How to Choose a DJ Controller

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Whether spinning tracks in your bedroom or rocking parties at packed clubs, a quality DJ controller unlocks a world of musical creativity.

But with countless controller options at different prices, how do you pick the right one?

Let’s break down the key criteria to make sure your controller choice checks all the boxes.

How to Choose the Right DJ Controller

As the DJ controller landscape unfolds, a spectrum of price tags ranging from $200 to $1,000+ paints a visual representation of budget considerations. In this image, a DJ carefully assesses their financial range, setting the stage for an informed decision-making process. The fluctuating lights symbolize the diverse options available, urging enthusiasts to embark on their journey with a clear budgetary path, ensuring that every beat resonates within financial harmony

When investing in DJ gear, following a buying guide ensures you choose equipment that enables your creative goals rather than hinders them. We’ll explore the key factors around budget, software, portability and features in detail below. But first, define how and where you want to use a controller. Setting intent upfront narrow down the perfect pick.

Determine Your Budget

As neon lights illuminate a DJ controller surrounded by a constellation of software icons, a DJ contemplates the intricate dance between hardware and digital realms. This image symbolizes the meticulous research required to ensure seamless compatibility with DJ software like Serato, Traktor, Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, and others. The interconnected web represents the harmony achieved when the right controller and software unite, empowering DJs to craft sonic landscapes with precision and finesse

When deciding which DJ controller is right for you, the very first thing you need to determine is your budget. DJ controllers have huge variability when it comes to price, with entry-level controllers starting around $200 going all the way up to advanced, professionally-oriented controllers costing over $1,000. It’s important to set a firm budget range before you start browsing different options.

As a general guideline, most beginner/bedroom DJs will want to stay in the $200 to $500 price range. This category is good for people just getting started, allowing you to learn the basics without a huge upfront investment. If you already have experience DJing and want to play live events or take your skills to the professional level, you’ll want to look at advanced controllers in the $500 to $1,000+ range. These offer better build construction, bigger jog wheels for cueing/scratching, more advanced features like performance pads, and better integration with DJ software.

Keep in mind that the controller itself is just one part of a complete DJ setup. Especially if you’re a beginner, be sure to leave room in your budget for any accessories you’ll need like headphones, speakers, cables, headphone splitters, travel bags, laptop stands, etc. Knowing your total budget will narrow down your options and help choose equipment that works together.

Decide Which DJ Software You Want to Use

As the sun sets on a cityscape, a DJ stands at a crossroads, symbolizing the myriad paths one can take in the world of DJing. On one side, a cozy bedroom setup with a compact controller, while on the other, a bustling stage with advanced gear ready for a live performance. This image captures the essence of considering the type of DJing one aspires to do – from personal enjoyment to commanding big stages. It's a visual reminder that each DJ journey is unique, and choosing the right controller is a pivotal step towards transforming aspirations into sonic realities

In addition to the hardware of the controller itself, one of the biggest factors that can impact your options is DJ software compatibility. The controller directly controls functions and effects within DJ software like Serato, Traktor, Rekordbox, Virtual DJ, and others. As such, some controllers only work directly with specific DJ software or brands. Do your research ahead of time to find controllers that will integrate smoothly with your software choice.

Serato and Native Instruments’ Traktor tend to be two of the most common and full-featured professional DJ software options. If you know you want to use one of these, look at controller compatibility during research. Software choice also impacts library management, visual displays, built-in effects, sampling capabilities, and other performance features. Those using DJ software for the first time might consider a controller/software bundle that comes pre-configured and mapped for the best experience.

Advanced users that already own a DJ software license can choose from a wider range of controllers to meet their needs. Just make sure integration works, either through official pre-mapping from the manufacturer or by taking the time to manually configure controller settings within the software yourself. This extra research is worthwhile to gain access to all effects parameters and software controls.

Consider the Type of DJing You Want to Do

As city lights twinkle in the background, a DJ stands at a crossroads, reflecting on the diverse landscapes of their potential journey. On one side, a cozy home setup with a compact controller, symbolizing the intimate moments of personal enjoyment and practice. On the other, a lively event venue with advanced gear, illustrating the energy of live performances. This image embodies the essence of considering the type of DJing one envisions – a journey that evolves from the tranquility of a bedroom to the exhilaration of commanding stages. It's a visual reminder that choosing the right controller is not just about features; it's about crafting a musical path that aligns with one's aspirations and destinations

Before buying any gear, it’s a good idea to think about how you plan to use your DJ controller. Will you primarily be a bedroom DJ playing for your own enjoyment and learning at home? Or do you plan to play live events like parties, weddings, performances at clubs or bars? Different types of DJing require specialized controller features and connectivity options.

