, pitch control, a jog wheel for beat mash-ups, auto looping and a bunch of effects. It works extremely well with Traktor, especially if you already have an external DJ mixer. I’ve also seen some people grab two of these to pair up with their mixers for some great control of their software. Grab this if it suits your needs. MusicRadar liked it, too.
- Dimensions: 6.7″ x 1.2″ x 8.6″
- Two deck control with the single unit (color coded to switch among them)
- 100mm pitch slider with pitch lock
- 105mm touch-sensitive jog wheel
- Cue and play buttons
- Auto loop and beat jump button
- File browsing navigation buttons
- Effects unit 1 and 2 with LED
- USB-bused powered (comes with cord)
- Solid steel construction
- Most optimal with Traktor and Virtual DJ
- Check prices: US | UK
Hercules DJ Control Instinct
Here’s a solid piece of gear at a pretty affordable price. We love the Hercules DJ Instinct,in particular for beginners, because it gives you the basic essentials needed for a DJ controller: 2-deck control, a mixer control in the center and a standard 4-channel playback — everything to emulate a complete DJ setup. Geared more towards beginners, it doesn’t lack anything when it comes to necessary outputs, giving us RCA and 1/8″ capabilities as well as a headphone jack. It doesn’t include any extra special MIDI controls or anything, so if you’re looking for that specifically you’ll have to continue on. There’s a USB connector for it so it is compatible with both PC and Mac (no gaming consoles) and it goes well with most major DJ software, such as Traktor, but it’s stated by many to have a hard time working with Serato unfortunately. Here’s a cool video of the Hercules DJ Control in action. A great budget-friendly DJ controller for those who need something simple yet stable.
- Dimensions: 10.4″ by 7.4″
- 2-deck (CD) controller
- Mixer controls in center
- Deck controls on left and right side
- Built-in 4-channel playback
- Mix output: 2 RCA and 1/8″ stereo mini-jack (for studio monitors)
- 1/8″ mini output for headphones
- Jog wheels are pressure-detecting
- Comes with mixing software: DJUCED
- Check lowest prices: US | UK
The Akai AMX is also a different approach towards the best DJ controllers, and Akai Professional is a bit new with comes to the disc jockey side of equipment. The AMX gives us some hands-on control with 2-channels and is specifically geared towards mixing capabilities. You can control 2 decks (specifically with Serato DJ), get some faders, touch-activated knobs and numerous buttons. The fader is of pretty high quality, being the new mini innoFADER that’s gotten some good feedback thus far. Plug it in via USB and it’s powered up. We recommend grabbing this if you’re using Serato DJ because it was literally made for that — the NoiseMap utilization is basically perfect. However, you can also use this to assign the fader, knobs and buttons accordingly with other Dj software, it’ll just be lacking some of the functions but you can get away with it. Read our full Akai AMX review for more info or check the lowest price below! Here’s a video of the Akai AMX in action.
- Dimensions: 1.7″ x 10.7″ x 5.3″
- USB-powered (no adapter required)
- Hands-on mixing, transport and Serato NoiseMap
- Plug-and-play with no upgrade required
- Control expansion for all DJ software
- Mini innoFADER crossfader (adjustable)
- Reverse switch
- Outputs: RCA, headphone (1/8″)
- Inputs: Line/phono (2 sets)
- Buttons: Load, search, transport, sync and cue
- Knobs: Dedicated cue mix, cue gain (via headphone output)
- 3-band EQ per channel
- 9 knobs for EQ kill and filter sweeps (touch activated)
- Check prices: US | UK
Allen & Heath Xone:K1
What’s important here is that the Allen & Heath Xone:K1 works with any Dj software — Traktor Pro, Ableton, Virtual DJ and more. You can completely customize the layout so you’re not too limited in terms of certain buttons doing certain functions, which we love. I’ve heard of a lot of DJ’s combine two K1’s or even add a K2 controller using their “X:LINK protocol” for a larger setup (uses an RJ45 connector), but it isn’t necessarily a must. This is a bit nontraditional if you were looking for a digital deck and mixer control — this is more for external functions and a piece of DJ gear to accommodate your setup as opposed to a fully standalone controller like other popular models. Hot cues, rolls, FX control, leveling, looping, etc. You can’t ignore Allen & Heath‘s line of DJ controllers, they’re some of the best out there. Grab this if it suits your need, you won’t be disappointed and is one of the best DJ controllers for external control. Read our full Xone:K1 controller review for even more info or watch this video of the K1 in action.
