01 December 2017

We take a look at the best controllers for digital DJs.

We’ve looked at the best budget turntables for DJs, but not every DJ can lug around enough records to piece together a decent set—and some prefer DJing the digital way regardless.

DJ controllers emerged shortly after CDJs, and they work in a similar way. Often featuring controls for mixing, scratching, sampling and tweaking sounds, all you need to do to start turning your mp3 music library into best DJ setlists is plug a DJ controller into your laptop.

For everyone who wants to do this, here are the best DJ controllers on the market today and some tips on choosing one to buy.

How to choose a DJ controller

Before you choose from any of the controllers on this list, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

Firstly, there’s the software. There are several DJ software programs you can use, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Weighing up the pros and cons of each is a job for another article. All you need to know for now is which software you are using, and whether or not it is compatible with the DJ controller you are thinking of buying.

Since most controllers have MIDI output, they should all work with whichever software you use. There are some controllers which are tailor made for certain programs, meaning they work particularly well together, so you may want to bear this in mind when you make your decision.

Aside from software, the only thing you need to think about is what kind of DJ controller will suit your style. Do you focus on scratching and turntable pyrotechnics like Skratch Bastid? If so, you want a controller that accurately emulates a turntable disc. Do you want to create sounds as squelchy and acidic as DJ Pierre’s? In that case you need a controller with several EQ knobs and FX controls.

Different DJ controllers will be optimised for different aspects of DJing, so make sure you know what you want from a controller before you start looking for them. When you’re ready, read on!

1. Pioneer DDJ-SB2


Pioneer is the manufacturer behind the CDJ, so it’s no wonder they dominate the DDJ market too. The SB2 is one of the more affordable big brand DJ controllers, with a price point of around £200.

SB2s have the slick appearance you can expect from Pioneer gear, and tense jog wheels with the professional and familiar feel of their CDJ cousins. If scratching is your top priority, this is the DDJ for you.

The controller normally comes bundled with Serato DJ Intro.

2. Allen & Heath Xone 4D


The Xone 4D is one for the pros. The average price of £1,500 may send some running for the hills, but those willing to invest this kind of money in a DJ controller will be rewarded with one of the most versatile machines available.

The Xone 4D’s focus is less on responsive scratching, and more on the fiddly aspects of mixing and tonality. With analogue filters, ten inputs and outputs, and a step sequencer, the Xone 4D combines the best of analogue DJ tools with the precision of computer DJ technology. The buttons and faders even light up to indicate sound levels.

3. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S5


Designed to be used with Native Instruments’ Traktor software, specifically the new Stems version, the Kontrol S5 eschews jog wheels for more knobs, faders, pads, and a small LCD display. The Stems software makes it easier than ever for DJs to play individual elements of a track, leading to some truly unique mixes and sets.

For DJs who want to fully take advantage of the potential of digital software, this Traktor controller could be the perfect choice. Its £629 price point places it about midway between the previous two offerings on this list, ideal for the serious DJ looking to take tracks apart and put them back together in the booth.

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