The Best DJ Mixer You Can Buy Right Now

Last Updated on September 18, 2020 by Ryan Harrell

We’ve always been big fans of minimalist production and DJ setups. But there are a few things you can’t do without, and a DJ mixer is one of them. For any aspiring or practicing DJ, a DJ mixer is about as close as it gets to an “essential”. In this guide, we’ll look at the best DJ mixer in 2020 and what to consider when buying one.

Our Best DJ Mixers

Best overall: Pioneer DJM-S9
“Beginners, intermediates, pros – the DJM-S9 works for everyone”

Best fro beginners: Pioneer DJM-250MK2
“Affordable and effective choice for your first “grown up” mixer”

Best for professionals: Allen & Heath XONE:92
“Finesse, precision, and excellent build quality for pros”

They say that the first love affair of any DJ is with his mixer.

Well, almost.

Hyperbole aside, DJ mixers are key items in any DJ’s toolkit. They’re not just a fancy, gimmicky add-on; they’re downright essential to your performance and profession. You’ll need them to mix your beat-matched tracks. And good ones will even let you add some creative flair to your mixes with the help of built-in effects.

But buying DJ mixers can be tricky, especially if you’re new to the field. There is a whole range of mixers to choose from at varying price points. Some of the best DJ mixers for beginners can be bought for under $150, while professional DJ mixers can go up to $1,000 and beyond.

Which is the best DJ mixer for you? What should you consider when you buy a DJ mixer today? We’ll share answers to both these questions below. We’ll start by reviewing the best DJ mixers on the market right now. We’ll then share a short buying guide to help you make the right decision.

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.

DJ Mixers vs DJ Controllers

If you’ve hung around our site, you know that we’ve covered DJ controllers extensively in other reviews.

For a beginner, this is a big source of confusion – how does a DJ controller differ from a DJ mixer? And what should you buy?

So before we begin looking at the best DJ mixers in 2020, I feel we need to clarify this category-confusion.

Let’s go back to the beginning: how do you DJ?

In very simple terms, DJing is the process of lining up two tracks and mixing them in a manner that is pleasant and consistent with the “mood” you’re trying to create.

This is accomplished with the use of a “crossfader”. A crossfader is nothing but a fader that shifts output from one track to another. If you have one track on the left, another on the right, moving the crossfader will shift sound output from the left to the right track. If you do this well enough, the transition will feel seamless and the tracks will “blend” with each other.

A crossfader is the definitive element of a DJ mixer and is used to “fade” from one source to another

To DJ, thus, you essentially need two things:

  • Two tracks – or two instruments that can play two tracks simultaneously
  • A way to “fade” sound output between them, that is, a crossfader

In old-school DJ setups (especially among scratch or hip-hop DJs), you would have two turntables with a mixer connecting them. The crossfader on the mixer would be used to mix the two tracks together.

In a traditional setup, two audio sources feed into a DJ mixer, which feeds into a PA system

A DJ controller essentially combines this entire setup – two audio sources (turntables) and a mixer – into a single unit. It’s virtually the same setup as above, except it’s housed in a single unit. This means that if you have a DJ controller, you don’t have to carry separate mixers and turntables.

A DJ controller combines two audio sources and a mixer into a single unit

Thus, a DJ mixer is a part of a DJ controller, but not vice versa.

If you have a DJ controller, you don’t need a DJ mixer.

This is the basic difference between a DJ controller and a DJ mixer. The latter is one part of the former. If you get a DJ mixer, you will have to get your sound sources (usually turntables). But if you have a DJ controller, you don’t need a separate DJ mixer.

We’ll cover this in more detail later. For now, let’s look at our selection of the best DJ mixers in 2020.

The Best DJ Mixers in 2020

We’ve segregated our list into different categories below. We’ll look at the best DJ mixer for beginners, professionals, budget buyers, and so on. Pick the category that best describes your requirements to get the right recommendation.

Pioneer DJM-29 is the best DJ mixer for serious DJs and producers

Pioneer DJM-S9 DJ Battle Mixer

Pop under the hood of any professional DJ setup and you’ll likely find this beast running the show. Pioneer has a rightful place at the top of the DJ gear hierarchy and the DJM-S9 – one of Pioneer’s top offerings – shows why. The magnetic crossfader is magically fun to use, gliding in and out of tracks smoothly. Great built-in FX, performance pads, and impeccable sound quality round up the offerings.

