10 Best: DJ Controllers
We look at ten of the best DJ controllers across a range of price points, with compact solutions, traditional controllers and mixer-ready options all making the grade.
Although vinyl sales have seen something of an upturn in recent years, it hasn’t stopped the tide of digital DJs; no longer the domain of the amateur, DJ software such as Traktor and Serato is increasingly being used by high-profile DJs in the world’s top nightclubs. Of course the software is only half the story, with each major manufacturer offering their own hardware interfaces for the market’s most popular DJ software; where digital DJs used to be somewhat limited in the control options available to them there are now a plethora of different units available, each catering to the ever-changing needs of today’s digital DJs. In response to this, Juno Plus has selected ten of the best DJ controllers available today in ascending order of price; from compact units to soundcard-enabled devices capable of connecting to turntables and CDJs, each model offers the best build quality and functionality for their price points.
Perhaps the smallest DJ controller in our top ten, the UC3 could also be described as the most versatile; it features eight faders and eight push encoders, together with a cross fader that could be used to control anything from DJ software, DAWs or even lighting software. It’s part of the third generation of controllers from German company Faderfox, and this latest incarnation of their versatile range is a USB powered unit with iPad compatibility via Apple’s camera connection kit. The diminutive unit weighs in at a feather-like 350g, but is built with tough black plastic and a sturdy metal face plate that make it ideal for DJs that need a small controller, but one hardy enough to survive being thrown from plane to hotel, to club and back again week in, week out.
Although the UC3 could be used with any MIDI-mappable DJ software,it seems have been designed with Ableton Live in mind, with an included CD containing with instructions and mapping for the software. Ableton’s new Push controller doesn’t feature faders, and this compact control surface could be the ideal companion to an Ableton production/DJ set up. Even for those who don’t use Live, the UC3 offers flexible control in a tough unit that is ideal for advanced controllerists and confident DJs alike.
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|System Requirements||PC or Mac with one free USB port or hub. iPad iOS5 or higher|
|Controls||8 x faders, 8 x push encoders, 2 x buttons, 1 x crossfader|
|Advanced||14 bit resolution encoder mode, class compliant|
|Display||Four digit digital display|
|Ships with||CD w/Ableton mapping and instructions. 1 x USB cable|
With no jog wheels or faders in sight, the X1 controller is designed as an add on for DJs looking to get intuitive control over looping, cueing, syncing and FX within Traktor. This controller is already mapped and ready to work straight out of the box with the software, but of course, as a MIDI controller it is possible to customise and modify any of the controls to your liking. All the buttons feature backlit LEDs in multiple colours so it’s easy to get visual feedback during your performance.
As you can imagine, the integration with Traktor is very tight, with bi-directional communication and Native Instruments’ very own hardware protocol that has four times the resolution of traditional MIDI. The unit also ships with a series of overlays for different configurations including a mapping for use with Serato Scratch Live and an overlay for controlling Traktor’s sample decks. Native Instruments provide a good deal of support in terms of tutorials on their website as well as a library of different user mappings that are available to download, making this unit ideal for users of all levels and experiences.
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|PC System Requirements||Windows XP, Vista/Windows 7, Intel Pentium 4, 2.4GHz or Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64, 2GB RAM|
|Mac System Requirements||OS X 10.5 or 10.6, Intel Core Duo, 2 GB RAM|
|Controls||8 x knobs, 4 x push encoders, 30 x buttons|
|Ships with||Latest version of Traktor, Overlays.|
You could be forgiven for mistaking the K2 for an X1 controller, or vice versa, but there are features on this multi-layered control surface from Allen & Heath that make it stand apart from its competitor. Apart from the four elegantly presented faders, set in line with three knobs and a push encoder each, and underpinned by a 4×4 switch matrix, the K2 also has a built-in four channel audio interface, making it one of the most minimal and distinguished controllers on the market. Allen & Heath opted not to partner up with any particular software designer, thus allowing the user to decide how to best make use of the unit. Of course, it is fully possible to find .tsi files online for almost any DJ software you care to think of, including an emulator for Traktor X1, but this assemblage of faders, knobs and buttons could be mapped to almost anything, featuring three layers of control with clear backlit coloured feedback from the buttons that light green, red or amber depending on what mode of control you are using.
