It’s never been as easy and accessible for beginners to get into DJing as it is in 2022. Assuming you already own some form of computer, all you really need is a controller and you’re away - and that's where the best beginner DJ controllers come in.
There are multiple approaches to DJing in 2022, depending on the gear you choose. However, for beginners the laptop and controller option is the most affordable and easiest way to get started. There are many well-equipped DJ software apps that can be sampled for free or cheap and the learning curve has been reduced, thanks to easy-to-use tools such as auto-sync and smart track recommendations, all of which can help even complete novices mix convincingly.
While it’s perfectly possible to master basic DJ mixing with nothing more than a laptop or mobile device, in many cases, DJ controllers offer additional benefits, such as access to extra features of the software or a built-in audio interface allowing you to hook your whole set-up to a speaker system like you would with a traditional mixer.
Best beginner DJ controllers: Our top picks
There are a lot of good quality controllers available in the $/£100-250 price range, and you can’t go far wrong with anything from one of the big names like Pioneer DJ, Native Instruments or Numark.
Right now, Pioneer DJ’s rekordbox is our favourite piece of pro DJ software, and for our money the Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 is the best budget entry point into that realm. It’s accessible enough for beginner use but has enough features that there’s scope to go beyond the basics as you improve. The controller maintains the feel of Pioneer’s popular high-end DJ gear, and means the leap up to a more advanced DJ set-up in the future shouldn’t feel too daunting.
That said, if you want something that includes an audio interface, the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX is a feature packed, sub-$/£250 controller that punches well above its price point and should do you years of service for small party, bar or home DJ sets.
Best beginner DJ controllers: Product guide
Pioneer’s CDJs are effectively the industry standard, at least for club DJs, and their vast range of mid and pro-level DJ controllers are consistently up with the best on the market. Their DDJ-400 offers a stripped-back take on these higher-end devices with jog wheels, a simple mixer and performance pads that look and feel the part without overloading beginner DJs with complexity.
Unlike the DDJ-200 (below), the 400 is designed to work with Pioneer's flagship software application, rekordbox – which has become increasingly sophisticated over the past few years, to the point that it’s now our favourite piece of DJ software. That brings with it access to proper pro-level performance features such as rhythmic effects and sample triggering.
That’s not to say the DDJ-400 isn’t accessible for beginners though, as users can make use of in-app rekordbox tutorials to get up to speed with what-does-what.
The DDJ-400 also includes a proper USB audio interface complete with separate headphone output and mic input. It can be used with a laptop or iOS device – with algoriddim Djay – so is handy for on-the-go DJing too.
For beginners who’d like to develop their skills to gig-worthy levels, but need an affordable place to start, it’s hard to fault the DDJ-400.
Now in its third generation, NI’s entry-level Traktor controller is one of the most stylish-looking devices you’ll find at this end of the market. It’s sturdily built too, and certainly feels more ‘pro’ than its price point suggests.
The S2 is a controller specifically intended for Native Instruments’ own Traktor ecosystem. It’s designed to work with both the cross-platform, beginner-friendly Traktor DJ app, and the more fully-featured Traktor Pro 3 – and the fact that it ships with a full license for the latter of these is a major selling point.
While the S2 lacks the more complex effect and sampling controls of bigger Traktor controllers, there’s still plenty here for beginners and experienced DJs alike to get their teeth into. It’s far from the cheapest beginner controller out there, but the S2 is likely to satisfy improving DJs even as their needs and ambitions grow.
Read the full Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 review
On the whole, scratch DJs and turntablists are fairly poorly served by entry-level DJ gear, which often features cheap crossfaders and small, unresponsive jogwheels. This affordable entry into Pioneer’s new DDJ Rev range aims to address that.
The REV-1 works with the free Serato DJ Lite. Its mixer section is based on the design of Pioneer’s higher-end DJM-S, flanked by jog wheels based around the brand’s PLX turntables. The Rev 1 is positioned in a ‘battle’ layout – meaning the tempo sliders are positioned above, rather than alongside the jogwheels, which is a set-up generally favoured for scratching and rarely seen on beginner gear.