For these reasons, the DJM-S9 is our pick for the best DJ mixer in 2020.

What makes a great DJ mixer?

While there are countless factors at play, the single most important feature in any DJ mixer is the crossfader.

This single piece of hardware often determines your DJing experience. A good crossfader will give you fine control over your mix. It will help you shift output smoothly, and when needed, jog from one output to another rapidly.

Building a good crossfader is far tougher than it appears. You need smooth, tight control. But you also need enough “give” to allow rapid shifting – as you would as a scratch or battle DJ. And of course, it needs to be reliable enough to not break over extended use (a crossfader not responding in the middle of a gig is every DJ’s nightmare).

The crossfader is the reason why we’ve placed the Pioneer DJM-S9 at the top of our list of the best DJ mixers in 2020. The DJM-S9 uses a Magvel Fader Pro crossfader – a magnetic crossfader that offers both smoothness and flexibility. It’s a delightful experience that’s not surpassed by any other mixers on this list.

But the crossfader isn’t the only thing working in the DJM-S9’s favor. You also get a ton of features and controls, including:

  • 16 performance pads
  • Built-in effects
  • 12 customizable FX buttons
  • High-pass, low-pass filters
  • 2 style levers to turn effects on/off
  • Built-in USB soundcards (x2)
  • Clip display

While the DJM-S9 is built for Serato, it is also compatible with rekordbox. Traktor uses, however, are out of luck – the S9 is not compatible with Traktor out of the box. You’ll have to do some tinkering (details here) to get it to work.

What we don’t like

The price, for one. This isn’t cheap and it’s not recommended for beginner DJs. Buy it if you’re a professional and know how to make the best of it.

As mentioned, the lack of Traktor compatibility is also a negative – though there are equally good Traktor-compatible DJ mixers (see below).

Another negative is the build quality on the crossfader. While it is tight and seamless in performance, the build quality is slightly underwhelming.

Recommended for: The Pioneer DJ DJM-S9 Battle Mixer is the best DJ mixer for professionals and serious performers who can put its features to full use.

Pros

  • Professional build quality makes it ideal for professional use
  • Seamless compatibility with Serato
  • Best-in-class magnetic crossfader

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Lack of Traktor, VirtualDJ compatibility
  • Parts of the mixer  aren’t as durable as the rest

Best 4-Channel DJ Mixer: Numark M6

Numark M6 is the best DJ mixer for beginners

Key features:

  • Four input channels with gain, three-band EQ, and LED metering
  • Switchable phono/line input for superior compatibility and outputs
  • Straight-forward functionality with few superfluous features
  • USB connectivity

Classifying a specific DJ mixer as being the best for beginners can be a challenge. It’s difficult to do this because most models don’t come with training features, and you have to self-educate. So what makes the M6 different?

It’s the little things. More professional and advanced models come with many built-in features and complicated layouts that can be intimidating to a newbie—or outright incomprehensible.

The Numark M6, meanwhile, keeps things simple. If you’re looking for a mixer that has many features, this won’t be the pick for you. But if you want to focus on the basics of DJing, it’ll provide you the perfect platform for just that.

The M6 has dedicated EQ and gain controls which lets you pair with microphone use easily. The board itself has excellent build quality and is “gig-ready”. It should survive the rigors of touring and a lot of moving around without risk to the hardware, which can be a sensitive consideration for someone just starting out. After all, you don’t want to spend a lot of money on something and then have it fall apart. I thought the mixer was sturdy and resilient.

What we don’t like

Unfortunately, the mixer does have a couple drawbacks. From a hardware perspective, the crossfader has some erratic behavior. You’ll need to figure out its quirks and then compensate for them, which means you’ll have issue switching boards in the future.

The lack of features can be seen as a detriment for some people. You’re limited in what you can do. So once you’ve mastered the basics you’ll need to upgrade if you hope to continue advancing.

Recommended for: Perfect for someone who doesn’t need much and instead wants to focus on learning the basics of mixing without worrying over build quality.

