Last Updated on September 17, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
The DJ controller is the heart of any DJ setup. Getting the wrong controller can make DJing downright unpleasant, if not impossible. Which is why we put together this guide to the best DJ controllers to help you make the right decision.
Our Top Picks
Best performance pick: Pioneer DDJ-RZX
“Pioneer’s top of the line offering still remains the controller to beat for serious performers”
Best mid-range offering: Numark NVII
“Of all Numark’s offerings, the NVII remains an enduring classic”
Best budget pick: Pioneer DDJ-SB3
“Affordable and effective. Just the perfect unit for a beginner”
DJing has long moved away from the hardware controller-only years of the 80s and 90s. You’re unlikely to find any modern day DJ who doesn’t have a laptop by his side to help him arrange his catalog and beat match.
That said, there is something about a physical interface that brings out the best in performers. Especially for something as performance-oriented as DJing.
That’s not to say that a DJ controller is only good for outward performance. Any serious will attest to the flexibility, impact, and control a DJ controller brings to the table. From adding effects on the fly to switching tracks with a robust crossfader, a DJ controller is essential for every DJ.
The problem is that this product category has far too many options and way too many brands. While Pioneer is still the biggest name, new entrants and old stalwarts with new products at knocking at the door.
The result is lower prices and more options for DJs. On the flip side, it also makes it harder to answer the question: what’s the best DJ controller for my needs?
Which is why we put together this list of the best DJ controllers you can buy right now. We’ve arranged this list based on price and included everything from beginner-friendly entry-level DJ controllers to high-end controllers that cost more than twice your Macbook.
Update: A number of new DJ-focused products were announced at NAMM held in January in 2020. This includes major announcements like Denon’s Prime line of DJ controllers. We haven’t had a chance to review all of these, but we’ll update this article as soon as we can get our hands on them.
My Picks for the Best DJ Controllers at a Glance
If you’re in a hurry and want to see the top results by category, check out the section below:
Best Premium DJ Controller: Pioneer DDJ-RZX
The Pioneer DDJ-RZX is a sight to behold.
Packed with features and incredibly powerful, the DDJ-RZX was the #1 pick for all the professional DJs I spoke with (they either use it or want to use it). It has three touch-screens, two turntables and comes with the Rekordbox software for mixing music without a DJ laptop.
The downside: it costs nearly $3,000. But if you have the money and the need for something a professional DJ wouse, you can’t go wrong with the Pioneer DDJ-RZX.
Best Mid-Range DJ Controller: Numark NVII
The first iteration of the Numark NV was one of the first DJ controllers to offer built-in screens. The NVII uses the same feature set but updates it for 2019.
In addition to the standard feature set perfected in the original Numark NVI, you get touch-capacitive jog wheels that respond to each user’s touch individually. There are also a number of design and UX improvements, especially on the screens.
The Numark NVII remains one of the better designed DJ controllers on the market at the moment. It is also surprisingly lightweight, making it great for the road.
Best Budget DJ Controller: Pioneer DDJ-SB3
You don’t expect budget controllers to look as good and professional as the Pioneer DDJ-SB3. You also don’t expect them to be as feature-rich and power-packed as the SB3.
This is why the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is my #1 choice for beginners and people on a budget.
Small and affordable (priced under $300), the SB3 nevertheless has many of the features that make its grown up siblings like the DDJ-RZX such a big hit among DJs.
Besides the features – of which I’ll do a rundown later – I recommend this controller because it makes transitioning to professional equipment easier.
Budget DJ controllers are entry-level options for those new to DJing. This is a packed field with options ranging from the decidedly amateur Numark PartyMix ($99) to the almost-professional Pioneer DDJ-SB3, the latest iteration of the long-loved SB2.
Picking budget DJ controllers is harder than it looks. The range of competition means that there are no “default” choices like the NVII or the Pioneer RZX. You also have to strike a balance between cheap-easy and expensive-complicated.
I generally recommend against buying cheap DJ controllers in the sub $150 range. They might suffice for casual play, but you’ll soon be frustrated by the build quality and lack of features as you level up your skills.