The 16bit/48kHz sound is serviced through a pair of RCA phono ports with the stereo headphone cue monitor coming through a standard 3.5mm mini jack on the front edge. In addition, Allen & Heath have developed their very own X-link Ethernet network protocol for the purpose of connecting multiple devices if you find the K2’s multi layered control doesn’t suffice, or if you want to use it with other devices such as the DB4 mixer. The K2, like the X1, ships with a carry case that also doubles as a stand, allowing the device to sit flush against other equipment in the DJ booth. This controller is ideally suited to intermediate DJs and controllerists that have clear ideas on how they would like to control their software.
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|PC System Requirements||Class Compliant MIDI/2channel audio device for Windows. 1 x USB port required, 4 channel operation requires installation of ASIO drivers for Windows2000/XP/Vista/Windows7|
|Mac System Requirements||Class Compliant MIDI/4channel audio device. 1 x USB required|
|Controls||6 x push encoders, 12 x knobs, 4 x faders, 30 x backlit buttons|
|Connections||USB, X link I/O|
|Output||2 x RCA phono|
|Ships with||Xone:K2 resources disk including mappings and drivers|
This sturdily built DJ controller from Denon is a superior choice for those of us looking for no nonsense functionality and uncluttered mastery of mixing, looping, and cueing with FX control for Serato’s DJ Intro software. The dual deck control is provided by two rugged jog wheels, with dedicated cue and transport control, with two programme channels featuring three band EQ, gain level, cue monitor and programme faders, underlined by a single crossfader. Each deck offers four hot cue buttons, FX control and comprehensive loop implementation with space on each side for the manipulation of four remix decks. One of the many satisfying aspects of this controller is the absence of cheap plastic control surfaces that are generally commonplace in the world of DJ controllers.
The built-in audio interface provides a solid, clean sound through a pair of phono RCA outputs found on the rear panel, with plenty of level available to the 6.35mm headphone jack. If you are a mobile DJ, you will appreciate the addition of a 1/4”TRS mic input with level control, also found on the rear. In addition, there is an auxiliary input for your external media players, such as CD decks or mp3 players, with the benefit of featuring monitor level and gain control. If you are a beginner then the MC2000’s simple MIDI mappable design, with zoned touch-sensitive jog wheels and robust build is well worth a look.
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|Software||Serato DJ Intro, Traktor Pro, Virtual DJ|
|Controls||2 deck MIDI control, 2 x touch sensitive jog wheels, 2 x 60mm pitch faders, 2 x programme faders, 1 x cross fader, 38 buttons, 20 knobs, 3 x push encoders|
|Input||2 x phono RCA, 1 x 6.35mm TRS Mic|
|Output||2 x phono RCA|
|Features||MIDI mappable USB controller, built in sound card, mic input, aux input|
The Twitch from Novation is a two channel, four deck control surface that has been designed to render full mastery of Serato’s ITCH software. In fact, all of the performance related features of ITCH have been assigned a single control on a one to one basis, doing away with the majority of troublesome dual features found in other controllers, and at the same time making it a lot more intuitive to use. There are also some other surprises on this unit; although there are the standard controls including a mixer section with two programme channels and a cross fader, cue and transport buttons as well as controls for looping and effects, there are no jog wheels. Instead Novation have opted to incorporate touch strip technology to allow you to manipulate your audio. It’s a very different concept that allows you to grab, pinch, nudge, tap and swipe your audio in a unique manner.