Pros

  • Great build quality ensures longevity
  • Lots of input options and dedicated gain control
  • USB connectivity lets you pair the mixer with your computer
  • Four channels

Cons

  • Crossfader isn’t consistent and requires compensating
  • Lack of features can act as a cap to further learning and event playing
  • Some reviews say the board has poor grounding, giving it a “hum”

Best Mid-Range DJ Mixer: Behringer DDM4000

Behringer DDM-4000 is the best DJ mixer for mid-range DJs

Key features:

  • 5-channel mixer with BPM counters, crossfader, and 8 signal sources
  • Built-in sampler with loop functionality, pitch control, and FX
  • Mixer setting memory allows you to save and re-use specific settings

Behringer is a trusted provider in the industry. Comparatively speaking, you get a lot of bang for your buck with the 5-Channel DDM4000. You get a bunch of features for a relatively low cost, and this can be great for someone who wants a little more oomph in their DJing without paying for a professional setup.

The issue here is that costs have to be cut somewhere. The build quality of the board and the quality of its screen leave a bit to be desired. They aren’t bad, but they could be better—especially if you plan on lugging the mixer around to different venues. Some reviews suggest that the screen can go dark, which can be a huge issue if it happens in the middle of an event.

But remember that the mixer comes with a lot of features. You’ll get a beat-synchronized sampler that lets you operate the mixer without a dedicated DJ controller. There are dedicated EQ and gain channels for the microphone, and the built-in FX engine lets you add effects to your voice or the beat live.

A fair warning to the newbies: the board can be a little confusing in its layout, and the lack of customization means you might be hitting the wrong buttons when the intensity ramps up at a gig. Get your muscle memory going before being put in the spotlight.

What we don't like

As I noted above, the build quality is a little questionable. Some of these issues are minor (such as paint chipping), but some others can be gig-destroying, like the screen going dark.

The board layout is also poorly thought out. There is no intuitive separation of channels and buttons. Rather, the buttons/controls are crowded together at the bottom half of the unit, which means that you can trigger the wrong control at times.

But then, if you want a 5-channel mixer, you will have to put up with such design issues.

Recommended for: The Behringer 5-Channel DDM4000 packs a lot of power for its cost, and is ideal for someone who isn’t a beginner but not quite at the level of an expert. One of the best DJ mixers for mid-range or intermediate DJs.

Pros

  • Lots of features packed into a lower-priced mixer
  • Many input/output options alongside a sampler and built-in FX engine
  • Great for those who aren’t new but aren’t full-time pros

Cons

  • Build quality is neglected due to cost
  • Confusing board layout is counterintuitive for beginners and for events
  • Screen may need to be replaced over extended use

Best Budget DJ Mixer: Gemini MM1

Gemini MM1 is the best DJ mixer for beginners

Key features:

  • Extremely low weight and small size for easy transport
  • All-metal chassis for increased durability
  • 2-channel mixer with rotary EQ and gain control

Sometimes you just don’t need a lot to work with.

The Gemini MM1 understands this, and is clear on what it offers: basic mixing at a rock-bottom price. It is great for tiny budgets, beginners, or people who aren’t looking for a large unit with a plethora of features.

So let’s get the drawbacks out of the way first. The mixer only has 2-band EQ on each channel and no automated crossfader, meaning your mixing options are limited. The lack of controls and features also mean you can’t use the MM1 in professional settings—you’re limited to using it for small casual events or in your own home.

But it does well at what it offers. The crossfader is manual, but it’s also large and easy to use. The build quality is also excellent; you can make the mixer go through a total beating and it’ll come out the other end just as spiffy.

It sounds hard to believe, but I confirmed it myself: the mixer is less than 2 pounds. You’ll barely notice it when packing, and it’s small enough that you don’t need special storage. It really is wonderful at doing the bare minimum.

What I don't like

Outside of the crossfader and 3-band EQ controls, this budget DJ mixer offers little in terms of features or controls. While that's not something to complain about, one wonders if it might be better to spend a little extra and get more features.

Recommended for: This DJ mixer gets the job done at a bargain price – easily the best budget DJ mixer for those who just want to DJ at home or at small venues.

