What’s the Best DJ Controller Under $500? Our Top Picks

Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

Buying a DJ controller doesn’t necessarily mean spending thousands of dollars. With our top picks for the best DJ controller under $500, you can start producing pro-level mixes without spending pro-level prices.

Anyone serious enough about DJing needs a DJ controller. Sure, laptops are ubiquitous in the DJ world and virtually everything is done by software. But this software needs a controller to get the most out of it. The hands-on interface of a controller adds a dimension to your DJing that a laptop-only setup simply can’t match.

Performance is one thing. Fun is another. Using a keyboard + mouse is, frankly, boring. You will have far, far more fun if you have a DJ controller to control things. The ability to say, flick a crossfader and switch tracks, or drag a fader to pump up the volume is simply far more fun on a controller.

Then there’s the performative aspect. Using Traktor or Serato on your laptop might be fine for a house party of your friends, but it’s going to look dorky for a club setting. If you ever hope to even moonlight as a DJ, you need a controller.

Which is to say, using a DJ controller makes you a better DJ. And more importantly, it is more fun.

In this guide, we’ll look at the best DJ controller under $500. We’ll look at some budget pieces for absolute beginners, and we’ll also share some of our top picks for intermediate to even pro-level DJs.

But before that, here’s a quick look at our best DJ controllers under $500:

  • Best overall: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3
  • Best performance: Denon DJ MC4000
  • Best for beginners: Numark Party Mix
  • Most portable: Numark DJ2GO2
We use rigorous research, reviews, and real-world performance when recommending products. Our reviewers include producers, performers, and active musicians. You can read more about our review process here. Be advised that MIDINation might earn referral commissions on purchases made through this website. This does not affect your final purchase price.
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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 4 Best DJ Controllers Under $500

In this section, we’ll do a deep dive into our top picks, why we chose them, and what’s the right option for you.

Brief note on DJ controllers and software

A DJ controller is essentially a physical interface to control DJ software. While there are plenty of controllers on the market that don’t need software (or even to be hooked up to a DJ laptop), you’ll get the most from your gear if you actually do use it with a full-fledged DJ software.

While technically you can use any DJ controller with any software, you’ll get the most from it if you align the controller with the right software.

In other words, when you buy a DJ controller, you’re essentially also buying DJ software. Apart from the physical attributes and features of the controller, you also have to see whether the paired DJ software fits your needs.

The big three in DJ software are:

  • Rekordbox DJ: This is Pioneer’s own DJ software. It pairs wonderfully with Pioneer’s DJ controllers and turntables.
  • Serato: The most popular independent DJ software. It pairs well with controllers from a range of manufacturers, including Reloop, Denon, Rane, Pioneer, and Numark.
  • Traktor: The Traktor DJ software is produced and sold by Native Instruments. Consequently, it works best with NI’s line of Traktor Kontrol DJ controllers, although you can also use controllers from other manufacturers.

There are no hard rules about this of course. You’re perfectly free to use a Pioneer DDJ with Serator or Traktor (most do anyway). It’s all about finding the software you like and pairing it with a controller that fits your needs.

For instance, Pioneer is, by far, the most popular brand in the DJ controller category. At the same time, few pros use Rekordbox DJ, even though it’s free for Pioneer customers.

Take the time to learn about different DJ software and find the one that fits your needs. You can grab trial versions of these tools below:

When you find a software that you like, choose one of the DJ controllers below to build your first DJ setup.

A note about budgets

DJ controllers tend to be expensive. Any gear under $500, by default, is aimed at intermediate and beginner users. Professional grade DJ controllers typically cost close to $1,000 and up.

Because we’re looking primarily at the best DJ controllers under $500, this article is geared towards beginners and intermediates. If you’re an experienced pro, you might find some of the explanations here too rudimentary. Keep this in mind as you read the article.

Best DJ Controller: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3

Pioneer DDJ-SB3 is the best DJ controller under $500 overall

Key features:

  • Intuitive pad scratch feature
  • FX fade feature for smooth track blending
  • Robust build quality
  • On-board sound card
  • Mic input
  • Compatible with Serato, Rekordbox
  • USB-powered
  • 2 channels, 4 deck control
  • 128mm alumninum jog wheels
  • 2.1kg weight

A lot of DJ controllers under at the low-end of the market tend to treat DJing as a gimmick. Hence you have all these controllers with built-in strobe lights and friendly, non-intimidating designs. This might be good for getting absolute beginners into the world of DJing, but it leaves you ill-equipped to graduate to an actual performance controller.

Not the Pioneer DDJ-SB3.

The DDJ-SB3 looks, feels, and plays like any “grown up” DJ controller. It doesn’t mask the technical complexity of DJing with a facade of friendliness. The interface that you get on the SB3 is exactly the same as you would find on Pioneer’s $1,000+ controllers (albeit scaled down).

