The range of potential DJ setups has never been as varied as it is right now. Between laptop-and-controller rigs, CDJs (rarely used with actual CDs these days), vinyl turntables and the multitude of other player devices hitting the market, there’s seemingly no end to the ways you can mix in 2022.
Even just within the realm of the best DJ controllers, there’s no shortage of variety. From so-called ‘battle’ devices – aimed at scratch DJs and turntablists – to complex rigs that emulate the functionality of top-end club setups. There are controllers specifically designed to take advantage of the latest features of rekordbox, Serato, Traktor, or Virtual DJ, and others that will work with a multitude of applications. Some are designed for use with just desktop machines, while others can be used with your mobile device.
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 choice, so you can properly get hands-on and expressive with your library or tracks.
Now, the lines around what counts as a ‘DJ controller’ are blurring a little. Many standalone ‘players’ can also be used to control DJ software, and numerous non-DJ-specific MIDI devices can be used, in one way or another, to mix with. Here though, we’re focusing on units designed primarily as controllers and specifically with DJs in mind.
Head to the bottom of the page for more buying advice on choosing the right controller for you.
Best DJ controllers: Our top picks
At the risk of sounding like we’re hedging our bets, the best DJ controller ultimately comes down to what sort of DJ you are and what software you’d like to use. That said, for our money Pioneer DJ’s flagship DDJ-1000 and the company’s rekordbox software are 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 jog wheels 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.
That said, it’s a sizable device and probably too expensive – and unnecessary – for a lot of at-home setups, in which case the smaller and affordable Pioneer DDJ-400 is an excellent choice. This cut-down Pioneer device still captures much of the CDJ workflow but at a more convenient and attainable price.
If rekordbox isn’t your thing, it’s worth giving a nod to the Denon MC8000 for Serato users. Traktor heads, meanwhile, are well served by the 3rd gen version of Native Instruments’ Traktor Kontrol S4 with its ‘haptic’ jog wheels.
For scratch DJs, at the affordable end, Pioneer’s new REV-1 is commendable, while the pricier Rane Twelve MkII offers the closest you’ll get to a real turntable in controller form.
Best DJ controllers: Product guide
Pioneer DJ’s flagship 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 quite have the history of 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.
For our money, the DDJ-1000 works best with rekordbox DJ, but Serato users can make use of the similarly spec’d, still impressive DDJ-1000SRT.
Pioneer DJ’s two-channel rekordbox controller is proof that affordable DJ gear needn’t be just for beginners. While the DDJ-400 lacks a number of the more advanced features of the DDJ-1000 (above), such as the deeper effect controls, it’s more than equipped for most club DJ duties.
The most interesting things about the DDJ-400 are the design touches it shares with Pioneer’s flagship Nexus CDJs and mixers. Not only are the feel and layout reminiscent of those higher-end units, but some distinctive features are carried over including dedicated loop controls and memory cue buttons.
Effectively, skills learned and refined on the 400 can be directly transferred to Pioneer’s industry standard club setups, which makes this an excellent DJ controller for beginners and pro DJs looking for a compact home rig.
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.
Read the full Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3 review
As is probably evident from looking at it, the Rane Twelve is somewhat different from many of the controllers on this list. Rather than replicate a full DJ setup, with two or more players and a mixer, this controller is designed specifically to replace a single vinyl turntable.
While most DJ controller jog wheels tend to feel – at best – similar to a club-standard CDJ, with its aluminium platter and “true vinyl-style” drive the Rane Twelve is as close as you can get to mixing with wax without using the real thing.
The deck is compatible with the likes of Serato and Virtual DJ via USB, but also outputs DVS audio via an RCA port, which is compatible with most major digital vinyl systems. It’s also MIDI equipped too.
The obvious downside here is no mixer functionality, meaning you’ll need more gear to complete your setup. It works great as an authentic-feeling addition to a DVS-ready mixer setup though, and can be paired with anything from a second Twelve deck to a sampler or pad-based controller.
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.
Read the full Roland DJ-505 review
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 new 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.
Read the full Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 review
‘Budget’ and ‘scratch’ aren’t two words that tend to go well together. Turntablism requires precision and dexterity and cheaper controllers generally aren’t up to the job. However, with its new REV-1 controller, Pioneer DJ is aiming to change that.
The REV-1 is a two-channel controller in battle configuration, meaning the pitch faders are placed above, rather than beside the jog wheels. While the REV-1 is relatively compact, it boasts larger than average jog wheels – which is one of the main areas where budget controllers tend to let scratch DJs down.
The mixer section is roughly based on Pioneer’s DJM-S range of battle mixers, although it’s slightly more cramped and less stylish looking. That said though, the REV-1 is well equipped with performance pads and a mic input.
The REV-1 is designed for use with the free Serato DJ Lite – which is a polite way of saying you don’t get any software licenses included. Users can upgrade and make use of features from Serato Pro too though.
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.
The Traktor Kontrol X1 has been around for the better part of a decade now, but it recently had a visual refresh for NI’s 25th anniversary, with the brand releasing limited edition Ultraviolet [pictured] and Vapor Grey editions.
Functionally, all X1s are the same. These are compact add-on controllers that offer convenient control over Traktor Pro’s FX and loops sections. You can also browse and load from Traktor’s library. All current gen X1s – updated to MkII since 2013 – also include a touchstrip, that’s handy for scanning through and nudging tracks.
Despite being an older design, they remain effective – and popular. These make a handy add on paired with another Traktor controller or a digital vinyl setup.
Read the full Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 review
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 latest ‘Touch’ iteration adds capacitive jog wheels for better, more responsive mixing.
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.
Best DJ controllers: Buying advice
How to choose the best DJ controller for you
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There are several things to consider when shopping for a DJ controller. The first, and possibly biggest consideration is your choice of DJ 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.
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.
How we test DJ controllers
There’s only really one sensible way to test a DJ controller, and that’s to get hands-on and mix with it. That’s exactly what our team of reviewers do whenever trying out a new DJ device.
However, we’re aware that not all DJs perform in the same way, so we do our best to get into the mindset of as many different styles of DJ as possible to investigate how each might get on with any particular controller. We ask how each feels for long, slow mixes, how the crossfader and jogwheels feel for quick cuts and performance, how any pads, EQs or effects controls respond in a performance setting.
A key factor too, as with any musical controller, is how well the device interacts with its intended software. Does it feel tight and responsive? Do the controls offer easy access to all the most important elements of the application? A good controller should keep you away from the mouse and screen and let you feel connected to your music. That’s exactly what we’re looking for when we’re testing a new DJ controller.
Read more about how we test music making gear and services at MusicRadar.
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