- Very lightweight
- Steel front panel\nutted pot construction
- Receive MIDI data commands easily
- Customizable layout
- Example maps of MIDI data provided for help
- Compatible with any DJ software
- Combine two or more K1 or K2 controllers via X:LINK
- Check prices: US | UK
Numark Mixtrack Pro II
If you’re looking for an all-in-one, the Numark Mixtrack Pro II is another one of our favorite picks for best DJ controller, especially if you’re just starting out. Numark DJ equipment is pretty well-known by scratchers around the world. With this one, you’ve got some nice touch-sensitive control wheels that are of decent size, but one of the most impressive features of the Mixtrack Pro II is the built-in audio interface. Most people use external audio interfaces (check our article for more info) to power up and organize all of their gear, but the Mixtrack Pro II allows you to go straight to your computer from the controller itself via USB. The trigger pads are also what makes this stand out from the rest — it basically gives us most of what we need and more. It supports MIDI and what we like is that it is compatible with any DJ software, not just tailored for one specifically. What’s also nifty is that it comes with Serato DJ intro which you can then upgrade to the full version — perfect if you’re wanting to try it out and see what it’s about. Aside from the standard DJ functions, some additives also include some EQ, loop and effects controls, and two channels. This is one of our favorite DJ controllers out there at the moment.
- Dimensions: 10.4 x 18.3 x 2.0 inches
- Weight: 4.7 lbs
- 16 backlit rubber drum pads (loop, sample and hot cue mode)
- 16 dedicated effects controls (flanger, phaser, echo, etc)
- Pitch and Sync controls
- 1/8″ and 1/4″ outputs
- Build-in audio connections (preview and performance output)
- Lighted deck-controls
- Navigation controls on the deck
- Compatible with Traktor, Virtual DJ, UltraMixer, Torq, and more
- USB powered via one cord
- Comes with Serato DJ intro
- Check prices: US | UK
If you’re looking for all-in-one and overall power, then the Pioneer DDJ-SR is the best DJ controller by far. Here’s another two-deck plus mixer DJ controller by Pioneer equipment which blows a lot of the competitors away (we could probably write an entire separate top 10 on only Pioneer DJ controllers). This particular controller is exceptional in terms of build and features, and like the Numark previous listed it gives us some very nice quality MIDI pads (we’re huge fans of anything with drum pads — it’s just an extra plus, although it may not be for you). The DDJ-SR first and most importantly comes with Serato DJ software (yes, the full version), so if you were planning on buying that anyway, this is a great bundle to go with to save a few dollars. Other additional features include the ability to control four decks at once, a “pad plus” button for converting the function buttons into hot cue roll, trans, combo FX and sampler roll. Another noticeable standout feature is the big jog wheels, which are in our opinion a huge deal when it comes to DJ controllers, especially if (as we assume most of you will be) matching, making mash-ups and scratching. If you want an all-in-one DJ controller that gives you some extra spunk and your wallet allows, going with this is a solid choice. Here’s a demo video of the DDJ-SR.
- 2-channel mixer (can be used with four decks)
- Comes with Serato DJ software
- 16 Large performance pads (rubber, illuminates in blue)
- Pads can also control: hot cue roll, trans, combo FX and sample roll
- Crossfader reverse
- Large job wheels for easy mixing
- Channel fader start
- Integrated grip handles for travel
- Built-in audio interface
- Build: Steel top panel\aluminum jog plate
- Check prices: US | UK
The Vestax VCI400 is another monstrous all-in-one DJ controller, although it’s becoming more rare as the years pass. We all know that name of when it comes to DJ equipment and they’ve joined in on the digital age with a controller of their own. This is in our opinion one of the better all-in-ones, featuring a 4 channel layout with transport buttons at the bottom (3 banks, too), two JOG wheels with torque and sensitivity control, filter knobs, LED back lights for all buttons, some nice filters, 3-band EQ, an LED meter, and impressively a stand-alone mixer. As you go up in price with these DJ controllers, you start to get the built-in soundcards with pretty high sampling rates; although this one is only half the amount of the Pioneer we’ve listed previously. It still gives you very low latency with the built-in interface. It also comes with some decent software in the Virtual DJ limited edition as well as Serato Intro for you to try out if you haven’t yet. The VCI400 does however work with other software as well, such as Traktor Pro and MixVibes. Grab this if you’re a bit more advanced than normal. If not, you can still grab it but it’ll take some time to learn, plus you may not even need the four channels if you’re doing the standard DJ setup with a computer. Note this thing is big and heavy! However, if you can afford it and it piques your interest, this is by far one of the best DJ controllers in the market today.