In other words, if you build your chops on the DDJ-SB3, you’re halfway there to being a pro DJ. This is also the reason why we placed it right at the top of our budget list in our earlier roundup of DJ controllers.

Coming back to this unit, you get virtually everything you’d want from a beginner-friendly-yet-feature-rich DJ controller. You get:

  • Large, sensitive 5” jog wheels that feel as good to use as those on Pioneer’s high-end controllers.
  • Gig-friendly build quality minus the weight (at just 2.1kg)
  • 4 deck control  and 8 pads on each deck. Each pad can control FX, use Beat Jump or Pioneer’s innovative Pad Scratch feature
  • Pad Scratch feature lets you add scratch effects to track without actually, you know, scratching the track
  • Serato compatible
  • Built-in sound card

The best of all? You get to boast of a Pioneer controller without spending Pioneer-tier prices.

Another plus is the DDJ-SB3’s enduring popularity. Since this is often the first DJ controller for many aspiring DJs, there are a ton of tutorials for it on YouTube. This is a massive advantage, especially when you’re starting out.

What we don’t like

There are some things that are less than perfect, such as:

  • The built-in sound card isn’t the best. You’ll hear a lot of internal electronic interference on high-powered speakers
  • Lightweight faders are good for quick changes but feel cheap.
  • Small fader travel makes this a poor choice for certain genres with slow buildup (such as House)

Recommended for: Anyone who is serious about DJing and wants a pro-tier experience without paying pro-tier prices. 

Pros

  • Pioneer’s enduring brand name and build quality
  • Large, sensitive jog wheels
  • Innovative features such as Pad Scratch and built-in FX

Cons

  • Built-in sound card is mediocre at best
  • Limited fader travel is less than ideal for long transitions
  • Fader build quality could have been better

Best Performance: Denon DJ MC4000

Denon DJ MC4000 is the best performance DJ controller under $500

Key features:

  • 2 decks
  • Touch-activated jog wheels
  • 8 pads for each deck
  • Long throw 100mm pitch faders
  • Dedicated Hot Cue and sample trigger pads
  • Dedicated EQ and FX controls
  • Steel construction for durability
  • Includes Serato DJ Intro

The Denon DJ MC4000 is the closest you can get to a pro-grade DJ controller without spending $1,000. Even though Denon itself classifies the MD4000 as an entry-level controller, its features, design, and performance are hardly “entry-level”.

Let’s start with the two decks. Like its elder siblings, the MC7000 and MCX8000, this unit boasts touch-sensitive jog wheels. This really opens up new dimensions in terms of how you interact with your tracks. Skipping, scratching, etc. feels far more intuitive and immediate.

Each deck is paired with 8 illuminated pads. Built-in features such as Hot Cue allow you to jump to a specific point in a track, all with the tap of a button (bear in mind that Hot Cue only works with Serato DJ Pro).

One of our favorite features is the onboard sound effects. The scratch sounds as real as you can get – no one will be able to tell that it’s a built-in effect and not Sir Mix-a-lot in the house. The built-in filters also work great, especially the “ducking” feature that lets you move vocals to the high-end at the tap of a button.

You also get two mic inputs with built-in echo and EQ. Perfect for karaoke or just to talk during a gig. Plus, there are tons of input/output options, all in 24bit quality (output).

Our favorite bit, however, is the build quality. Most entry level DJ controllers skimp on materials and use plenty of plastic. Not the Denon MC4000. You get pro-grade all-steel construction. You can drop this thing on concrete and it will still work as new. If you want something that will last you for years, get this Denon.

On the whole, Denon might not have the brand name of Pioneer and it might be a few notches more expensive, but it is far more feature rich and better built.

What we don’t like

Our chief (minor) complaints are:

  • It ships with Serato DJ Intro which is severely pared down compared to Serato DJ Pro. Lots of functions (such as Hot Cue) won’t work, forcing you to upgrade.
  • Twin mic inputs are great, but they don’t feed into the headphones so you can’t really monitor them.
  • Crossfader build quality could have been slightly better.

Recommended for: Serious beginner DJs who want a feature-rich, pro-grade controller without paying thousands of dollars.

Pros

  • Great build quality
  • Touch sensitive jog wheels are a lot of fun
  • Tons of connections

Cons

  • Crossfader build quality could have been better
  • Mic input doesn’t feed into headphones

Best for Beginners: Numark Party Mix

For beginners, the Numark Party Mix is a great budget controller

Key features:

  • Ultra-portable design
  • Built-in light show
  • Onboard sound card with headphone + main out
  • DJ turntable style jog wheels for authentic DJing experience
  • 4 pads on each deck to control cue points
  • Low weight (1.76 Lbs)
  • Ships with Virtual DJ

Built-in light show. Flimsy buttons. Tons of plastic everywhere.

You might be wondering: what’s a product like this doing on a MIDINation “best of” list?

