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The best DJ Controllers of 2018

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dj controller

New generation DJ controllers now have the combined functions of a player, mixer, and a software control mechanism, as well as many available connections for digital audio, to allow DJs to conveniently create their own high-quality beats and music.

What does a DJ controller do?

A full manual DJ setup is usually composed of the following separate components: a basic DJ controller (or another device that plays the audio), an audio interface that exports the audio to an external hardware and software, and a DJ software that provides sound effects and supports the controller with the mixing, aside from the DJ headphones and a good speaker system.

Over time, users found it to be more convenient to have a single device that already does all the playing, mixing, and sound controlling—and that’s where modern DJ controllers come in.

Integrated, all-in-one DJ controllers make it a lot easier for beginners and professionals to pull off a professional DJ set. They do everything from connecting two to four audio decks into the controller’s channels, giving any DJ easy access to different tracks for seamless mixing (with smooth transitions and matching beats between different audio channels) and customization (with the help of high quality equalizers, sound effects, and compatible DJ softwares) while enhancing the audio quality of your music for dance floor speaker systems.

You’ll find many different kinds of DJ controllers varying from a little more than $140 to almost $3,000, but they all typically include many of the same elements to help you deliver an amazing show.

Control Surface

The control surface, or the mixer, covers the biggest area on the controller and gives you full control over settings and software functions. They commonly feature the following elements:

  • Knobs – A DJ controller typically has multiple sets of knobs. The first set, which is also called Gain or Trim, serves the purpose of manually setting the sound level of its own audio channel, so you can make sure that all channels are of the same overall volume. The second set is usually composed of three knobs (treble/hi, midrange/mid, bass/low) for sound equalization. The rest includes the Booth or Monitor knob, for setting volume levels for the mix; the Master knob, for adjusting volume levels of the Master Out or final sound output; and the Cue knob, for adjusting the headphone volume.
  • Jog wheel – Also known as a job dial, shuttle dial, or shuttle wheel, the jog wheel is a type of knob, ring, or dial that can be used in order to increase or decrease the speed of your audio or video media when fine-tuning beats (beatmatching).
  • Pads – Controller pads are the square-shaped buttons usually made of soft, rubbery material. Some controllers replace all jog wheels with pads on the control surface, but are perfectly good for beatmatching, chopping vocals, layering decks on top of each other, slicing through tracks, adjusting the length of slices, enabling loops, or even “finger drumming.”
  • Faders – Sound signals travel through faders, which act like a faucet and can gradually increase or decrease the level of an audio signal with a horizontal or vertical slide of the knobs. DJs utilize crossfaders when transitioning from one audio track to another or when they want the crowd to hear both tracks, in which case the slider should be positioned in the middle.
  • Buttons – Buttons on the control surface are usually for selecting which channels you want to hear before bringing it to the floor (also called Cue Mix selection buttons).
  • Screens – More advanced and full-featured controllers have screens that indicate audio levels and other parameters, which give you more freedom to focus on the controller alone instead of staring at your laptop.
  • Ports – Audio and USB ports allow you to connect to your channels or give you direct connections to your audio files without an external player.

Audio Interface

Chances are you already know that how you hear audio from your headphones will differ from how your crowd will hear it from the sound systems, because your player or computer is not intended for high resolution output for music production.

The audio interface helps amplify and improve the sound output from your DJ controller or computer by preparing the audio input and ensuring that you get the best version of your music while sampling or recording from more than one source. It may be built into your controller or come as an external device. It may also have outlets for your headphones, computer, or any other sound processor.

External Hardware Control

Some DJ softwares use external devices—such as computer mice, keyboards, touchpads, or even tablet and smartphones—for control. However, it can be time consuming to select and go through menus using such devices, which is why highly integrated DJ controllers make things easier by providing full operational functions and configurations within the device.

