If you’re in the market for a DJ controller and are new to DJing then you’re in the right place. Buying DJing equipment can feel fairly overwhelming and confusing at times as to which type of equipment to purchase.
How To Choose a DJ Controller
- Test: Try before you buy
- Brand: Review different brands and models to suit your needs
- Price/Budget: More expensive doesn’t always mean better
- Deals: Hunt for deals and DJ Controller packages
- Skills: Don’t let your skill get in the way of your decision
In this guide I’ve put together the top key factors to take into consideration when shopping around for your first DJ controller. If you’re upgrading to a better DJ controller then there are some great points to take on board too when looking for a new DJ controller.
Try Before you Buy
The research phase can be long but fun at the same time. Hopefully this article gives you some of my well invested time and energy in researching what DJ controller to get hold of.
Step one, do some research online in Google and YouTube to see which are popular DJ controllers. See which brands and models might seem appealing to you.
Step two, go to a music shop near where you live and try out the DJ controllers you feel you feel are on your purchase hit list.
Step three, get advice and feedback from the shop assistants, usually they can give you some tips on what the pro’s and con’s are of each model. As an extra addition to this research part, find out online what other DJs are recommending as good DJ controllers and the benefits of them are too.
Final step is to figure out what you felt best suited you as a DJ. You might be a beginner so a high end advanced model with 4-channels and a million buttons might be off putting. So a basic DJ controller under £200 might be more up your street.
TIP: What you might find out from testing multiple DJ controllers is that you might not like the layout of certain controllers, for example the ‘Pitch Shift’ is sometimes located at the top of the controllers vs at the bottom of the controller.
TIP: Test out the controls and see if you can get on with them. The DDJ-400 is the DJ controller I own, but the only niggle / improvement Pioneer could make is to turn up the max volume threshold slightly as it is a bit low.
Brands & Models
The main brands that are on the market so far are:
- Native Instruments
Different brands offer different levels of quality of the build and components of the products themselves.
For example, Pioneer offer a range that features basic models through to advanced with many different features and settings of offer.
A sample of the models within Pioneer’s range include, from basic to more advanced:
Companies like Roland, Pioneer and Native Instruments have been in the music business for a very long time. These brands have the most products available which gives me a lot of confidence knowing how successful and many products they have on offer are more than likely going to be high quality.
Companies like Denon, NuMark, Hercules and Reloop aren’t (in my opinion) as popular brands and my perception of them as brands aren’t necessarily spot on with quality.
But that could be purely down to a marketing a perception aspect. These are however low in price for certain models of DJ controller that they all offer.
If you are purely aiming to be a hobby DJ and just want to mix and blend music tracks for fun periodically throughout the year, you can pick up a low end ‘budget’ controller for under £100, easily!
Buying a traditional setup can cost a lot of money, potentially in and around £1,000 to £3,000 easily. This is for a club setup such as a pair of CDJs, mixer and pre-amp speakers.
This is why DJ controllers are such a great addition to the world of DJing. Here are some of the benefits in terms of value:
- Great features and functionality.
- Lightweight to travel around with.
- Easily connects to equipment.
- Low in price.
It’s not always worth stepping up to invest in a fully fledged club setup, if you have the money then I’m not stopping you. The value that you get for what is packed into a DJ controller is remarkable.
If you’re a DJ first starting out getting into mixing music, then a DJ controller is for the you. Spending it on a full club setup and then realising that you don’t want to do DJing in the long term is a waste of money.
Hunt for Deals (Free extras & packages)
Freebies & offers
Make sure you search for offers and deals. Black Friday is a great time of year to search for a deal and so is the January sale. Other companies do have sales throughout the year so keep an eye out for those – consider joining company mailing lists to get the latest updates.
When I purchased my Pioneer DDJ-400 I was pleased to say that I got a good deal in Black Friday because there was a free hard-back carry case. The price was the same for the DJ controller but the extra bag sealed the deal for me, the bag was worth around £30-£40, so not a bad saving.
Now I can keep my DJ controller save in the house and when I’m travelling to gigs, plus when I’ve got it stored the DJ controller does not get super dusty and require me to clean it. I’m not a fan of cleaning 🙂
All-In-One Package Deals
Recently I’ve been looking at the prices and deals on offer for DJ controllers. What I’ve noticed is that now you can pick up some great deals where companies are offering all-in-one package deals. For example, DJ controller, laptop stand, speakers, DJ case and DJ software.
