The 9 Best DJ Controllers in the Market (June 2018)
Update: This article was updated in June 2018 to include the recently launched Pioneer DDJ-SB3
After years of DJing experience and hours of research, I can confidently say that these are the five best DJ controllers on the market right now:
- Pioneer DDJ-RZX
- Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
- Numark NVII
- Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK-2
- Pioneer DDJ-SB3
This is a very broad category instruments with more competition than you can imagine. You can buy a cheap DJ controller for $100, or you can splurge for a top of the line Pioneer controller costing $1,000+.
I’ll walk you through the entire buying process for DJ controllers in this in-depth guide. I’ll show you the best DJ controllers for beginners on a budget, as well as serious DJs looking to make the jump to professional instruments.
My Top Picks for DJ Controllers
Before I do a deep dive into the top DJ controllers, here are my top picks at a glance.
Best high-end 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 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 2017.
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.
About Your Reviewer
I’m a professional producer and part-time DJ. I started my career DJing in local nightclubs before graduating to full-time DJ, touring mostly on the east coast scene.
I moved on from DJing to becoming a producer. I still DJ part-time, mostly at private parties and at friends requests.
Over the course of my 10+ year-long DJ/music production career, I’ve used tens of different DJ controllers. The insights here come from my personal preferences after years of actual use.
How I Approached This Review
The DJ is the modern day rockstar.
10 years ago, any kid growing up wanted a guitar and play in a rock band.
Today, the same kid would want a DJ controller and play in a club.
Because being a DJ/producer has become such a staple of modern pop-culture, there has been an explosion in the availability and range of DJ equipment.
I’m seriously amazed at the kind of innovation happening in this field. I can’t land on a single music blog and not read about some ridiculous new invention that promises to “revolutionize” DJing.
This makes evaluating DJ controllers that much harder. What do you focus on: innovative products, or battle-tested controllers that have been around for years?
Eventually, I decided to focus on battle-tested, established DJ controllers.
- The rate of innovation in DJ equipment is so fast that it’s not possible to review every product thoroughly.
- For all their innovation, the fundamentals of DJing have remained the same.
- DJing is a “public” activity. Ergo, you’ll do it in clubs, at weddings and at parties. Proven equipment that doesn’t fail is a priority for this.
Of course, I factored any innovations in my evaluation. But my first priority was to find DJ controllers that are sturdy, capable and won’t fail.
To do this, I followed this approach:
- I made a list of all DJ controllers I’ve personally used in the past.
- I made a list of best-selling and best-reviewed DJ controllers online.
- Segmented this list into three categories: high-end, mid-range and budget-friendly DJ controllers.
- Evaluated whether these controllers met my criteria of being “fail-proof”.
- Reviewed qualifying equipment for this article.
Overall, I evaluated 34 different DJ controllers. From these, I zeroed-in on 9 controllers in 3 separate categories:
- High-end: Pioneer DDJ-RZX, Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8, Denon DJ MCX8000.
- Mid-range: Numark NVII, Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2, Reloop Terminal Mix8
- Budget: Pioneer DDJ-SB3, Numark MixTrack Platinum, Numark PartyMix
Full reviews follow.
My review and analysis factors in the following:
- Features and Technical Specs: The number one factor in buying DJ controllers is whether it has all the features and tech specs you want. I assigned this the highest priority.
- Design and User-Experience: DJ controllers are never easy to use, but bad design can make it even more confounding. I factored in design and usability heavily into each review. This was based on both my personal preferences as well as user surveys. Build quality was included in this segment.
- Price: Price is obviously a factor in any purchase decision. However, how much I weighted price in the final score was dependant on the category. Price mattered less for professional DJ controllers than it did for beginner-friendly equipment.
- Personal Impressions: What I feel about the product. I’ve used 7 of the 10 controllers reviewed here. I weighted this into my final score.
