Last updated on Apr 13, 2017 @ 11:45 am

What is the best professional DJ controller money can buy? In this article, I would like to explore a selection of high-end controllers available today in the DJ market.

2016 was an interesting year when it comes to the DJ controller market. The trend to include LCD screens into DJ controllers continues, but also to make them independent from computers. Manufacturers are working hard to tie their hardware as tightly as possible to the DJ software of their choice, be it for performance or preparation purposes. Pioneer DJ has Rekordbox, Denon DJ has Engine and Engine Prime and Serato plays nice with a whole host of hardware manufacturers.

But can DJ controllers be professional?

It’s common prejudice that DJ controllers that depend on computers to work are no more than glorified toys and that real DJs use media players, mixers, and turntables. Well, if this was the case, somebody like Carl Cox wouldn’t be using a Traktor Kontrol S8, right? The bottom line is, a professional DJ controller is not so much defined by its price, but by a few key features that make it ready for professional use, such as:

  • A top quality sound card, preferably 24-bit/96kHz
  • Professional grade Input & Outputs: XLR & TRS master & booth outputs next to RCA
  • A hardware mixer that can host external gear such as media players & turntables
  • Solid and sturdy build, ready to withstand heavy abuse on the road
  • Gain & VU metering per channel

Those are a few of the most important characteristics of a professional level DJ controller. With that in mind, let’s dive into a selection of currently available models, and I will give you my top recommendations.

TOP PICKS in this article

Denon DJ MCX8000
Denon DJ MCX8000
Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX
Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX
Denon DJ-808

Roland DJ-808

TOP PICK! Denon DJ MCX8000 Serato DJ Controller

Denon DJ MCX8000
Denon DJ MCX8000

The MCX8000 is one of the best DJ controllers to come out as of yet. The reason I said this is that the MCX8000 combines so many features into 1 piece of equipment:

  • Very attractive pricing
  • Capacity to run in standalone mode, using Engine software to analyze tracks
  • Build in screens that display both Serato DJ and Engine information
  • Full analog hardware mixer, with plenty of inputs & outputs
  • Support for Serato Pitch ‘n Time & Flip

The standalone mode works best when the music files are analyzed & prepared in Denon’s proprietary Engine software, but it also does work with files that didn’t pass through Engine. While Engine is no match for Rekordbox (yet), it does get the job of beatgridding your music done.

Overall the MCX8000 has its flaws, but if you are a professional DJ using Serato DJ, this is probably the best controller money can buy. This is definitely the best professional DJ controller money can buy at this moment.

Up Unprecedented flexibility by being and a fully featured Serato DJ controller and a standalone USB media player in one. Hardware 4 channel mixer with DVS support. High-res onboard screens. Extensive I/O and double mic input.
Down Only small things. The LED ring around the jogs might be too flashy for some. Big controller to carry around.
FOR Serato DJ users that want the absolute best Serato DJ controller on the market today.

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ Rekordbox DJ Controller

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ
Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ

The Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ is the Rekordbox DJ version of the DDJ-SZ2, discussed below. They have almost identical features & functionalities.

The RZ is a huge beast. It features CDJ sized jog wheels with center LCD display, a 4 channel hardware mixer with integrated sound color effects, professional-grade inputs & outputs on the back, hardware support for the Rekorbox Sequencer feature, double USB inputs for easy DJ changeovers and much, much more.

Essentially, it’s the closest a DJ controller comes (except for the DDJ-RZX) to emulate a CDJ/DJM setup.

The price, although high (around USD 2.000), is acceptable knowing that a CDJ/DJM setup will set you back at least double the amount for essentially fewer features (you would be missing the performance pads for example).

Up Feels like DJing on DJM/CDJ rig, minus the onboard screens. Double USBs, color FX, pro grade I/O, hardware mixer, tension adjust for the jog wheels
Down Big size and weight make it hard to move around.
FOR Serious professional DJs that need the very best Pioneer DJ has to offer for Rekordbox DJ.

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2 Serato DJ Controller

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2

The message is quite simple here: if you use Rekordbox/Rekordbox DJ and have no need for any other DJ software, go for the DDJ-RZ. If you are a Serato DJ user, and might use Rekordbox alongside, go for the DDJ-SZ2, since the SZ2 will for sure be made compatible with Rekordbox DJ.

The feature list of both controllers is quite similar, with some small differences: the RZ has support for the Rekordbox Sequencer feature (Pioneer DJ’s version of Serato Flip) and the DDJ-SZ2 supports Serato Flip. But that’s about it.