Instead, pick a controller with more professional features, mostly in the $200+ range. For $250, you can buy yourself some exceptionally capable controllers from industry leaders like Pioneer.
Think of your first controller as your “training wheels”. You want something that will prepare you for more powerful controllers further down the line.Based on this philosophy, I’ve hand-picked three controllers at the top of my list. For more options in this price range, check out my guide to the best DJ controllers under $300.
Top Pick: Pioneer DDJ-SB3
Updated: The DDJ-SB3 is the latest iteration of the popular Pioneer DDJ-SB2, which was previously ranked 1st on this list. The new version combines features from DDJ-S series of Serato controllers with SB2. The SB3 adds new features, including a play/pause and cue buttons, a ‘pad scratch’ with pre-recorded scratch effects, and a dedicated FX-fader.
These features make the SB3 more professional and powerful, though the rest of the performance remains the same as the SB2 (see below) save a few cosmetic changes.
If you’re looking for your first DJ controller, the Pioneer DDJ-SB3 should be your first choice, period.
The DDJ-SB3 doesn’t look, feel or behave like an entry-level controller. It’s made of hard plastic and has the understated look of a professional DJ controller, albeit a smaller one.
In terms of features, the DDJ-SB3 can hold its own against mid-range controllers. You get control over all 4 decks via toggle buttons and there’s a much-needed level meter.
You also get close Serato integration, though you only get Serato Intro in the package, not the full-featured Serato. However, you can also map it for Traktor or VirtualDJ, making it truly platform agnostic.
All of these and the price tag, plus Pioneer’s proven reliability, makes this the single best offering in the budget range.
Let’s take a look at its best features.
What I like:
- Professional design: Unlike a number of controllers in this segment, the DDJ-SB3 doesn’t feel like a gimmick. Although it is made of plastic, it feels sturdy and durable. It also has standard controls – 2 jogwheels, 8 pads each. This makes it easy to graduate to higher-end controllers.
- Tight Serato integration: You don’t have to fiddle around with MIDI mappings; you can use the DDJ-SB3 right out of the box thanks to the tight Serato integration.
- Responsive, chunky jogwheels feel good: You feel as if you’re playing a CDJ, not a watered down version. The scratching feels satisfying and the build quality is impressive for the price.
- 4-deck control: You can control all four decks of Serato with two toggle buttons conveniently located near the jogwheels. This turns the DDJ-SB3 into a full-fledged 4-deck controller.
- New level meter: The original SB1 was missing a much needed level meter. The SB3 corrects that with a prominently placed level meter.
- Trim/Gain knobs: Another missing feature on the SB1 has been remedied in the SB3. This standalone knob helps you control the level of the track loaded in Serato. Much needed if the level compensation in Serato is off.
- Works with Rekordbox software: Pioneer’s Rekordbox software is now much more than just a library tool. The DDJ-SB3 is perfectly compatible with it – a big leg-up on the competition.
What I don’t like:
- Performance pads are a letdown: The performance pads have an unsatisfying, rubbery feel. They don’t have any touch-sensitivity or dynamic feedback. Par for the price, but still disappointing.
- Only one master output in the form of RCA jacks. Not ideal for many live setups.
- Limited FX buttons: There are three buttons on each deck, but for some FX-centric DJs, these might be too limited.
Who is it for?
The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is my recommendation for anyone looking for a serious entry-level DJ controller. It does not feel gimmicky, nor does it abstract away key functionalities for ease of use. You get the feel that you’re handling a serious tool here, not a toy.
If you’re new to DJing, I would recommend this as your first controller. It might be more expensive than the $100 controllers, but the “pro” feature, such as the large jogwheels and 4-deck control, are worth the price.
You’ll find it much easier to graduate to professional equipment once you’ve been using the SB3 for a while.
2nd Pick: Numark MixTrack Platinum
The Numark MixTrack Pro is one of the best-selling DJ product of all time. For many new DJs, it is the first DJ controller they encounter that’s not a gimmick or a toy.
The MixTrack Platinum is the upgrade version of the Pro. However, for this price, you get a much more capable controller that will fulfil all amateur needs and even keep some pros happy.
