Best DJ Controllers 2013: The Ultimate Guide

Discover the Best DJ Controller for You

The market of dedicated hardware controllers has exploded in the past few years.  Not too long ago, there weren’t a whole lot of options for the digital DJ.  There were only one or two options worth exploring.  Nowadays, it seems like new options are popping up every other day.

With all of the given options, it can be tough to make a decision about which DJ hardware to invest in.  In this guide, I have done the preliminary research for you so that you can make an informed decision before pulling the trigger.

How to Find a Controller That Fits Your Needs

Below, you will find a series of lists which contain information on the top MIDI/HID controllers and all-in-one digital mixing solutions in various categories.  The lists are in no order, and the choices are based on a number of criteria and sources: my personal experience, Amazon ratings, external reviews, and pure fact comparison.  Below each listing, you will see both the MSRP for the controller… as well as a link to see the current “street price” (which is typically way cheaper).  That way, you can see how much you can actually get the controller for (as well as a link to do so, if you wish), rather than just see the original retail price.

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.

This page is continuously updated, so if you feel that there’s a piece of hardware that should be featured here, feel free to shoot me an e-mail at david@passionatedj.com!

Guide Contents

Premium All-in-One DJ Controllers – Top 5

In this guide, “Premium” controllers are the pieces at or around the thousand dollar mark.  These are the cream of the crop when it comes to full “in the box” DJ solutions.  They should come with fully featured and functional software products, unless otherwise specified.

These full DJ mixing stations are geared towards the club DJ on the go, the serious mobile/event DJ (especially those who like to beatmix and do other things on-the-fly), or the serious hobbyist willing to make an investment in their digital DJing habit.

The nice thing about the hardware in the premium lineup is that you can’t really go wrong.  Just about everything in this price range is a solid contender when it comes to the pro digital DJing market.  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.

  • Traktor Kontrol S4 (4 decks, Win/Mac, Traktor Pro)
    MSRP: $999 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Highly integrated flagship controller, mixer, & audio interface from NI.
    • PROS: Layout, software integration, solid build quality, lots of visual feedback. Best Traktor option.
    • CONS: No booth output, no XLR out, may be a new version on the way (rumor).
    • CHOOSE IF: you want to get the most out of Traktor, you’re into effects and looping, you want something with a lot of community support.
  • Numark NS6 (4 decks, Win/Mac, Serato DJ)
    MSRP: $999 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Pro-grade controller and mixer designed in collaboration with Serato.
    • PROS: Lots of input/output options (including booth out), handy strip search function, excellent jog wheels.
    • CONS: No independent channel LEDs strips, big and heavy.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want to control Serato with a pro-grade controller at the best price point possible.
  • Pioneer XDJ-Aero (2 decks, Win/Mac/Android/iOS/none, Rekordbox)
    MSRP: $1199 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Full platform-agnostic DJ solution from Pioneer which takes allows you to ditch laptops and CDs.
    • PROS: Versatile playback options, feels like CDJ 350s & DJM mixer, cool wireless functionality, ditch the laptop if you want.
    • CONS: Pricey, No booth output, 2 decks only, limited in some ways when compared to software controllers, plasticky.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want to ditch the laptop and the zombie-like screen-staring that goes with it, money is no object, you want wireless connectivity, you only need 2 decks.
  • Pioneer DDJ-SX (4 decks, Win/Mac, Serato DJ)
    MSRP: $999 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Pioneer’s premier controller for Serato, with super nice jogs and trigger pads.
    • PROS: Pushes controllers towards “pro grade”, slip mode, nice LED meters, awesome jog wheels and knobs.
    • CONS: Pricey, bulky, no Traktor version.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want the absolute best Serato DJ controller available anywhere, period.
  • Denon DN-MC6000 (4 decks, Win/Mac, Traktor LE/Virtual DJ LE)
    MSRP: $949 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Slim and rack-mountable controller which functions as a standalone mixer, even without a laptop.
    • PROS: Flexible, operates fully standalone, great comparable value.
    • CONS: Limited VU meter function, cramped, lacks features of other controllers in this price point.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want lots of input/output options, you want to rack-mount, you want to be able to use standalone, and you don’t mind upgrading the LE software for full functionality.

