There has never been a better time to get into the art of DJing. Technology has brought a once very expensive hobby/profession into the mass market for beginners. Every major manufacturer of high-end DJ equipment now offers affordable digital DJ controllers.
Pioneer DDJ 400
An outstanding entry-level controller with a professional layout. It also comes with full software and tutorials.
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3
Another excellent controller that features solid build quality. It also offers full version software and an intuitive layout.
Entry Level DJ Controller Reviews
With so much choice it can be difficult to know which controller you should buy. Let’s check out the top DJ controllers currently available for beginners. Plus you can always jump to the full review for many of these controllers if you want more information.
Pioneer DDJ 400 Review
The Best DJ Controller For Beginners
- Professional Layout – This controller emulates the setup of the higher-end club based gear from Pioneer. This makes it easy to transition to other Pioneer controllers in the range if you end up upgrading down the track.
- Rekordbox DJ Software – Unlike other controllers in the market this one comes with full version software included. This can save you a considerable amount of money.
- Tutorial Feature – Comes with a specifically designed tutorial for beginners. It covers setup and also basic controls. For veterans, it may not seem like much. For those starting out, it will make that initial learning curve much smoother.
- Long Pitch Fader – For its size, it offers a much longer pitch fader than Pioneer has done in the past. For DJs looking to master beatmatching by ear, this longer pitch fader will make it easier to make fine adjustments to perfect your mix.
- Smaller Mixer Section – The central mixer section feels a little too compact. For those with big hands, it can get a bit fiddly.
The Pioneer DJ DDJ 400 is the beginner Pioneer DJ controller for Rekordbox DJ software. It’s the successor to the very popular Pioneer DDJ RB but it does have some notable changes and improvements from that model.
The increased pitch fader length along with improved FX features are a standout. Rekordbox DJ software continues to improve with each release. This DJ controller unlocks the full version of Rekordbox DJ which is another huge benefit for beginner DJs. The controller is easy to use and also offers a mic input.
Performance pads are impressive with lots of different functions. With options like Sampler, Beat Jump, and Pad FX you’ll have plenty of flexibility to add variety to your sets. A well-equipped controller that can form a solid foundation for your first DJ setup.
It’s packed with features at an affordable price it makes it one of the top controllers for beginners.
Read our full Pioneer DDJ 400 review for more detailed information.
Pioneer DDJ 400
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 Review
Excellent Traktor Controller For Beginners
- Solid Build Quality – You can tell Native Instruments takes pride in their gear. The Traktor S2 Mk3 is another solid and well-built piece of DJ equipment. It can handle the rigors of consistent use.
- DJ Software – The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 is packed with the full version of Traktor Pro 3. This excellent piece of software has all the features a DJ needs for digital DJing.
- Portable – The small form factor makes this an excellent beginner DJ controller or even a backup to a larger setup. Added connectivity to the iOS Traktor DJ 2 App makes this a great portable option.
- Pro Layout – A well-designed layout that mimics the more expensive Native Instruments controllers. This makes it easy to migrate to better gear down the track.
- Plastic Knobs – Previous beginner controllers from NI featured rubber knobs that felt more comfortable. But, the new plastic knobs are more durable.
The re-imagined beginner DJ controller from NI is a winner. The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 offers a cleaner and more sleek design with a selection of great features.
Performance pads function well with a solid if slightly limited set of options available. The dedicated knobs for loop functionality is another great feature. The jog wheels have a good feel to them and can be used for executing scratch routines.
This 2 channel controller also offers impressive connection options. Two master outputs in both balanced and unbalanced. Plus, an added mic input. The built-in sound card is capable and delivers excellent audio quality.
Backed by Traktor Pro 3 software the Traktor S2 Mk2 is one of the best beginner DJ controllers. It’s also an excellent backup unit for any Traktor DJ.
Read our full Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 review for more detailed information.
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3
Need Help Choosing The Right DJ Controller?