I recommend the MixTrack Platinum as my second choice for anyone looking for an entry-level DJ controller. It is not as refined as the Pioneer DDJ-SB3, but it remains a solid buy for just about any new DJ.
In fact, some features – such as the in-job displays and touchstrips – are better than the SB3.
Let’s take some of its pros and cons.
What I like:
- In-jog displays: The Numark MixTrack Platinum boasts a unique feature not found in other controllers in this range: LED display built within the jogwheels. These in-jog displays show you the BPM, time elapsed (or left) in the current track, and a track progress light. It’s the standout feature and gives the unit a more premium feel.
- Touchstrips for quick track scanning are a welcome addition and work better than using the jogwheels. They also free up the jogwheels.
- Dedicated gain knob: This small but critical feature was missing from the MixTrack Pro3 (the Platinum’s cheaper cousin). Here, thankfully, it’s back in a prominent position. You’ll use it a lot to ensure that your tracks are loaded in Serato at the same level.
- Responsive pitch sliders feel great and have just the right amount of resistance. Great if you’re going to do manual beatmatching.Touch-capacitive jogwheels: The jogwhels respond to the strength of your touch for finer control.
- Professional design and build quality: The layout and design are sturdy and feel like a premium product, definitely not a sub $250 unit.
What I don’t like:
- In-jog displays not of the highest quality: I’ve read multiple user reports of the in-jog displays scratching easily and losing their brightness. This is not a dealbreaker, but a sore point nonetheless.
- Some users report issues with sound card: I’ve dug around on forums and discovered that a few users have issues with the built-in sound card. I haven’t faced any issues personally but you might want to keep this in mind.
Who is it for?
The Numark MixTrack Platinum ticks all the boxes for a first-time DJ controller. It is well-designed, feels premium, and includes the necessary features for a “grown up” controller (such as 4-deck control, capacitive jogwheels, etc.).
What sets it apart from the competition is the built-in jog display. It adds a layer of usability missing in competitors. Plus, it makes the controller look twice as good.
The other features are similar to Pioneer’s DDJ-SB3, though the former admittedly has better build quality.
3rd Pick: Numark PartyMix
The Numark PartyMix has none of the features or build-quality of the other controllers on this page.
What it does have, however, is an incredibly low price. With promotions, you can sometimes get it for even under the cost of a dinner for two.
What this low, low price gets you is a surprisingly competent DJ controller for absolute beginners. It is exceptionally easy to use with simple plug-and-play setup. It also includes a built-in audio interface and a fun little gimmick: disco lights.
If you just want to have some fun at your next house party and don’t aspire to professional DJ status, this is the ideal controller for you.I’ll share its pros and cons below.
What I like:
- Plug-and-play setup: Plug the unit into your laptop via USB, download the included VirtualDJ software and you’re ready to go. The PartyMix will work with your existing speakers so you don’t need any special equipment.
- Built-in audio interface further adds to the cost effectiveness.
- Built-in disco lights are a fun, if gimmicky feature. You can link the lights to VirtualDJ or set them on/off at a fixed time.
- 8 pads and 2 scratchable jogwheels: There are 8 pads (4 on each deck) and 2 scratchable jogwheels. Many beginners find the smaller jogwheels actually easier to scratch.
- The price: You can’t really go wrong with it.
- Easy mixing: Party Mix purposefully abstracts some of the mixing capabilities to make the unit easier to use. You can change the mapping later but the default setting makes it easy for beginners to start.
What I don’t like:
The build quality, as expected, isn’t top-notch. The disco lights feel like a gimmick. And the abstraction makes it a poor learning tool (though the lack of FX compels you go focus more on DJing).
But these are all flaws that should be expected. I can’t really complain about a DJ controller that costs so slow and targets absolute beginners.
Mid-range DJ controllers offer a happy medium between the $1,500 Pioneers and the cheap Numarks. For most amateur, and even some professional DJs, controllers in this range would be more than adequate.
Mid-range controllers make an obvious upgrade for people who already own a budget controller and aspire to become a serious, even professional DJ.
If you are new to DJing, you might be tempted to splurge for a mid-range controller looking at their feature set.
Mid-range controllers are usually too complex and expensive for starting DJs. If you’re a complete newbie, you’re better off buying the cheapest controller you can find. Hone your chops on it until you are confident enough to upgrade.
