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The Best Beginner DJ Controllers: A Complete Guide

Terran

9 min read

Mar 10

Buying your first (or next) DJ controller is a big step. For beginner DJs, it’s an investment that shapes your journey. With so many options, it’s tough to decide where to put your money. To save you the hassle, we’ll guide you through finding the perfect match. Covering what to buy, how to choose, and our DJ controller recommendations.


Stacked view of various DJ controllers showing top and rear panels, featuring Denon DJ, Numark, and Pioneer DJ brands, with output and input controls.

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What is the Best DJ Controller to Buy?


Deciding on the best DJ controller in 2024 comes down to what you can afford and what fits with your existing tech. If you don't have a laptop, for example, choosing a controller that relies on software might not be the best route. It's worth noting that many DJ controllers now include free DJ software, so ensure this is part of your package.


How to Choose a DJ Controller


To start, make a list of all the controllers that meet your requirements and fall within your budget. Then, take a look at customer reviews, expert opinions, and check system requirements to find a DJ controller that fits.


Whether you’re a beginner DJ at home or a club DJ playing venues, this approach will help you narrow down the endless options.


How to choose a DJ controller step-by-step graphic. Step 1: determine your needs, Step 2: make a list of options, Step 3: research customer & professional reviews, Step 4: choose one within your budget.

Why Choose a Budget DJ Controller?


Opting for a budget DJ controller is smart when you’re a beginner DJ. It’s common not to know how much time you can dedicate or whether you might switch mixers and software down the line. Investing heavily from the start isn’t always the best move.


A DJ setup isn’t just about the controller. You’ll need quality headphones or speakers, a ¼ inch TRS adapter, reliable USB sticks, and of course, top-notch music. Starting with a budget controller lets you allocate funds to these essentials without breaking the bank.


Things to Consider Before Buying a DJ Controller


Compatibility with DJ Software


Serato and Rekordbox compatible controllers are the industry standard for club venues and events. If you plan your sets in a different software, like Traktor, be aware it won’t transfer your cue points, playlist order, or track information.


Features and Functionality


While all DJ controllers have the same primary functions, the layout of buttons can vary. In a fast-paced live performance setting, relying on muscle memory can make or break a moment. Familiarizing yourself with the layout will help you perform confidently.


Build Quality and Portability


When taking your DJ controller on the road, durability and ease of transport are key. Most controllers aren’t waterproof, and the last thing you want is for your equipment to break in transit. Consider how robust a controller is, especially if you plan on traveling with it.


Expandability


Your aspirations as a DJ, musician, or producer can influence your choice. Some controllers offer better options for future upgrades and integration with additional equipment. Such as drum pads, live instruments, and other MIDI devices. Thinking ahead can save you from needing to purchase a new controller as you evolve.


What is the Best DJ Controller for Beginners?


Choosing the best DJ controller for a beginner comes down to what fits your budget and meets your needs. It's worth mentioning that starting with a Serato style controller will give you a leg up.


Most events use a Pioneer CDJ controller as their house mixer. Choosing a controller that uses the same software and has a similar hardware layout can smooth your transition to live gigs.


Beginner DJ adjusting controls on a DJ mixer at a wedding venue.

What is the Best DJ Controller to Learn On?


Traktor S2 Mk3


For beginner DJs pressing play, the Traktor S2 Mk3 is a perfect learning tool. It keeps things simple with support for only two tracks, focusing on the basics of DJing without feeling overwhelming.


Plus, the Traktor Pro 3 software comes at no extra cost. Compared to Rekordbox or Serato, it's very user-friendly with an appealing aesthetic. Thanks to Native Instruments' intuitive design, primary systems like mixer effects and loop controls can be understood at a glance.


What is the Easiest DJ Controller to Use?


Traktor S4 Mk3


Our top pick for the easiest DJ controller to use is 100% the Traktor S4 Mk3. It builds on the simplicity of the Traktor S2 but offers the ability to play up to 4 tracks at once. This opens up endless possibilities for variation, mashups, clips, and incorporating midi instruments.


