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As a DJ, a DJ controller is your primary instrument of choice. But sometimes, you also need a MIDI controller to help you launch clips and control your DJ software. Which is why we've looked at the best MIDI controller for DJing in this article.
I've always maintained that “MIDI controller” is a misnomer these days. While any performance-focused controller has MIDI connectors, an increasingly larger number of controllers also have USB, or often, USB-only.
It makes sense from a usage perspective. USB is available on every computing device on the planet and takes care of the power issue. Sure, it doesn't have the analog signal quality of MIDI, but the compromise in ease of use is worth it, at least for the vast majority of non-professional producers and DJs.
This is why every DJ controller, keyboard, and drum pad can be said to be a “MIDI controller”. If you can plug it into a computer and use it to control a software – a DAW or DJ software – it would be classified as a MIDI controller.
Among these MIDI controllers, what's the best option to choose as a DJ? What kind of controllers should you look for?
I'll share some answers in this roundup of the best MIDI controllers for DJing.
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.
Best MIDI Controller for DJing: Budget Pick
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3
Pioneer is the undisputed king of the DJ controller market. While it has a ton of better controllers (you can see our best pick here), the entry-level DDJ-SB3 is a great pick for budget-conscious DJs. It combines tons of useful features and a “grown-up” DJing experience in a package that's surprisingly affordable.
If you're simply looking for a useful DJ controller to connect to your computer, you can't go wrong with the best-selling DDJ-SB3.
The Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 DJ controller looks impressive right off the bat. It is an entry-level DJ controller, and this is obvious in the lack of some features. Nevertheless, the controller looks solid and professional. As a budget controller, it is one of the best ones I have tested. It is undoubtedly one of the best entry-level controllers on the market.
The manufacturer decided to add a specific button to be used for scratching. While some folks are upset by this new addition, I find it a very nifty tool. It elevates the performance of the device, in my opinion. The controller does not look flashy; rather, it comes with muted colors that give it a more professional appearance.
It comes with 8 performance pads, its own channel filters and quite a number of buttons and controllers existing in professional and more expensive controllers.
During testing, I found the performance quite satisfactory. As pointed out in the features, it comes with Serato DJ Lite. Although it is a toned-down version of the Serato Pro, it is still a good fit. With the app, beginners can fully grasp the basics of mixing.
I found using the controller to be a breeze. All the knobs and all the buttons are quick and responsive. As for the jog wheels, they are solidly built and super-reliable.
Integrated into the controller are the transport buttons. These deliver decent performance and are very good for beginners learning the basics of manual beat mixing and professionals who already know how to use them.
There are 3 effects from each of the pair of effects engines. Without bias, I thoroughly enjoyed using this controller. As an entry-level controller, it is one of the best MIDI controllers for DJing you can buy for cheap.
What we don’t like
The size of the jog wheels is small for me.
Recommended for: DJs who want something cheap as backup, beginners DJs, and anyone with a passive interest in the craft will be comfortable with this controller.
- The design makes it look serious and professional
- All buttons and knobs are highly responsive
- Overall great performance
- The small jog wheels and the tempo controls need a longer time to be mastered
Best DAW Controller: Novation Launchpad
- USB-Powered Controller
- 3 modes ( Mixer, Session, User)
- 64 RGB pads
Incredible performance. That’s all I can say about this controller. If you use this controller along with Ableton Pad, you have a powerhouse capable of great things. The design of this controller is simple, while durable. It is a portable controller that can easily fit into your backpack and whipped out and setup in no time. The rubber bottom makes it stick to surfaces and prevent slipping.
During use, I found this controller to be impressive. It is very easy to use. As you use it, it displays to you the active clips, the inactive clips, and the armed clips. All of these and other features make for easy sessions without you requiring glancing up every second at your laptop.
It comes in different modes: Mixer mode, Session mode, and 2 User modes. Each of these modes is easy to use once mastered. The User modes allow you to configure the settings for 2 different users.
What we don't like
The pads on the controller are touch-sensitive, but they might be a little too touch-sensitive for the majority of users.
Recommended for: Every music lover with a passion for making music; Ableton users.
- Great sound quality
- Ableton live integration is incredible on it
- Backlit pads make DJing easier
- It can be hard to master
- Pads have sensitivity issues
Best Clip Launcher: Akai Professional APC Mini
- 8 x 8 clip-launch
- Completely compatible with Ableton Live
- 3-color lighting display
- 1 master fader
This controller comes with 64 launch buttons. This makes it pack quite a punch with regards to the clip-launching power. Despite the number of buttons, it is very portable. I was able to take it on the go with me wherever I went to.
The buttons are quite responsive, although they are quite small. They also have limited colors, something that those used to Live controllers will enjoy.
Overall, the performance was satisfactory, although it wasn't groundbreaking.
What we don’t like
The launch-pad buttons are rather small and feel cramped.
Recommended for: If you are a fan of Ableton and are looking for something that works well, and is cheap, then this one is for you.
- Satisfactory performance
- Completely compatible with Ableton Live software
- Affordable pricing
- Small pads
- There is no Twist synth included in the software bundle
Best for Traktor: NI Traktor Kontrol X1 MKII
The X1 is a very durable device. This is not surprising considering that NI is known for highly durable products. It comes in a metal and plastic casing that is quite robust.