With that out of the way, let’s look at my top picks for mid-range DJ controllers.
Top Pick: Numark NVII
At $699, the Numark NVII is priced right in the sweetspot between “expensive” and “value for money”. It’s not affordable by any means, but given the kind of features you get, it is definitely worth its price.
The original Numark NV was the first controller to include a built-in screen for displaying data. The Numark NVII improves on these screens and takes care of the two biggest complaints: lack of data and library control.
This controller borrows the iconic NV’s design cues. In fact, apart from the black jogwheels, it can be difficult to tell the two units apart:
For amateur DJs moving towards professional status, it remains a fantastic value for money.
What I like:
- Better screens: Numark NVII’s screen is much better than its predecessor. Not only is the screen brighter, you also get gridlines for better waveform visualization and more powerful sorting capabilities. It is now possible to run entirely “laptop-free”
- Adaptive touch-capacitive jogwheels: Touch-capacitive jogwheels are a marked improvement on conventional jogwheels. The NVII does one better and uses “adaptive” jogwheels that change their behavior based on your usage patterns. That is, if you like to scratch hard, the jogwheels will modulate the scratch intensity to respond to the hardness of your touch
- Low-profile design makes it ideal for carrying in bags. Coupled with high-data density screens and you have a great controller for mobile DJs
- Touch FX is a joy to use: Basically, the FX knobs are touch-capacitive. This means you can apply effect just by touching the FX level. Great for build-ups when used with the FX roll. Lots of fun to use as well
What I don’t like:
- No real reason to upgrade: The Numark NVII is essentially an iterative upgrade that solves the original Numark NV’s biggest issues. If you already own the NV, or a similar unit, there is no real reason to upgrade
- A few minor quibbles such as small pad size, chunky screens (compared to the low-profile design) remain
- Analog mixer functionality is severely stripped out. You only get a basic mix/aux channel. Mixer functionality is software controlled which might not be ideal for some DJs
Who is it for?
The Numark NVII is a fantastic option for serious DJs looking to upgrade from budget controllers. It packs in a ton of features into a surprisingly affordable package. It also undoes the biggest flaws of the NV and brings in a better, more useful screen – all at a sub $700 price
The low profile and screens make it ideal for mobile DJs who want a taste of old-school laptop-less DJing. You’ll love the sense of intimacy you get from relying entirely on the console to play your music.
2nd Pick: Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3
Update: The Traktor Kontrol has been updated for 2019 with the MK3. The biggest difference is the haptic feedback jogwheels that add feedback cues to help you figure out the right mode just by touch. The color screen has also been updated with better resolution and info.
The original Kontrol S4 was a revelation. Heavily integrated with Traktor, the S4 moved massive numbers for Native Instruments. For many aspiring DJs upgrading to more serious equipment, the S4 was the first choice.
The Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 improves on the outgoing MK2 in many ways. It also solves some of its biggest issues. Better jog wheels, better FX mixer, better screen – everything about the MK3 feels more mature and thought out.
At its price tag, the Traktor Kontrol is also the best value for money Traktor controller on the market. For most people, I would recommend it over NI’s flagship S8 model.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3:
What I like:
- Tightly integrated with Traktor: Like the original S4, the S4 MK3 is tightly integrated with Traktor right out of the box. Instead of struggling with MIDI mappings, you can get started immediately.
- Better hardware: The original S4 suffered from some poor quality buttons that would get stuck if you tapped the too hard. The new S4 MK3 solves this problem. It also improves on the jogwheels – they’re now aluminum and feel more tactile thanks to haptic feedback technology.
- Dedicated ‘Flux Mode’ button: Traktor’s Flux mode is one of its best features. The previous S4 lacked a dedicated button to enable this mode. The new S4 MK3 gets a dedicated Flux mode button, located right next to the jogwheel.
- iOS compatible: The S4 MK3 is fully compatible with Traktor’s iOS app. There’s a USB to 30-pin cable bundled with the box. You just have to plug it in, load the Traktor app on your iPad and get started. Given the shift towards mobile for so many DJs, this feature is highly welcome (and worth the price of the upgrade).