Read our Best DJ Controller buying guide.
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review
Popular Entry-Level Serato Controller
- Quality Jog wheels – The low latency and durable touch-sensitive jog wheels are great for any DJ that wants a DJ controller for scratching at a reasonable price. The jog wheels are a good size as well for this price point.
- Logical Layout – All the functions are laid out in a way that feels natural when on the decks. This is ideal for beginner DJs who may feel intimidated by the layout of higher-end DJ controllers.
- 4 Channels Available – Access to be able to run 4 channels at the same time via deck switching buttons.
- FX Fade – Instantly add predesigned effects to help with transitions. New DJs will appreciate having a few fail-safe options when mixes start to go bad or you have run out of time for your transition.
- Intro Software – Comes packaged with Serato DJ Lite. To unlock all the features you need to pay for the full version of Serato which is an added expense. Keep this in mind if you are on a tight budget.
The other Pioneer DJ controller aimed at the beginner market is the SB3. Serato is one of the most popular and full-featured pieces of DJ software in the market.
Excellent performance pads and a pro-style layout make this DJ controller a great starting point for beginners. While it is a 2 channel controller you do gain access to decks 3 and 4 via convenient deck select buttons.
It also offers some unique features like Scratch FX developed in conjunction with DJ Jazzy Jeff. The dedicated FX section above each deck also opens up the option to add a variety of FX into your sets.
For beginners wanting to start with the most popular DJ software, the Pioneer SB3 is a great choice.
Read our full Pioneer DDJ SB3 review for more detailed information.
Pioneer DDJ SB3
Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX Review
Best Option For Learning Beatmatching
- Long Pitch Faders – Much like other Numark DJ controllers there is a focus on long pitch faders. This makes it easy to make fine adjustments to the BPM of a song.
- Screens on Jog wheels – The large jog wheels feature small screens that display vital information. The biggest advantage is the display of the BPM. This allows you to visually compare BPM’s between two tracks. This makes beatmatching without looking at your laptop much easier.
- Soundcard – The Mixtrack Platinum also includes a 24-bit, 44.1k audio interface. This results in high-quality sound reproduction.
- 4 Deck Mixing – Access up to 4 decks by activating the deck 3 and 4 buttons. This opens up the option to layer additional tracks, samples, or acapellas.
- Appearance – An upgraded design that is better than previous models. But, it still retains the awkward-looking Play and Cue buttons from past models.
This is another beginner controller from Numark which is worth including in your list of options. It’s also the only option on this list that features screens on the jog wheels.
Jog wheel screens display critical data while you are mixing. This saves you from having to refer to your laptop or computer when in the middle of a set. This feature is usually reserved for more expensive DJ gear. While not the best screens in the world they still provide you with plenty of functionality.
An improved design and added FX controls elevate this controller over its previous model. The long pitch faders and screens also make it a great controller to learn on. Excellent tactile control with solid performance pads and comfortable mixer layout.
An excellent controller for beginners that want digital information on their jog wheels.
Read our full Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX review for more detailed information.
Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX
Roland DJ 202 Review
Great Choice For Creative DJs
- Built-In Drum Machine – Trigger 8 drum sounds from Roland’s selection of drum machines using the performance pads. This allows on the fly beat creation. If you are into the idea of remixing and production you’ll enjoy this addition to a starter DJ controller.
- Responsive Jog wheels – High quality, touch-sensitive, and low latency for precise control. For scratch DJs, this is a must. Scratching and using the drum machine can be a rewarding creative outlet.
- 4 Channel DJ Controller – Much like the SB3 you can access up to 4 channels. This expands your creative options as a DJ.
- Midi Out – A Midi port at the back of the unit gives you the flexibility to add an extra piece of kit. Considering the various components available from Roland you can begin to migrate to a more live performance aspect of DJing.
- Flimsy Feeling Build Quality – While I don’t expect premium materials in a beginner controller it does feel a little hollow and flimsy.
