Modern DJ controllers are quality electronic devices that help you transform the music you love into a performance for listeners that reflects your signature style and skill. Ever since Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph in 1877 made it possible for people to listen to the same performance repeatedly all over the world, audiophiles have sought ways to transition between tunes in an artful fashion. With the latest audio technology that compresses music into great-sounding compact digital files, DJ controllers can do everything from live mixing to simulating vinyl scratching with a device small enough to fit in your backpack.
There’s a lot to know about these complex devices, and we’re here to break down the key features from top brands and models to help you find a great match for your style. Whether you’re putting together a quick setup in the living room of your friend’s house or hooking up analog turntables at a club to spin vinyl, there’s a controller that makes your set look effortless. Here are our suggestions for the best DJ controllers for a range of budgets and skill levels.
— Best Overall: Denon DJ Prime GO
— Best for Beginners: Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200
— Best Budget for iIOS and Android: Pioneer DJ DDJ-200
— Best for Serato Integration: Rane One
— Best for Traktor Integration: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
How We Picked the Best DJ Controllers
In addition to my experience as a professional musician who relies on top-quality audio gear, I considered DJ controller reviews from both consumers and audio experts to compile my picks.
Brand: I focused on brands that can be found at specialty audio retailers in addition to more mainstream outlets. For beginner and intermediate picks, I selected less expensive models from top brands rather than choosing lesser-known brands. This helps ensure that newer DJs can upgrade their equipment within a brand they’re familiar with rather than starting over with new gear from a cheap DJ controller that’s more a toy than an instrument.
Portability: While some DJs may have a rig that takes time to assemble and a lot of space to store (such as a DJ who uses analog turntables and LPs), many DJs want equipment that’s easy to travel with to parties or shows. In addition to detailing the weight and bulkiness of my picks, I selected controllers suitable for a range of venues, from living rooms to stages.
Price: Full DJ setups can be expensive if you’re looking at buying a set of speakers, pro DJ software, the best DJ headphones, and more in addition to a DJ controller. If you envision a total setup that looks pretty close to what you might see in a DJ booth, you’ll want to invest in a controller that gives you a multitude of options (especially if you want to include real turntables). My picks considered price in order to offer ideas for beginners to pros with low to midrange budgets, and I prioritized brand quality over simply looking for the most affordable option.
Best DJ Controllers: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Denon DJ Prime GO
Why It Made The Cut: The all-in-one Denon DJ Prime GO is a professional DJ controller with the capacity to stream or store music files without a laptop to make setup and travel between gigs quick and easy.
— Dimensions: 16.2 inches long x 10.8 inches wide x 2.1 inches high
— Weight: 8.11 pounds
— Number of Channels: 2
— Stand-alone unit with rechargeable battery
— Wireless capability
— 7-inch touch screen
— Only 2 channels
— Only 1 auxiliary input
Denon DJ is a subsidiary of inMusic, whose portfolio of audio technology brands also includes Akai Professional and Numark. The Denon DJ Prime GO is one of the best stand-alone systems on the market, is small enough to fit into a backpack, and has many thoughtful touches that set it apart from its competitors.
First of all, as a stand-alone system, with this controller you don’t need to take a laptop to the gig. Instead, you can stream music directly from the device using the touch screen (which also supports gestures) or use an SD card to upload your tracks. Worried about connectivity? Don’t be. The device actually has an Ethernet port if you want to be hardwired to a venue’s internet. In addition to streaming from TIDAL, Beatport Link, Beatsource Link, or SoundCloud, the controller works with tracks stored in your Dropbox account.
The rechargeable battery (and power adaptor backup) can last a few hours, so DJs can get through a short set without having one more cord to connect. You can even plug in your headphones and work on your mixes from a café or on a flight to the next show.
With both master and booth outputs and two dedicated mic channels, this controller is meant for a well-rounded performance. Pros may also prefer the touch-sensitive capacitive jog wheels on this model to pressure-sensitive mechanical jog wheels. With Denon’s Engine DJ software for desktop, you can sync and import tracks for your mix from Serato DJ, Traktor, Rekordbox, and Apple Music.
Best for Beginners: Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200
Why It Made The Cut: For beginning DJs eager for guidance, the Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200 is a mini DJ controller with all the hardware, software, and educational tools to get you started.
— Dimensions: 12.59 inches long x 7.66 inches wide x 1.77 inches high
— Weight: 2.87 pounds
— Number of Channels: 2
— Built-in audio interface
— DJ Academy videos
— Light guides to help you match beats
— Easy to outgrow
— USB cable not replaceable
Unlike many audio brands that manufacture a wide variety of sound equipment, Hercules specializes in the gear DJs need to produce great sets, especially when you’re just starting out. The Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200 is a controller perfect for music lovers who know what they love but don’t have the musical training to easily figure out track rhythms to create seamless transitions. It’s also our best budget pick for new DJs who aren’t interested in streaming.
