If you are in a hurry and just want to find out what the best DJ controller for beginners is, then we recommend the Pioneer DDJ 400 as the best one.
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. Every major manufacturer of high-end DJ equipment now offers affordable digital DJ controllers.
In this article, we’re going to review the following options as the best DJ controller for beginners:
With so much choice it can be difficult to know which controller you should buy. Let’s check out the top DJ controllers in more detail.
What To Look For In A Beginner DJ Controller
When looking at buying the best starter DJ controller you need to ask a few key questions. These initial answers will help guide you in selecting a controller that is right for your needs.
Do You Plan On Scratching?
If you want to incorporate scratching into your DJing you’ll need to make sure the controller you buy has solid jogwheels. Small jogwheels will make it difficult for you to have the tactile control you’ll need to effectively scratch. Low-quality jogwheels will also make scratching difficult.
Is The Mixer Section Fully Featured?
The controller needs to have a solid mixer section with all the controls you need to alter the music. Having access to a good EQ will help you learn the subtleties of mixing. 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.
What DJ Software To Use?
There are plenty of choices in DJ software but not all are created equal. When selecting a controller you need to know if it comes bundled with DJ software. It’s also worth knowing if the software is introductory software or full version. To get the most out of your controller you’ll want full version software which may involve having to spend extra.
Many controllers are designed to be used with certain software. If you already have DJ software you’ll need to check to see if the controller will be compatible with your software.
How Often Will You Be Using The Controller?
Build quality is important when it comes to choosing the best DJ controller for beginners. Many controllers that are designed for beginners can be made from cheap materials. If you plan on mixing on a regular basis you want a controller that is going to be able to take the punishment. This becomes even more important if you plan on taking your controller with you to a friends 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 soundcard within the controller is a good feature. It will allow you to plug and play without having to rely on the capabilities of your computer or laptop. It also allows you to send the sound directly to your sound system.
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 a controller that has plenty of in-built effects options and controls. Most entry-level controllers support 2 channels but a few do have some workarounds for 4 channel mixing. Knowing how likely you are to use these features is important. It will help you get a controller that allows you to fully explore the side of DJing you are most passionate about.
Does The Controller Have The Inputs You Need?
DJ controllers for beginners often have minimal inputs. Knowing what type of connection options are available is also crucial. It allows you to know whether the controller will work with your existing sound system and headphones. When I purchased my first controller I couldn’t start mixing straight away as I needed a converter for my headphones to suit the headphone output.
Keep in mind most entry-level options are USB DJ controllers so you’ll need to have a spare USB port on your computer or laptop. All the best entry-level options are not standalone DJ controllers and do require you to plug them into a laptop or computer. Unfortunately, there are no all in one DJ controller options at the entry-level 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 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 it’s best to invest in the best controller you can afford and then upgrade other components down the track.
It’s not uncommon to get the best cheap DJ controller you can afford to start with. 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 controller.
You can still get a very capable controller on a budget and we’ll be focusing on the more budget-friendly options in this guide.
Entry-Level Doesn’t Equal 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 professional DJs love the compact and refined nature of entry-level DJ controllers. Check out this YouTube video from Pri yon Yoni explaining why he loves to use entry-level controllers.
Best DJ Controller
Now that you know what to look for in the best DJ controller beginners let’s check out some of the best options available. You can also click through to the individual DJ controller reviews if you need more detail on a specific controller.
Pioneer DDJ 400 Review (4.5 Stars)
The DDJ 400 is the flagship Pioneer DJ controller for Rekordbox DJ software. It’s the successor to the very popular DDJ RB but it does have some notable changes and improvements from that model. While it may be geared as an entry-level controller it still has the ability to grow with your skillset as you become a more capable DJ. Packed with features at an affordable price makes it one of the best Pioneer DJ controllers available.
- Professional Layout – This control 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 your controller.
- Rekordbox DJ Software – Unlike other controllers in the market this one comes with the full version of the software. This can save you a considerable amount of money.
- Tutorial Feature – The controller 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 a controller of this 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.
- Expansive FX – Creative mixing options with a large selection of effects with various ways to activate and manipulate them.
- Smaller Mixer Section – The central mixer section feels a little too compact. For those with big hands, it can get a bit fiddly.
- Smaller Performance Pads – With a larger fader Pioneer has decided to make the performance pads smaller. This increases the chance of hitting multiple buttons with one press.
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|>> FULL PIONEER DDJ 400 REVIEW <<|
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review (4 Stars)
The other Pioneer DJ controller aimed at the entry-level market is the SB3. It has positioned itself as the best Serato DJ controller for beginners. Serato is one of the most popular and full-featured pieces of DJ software in the market. That isn’t the only difference you should be aware of though. A few key features skew this controller to a different segment of the beginner DJ market.
- Quality Jogwheels – The low latency and durable jogwheels are great for any DJ that wants the best DJ controller for scratching at a reasonable price. The jogwheels are a good size as well for a controller at this price point.