- New Mixer FX: Dedicated mixer FX controls let you create drops and risers with ease right from the console.
- New color screen: The MK3 adds a high resolution color screen to the console – a sorely missed feature, especially in a produce priced in this range.
Beyond this, you get all the good bits from the S4 – the exceptional Audio 4 DJ-like sound quality, the close software-hardware integration, manual beatmatching and slicing, etc.
What I don’t like:
It’s clear that the MK3 was rushed before it was ready. From audio drop-outs to software integration issues, this console has quite a few glitches. While NI is rolling out fixes for most software issues, reliability still remains a concern, especially when compared to the robust MK2 generation.
The hardware is great, of course, but if you’re getting this right now, be aware that you’ll have to wait for the firmware fix. This is the only reason why I haven’t placed it at the top of this list.
Note: A previous version of this article listed the Reloop Terminal Mix 8 as our 3rd pick for the best DJ controllers in the mid-range. That console has been discontinued by Reloop. Hence, our mid-range currently has only two recommendations.
This is the creme de la creme of the DJ world. Equipment so powerful, and so stupefyingly expensive that it makes you respect professional DJs at a whole another level.
High-end DJ controllers are for people who’ve been DJing for quite a while and likely getting paid (well) for it. A powerful DJ controller won’t suddenly turn you from an amateur into headlining Tomorrowland.
If you are a serious, skilled DJ, it will, however, help you get that little bit extra that truly sets apart a “good” performance from a “legendary” one.These are my top picks for the best high-end DJ controllers in the world today:
Top Pick: Pioneer DDJ-RZX
When it comes to DJ equipment, you can’t go wrong with Pioneer.
Pioneer, true to its name, virtually pioneered the DJ space.
Given that DDJ-RZX is Pioneer’s flagship model, it easily deserves a spot on our list.
But is the Pioneer DDJ-RZX really the best DJ controller on the market? And is it really worth the $2,997 price tag?
A resounding yes!
A few reasons why
What I like:
- Build quality: The Pioneer DDJ-RZX looks like a best. It is massive, has three touchscreens, and is built like a tank. Physically, it will not let you down.
- Three 7-inch touchscreens make mixing a breeze. The viewing angles are good and the screens are bright enough, even in daylight (good for outdoor events).
Excellent sound quality.
- Mix audio and video: This is the big new feature in this iteration of the RZX. You can mix video just as you would mix audio.
- Familiar CDJ layout: The RZX has the same look and feel as the CDJ and DJM. For old-school DJs, this makes the RZX very familiar and thus, easier to use.
- Sturdy crossfader: Pioneer boasts that its newly redesigned crossfader will stay strong over “10 million movements”. Given how frequently the crossfader is used, I find this reassuring.
- Extensive FX that you can apply on the fly, including release FX (vinyl brake, echo, back spin), dub echo, noise, space, etc.
- Multiple ports, including 2x USB ports, two XLR combo ports, etc.
What I don’t like
- No capacitive jog wheels: The DDJ-RZX only supports mechanical jog wheels. Not a deal breaker, but some people might find this a little “cheap” on such a high-end device. Mostly, it’s a matter of personal taste.
- Not standalone: You still require a laptop to take full advantage of the Pioneer DDJ-RZX. Without it, it’s a little more than a glorified mixer.
- Accuracy of pitch sliders is surprisingly poor. Doesn’t help that rekordbox tends to be slightly nutty about setting BPM. You’ll have to get used to the sliders before you can hit the live circuit.
Who is it for?
The Pioneer DDJ-RZX is practically one of, if not the most expensive DJ controllers money can buy.
If you’re on a budget, this is absolutely not the gear for you.
Yet, I’ve ranked it at the top of my list because it is, objectively speaking, the best DJ controller on the market right now.
It’s not the cheapest or even the most practical, but it is unquestioningly good.
2nd Pick: NI Traktor Kontrol S8
Traktor Kontrol S8 is NI’s flagship controller. Thanks to its close integration, the S8 is easily the best Traktor controller money can buy.
The first thing you notice about the S8 is its size and sturdiness. At nearly 19” in width and weighing 11lbs, this is a hefty specimen.