You can switch from the A/B tracks to the C/D tracks at the press of a button, and adjust the channel effects in 3 different ways. If you are looking for something less complex than a CDJ, this is your best bet.


Top-down view of a Traktor S4 Mk3 DJ controller featuring dual decks with jog wheels, and a variety of control knobs and performance pads, designed for beginner DJs.

Top 5 DJ Controllers Under $500: Our Picks



Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3


Price: $340

Top-down view of a Traktor S2 Mk3 DJ controller featuring dual decks with jog wheels, and a variety of beginner DJ friendly features.

Key Features:

  • Full Size 2 Deck Controller

  • Plug and Play Functionality

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck to Access Cues, Loops, Fader Cuts, and Samples

  • FX Suite with 40 Beat-Synced Effects

  • Customizable Layout

  • Mobile Device Compatible

Pros

Cons

  • Beginner DJ Features

  • Traktor Pro 3 Software Included

  • Mix Directly from SoundCloud with Traktor DJ

  • Limited to Only Two Channels

  • Not Compatible with Rekordbox or Serato-

Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX4


Price: $300

Top-down view of a Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX4 controller, featuring dual jog wheels, central mixing section with EQ knobs, channel faders, and performance pads.

Key Features:

  • Full Size 2 Deck Controller

  • Compatible with Rekordbox, Serato, and djay Software

  • 8) Performance Pads per Deck

  • Plug and Play Functionality

  • Bluetooth and Mobile Device Compatible

  • Smart Mixing Feature that Automatically Adjusts Volume and BPM

  • Integration with Streaming Services Tidal, Beatport, Beatsource, and SoundCloud

  • Compact Design

Pros

Cons

  • Beginner DJ Features

  • Rekordbox Software Included

  • Mix Directly from Multiple Streaming Services

  • Limited to Two Channels

  • Limited Jog Wheel Adjustability

  • Lack of Dedicated Loop Controls

Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500


Price: $300

Top-down image of a Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500 showcasing its dual-deck layout with touch-sensitive jog wheels, multicolored performance pads, central mixer with EQ controls.

Key Features:

  • DJUCED Software Suggests Tracks from your Music Library (via the Intelligent Music Assistant)

  • Solid Retractable Feet

  • Mobile Device Compatibility

  • Plug and Play Functionality

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

  • Compact Design

Pros

Cons

  • Beginner DJ Features

  • Intelligent Music Assistant

  • Serato DJ Lite Software Included

  • Limited to Two Channels

  • Designed Primarily for DJUCED Software

  • No Mobile Compatibility

Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1


Price: $220-$250

Top-down view of a Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1 controller, showcasing its black and gold design, large jog wheels, performance pads, pitch sliders, and a central mixer section.

Key Features:

  • Compatible with Serato DJ Software

  • Layout Designed to Emulate Battle-Style Turntables

  • Large Jog Wheels for Better Scratching

  • Lever FX System

  • 4 Track Layering Capability

  • Tracking Scratch Pad Mode

  • Mixed Microphone Audio to Add your Voice While Live Streaming

Pros

Cons

  • Livestream-Friendly Features

  • Includes Serato DJ Lite Software

  • Unique Layout Different than Standard Mixers

  • No Mobile Compatibility

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX


Price: $200-280

Top-down view of a Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX DJ controller featuring large jog wheels, performance pads, and a variety of control knobs and faders, with a clear display.

Key Features:

  • 4-Track Layering Capability

  • Large Jog Wheels with Built-In Displays

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

  • Integration with Streaming Services SoundCloud and Tidal

  • Compact Design

Pros

Cons

  • Serato DJ Lite Software Included

  • Jog Wheel Displays

  • No Mobile Compatibility

  • Less Effects and Performance Pad Options

The 5 Best Standalone DJ Controllers (with screen)


Standalone DJ controllers work without a computer. It has its own software and plays music straight from USBs. Most DJ controllers need a laptop and DJ software to work. Standalone units offer an all-in-one DJ toolkit in exchange for an increased price tag.



Denon DJ Prime 4+


Price: $1,800-$2,200

Top-down view of a Denon DJ Prime 4+ standalone DJ system with integrated touch screen display and multi-colored performance pads.

