September 2016 update! Now contains the latest and greatest recommendations, much cleaner styling, and an updated audio version!
In the past few years, the market has exploded with a plethora of great choices for the DJ searching for a dedicated, all-in-one controller. This article is meant to help you find the best DJ controller for your needs.
For those who prefer to listen instead of read, here’s the audio version of this guide:
Discover The Best DJ Controller For You
Below are a series of “top lists”, which contain information on the top DJ controllers.
The lists are in no order, and the choices are based on a number of criteria and various sources. My personal experience, Amazon ratings, external reviews, and pure fact comparison all played a role in deciding which controllers to include.
Below each listing, you will see the original advertised price, as specified by the manufacturer. However, click View Current Price to see what retailers actually sell the controller for (typically, way cheaper).
So, don’t skip a controller based on its price, without checking the street price first!
I’ve also added an introductory video for each controller, so that you can get an idea of how it works by watching it in action. Click on any of the pictures for a close-up view.
A Note About Software…
Part of your decision is going to be based on the DJ software you prefer to use. If this is your first time DJing digitally, you may not be sure which you prefer.
Deciding on software is outside the scope of this article. I added controllers to these lists based on the quality and design of the hardware, as well as the integration with its intended software.
Most controllers are MIDI assignable, which means they can be manually set up to work with most DJ software. However, you may miss out on certain features if you use it with unintended software. Traktor often feels notoriously “spongey” when using a third-party controller in MIDI mode.
While there are many great software options for DJs these days, the pro market is dominated by Traktor Pro 2 and Serato DJ (in addition to Pioneer CDJ/Rekordbox users). Therefore, I focus primarily on these platforms for the premium and mid-range controllers.
Premium DJ Controllers (Top 5)
Price range: $1000 (USD) and above
These controllers are the cream of the crop when it comes to full, in-the-box DJ solutions. They are professional grade, have a high level of hardware/software integration, and are feature-rich. They also come with a premium price tag!
Due to expense, these full DJ mixing stations are geared towards the club DJ on the go, the performer who is interested in taking advantage of the live/remix elements of the included software, or the serious hobbyist willing to make an investment in their digital DJing habit. For many, they might be categorized as overkill.
In the premium lineup, you can’t really go wrong. It all comes down to a matter of what DJ software you want to control, the amount you’re willing to spend, and personal preference.
Like a (slightly?) cheaper Pioneer CDJ and DJM setup, plus Rekordbox video.
Advertised price: $2997 (View Current Price)
Bundled software: Rekordbox DJ + Video Plus Pack + DVS Pack
- Pros: The most feature-lade pro controller in existence, enables video mixing.
- Cons: Although successfully mimicking a CDJ setup, it still requires a laptop. Expensive.
- Choose If: You want top quality; video mixing is important to you.
Traktor Kontrol S8
Highly integrated flagship controller, mixer, & audio interface from NI.
Advertised price: $1199 (View Current Price)
Bundled software: Traktor Pro
- Pros: Very “smart” controller, best Traktor integration in existence, built-in screens (close the laptop), timecode enabled.
- Cons: Some may miss the jog wheels.
- Choose If: You want the laptop out of your face, you are “all-in” on Traktor, you need flexible standalone options.
Numark’s beastly flagship features real rotating vinyl, slipmats, and color screens.
Advertised price: $1499 (View Current Price)
Bundled software: Serato DJ
- Pros: Motorized platters and 7″ vinyl platters feel like playing records, feature-packed, fun.
- Cons: Huge, heavy, no hardware filters (for standalone), imperfect screens.
- Choose If: You love the feel of mixing records, but the convenience of an all-around digital setup over DVS.
Top-tier Serato and Rekordbox controllers, for fans of the CDJ workflow.
- Pros: Pro-grade quality, closely emulates Pioneer CDJ workflow. Dual USB is awesome. Great performance pads.
- Cons: Prohibitively expensive for many, large.
- Choose If: You want a club-standard feel, you want high-quality pads, you want the best screenless Pioneer controller available.
Pioneer DDJ-SX2 and DDJ-RX *
Pioneer’s revisions of the well-received SX bring new features to the table.
- Pros: Inherits high-quality pads and digital cue display from SZ, quality build, CDJ feel.
- Cons: Bulky, though smaller than SZ; no DVS support (without $99 upgrade).
- Choose If: You want fantastic in-the-box control, and a pro-grade feel, but a more reachable price than SZ.
* Why Are These Listed Together?
Initially, Pioneer was primarily focusing on designing controllers for the Serato platform (such as the DDJ-SX, now known as the DDJ-SX2). Lately, Pioneer has been repurposing slightly modified versions of these controllers (the “R” equivalent, such as the DDJ-RX) meant for Rekordbox DJ. Since they are functionally similar devices, it did not make sense to separate them. Confusingly, the “S” versions can also be used with Rekordbox DJ, but not the other way around.
Help Me Decide…
For the Pioneer fan who wants to use the Rekordbox system, or anyone wanting to also mix video, the DDJ-RZX is truly a killer piece of hardware and one of the best DJ controllers ever made. It mimics a standard CDJ/DJM setup, includes DVS and video mixing support, and exhibits the professional quality that we’ve come to expect from Pioneer DJ. The screens and interface are all very smart, providing you with lovely parallel waveforms and allowing you to push the laptop to the side. Frustratingly, that laptop is still a requirement.
For Traktor, the S8 is hands-down the most fully-featured and well-integrated controller currently available. This happens to be my current “weapon of choice”. The touch-sensitive knobs, high-quality onboard screens, and smart UI design make for a pleasant experience. However, you have to be willing to give up jog wheels… something that hasn’t bothered me, personally (though I love using it between my turntables with timecode records!)
If you’d like to know more about the entire lineup of Traktor controllers, check out The Unofficial Traktor Kontrol Mega-Guide.
The NS7III is great for those DJs who want the feel of vinyl, but the convenience of digital. The motorized platters are tension-adjustable and you can even switch between 33 and 45 RPM modes. Like all others in this section, the NS7III works with external inputs as a mixer. Unfortunately, the filters don’t function in that mode. Also, the screens are detachable, which does add an extra setup and teardown step, as well as a potential point of failure.
Pioneer changed the game with the Serato-based DDJ-SZ (and now its sister Rekordbox controller, the DDJ-RZ). This is one of the best CDJ-like experiences available without actually using them: the jog wheels are top quality, the workflow translates to an industry-standard setup, and is Pioneer’s premium screenless option. They are also immediately DVS-capable.
For a very similar feel and approach, with a less astronomical price, the DDJ-SX2 for Serato (or the Rekordbox equivalent DDJ-RX) is the ticket.
Choose the RZX if you want to do video and you want the “best” controller available, the S8 if you prefer Traktor, the DDJ-SX2/RX for the best bang for the buck in the Premium market, or the DDJ-SZ/RZ if you really wish you had CDJ 2000s and a 900Nexus mixer.