This compact beginner DJ controller fits in a backpack and has a built-in audio interface so you can connect it to speakers directly. Hercules also makes its own software called DJuced, which is included along with online tutorials covering essential DJing skills and walking you through the layout and capabilities of the Inpulse 200. DJs who know they want to eventually use Serato, Traktor, or other pro DJ software will find this controller limited. However, if you’re interested in DJing as a casual hobby, this is an excellent learning tool at a very attractive price point.
The standout feature of this controller is without question Beat Align, which teaches you how to manually beat match two tracks using indicator lights that let you know if your movements on the jog wheel are too fast or too slow. While it’s true that modern DJ controllers can sync multiple beats automatically at the press of a button, the ability to manually match beats helps DJs get to know genres and individual tracks on a whole other level.
Best Budget for iOS and Android: Pioneer DJ DDJ-200
Why It Made The Cut: This small DJ controller is Bluetooth enabled, allowing DJs to stream music from a smartphone, tablet, or laptop as they mix their favorite tracks.
— Dimensions: 14.88 inches long x 8.19 inches wide x 1.9 inches high
— Weight: 2.65 pounds
— Number of Channels: 2
— Stream from your smartphone
— Transition FX (effects)
— Extremely portable
— No audio outputs
— Transition FX limited to WeDJ for iPhone
If you’d like to stream music from Beatport, SoundCloud Go+, and TIDAL instead of relying on USB drives, LPs, or a laptop library for your mixes, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-200 is another small DJ controller that makes it possible. When you outgrow this controller, you can stay within the Pioneer ecosystem all the way into top pro-level controllers with hookups for real turntables.
The biggest drawback of this controller is that users are limited to streaming as the only way to access their tracks. There is no separate audio output from the controller to connect directly to a sound library. There is a USB cable connector, but that is to power the device itself (i.e., you can use your laptop to power it via the USB bus) and you’ll still have to rely on Bluetooth to stream your tracks.
For audiophiles, the possibility of interrupted connectivity and latency with Bluetooth may make this controller a nonstarter. Beginners who want a setup that’s incredibly light and portable may love it, especially if they plan to use a tablet or mobile device.
Depending on the device you are using to stream, this unit comes with different software that syncs with the controller. For example, laptop users can use Pioneer’s Rekordbox DJ software. Smartphone users on iPhone or Android can download the WeDJ app, but it’s important to note that there are more features available in the app for iPhone users.
To amplify your mixes via smartphone, you can use the included splitter cable to connect headphones and speakers (iPhone users will also need an Apple Lightning to USB Camera adapter). If you’re planning an intimate gathering and a mellow set, you can even rely on your smartphone’s speakers to set the mood.
Best for Serato Integration: Rane One
Why It Made The Cut: The Rane One’s acrylic disks and motorized jog wheels make this pro-level and mid range DJ controller an excellent choice for fans of old-school record scratching.
— Dimensions: 26.5 inches long x 13.6 inches wide x 4.9 inches high
— Weight: 23.55 pounds
— Number of Channels: 2
— Comes with download of Serato DJ Pro
— Acrylic disks for an authentic turntable feel
— 24-bit/48 kHz built-in audio interface
— Only 2 channels
— Not lightweight
For those new to DJ software, Serato DJ Pro is a top-rated and highly popular software with an artist roster that includes Questlove, DJ Kittens, and icon DJ Jazzy Jeff. Their relationship with audio hardware maker Rane dates back to a 2004 partnership on the legacy Scratch Live vinyl emulation software. In addition to being one of the top DJ controllers on the market, the Rane One is designed especially for Serato DJ Pro, and the software is included with purchase.
Unlike controllers with cheaply made jog wheels, the platters on the Rane One are motorized, which means they rotate just like an analog record on a turntable. Instead of plastic, the platters are made from die-cast aluminum, and the disks you can use to simulate scratching on vinyl are made from acrylic and have a grippy surface for fine-tuning your moves. If you fall in love with scratching and want to try your hand at real LPs, this controller has two line outputs and can connect to an analog turntable.
While beginners will likely need some time to grow into the many features of this comprehensive controller, pro DJs will definitely like customization options like adjustable torque for the platters and a crossfader that can be fine-tuned for the feel you prefer. Club DJs will also appreciate that there are two USB connectors for laptops, so you can change up DJs after a set without missing a beat.
Best for Traktor Integration: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
Why It Made The Cut: The Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3 gives DJs exceptional options for creativity with four individually mixable channels, and comes with Native Instruments’ signature DJ software.
— Dimensions: 21.34 inches long x 13.35 inches wide x 2.38 inches high
— Weight: 9.5 pounds
— Number of Channels: 4
— Motorized touch-sensitive jog wheels
— RGB LED visual feedback
— High-resolution displays
— Doesn’t support streaming
— Requires a laptop
Native Instruments makes some of the best hardware and software on the market, from MIDI keyboard controllers to incredible effects and sampled sounds with nuances akin to their real instrument counterparts. The Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3 is suitable for pro DJs at an attractive price point, and comes with Traktor Pro 3 software to work smoothly as a unit.