With dedicated buttons for changing between hot cue mode, auto loop, loop roll mode as well as a new mode called slicer, which allows you to rearrange your music mid performance without having to physically load sections of your music onto assigned pads. It’s also possible to map the control surface of Twitch to Traktor or Ableton Live, and there’s an overlay that comes in the box in order to facilitate this. With a microphone and auxiliary input that can be routed through the software effects, and a powerful headphone system that offers plenty of volume through your cans, this controller is robustly built for all manner of uses. The Twitch also has a built in sound card that services the audio through two 1/4” TRS outputs for the main outs and two phono ports for the booth outputs with 3.5mm and 6.35mm sockets for headphones. A solid controller for people that want to manipulate their audio in ways other than using a jog wheel.
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|PC System Requirements||Windows XP (32Bit)/7 (32/64bit), Intel processor, 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB/2GB RAM|
|Mac System Requirements||Mac OS X 10.6 (32/64bit), Intel processor, 1 GB/2.4GB Core Duo, 1 GB/4 GB RAM|
|Controls||2 x backlit touch strips, 16 x trigger pads (w fader effects), 2 x channel faders, 1 x cross fader, 18 x knobs, 3 x encoders|
|Input||2 x aux phono jacks, 1 x 1/4” TRS mic (with gain control)|
|Output||2 x 1/4” TRS, 2 x RCA, 1 x 3.5mm headphone, 1 x 6.35mm headphone|
|Features||MIDI mappable USB controller, built in sound card, mic input, aux input|
Terminal Mix 4 is the first control surface that has been designed in partnership with Serato DJ Intro. It features two ultra flat jog wheels that can be operated in pitch bend mode, vinyl scratch mode and search mode for quickly skipping through your audio. There are two long 100mm pitch faders for more precise mix control, with four hot cue buttons and four sampler buttons. The mixer section features four programme channels with faders that include three band EQ, filter, gain and cue assign buttons, all underlined by a single cross fader. With extended browsing capabilities it is now possible to find your audio in almost any location and load it onto the deck of your choice without the need to reach for your mouse.
The audio is delivered using a built in, four channel, USB sound card that will allow you to plug in a microphone and even route it through the software, if you wish. With two headphone ports, 6.35mm as well as 3.5mm in size, the Terminal Mix 4 also features headphone tone control. The sound is delivered to the front of house via a pair of 1/4” TRS outputs with an RCA main out and RCA booth output option. Reloop have paid attention to detail here, and have even included adjustable fader curve controls. This controller is a safe bet for DJs that need one to one control of their software of choice but don’t necessarily need complete vinyl and CD deck integration.
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|Power||USB (with optional power supply)|
|PC System Requirements||32bit: Intel 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM, 64bit: Intel 2,4 Ghz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, USB 2.0
AMD processors are not recommended and officially not supported.
|Mac System Requirements||Mac OS X 10.6.8+, 32bit: Intel 2.0 Ghz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM, 64bit: Intel 2,4 Ghz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB RAM, USB 2.0|
|Controls||1x Pro Longlife crossfader with adjustable crossfader curve,4x volume controllers with Pro Longlife linefaders, 4x 3-band equalizer knobs, 4x gain turning knob, 4x filter knob, 2x 15.5cm touch-sensitive, two-part jog wheels for scratching, cueing, etc, 2x high-resolution 100mm 14-bit pitch faders without locking position
1x assignable encoder, 3x assignable knobs, 4x buttons for effect control
|Input||1 x 1/4”TRS mix|
|Output||2 x 1/4” TRS, 4 x RCA|
|Software||Serato DJ Intro, Virtual DJ 7 LE (Reloop Edition)|
|Dimensions (cm)||51.5 x 4.4 x 32|
For an all-inclusive control surface designed for presiding over Native Instruments’ Traktor software, not many come as advanced and fully serving as the 4 Trak from Numark. With Numark’s high resolution jog wheels, that clock up a precise 3600 ticks per turn, transport control, pitch faders, loop control and a four channel mixer with cross fader, the 4 Trak has a complete control section for getting to grips with Traktor’s FX. Browsing and selecting your audio is achieved using the dedicated encoder and buttons for loading onto decks, and there is a touch strip which is perfect for searching through your music quickly to find a suitable cue point.
