We outline the Top 8 DJ controllers of 2021 to fit any budget, for beginners to expert DJs. Whether you are a mobile, bedroom or professional DJ, here are our top picks controllers!
NUMARK DJ2GO2 TOUCH (The Newbie Controller)
This controller is a perfect introduction into the world of DJing, without a large financial investment. Numark introduced its first “Pocket DJ Controller” in 2017. It was a decent compact controller but felt toyish, and was equipped with gimmicky jog wheels. This all changed last year when DJ2GO2 Touch was introduced, giving it a sleek, low-profile redesign with capacitive touch jog wheels, making it feel less like a toy and more like a professional controller.
Numark’s DJ2GO2 Touch features a built-in audio interface, which is the standard for most controllers nowadays, but unlike others, it is driverless due to its “plug-and-play” connectivity. This allows you to effortlessly connect it to your device of choice; be it Windows, Mac or iPhone/pad (running iOS 11.2 or later). The sound card features a 1/8” output for headphone cue and main out. This jack size is sufficient if you’re using computer speakers, but not ideal for a proper sound system. Thankfully, Numark includes a 1/8” to RCA cable solving this issue.
Like other DJ controllers on the market, the DJ2GO2 Touch has backlit sync, cue and play/pause buttons (for each channel), as well as pitch and volume controls for each channel. The cross fader feels sturdy and smooth unlike its predecessor, thanks to the improvements on the new design, making it more relatable to that of a professional mixer. In addition to these staple controls, Numark has added eight pads that have four modes. The addition of these buttons gives you the same access to performance controls typically found only on more premium controllers.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato, Virtual DJ, and Mixxx
HERCULES INPULSE 500 (The Value Controller)
If you are looking for a controller that is packed with features and has an incredible build quality, the Hercules Inpulse 500 is what you are looking for. In 2020 Hercules designed a DJ controller that could help you get started DJing, refine your skills, and perform in front of audiences. This was achieved by integrating a tempo guide (light guide alongside each tempo fader), beat align guide (light guide underneath each jog wheel), and an IMA (Intelligent Music Assistant) built into the Inpulse 500.
The Inpulse 500’s built-in audio interface is equipped with industry standard inputs and outputs for the master, headphone, auxiliary input and microphone input, all processed by AKM’s Velvet Sound DSP. The auxiliary input is quite unique for this price range of controller, as there are two of them with a dedicated filter. This is an extremely useful feature as you can filter in audio from an external source as backup if needed, or someone’s phone (common in wedding situations) without an abrupt transition.
For this two-channel controller each deck features a Play, Cue, Shift, and Sync buttons; eight soft pads with RGB backlighting and 8 modes; 5.5” jog wheels with touch detection; loop encoders; a filter knob; three EQ knobs; a gain knob; a volume fader; and a VU meter. The main mixer section includes a crossfader with curve adjustment; independent knobs for Master, Headphones and Cue/Mix volumes; independent microphone volume and EQ knobs; Auxiliary volume and filter knobs; two VU-meters plus a Master VU meter; and a filter/effects rack with four effects buttons and two filter knobs.
The VU Meters give you an indication if a track is currently being played on the corresponding deck. All of these sliders, buttons and knobs feel and look great mounted to the Inpulse 500 metal backing plate. As an added bonus, Hercules gave the Inpulse 500 retractable feet with backlite, which allows you to run wires underneath, and protect the controller from spilled drinks.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato, DJUCED, and Virtual DJ
PIONEER DDJ-400 (The Transition Controller)
In most clubs around the world, you will find that the “in-house” system is made up of Pioneer’s NXS series mixers and CDJs. With this being the case, it is a good idea to be familiar with the Pioneer DJ ecosystem. Unfortunately, this setup would cost you thousands of dollars and DJ controllers are not designed with this ecosystem in mind, making it very hard to be prepared to play on these professional setups. Pioneer has taken note of this and infused this philosophy into its DDJ-400.