The bottom half of the controller has LED screens, browser encoder, a long touch ribbon, and so on. The glossy materials used to make the device, look superb, and contribute to the overall sturdiness. It comes with RGB backlight to help you see all that is taking place with the controller.
As for the top half of the controller, it is full of FX controls, just as the other models of this device.
The overall performance is satisfactory, although the buttons could have been made less hard to press down.
What we don’t like
Probably because of their sturdiness, the buttons are hard and can be difficult to press down.
Recommended for: Traktor users who want to spend less time looking at a monitor and at the controls of their device will love this controller.
- Overall great performance
- Great value for money
- Fantastic compatibility with Traktor
- Buttons are stiff
Best for Serato: Denon DJ MC4000
- 2-channel DJ Controller
- Comes with Serato DJ Intro
- Long-throw pitch fader
The Denon DJ MC4000 is built to last. It reminds me of the old Denon DJ controllers that were built to be near indestructible. This controller recalls the strong build and high standard that Denon is known for. The complete unit screams high-quality performance. Right from the time, I removed it from the box; I knew I was in for a treat. And, boy does this controller deliver!
The jog wheels are solidly built and give no indication of breaking anytime soon. The build of the controller makes it clear that it is for the mobile or professional DJ. It comes with 2 microphone channels, a split cue button, censor feature, long pitch controls, a quartet of sample trigger knobs; that have a volume button fitted away from the cue pads.
The controller is a joy to use. Although it doesn’t have a slicer, a full slip mode, fancy lights, or even 4 software channels, it has all the necessary things for any DJ worth their salt.
It makes up for the absence of these controls with other buttons that can, when mastered, serve the same purpose.
What we don’t like
The controller gives an impressive all-round performance, more so than some of the controllers on this list; however, I did not like that the built-in Mic effect is echo rather than reverb. The master and cue gain/volume control buttons are also together. While this is usable, it is frankly confusing.
Recommended for: Professional DJs who need a controller as a backup controller will love this portable one
- It delivers some of the best performance on a portable controller
- The sound quality is impressive
- In-built Echo sound effect instead of reverb
- Integration of Cue and Master Buttons is confusing
Best Portable Controller: Numark DJ2G02
- 2-channel MIDI controller
- Integrated Crossfader
- Independent Headphone and Main Outputs
The Numark DJ2G02 is a deviation from the earlier versions of entry-level controllers from Numark. This controller looks like fun while appearing serious and professional at the same time. The layout and placement of the buttons and knobs make it look good and improves its functionality. Although you won’t mistake it for a professional DJ controller, it is not at all surprising if you expect wonderful performance from it.
The layout is like other good controllers out there. As a 2-channel controller, it comes with jog wheels on either side. The jog wheels are flanked by other buttons like the cue, play/pause buttons, a pitch fader, and a quartet of pads. Each of these pads comes with 4 modes: Sampler, Auto Loop, Manual Loop, and Cue.
Smack in the middle of the controller are other functional knobs and buttons. There is the crossfader, the master volume knob, a cue volume knob, and a browse knob. Overall, the placements of the controls are similar to those found elsewhere.
As for the output ports, the controller is not found wanting in this regard. It has the headphone jack, mini-USB jack and other ports by the sides.
I especially love the portability of this controller. I can easily place it right on my MacBook. It is both light and portable enough for that.
The controller performed quite well during use. Despite being a budget controller, the performance left me pleasantly surprised. It comes compatible with Serato DJ Intro software and can be paired successfully with Virtual DJ 8 software.
The buttons, like those of the Pioneer controller, work very efficiently. Despite the slight hiccup that is the lack of a vinyl or scratch function (yeah it is a real bummer), when considered holistically, the performance is great for the price.
As it is merely an entry-level controller, the quartet of performance pads offers merely decent performance. They have 4 modes too like the Pioneer controller (The sampler, Auto Loop, Hot Cue, and Manual Loo modes).
The main reason I love this controller, aside from the portability is the short-throw pitch faders that easily enable manual beat mixing.
What we don’t like
The lack of vinyl and the scratching function takes the shine away from an otherwise good MIDI controller.
Recommended for: Beginner DJs in search of a cheap controller.
- Compact and quite small
- Ships with Serato DJ Intro software
- As pointed out severally, I hate the lack of vinyl or scratch options
Over to You
There you have it – our list of the best MIDI controller for DJing. Some of these are standalone DJ controllers. Some are portable units to assist your mobile DJ duties. And some are clip launchers and DAW controllers to help you get the most out of your setup.
For more recommendations and advice, don't hesitate to reach out to me here.
- Want to know what's the best DJ controller on the market right now? Here's our list
- On a budget? These are the best DJ controllers under $300
- Want just a MIDI controller? Here's our pick of the best MIDI keyboards
- What is MIDI? [Instructables]
- Sequencing Serato DJ’s Sampler With Ableton Live [DJTechTools]
- Pioneer DJ official website
- October 22, 2019: Article published with 6 reviewed MIDI controllers
- February 12, 2020: Article revised and updated
- September 17, 2020: Minor changes to article structure