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Scratching is a tough art, and it is increasingly harder to practice it in the world of digital DJ controllers. While nothing can beat the scratching capabilities of vinyl, some digital controllers can give you a good taste of scratching. In this guide, we'll look at a few such options and share our pick of the best DJ controller for scratching.
- Built-in turntables
- Excellent build-quality
- Loaded with pro features
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SR2
- Affordable pro-quality
- Tank-like build quality
- Scratch-friendly turntables
Rane 72 + Rane 12
- True scratch DJ performance
- Lifelong build quality
- Authentic vinyl turntables
Scratching. That's how OG DJs used to do it back in the analog world of vinyl when you had to beatmatch by feel, not algorithms.
Of course, that's drastically changed now. Most DJs today don't even own any vinyl, forget about using analog controllers. They beatmatch through their software's algorithms. And all their tracks are digital.
In the digital world, scratching is physically not possible. You can't, after all, physically scratch a digital track. The best you can do is create an approximation through software models and hardware implementation.
This is why few digital DJ controllers are good for scratching. Some, however, do a better job than most. While they still can't beat the scratching performance of vinyl, they can give you a good starting point. Coupled with all the features DJ controllers pack in, these are great options for anyone who wants to add some scratching to his/her DJ repertoire.
On that note, let's look at the best DJ controllers for scratching available in the market right now.
About your reviewer
Ryan Harrell is the founder of MIDINation and an experienced producer/DJ. His first experience with electronic music production dates back to Cubase 3.0 in the summer of 1997, and he's been a fan ever since. He prefers Ableton as his primary DAW these days, though he is still partial to Cubase and Pro Tools. He lives in San Diego and freelances as a producer and part-time DJ.
The Best DJ Controller for Scratching
Scratching-friendly DJ controllers are rare and tend to cluster around a handful of manufacturers – Numark, Pioneer, and Rane. Most are expensive – scratching is simply not worth implementing on DJ controllers under $500. You'll likely have to fork out for a pro DJ controller with large motorized jog wheels.
Based on this criteria, here's our pick for the best DJ controller for scratching:
The Numark NS7III does the best scratching implementation this side of analog controllers. Sure, it's not as smooth and intuitive as vinyl on a record player, but it comes pretty close. The large turntables offer a natural simulation of scratching. And it has a ton of other great features to make it an excellent all-around controller for any serious DJ.
My first pick and my top choice on the market is this excellent product from Numark. Numark is a popular company in the DJ equipment industry, producing some high quality equipment. I was therefore pleased that the Numark NS7III lives up to the manufacturers’ reputation.
This awesome set is built like a tank, with a durable construction that will last you for a long time. It comes with real vinyl on its spinning platters and comes with several features that make it better than a large chunk of what you will find on the market right now.
At first glance, it looks similar to previous models of DJ controllers from the manufacturer. However, unlike previous iterations, this model comes with screens. The screens are clipped to the rear of the device and feel really sturdy. They are made of plastic; however, during use, they feel really premium.
Setting up the device is quite straightforward. During my testing, I was able to do it without plenty of hassle. First, you need to lip on the screens to the console and wire them to the console. It is the console that gives it power. It also comes with a USB socket at the rear of the screens.
Using it is a breeze. The controls on the set make it easy to use. The screens allow you to DJ without using your laptop screen. The Akai Pro pads offer arguably the best implantation of Serato DJ software that I’ve come across. The knobs are highly responsive and deliver unique features that are only found on this model.
The highlights are the turntables. These 7” turntables feel great, and they should! They are made of genuine slip mats and vinyl. Hence, if you are looking for a DJ controller for scratching, you will love using this product.
To begin, you have to set up Serato DJ, which is pretty straightforward and easy.
What I don’t like:
While this is my top choice, it isn’t a perfect product. It feels heavy and bulky. Thus it isn’t exactly for DJs on the road. I also observed that the pass filters are only compatible with MIDI Virtual Decks.
Recommended for: I highly recommend this option for any Digital DJ that wants a vinyl and spinning splatter feel. It is an excellent device that is very compatible with the impressive Serato DJ software. Hence, it deservedly is one of the best Best DJ controllers for scratching.
- Very durable and sturdy
- The spinning platters come with genuine vinyl and slip mats
- Has a trio of screens
- Big and somewhat bulky
- The pass filters are only compatible with MIDI Virtual Decks
Best for Serato: Pioneer DDJ-SZ2
- CDJ-style set-up
- Dual USB
- Serato DJ support
- Magvel crossfader
Up next is a relatively expensive option that proves its worth by coming with several impressive features that make it a top option on the market. This excellent model is an upgrade on older models from Pioneer DJ. It comes with all the features that made the other models great, and combines these with even more impressive features. Even though it is more expensive than expected, the features make the price worth it.
