CDJs vs DJ Controllers: Are CDJs Better than Controllers?


Knowing which equipment to use for the best can be difficult at times, especially if you’re fairly new to DJing. In the past I’ve had a few decisions to make regarding which equipment to get.

CDJs are separate devices that play music digitally or via a CD. CDJs are used to connect to a separate DJ mixer, whereas a DJ controller has two “CDJ” type turntables with a built-in DJ mixer, all-in-one. CDJs are more flexible in DJ equipment setup but do cost a lot of money, whereas DJ controllers are inflexible in set and are affordable in price.

As a DJ myself, and an owner of both CDJs and DJ controller, I’ve got some experience that I can share with you all to help distinguish the differences between CDJs and DJ Controllers.

Key Differences Between CDJs & DJ Controllers

CDJs are separate Stand-a-lone DJ equipment

CDJs are not built into anything like a DJ controller is, they are simply stand-a-lone music players which allow DJs to control tempo.

Connect Multiple CDJs to a DJ Mixer

You can buy and connect multiple CDJs into a DJ mixer which makes for great flexibility compared to a DJ Controller.

Especially if you want to DJ with three turntables to be more creative with you DJ mixes.

DJ Controllers don’t really allow that to happen. DJ controllers are what they are and are designed to be one solid DJing unit.

Some DJ controllers allow for DJing with four turntables virtually, either with a 2 or 4 channel mixer which is great for being creative.

CDJs Use CDs or USBs for Music

Most CDJs out there use a CD (for older models at least) or allow USB sticks to be plugged into them to access music.

DJ controllers require a laptop to be connected into where DJ music can be access via the laptop. Either by downloaded music or music streaming integrations with the DJ software, such as Rekordbox.

Price Difference

CDJs have historically been rather expensive in comparison to newer DJing equipment such as DJ Controllers.

CDJs being priced high is likely to do with limited competition in the market and being featured in clubs as the DJ standard of DJing equipment. Min to max range of pricing from my research is currently around £169 to £2,000 per CDJ. So you’ll need to multiply that by two to get your true result, so really the min max range is £338 to £4,000.

DJ Controllers are created in different sizes, variants and functionality which brands are offering at many different price points. £87 to £1,900. This shows the entry point is very low for young or new DJs getting into mixing and blending.

Note: these graphs and the pricing ranges are simply to give a rough comparison of low to high prices. There are always newer DJ equipment being released which is at higher prices and more technological enhancements.

Range of Products is Vastly Different

The range of CDJs isn’t that great for aspiring DJs to choose from, where as choosing from a DJ controller there’s a lot more on offering.

From a price perspective this is great if you’re on a budget and want to keep your costs down to start DJing with a DJ controller and laptop. The lower price points of DJ controllers do have decent quality so there’s not much to worry about there.

CDJs have less on offer in the range of products to choose from, some of the lower end CDJs I feel from experience have a much lesser build quality. In comparison, the lower end range of DJ controllers is much higher in quality of build and product quality.

DJ Controllers Use a Computer to Work

There’s a dependency for DJ controllers to work only when connected to a computer. When I say computer I mean a laptop, smartphone or tablet.

There’s one extra point to consider here, is that there are some newer high spec and highly priced DJ controllers that are classed as “All-In-One” DJ Controllers.

These types of DJ controllers are deemed as ‘Professional‘ grade DJ controllers. There’s DJ software built into the equipment allowing DJs to move away from using a laptop connected to the DJ controller.

Benefits of CDJs

CDJs are Standard in Clubs at This Point in Time

A lot of Clubs and music venues have CDJs set up in their DJ booths, you rarely see record vinyl turntables these days or DJ controllers.

You might see different equipment in DJ booths at live events if the DJ themselves brings the DJ equipment.

If you’re going to get some CDJs then you’ll likely be more confident going into play live gigs with ease. You’ll be much more familiar with the extra functionality etc.

Flexible in DJ Equipment Setup

CDJs allow you to set up as little or many CDJs as you need for the DJ booth.

The great thing about CDJs is that they simply plug into a DJ mixer one by one per channel.

In the past I’ve used this as a benefit to plug in one CDJ into a DJ mixer allowing two other record vinyl turntables to plugged in too.

There’s a degree of flexibility if you’re transitioning over from vinyl or DVS over to CDJs.

With DJ Controllers, there simply needs to be a straight swap from old to new equipment.

Benefits of DJ Controllers

Wide range of DJ Controllers to Choose From

As I mentioned above, the range of DJ controllers is large and is growing every year.

The range I found on one ecommerce store for DJ controllers was around 70 different brands and DJ controller models, whereas CDJs was around 15 products.

Lightweight in Design

Some DJ controllers are really light and easy to travel around with. As they are built into one unit, they are easy to carry too.

With CDJs, you have multiple devices to consider when setting up and transporting around to DJ gigs.

Easy to DJ with Straight Out of the Box

With the simplicity and design / features of DJ controllers, they make it easy for DJs of all levels to put together really great DJ sets.

Some features do vary such as DJ FX options and pads but that doesn’t stop newbies from cracking on and learning the basics of DJing.

As long as you have a computer based device that’s compatible with the DJ controller, you’re all set to DJ straight out of the box.

As mentioned earlier in this article CDJs require other DJ equipment such as DJ mixers to work.

Which is Best – CDJs or DJ Controllers?

If price / budget is your main worry but still have a desire to get into DJing as a hobby or an early test of a career move, I’d highly recommend a DJ controller.

The controls are very similar to those of CDJs, so when and if you decide to DJ on CDJs the difference is not going to be too great.

If you’re in DJing for the long haul then definitely consider CDJs or even XDJs (digital only version, NO CDs) then grab yourself a pair of CDJs. Could be worth saving up for or even putting on finance to get them sooner.

For all my recommended products click here for DJ controllers & click here for CDJ recommendations.

For checking out the newest products coming out, I’ve been quite impressed with Gear4Music and their range of products.

Related Questions

What is the difference between CDJ and controller?

DJ Controllers are all in one built-in with a DJ mixer with two turntable jog wheels to mix music with. CDJs on the other hand are separate turntables that can be connected to separate DJ mixers, meaning that more than two CDJs can be connected to a mixer. DJ controller usually require a computer to work whereas CDJs do not.

Are CDJs hard to use?

CDJs aren’t too hard to use. CDJs have a play and pause button, cueing button, a jog wheel and tempo slider to beat match. Once the basic fundamental buttons are familiar, secondary buttons will be easy to understand too.

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