Key Features:

  • Compatible with Serato DJ Software

  • Integrated Lighting Control

  • Standalone Embedded Sampler

  • 4-Deck Layering Capability

  • Large Touch-Screen Display

  • Integration with Amazon Music Unlimited, Beatport, Beatsource, TIDAL, and SoundCloud

  • Zone Output Feature

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

Pros

Cons

  • Zone Output Feature

  • Mix Directly from Multiple Services

  • Extensive Features List

  • Large Investment

  • Heavy Item to Travel With (21.34 LB)

Pioneer DJ OPUS-QUAD


Price: $3,000

Top-down view of a Pioneer DJ OPUS-QUAD controller showcasing its dual jog wheels, central touchscreen, and extensive control knobs and faders

Key Features:

  • Compatible with Rekordbox and Serato Software

  • 4-Deck Layering Capability

  • 10.1-inch Touch Screen

  • Unique Deck Configuration

  • Zone Output Feature

  • 2 Mic Inputs

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

Pros

Cons

  • Zone Output Feature

  • Mobile Device Compatible

  • Large Investment

  • Unique Layout Different than Standard Mixers

Numark Mixstream Pro+


Price: $700

A top-down view of a Numark Mixstream Pro+ DJ controller featuring dual platters, integrated display for waveform visualization, and a variety of performance pads and control knobs.

Key Features:

  • Compatible with Serato DJ Software

  • Engine DJ OS Operating System

  • Built-In Speakers

  • Smart Home Integration

  • 4-Deck Layering Capability

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

  • Integration with Amazon Music Unlimited, TIDAL, Beatport, Beatsource, SoundCloud, and Dropbox

Pros

Cons

  • 7” Touch-Screen Display

  • Flexible Device Compatibility

  • Built-In Speakers have Limitations

Pioneer XDJ-RX3


Price: $1,800-$2,400

Top-down view of a Pioneer XDJ-RX3 DJ controller showcasing its dual decks, integrated screen, and various control knobs and performance pads.

Key Features:

  • 4-Deck Layering Capability

  • Large Jog Wheels with Built-In Displays

  • 2 Mic inputs

  • (8) Performance Pads per Deck

  • Compatible with Rekordbox and Serato DJ Software

Pros

Cons

  • 10.1” Touch-Screen Display

  • Includes Rekordbox Performance Mode

  • No Mobile Compatibility

Denon DJ Prime GO


Price: $1,000

Top-down view of a Denon DJ Prime GO portable DJ controller featuring integrated touchscreen display, dual decks with jog wheels, and a variety of control knobs and performance pads.

Key Features:

  • Engine DJ OS Operating System

  • Rechargeable Battery-Powered

  • Built-in WiFi to Access Streaming Services: Beatport LINK, Beatsource LINK, SoundCloud GO+, and TIDAL

  • 2 Mic inputs

  • Compact Design

Pros

Cons

  • 7” Touch-Screen Display

  • Livestream-Friendly

  • Travel-Friendly

  • Less Effects and Performance Pad Options

What to Expect from an Entry-Level Controller


Beginner DJ controllers are designed to get you mixing without breaking the bank or housing too many features. Plus, most entry-level controllers come with free DJ software.


This means you can start experimenting with music right out of the box!


Build quality and ease of travel are also important. Most starter DJ controllers are built to be durable but light enough to bring to a friends’ house. They might not be waterproof or come with a case, but their functionality is always straightforward. Focusing on the basics of DJing - jog wheels, performance pads, faders, and effects. The simplicity helps you learn DJ skills like beatmatching and transitioning between tracks.


Focused female beginner DJ mixing tracks on a Pioneer CDJ controller at a vibrant outdoor venue, with a small crowd and ocean backdrop.

Don’t expect any advanced features like extensive effects or four-deck mixing. These features are often removed to create a cheaper model or to save space. As you grow, you might want to add more hardware to your setup. Some controllers have options for upgrades or compatibility with additional MIDI devices.