Pioneer makes some truly excellent rigs for DJs, and this model is arguably their best yet. It is the best Serato DJ controller, coming with mirrored CDJ-style installation, two USB ports that allow for seamless changeovers, and even an impressive Magvel crossfader.
I observed that Pioneer, in creating this model, upgraded its capabilities to ensure that Serato Software is still supported. Although Pioneer has Rekordbox DJ, the company still chose to make their latest model compatible with the more popular Serato software.
The controller is compatible with a variety of apps which enhance the overall performance. In use, the jog wheels perform well. This is in spite of their small size. They are responsive and have a certain tightness in them that feels great when scratching.
The hot cue sampler buttons at the top of the jog wheels work well and switching their function is very easy. It is compatible with IOS and Android devices via the Vjay and the Djay apps, respectively.
Overall, the performance offered is very satisfactory. The buttons on this model, as well as the knobs, feel super responsive.
It is as close to a professional controller that you will find, which means that it is easy to create sequences on it. With vocal FX, it is an excellent tool for every DJ.
What I don't like
The price is the main drawback here. Aside from that, it is a near perfect option for any serious DJ.
Recommended for: If you are not on a budget, then I highly recommend this option. For the high price, a serious DJ will get excellent value for money. While it is big, it comes with enough estate to accommodate features that translate into a powerful rig.
- Durable construction
- Sensitive jogs
- Better responding control
- Impressive sound quality
- High price
Best Budget DJ Controller: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SR2
- Dedicated buttons for Serato DJ
- Tactile Performance Pads
- USB or AC power
- Balanced XLR outputs
- Large, low-latency jog wheels
There are so many things to like about this model from Pioneer. Earlier, we reviewed the DDJ-SZ2, and the DJ DDJ-SR2 comes with similar features that make it one of the best DJ controllers for scratching.
The controls on this model are some of the most comprehensive that I have come across on a dual channel controller. One of the features I love in this aspect is the dedicated Pitch n Time controls that make DJing even more fun. Another button I love to find is the Key Lock. It is excellent when it is time to scratch.
There is a Panel button which allows the user to use different panels like FX, Flip, and more. It is easy to use and allows you to find the Beats per Minute or Artist of your choice with ease. I love how the pads feel too, even though they aren’t velocity sensitive. The knobs and buttons overall feel great and sturdy.
Aside from the controls, the outputs found on this model are good to have. I noticed that the model comes with major output cables. While several other options on the market come with just RCA output, this model comes with balanced booth outputs.
I love the dual channel controller that acts as an analog mixer and a Serato mixer. I observed that the DVS plugin is not required.
Overall it is an excellent choice for the low price it comes at.
What I don't like
Although it can be used for scratching, I noticed that the rig isn’t wide enough for unhindered scratching. The sound quality is also quite underwhelming if you're used to higher-grade controllers.
Recommended for: If you are on a budget, the low price of this model makes it an excellent alternative to more expensive counterparts.
- Decent build quality
- Versatile controls
- Excellent Mixer and DVS functions
- Mediocre sound quality
- Lacks AUX input
Best Dual Setup: Rane 72 + Dual Rane 12
- Full 12” vinyl
- Motorized platter for playback control
- Strip Search
- 8 hot-cue-triggers access
- 5.0 kfcm high-torque motor
- 4 decks of control
Sometimes, the best option is to simply have different controllers to handle your scratching – like the DJs of old. The Rane 12 combined with the Rane 72 mixer is the perfect dual setup for anyone who is serious about scratching, combining the mixing capabilities of Rane 72 with the excellent scratch-friendliness of Rane 12.
The Rane brand has been around for several years. The models from this manufacturer come with high build quality, functionality, and impressive crossfaders nearly unmatched on the market
First of all, the design of the Rane 72 makes it stand out from the crowd. It is constructed like an armour tank, with an all steel casing and very durable parts. Considering how much it costs, this isn’t a big surprise. It is one of the most solid controllers that I have laid my hand on. All the parts feel great (although the knobs are somewhat disappointing, more on that later).
It features Akai MPC pads, which are the best on the market. These not only look and feel great, but they are very responsive. They do not feel like plastic, rather, they actually ‘sink’ when pressed, and this gives them a premium feel.
From my testing, I can say that this controller is the nearest model to a complete controller layout that you will find in a DJ mixer. It comes with several features including the ability to change pad functions on either side.
The controls are expansive, with controls for typical functions like rolls, sampler, cues, and more. For missing functions, I found the user-mapped controls to come in very handy.
Sound quality is impressive on this bad boy. It delivers a crisp, warm, rich sound; much better than what is mostly found on the market. Bass sounds great, and it feels so well rounded.
One unique feature here are the faders. The magnetic faders on this model feel light and smooth. If you love scratching, I strongly believe that you will love the performance of the Rane.
I/O is impressive as well, with this model featuring several ports. With its USB Hub, you can easily connect your laptop.