The Best DJ Controllers of 2018

  • Numark Mixtrack 3 All-in-One Controller for Virtual DJ
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 DJ Controller
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 MK2
  • Allen & Heath XONE:K2 4-Channel Professional USB DJ MIDI Controller
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2
  • Pioneer DDJ-SR 2-Channel Performance for Serato DJ
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
  • Numark NVII Intelligent Dual-Display Controller
  • Pioneer Electronics RMX-1000-W Remix Station
  • Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
  • Pioneer Electronics DDJ-RZX Controller

Numark Mixtrack 3 All-in-One Controller for Virtual DJ$149 (Shop Now

Numark Mixtrack 3 All-In-One DJ Controller

This Numark DJ controller was specifically designed for aspiring professional DJs, but is also one of the best DJ controllers for beginners. It has new and improved, high-resolution jog wheels, 16 multi-function performance pads, offers multiple FX manipulation, and includes the Prime Loops remix tool kit.

Choose this controller if: You want a trusted all-in-one controller for an affordable price.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 DJ Controller$199 (Shop Now

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1 Remix Decks DJ Controller

This Native Instruments Remix Decks controller has four volume faders, four dedicated filter knobs, and 16 colorful pads (which also replaces jog wheels) to give you complete control over slicing, looping, editing, and reconstructing audio samples.

It also works seamlessly with the Traktor Pro 2 software.

Choose this controller if: You work better with pads and are a big Traktor Pro fan.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1$219 (Shop Now)

 

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1 DJ Controller

The Traktor Kontrol Z1 is a 2-channel mixer, controller, and sound card with a user-friendly work surface that gives full control over volume, sound equalization, effects, and even filters. This NI controller also offers advanced control over remix decks.

Choose this controller if: You want an affordable and compact controller to run Traktor Kontrol with while hooked up to your iPhone or iPad.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 MK2$219 (Shop Now)

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 MK2 DJ Controller

The Native Instruments X1 MK2 controller works with existing Traktor rigs. It can control Traktor FX units and control two decks at the same time. Thanks to its version update, it offers smoother, more precise control over sound effects and more.

Choose this controller if: You have older gear but want to make the most out of Traktor Pro.

Allen & Heath XONE:K2 4-Channel Professional USB DJ MIDI Controller$299 (Shop Now)

Allen & Heath Xone:K2 MIDI DJ Controller

The Xone:K2 has a high quality 4-channel sound card that works with a wide range of DJ softwares, provides up to 171 MIDI commands across 3 layers, saves on computer USB ports by linking of multiple units using its X:LINK feature, allows you to create a customized layout, and even doubles as a stand.

Choose this controller if: You want both portability and high quality in a small MIDI DJ controller box.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2,  (Shop Now)

Native Instruments Traktor Control S2 MK2 DJ Controller

Despite its higher price tag, this all-in-one Traktor DJ controller is well-loved for its capability to work with Apple devices via its Lightning port. It uses the Traktor DJ app and offers dual hands-on decks with the coveted NI software. Oh, and it has more than 30 FX and can control up to 64 loops with its Remix Deck control.

Choose this controller if: You want iPhone or iPad capability and more FX choices.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2,  (Shop Now)

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 DJ Controller

The S4 MK2 is the upgraded and enhanced version of everybody’s favorite classic Native Instruments controller. It has no screen, but it’s well-built, ergonomic, and has iOS support.

Choose this controller if: You’re a 4-channel Traktor user but prefer manual jog wheels.

Numark NVII Intelligent Dual-Display Controller$699 (Shop Now)

Numark NVII DJ Controller

The Numark NV line was the first to give DJs the convenience of having a screen on their controllers and the second, upgraded version is well-loved for its slimmer size and more affordable price tag.

Aside from the integrated display, this controller offers a wide array of dedicated hardware controls for all of the most essential software functions.

Choose this controller if: You prefer to use the Serato software and focus on the controller instead of your laptop.

Pioneer Electronics RMX-1000-W Remix Station$799 (Shop Now)

Pioneer Electronics RMX-1000-W DJ controller

The compact RMX-100-W comes in a sleek pearl white body, which offers a refreshing and attractive alternative to the usual black. It boasts of its Scene FX section, where users can choose between five Build Up effects and five Build Down effects, aside from other sections that add a wide variety of unique sound effects.

