Modern software applications such as Ableton Live mean you can now technically DJ with pretty much any MIDI controller, or even just a mouse and keyboard. Nevertheless, there are several very good reasons to use DJ controller hardware designed specifically for mixing.
Whether you’re after something to replicate the feel of traditional turntables, mixers and CDJs, or a modern pad device designed for sample triggering and effects manipulation, the best DJ controllers in this guide offer skin-tight integration with your preferred mixing software of your choice, so you can properly get hands-on and expressive with your library or tracks.
- The best DJ software applications you can buy today
- The best DJ mixers for all budgets
- How to DJ on a laptop: a beginner's guide
In this roundup we're only concerned with those controllers aimed at digital DJs with laptops or mobile devices, so there’ll be no CDJs and other timecode systems.
Whether you’re just starting out or touring the world, we’ve got options to meet your needs and budget...
The best DJ controllers you can buy today
While Pioneer DJ’s rekordbox DJ mixing application remains, arguably, slightly in the shadow of the ‘bigger guns’ Serato and Traktor, used with Pioneer’s new flagship DJ controller, theDDJ-1000 it’s the perfect pairing. In fact, the 1000 is the closest thing we’ve found to condensing a club CDJ setup down into controller form.
Its meaty, pressure-sensitive jogwheels have the heft of mixing on one of the brand’s industry-standard CDJs, and the mixer section is effectively a trimmed-down DJM-900. All tracks prepared in rekordbox are ready to be loaded onto a USB and taken out to a club too – meaning this is probably the closest compatibility you’ll find between home controller setup and DJ booth.
It’s also worth giving a nod to the recent third generation version of Native Instruments’ Traktor Kontrol S4 controller too though. It’s ‘haptic’ jogwheels - which provide tactile feedback on things like beat grids and cue positions - are genuinely innovative, and make this one of the most impressive controllers in the sub-£/$1,000 bracket.
How to choose the best DJ controller for you
There are several things to consider when shopping for a DJ controller. The firstm, and possibly biggest consideration is your choice of software. If you favour Serato DJ, 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 DJ app preference, or vice versa, especially if you're starting out.
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It’s also worth considering whether you’ll need any audio inputs built in - i.e, the capability to connect turntables, CDJs or an instrument to your setup - and if you might want to expand with timecoded vinyl or CDs in the future. Some controllers included here also work as a standalone 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 absolute ‘best’ controller, but what we can do is present you with a round-up of our favourites among the options currently available.
These are the best DJ controllers available right now
Pioneer DJ’s latest four-channel controller for rekordbox DJ benefits from taking a number of design cues from the company’s CDJ and mixer range. For one thing, the jog wheels are full-sized and pressure-sensitive, for a pro mixing feel, while the central mixer section is essentially a slightly shrunken version of the brand’s popular DJM-900, complete with its effects section.
On the software side of things, rekordbox DJ doesn’t have the history and reputation of either Serato DJ or Traktor, but paired with this controller it’s still an excellent mixing application. Its track collection is fully compatible with Pioneer DJ’s industry-standard CDJs too.
The third generation update to NI’s four deck Traktor controller is a significant one. The main elements to receive an overhaul here are the jog wheels; these are now motorised and make use of the company’s new ‘haptic’ technology that offers tactile feedback of cue points and more.
The design as a whole has been shaken up too though. For one thing, the pitch faders have been moved to a CDJ-style ‘both on the same side’ correlation, as opposed to sitting along the outside edges, as on the Mk2. There’s a new Mixer FX section too, as well as small displays sitting below each jog wheel.
The downside to these changes is that users upgrading from version two to three might feel a little lost, and will need to relearn some of their mixing moves to adjust to the new control positions. This remains the top of the Traktor pile though.
Pioneer DJ’s DDJ-SX line debuted back in 2012, and has arguably retained the crown of being the highest-quality, and most powerful Serato DJ controller available for under a grand. Version 3 arrived earlier this year, further refining the already winning formula. The DDJ-SX3 looks very similar to its predecessors. Again, the controller is small enough to transport pretty easily, but with its sturdy chassis and aluminium top it’s also rugged feeling, and you’d expect it to tolerate regular club use without issue.
The jog wheels are small, but responsive and sturdy, with a feel not dissimilar to those on Pioneer’s CDJ line. The DDJ-SX3 is four-channel. Each channel of its central mixer can be switched between digital inputs from Serato DJ or analogue RCA, and the control decks can be flipped to control up to four Serato decks simultaneously. As a result, the SX3 can act as a hub/mixer for four digital decks, four external players or any combination of the above.
