If you are a beginner at DJing, then you probably do not have a controller board yet. If that is the case or you are simply looking for a new controller, here is a simple buying guide that you can follow to find the best DJ controller for you and 7 of the best models that you can get today.
How to choose the best DJ controller
Ease of use
For beginners, a controller (aka control board) with large and/or few buttons are often the easiest, even more so if you have no experience with a control board or DJing at all. More complicated controllers tend to have more buttons that vary in sizes and also have knobs and other special controls.
Some controllers come with software that can be downloaded onto a computer, but others may require that you have or buy the software they need off of the manufacturer's website or through a third party.
For beginners, getting a controller that comes with software physically or through their website can be more convenient than having to search for different software to use. On the other hand, you might find a software that you like better; it may be easier, more efficient, or have more features than the software the controller comes with.
Whatever board you use, make sure that the software you are planning on using it with is compatible with the controller itself and/or your computer.
Larger controllers do mean that you will need a larger working space, but larger boards are usually easier for beginners to use because they can have larger buttons but not always. Some boards are smaller than 1 foot long while others can be longer than 2 feet.
The weight can also be a little important but less when it comes to the quality of the board and more when it comes to moving it around. There are a few boards that are under a pound, but most boards are usually a few pounds. Although, there are some that can weigh up to 10 pounds or more, and these can be a little big and awkward to move around and take to events you may be playing at.
Most controllers use USB cables so that they can be directly plugged into a laptop or desktop, but there are a few models that may need an adapter to be plugged into a computer. Nowadays, these are a little less common since controllers are being designed to be more simple and accommodating.
What you are using it with
Nearly all controllers do not use batteries or power cables; like a keyboard, they are powered through the connection to the laptop. There are a few that are designed to be used with Bluetooth so you can use them with your phone, however.
Regardless, whatever you plan to use with the controller, make sure it, or the controller, is fully charged and you either have a battery bank that can last for the whole event or you have a power cable and possibly an extension cord in case you will not be set up near an outlet.
What are the advantages of one?
Controllers allow you to be more original and custom when it comes to playing songs at a party, music festival, or other events where DJs play. They can be as simple as changing a certain tone in a small section of a song or completing remixing a song live.
Things to look for that differentiate them.
Besides the features we have already mentioned, the biggest feature you can look at is the design of the control board. Some have color-coded keys to help you instantly recognize which keys are which while others are more obvious and used LED lights to highlight the keys and/or the names on or around them.
What is the best way to use one?
Make sure they are properly cleaned before and after each use, even more so if you are playing outside or in a semi musty area for an event. A simple rag that is slightly damp to dry should be good enough for keeping any dirt or dust off.
If you do need to do a thorough cleaning, you may want to have a professional take it apart to clean it, but if you would rather do it yourself, make sure it is unplugged/off first. Then, use cotton swabs to gently clean the crevasses and tight corners before wiping the majority of the shell gently with a clean rag.
Expensive vs affordable.
If you are on a budget and are new to the DJing game, you may want to start off with a more affordable model. However, the expensive models can be more useful if you have experience and want more of a challenge or a wider range of control. It also depends on how long you are planning to DJ for and how professional you want to appear and move.
Prerequisites for using them.
Without a laptop and/or phone, there is no way to use a controller, and you have to have a powerful enough laptop or phone to be able to run the software with the controller, too. Even if the computer or phone has the bare minimum requirements to run the software, it may not be enough for the sound quality or response to be good enough for a live performance at an event.
Top 7 DJ controllers
This controller has one of the simplest designs out there, and that is mostly because there are a little over a dozen different controls. Nearly all of them are also either colored, backlit, and/or have markings, which are sometimes necessary for young or new learners.
Because it is one of the most affordable boards and is great for beginners, it is out of stock every now and then, but it seems to get back in stock on a regular basis, which is good news if you plan to buy it as a birthday or holiday gift.
In terms of the specs, it is longer than most of the other beginner-grade models, being nearly 1.5-foot long, but it is also a bit thinner than most, being about 3.5 feet wide.
It does come with the full version of the Serato DJ software, too. The software itself can be hit or miss based on what you prefer, but the most convenient feature would have to be that it connects through a USB port and is small enough to fit in a laptop bag with your computer, meaning you will not have to buy a separate bag or case for it.
Performance-wise, the only major downside is that it does not have more features, meaning it may not be the best for professionals beyond being a back-up board in case something happens to your main board.
It is also available in the newer version as well as the older version.
This controller may seem a little more intimidating to a beginner since it has over double the amount of controls as the previous model. However, like the last model, this one has markings, is color-coded, and has LED lights to help distinguish the different controls.
It does weigh a little more than the last model, a little over 4.5 pounds, and while it is still considered to be light, the extra weight and smaller rubber feet on the bottom does make the board slide if it is on an incline. This means you will probably not be able to keep the board on a laptop or other equipment where it will not be flat.
This is also a little easier for beginners to use since it is larger than the last model, being 19 inches long and over 10.5 inches wide. It can also come with a special polishing cloth that is better for the board's material.
The one major downside is that this is one of the more expensive models, and it may be out of budget for some or most beginners. However, it is a little more advanced than the last board but is still pretty simple, making it one of the better boards for experienced users who are looking to get better or even become professional.