The DDJ-400's buttons and knobs are arranged in the same way as those of the NXS series set-up allowing you to develop your DJ skills using an interface similar to that of the club-standard players. With the DDJ-400 you can apply professional FX that match the tempo of the track that’s currently playing by using the Beat FX and Sound Color FX, featuring curves taken from Pioneer’s DJM-900NXS2 mixer.
The soundcard is “plug-and-play” allowing you to simply connect the controller to your computer using the provided USB-B cable to power up and begin playing. The built-in sound card also provides you with one Mic input (1/4” TS Jack) and two outputs (RCA master out; Mini-jack headphone out).
Like most controllers in this price range, the DDJ-400 is a two-channel mixer. Each channel features a 5.2” jog wheel with rubber grip edges. Accompanying these jog wheels are backlight buttons for looping & cueing as well as eight rubber pads that can be configured to your DJ software of choice.
For the mixer section there are dedicated knobs for each of the inputs and outputs, volume faders for each channel, and a dedicated EQ strip including a filter knob. The effects mentioned previously are found here (on the right side) with the proper selection buttons and level/depth knob needed to control them. If you are buying this controller for the sole purpose of using it with Serato, I would suggest the DDJ-SB3 as it is pretty much the same as this controller, with the exception that it is optimized for that software.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato, Rekordbox, and Virtual DJ
NUMARK NS6II (The Intermediate Controller)
If you have spent the past few years practicing and performing on a beginner level controller Numark’s NS6II controller may be the perfect upgrade for you. Beginner controllers normally have two channels you can mix between, whereas the NS6II gives you an upgrade to four channels, with two of them having the possibility to connect two phono/line inputs that can be mixed directly without software. This is quite a huge feature as it gives you room to add new or existing gear to your setup (e.g., CDJ or Vinyl).
The built-in sound card on the Numark NS6II DJ controller features dual USB 2.0 outs, enabling you to connect two laptops simultaneously, allowing for seamless DJ hand-offs. With a push of a button, you and your partner DJ can switch between two laptops and play at the same time between four channels.
The outputs include balanced stereo XLR, stereo 1/4” and 1/8” TRS headphone out as well as master and booth channels via RCA. As mentioned previously you have two inputs of line or phono via unbalanced RCA and two mic inputs via balanced 1/4” TRS (which are not limited to mics only).
The build quality of the NS6II is amazing! You can tell that thought has been put into this controller by people who actually DJ. The controller is made of a black powder coated steel with roll bars to protect the front panel control knobs. With the case being as durable as it is, the faders may feel a tad cheap to you, but unlike other controllers, this one allows you to replace/upgrade the crossfader if you find this an issue.
The two multi-function capacitive jog wheels are 6”, and have 2” color LCD display built into each jog wheel. These screens allow you to monitor BPM, platter position, time remaining, pitch adjustment and keylock, keeping you focused on your performance.
Alongside each jog wheel is a smooth-resistant long pitch fader, a touch sensitive “strip search” to scroll through audio files waveforms, and a button to switch to the second deck (left side is deck 1&3, right side is Deck 2&4).
Located at the bottom of each jog wheel are the rubber RGB performance pads, which are the same pads found on the world renown AKAI’s MPC products. These pads give you quick access to hot cues, auto loop/roll, manual loop mode sampler and slicer. Each pad function has a sub function, giving you access to a total of sixteen velocity-sensitive pads.
As for the mixing section, you have controls for the two effects banks (A&B) with corresponding knobs and individual three FX selection buttons followed by a tap/mode button for these effects. The Master and Booth outputs have their own RED knobs which is a simple but extremely hopeful addition as it prevents you from accidentally changing the position of these levels.
Each of the four audio channels has a switch for deck assignment and on/off buttons for cue and FX banks. Each channel has its own dedicated master fader, filter, EQ and gain knobs, plus a LED VU meter for monitoring levels on each track including the master channel which has its own stereo VU meter. At the top of the mixing section, Numark has included a browser knob with navigation buttons to make workflow easier with your DJ software and, there are “load buttons” for each track.