Pros

  • Low cost with superior build quality
  • Crossfader is large and easy to operate
  • Does what it advertises in a no-nonsense way

Cons

  • Can’t be used in professional settings
  • The crossfader isn’t automated and requires constant manual operation
  • Mixing options are limited due to 2-band EQ

Best Trakor DJ Mixer: NI Traktor Kontrol Z2

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2 is the best DJ mixer for Traktor users

Key features:

  • Designed for Traktor DJ software
  • Built-in Macro FX controls for live track alterations
  • 2 dedicated remix channels
  • Backlit buttons for dark environments

After dedicating an entry to a DJ mixer that’s built for Serato DJ software, it’s only fair that I give a fair shake to the Traktor family.

Let’s have a look at the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2.

Right off the bat, it needs to be said that the board comes with premium Traktor software. It is built to be used with the brand’s family of products, and it takes the extra step by providing you a free license. It’s a small thing, but it’s a nice touch.

The Traktor Kontrol Z2 has exceptional build quality with a robust aluminum chassis but only weighs a hair above 11 pounds. Built-in FX controls let you make full use of the Traktor Scratch Pro 2 software suite, giving you access to remix decks and controllers, advanced features that transform your beat, and a “flux mode” that tracks time so you can activate drops and switches when it counts most.

Compatibility with Traktor, of course, is top notch. Plug it in and you can start using it immediately. Great if you don't like the extensive setup and tinkering required with non-NI DJ mixers.

What we don't like

From a feature viewpoint, it’s not easy to complain about the Traktor Kontrol Z2. Where it does lag behind, however, is inconsistency in build quality.

While in our own review, we experienced no build quality issues, plenty of other customers and reviewers have noticed inconsistent build quality. Some units have paint chipping issues, while in some cases, the unit itself fails (which, to NI's credit, they fix quickly).

Additionally, the crossfader can also start to “bleed” after a while, making it necessary for you to recalibrate it frequently

Recommended for:Any DJ who finds their comfort zone in Traktor software will enjoy the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2 – our pick for the best DJ mixer for Traktor.

Pros

  • Its specialized design gives you maximum usability in Traktor software suites
  • Powerful FX engine provides you greater variety in beat manipulation
  • Dedicated remix channels and controllers let you create remixes in the moment

Cons

  • Manufacturer has inconsistent build quality
  • Not very useful if you use software that isn’t from Traktor
  • Crossfader can require constant tinkering

Best Professional DJ Mixer: Allen & Heath XONE:92

Allen & Heath Xone:92 is the best DJ mixer for serious club DJs and performers

Key features:

  • 3-band EQ with “total kill” functionality
  • XONE filter with resonance control, VCA faders, and crossfader curve selector
  • Dedicated stereo send and return channels for external unit integration

Pioneer and NI might make some great DJ gear, but if you ever peeped into a big club performer's rig, you'll likely see an Allen & Heath.

Allen & Heath might be unknown to average folks, but when it comes to top-tier DJ equipment, they're the brand to beat. The Cornwall, England-based company has been making high-end audio gear since the 1970s. Most of their offerings are expensive but always boast impeccably tuned internals and best-in-class build quality.

The Allen & Heath XONE:23 is the mixer for you if you’re already working in professional clubs. You’re offered a wide range of input options that will feel like home to a professional who’s experienced in the craft. With 6 channels, your mixing choices are far superior to that of a more casual mixer.

You’ll run into problems if you’re looking for a one-stop shop mixer, however. The XONE:23 is great at what it does, but it requires external units if you want to expand on features. There is no built-in FX engine, for example, so you’ll need an external FX engine. The board does come with dedicated connections for this purpose.

The board is also complicated. Beginners, intermediate DJs, and those who aren’t used to the club scene might end up overwhelmed when trying to operate this mixer.

Low-pass and high-pass filters, frequency sweeping, and resonance control arm you with incredibly precise control over your tracks and beats. You have up to 4 stereo sources for simultaneous routing which doesn’t include the sources you gain from the external FX system.

And, of course, the mixer comes with backlit features, soft-touch buttons and knobs, and high-quality meters.