This is another model that is from Pioneer, which is a pretty popular brand, but it is a little more advanced than the last model, possibly since it had more controls. Also, it has nearly identical dimensions to the last model.
The layout is pretty similar with a few differences when it comes to the extra controls, making it good for experienced to professional users, but the color-coded, marked, and LED controls make it a bit simpler for beginners, too.
Unlike the other boards, this board has a headphone and microphone jack which does make it a bit more suited for parties and events if you like to listen and add your own voice to the song, whether talking or singing. It also connects through a USB port, too.
The controller is great at preventing distortion, but it is a little less reliable than the previous model due to the fact that the headphone and microphone jacks can suddenly give out without warning, making it a little awkward at a party or event. However, depending on the software, this one comes with Rekordbox, you might be able to plug them directly into your computer instead.
Like the last model, because this one is one of the more expensive options, it may not be the best for a beginner to use unless they are planning on not upgrading for several years.
This model is a little more simplistic than the last 2, looking very similar to the first board, but this one has a few more controls and does not use as vibrant colors with the markings and LEDs.
Like the first one on this list, this comes with the Serato DJing software and connects through a USB port. The biggest thing that sets it apart would have to be the size because this is one of the largest boards while the first was one of the smallest. This board is nearly 2 feet long and 10 inches wide, which can be nice for beginners, but maybe a little too big for events depending on how much space you have to work with. Like the last model, this also has microphone and headphone jacks, too.
When it comes to the controls, they are one of the best in terms of response time, and the sound quality is hardly distorted if at all. However, every now and then one or two of the knobs does seem to delay randomly, which can be a little inconvenient at events.
Overall, between the price, the controls, and the quality, it is probably more suited toward experienced users or professionals who need a decent backup board, but it can be good for a beginner to use to get better.
This is possibly the most expensive board both on and off this list, and is also one of the more advanced boards, too. Unlike some of the easier controllers, this one has a pretty even number of knobs and buttons, and since most beginners seem to have trouble with getting used to knobs, this is more suited towards experienced users and/or professionals.
Unlike some of the other controllers that come with the Serato DJing software, this only comes with the base/introduction of the software. However, this one does seem to have very little flaws when it comes to performance and reliability.
The only major downside is that it is a little less durable than some of the other models, meaning you will probably have to find a case if you plan on traveling and performing with it, but the cases are often out of stock if you manage to find one.
This does have a mic and headphone jack, and it does connect through USB. Although, this model does rely on a power adaptor along with a USB port, meaning you will have to have access to a power outlet while you play. The size is about average, being around 20 inches long and 12.25 inches wide. One of the more professional qualities this controller has is that the sound from the mic can be altered as well, too.
This is another one of the more affordable and beginner-friendly controllers. Like the last model, this one comes with the base of the Serato DJing software, uses a USB connection, and has a headphone jack.
Because this is a pocket model, the size is similar to the first model since it is a little over a foot long and nearly 4 inches wide, making it great for on-the-go use and unplanned events. On the other hand, users with large hands or fingers might find it a little more difficult with the limited space to turn knobs or push buttons.
Although, the features are a little minimal when it comes to using it professionally, meaning it is probably more suited for beginners and possibly experienced users as a backup controller. The colored markings and LED backlights also make it a bit easier for new users, too. Speaking of LED lights, this model is a little more stylish since the bottom has special RGB lighting that can be solid or strobe, and they can be controlled on the board itself, too.
The controls are pretty responsive, and they do not distort the audio too much, but it can happen with certain songs depending on the settings and functions you are using.
Another controller from Pioneer, this is one of the few controllers that can connect to a phone through Bluetooth, but this is just to connect the controller and not the audio itself; you would need an AUX cord and speaker to play the music louder than your phone would allow. Although, you will a power chord with this model.
When it comes to the software, WeDJ is used for androids and/or iPhones, Djay is used for iPhones and/or iPads, and Rekordbox is used for computers; Edjing Mix can also be used with androids, iPhones, and iPads. The sound quality is pretty decent for being an average price. The size is just as average, and it is about 17.5 inches long and 11.5 inches wide.
It may not have enough controls to be considered a professional model, but it is simple enough for beginners to learn between the marked and color-coded controls and is advanced enough for experienced users to have a little more freedom and features to use.
The response time with the controls is pretty good, too, making it a higher-quality option for a backup controller to use if you perform at a party or less professional event.
When it comes to which is the best DJ controller, we picked 2 different boards: the best for a beginner and the best for a professional. We chose them based on their response time, the number of controls, if they come with software, and what they can connect to.
For a beginner, the best controller would probably be the last model: the Pioneer DJ Smart Controller (DDJ-200). It is more reliable than some of the other models, has little to no flaws other than needing a power cable, and can connect with several different devices, all with free software or software with free trials. It is a little less popular than some of the other models, but its price is pretty average.
For a professional, the best controller would probably be the Denon DJ MC4000 | Premium 2-Channel Controller for the sheet fact that it is one of the most capable and reliable boards on this list. True, it is one of the most expensive choices out there, but if you are planning on becoming a professional or you are looking for an upgrade to a board that may be similar to the last model, this is possibly one of your best options since it has one of the longest lifespans and is the least glitchy.