The Numark Party Mix has lots of problems (and we’ll get to them later). See it in the prism of a serious beginner DJ unit like the Denon MC4000 and you’ll only be disappointed.

But the truth is that the Party Mix never professes to be anything more than a beginner’s toy. It definitely has all the gimmicks and features of one (the light show – which Numark markets heavily – is the chief one). Think of it as a facsimile of a DJ controller.

It is precisely this lack of features and toy-like performance that make the Numark Party Mix our most recommended beginner’s DJ controller. If you’re new to DJing, a full-featured Pioneer or Denon can be intimidating. Besides the price point, the technical complexity of the hardware can be discouraging.

The Numark Party Mix, by removing all the technical challenges and paring away the features, makes DJing far more accessible. By turning the controller into a toy, it encourages absolute newbies to at least try out DJing.

Some might scoff at this. But for us, this is a massive win – the more people who get into DJing, the better.

So treat this thing as a fun toy that encourages people to take up DJing. If you’re an absolute beginner, it’s the perfect mix of features, price, and performance.

What we don’t like

Before we recommend this whole-heartedly to the budding DJ, there is one big thing you should know about:

The included software – Virtual DJ – isn’t really “free”.

So much of the Numark marketing makes it sound as if you get the complete software with every unit. You don’t. After a month of use, you will have to “upgrade” your account to access all the features. This adds $50 to the purchase price.

While you can theoretically plug this unit into other DJ tools like Serato or Traktor, you’ll find that the pads don’t light up and some of the features don’t work. Numark essentially locks you into Virtual DJ and you will have to pay extra to fully use it.

This is clearly bait-and-switch marketing and we would have really preferred if Numark was honest about it. This is the only reason why we add an “*” to every recommendation for the Party Mix.

Recommended for: Absolute beginners who need an easy to use and affordable controller to get started with DJing. 

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Affordably priced
  • Small footprint and compact design

Cons

  • Poor build quality
  • Bait-and-switch marketing – you don’t really get the DJ software for free

Best for Portability: Numark DJ2GO2

Numark DJ2GO2 is the most portable DJ controller under $500

Key features:

  • 2 channels with 2 jog wheels
  • Built-in audio card
  • Headphone cueing built-in
  • Crossfader + pitch-faders for each channel
  • Dedicated 1/8” headphone + main out
  • Four pad modes to control sync, loops, cue-points, etc.
  • Ultra-portable design
  • Ships with Serato Lite, compatible with Serato Pro

The DJ2GO2 is one of the most delightful DJ controllers on the market. It is absolutely tiny and packs in so many little features that you’ll wonder how Numark managed to pack all of it into such a small package.

The first thing you should know, however, is that the DJ2GO2 is not a full-fledged DJ controller (though it has a lot of features of one). Show up to a real gig with it and you won’t be taken seriously.

Instead, it’s meant for house parties, casual performances, and DJs who want to practice on their own without using a big, bulky unit. It is barely wider than a laptop keyboard and can sit comfortably across a Macbook Pro’s trackpad. The weight, at under 12 ounces, is ridiculously low. You can keep it in your backpack and not even feel it.

While portability is the chief reason to buy this unit, it’s not the only one. Between the two tiny jog wheels, 4×2 pads with dedicated pad modes, and built-in audio card, you can get pretty decent performance out of it as well. We’ve seen this used in house parties just as often as we’ve seen pro DJs use it to cue up their tracks.

(Heck, we’ve even seen people pull this out on a plane to work on their tracks on the go.)

Most negative reviews tend to focus on the poor build quality or the lack of features and tiny jogwheels, but they miss the point. This is a “drop it in the bag on your way to a friend’s house party” kind of DJ controller. It’s absolutely tiny and incredibly fun.

Get the DJ2GO2 if you already have a bigger, better DJ controller and need something to use on the go. Or get it if you’re just starting out and want something that will fulfil your curiosity without draining your wallet.

Recommended for: DJs who want a cheap, affordable and extremely portable DJ unit to use on the go. Beginners who want something non-intimidating to start practicing will also love it.

Pros

  • Tiny size and narrow footprint
  • Low weight – under 0.75 lbs!
  • Packed with basic features

Cons

  • Little in the way of performance-oriented features
  • Tiny jog wheels are tough to use
  • Some units have a humming issue from the built-in sound card

Final Words

Finding a great DJ controller under $500 isn’t easy. This entire product category, as a rule, tends to be filled with expensive options.

However, as you saw above, there are a few great controllers within this price range. Pick any one of the four units above and you won’t be disappointed.

Just to recap, here is our list of the best DJ controller under $500, sorted by category:

Questions, suggestions, or doubts?

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References:

Changelog
  • July 9, 2019: Article published
  • February 12, 2020: Article revised and updated
  • September 17, 2020: Minor changes to article structure