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DJ ControllersDJTT Gear DJ Controllers and Soundcards For Beginners

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BASIC CONTROLLERS

Ok, the software thing is going great but now you want a little more than just a keypad to trigger effects and mix between tunes.The time has come to add a digital control surface called a “MIDI controller”. Much like a remote control for the TV, today’s best USB DJ controllers are just giant remote controls that tell DJ software what do, while providing a large tactile playing surface.

The good news is that all the DJ software mentioned below are “MIDI-Enabled” so that means any controller that is “MIDI-Compliant” will work with it. This opens up a lot of low cost music controllers that were not intended for DJing but will work just fine for getting started.

Here are, in our opinion, the most notable examples of the best MIDI controller options for DJs: from low to high price.

KORG NANO KONTROL / NANO PAD

KorgNanoKontrol1-230x59.jpg

Cost: $39 each

Good For:

  • Adding lots of controls on the cheap
  • Small footprint

Not So Great:

  • Build Quality
  • Controls are a bit of a squeeze (Kontrol)
  • Pads aren’t very responsive (Pad)

Bottom Line:

The Korg Nano series is undoubtedly cheap and cheerful; they won’t last the rigours of being thrown around but they are handy for stay at home setups. The Nano Key is a bit of a waste though, as it doesn’t really add anything that your computer keys don’t already do.

Additional Editor’s Tip: The Korg Nano Series has been updated to a new v2 series which promises a bit more in terms of build quality. They come in at a reasonable $60, and come in a bit nicer design. Check them out here: Korg nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface

AKAI MPK MINI

Akai-MPK-Mini-230x132.jpg

Cost: $80

Good For:

  • Keys, pads, and knobs all-in-one
  • Handy form factor
  • 25 keys gives plenty of control

Not So Great:

  • The knobs have very short caps that can make them tricky to use
  • The pads are okay at best

Bottom Line:

The MPK Mini is a great controller for the price, as it’s small but pretty sturdy, and although it’s not designed specifically with DJs in mind it does have potential. Interested in grabbing one for your setup? Check out the Akai Pro MPK Mini on Amazon.

Numark DJ 2 Go

DJ2GO-230x67.jpg

Cost: $49

Good For:

  • It’s ‘DJ shaped’
  • Mobile DJs

Not So Great

  • The unit’s not very controllerist friendly
  • The dials aren’t up to much and feel cruddy

Bottom Line

If you’re in the market for a low budget controller you’ll probably have seen the DJ2GO. It’s not terrible, but its traditionalist design feels like a bit of a throwback. Actually… it’s pretty terrible. We’re listing it because it’s something many of you will likely consider. If you decided to see if it’s right for you, here’s the Amazon product page: Numark DJ2Go USB DJ Controller

OXYGEN 25 KEYBOARD

 

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Cost: $99

Good For:

  • Sturdy design
  • 25 full-size keyboard keys
  • Pitch and mod wheels
  • Pretty good knobs

Not So Great:

  • Not designed for DJs
  • No pads

Bottom Line

The Oxygen 25, previously known as the Oxygen 8, is something of a classic among controllerists on account of its low cost and high potential. It’s definitely worth a look, and will likely outlast the smaller, flimsier gear above. If it seems right for you, here’s a link to where you can pick one up: M-Audio Oxygen 25 25-Key USB MIDI Controller

NUMARK MIXTRACK

mixtrack_top-230x144.jpg

Cost: $130

Good For:

  • Actually looking like a DJ controller
  • Large platters
  • DJ-focused controls

Not So Great:

  • Generally light on build quality
  • Platters aren’t very good for track control

Bottom Line

The Mixtrack is actually a pretty decent attempt at a super-low budget DJ controller. It won’t set the world alight and I doubt it’ll last forever, but it has all the right controls. Want to get one and get started mixing? Here’s the obligatory link to buy: Numark MIXTRACK DJ Software Controller
If you’ve got a bit more cash, we do know that the Mixtrack Pro($250) might be tempting, but remember that unlike the Trakor Kontrol S2, the only included softwares are the limited LE versions.

DJ TECHTOOLS MIDI FIGHTER

 

midi-fighter.png

Cost: $179

Good For:

  • Extreme tactile satisfaction
  • Customization options

Not So Great:

  • Pinning your whole DJing control to it

Bottom Line

Okay, obviously the Midi Fighter is a DJ TechTools creation, but we hope you can trust our objectivity. The Midi Fighter uses professional quality buttons, but in all honesty 16 buttons without labels might not quite cut it when it comes to controlling everything your software has to offer. That won’t stop us from mentioning it, though – get your very own here!

NATIVE INSTRUMENTS KONTROL X1

 

 

IS379281-01-02-BIG-230x230.jpg 

Cost: $199

Good For

  • Excellent build quality
  • High resolution controls in Traktor and Serato

Not So Great

  • Limited control surfaces in a cramped interface
  • Better as an accompanying device

Bottom Line

The Kontrol X1 is a great feeling unit, but it feels like it’s designed to be the companion to something that controls your actual decks. Price per control ratio is high, but it’s a quality unit with awesome default Traktor and Serato mappings. It’s also a pretty decent deal at $199 – Amazon has it with free shipping, as well: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 Performance DJ Controller

DJ SOUNDCARDS UNDER $220

If you are ready to start doing some DJ pre-cuing then you will need to add a USB sound card with 2 stereo outputs: one output goes to the speakers and the other is used for headphones. With the controllers above and a low cost sound card, you are still in for less than $400 with software. Below, we take a look at the best DJ soundcards under $220.