Not only does the 4 Trak have tight MIDI implementation, but it also doubles as a complete stand alone four channel mixer. Simply plug your vinyl decks or CD players into the RCA inputs around the back and select the correct line input. You don’t even need to have your laptop connected via USB to use the mixer. The ability to use the 4 Trak as a stand alone mixer makes it one of the most versatile controllers around, and with the addition of two microphone inputs, it’s ideal for mobile DJs who need complete freedom and flexibility.
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|PC System Requirements||Windows XP, 32bit. Vista 64/32bit. 7 32/64bit. Intel Pentium 4 2.4 GHz, Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64.2GB RAM, 500MB free disk space. USB port, CD ROM drive|
|Mac System Requirements||OSX 10.6 or 10.7. Intel Core Duo. 2GB RAM, 500 MB free space, USB port, CD-ROM|
|Controls||2 x jog wheels, 2 x pitch faders, 2 x assignable faders, 19 x encoders, MIDI function buttons, 4 x channel faders, 1 x cross fader, 4 x gain encoders, 12 x eq knobs|
|Input||2 x 1/4” TRS Mic, 4 x stereo RCA|
|Output||Stereo XLR, 2 x stereo RCA booth and line, 3.5mm/6.35mm headphone|
|Dimensions (cm)||60.5 x 38.1 x 8.9|
Perhaps the most complete DJ controller on the market can be found in the form of the Vestax VCI400, a controller that’s professional enough to satisfy both digital DJs and controllerists. It has a large count of buttons, pads, knobs and encoders, and the two adjustable jog wheels are widely regarded as the best in the DJ controller business. With a layout that’s still familiar enough for those that are used to working with controllers and with more functions and tactile surfaces than you expect, the VCI400 ships with versions of Virtual DJ and Serato DJ Intro but is perhaps related most closely to Traktor Pro in terms of layout.
The reassuringly sturdy metal chassis houses a commendable battery of connection options, including two microphone inputs that are serviced with combi sockets for both XLR and 1/4”TRS type jacks, both with level control. There are two line inputs for connecting external equipment with a control for routing your devices through the software or directly to the master outputs of which there are both stereo XLR type or 1/4”TRS types. The unit itself is not a standalone mixer until you install a firmware update, from the Vestax website, that will allow you to use two of the four programme channels in standalone mode.
The built in sound card features a digital to audio conversion of 24bit/48kHz resolution with a studio grade USB streaming system. Designed to be as flexible as humanly possible, this controller allows you to map your controls in any way you can imagine, and is particularly suited to DJs at ease with their playing style, or controllerists that are confident enough to experiment with new mappings. There are no labels under any of the controls and Vestax have included overlays so that users can use their imaginations to come up with unique configurations.
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|PC System Requirements||Windows XP SP3 (32bit)/Vista (32/64bit)/Window 7 (32/64bit), 1 GB RAM or higher|
|Mac System Requirements||OSX 10.6 or higher, 1 GB RAM or higher|
|Controls||2 x adjustable jog wheels, 12 x multi mode transport pads, 16 x performance pads, 4 x large filter knobs, 6 x fx knobs, 7 x faders, 7 x encoders, 41 buttons|
|Input||2 x mic inputs (combi XLR/1/4”TRS), 2 x stereo RCA line (both with level control)|
|Output||1 x stereo XLR, 1 x stereo 1/4”TRS, 1 x 6.35mm headphone|
|Ships with||Serato DJ Intro/Virtual DJ LE 4|
Native Instruments have been at the forefront of digital DJ technology since Traktor increased in popularity several years ago, and their versatile software has an equally flexible hardware controller. The Kontrol S4 features four deck control for the latest version of Traktor, and includes two jog wheels, tactile command of the software’s remix deck functionality, along with looping and effects control. The S4 is also a fully integrated four channel mixer, with three band EQ, filter, gain and two FX for each of the four programme channels.