For home practice and playing music in your bedroom, focus on controllers that offer the basics – jog wheels, play/cue buttons, mixing knobs – in a simple and portable form factor. Look for controllers compatible with your computer or tablet to keep things light and mobile, along with basic software integration at an affordable price. On the other hand, if you plan to DJ live events as a performing DJ, that opens up more serious gear to consider. Bigger jog wheels are easier to scratch and cue up tracks in loud club environments and the build quality stands up better to transport and heavy use. Performance features like larger platters, pad banks to trigger samples or hot cues, and filter/FX knobs offer more creative options in a live setting. Look for advanced controllers offering premium connectivity, standalone mixer functionality, and universal DJ software capability for the most flexibility playing different gigs. Thinking about your goals and use cases upfront will make sure you choose equipment that is purpose-built for your needs as a DJ just starting out all the way up to playing main stage sets in front of big crowds. Consider where you want to take your DJ journey when investing in a controller.

Choose Your Compatibility

As the city lights illuminate the night, a DJ, surrounded by a digital aura, seamlessly connects their controller to a variety of devices. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones glow in harmony, symbolizing the plethora of options in today's digital DJing landscape. This image encapsulates the essence of choosing compatibility wisely – a crucial step in the DJ's journey. Whether it's a wired USB connection for traditional setups or cutting-edge Bluetooth MIDI for a wireless experience, the DJ navigates the digital constellation, ensuring a lag-free connection between software and hardware. This visual metaphor reminds DJs to choose controllers that effortlessly sync with their preferred digital ecosystem, unlocking a world of possibilities in the art of mixing and blending

In today’s connected digital world, you have quite a few options when it comes to pairing your controller hardware with compatible devices. Laptops were traditionally the device that DJs used with their controllers to host software and access music libraries. However, other options like tablets, iOS or Android smartphones, even DJ apps that don’t require an external device are now on the market. Be sure to consider what device ecosystem you plan to use with your controller when researching options to ensure seamless connectivity. Most controllers these days use a wired USB connection to integrate with laptops and PCs. Make sure your laptop has enough free USB ports if you plan on plugging directly into your computer. Higher-end controllers may offer additional connectivity like MIDI over Bluetooth for wireless pairing with phones/tablets. If going the mobile DJ software route, look for controllers that don’t require a laptop at all and have apps or DJ software built directly into the hardware. Also consider if you want to DJ with two devices simultaneously, as some controllers offer dual device pairing. Knowing what type of device setup fits your needs makes sure you get off on the right footing when purchasing a controller. And remember to budget for any adapters or extra cables/hardware needed for full integration. The key is finding a controller tailored for the platform you want to DJ with that offers the most seamless, lag-free signal transmission between software and hardware.

Determine the Size That Works for You

In a vibrant city backdrop, a DJ contemplates a diverse array of controllers, symbolizing the spectrum from compact portability to expansive functionality. Mini controllers, resembling compact MIDI fighters, glow with creativity, while tablet-sized options offer enhanced mobility for the on-the-go DJ. All-in-one controllers stand as a beacon of convenience, balancing features with portability. In contrast, larger desktop controllers and professional club mixers present a grand stage of possibilities with expansive controls for the dedicated home studio setup. This image encapsulates the tradeoffs between size and functionality, urging DJs to evaluate their priorities and choose the controller size that harmonizes with their unique blend of creativity and mobility needs.

DJ controllers come in a wide variety of sizes and form factors. Smaller controllers are extremely portable for mobile DJs or those with limited space. On the other end of the spectrum, larger controllers offer an expanded feature set but are less portable. Consider the tradeoffs between size and functionality:

For true portability, some of the smallest options are compact controllers in a MIDI fighter-style layout focused just on essential controls in a condensed size. While they provide transport and some cueing functions, the barebones controls are best for simple mixes or as creative MIDI controllers in the studio rather than primary DJ rigs. Tablet-sized mini controllers offer a bit more functionality in a size you can toss in a bag for mobile DJ usage. All-in-one controllers have a built-in audio interface so you can plug in a mic, headphones, speakers etc without needing extra gear. While convenient, the size makes them harder to transport compared to a simple MIDI controller. For professional mobile DJs doing events, look for specialized small-format gear that’s highly portable but offers premium club-style controls similar to club-standard gear.

On the larger end, there are full-sized desktop controllers providing a full experience similar to a club DJ booth layout. While not as portable, these units excel for permanent home studio setups and offer bigger platters, expansive mixer sections with EQs and filters, and more advanced controls. High-end 4 channel club mixers give you a professional standard club-ready standalone mixer with integrated controller functions for the full pro DJ experience. The tradeoff is their heavy, bulky size and premium price. For serious scratch DJs that need the feel of real turntables, look into full-size controller turntable units that emulate the layout, controls, and torque of traditional vinyl decks. While the closest experience to traditional vinyl DJing, the size does limit mobility compared to smaller controllers.