Roland is known for producing high-quality pieces of production gear. That same mentality has inspired their range of Roland controllers all the way down to this beginner option.
The DJ 202 takes a different approach to other beginner DJ gear by giving you access to more creative performance features. The built-in drum machine is excellent for adding your unique style to your sets. The ability to effectively remix live is something no other controller offers at this price point.
The built-in audio interface is excellent and delivers great sound. The large jog wheels are great for scratching as well. Performance pads are responsive and great for beat making.
The DJ 202 is a great option for beginner DJs that want a more performance orientated controller.
Read our full Roland DJ 202 review for more detailed information.
Roland DJ 202
Numark Mixtrack Pro FX Review
Super Affordable Beginner Controller
- Built-In Soundcard – Having an in-built audio interface is a huge plus for the Numark Mixtrack Pro FX. Plug your sound system directly into the unit without relying on your computer to handle the sound. This also makes the headphones substantially louder making it easier to preview and prepare mixes.
- Really Long Faders – With full 100mm pitch faders, it is perfectly suited to mastering beatmatching by ear. Beatmatching is a challenging skill to learn to this is a big bonus.
- FX Paddles – Instant access to a range of Serato FX via dedicated buttons. Activate FX on both channels via quick paddles and easily alter parameters with dedicated knobs.
- Lots of Value – Offers a lot of the features you see on more expensive options. If you’re on a tight budget it’s a great way to get all the features you need while saving some money.
- Intro Software – Serato DJ Lite is included. It may be a budget option but there is still the hidden upgrade cost if you want the Serato DJ Pro.
Numark has offered quality beginner DJ controllers for many years and the Mixtrack Pro FX is no different. This Numark DJ controller comes with a few features that you don’t normally find in DJ controllers at this level.
The performance pads are responsive with a good set of functions. The touch-sensitive jog wheels and knobs also feel good to use. Brand-new FX controls make adding and manipulating FX easy and fun. A complete and capable mixer section with 3-band EQ sets you up learning the ropes of DJing.
An updated design helps move the Numark away from the more toylike designs of the past. It’s a great DJ controller for beginners that offers an aggressively cheap price point.
Read our full Numark Mixtrack Pro FX review for more detailed information.
Numark Mixtrack Pro FX
Our Expert Buying Guide
When looking at buying your first DJ controller you need to ask a few key questions. These initial answers will help guide you in selecting something that is right for your needs.
What Type Of DJ Do You Want To Be?
There is a wide variety of DJing styles. Understanding what type of DJ you want to be is the first step in identifying which DJ gear will be right for you.
If you love the turntablist side of DJing you’ll want to make sure you get a controller with good jog wheels. Executing scratch routines with small jog wheels is difficult. Poor responsiveness can also make this type of DJing hard. You’ll also want to pick a controller that has good faders, especially the crossfader. The crossfader is the backbone of many of the initial scratches that you’ll learn. Having a crossfader that can handle the rigors of all the practicing you’ll be doing will save you money in the long run.
If on the other hand, you are more interested in long and elaborate blends the jog wheels won’t be as important. In this case, you’ll want a controller that gives you access to as many creative tools to adjust and manipulate your tracks to create seamless transitions. A good range of FX options and full 3-band EQ is a must for this type of DJing.
Do you want to play gigs or just have fun at home? Figuring this out can help you choose the right controller.
Multi-format DJs that play a variety of genres have other more pressing needs. Good software that can accurately detect BPM will help you go from one genre to another. This is where effective tagging tools come into play as well. Having a well-organized and easily searchable database makes playing different genres easier.
For more creative and production focused DJs performance tools are very important. Injecting your own personality via FX, samples, and one-shots is extremely fun. Having good quality pads and software will make this easier. Likewise having access to additional decks opens up the option of layering several tracks at the same time. This further pushes your creative potential.