With the popularity of DJing as a job or hobby increasing every year, major brands have developed a variety of options for new users. Entry-level DJ controllers offer a balance between functionality, ease of use, and affordability.


DJ Controller Frequently Asked Questions


Where Do DJs Download Their Music?


DJs often use SoundCloud for free music, mashups, and sample packs. On SoundCloud, artists use download-gates and require a follow or repost to download their song.


Besides that, iTunes, Beatport, and Bandcamp are the most popular music marketplaces.


Since downloading tracks from YouTube leads to poor audio quality, buying WAV or MP3 files from these platforms is ideal.


How to Use a DJ Controller for Beginners


Once you've got your music, you'll need to start learning how to use your new DJ controller.


Start by analyzing tracks in your DJ software. Any new song added to your library will need to go through this process.


The next step is to get familiar with song structure so you know when to press play. For beginner DJs, genres like house, techno, and drum and bass can be helpful. These genres usually have more repetitive patterns, making them easier to mix.


Once you understand how to use your DJ controller, it's time to delve into the basics of DJing. Including (but not limited to) beatmatching by ear, loop controls, and use of audio effects. Combining these skills in your own way will be the bread and butter of your DJ sets.


Vinyl DJing vs Digital DJing


Vinyl DJing, or turntablism, is the father of modern DJing. This involves mixing tracks using physical vinyl records on a turntable. Along with track selection and style, this artform involves a different skill set. Scratching samples, using fades, and beat juggling are all more common in vinyl DJs.


Both vinyl and digital DJing have their charm, choosing between them just depends on your preference and style.


Split image contrasting modern digital DJing with a controller on the left and classic vinyl DJing with a turntable on the right, both in black and white.

Other DJ FAQs


What Does a DJ Controller Do?


A DJ controller is the tool that lets DJs mix music using software and various buttons, knobs, and job wheels. It pulls tracks and playlist details from a DJ's USB, serving as the audio workstation for live performances. Some controllers are standalone, while others paired up with DJ software on a laptop. This gear allows DJs to manipulate music in real-time, allowing every set to be unique.


Why Use a DJ Controller?


If you're passionate about music or have watched a DJ perform live and wondered how they do it - a DJ controller is for you. It's an awesome hobby that's become more accessible than ever. With seemingly endless educational content online, the DJing community is welcoming and supportive. Plus, who knows? You could find some fun adventures or even a career path along the way.


What DJ Software Do Professionals Use?


Professional DJs use Rekordbox as their software of choice. This is because it's designed specifically for Pioneer DJ mixers and controllers. As we mentioned, Pioneer CDJs are the industry standard for live performances.


Before you can use your music on CDJs, you need to analyze and format each track within Rekordbox. Which leads many DJs to use it as their primary software out of convenience.


Why Do DJs Wear Headphones?


DJs wear headphones to cue up the next track in their set without the audience hearing.


During this time, they match the tempo of the upcoming track with the current song. This helps to create seamless transitions between songs, and keep the energy high. For this reason headphones have become an essential tool for professional DJs.


What is the Best DJ Controller for Scratching?


Like buying your first mixer, the best DJ controller for scratching depends on your budget and what features you need. For reference, some of the most popular turntables on the market today are the:


  • Rane Twelve

  • Reloop Elite

  • Pioneer DDJ-Rev 7

  • Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3


All of which were designed with scratching and turntablists in mind. Focusing on emulating the experience of using traditional vinyl records. However, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 was developed in collaboration with DJ Jazzy Jeff. With its unique Pad Scratch feature and large jog wheels, its a standout modern turntable.


What is the Best DJ Controller According to Reddit?


Reddit users have weighed in on the best DJ controllers in many threads. According to Reddit, the best budget DJ controller for beginners is the DDJ-FLX 2-channel mixer.


“It’s the perfect beginner controller for getting familiar with Serato or Rekordbox and all of its features” (u/Wanderlust).


On the other hand, some reddit users claim that the best controller to learn how to DJ in clubs is the Pioneer XDJ-XZ. The primary benefit being that this standalone DJ controller mirrors the club-standard setup.

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