Personally, I’m a Kontrol S4 user (when I’m playing digitally), and I love it.  The layout is intuitive, the sound quality is great (NI doesn’t really make anything that puts out bad audio these days), and everything looks and feels professional.  That being said, I think my favorite entry at this price range right now is the DDJ-SX.  This piece truly exhibits the professional level of quality expected from Pioneer’s DJ department, and would be my controller of choice if I were a Serato user.  Alas, I am fairly invested in Traktor these days (and have been for years), and I really appreciate the way that the S4 integrates with its intended software.

The nice thing about the hardware in the premium lineup is that you can’t really go wrong.  Just about everything in this price range is a solid contender when it comes to the pro digital DJing market.

The Denon DNMC6000 and the Numark NS6 are great options if you want premium quality at a price point not quite so heart attack inducing.  The Numark’s “strip search” function is an innovative way to quickly skip around a track simply by using your finger, and the Denon is rack-mountable and can operate standalone (even without a laptop).  The NS6 provides you with a pro-level controller for Serato, without the hefty price tag that comes along with the DDJ-SX.

Finally, the Pioneer XDJ-AERO provides a bit of a different approach.  This controller operates more along the lines of their newer CDJ products… only without the actual optical drive.  While this is one of the priciest options available, you can also take into consideration the fact that you don’t actually need a laptop to use this one (though, having access to some sort of computer to prep your tracks may be a good idea).  Drop in a USB flash drive, or even connect wirelessly to your phone or tablet, and play tunes like you would on a modern CDJ.  The AERO does have a few basic effects and looping functions, but is not as comprehensive as having access to something like Traktor Pro (though, you can also use this to control your DJ software of choice if you decide to use it that way… not unlike Pioneer’s modern CDJ lineup).

Mid-level All-in-One DJ Controllers – Top 5

These controllers sit somewhere in the mid-hundreds price range.  These are typically meant to perform all the basic functions that a DJ needs at a more reasonable price.  You’ll often see more stuff geared towards two decks, or what I call “2/4″ setups.  This basically means that there is some level of four-deck control, but you have to “shift” to access the secondary decks.  If it’s a 4-deck controller with two volume faders, I refer to it as “2/4″.

These may come with either fully-featured software, or the more neutered “lite”/LE editions of the flagship DJ software.  These controllers are great for use in a typical bar setting, mixing at home, or for corporate and wedding DJs.  There is a huge market for this price range, so here is a breakdown of some of the best ones.

These are all great options for the budget-conscious, but serious, digital DJ.  This is also a very competitive market, since bang-for-buck is kinda what digital DJing is about.