The next thing you notice is the lack of jogwheels.
This is likely the only major DJ controller on the market apart from the Novation Switch that doesn’t have jogwheels. If you wanted a sign that DJing is changing, this is it.
Replacing the jogwheels are two touchstrips. They do the same work as jogwheels but in a tiny, space saving form. You might or might not find them intuitive. For me, they worked fine enough.
There are also two LED screens that serve as replacements for your DJ laptop. In fact, the entire unit is designed to be used without a laptop at all.
Whether you appreciate this “laptop-less” workflow depends on your playing style. I like the immediacy and physical intimacy of buttons and knobs (which are of the highest quality here), so I appreciate it a lot.
Apart from these features, you’ll also like:
What I like:
- Large number of buttons/knobs that give complete control over every aspect of Traktor. No more MIDI mapping!’
- Highly useful LED screens with separate buttons for looping, showing BPM, etc.
- 4-channel mixer is quality built and will be your favorite thing about this DJ controller.
- Two touchstrips to help you skim through tracks and change pitch on the fly.
What I don’t like
- Manual beatmatching is a pain. Pitch handling is poor.
- The second “library” screen is cumbersome to use and requires a fresh design.
- Touchstrips might take some time getting used to.
3rd Pick: Denon DJ MCX8000
The Denon MCX8000 is Denon’s flagship controller.
Honestly, this controller came out of nowhere and was suddenly popping up in clubs around the world. Denon is a respected name in the DJ world but nowhere near as established as Pioneer.
Yet, Denon managed to build something amazing with this beauty
There is a smorgasboard of lights, buttons, pads and knobs on this unit, so let’s get started:
What I like:
- Fully integrated with Denon Engine, Denon’s Rekordbox-like library management tool. Makes track selection a breeze. Also removes the need to have a laptop to use the controller.
- Hefty build: Despite being lighter than the Numark NS7III, the MCX8000 manages to feel exceptionally well-built.
- Two built-in screens for working with Serato. The three-color zoomable waveform is particularly useful for beatmatching.
- “Laptop-free mode” where you use Denon’s Engine software or even music on a USB stick without ever looking at a laptop. This is one of my favorite bits about the Denon MCX8000.
- Mixer-mode turns the MXC8000 into a fully-featured mixer with 4 inputs. You can also choose the mode on the fly with a toggle switch.
- Capacitive jogwheels: Touch the top of the jogwheels and you get the traditional scratch feature. Touch the sides and you get nudges. Additionally, the LED lights on the jogwheels look great (if a little distracting).
- Ethernet port for plugging in with pyrotechnics! Though this is still not fully available. Expect it to be fully-fleshed in future iterations (and I’m super excited for this feature).
What I don’t like
- No mappings for Virtual DJ or Traktor. Though in Denon’s defence, Traktor doesn’t seem to play nice with most controllers these days.
- Laptop-free mode relies too heavily on the built-in screens which are underwhelming in both quality and quantity of displayed data.
- Denon Engine is good, but still feels like a work in progress when compared to Rekordbox. I’ll holding out on an opinion on this one.
Over to You
Picking a DJ controller is never easy. DJing styles vary greatly and there is hardly a “one-controller-fits-all” choice.
That said, a few controllers are clearly much better than others.
For most beginners, a professional-grade DJ controller in the sub $250 range will serve better than a cheap product. The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 and Numark MixTrack Platinum fit this description perfectly.
Mid-range buyers are usually serious DJs aspiring for greater professionalism. If this describes you, choose the Numark NVII. If you use Traktor, you can’t go wrong with Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3.
High-end controllers can start from $1,000 and go all the way up to $2,500+. If you’re in this segment, you want features and power. Pick from either Pioneer DDJ-RZX or Denon MCX8000, Pioneer’s and Denon’s flagship controllers. If you use Traktor, choose Traktor Kontrol S8.
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Just starting out? Or need a backup DJ controller? Then grab something from our list of the best DJ controllers under $100 and under $200
- Turning pro? Grab one of our premium DJ controllers under $1000
- If you need a DJ mixer, you’ll want to read our buying guide on this topic
- For laptop recommendations, check out our DJ laptop buying guide