Well worth a scout for a good deal, you won’t have to do much separate shopping around either. Best deal I’ve seen is only about £140 more than the standard DJ controller itself, so not bad really.
New product launches
There are new product launches over the course a year, if there’s an updated version of a DJ controller sometimes that’s a good time to get hold of a deal for the “out-dated” version of the DJ controller. You can gain some cost savings if you’ve got a keen eye for a deal.
Your skill level does play a part in which DJ controller you look to acquire. Truth be told once you know the basics of DJing you can apply your skills to any DJ controller.
Various controllers have different “extra” controls and performance pad features that some don’t have. Some of those extra features include:
So that will literally be the difference in terms of knowledge and skills that you will require to achieve.
Here’s a list of the different effects and performance pads that are on offer just to give you a flavour.
- Beat slicing
- FX: Echo, delay, reverb, panning etc
DJ Controller Tips & Considerations
Music connections are fantastic when it comes to the DJ software controllers are integrated with.
Soundcloud, iTunes, Beatport and more are available to be connected to the DJ controller you are using. Such an amazing feature can support you getting hold of music from multiple places at the click of a button.
Tip: do factor in mind that subscribing to a lot of streaming services and record pools can add up in cost per month, so gain a mixture of music sources to lower your costs.
Features & Functionality
Basic DJ controllers don’t always offer as many extra performance enhancing aspects as the higher end controllers. The foundational aspects are still smashing for beginner DJs though.
Some great basic features of DJ controllers, especially budget features (which appear on most DJ controllers).
- Cue point setting
- Cue point searching
- Quantise beat mapping
- Jog wheel dimples
- Pitch shift
- Hot cues
- Beat looping / jump
TIP: Mid-range DJ controllers offer very similar features and functionality to CDJs. So DJ controllers are a great way to transition from DJing with a controller to CDJs.
2 channel vs 4 channel
If you’re starting out then there’s certainly not an urgency to go ahead and buy a 4 channel DJ controller. If you’ve got an actual use in mind for example connecting extra external turntables then fair play. You just don’t need to pay the extra money if you’re only starting out as a beginner DJ.
Music Library Integrations with the DJ software
If you are not aware then DJ software allows you to integrate with music providers to either download, stream and access music.
Some of the top providers are streaming services, record pools or simply music purchase websites. Some music brands include:
The major benefit is that if you love your music and you don’t like downloading loads of music, streaming is the answer for you. I didn’t actually realise how many companies offer streaming integrations with DJ software until I started to research more.
TIP: check out the DDJ-200 integrations here.
In the past I’ve been more of a purchase, download and play music kinda guy. Now I think I’m moving more to streaming due to how much value and music is available.
If you already have a big list of tracks downloaded via iTunes for example, then you can certainly link to iTunes to access that music.
TIP: remember to always back up your music with a second USB pen or online with iCloud, DropBox or Google Drive.
Still not convinced? Going off the idea of Buying DJ Controller?
Don’t be put off! DJ controllers are ridiculously cheap in comparison to traditional counterparts for DJing with.
They are simplistic in design, easy to setup and connect to a laptop to start DJing with straight away. Providing you have a few MP3 or WAV files, you can get DJing within a matter of 15 minutes.
You technically don’t even need to buy speakers, if you are lucky enough to own a decent laptop with a specification that’s mid to high performance, then you’re in luck. DJ software which allows you to connect and play music using a controller also allows you to select the laptop speakers for audio out when DJing.
The other cheap aspect as side note is that if you want some bass frequencies that your laptop does not provide, then you could wire in some cheap speakers (not bluetooth) into the laptop. That will help you get the party started with a low end budget for sure.
Which is better RekordBox or Serato?
Rekordbox and Serato are very similar in how they both support DJs select music, curate music into library DJ set folders and move tracks onto each turntable. Where Rekordbox can be slightly different is the extra functionality that it offers to DJs such as ‘suggested’ tracks to pick next when you are DJing. Serato can be more simplistic for DJs to focus on DJing, whereas Rekordbox has some more advanced features helping DJs.
Can you DJ with just a laptop?
It is possible to DJ with just a laptop and DJ software. It’s not the best solution however as the control over the tracks being cued up and mixed together are controlled using just the laptop controls.
What’s the difference between a DJ mixer and a controller?
The difference between a mixer and DJ controller is that a mixer is standalone, whereas a DJ controller is an all-in-one solution and has a mixer with a turntable either side of the mixer. A DJ controller can easily be connected to a laptop with DJ software, whereas a mixer requires external turntables and further equipment in order to work.