Recommended for: Meant for professional club settings, the Allen & Heath XONE:23 is the best DJ mixer for professionals.

Pros

  • Tons of I/O options
  • Crossfader is high quality, and support is available for external faders
  • Fantastic sound quality and build quality

Cons

  • Expensive and not ideal for casual DJs
  • No built-in FX engine necessitates the use of an external unit
  • Very complicated to use – not meant for beginners or intermediates

Best DJ Mixer for Beginners: Pioneer DJM-250MK2

Pioneer DJM-250MK2 is the best DJ mixer for casual DJs

Key features:

  • 64-bit digital signal processor
  • Supports rekordbox dj and Traktor Scratch Pro 2
  • Dedicated Sound Color FX filter, inherited from a more advanced mixer
  • 3-band isolators and built-in channel faders

If you are a DJ who performs frequently but not at the level of huge clubs and venues, you’re probably not looking for the best of the best.

Pioneer is a leading and trusted brand in the DJ industry and has the solution. It combines casual playing with professional features (from mixers like the DJM-S9 mentioned at the beginning of this guide) in the DJM-250MK2. This lets you avoid learning the kit of a pro while still providing a pumped up and intense experience for your listeners.

In particular, I really liked how this mixer has the Magvel crossfader and its built-in FX engine. You see these features in a more costly, and more advanced, mixer. Having those “inherited” by a mixer that costs less is nice to see. Keep in mind, though, that lower cost means some things are sacrificed. The crossfader on the DJM-250MK2 isn’t as durable as the crossfader on the DJM-S9.

The DJM-250MK2 supports Traktor Scratch Pro 2 natively but tends to lean towards better compatibility with the rekordbox software suite. It ships with included license keys for rekordbox dj and rekordbox dvs.

Its built-in hi/low pass filter makes it a breeze to manipulate the texture of tracks and build switches and drops while performing. For the price tag, you get a great product with decent sound quality.

Recommended for: DJs who don’t have overly rigorous tour schedules and who prefer some software assistance will likely view the Pioneer DJ DJM-250MK2 as an ideal mixer.

Pros

  • Inherits features from more advanced mixers
  • Software support can make your life easier
  • Built-in filters can emulate some professional tricks and performance standards

Cons

  • Inherited hardware features are less durable than their originals
  • No dedicated booth and monitor outputs
  • Not quite to a professional standard, making it non-ideal for large events

This covers our list of the best DJ mixers you can buy in 2019.

In the next section, we'll share a few tips for buying DJ mixers to help you make a better decision.

DJ Mixer Buying Guide

If you're an experienced DJ, you already know how important the mixer is for a good performance.

If you're new to DJing, however, you might have a few questions about DJ mixers. Namely, how do they differ from audio mixers, what do different features mean, and what you should consider when buying the best DJ mixer for your needs.

We'll look at some answers below.

Understanding DJ Mixers

The first few questions any beginner always asks is: What is a DJ mixer, why do I need one, and how do they differ from audio mixers?

Feel free to skip this section if you're an experienced pro and just need some general pointers for buying DJ mixers. But if you're a beginner, I urge you to stick around and read through this section.

Let's start with the first and obvious question:

What is a DJ mixer?

A DJ mixer is often called the "backbone" of any DJ setup.

Essentially, this piece of equipment does the following:

  • Take input signals from your deck, i.e. your turntables
  • Combine these input signals into one, i.e. mix them
  • Enable you to transition from one signal to another (i.e. one deck to another) seamlessly

This makes the DJ mixer essential for any DJ setup that doesn't use a DJ controller.

The DJ mixer enables this smooth transition through a crossfader. Swing the crossfader to the left and you'll hear input from channel 1 (i.e. track 1). Swing it to the right and you'll hear channel 2. Keep it in the middle and you'll hear a mix of both the tracks. Move it slowly from channel 1 to 2 and you'll have a smooth transition between tracks.

Of course, that's not all. Depending on the make and model, a DJ mixer can also help you add special effects to tracks, filter out frequencies, and assist in beat-matching.

Do I need a DJ mixer?

Now you might be wondering if a DJ mixer really is necessary. After all, doesn't most DJing now happen via software?