One of the best features of this controller is Native Instruments’ patented Haptic Drive. This feature offers haptic feedback from the two motorized jog wheels in three different modes, including Turntable mode for scratching and nudging the wheels just like you would an actual LP. You’ll also be able to feel loops and cue points in your track via a click that’s generated when you use the wheel to scroll past them.
Along with haptic feedback, DJs will appreciate visual feedback from small displays on each deck. Since there are two jog wheels but four channels to keep track of, the device also uses bright LED color-coding so you always know what you’re working with.
While Digital Vinyl Systems (DVS) are not for everyone, the Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3 comes with DVS support. This means you can hook up a turntable with a special time-coded record (without music on it) to scratch on that syncs with songs from your Traktor library. Think of it as having a master vinyl scratch palette that doesn’t require lugging your record collection to the gig.
Things to Consider Before Buying a DJ Controller
Here are a few key features to think about as you narrow your search for the best DJ controller.
Even if you’re new to DJing and don’t have a real feel for your style, you may find certain layouts more appealing than others. Take a close look at product photos to see where features like jog wheels, scratch pads, touch bars, and FX (effects) pads are located on the equipment. When you envision yourself using the gear, what knobs, dials, and pads will you use the most? While all DJ controllers are designed to put everything you need within comfortable reach, having the features you use the most in a convenient place will help you navigate fast transitions and keep the focus on the music. You’ll see some controllers advertised as “standard club layout,” but whatever makes you the most comfortable is fine to use.
As you have probably noticed from DJ controller reviews, there is a lot of DJ software on the market to choose from, including Serato, Traktor, and Rekordbox. If you have a strong software preference ahead of time, choosing a DJ controller designed to prioritize that software will give you the smoothest possible experience. Many controllers will come with a free software trial period or download as well. If you’d like to use the popular digital audio workstation Ableton Live to DJ, you can use a DJ controller instead of a standard MIDI controller — as long as it has MIDI outputs for mapping knobs and jog wheels to your Ableton setup.
External Gear and Power
Something else to think about when buying a DJ controller is the type of inputs and outputs it has to support external equipment. For example, will it work with more than one analog turntable? Does it have more than one USB port if you plan on storing your music on a drive rather than connecting the controller to a laptop? Are you planning to connect speakers through an audio interface or use a microphone to speak to your audience? Don’t forget to consider whether the device can be plugged in and run by itself, has a rechargeable battery for portability, or is bus-powered and requires a USB hookup to your computer.
Q: What are DJ controllers used for?
DJ controllers are used to crossfade audio tracks (usually on two to four channels) as part of a playlist, mix tracks using EQ and other audio parameters for an even sound across your set, and add effects from reverb to loops to scratching. The various jog wheels, knobs, dials, touch screens, and pads sync with the DJ software you are using for your tracks and can often be mapped to your preferred parameters.
Q: How much do DJ controllers cost?
Good DJ controllers cost anywhere from around a hundred bucks to thousands of dollars. Lower-priced gear usually has just two channels for your tracks and fewer features. The highest-priced gear usually has four channels and may include features like a console with an LCD screen, connections that support analog turntables, a built-in audio interface, and more options for mixing and effects. The best DJ controllers aren’t necessarily the most expensive — it really depends on your style and skill level.
Q: Do I need a laptop for a DJ controller?
You don’t need a laptop to use some DJ controllers. However, if you are planning to DJ without a laptop, take a careful look at each model’s specifications to make sure it’s compatible with what you want to do (such as DJ with real turntables, sync with a mobile device or tablet, or use a USB drive or SD card to store your music). Stand-alone DJ controllers are the best option for DJs looking to store music on their device and leave the laptop at home.
Q: How do I set up my DJ controller?
Setting up your DJ controller will depend on the individual model and your personal style. If you’re using a controller with MIDI output and Ableton Live as your DJ software, you’ll need to map the controls to the parameters you want to control within Ableton. To connect speakers, you can do it directly if your controller has a built-in audio interface; otherwise you may have to purchase a separate audio interface. Online video tutorials are a great way to see your controller in action in a way that goes beyond the instruction manual, and some controllers come with DJ software designed to help beginners use their new equipment to make a great mix.
Q: How do I clean my DJ controller?
Cleaning your DJ controller should never be done without first consulting the instruction manual for brand-specific recommendations to avoid damaging delicate parts. Common methods include wiping equipment with microfiber cloths or brushes to remove dust, and cleaning parts like jog wheels with isopropyl alcohol. You should also consider purchasing a cover for your controller to protect against dust and dirt — and at the very least to minimize damage from a spilled drink from party guests.
Final Thoughts on the Best DJ Controllers
With the right controller, you’ll be dancing in the DJ booth as you fire off hot cues, master effects-laden transitions, and scratch your way through a happening playlist for an excited audience. We chose the Denon DJ Prime GO as our overall top pick for its portability, versatility, and simulated vinyl feel. However, depending on your skill level, equipment needs, and where you’ll be DJing, one of our other picks may be the best fit for you.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.