  • Hercules DJ Console 4-MX (2/4 decks, Win/Mac, Virtual DJ 7 LE)
    MSRP: $449 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • A cheaper and less feature-rich version of the 4-mx, with a sturdy build and audio inputs.
    • PROS: Sturdy metal chassis, decent size jog wheels, good value, comes with travel bag.
    • CONS: Calling it a 4-deck mixer is a stretch, strange use of second output (see details), no real booth out.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want good value and you like Virtual DJ.
  • Traktor Kontrol S2 (2+1 decks, Win/Mac, Traktor Pro)
    MSRP: $669 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • The S4’s scaled-down, but still very capable, little brother… at a much more reachable price point.
    • PROS: The sturdy and reliable construction of the S4, with the addition of a real booth output. More compact. Great value.
    • CONS: No dedicated filter knobs, only supports 2 decks (plus sample deck), no audio inputs (except mic).
    • CHOOSE IF: you want the best Traktor controller in this price range, you want something with a lot of community support.
  • Novation Twitch (2/4 decks, Win/Mac, Serato Itch)
    MSRP: $499 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Novation ignores the spinning platter archetype and gives a fresh approach to the idea of controller DJing.
    • PROS: Highly portable and reliable due to lack of jog wheels, Slicer mode, clever touch strip, excellent value, good support for various DJ software.
    • CONS: Traditional vinyl/CDJ/platter DJs may be disenchanted, definitely not for the scratch DJ.
    • CHOOSE IF: you’re forward thinking, you don’t care about scratching, you want portability, you want the best bang-for-buck.
  • Vestax VCI-100 MKII (2/4 decks, Win/Mac, Traktor LE)
    MSRP: $929 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Successor to the VCI-100 that almost single-handedly started the controllerism movement, which is a little more friendly to the “everyday DJ”.
    • PROS: Well-built, clean & compact, tension-adjustable jog wheels, incredibly portable.
    • CONS: Pushed as a Traktor controller, but needs full-version upgrade to unlock all functions. No control over sample decks. S2 provides better Traktor scratching performance.
    • CHOOSE IF: you want good Traktor control with the utmost portability, you like clean layouts, you’re into controllerism.
  • Reloop Terminal Mix 4 (4 decks, Win/Mac, Serato DJ Intro/Virtual DJ LE)
    MSRP: $799 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Reloop’s Serato-based answer to Traktor’s S4… if you’re willing to shell out for the full version of Serato.
    • PROS: Well-built, 4-deck Serato control (if full software is purchased), nice jog wheels.
    • CONS: 4 deck users need to upgrade to full software or use the included version of Virtual DJ, jacking up the price.
    • CHOOSE IF: you like the S4 but would rather use Serato (and save some money, even though you may want to upgrade your software from the LE version).


Traktor Kontrol S2 is listed here for just about all the same reasons as the S4 is listed in the section above.  The S2 is a kind of “little brother” or “S4 Lite”, but that’s not to present it in a negative way.  (In fact, the S2 has something that the S4 lacks… a true booth output!)  The S2 is a very capable and sturdy controller, which is once again probably the best option for someone serious about using Traktor.  (Disappointingly, though, it doesn’t have dedicated filter knobs like the S4.)

The MKII version of the Vestax VCI-100 is also a very reasonable option for the Traktor user.  Just keep in mind that it ships with the LE version, so spending to upgrade the software defeats the purpose if your intent was to get S2 functionality at a cheaper price.  And, as is typical, scratching performance (from a latency perspective) is notably better with Native Instruments’ own product.  The Vestax unit is very popular in the world of controllerism, however, and the ability to adjust the tension of the jog wheels is a very nice touch.  When the original VCI-100 was introduced, it was among the first of its kind.  It was the first controller to be taken “seriously”.  Vestax has taken what they’ve learned with the original hardware and applied that knowledge to a very capable usccessor.

Bang-for-buck is kinda what digital DJing is about.

Excellent value is provided by Hercules (a company who has been making MIDI controllers for disc jockeys since the idea was ever conceived), whose 4-MX unit is very sturdy, has nice jog wheels, and even ships with its own travel bag.  In a strange twist, however, the 4-MX has a second output which spits out the audio of the cue/headphones (instead of booth).  Why they thought this was a good idea is beyond me.  This unit, while more “Pro” than any other offerings by the company, probably feels more at home in a bedroom or small bar setting rather than for the serious club DJ.

Comparable in price to the 4-MX is the Novation Twitch, which is super compact and feature-rich due to some obvious design decisions: notably, the lack of jog wheels.  The Twitch uses an innovative touch-strip approach to scrubbing tracks, which is quite effective but will definitely eliminate scratch DJs right off the bat.  Still, this happens to be a great choice for those who are willing to ditch the idea of rotary track control.

Finally, a very capable entry by a lesser-heard company can be seen in the form of the Reloop Terminal Mix 4.  This is basically an S4 for Serato users… however, it should be noted that you’ll need to upgrade to the full version of Serato to get the most out of it (alternatively, you can use the included 4-deck version of Virtual DJ 7 LE).  This is actually a very nice piece of kit which is worth a look.

Budget All-in-One DJ Controllers – Top 5

These are the entry-level MIDI controllers in the low end of the price spectrum.  You’re not likely to find the super sturdy construction of some of the more pro-grade gear, but this is definitely the cheapest way to control your favorite software or get your feet wet in the world of DJing.