Finally, working mobile DJs will have a deeper focus on connectivity options. You’ll likely be connecting your controller to DJ speakers that may require a certain type of cable. Access to a mic output will also be high on your list of wants. Having the option to MC or allow your customers to make speeches can set you apart from competitors.
There is no singular definition of a DJ. But, having an understanding of what you want from DJing can help narrow and refine your choices.
Do You Plan On Scratching?
As mentioned in the section above, if you want to incorporate scratching into your DJing you’ll need to make sure what you buy has solid jog wheels. Touch-sensitive platters that offer high resolution are ideal.
This is also an area where size does matter. Small jog wheels will make it difficult for you to have the tactile control you’ll need to effectively scratch. While not impossible you also don’t want to hinder your learning and progress because of poor hardware.
Poor build quality is also something to be mindful of. Scratch DJs will be aggressively using the jog wheels so they need to be able to handle the constant use.
Is The Mixer Section Fully Featured?
The DJ controller needs to have a solid mixer section with all the controls you need to alter the music and play with effects.
Having access to a good EQ range (Low, Mid, High) will help you learn the subtleties of mixing. EQing is also one of the most used skills to execute smooth mixes. Removing frequencies from one track opens up space in the audio scape for the next track to find its spot. It also opens up the possibilities of extended blends.
A comprehensive mixer section will give you all the tools you need to execute smooth mixes.
All good beginner controllers also need to have a proper cue/master output for your headphones. This is what will allow you to preview and prepare your mix. You’ll be able to hear both what is currently playing as well as what you intend on playing.
The mixer section should also have good pitch faders. These allow you to alter the tempo of the playing track so that you can align it with the next song. Most starter DJ controllers offer Sync functionality which will automatically match up the beats. But to truly become a well-rounded DJ it is worth learning the skill of beat matching by ear. Long faders make this learning process easier and more beginner-friendly.
Other extras like Filters or on-board FX are also good features to look out for in the mixer section. These further open up your mixing possibilities.
What DJ Software To Use?
There are plenty of choices in DJ software but not all are created equal. Modern DJ controllers require software and the quality of that software will directly impact your enjoyment of both preparing and playing your sets.
When selecting a DJ controller the software included can also play a big role in determining value. High-quality software that offers lots of features but is still beginner-friendly is important. It’s also worth knowing if the software is introductory software or a full version. To get the most out of your purchase you’ll want full version software that unlocks all the features. This may involve having to spend extra.
Many controllers are designed to be used with certain software with easy plug and play capability. If you already have DJ software you’ll need to check if it’s compatible.
How Often Will You Be Using The Controller?
Build quality is important when it comes to choosing the best beginner DJ controller. Many controllers that are designed for beginners can be made from cheap materials. For beginner gear, you’ll likely be faced with primarily plastic components. But how thick and rigid that plastic is will vary between manufacturers.
If you plan to jump on the decks on a regular basis you’ll want something that is going to be able to take the punishment. This becomes even more important if you plan on taking your DJ setup with you to a friend’s house or parties.
Entry level controllers are often compact but need to be connected to a laptop or PC.
Does It Have An In-Built Soundcard?
A dedicated sound card is a good feature. It will allow you to plug and play without having to rely on the capabilities of your computer or laptop. The best DJ controllers will offer a 24-bit sound card that can deliver crisp and clear audio. These controllers will also allow you to send the sound directly to your sound system.
While modern PCs offer good sound cards it’s best to pick up a controller that can handle the heavy lifting when it comes to sending the audio signals.
What Features Does The Controller Offer?
While most controllers follow the same overall design philosophy there is a lot of differences in features. Layering multiple effects will require something that has plenty of in-built effects options and controls.
Most beginner DJ controllers support 2 channels but a few do have some workarounds for 4 deck mixing. Knowing how likely you are to use these features is important. It will help you get a setup that allows you to fully explore the side of DJing you are most passionate about.