The last neat innovation Numark has put into the design of the NS6II is touch-capacitive frequency knobs (exclusive to Numark). With a simple touch you can adjust mid, low, and high frequencies during the mix. A good example of how this feature works would be in using it to instantly cut out the bass frequencies. By touching and holding the bass knob, the resistance from your finger will close the knobs perimeters. As soon as you let go, the bass frequencies fade back in. This is a great effect for talk-overs and building energy before a drop.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato, Virtual DJ and Standalone
NATIVE INSTRUMENTS TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 MK3 (The Traktor Enthusiast Controller)
If you exclusively DJ in Traktor, there is no better controller choice than the company’s own dedicated line of controllers. Any controller from the Traktor Kontrol range will suit your needs as they are built to the same level of quality, with the difference lying in features however, the Kontrol S4 MK3 has the most to offer. Since it was introduced in 2018, this controller always finds itself on yearly “top controllers” lists.
The on-board audio interface of the Kontrol S4 MK3 is one of the best on the market in regards to DJ controllers, as it has all the inputs & outputs you need, making it the core of live setups. The 24-bit interface provides you with two phono/line inputs, two separate line inputs, two main outputs (RCA / XLR), a TRS booth output with headphone outputs, two mic inputs, two USB ports and Digital Vinyl System (DVS) support.
With these options, you can develop your very own setup with audio from other sources. Connect turntables for crate-diggers, drum machines and synths for hybrid wizards, or anything else you can think of, to push the boundaries of your DJ set.
When connected to Traktor Pro 3, the software adds headroom to the signal, before the Kontrol S4 MK3 gives it an analog boost (better sound at club levels). Without a computer, the Kontrol S4 MK3 can be used as a standalone mixer with external audio sources. This is a real lifesaver if your computer ever crashes during a gig. You can use CDJs (or your phone) as backup audio sources.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 has been designed with a club-standard layout in mind. On both ends of the controller you will find a 5.5″ Haptic Drive™ jog wheel accompanied by FX knobs, RGB pads, display screen, pitch fader, and play & cue buttons.
The Haptic Drive™ motorized jog wheels are a new invention from Native instruments, that provide haptic force-feedback. Essentially it gives off different sorts of vibrations or resistance to allow the DJ to feel cue points and loops when scrolling through their tracks.
These jog wheels are also motorized, allowing them to spin like turntables letting you nudge and scratch like you would with vinyl. To help you differentiate between which deck is selected (switch by button) the outside of the jog wheel will light up a different colour.
The high-resolution colour display under each deck allows you to view essential information at a glance. It has the ability to display waveform, looping, key, and BPM information, track title, remaining track time, stems, and remix deck samples. Below this there are eight RGB pads that can be used to trigger cue points and loops, manipulate Stems, and trigger Remix Deck samples on the fly.
For the mixing section of this four-channel controller you have one-touch effects on each channel for big drops and smooth transitions, with eight different club-grade effects and three unique filter models to choose from. Along with this, you have knobs for EQ control, and inverted “carbon Protect” faders for each channel and crossfader, protecting them against dust and dirt.
SUPPORTED BY: Traktor Pro 3, Virtual DJ and Mixxx
RANE ONE (The Purist Controller)
The Rane ONE is a DJ controller design with a specific user in mind: the classic vinyl DJ. Up until now there has not been a portable all in one controller that feels authentic along with the ability to properly perform scratch techniques.
Rane has had a long history with audio technology dating back to the 80’s giving them a reputation for high-end, no-compromise sound quality that DJs have come to trust. Designed around Rane’s intuitive performance layout, the ONE showcases the trusted hallmarks of Rane’s build quality and intricate DNA, continuing the company’s dedication to the art of DJing now in a digital world.
ONE’s sound card is equipped with connections for every scenario. For your outputs you have two XLR outputs for Mains, two more XLR outputs for Booth, an RCA stereo output pair for the Master, with headphones TRS outs in 1/4” and 1/8” sizes.
