12 of the best DJ controllers

26th Mar 2014 | 15:59

12 of the best DJ controllers
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DJ controller is an increasingly tricky term to define. Essentially, with the advanced nature of modern music software, it’s possible to DJ - to some extent - with pretty much anything that spits out MIDI information.

As a result, some controllers designed primarily as tools for producers or live performers - such as Novation’s Launchpad, NI’s Maschines or Akai’s APC range - are also proving to be popular tools in the DJ booth. Indeed, if your DJ sets are likely to veer into the realms of live performance, or you want a controller you can use to make tunes with too, these are all options worth investigating.

Here, however, we are restricting ourselves to looking at controllers designed specifically for digital DJs, to accompany a computer-based DJ setup. So we're ignoring - for the moment - timecode systems, CDJs that can be used as controllers, the fledgling iPad DJ market and other such options.

There are a few factors to consider when choosing DJ controllers, the biggest being your choice of software. If you favour Serato Itch, it’s important to note that the software is only compatible with certain controllers, built in collaboration with Serato - a full list of which can be found over at their site. In fact, the majority of DJ controllers will be designed with one or two specific bits of software in mind, and many come with a certain application included in the price - so your choice of controller is likely to be very much influenced by your preference in DJ application (or possibly, vice versa).

It’s also worth considering whether you’ll need an audio interface built-in - i.e. the capability to connect turntables, CDJs or an instrument to you setup - and if you might want to expand with timecoded vinyl or CDs in the future. Some controllers included here also work as a stand-alone mixer, without the need to connect to a computer, which could be another consideration.

Then there’s size, looks, build quality, price... the list goes on. In short, it’s difficult to crown any one bit of kit ‘the best’ controller. Instead here are a range of our favourite of the options currently available.

12 of the best DJ controllers
Vestax VCI-380
RRP: £699

The VCI-380 comes bundled with Serato Itch and provides a great level of control over the software’s creative performance features - such as sampling, looping and beat slicing - plus excellent integration with the software’s effects section.

The VCI-380 is definitely designed as an Itch controller, so only worth considering if you’re happy to commit to the software. However, Vestax also produce the similarly impressive, four-channel VCI-400 for users of other DJ applications.

Find out more about the VCI-380.

Key spec

Included software: Serato Itch
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 2
I/O: 4-in, 2-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Denon MC6000MK2
£569

The flagship of Denon’s controller range, the DN-MC6000MK2, is nicely built and versatile.

Unlike its predecessor, the MK2 ships with a copy of Serato DJ Intro, although it's also supplied with mappings for Traktor Pro, and natively supports Virtual DJ and Mixvibes Cross. It's also capable of video mixing, via Serato Video, although this requires a paid software upgrade.

It’s not the cheapest, but the fact that the mixer can be used as a stand-alone unit with built-in effects is a major plus point.

Key spec

Included software: Serato DJ Intro
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 6-in, 4-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 and Traktor Kontrol S2
RRP: £699 (S4) £389 (S2)

NI’s own-brand Traktor controllers have proved popular, and for good reason. As you’d expect, the pair not only ship with the full software but also integrate seamlessly with it as soon as they’re plugged in. It’s safe to assume that they’re fairly future proof too.

The larger S4 (pictured) allows connection of CDJs or turntables thanks to its four-channel set-up, and because it’s NI-branded offers the option to upgrade to timecoded control of decks three and four.

The S2, on the other hand, scales things back to two channels plus some - if at times limited - sample control. What it does offer is compact, immediate and fun control for Traktor users who think they’ll be happy with two decks.

Read the full MusicRadar S4 review

Read the full MusicRadar S2 review

S4 key spec

Included software: Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2.5
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 4-in, 4-out

S2 key spec

Included software: Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2.5
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 2
I/O: 1-in, 2-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Pioneer DDJ-T1 and DDJ-S1
RRP: £899

Pioneer’s purpose-built Traktor Pro (T1 - pictured) and Serato Itch (S1) controllers aren’t quite as fully integrated and future proof as NI’s S2 and S4 but they still fair very well in the plug-and-play stakes.

The big selling point of both, however, is the fact that they offer similar layout and build-quality to the company’s industry standard CDJs and mixers, which are omnipresent in clubs across the world.

Read the full MusicRadar DDJ-T1

DDJ-T1 key spec

Included software: Traktor Pro DDJT1 Edition
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 2-in, 4-out

DDJ-S1 key spec

Included software: Serato Itch
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 3-in, 4-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Denon DN-SC2000
RRP: £209

Reputable DJ brand Denon offers up an alternative to the standard two-jog-wheels-and-a-mixer configuration with this CDJ-style single deck controller.

Build quality is great and the SC2000 maps nicely with Traktor Pro, its conveniently placed Deck Change button allowing easy control of two virtual decks. However, a separate controller or hardware mixer is required to get the most out of the software. A great option for home and house party DJ setups.

