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.
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 the full version of the software. 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 DDJ 400 is the entry-level 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. Packed with features at an affordable price 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 unit. It can handle the rigors of consistent use.
- Full Version Software – The Traktor S2 Mk3 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 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 entry-level controllers from NI featured rubber knobs which felt more comfortable. But, the new plastic knobs are more durable.
The re-imagined entry-level controller from NI is a winner. It offers a cleaner and more sleek design with a selection of great features. The dedicated knobs for loop functionality is another great feature. Backed by solid software the Traktor S2 Mk2 is a great beginner DJ controller.
Read our full Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 review for more detailed information.
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3
Pioneer DDJ SB3 Review
Popular Entry-Level Serato Controller
- Quality Jog wheels – The low latency and durable 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 entry-level market is the SB3. Serato is one of the most popular and full-featured pieces of DJ software in the market. It also offers some unique features like Scratch FX. 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 Pro 3 Review
Super Affordable Beginner Controller
- Built-In Soundcard – Having an in-built soundcard is a huge plus for the Numark 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 – 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 full version of Serato.
Numark has offered quality beginner DJ 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. While it isn’t the most professional-looking, it’s very competitively priced for beginners.
Read our full Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 review for more detailed information.
Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
Roland DJ 202 Review
Great Choice For Creative DJs
- 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 a starter DJ controller.
- Responsive Jog wheels – 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 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 an entry level DJ 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 DJ controllers all the way down to this entry level option. For DJs looking for a more performance orientated option, the Roland 202 is a great start for beginners.
Read our full Roland DJ 202 review for more detailed information.
Roland DJ 202
Numark Mixtrack Platinum Review
Best Option For Learning Beatmatching
- Long Pitch Faders – Much like other Numark 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.
- Design Issues – While the Mixtrack Platinum is packed with features the overall design is not as professional when compared to other controllers.
This is another entry level 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. While not the most attractive, the long pitch faders and screens make it a great unit to learn on.
Read our full Numark Mixtrack Platinum review for more detailed information.
Numark Mixtrack Platinum
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.
Do You Plan On Scratching?
If you want to incorporate scratching into your DJing you’ll need to make sure what you buy has solid jog wheels. Small jog wheels will make it difficult for you to have the tactile control you’ll need to effectively scratch. Low-quality jog wheels 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 and play with effects. 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 a full version. To get the most out of your purchase 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 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. 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 soundcard 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 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 channel 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.
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 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 controller I couldn’t start using it straight away as I needed a converter for my headphones to suit the headphone output.
Keep in mind most entry level options are USB 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 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, invest in a 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 controller.
You can still get something very capable on a budget as we focus on the more budget-friendly options in this guide.
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 entry level DJ controllers. Check out this YouTube video from Pri yon Yoni explaining why he loves to use entry level DJ controllers that are targeted to beginners.
Which One Should You Buy?
The Pioneer DDJ 400 is a perfect controller for any beginner DJ. 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 that sets you up for the future. You can check out the next level of Pioneer controllers in out best Pioneer DJ controller review.
If you prefer a Serato based controller I recommend the Pioneer DDJ SB3. If you want to enter the Native Instruments ecosystem of gear the Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 is another fantastic choice.
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