Choose this controller if: You want access to many additional built-in remix sound effects for better control of musical developments.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8$1199 (Shop Now)

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8

Regarded as the best flagship controller that provides the best Traktor integration, this top-of-the-line controller has screens that allow you to go laptop-free, and enables timecode use. While it has lesser jog wheels, this “smart” controller provides flexible standalone options for any serious DJ.

Choose this controller if: You want the most fully-featured and highly integrated controller in the market—and can afford it.

Pioneer Electronics DDJ-RZX Controller$2999 (Shop Now)

Pioneer Electronics DDJ-RZX DJ Controller

The Pioneer Electronics DDJ-RZX is a premium professional DJ controller that offers 4 channels, two full-sized jog wheels, three 7-inch touchscreen displays, mic output with special effects (Echo, Reverb, Pitch, or V-Tune), and many other additional functionalities and effects that can contribute to a spectacular full-length show or concert.

Choose this controller if: You have serious money to spend for a complete, professional controller set with plenty of add-ons.

Tips for Buying a DJ Controller

Now that you’ve checked out our best DJ controllers for 2018, you may be asking yourself this question: “What DJ controller should I buy?”

Before dropping your hard-earned cash on any of these controllers, you’ll want to make sure that it will actually be worth your money and time. After all, there’s no point in getting a controller that doesn’t fit your needs, as it will simply go unused and you’ll just end up buying one again.

Below are some of the main factors to consider when buying your own DJ controller:

Build Quality and Portability

You’ll want to make sure that your DJ controller is sturdy enough to hold up and last you for a long time. If you’re a mobile DJ who has to lug the controller around to perform at different venues, you’ll definitely want a portable and lightweight controller with durable knobs, pads, buttons, and jog wheels that you won’t have to replace right away.

Whether you’re looking for a controller for recreational or professional use, you may want to consider well-known brands (such as those mentioned above) to ensure that your controller has passed good quality standards for use and build.

Controls

Do you already have a set budget and a preferred brand, but unsure about which model to go for? You can consider the controller’s layout and available controls. Make sure that you can work with its arrangement comfortably and easily. As you progress in your craft, this is one factor that you should never overlook. After all, the best DJ controller for you is the one that you can work best with.

Software and Hardware Compatibility

Today’s controllers typically come with bundled software that has been tried and tested in terms of compatibility. Some DJs use other softwares, but unless you have significant experience in using a different software, you’re better off using the recommended software for a more seamless operation and optimum functionality.

You’ll also want to make sure that its audio interface has the right amount of input and output ports, depending on your specific needs. This also greatly depends on whether you’re building a modular set up composed of separate devices or going for an all-in-one controller to make up a full DJ setup, so it’s best to plan ahead in terms of hardware needs.

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I feel like this list never changes. It's been years since I've looked at anything but the same controllers are still on that list. Are they still good controllers or no one is making anything anymore?

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i think if anything they just keep making new adjustments to each controller when they release them

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It's all just midi commands, the software evolves and the controllers can stay relatively consistent. The all in one controllers can't really change that much more as a regular setup (CDJ/DJM combo) hasn't changed at all either. The features between CDJ's, for instance the diff between the CDJ900 and CDJ2000 being the auto-loop vs hot cue buttons, are all programmable between the DJ software and the controller.

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I honestly thought (based on what I've seen here) the DJ was being phased out. I guess I've blocked it out so much I have no idea what's going on anymore. I was on gumtree looking for a Machine and kinda flipped when I saw what they were still going for...

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Having midi controllers definitely expands your capability to more live performance aspects, having a maschine + a DJ setup for instance would give you some extremely creative freedom. Bass Kleph has been doing it for years now, always found his style intriguing. And as well as this DJ Rafik and Sixty Nine Beats also come to mind;
 

 

 

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