Read the full MusicRadar review

Key spec

Included software: none
Jog wheels: 1
Channels: 2
I/O: none

12 of the best DJ controllers
Allen & Heath Xone:4D
RRP: £1,499

The Xone:4D certainly isn’t cheap, but if you want a lot of I/O options, plenty of control and proper analogue integration, then it might just be for you.

The unit combines a high-spec analogue mixer with a vast number of assignable MIDI controls. Build quality is as high as you’d expect, and the analogue filters and step sequencer are great additions. Proper pro-level stuff.

Read the full MusicRadar review.

Key spec

Included software: none
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 8 (20 on soundcard)
I/O: 10-in, 10-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Reloop Digital Jockey III Master Edition
RRP: £599

Reloop’s Traktor controller lacks some of the intuitiveness of Native Instruments’ own offerings, it compensates for this, however, by packing some very well laid out controls and a high build quality. It also functions as a mixer independent of a computer.

Read the full MusicRadar review.

Key spec

Included software: Native Instruments Traktor LE
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 4-in, 4-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol X1 and F1
RRP: £155 (X1) £195 (F1)

More controllers from Native Instruments, both the X1 - NI’s first Traktor controller - and the recently released F1 (pictured) are designed to control specific parts of the software only.

The X1 is mapped to Traktor’s effects section, while the F1 is the only MIDI controller currently available that gives full control over Traktor’s Sample Deck. Both are ideal for DJs using timecoded vinyl or CDs, who want plug and play access to Traktor’s deeper features.

Read the full MusicRadar Kontrol X1 review.

Read the full MusicRadar Kontrol F1 review.

X1 key spec

Included software: Traktor Pro 2.5
Jog wheels: none
Channels: 2
I/O: none

F1 key spec

Included software: Traktor Pro 2.5
Jog wheels: none
Channels: 4
I/O: none

12 of the best DJ controllers
Novation Twitch
RRP: £399

Novation’s Twitch stands out in the controller market by doing away with anything that even faintly resembles a jog wheel - instead, track movement is handled by two touch strips.

This unfamiliar style of DJ control may add to the learning curve for anyone who has grown-up using turntables or CDJs. But, paired with the supplied Serato Itch software, Twitch is a joy to use for anyone looking to dive into digital DJing and happy to try something new.

Read the full MusicRadar review

Key spec

Included software: Serato Itch 2
Jog wheels: none
Channels: 2
I/O: 2-in, 4-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Numark 4Trak
RRP: £799

The 4Trak is a purpose-built Traktor controller from long-standing DJ manufacturer Numark. It’s a very sturdy, well-built unit which allows integration of CDJs or turntables alongside well-mapped control of Traktor. The unit’s mixer can be used stand-alone too.

Key spec

Included software: Native Instruments Traktor 4Trak Edition
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 6-in, 4-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Allen & Heath Xone:K2
RRP: £199

For those looking for a slimline and portable DJing controller that still offers plenty of flexibility, the Xone:K2 is a good option.

It might lack jog wheels, but the K2 packs faders and rotaries to control four mixer channels, and a grand total of 52 assignable controls. The unit offers lockable control 'layers' too, meaning that a total of 171 MIDI assignments can be setup and switched between at the flip of a button.

The controller features a built-in soundcard, meaning it functions as an interface for four channel mixing. The K2 also features a pair of X:Link connections, allowing it to be chained to other Allen & Heath units to form a fully synced setup without the need for extra USB and power leads.

The K2 comes supplied with mappings for both Traktor and Ableton Live, but it really comes into its own once you start experimenting and assigning your own setups - those looking for a similar unit for Traktor that's perfectly setup straight out the box may still find NI's own X1 or F1 better options.

Read the full MusicRadar Xone:K2 review

Key spec

Included software: none
Jog wheels: none
Channels: 4
I/O: 2-out

12 of the best DJ controllers
Numark NS7 II
RRP: £999

If you’re looking for a compact, affordable DJ controller, Numark’s updated NS7 certainly isn’t the one for you. With its rugged metal casing, chunky four-channel mixer and turntable-like jog wheels, Numark’s flagship unit is a big, rugged beast that retails at a price that will likely turn off even the flashiest of hobbyist DJs.

There’s no doubt, however, that you get what you pay for with the Serato DJ-aligned NS7 II. Not only is the controller built like a tank, but it also packs an eye-watering array of features. From the 7” vinyl, motorised jog wheels, to the touch-sensitive EQ knobs, the 16 Akai-built, MPC-style pads and the standalone four-channel mixer, the controller outstrips pretty much everything else on the market right now.

Key spec

Included software: Serato DJ
Jog wheels: 2
Channels: 4
I/O: 6-in/4-out

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