If you’re a beginner DJ, you’re on a strict budget, a casual hobbyist you primarily play another media format, or you just want the best bang-for-your-buck… these could be the digital mixing devices for you.

While none of these controllers should be considered pro-gear, these are all very price-conscious ways to either try your hand at DJing, or to act as an add-on for the vinyl DJ who needs to play the occasional digital track.  People a little more serious about mixing digitally should probably at least opt for a middle-of-the-road option.

  • Numark Mixtrack Pro (2 decks, Win/Mac, Serato DJ Intro)
    MSRP: $349 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • The most popular entry-level AIO controller out there, due to it’s highly-accessible price point.
    • PROS: Great value, popular and well supported.
    • CONS: Plasticky, not good for scratch DJs.
    • CHOOSE IF: if you want to use Serato, want the best-supported budget controller around, are all about bang-for-buck.
  • Hercules DJ Console RMX (2 decks, Win/Mac, Virtual DJ 5 DJC)
    MSRP: $299 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • A cheaper and less feature-rich version of the 4-mx, with a sturdy build and audio inputs.
    • PROS: Surprising amount of input and output options for budget-level controller, solid construction.
    • CONS: Laughable jog wheels, clunky.
    • CHOOSE IF: if you want to connect external sources, want a sturdy build, want a fairly understated/professional appearance, may want to upgrade to a 4-MX in the future.
  • Hercules DJ Control Instinct (2 decks, Win/Mac, DJUCED)
    MSRP: $129 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • Extremely compact entry from a company who’s been designing DJ MIDI controllers since the idea’s inception.
    • PROS: Very well-priced, very compact.
    • CONS: No inputs, non-standard software, toyish.
    • CHOOSE IF: if you want complete (but proprietary) software, the cheapest price.
  • Pioneer DDJ-WeGO (2/4 decks, Win/Mac, Virtual DJ LE)
    MSRP: $399 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • One of Pioneer’s few examples of budget DJ hardware… though still pricier than most.
    • PROS: Rubberized knobs, rudimentary 4-deck support, compact, surprising amount of control.
    • CONS: Expensive for what it is, toyish, no gain control.
    • CHOOSE IF: if you want something pretty and customizable, like playing with effects, want to mix with 4 decks.
  • Hercules DJ Control Air (2 decks, Win/Mac, DJUCED)
    MSRP: $169 | Street Price | Reviews | Video |

    • A quirky controller which, while clearly a consumer product, is well priced and has everything you need for basic mixing.
    • PROS: Rubberized knobs, price is right, impressive appearance for its price point.
    • CONS: “Air” control is silly and unnecessary, non-standard software, unrefined performance.
    • CHOOSE IF: if you want complete (but proprietary) software, are enchanted by the touchless FX controls, want to use sampler pads.

You’ll notice that Hercules really has their hands into the budget controller market, and the two cheaper ones on the list stand out due to their inclusion of non-standard software called DJUCED.  This is a proprietary product which, while fully functional, might want to be avoided if you’re going to eventually move on to bigger things.  However, the completeness of the product and the price point make them both attractive buys for the casual bedroom hobbyist, or the guy who just wants to mess around at the occasional house party.

Hercules does, however, have a one of the most feature-rich controllers at this price point: the DJ Console RMX.  This uses a customized version of Virtual DJ and is one of the only budget controllers on the market that actually supports inputs for turntables or CDJs… very cool!  The jog wheels do leave something to be desired, but no controllers in this range are going to have that premium feel for scratching or nudging.

People a little more serious about mixing digitally should probably at least opt for a middle-of-the-road option.

Pioneer decided to foray into the budget MIDI controller market, and the DDJ-WeGo is about the only one that has (very basic) 4-deck support out of the box.  It runs on Virtual DJ LE and has a lot of customization options (as far as colors/appearance).  The knobs are rubberized and the controller is a pretty solid entry as far as entry-level gear goes, though it’s still fairly expensive for what it is.