The Rev 1 also features jogs that are noticeably larger than most other entry-level controllers, which is another factor that should aid those trying to develop their scratch skills. Other key features include an array of performance pads – these can be used for sampling and cue point tricks – and a mic input to suit budding streamers.
A smaller sibling to the DDJ-400, the DDJ-200 can be used with Algoriddim Djay, edjing Mix or Pioneer’s own rekordbox and WeDJ applications. The latter of these is an iOS/Android app with some great tutorial features aimed at getting newbies up to speed with the basics of DJing.
The ability to step up to the more pro-featured rekordbox software offers a nice route into advanced mixing too. That said, although DDJ-200 users can still unlock some of rekordbox’s advanced performance features, there’s less in the way of hardware control when it comes to things like looping, sampling or effects.
The DDJ-200 is Bluetooth-equipped to connect to mobile devices or laptops wirelessly, and its power demands are low enough for it to happily run off a portable USB charger. The WeDJ app allows users to mix with tracks from SoundCloud Go+ or Beatport LINK too – although separate subscriptions to these services are required.
The notable downside here is the lack of an audio interface, meaning you’ll need a separate device for a proper master out/headphones DJ set-up – which is reflected in the low price. There is a split audio cable included in the box though, which allows for a rudimentary workaround in order to monitor tracks.
Numark’s Mixtrack range is one of the more longstanding names in entry-level DJing and has always brought a great balance of features for a low price. Its latest addition, the Platinum FX, might be the best value yet when it comes to bang-for-your-buck.
The Platinum FX is the top end Mixtrack controller, meaning it boasts pro features such as 4-deck mixing, sizeable jog wheels with hi-res displays and a mic input. The FX part of the name signifies the inclusion of a range of cool performance/remix tools such as Hot Cues, Auto Loop, Sampling and Fader Cuts. There’s also a pair of neat paddle switches designed for quickly accessing Serato’s built-in effects. It all adds up to a lot of potential fun, making seemingly advanced DJ tricks easy to achieve.
While the top-end Platinum FX is probably the best value, if you can live without 4-deck mixing and the jog wheel displays, the Mixtrack Pro FX packs many of the same features for around $/£50 cheaper than the Platinum.
In terms of balancing size and features, Numark’s updated DJ2GO is one of the most jam-packed DJ controllers on the market. Its slim form factor could, just about, legitimately be called pocket-sized, but the device still finds space for two jog wheels, a crossfader, built-in interface and four performance pads for each deck.
Numark claims the DJ2GO2’s touch-capacitive jog wheels are capable of handling scratching duties, which is technically true, although their compact size means they’re too fiddly for moves with any real finesse. Still, there’s plenty of fun to be had here.
The controller is designed for use right-out-the-box with the free Serato DJ Lite, but it’s mapped and ready for use with the full paid version – as well as other software – if and when you’re ready to upgrade.
Roland is a relative newcomer to the DJ gear realm, but its range of controllers has a great USP – packing emulations of the brand’s iconic 808, 909 and 707 drum machines into the controller itself.
There are fewer controls here than on the higher-end DJ-505 and DJ-808 controllers, meaning that sequencing those drum sounds is a little more fiddly. That said, the well-sized performance pads are still more than enough to allow users to jam-out drum patterns on the fly, mid-mix.
The DJ-202 also includes a mic input and several onboard vocal effects, including a gate, filters, reverb and echo.
Software-wise, the DJ-202 is designed for use with Serato Lite (included), but if you own or purchase a Serato Pro license, the 202 is fully mapped to make use of the software’s more pro-level features. You’re paying for those quality drum sounds and vocal effects here, so if those appeal then this is a decent value package, otherwise you may get more for your money elsewhere.
Hercules’ Inpulse range is aimed squarely at beginner DJs. Not only are they affordable and easy-to-use, but they’re specifically set up to teach you how to mix.
The controllers come supplied with Hercules’ own DJUCED software, which makes use of integrated video tutorials and a light guide on the controller itself to demonstrate what-does-what. These tools are coupled with visual ‘beat align’ guides to help visualise the sync of your two decks, along with an ‘Intelligent Music Assistant’ tool, which will automatically suggest the next track to keep your mix going.