While it's true that DJ mixers aren't as essential as they used to be, thanks to DJing software. But my experience shows that having a physical interface to control your mixes is still a powerful capability. You might be able to get away with a software-only setup in a home gig, but as you move more and more towards serious, pro-level performances, you'll want a hardware interface to control your software.

This is where DJ mixers become necessary. They add much-needed intuitiveness and "physicality" to your performance (and keep in mind: DJing is a performance). They let you get hands on with your mix and change things on the fly. Not only does this make you a more spontaneous performer, it also gives you a greater sense of presence in any performance. Moving a crossfader by hand feels far better - and looks far better - than being glued to your Mac in the middle of a club.

Laptops might be nice but they lack the intuitiveness - and style - of a physical crossfader
Picture credit: Pixabay

If you're just starting out, you might want to begin with a basic DJing software. But if you're even remotely serious, get at least a beginner-level DJ mixer such as Numark M6.

 

How is a DJ mixer different from an audio mixer?

The next question I always get asked is: how does a DJ mixer compare to an audio mixer? Can you use one in place of the other?

Audio mixers are meant to give you control over a wide range of tracks and frequencies. The most basic audio mixers have at least 8 tracks. Pro-level mixers found in studios will have dozens, even hundreds of tracks.

The purpose behind an audio mixer is to give an audio engineer hands on control over different tracks.

For instance, a live band might have 8 input channels - two drum mics, two vocal mics, two guitars, one synth, and one bass. All of these would be connected to the audio mixer. If the vocals are too strong, the audio engineer can reduce its volume via the audio mixer. If a track needs the lead guitar to cut off at some point, the audio engineer can do it instantly.

Audio mixers and DJ mixers are entirely different product categories
This audio mixer can mix 16 tracks simultaneously - far more than a DJ mixer (Credit: Flipkart)

Thus, an audio mixer serves a very different purpose than a DJ mixer. Most DJ mixers connect just two tracks and help you transition between them. They're meant for performers, not audio engineers. While in theory you can hook up your turntables to an audio mixer as well, it's far more intuitive to use a DJ mixer instead.

 

What Should You Look for in the best DJ Mixer?

There are a ton of things you need to consider when buying a DJ mixer. Below, we'll look at some of the most common questions and how they fit into your buying decision.

What type of DJ are you?

As with most things, the first part of buying a DJ mixer begins with you.

If you're a casual DJ, performing at your niece's birthday and home parties, a powerful Allen & Heath mixer will just leave you confused and broke. On the other hand, if you want to become the next Tiesto, playing on a tiny Gemini MM-1 will leave you massively underwhelmed.

The first things you must consider, therefore, are:

  • How experienced are you with DJing? Would you classify yourself as a beginner, intermediate, or pro-level DJ?
  • What are your future plans as far as DJing goes? Do you want to become a pro? A semi-pro? Or are you happy playing for friends?
  • What equipment do you currently own? What other DJ equipment do you intend to buy in the near future?
  • What is your DJing style - if you have any? Do you prefer the hands-on intuitiveness of a hardware controller? Or are you happy sticking to software?

Be honest with yourself. Lots of people make the mistake of buying a DJ mixer (and other equipment) that is beyond both their needs and ambitions. Don't call yourself a pro-level DJ if you've never performed in a club and been paid for it (if you're still reading this, by the way, you're likely not a pro in the first place).

Align your buying decision with your experience, ambition, and skill level and you'll never be disappointed with your purchase.

 

What type of music do you play?

The next question you must consider is the kind of music you like to play.

Believe it or not, but not every DJ mixer is equally good for every kind of music. Some mixers perform better for certain genres than others.

Namely:

  • For hip-hop music, choose DJ mixers with short crossfades that help you make fast and easy cuts between tracks.
  • For house and EDM music, choose mixers with long crossfades and built-in filtering options since this will be a big part of your genre performance.
  • For Drum & Bass music, choose mixers with more than two audio channels so you have an easier time mixing different drum/bass sounds.

All things aside, keep this heuristic in mind:

  • Short crossfaders are good for genres that require quick cuts between tracks, such as hip-hop or even pop
  • Long crossfaders are good for genres that require smooth transitions between tracks, such as trance, house, and EDM.