- Logical Layout – All the functions are laid out in a way that feels natural when mixing. This is ideal for beginner DJs who may feel intimidated with 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 of the controller you need to pay for the full version which is an added expense. Keep this in mind if you are on a tight budget.
- Scratch Effects – A new feature to incorporate scratch style effects via a button press. This feels a little gimmicky. An interesting idea but in practice, it doesn’t really help you develop your scratching skills.
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|>> FULL PIONEER DDJ SB3 REVIEW <<|
Roland DJ 202 Review (4 Stars)
Roland is known for producing high-quality pieces of production gear. That same mentality has inspired their range of Roland DJ controllers all the way down to this entry-level option. It offers some unique features that are not found on other controllers aimed at beginners. For DJs looking for a more performance orientated controller, the Roland 202 is a great starting option.
- Built-In Drum Machine – Trigger 8 drum sounds from Roland’s selection of drum machines. This allows on the fly beat creation. If you are into the idea of remixing and production you’ll enjoy this addition to an entry-level controller.
- Responsive Jogwheels – High quality 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 Input – A Midi port at the back of the controller 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 an entry-level controller it does feel a little hollow and flimsy. I’d feel a little nervous carting this around unprotected.
- Intro Software – Also comes with Serato DJ Lite which is a stripped-back version. While serviceable it is an added expense which could push this beyond your budget.
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|>> FULL ROLAND DJ 202 REVIEW <<|
Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 Review (4 Stars)
Numark has offered quality entry-level controllers for many years and the Mixtrack Pro 3 is no different. This Numark DJ controller comes with a few features that you don’t normally find in controllers at this level. It’s also very competitively priced for the features it does offer.
- Built-In Soundcard – having an in-built soundcard is a huge plus for the Mixtrack Pro 3. 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 Pitch 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.
- Touchstrip – Quick skimming through tracks via the touchstrips can help cut down the amount of time you assess tracks before setting up a mix.
- Lots of Value – One of the best budget DJ controllers. It 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 – Once again Serato DJ Lite is included. It may be budget but there is still the hidden upgrade cost.
- Appearance – While a big improvement from previous models it still looks a little bit like a toy.
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|>> FULL NUMARK MIXTRACK PRO 3 REVIEW <<|
Denon MC4000 Review (4 Stars)
While it isn’t the cheapest DJ controller, for those that have a little bit of extra money, the MC4000 is a great option. Designed to be a fully-featured portable Denon DJ controller. It has all the tools a DJ needs to plug and play on the go. The argument can be made that this isn’t a strictly entry-level controller. However, I feel it’s worth going over an option that has a little more room for you to grow.
- Inputs – This is where the Denon shines with a large number of input options. This is perfect for the mobile DJ as you’ll usually have the relevant input available to handle any sound setup.
- Professional Design – Of all the controllers on this list, this one looks the most professional. We live in a world where appearances do matter especially if you are looking to take your DJing beyond your home DJ studio.
- Good Build Quality – Along with looking great it feels great. Solid construction without feeling too heavy. This becomes important if you do plan to take the mixer to parties or gigs.
- Only 4 Pads – while it does look like it offers 8 pads like other controllers only 4 are useable for extra features beyond transport controls.
- Intro Software – With no full version Serato included it is another expense to add to an already more expensive option for beginners.
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|>> FULL DENON MC4000 REVIEW <<|
Pioneer DDJ-WeGo4 Review (3.5 Stars)
So far we have covered traditional-looking DJ controllers that are designed to be used with a laptop or computer. The WeGo4 offers a different approach. A unique design that is compatible with IOS and Android devices gives you an alternative option to classic controllers. It is also one of the best choices if you are looking for a DJ controller for iPad.
- IOS/Android Compatible – The only controller on this list that supports smartphones and tablets. An iPad DJ controller is a good option if you don’t have a PC or laptop. There are a couple of app choices available making it a very portable option.
- Compact Design – This is a small DJ controller. While it might not be the smallest DJ controller it is a good option if space is an issue.
- Full Software Included – Not only is it compatible with IO and Android Apps it also includes a full copy of Rekordbox DJ.
- Button Layout – While space-saving it is quite the departure from traditional layouts. If you do end up upgrading to a different controller you may find the transition more difficult.
- 2 Band EQ – Only Low and High are available which does reduce your options for properly EQing your mixes.
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As you can see there is a large range of DJ controllers in the market tailored towards the beginner DJ. Every major manufacturer has thrown their hat into the ring with their take on what an entry-level controller should do. This is great for the beginner DJ as they keep refining their products to outdo each other in this highly competitive space.
Each of the controllers I’ve covered fills a specific need in the entry-level space. From the turntablist inspired DJ to the production minded artist all the way to the portable mobile DJ.
It can be difficult to pick the best beginner DJ controller. If I had to make a recommendation without knowing your individual goals as a beginner DJ I’d suggest the Pioneer DDJ 400. It has all the features a new DJ needs without any extra hidden restrictions or costs. It offers a sleek design that emulates more advanced gear. It also gives you plenty of creative flexibility as you progress as a DJ.
No matter what type of DJ you plan to be you are 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.