I have said several times that it is easier to get into the DJ game in 2018. Back in the day, the main pitfall was the gear. It was expensive AND a chore to lug around.
Even if you are just starting out, you still had to spend some scratch on even the low end equipment.
Now, a beginner DJ set can be had for under $1000. Do not trip about the $1000 price tag. That is way less than buying cheap components that will total AT LEAST two grand.
We will break down some DJ controllers in this post. They are inexpensive, and all you will need is a nice carrying case and you are ready to do those gigs! Well, actually you will need a monitor. I will talk about those in another post.
We will review controllers at different price points, so you will find one that will suit your needs. The main three brands that we are partial to are Numark, Pioneer, and Denon.
Beginner DJ set
Best DJ Controller Under 300 Dollars
If you are going to be at least semi-serious about the DJ game, you really should get a decent controller. My experience says that you cannot get a good one for less than $200. Those that are less than $200 are useable, but they are more for the bedroom DJ or casual events.
The best DJ controller under 300 is the Numark Mixtrack Platinum.
Numark is one of the oldest manufacturers of DJ equipment, so they deserve respect. The Mixtrack Platinum is the perfect controller if you are just starting out. It is a smaller device, but it has most of the features of the more expensive controllers.
The first thing that will catch your eyes are the hi-res displays on the jog wheels. This will display the beats-per-minute, the platter position, time remaining, and pitch adjustment. For me, having the time remaining displayed right there on the controller is everything, as you do not have to look up at your laptop to look at that information.
All DJ's have run up against a song that is ending and they have to scramble to get the next song ready.
Speaking of the laptop, the Mixtrack Platinum comes with Serato DJ Intro, or it's replacement, Serato DJ Lite. This is their intro level software, and it is perfect for the DJ that is learning the ropes. You can always upgrade to the full version of Serato DJ Pro once you feel you need the upgrade.
This is a four-channel device, so that means you can play four music sources at once. You just make the switch in the software.
The device has two RCA outputs and a USB plug on the rear of the device.
Sweet and simple!
Here are some of the bells and whistles:
- 24-bit audio interface
- Dedicated bass, mid and treble
- Performance pads for cues and loops
- 5-inch metal platters
- Multiple FX manipulation
- Dedicated gain and filet knobs
One of the features that I like is the ability to control your music library from the controller. You do not have to worry about using your laptop to select your music.
It has both the 1/8 & 1/4 headphone jack and a 1/4 mic input.
I also like the fact that there is no power cord. Plugging in the USB cord into the computer powers the device.
You will be hard pressed to find a better option for less than $300, so if you are on the fence about a controller, this is the one to get.
Best DJ Controller Under 500 Dollars
Denon DJ MC 4000
If you want a smaller controller, the Denon may be the one you want. This is a 2-channel device, so this is recommended more for the beginner who will only need two channels.
This is a professional machine, as it has the XLR outputs and two microphone inputs. You can connect one external device, such as an iPad or a CD player.
Here are some of the other features:
- Mic talkover button
- Works with Traktor 2 and Virtual DJ 8
- Pro grade steel construction
The microphones also have dedicated hi and low tone controls. There is also a stereo/mono button on the rear of the device, so you can keep your default setting in Serato.
The MC400 also comes with Serato DJ Intro, and you can upgrade to Serato DJ Pro.
Because of the construction and feel of the device, we rate this one just above the Numark Mixtrack.
4 Channel DJ Controller
Best DJ Controller Under 1000 Dollars
We have two options here if you are looking to spend around $1000 for a controller. The old adage is really true, "You get what you pay for!" The more inexpensive options are great, but if you really want to DJ parties, lounges, or in front of crowds, you will want the better controller.
Overall, we think Pioneer and Numark are the best bet, so we will give you one of each brand to choose from.
Numark NVII DJ Controller
Let's start with the Numark. There is one thing that immediately stands out when you look at it. The 4.3-inch full-color screens sets this Serato controller apart from the others. This is a game changer. You really do not want to be one of those DJ's that has their head buried in their laptop. I know you have seen this people, and it is a total turnoff. You want to interact with the controller, not the computer.
You can scroll through the tracks in your library, load tracks, and more. This feature alone is worth the price.
Here are some of the features of the Numark NVII:
- 5-inch metal platters
- Zone/booth outputs
- Pro grade crossfader
- Mouseless library browsing
- BPM metering for beat matching
- 1/4 in mic input
In addition to the RCA outputs, the NVII also has the balanced (XLR) outputs. If you play in a professional setting with high-end equipment, your controller should have the XLR outputs. This connection will give you better sound than the RCA connectors.
There is also an extra set of input jaccks, in case you want to hook up an additional device, such as a CD player or an mp3 player.
This controller comes in at around $700 on Amazon, so it is still a reasonably priced DJ device. If you want a pro-grade controller for less than $1000, we recommend this model.
Best DJ Controller Under 1000 Dollars
Pioneer is the gold standard when it comes to professional DJ equipment. The DDJ-SX3 is the third generation of the popular SX line. Owning a Pioneer controller will make the transition a lot easier if you have to play on a Pioneer DJ setup at a nightclub or lounge, as more often then not, clubs will have some sort of Pioneer equipment.
What is the difference with the Pioneer brand compared to the others?
Quite honestly, all of the controllers are very similar, so it just may come down to personal preference. The Pioneer, though, has some differences that may help you to make a decision.
Three mic inputs - You have the option of connecting three mics on the controller. Most of the other brands only allow one or two mic inputs.
Two USB inputs - This option was only available on the DDJ-SZ, but now you have the ability to connect two laptops to the controller. This is really great if two DJ's will be playing the same party. They can use their own laptop and play their own custom remixes.
Connect four external devices - You can connect external devices on all four channels. This gives you maximum flexibility as you can strictly use the SX3 as a mixer.
Superior jog wheels - The jog wheels are really tight, similar to the professional standalone digital turntables.
The cues are rally easy to set, and you can do all work on the controller. You do not need to interact at all with the laptop if you do not want to.
This controller comes in at $999. This is just under the $1000 threshold, but you cannot go wrong with this device. We really like the screen on the Numark, and if the Pioneer implemented that on this model, it would be a game changer.
We think this device is the best you can get for $1000 or less.
There are plenty of controller options out there, and you should chooze one that will suit your needs. Any one of these will be good as a beginner DJ set. Three of the four devices reviewed here are 4 channel DJ controllers. You will have more flexibility with a 4 channel controller, but a 2 channel controller may also work for you.
If you plan on playing in front of crowds, then get the the NVII or the SX3. These will get you started on your DJ journey!