The 300 is the highlight of the range, largely because – as of a recent update – it offers integration with Serato DJ. As a result, there’s an obvious route of progression for beginner DJs, who might want to transition to Serato’s pro-level software as they get to grips with the basics of mixing.
The hardware itself still looks a little toy-like, and the short faders don’t allow for much in the way of nuanced mixing, but there’s a decent amount of functionality here for the money.
Somewhat gimmicky and toy-ish, but pleasingly affordable and fun nonetheless, the USP of Numark’s Party Mix lies in the trio of LEDs along its front edge. These provide what Numark calls a ‘built-in light show’. This is perhaps overselling it a bit – really it’s three coloured lights flashing in sync with the tempo of your tracks; a neat little effect but with little variation and not enough presence to make a difference in any setting larger than a small house party.
Cynicism aside though, the Party Mix boasts a decent crop of features for its price, including two jog wheels, faders, EQ controls and performance pads for each deck. This version 2 update has recently improved things further too, adding more pro-level features including significantly improved jog wheels and per-track filter controls.
As well as the standard Party Mix model, Numark also offers a Party Mix Live device that adds built-in speakers to the mix. You can turn the lights off when desired too.
Best beginner DJ controllers: Buying advice
Modern DJ controller designs can vary wildly and, for the uninitiated, a lot of the individual features can sound like confusing jargon. Let’s break down the most common specs to look out for.
What are jog wheels?
These are the circular platters seen on CDJs as well as many DJ controllers. Jog wheels replicate the look and function of traditional vinyl turntables, allowing DJs to scroll through records, scratch and ‘nudge’ the timing of a track back or forwards slightly.
If you plan on traditional beat-matching – ie. syncing up the timing of two records by ear – or hip-hop style turntablism and record scratching, then jog wheels are a must.
They’re not essential if you’re happy to rely on the automatic beat-matching capabilities of your chosen DJ software though, which is certainly a viable option given the power of modern applications.
What are faders/crossfaders?
The main elements of any DJ setup are players – the part that actually plays music, often controlled by jog wheels – and a mixer, used to blend several tracks together. Faders are the main control for a mixer, usually split into vertical channel faders – which adjust the volume of an individual track – and the horizontal crossfader, used to blend between two channels. Most DJ controllers have faders in some form, although smaller devices may opt for a simple volume knob instead.
Can you tell me more about the audio interface?
Some DJ controllers double up as an audio interface, ie. an external sound card. These devices will come complete with some kind of audio output that can be connected to speakers or a PA system. This is generally a much better option than using your laptop’s onboard audio, especially if you’re playing at a party, event or in a club/bar.
In most cases audio interfaces will also include a headphone output, letting users monitor tracks – ie. preview a song without it being heard through the main output. This latter element is an important tool, even for beginner DJs, so unless you’re already using a separate audio interface, looking for a controller with these capabilities built-in is a good idea.
Controllers with inbuilt interfaces may offer additional inputs and outputs too, such as a secondary ‘booth’ output, or an input for a vocal microphone or external sound source (such as a turntable, MP3 player or synth/drum machine).
What about DJ controller software?
As the name suggests, a DJ controller is designed to control something, specifically a piece of software running on a computer or mobile device. As such, none of the devices here can be used standalone, and the brand of DJ software you’re drawn to is likely to be a major factor in your choice of controller.
Some controllers are designed to work with multiple applications, while others are limited to use with one specific piece of software. What’s more, some controllers come bundled with a license or free download of one app or another.
For help deciding which is right for you, check out our handy guide to the best DJ software applications.
What are common features in DJ controllers?
Along with volume faders, most mixer controllers will offer some kind of EQ control, and often filters too.
Once you’ve got to grips with blending one track into another using the faders, these will probably be the next tools you’ll want to hand in order to try blending different frequency elements from separate tracks – eg. the bassline from one song under a vocal from another.
The majority of modern controllers also include some form of ‘performance pads’ for each deck. These can fulfill a variety of roles, from jumping to different ‘cue points’ within a track to triggering loops, samples and effects. While pads aren’t essential for mixing tracks by any means, they’re a fun and creative tool to have in your arsenal for future experimentation.
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