Performance pads often form the backbone of many of the extra features on a DJ controller. At the bare minimum, you’ll use these to set Cue Points or Hot Cues. These are markers in the track for your reference. For example, they could be mixing in and mixing out points. But they can also be used for other interesting parts of the song that you may want to have on hand to quickly jump to.
Beyond Cue Points and Hot Cues, the performance pads can handle a wide range of other functions. Options like Pad FX or Pad scratch features tend to be handled by these pads. The best DJ controllers will have a wide range of performance options that allow you to inject creativity into your transitions and routines.
Does The Controller Have The Inputs You Need?
DJ controllers for beginners often have minimal inputs and outputs. Knowing what type of connection options are available is also crucial. It allows you to know whether it will work with your focal studio monitors or portable DJ speakers. It’s also worth checking the headphone connections. Open back headphones and DJ headphones will have different connection types. When I purchased my first DJ controller I couldn’t start using it straight away as I needed a converter for my headphones to suit the headphone output.
RCA is the most common audio output used in beginner controllers.
Master audio output is also worth considering. Many beginner controllers offer only one output source. This will prevent you from having a separate booth output. While not a big issue for new DJs it can be critical if you plan on performing gigs where you’ll be far away from the main speakers. Booth outputs allow you to set up a separate set of monitors close to you so that you can accurately time your transitions without sound delay.
Keep in mind most DJ controllers for beginners require a USB connection so you’ll need to have a spare USB port on your computer or laptop. All the best starter DJ controllers are not standalone options and do require you to plug them into a laptop or computer. Unfortunately, there are no all in one option at the beginner price point. If you’re looking for something along those lines you’ll need to up your budget considerably.
What Is Your Budget?
There is a lot of difference in price points for DJ controllers. Luckily there are lots of choices if you are looking for a cheap DJ controller for beginners. Knowing how much you have to spend can quickly eliminate some options. Keep in mind that just because a DJ controller is inexpensive it doesn’t mean you cannot craft amazing mixes on it. As long as it has all the basic features for mixing.
It’s also worth considering if you plan on purchasing headphones and speakers. In most cases, you’ll be able to get started with the headphones and speakers you already own. If you do plan on buying them too you’ll need to split your budget. Where possible, invest in a DJ controller you can afford and then upgrade other components down the track.
It’s not uncommon to get a cheap DJ controller you can afford to start with. You can even check out our best budget DJ controller review if you really want to stretch your budget. You can then look at an upgrade once you have a deeper understanding of what features you need. A word of warning though you do get what you pay for. Higher build quality, more features, and more inputs will cost more. If you do have the extra funds available you won’t regret buying a more expensive DJ controller.
Cheap Doesn’t Mean Bad
There is a misconception that you’re not a real DJ unless you have expensive gear. That cannot be further from the truth. A professional DJ controller isn’t just determined by the price. In fact, many pro DJs love the compact and refined nature of beginner DJ controllers. Check out this YouTube video from Pri yon Yoni explaining why he loves to use beginner DJ controllers that are targeted to beginners.
Which One Should You Buy?
The Pioneer DJ DDJ 400 is the best DJ controller for beginners. It has all the features a new DJ needs without any extra hidden restrictions or costs. Rekordbox DJ software continues to improve making it a great beginner tool that will continue to receive updates.
It offers a sleek design that emulates more advanced gear that also sets you up for the future. You can check out the next level of Pioneer controllers in our best Pioneer DJ controller review.
If you prefer a Serato based controller I recommend the Pioneer DJ DDJ SB3. It’s the best DJ controller for beginners that want to use Serato DJ software. Possibly the best piece of DJ software available today.
If you want to enter the Native Instruments Traktor Pro ecosystem of gear the Traktor S2 Mk3 is the best DJ controller for beginners from NI.
No matter what type of DJ you plan to be you’re in for a great experience. DJing is a fun and rewarding hobby and there’s never been a better time to get started with so many quality beginner controllers available.
Pioneer DDJ 400