The final scores for each product were based on the following formula, depending on the category:
- High-end: Features (x 0.60) + Design (x 0.30) + Price (x 0.05) + Personal Pref. (x 0.05)
- Mid-range: Features (x 0.55) + Design (x 0.30) + Price (x 0.10) + Personal Pref (x 0.05)
- Budget: Features (0.50) + Design (x 0.25) + Price (x 0.20) + Personal Pref (x 0.05)
With these formalities out of the way, let’s look at my list of the best DJ controllers money can buy.
Best DJ Controllers: High-End ($800+)
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.
If you have a lot of money, or make a lot of money from DJing, this should be your on your bucket list.
2nd Pick: Native Instruments 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 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.
Who is it for?
While any high-end DJ controller is meant for experienced DJs only, the Traktor Kontrol S8 comes with another caveat:
It’s good for DJs who don’t do manual beat matching with non-electronic tracks (a fault of both the controller and the way Traktor handles elastic beat grinding). If you plan to do that, you’ll be disappointed by how the S8 handles pitch control.
Otherwise, this is a much more affordable high-end alternative to the Pioneer RZX.
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.
Who is it for?
Two words: “mobile DJs”.
Denon’s selling point is its laptop-free mode. This is one of the rare high-end controllers where you can truly switch off the laptop and run the show from the console itself. The built-in screens are solid (if needing a little improvement) and the build quality is incredible.
Beyond mobile DJs, experienced DJs using Serato exclusively will appreciate it as well. It is cheaper than Pioneer’s high-end models and has all their features.
If you use Traktor, however, you’ll do better to stay away.
What if you don’t have the $$$ to afford a $1,000+ DJ controller (aka: 90% of people)?
In that case, you’ll love the next section where we roundup the best mid-range DJ controllers on the market.
Best Mid-Range DJ Controllers ($300-$800)
Mid-range DJ controllers offer a happy medium between the $1,500 Pioneers and the $100 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 featureset.
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.
Given the feature set, the NVII is also a great alternative to high-end, $1,000+ controllers. If you are on a limited budget, I would recommend the Numark NVII over an expensive Pioneer.
That’s for our top pick, but what if you need something different?
In that case, you’ll love our next option.
2nd Pick: Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
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 MK2 improves on the S4 in many ways. It also solves some of its biggest issues. While the changes might not be enough to warrant an upgrade for S4 owners, they make it a fantastic choice for new buyers.
At a price tag of under $600, 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 MK2:
What I like:
- Tightly integrated with Traktor: Like the original S4, the S4 MK2 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 MK2 solves this problem. It also improves on the jogwheels - they’re now aluminum and feel more tactile.
- 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 MK2 gets a dedicated Flux mode button, located right next to the jogwheel.
- iOS compatible: The S4 MK2 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).
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:
- Limited improvements over S4: While the better hardware and iOS compatibility are nice to have, the S4 MK2 isn’t a massive upgrade on the original S4. If you already own the first S4, there isn’t a lot here to warrant an upgrade.
- No screens: The lack of screens isn’t a dealbreaker, but when you can get the NVII with two quality screens for just $100 more, you have to wonder whether NI missed a beat with the S4. The lack of screens also means it’s harder to do “laptop-free” DJing.
- Dim LEDs on USB power: One of my biggest complaints with the original S4 was the dim LEDs on USB power. That problem is still unresolved.
- Improved Remix Deck is still hard to control: NI has tried hard to improve the original Remix Decks (which were nigh unusable), but it’s still too little, too late. You’ll have to wade through tons of documentation to figure them out. Even then, they remain hard to control.
- Poor Serato integration: This goes without saying, of course. Traktor is increasingly becoming a closed system, so if you use Serato, this isn’t for you.
Who is it for?
The NI Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 makes for a fantastic first-buy for an amateur DJ upgrading to more professional equipment. The close integration with Traktor makes it a joy to use. Throw in iOS compatibility and you have the perfect package for mobile DJs as well.
However, if you already own an S4 I, the MK2 doesn’t offer enough reason to upgrade. If you are a serious DJ and want something truly professional grade, you’ll do better with the S8 instead.
Additionally, Serato users stay away - NI’s controllers are increasingly harder to use with anything other than Traktor.