- Dimensions: 457 x 328 x 61mm
- Weight: 100 lbs
- 4 channel layout
- 2 channels for standalone mixer
- Transport buttons (3 banks of mapping)
- Instant deck
- Soft touch buttons
- Aluminum, large filter knobs
- Loop/sampler section (smaller drum pads)
- Large sized JOG wheels
- Built-in dual core digital processor
- 24bit/48 KHz soundcard built-in
- Comes with Virtual DJ LE and Serato Intro
- XLR and PHONE outputs
- Two mic and an AUX input
- Check prices: US | UK
Novation music is one of our favorite brands out there, dominating a lot of our top choices in shopping guides we write. The Novation Twitch gives us another bit of a different spin on the best DJ controllers. You’ll notice in the image that it isn’t the most traditional setup since it’s lacking pretty much the benchmark of a DJ controller — the decks (or JOG wheels), but not so fast. It has touch-strips for track navigation, beat splicing for mixing on the fly, a built-in audio interface, 16 trigger pads for some drum or sample controls, and quite a few rotary controls. I’ve actually heard of DJ’s pairing this up with their simpler deck controls for a nice combination (plus it looks cool to have more gear in your setup these days, unfortunately). If you use Ableton Live as your digital audio workstation then it’s even better because they have a free app that you can install to pair up with it seamlessly. Although, it works well with most software too. It’s fully bus-powered for convenience, pretty convenient in terms of size and the build is overall stable being a tough metal surface. The most standout of this is the slicer for chopping, trigger pads that are decent quality as well as the master FX and fader FX mode. It may work with some, it may not for others. Synthtopia’s Novation Twitch review highlights it in more detail.
- Dimensions: 17.1 x 13.6 x 4.7 inches
- Slicer performance mode
- 2 x 8 triggerpads, 8 pots (EQ and trim)
- 2 channel faders and 1 main crossfader (replaceable)
- 2 rotary encoders and 2 fader FX assign buttons
- 2 headphone assign buttons
- Touchstrip (modes are swipe and drop)
- Cue, play\pause buttons
- Mode selector buttons (4)
- Outputs: L/R on TRS jacks (2)
- Inputs: 2 AUX
- Microphone input
- Check prices: US | UK
Allen & Heath Xone:4D
The Allen & Heath Xone:4D is incredible. You want to talk about a monster? Here’s one for the ages, and for the professionals typically at that. Like my buddy said, who the heck needs 20 channels? Well, some do. Or some don’t, but want the best of the best, albeit the most expensive of the bunch. Let’s see what this has and just highlight a few of the standout features: The mixer has four multi-input stereo channels, preamps on 3 channels, a soundcard output for routing switches, 3-band kill EQ, 2 FX sends, 2 stereo returns, a mic input on XLR with full level control and more. The mixer alone is crazy with pretty much any feature you can think of having and more. The soundcard is extremely high quality as well, being 20 channels and 96 kHz/24-bit sampling rate (USB 2.0). Works with both PC and Mac and has MIDI control, too: 227 mappable MIDI message sent to mixer, eight faders (yes, 8), 16 rotary pots, 50 switches, two jog wheels and finally eight push switches. You get the picture. What’s cool is Heath & Allen have a lot of demo videos online to help you get going, but it’s still going to take a lot of learning if you’re not a pro. Here’s a cool video of the Xone:4D. We just hope you have the cash.
- 4 multi-input stereo channels
- Switchable phono or line output (each channel)
- 3-band kill EQ (+6dB)
- 2 FX sends, 2 analogue VCF filters
- BPM LED display
- Headphone monitor (mix and cue control)
- LFO editable waveform (assignable)
- Mic input with 2-band EQ directly to soundcard
- 105 MIDI controls (with dedicated MIDI sections of linear faders, pots, switches, jog wheels and push switches)
- Compatible with any software
- Check prices: US | UK