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Behringer UCA222

Cost: $40

Good For:

  • Extremely low price

Not So Great:

  • All round quality

Bottom Line:

The Behringer UCA222 is unbelievably cheap, but it sort of shows; the chassis sometimes splits and the audio quality is just okay. It works, but if you can, then just wait a little longer and upgrade. If you can’t wait, here’s the link to getting your own: Behringer UCA222 U-Control USB Audio Interface.

 

native_instruments_NI_Audio_2_DJ_Top_pop

Native Instruments Audio 2

Cost: $99

Good For:

  • Tiny but sturdy unit
  • Sound quality is excellent

Not So Great

  • Extremely limited connectivity

Bottom Line

The NI Audio 2 sounds really good, but has nothing in the way of inputs and just stereo 1/4″ sockets for output. If it’s all you need then it’s all you need, but you might need more for your setup. Either way, at just $99, it’s a nice piece of kit to have if you’re just starting out – grab one for yourself here.

ReLoop Play

223373_Reloop_FR-230x229.jpg

Cost: $90

Good For:

  • Getting separate RCA outputs

Not So Great

  • No inputs

Bottom Line

For total, honest disclosure here, I need to tell you the only contact I’ve had with the Play is at trade show level. I can’t, therefore, really recommend that you do something either way – but I can tell you that the Play is tiny, seemed to work just fine, and provides more flexible I/O than the Audio 2 for less money. Test it out for yourself and grab one over on the Amazon product page: Reloop Play Interface

Novation Nio 2|4

 

Novation_NIO_2_4_3-230x184.jpg

Cost: $220

Good for:

  • Sturdy build
  • Very low latency
  • Phantom power input
  • Free effects plugins

Not So Great:

  • Confusing top controls
  • A shame not to have four inputs

Bottom Line:

The Novation Nio is really sturdy, and features special firmware that allows FX routing to be extremely low latency (handy if you’re going down the Ableton Live or similar route). Novation chose to trade four inputs for two, one with phantom power (through-cable power to allow condenser mics to work), and whilst it is cheaper, it’s not much cheaper than the Native Instruments Audio 6; if you’re planning on going DVS at some point soon, this isn’t the best card for you. It’s also not in production anymore – but you might be able to find a used one around if you snoop hard enough.

THE ALL-IN-ONE SOLUTION

If you know that tactile control and a sound card are going to be essential then it might be wise to skip straight to an “all in one” DJ controller that is equipped with software, hardware and a sound card for one price.  Here are our three favorite beginner DJ controllers under $500:

VESTAX SPIN / TYPHOON

 

 

pa-dj-dj-equipment-dj-controller-vestax-

Cost: $249

Good For:

  • Plug and go on the cheap
  • Looks like a DJ controller

Not So Great

  • Limited control
  • Limited quality

Bottom Line

Spin is designed for Mac and ships with Djay, whereas Typhoon is cross-platform and has Virtual DJ LE. Other than a paint job they’re basically the same controller, and they have a feel of ‘my first VCI-100’ about them. They are fun, but they lack controls for things like effects. Read some customer reviews and get one on Amazon here: Vestax Typhoon Midi Controller

RELOOP DIGITAL JOCKEY 2 INTERFACE EDITION

reloop_digital_jockey_2_review-640x406.j

Cost: $300

Good For:

  • Decent build
  • Nice looking
  • Sensible layout

Not So Great:

  • Slightly squashed up design
  • Buttons aren’t ideal

Bottom Line:

The Reloop DJ2 is a surprisingly decent controller – you might immediately get controller envy when comparing it to their newer DJ3, but the DJ2 has plenty of controls and ships with Traktor LE, which is a short upgrade path from Traktor Pro. There’s a lot of controller for the money, but it’s also quite small so you might feel like you’re a bit squashed in. Into getting squashed? Grab a Reloop Digital Jockey 2 here – and celebrate for the potential free shipping.

twitch1-640x557.jpg

Novation Twitch

Cost: $499

Good For:

  • The very cool slicer mode in Itch
  • Generally professional feel

Not So Great:

  • Some build quality issues
  • No platters might be weird for some

Bottom Line:

Twitch is a controller unto its own, as although it has plenty of competition it also has enough USP to ensure it stands out. Where it really works is the cool features developed for Itch, including the excellent integration of slicer mode.

CHOOSE YOUR PATH CAREFULLY!

Most popular DJ solutions today start at $500 and up but there are lots of ways to get started for less. Just keep growth in mind if possible. Pick components that are modular and software that leaves room for growth so that as your demands increase, you can re-use and integrate the components you already have.

Using an external sound card is sometimes smart, because when you want to upgrade your controller you wont need to spend money on another controller with a sound card built in. If your eventual goal is to use Traktor Pro or Serato Scratch Live/Itch then it might be wise to start with their “junior” or light versions. By starting there, the work and experience you put in now wont be wasted when moving to an entirely new DJ platform. Much of the time spent in digital DJing admin is preparing music – cue points, grid information, comments and so on – so switching platforms can be a very time consuming down the road.

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