Inputs include two XLR or 1/4" TRS inputs, two RCA stereo input pairs that can be switched between phono and line (for turntables), and an auxiliary input in the form of an RCA stereo connection. On top of this there are dual USB Type-B ports for Laptop connections.
The ONE features authentic motorized 7” turntable platters for high-performance precision, complete with a customizable high/low torque setting (located on the back panel), vinyl brake adjustment (dedicated knob to the right of the platter), and a traditional turntable plunger style start/stop button (bottom left). This allows users to experience authentic, tactile control over their music and performance with traditional vinyl-like touch enhanced by creative tools the digital world has to offer.
Adding to the traditional feel, Rane has equipped the one with a Mag Four crossfader found on their flagship mixers. The Mag Four gives you a swift and precise control over your cuts which can further be adjusted via software cut-in adjustment available in Serato DJ Pro.
Under the turntable platter you will find 8 multi-function velocity-sensitive performance pads with five modes. Each deck includes Hot Cue, Pitch ‘n Time, Saved Loop, Roll, Sampler, Slicer, as well as Serato DJ Pro’s Scratch Bank feature. To the right of the pads, you will find dedicated loop controls, as well as a 100mm precision slider with pitch range controls below. At the top of the decks, you will find the navigation control for your DJ software plus a track search touch strip with LED indication.
You will find the mixing section very simplistic, which should be comforting to the classic vinyl DJ. You have your standard level, high, mid and low knobs with a low pass/high pass filter for each of the two decks.
In between these controls you have switches to route which USB port the deck is getting its information from, as well as, main and booth volume control knobs with VU meters for each deck and the main mix. The FX section below has six dedicated buttons for software effects defined by you with depth and tempo control.
The most exciting part here is the die-cast metal paddles that can be found on current Rane mixers, which has slowly been gaining popularity in the “scratch” world. They are used to activate effects, and have the ability to be in latch or momentary positions.
If you have been a classic vinyl DJ up until now, I would definitely suggest you take a deeper look into this controller, and try it out in-store. Live band and hip-hop DJs will also enjoy this controller as they will be able to perform in a more pure and classic way, moving away from the cheap plastic controllers they have been forced to use.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato DJ Pro, Algoriddim's DJay Pro AI, and Virtual DJ
DENON DJ PRIME 4 (The Standalone Controller)
With DJ controllers, a computer is needed to process the DJ software. This can limit the performance of a controller if the computer is unable to run the CPU hungry DJ program. This can be fixed by optimizing your laptop for audio or buying a dedicated laptop, but not everyone can do this. Recently all-in-one/standalone controllers have come to the market. From this small group of controllers, the Denon DJ Prime 4 stands out among the rest.
The Prime 4 is powered by a multicore processor featuring hardware controls for four channels of audio and a 10.1” touchscreen, allowing you to handle any DJ set, anywhere, anytime. Music can be played from four USB type A media ports, a SD card slot, and an internal SATA with power port for a 2.5" solid state hard drive to expand your storage capacity.
You also have access to built-in Wi-Fi allowing you to connect and play music from streaming services or your personal cloud storage. The PRIME 4, can also be used as a controller to control both Serato DJ Pro and Virtual DJ. Plug your laptop into the USB type B host port, place your laptop to the side, and navigate your music library, view waveforms, and select decks via the 10.1” touchscreen.
Prime 4’s built-in sound card features six professional grade Neutrik XLR outputs for Master, Zone, and Booth, an RCA output pair for another master out, as well as a 1/8” and 1/4” output for headphones. For inputs you have four RCA input pairs (line/phono), and two professional grade Neutrik XLR+1/4" microphone inputs. For these mic inputs you have two dedicated channels at the top left of the controller with dedicated EQ, volume and effect controls.
This may not seem like an impressive feature at first, but after a few gigs you will realize how beneficial this is. The sound card also allows you to stream back-to-back music automatically into second rooms while you are DJing in the main room, thanks to the dedicated XLR Zone output with gain and EQ control. This allows you to have a party in one room, and chill-out in the other.