Finally, this guide would be amiss if I did not mention what is probably the most desirable entry-level controller available.  The Numark Mixtrack Pro is a total gamechanger when it comes to the budget market.  It is the most popular in this price range, and for good reason: it’s ludicrously cheap, supports Serato DJ Intro, and has a clean layout that makes sense.  If I were to recommend one budget controller to anyone, it would be this one.

Tips for Choosing the Right Controller

There are a lot of things to take into account when trying to decide on which digital DJ system is right for you… not the least of which is your budget consideration.  The focus in creating this guide was to compare all-in-one solutions, as opposed to modular ones.  If you’re looking into piecing together your own system (such as with the Traktor Kontrol X1), bear in mind that you’ll likely need an external sound interface as well.  Modular setups allow you to pick and mix hardware to get your setup the way you want, but an all-in-one solution consolidates everything into one mixing station for simplicity and portability.  One benefit to a modular setup is it’s flexibility.  You can add additional pieces over time at incremental price increases instead of making one large investment right off the bat.

  • An All-in-One DJ controller is one single device that houses a mixing section, deck controls, and a sound card (audio interface) in one package.
  • A modular DJ controller is one piece of the puzzle, which allows you put together various parts to make up a full control surface, or to add-on certain functionality to an existing setup.

Other things to consider are the included software packages.  Note that all of these controllers send MIDI data, so just because a piece of hardware ships with or is designed for a particular software package, doesn’t mean that it can’t be used with other software.  There’s something to be said for the intent of design… clearly the S4 is highly integrated with Traktor and the DDJ-SX is highly integrated with Serato, which makes things very intuitive and handy.  But, if you wanted to take the time (and are willing to take on the learning curve), just about any of these controllers and their functions can be reassigned to control parts of any standard DJ software package.

Many controllers, especially below the premium level, come bundled with “lite” versions of the software.  These are often somewhat neutered versions of their big-brother programs, but should work right out of the box with the controller in question.  But, this is important to pay attention to as you may need (or want) to upgrade to a higher version of the software in order to enable certain features… such as 4-deck mixing, perhaps.

If you’re into scratching (or want to learn), I recommend staying away from the budget line of controllers entirely.  Just because you’re looking at a “scratching controller”, it doesn’t mean it’s really any good at it.  I recommend searching out videos on YouTube which show real people (home users) scratching on the hardware in question if you are interested in this.  If you want to get close to a vinyl or high-end CDJ feel, you’re not going to find it in the lower-end gear.

Pay close attention to your connectivity options.  How will you be hearing sound?  You’ve gotta get that signal to some speakers, after all!  Is this truly going to be an all-in-one solution for you, which you will want to connect directly to some powered speakers?  Or will you be connecting to a separate hardware mixer as part of a larger setup?  (For example, I use a Traktor S4, but I also have CDJs and a pair of Technics turntables.  I like having everything connected to one central DJ mixer, and I use the S4 as a sort of “break-out box”).  While it’s true that many controllers these days can connect external sources, many of them are not true hardware mixers in that they route the sound through software and still require a laptop’s presence.  Also, if you buy a controller with XLR outputs, you’d better be sure you can connect that to something!  On the budget side, you will usually find a simple pair of RCA outputs or a 1/8″ jack to connect something like a set of standard PC speakers.

Another big thing to ask yourself is how much time you plan on (or hope) to spend on DJing live.  If you are a professional club DJ who mixes digitally, be willing to make an investment to your craft and try to go with a higher-end setup that meets your needs and caters to your software of choice.  Mobile DJs running a business should also be willing to make an investment.  Premium or mid-level all-in-one setups are great for wedding/corporate/graduation party type DJs, as they are comprehensive and compact, and provide everything you need in one portable package.  Bedroom/hobby DJs can pretty much pick whatever makes them happy, depending on how much money they want to invest.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read this guide, and I hope that it has been of some use to you!  If you have any questions regarding DJ controllers, feel free to send me an e-mail at david@passionatedj.com.  If you would like to become a better DJ through passion and purpose, please take the time to visit my blog.

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5 Comments

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