What I don't like
One issue I had with this otherwise excellent model is that the USB Hub does not give enough power to run a hard drive. I also found the touch and waveforms on the display to be somewhat jerky. It is also big and heavy. Lastly, the knob position is hard to discern.
Recommended for: I recommend this controller for any DJ looking to purchase a high-end mixer compatible with Serato DJ. It can survive heavy use with barely any glitches and continues to churn out truly impressive performances for the serious DJ. If price isn’t an objection, then you should rest assured that this model will give you wonderful and durable performance.
- Beautiful design
- High sound production quality
- Smooth buttons
- Heavy and difficult to carry around to gigs
Best for Mixed Use: Pioneer DDJ-1000
- Customizable color LCD
- Improved Magvel Fader
- Four new Beat FX
- Four Sound Color FX
This unit is one of the best options on the market right now if you want to scratch on the side and need an otherwise excellent controller for gigs. Pioneer is a premier manufacturer of DJ equipment and continue to lead the way with high quality products. Although it is relatively cheap, the DDJ-1000 offers some really decent performance.
It features a style mixer in the middle and can be used to control four channels simultaneously. While there are more expensive options on the market, and even on this list, few can compete with this model in terms of balancing cost and performance.
I love the 16 multi-coloured performance pads found on this model. During testing, I observed that it let me to almost instantly, trigger loops, cue points, and samples. I love the high definition LCD screen that shows waveforms per jog wheel.
It comes with a 24bit, 44.1 kHz sound card, and it can be easily connected to any sound system.
Setup is easy. Once out of the box, you should download the required software from the manufacturer’s website. This takes about 25 minutes from downloading to registration. Once the software is downloaded and installed, the controller can be used. Connect it to the laptop USB port and configure your audio output and sound card. I found this easy to do as well since it comes with easy to follow instructions.
One of the first things I observed on the deck is that tracks can be chosen using the knob. The knobs themselves are sturdy and feel very responsive.
For scratching, the Magvel crossfade found on the device is truly impressive. It feels so good as movement is smooth. It allows you to quickly change the fader; which invariably makes scratching easier to do. Additionally, the large jog wheels offer enough ‘real estate’ to make scratching very comfortable.
Performance is more than decent with this option, and it is one of the most versatile mixers you will find on the market.
What we don't like
It does not support Serato DJ, which is my default software. However, I was able to map my controller. Another issue I had is that it lacks stand-alone functionality.
Recommended for: If you are looking to take your DJing up a notch, this model will serve you. It comes with customizable, full-sized platters that are great for scratching.
- Large jog wheels
- Nice Magvel Fader
- 24 bit/44.1 kHz interface
- No stand-alone functionality
- No official support for Serato
Best Entry-Level DJ Controller: Numark Mixtrack Pro
- High resolution 5-inch metal jog wheels
- Mix Control: Two physical decks
- 16 multi-function backlit pads
- Comes with 6 sample packs from Prime Loops
Should the Numark MixTrack Pro be used to scratching?
Not really. But if you're willing to make some compromises, it can be one of the cheapest introductions to scratching.
From first glance, this model strongly reminds me of older versions of the product. It comes with an interesting form factor that I liked. Numark did not choose to cram buttons and knobs on the small space it has. Instead, they made it with a shallow design, allowing plenty of space around the controls. This makes it easier to use.
Considering the low price, the build quality is decent. It features a plastic body, and although this might cause reservations, I found it to be rather sturdy. The controls, buttons and knobs all feel sturdy. Overall, it looks more expensive than its price.
The mixer section features 2 channels with 3-band EQ and a hi/low pass filter. The faders are stiff, which is good for mixing.
It comes with several features that are found in professional rigs like touch-sensitive jog wheels, volume level display, 16 trigger pads and more.
I rather enjoyed using the jog wheel. It is quite touch sensitive and is good for scratching. With the built-in sound card, you can connect it to your laptop and pair it with microphones, speakers, and other devices.
What we don't like
It is rather cheap; hence compromises are made in some aspects. For example, there is no visual feedback on the console itself. Furthermore, I don’t think that using a touch strip is the way to go for controlling effects. It feels awkward and affects smoothness of transitions.
Recommended for: I recommend this option for folks that are learning the ropes of DJing.
- The pitch faders are stiff and great to use
- Great for beginners
- Doesn’t come with complete software
- The touch strip is cumbersome to use
Over to You
If you're truly serious about scratching and want it to be your mainstay as a DJ, I would still recommend going with vinyl and turntables (see our best beginner turntables here).
However, if you want to scratch on the side and would rather get all the features and creature comforts of modern DJ controllers, the options above should give you a good start. Pick any one and while it might not hold up to vinyl, it will be among the best DJ controllers for scratching in 2020.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Our best DJ controllers list by price: Under $100, Under $300, Under $500 and Under $1000
- Our favorite DJ mixers on the market
- Need a laptop? Here's our updated list of the best DJ laptops
- April 16, 2020: Article first published
- September 18, 2020: Article updated