Read the full review: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX3
Roland moved into the DJ controller market for the first time in recent years, releasing a range of Aira branded controllers for use with Serato DJ Pro. The real selling point here is the inclusion of the ‘TR-S’ drum machine, and the DJ-505 delivers well in this regard. The sounds are the same as those in the first gen TR-8, offering digital recreations of Roland’s 909, 808 and 707 beatmakers – some of the best emulations you’ll find in modern hardware.
The 505 isn’t the top of Roland’s controller range, but we like the affordability and convenience of this model. While the 505 is a little visually garish, given its compact size and affordable price, it’d make a good studio addition for bedroom producers who are looking for both a DJ scratch pad and a hardware drum machine.
NI’s top-of-the-range Traktor controller shifts away from the conventional ‘two platters and a mixer’ layout of most DJ gear, in favour of a design focused around Traktor’s Stems and Remix Deck capabilities.
Removing one of the most obvious controls from a DJ controller is a bold move, but NI claims that the new touchstrips can be used in place of jog wheels and there's some truth in this. With a track stopped, these can be used to 'scratch' the current track, while holding down Shift puts them into Seek mode, allowing the user to jump to any part of the track. With the track playing, these become Pitchbend controls, which – to be fair – are surprisingly well implemented and can be used for basic, 'nudge'-style beat-matching. The absence of pitch faders rules out any serious beat-matching though.
Jog wheels aside, though, this is a very slick, well equipped Traktor controller. If live remixing with Stems and getting creative with samples, loops and effects is your main focus, then this could be the controller for you.
Read full review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
The MCX8000 from Denon DJ is the company’s flagship controller, which it proudly states is "the first true DJ hardware/software controller". Bold words, but then the specs on the 8000 are pretty impressive. Not only can this 4-deck device be used to control Serato DJ on your computer, but thanks to the inclusion of the Denon DJ Engine software, it can also operate completely standalone.
Comparatively cheaper than other standalone controllers from leading manufacturers, the MCX8000 also includes a Stage LinQ network connection to control lighting and video.
The DDJ-SB3 is a 2-channel DJ controller that’s designed specifically for use with the Serato DJ Lite software. Its layout is similar to that of the more expensive DDJ-S devices and includes jog wheels, performance pads, play and cue buttons and independent auto loop buttons.
Updated from the DDJ-SB2, the SB3 offers a feature called Pad Scratch, which was created in collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff. This enables you to initiate eight of his trademark scratch techniques - the scratch is automatically matched to the track’s BPM – which can be used in isolation or in combination with your own scratching.
The latest iteration of NI’s entry-level Traktor controller is a great tool for beginner DJs. It can connect to both a laptop running Traktor Pro 3 or NI’s free Traktor DJ iOS app, with no need for an additional cable or adapter. This controller is very easy to use and, although its jog wheels lack the finesse of its bigger siblings, has everything needed to get started and play small parties or home DJ sets.
We’d like to see a bit more integration between the iOS and laptop versions of Traktor - libraries and cue points aren’t currently importable from one to the other - but for a fun and portable DJ controller this is a great option.
Pioneer DJ’s entry-level rekordbox DJ controller is relatively lightweight and not too bulky, so will fit inside most backpacks. Bundled with the controller is, of course, rekordbox DJ software, and rekordbox DVS can be accessed via a paid upgrade.
Inspired by the larger RZ and RX models, the RB includes some more advanced features for a product in this price range. The Sequence Call function allows you to create sample sequences and then play them directly. Further performance functionality comes courtesy of Hot Cues, Pad FX, Beat Jump and the Slicer effect with the 16 performance pads.
The Mixon 4 from Reloop is the company’s flagship hybrid-controller and the only kind of its type in this best DJ controllers guide. Designed for both Serato Pro DJ and Algoriddim djay PRO, the Mixon 4 is capable of mixing on PC, Mac, iOS and Android.
Plus, there’s also Spotify integration within djay 2 software, which will require a premium subscription. The controller includes four deck control, a four channel audio interface, 16 performance pads and a docking station that can hold a 12.9” iPad Pro.
If you’re looking to get Stems-ready control into your setup without the need to spend big on an S8, then the D2 is a perfect solution. The D2 is effectively a single deck from the S8 - doing away with the mixer and interface elements, and offering a single set of the S8's track control, performance, effect and browsing features.
It appears to be aimed squarely at DJs who want to slot the creative elements of the S8's feature set into their existing DJ setup, allowing them to continue using their existing interface or mixer.
Read full review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol D2
A built-in sound card with master gain, headphone output for cueing and channel gain knobs makes DJ2GO2 an ideal portable pocket DJ controller. It has two channels with a crossfader and pitch faders for easy blending, while the pad modes give you access to performance controls typically found on larger controllers.
The DJ2GO2 may not be everyone’s first choice, but for the price and such a small imprint in your gear list, could be the perfect back-up controller for the DJ on the road.