Bottomline: The Kontrol S4 MK2 is a great buy for any DJ looking to upgrade to more serious equipment.
3rd Pick: Reloop Terminal Mix8
The Mix8 is Reloop’s flagship Serato controller, priced at a decent $699. It has the traditional Reloop feel - sober, understated, yet packing a punch.
For Serato-only DJs, Mix8 promises a lot - and delivers.
Unlike the well-received Mix2, the Terminal Mix8 is a full-fledged 4-deck controller. It is also tightly integrated with Serato (and includes a full copy in the box). You also get performance pads, though there are no screens, unlike the NVII.
If you’re not much of a laptop-free DJ, you’ll enjoy Mix8’s large jogwheels, clean design and Serato integration. Else, the NVII offers much better value at the same price.
Nevertheless, let’s look at some of the pros and cons of this controller.
What I like:
- Large, prominent jogwheels: Reloop’s jogwheels are the largest among its competitors. They’re also prominently placed near the bottom of the console, rather then in the center. This gives you easier access and resembles old-school CDJs.
- Tight Serato integration: Mix8 comes packaged with a copy of Serato. You can control virtually every aspect of Serato without fiddling around with MIDI mappings. A great feature for Serato users. Traktor users, not so much.
- Well-designed layout: The mixer and fader are well-spaced. The library knob is large and has the right amount of resistance. The RGB buttons have a satisfying feel. You feel that Reloop has put a lot of thought into its layout and design.
- Additional functions through shift-layer: The shift layer on the Mix8 offers a number of intuitive functions. You can scrub through tracks with shift + jogwheel, enter slip mode with shift + jog button, etc. This adds to the ‘well-designed’ feel of the unit.
What I don’t like:
- Inconveniently placed VU meter switch: There is a 10-bar VU meter that can monitor either the master or the cue. However, to switch from one mode to another, you have to reach around the back and press a button. This is inconveniently placed. Ideally, this switching should be handled automatically.
- No standalone mixer: The Reloop Mix8 isn’t designed to be used as a standalone mixer. The fact that it has just one microphone port is a letdown as well.
Who is it for?
The Mix8 is in the $500-$700 price range where you have a lot of options and little to tell them apart. It has all the standard features you’d expect from a DJ controller in this range - four pads, large jogwheels, performance pads, RGB buttons, etc.
Ultimately, you’ll want to choose Mix8 if:
- Design is a priority
- You want close Serato integration
Else, you’ll find the Numark NVII a much better alternative thanks to its dual screens.
Mid-range controllers might offer value for money, but they’re still unaffordable for the vast majority of users.
If this describes you, I’ve got you covered. In the next section, I’ll share my picks for the best budget DJ controllers on the market.
Best Budget DJ Controllers (Under $300)
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.
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 a sub $250 price tag, plus Pioneer’s proven reliability, makes this the single best offering in the <$300 price level.
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.
I also recommend this controller for serious DJs looking for a small, lightweight alternative for carrying around to gigs.
2nd Pick: Numark MixTrack Platinum
The Numark MixTrack Pro is arguably 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. At just under $250, it is still affordable. 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.
Ultimately, there’s little to choose between the DDJ-SB3 and the MixTrack Platinum. What entry-level controller you decide to buy will mostly depend on your brand preference. I can recommend either of them wholeheartedly.
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 - $99. With promotions, you can sometimes get it for even under $75.
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: At $99, 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 just $99 and targets absolute beginners.
Who is it for?
Absolute beginners and hobbyists only.
I don’t recommend the Party Mix for anyone who is serious about DJing. However, if you just want to play around and have fun at a house party, this is a great alternative.
Else, pick the MixTrack Platinum or DDJ-SB3.
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 $100 product. The Pioneer DDJ-SB3 and Numark MixTrack Platinum fit this description perfectly.
Mid-range buyers in the $300-$1,000 range are usually serious DJs aspiring for greater professionalism. If this describes you, choose either the Numark NVII or Reloop Terminal Mix8. If you use Traktor, you can’t go wrong with Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2.
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.
If you still need advice or help beyond this, email me or leave a question in the comments.