Choose a DJ mixer accordingly.

 

What are the different types of DJ mixers?

Although they might look similar, not all DJ mixers are built the same way.

Broadly speaking, you can divide DJ mixers into the following categories:

  • Scratch mixers: Sometimes also called "battle mixers", these mixers typically have short crossfaders. They're meant primarily for hip-hop music and allow you to weave in and out of tracks quickly while you're scratching. This is a niche product and isn't particularly applicable for most DJs. However, if you like scratching and play hip-hop exclusively, it might be worth it to consider this category.
  • Regular mixers: These are your standard mixers with two or more audio tracks. These can be small and portable, or large and bulky. Most mixers fall into this category and will fit the needs of everyone from home DJs to professional performers.

You can divide regular mixers further based on the kind of input they use:

  • Analog DJ mixers: These are old school mixers that take input from an analog machine (such as a vinyl turntable). You can also hook them up to a digital signal (such as a computer) with the right cable/input. Analog DJ mixers are usually not particularly feature rich, but their ease of use, low latency, low-weight, and portability makes them a great choice, especially if you use a lot of analog sources.
  • Digital DJ mixers are, as the name implies, digital. That is, they take input from digital sources such as a digital turntable or computer. Because they work with digital signals, these mixers have a lot more features and capabilities such as filters and effects. On the flip side, digital DJ mixers can be expensive and cheap ones often suffer from sound quality and feature-bloat issues.

There are also an increasing number of integrated DJ mixers on the market. These combine a traditional DJ mixer and a traditional deck into a single unit. Thus, you don't have to carry around your turntable everywhere; you can get it integrated into your DJ mixer.

This can be a space saving, affordable option for new DJs, although they do sacrifice some features and flexibility. Moreover, you are stuck with the same deck and mixer combo, whereas with separate decks and mixers, you can upgrade/downgrade as necessary.

 

Factors to consider when buying DJ mixers

The above section should give you a quick understanding of different types of DJ mixers and how to decide the right one for your needs. But there are also a lot of specific features you need to consider before you decide which is the best DJ mixer for you.

Let's look at these factors below:

Number of decks

For most users, two decks is more than enough. The usual workflow with two decks is as follows:

  • Deck 1 is playing the track live to the crowd
  • Deck 2 is the next track, which you're previewing through your headphones, beat-matching, and mixing.

As you swing the crossfader, you can smoothly transition from Deck 1 to Deck 2. This is the core of any DJ performance.

However, you can also choose from four deck DJ mixers. These mixers, as the name implies, have four decks, i.e. they can take input from four sources.

While this is overkill for 99% of DJs, there are certain scenarios where four decks can be useful. For example, you might have a situation where:

  • Deck 1 is playing live to the crowd
  • Deck 2 has a looping drum sample
  • Deck 3 has a vocal sample that can be played intermittently
  • Deck 4 has the next track that you're previewing through your headphones

Now obviously, Deck 2 and 3 in the above scenario aren't crucial to your performance. You can easily mix in the looping drum sample into your existing master track. And you can trigger the sample in Deck 3 via a sample button as well.

An example of a 4 deck DJ mixer
Numark NS7III is a great example of a 4 deck mixer (Image credit)

What four deck DJ mixers do, however, is give you more power and flexibility. You can cue up multiple tracks on different decks. Should you realize the mood of the crowd changing (or should you want to change the mood of the crowd), you can switch to a different deck.

That said, the more decks you have, the more complexity you add to your set. I wouldn't recommend four deck DJ mixers for all but the most experienced of DJs. Majority of you reading this will be more than happy with two deck mixers.

 

Microphone features

Although DJing is all about your mixes, there is a performative aspect to it as well. There will be times when you'll want to switch to the mic and speak directly to the crowd (the cliche "ARE YOU REAAADY!").

For this reason, it's important to consider the microphone input features supported by the DJ mixer.