To control the four channels, you have two 6” jog wheels controlling two layers/channels. Denon describes their jog wheels as ultra-responsive, capacitive-touch jog wheels with a central HD display showing track artwork or brand logo and RGB light ring around it that can be customizable to the DJs visual preference.
Like other controllers, the Prime 4 has eight performance pads below each jog wheel. These RGB rubber pads allow you to perform hot-cue juggling for live track remixing, creation of saved loop regions for track timeline variety, the ability to perform dynamic ‘straight’ and triplet time roll triggers as well as beat slicing to punctuate variable rhythmic phrases.
For the effect section above the jog wheel, Denon has implemented fourteen class-leading FX sourced from their X1850 club mixer. The Prime 4 has an individual effect selector with four parameter control knobs, labeled by crystal clear OLED screens. The main mixer also has a sweep FX (four modes) control knob for each of the four channels below the four-channel line faders, each with 3-band EQ and gain.
Denon, borrowing again from their X1850 club mixer, has equipped the Prime 4 with a user replaceable crossfader allowing you to choose a fader of your choice.
Overall, the Prime 4’s build quality is quite impressive with the knobs and faders feeling extremely sturdy mounted onto its metal chassis.
SUPPORTED BY: Serato DJ Pro and Virtual DJ
PIONEER DJM-900 NXS2 (The experimentalist controller)
During lockdown, artists have been re-inventing the way they perform. The classic two-decks-and-a-mixer concept is being evolved by DJs and bands. You will now see “decks” being swapped out for instruments, stems, loops and backing tracks. Kevin Parker of Tame Impala is a great example of this setup. The mixer of choice for these setups is ironically the club standard control/mixer by Pioneer, the DJM-900 NXS2.
Used normally as a standalone mixer for CDJs, the DJM-900 NXS2 is actually a very powerful controller with fully assignable MIDI controls. A built-in USB sound card allows simultaneous input/output of stereo signals from four ins and five outs, while 96 kHz/24-bit high-sampling processing ensures high audio quality.
When you connect the unit to your laptop or computer via USB, a settings utility tool will automatically open, allowing you to configure the mixer, sound card, and audio routing to suit your preferences. For analog ins you have four coaxial, four gold-plated line RCA, four gold-plated phono RCA and two XLR/TRS 1/4" Jack Combo for mics. For outs you have a XLR and gold-plated RCA master out, a 1/4" TRS Jack for the booth, a record out via gold-plated RCA, one coaxial out and two headphone outs (1/4” & mini-jack).
The on-board effects of the DJM-900 NXS2 are what makes this mixer/controller ideal for the live setup mentioned above. You get Pioneer’s Sound Color FX, consisting of six studio-quality sound FX’s (Sweep, Filter, Crush, Dub Echo, Noise and Space), available for each of the four channels. Pioneer's Beat FX is controlled by a built-in large X-Pad with an OLED display, allowing you to engage fourteen different types of Beat FX.
In addition, you have a Send/Return, which allows you to use built-in FX and an external FX unit at the same time. Simply connect external hardware via Aux or your iPhone/iPad via USB to engage instrument and FX apps. For all these options you can choose which frequency range you want to apply FX to. You can add echo to the vocals, for example, or double the rhythm of hi-hat with the touch of a button.
The channel controls of DJM-900 NXS2 is your basic mixer layout with robust Magvel Faders, EQ to balance the high, mid, and low frequencies on every channel, with a redesigned clipping indicator gain structure to ensure audio does not go into the red too early and distorting your sound. Unlike a basic DJ controller these EQ’s are built-in, allowing you to save precious processing power on your computer. If you’re feeling adventurous, and want to stand out from other DJs, this is the controller/mixer for you!
SUPPORTED BY: Serato DJ Pro, Ableton, Mixxx, Pro DJ Link, Rekordbox, Traktor and Virtual DJ