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DJ controller is an increasingly tricky term to define. Essentially, with the advanced nature of modern music software, it’s possible to DJ - to some extent - with pretty much anything that spits out MIDI information.
As a result, some controllers designed primarily as tools for producers or live performers - such as Novation’s Launchpad, NI’s Maschines or Akai’s APC range - are also proving to be popular tools in the DJ booth. Indeed, if your DJ sets are likely to veer into the realms of live performance, or you want a controller you can use to make tunes with too, these are all options worth investigating.
Here, however, we are restricting ourselves to looking at controllers designed specifically for digital DJs, to accompany a computer-based DJ setup. So we're ignoring - for the moment - timecode systems, CDJs that can be used as controllers, the fledgling iPad DJ market and other such options.
There are a few factors to consider when choosing DJ controllers, the biggest being your choice of software. If you favour Serato Itch, it’s important to note that the software is only compatible with certain controllers, built in collaboration with Serato - a full list of which can be found over at their site. In fact, the majority of DJ controllers will be designed with one or two specific bits of software in mind, and many come with a certain application included in the price - so your choice of controller is likely to be very much influenced by your preference in DJ application (or possibly, vice versa).
It’s also worth considering whether you’ll need an audio interface built-in - i.e. the capability to connect turntables, CDJs or an instrument to you setup - and if you might want to expand with timecoded vinyl or CDs in the future. Some controllers included here also work as a stand-alone mixer, without the need to connect to a computer, which could be another consideration.
Then there’s size, looks, build quality, price... the list goes on. In short, it’s difficult to crown any one bit of kit ‘the best’ controller. Instead here are a range of our favourite of the options currently available.