Look for the following:

  • Input type: Most modern mics use either the XLR or line (TS) input. Make sure that the DJ mixer you choose supports the same input as your microphone cable. Else you'll have to use cumbersome adapters.
  • Talk-over feature: This is a common feature in most modern DJ mixers. Essentially, it cuts down the volume of the mix instantly, letting you speak through the microphone. Of course, you can do this manually as well, but considering how often modern DJs need to speak, it's a good idea to buy a mixer with an integrated talk-over feature.

 

Crossfader

The crossfader is arguably the single most important part of any DJ mixer. It's the single most used part of the unit and has a huge impact on how you use the mixer.

The crossfader is the single most important part of any DJ mixer
The crossfader is the single most important part of any DJ mixer

There are three things to consider when selecting the right crossfader for your DJ mixer:

  • Build quality: Crossfaders get used - and abused - a lot, often in hostile, dark club environments. You'll move it to the left, to the right, and wiggle it around in between. This is why it's vital to pick a crossfader that is sturdy enough to take the rigors of live performance.
  • Feel: "Feel" is hard to capture in words, but when a crossfader "feels" right, you instantly know it. Good crossfaders offer a good mix of resistance and fluidity. Moving them to the left or right feels good. Of course, this is also a matter of individual preference. Some DJs like a crossfader that glides smoothly, while others prefer something with more resistance.
  • Length: The length of the crossfader has a big impact on how you use your DJ mixer unit. A short crossfader makes it easy to transition between tracks. However, it can also make long, smooth transitions between tracks of similar tempo (as in house music) difficult. Choose a crossfader that's long enough to support your playing style and preferred genre.

 

FX and filters

Most of the best DJ mixers on the market today have at least a few built-in effects. Most will also have filters to help you cut out the sound above/below certain frequencies.

How important these features are is up for debate. Some DJs prefer to offload the heavy work of adding effects to their DJ software. Others like the intuitive, "on the fly" effects afforded by their DJ mixers.

Whether you prioritize built-in effects or not will depend on your playing style. If you're mostly a laptop DJ, you'll find that the built-in effects in most DJ mixers are too inflexible for live performances. Moreover, the effects quality in most cheap units is often too poor for professional performances.

That said, it doesn't hurt to have these features in your unit. It adds a touch of intuitiveness that's often missing from FX-less DJ mixers. All things being equal, choose a mixer that has built-in effects and filters than one that does not.

 

Other factors

Apart from the above, also consider the following:

  • Software compatibility: While most DJ mixers will work with any popular DJ software, some mixers work better with some software. Numark's DJ mixers, for instance, work exceptionally well with Traktor. This is easy to understand since Numark also makes Traktor. Similarly, Serato has a list of several DJ mixers and turntables that it officially supports. While you can happily use other mixers with Serato as well, your experience will be far smoother if you use one of these recommended units.
  • Budget: It goes without saying that budget is important. DJ mixers have a huge price range, from cheap $100 units to professional $2,000 mixers. A good rule of the thumb is to set aside $100-300 for a beginner unit, $300-$700 for a mid-range mixer, $700-$1000 for an expert-tier mixer, and $1000+ for something truly professional.
  • Brands: Unlike turntables, which are mostly dominated by a handful of manufacturers (Pioneer, Denon, Numark), the DJ mixer category has a more eclectic spread of brands. Particularly when you go to the top of the budget range. However, unless you like taking risks, we'd still recommend sticking to the tried and trusted brands - Pioneer, Numark, etc.

 

Final Words

This brings our guide to buying the best DJ mixer to a close. Based on your requirements, pick any of the models above and you won't be disappointed.

Just to recap, here's the complete list  again:

  1. Pioneer DJM-S9 Battle Mixer (best for professionals/best battle mixer)
  2. Numark M6 (best for beginners)
  3. Behringer DDM4000 (best mid-range mixer)
  4. Gemini MM1 (best for budget buyers)
  5. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2 (best for Traktor users)
  6. Allen & Heath Xone:92 (best for club DJs)
  7. Pioneer DJ DJM250MK2 (best for casual DJs)

Questions, suggestions, or doubts? Send us an email!

Also read:

References:

Changelog
  • May 8, 2019: Article first published
  • February 12, 2020: Article updated, 1x DJ mixer removed
  • May 12, 2020: Information updated, buying guide expanded
  • September 18, 2020: Article updated

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