The S4 allows you to manage both computer based DJ setups with more traditional configurations, with the ability to connect physical vinyl decks or CD players to two analogue input channels via both phono and line level. The 24bit/96kHz AD/DA conversion is performed by Cirrus Logic circuitry that delivers a frequency response between an ankle blowing 20Hz to a stratospheric 40kHz through either phono RCA or 1/4” TRS outputs. In addition there is the option of syncing synths or drum machines using the traditional MIDI I/O ports. In summary, the S4’s solid build quality and versatility make it a choice tool for professional club DJs and with its mic input with gain control, it’s a suitable choice for DJs with MCs or even for users wishing to include vocal performances in their sets.
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|PC System Requirements||XP, Vista & Win 7, Pentium/Athlon XP1.8GHz or Core 2/AMD Athlon X2, 2GB RAM|
|Mac System Requirements||Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz, 2 GB RAM|
|Controls||2 jog wheels, 7 faders, 38 knobs, 67 buttons|
|Input||5 x RCA, 1 x Mic (1/4” TRS)|
|Output||2 x RCA, 2 x 1/4” TRS|
|Bit/sample rate||24bit/44.1, 48, 88.2, 96kHz|
|Dimensions (cm)||32 x 5.2 x 50|
|Ships with||Traktor Pro 2|
Pioneer are, bar none, the leading providers of DJ equipment in the world, and as such have the industry standard CD and DJ mixer on the market in the form of the CDJ2000 Nexus and DJM2000. With the physical DJ world sewn up, the DDJ SX is their flagship model in the world of USB controllers. Partnering with Serato DJ, the DDJ SX comes with Pioneer’s famous CDJ-style jog wheels with track position feedback, as well as finely tuned touch sensitivity and extremely low latency; everything is set out for easy access, including slip mode and reverse mode. The performance pads are of a very high quality and allow you to set hot cues, perform rolls, trigger and sample, and with their unique sensitivity they make an ideal performance surface for finger drumming. Mapping out of the box to Serato, the FX section controls the newly upgraded Isotope internal FX, adding a new dimension to your sets. Pioneer also include their well known needle search strip for quickly reviewing your music.
In addition to tight control with Serato, the mixer section works as a stand alone unit, with four programme channels featuring gain trim, three band EQ and filter. You can connect your vinyl decks or CD players using the standard RCA sockets, and there are two mic inputs with an XLR/1/4” combi port on the input to channel three, and a simple 1/4” microphone input on channel four. Large and small headphone ports with a retractable level control for safe transit are found on the front surface. If you are a fan of Pioneer CDJs and DJM mixers but want to make the leap to computer-based DJing, then you are likely to feel at home with the DDJ SX.
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|Power||AC 220-240V 50/60Hz, rated output DC5 V|
|PC System Requirements||Windows 7, 32bit: (CPU) 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2GB, 64bit: 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB|
|Mac System Requirements||Mac OS X 10.7.4/10.6.8, 32bit: (CPU) 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1 GB, 64bit: 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 4 GB|
|Controls||2 x jog wheels, 16 x performance pads, 2 x pitch faders, 6 x knobs, 3 x encoders, transport control, auto loop control, 4 x faders, 1 x cross fader, (per channel 1 x filter, three band EQ, trim, 2 x effects assign), 1 x sample deck fader, master level, booth level, cue mix|
|Input||CD x 2 RCA, line/phono x 2 RCA, mic x 2 (XLR/1/4” combi, 1 x 1/4”)|
|Output||2 x RCA, 2 x XLR, 2 x 1/4” TRS, 3.5mm/6.35mm headphone|
|Ships with||Serato DJ (via free download)|