Evaluate your personal priorities between portability and maximum functionality when considering controller size and footprints. Desktop controllers offer the most options for permanent home setups, while mobile DJs are better served with small all-in-one and mini options that easily fit in a bag.

Compare Features and Effects

As the cityscape pulses with energy, a DJ delves into the world of controller features, surrounded by a symphony of jog wheels, faders, performance pads, and effects controls. The scene highlights the dynamic range of options available, from tactile jog wheels for realistic techniques to performance pads enabling on-the-fly creativity. Displays offer a visual feast of information, while touch strips add a layer of dynamic manipulation to the mix. This image encapsulates the exploration of features, encouraging DJs to identify controls that resonate with their style and experience level. Just as the city lights illuminate the skyline, each feature illuminates a path toward a personalized and captivating DJing experience.

Once you’ve narrowed down your options by budget, compatibility, size and intended use, it’s time to compare the specific features and controls different controllers offer. While entry-level controllers stick to the basics required for mixing, many come with extra capabilities for creativity:

Jog Wheels & Platters
Look at the jog wheel size, latency, tension adjust, and whether they’re touch sensitive for scratching vs. just cueing tracks. Bigger wheels feel more realistic for advanced DJ techniques.

Faders and Mixer Controls
Faders should slide smoothly for accurate mixing. Check for individual channel trim/gain knobs, EQ knobs, headphone cue buttons, and crossfader adjustments for blending songs.

Performance Pads
Pads trigger hot cue points for jumping to parts of songs on the fly. Some controllers have pad banks that enable more sophisticated controls via drumming-style finger drumming.

Effects Controls
Many controllers come with buttons to engage FX like Echo, Flanger, Phase, etc. Advanced controllers offer more parameters for deep manipulation, customization and combining multiple effects.

Displays and Meters
Some controllers incorporate playback info, FX levels, mixer levels and more on built-in displays vs. needing to look at your laptop. Helpful for visual feedback when performing live.

Mic Inputs
If you want to talk over mixes as a DJ or incorporate a mic for MC duties, having a dedicated mic input is extremely helpful so you don’t have to unplug other gear.

Touch Strips
Some controllers offer touch strips for dynamic song and effect manipulation by sliding your finger across sensors vs. turning a knob or hitting a pad.

Seeing the types of controls that are available will help identify capabilities that match your style and experience level when choosing a controller. Go for the basics as a beginner, then upgrade to take advantage of advanced functionality when you’re ready.

Read Reviews and Test In Person

As the city comes alive with the rhythm of the night, a DJ immerses themselves in the final steps of controller selection. Surrounded by a display of controllers, the DJ engages in a hands-on exploration, feeling the textures of buttons and jog wheels. Expert reviews form a backdrop, providing objective insights, while fellow DJs share their experiences, adding a layer of communal wisdom. This image captures the dynamic synergy between thorough research and tactile validation, emphasizing the importance of combining reviews and in-person testing. The city lights mirror the diverse opinions and experiences, guiding the DJ towards a controller that not only meets specifications but resonates with real-world usability and aspirations

Once you’ve researched different controllers and narrowed down options that meet your criteria on paper, the next step is validating your choice by reading reviews and testing gear out first-hand if possible. Reviews from both expert sources and other buyers provide objective assessments and user experiences to inform your buying decision. Try to read multiple reviews to identify any widespread issues vs. subjective individual opinions. Testing controllers at a local music store allows you to feel build quality, platter/jog wheel responsiveness, effects manipulation, and overall workflow. While not always possible if stores don’t carry DJ gear locally, hands-on testing can expose poor design ergonomics or cheap-feeling buttons in a way spec sheets can’t convey. Combining thorough review research with direct in-person validation will help choose a controller that looks great on paper and excels with real-world usability. If tests confirm positive experiences that match the needs outlined through your earlier research process, then you’ve found an optimal controller choice to match your budget and DJ aspirations!


Choosing the right DJ controller can seem overwhelming at first glance due to the many factors to consider. By first clearly defining your budget, use case, software needs, and must-have features, you can narrow down the perfect controller to match your goals, space, and wallet. Taking time to read reviews and test options in person further validates that your decision checks all the boxes before buying. Investing thoughtfully upfront ensures your controller enables creativity rather than stifles it. So embrace the process and let your DJ dreams come to life!


Dominic is the chief editor of the Burton Acoustix blog which writes about acoustics and soundproofing to help readers with their queries and questions they might have with regard to improving any sound or noise issues that they faced in their life.