Up Feels like DJing on DJM/CDJ rig, minus the onboard screens. Double USBs, color FX, pro grade I/O, hardware mixer, tension adjust for the jog wheels
Down Big size and weight make it hard to move around.
FOR Serious professional DJs that need the very best Pioneer DJ has to offer for Serato DJ.

 

TOP PICK! Roland DJ-808 Serato DJ Controller

Roland DJ-808
Roland DJ-808

The Roland DJ-808 is the first DJ outing from Roland in a long time, and they are not kidding around. The DJ-808 is not only a fully featured controller for Serato DJ, it also has a sequencer, drum machine, and vocoder build right in. And all that for USD 1.499.

This controller will appeal to those DJs/producers that want more than just playing and mixing pre-recorded music. Using the sequencer/drum machine it’s now possible to create original sound patterns right in Serato DJ using the DJ-808, and with the Ableton Link integration with Serato DJ, hooking up with other devices that use Link as well is now possible and easy to do.

In my opinion, the DJ-808 is worthy runner-up for the title of best professional DJ controller out there. I still would place the MCX8000 above it.

Up Build-in sequencer, voice transformer, and drum machine. Tight integration with Serato DJ including the Sequencer. Fantastic jog wheels. Full Support for all Serato DJ features. 4 channel hardware mixer with extensive IO (including MIDI out).
Down Will DJs embrace the live performance oriented features? Maybe too much for DJs to digest in 1 unit.
FOR Serato DJ users that want to explore the performance-oriented features such as the sequencer and drum machine and don’t want to pay for separate units will embrace the DJ-808.

 

Numark NS7III Serato DJ Controller

Numark NSVIII
Numark NSVIII

The Numark NS7III is in many ways comparable to the DDJ-RZX, since it’s also a 4 channel controller, and it has 3 screens. There a few important differences though.

First of all, the price. The NS7III is half the price (!) of the DDJ-RZX. That is a big difference. The screens on the NS7II are smaller and lower resolution (they don’t support video for instance) but at half the price that is an acceptable compromise.Secondly, the NS7III is a Serato DJ controller, and won’t work with Rekordbox DJ, in the same way, the RZX won’t work with Serato DJ. And finally, the NS7III lacks the double USB ports of the RZX. It does have one big thing that might be a decisive factor: it has rotating platters that use real slip mats and real vinyl. The NS7III is the closest you can get to a mixer and turntables using a midi DJ controller.

Secondly, the NS7III is a Serato DJ controller, and won’t work with Rekordbox DJ, in the same way, the RZX won’t work with Serato DJ. And finally, the NS7III lacks the double USB ports of the RZX. It does have one big thing that might be a decisive factor: it has rotating platters that use real slip mats and real vinyl. The NS7III is the closest you can get to a mixer and turntables using a midi DJ controller.

Up Unique features for Serato DJ controllers such as 3 screens and the rotating platters. Full support for most Serato DJ features. Hardware mixer with all the I/O you will ever need.
Down Huge size and weight make it difficult to transport.
FOR DJs that want the old school feeling (turntables!) in DJ controllers combined with the latest tech (onboard screens).

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX Rekordbox Video Controller

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX
Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX

The Pioneer DDJ-RZX is an enormous beast and is the best of what Pioneer DJ has to offer DJ controller wise. It features 3 bright, high-resolution screens that allow library browsing, show track data and waveforms, and display video content when Vjaying. The DDJ-RZX is the first DJ controller built to fully support Rekordbox Video, and as such, needs a serious amount of computer power to operate:

Minimum system requirements

  • CPU: 2.5GHz dual-core Intel® Core™ i5 or higher
  • Memory: 8GB or more of RAM
  • Hard Drive: 250MB or more of free space (not including space for storing music files, etc.)
  • Display resolution: Resolution of 1280×768 or greater

Recommended system requirements

  • CPU: 2.2GHz quad-core Intel® Core™ i7 or higher
  • Memory: 16GB or more of RAM
  • Hard Drive: 250MB or more of free space (not including space for storing music files, etc.)
  • Display resolution: Resolution of 1280 x 768 or greater

You will definitely need a very recent machine to work smoothly with the DDJ-RZX, so it’s important to take that into account when considering a purchase.

The main flaw here is that for all the raw power the RZX offers, it cannot work in standalone mode. If this would be possible, the RZX would be the absolute number 1 DJ controller out there.

Apart from screens and video support, the RZX is pretty much the RZ on steroids, with added color FX, dedicated MIC FX.

Could the RZX be the best professional DJ controller, since it’s the most expensive of the lot? Not really. A DJ controller assumes at least a bit of portability, and this enormous beast will be very hard to move around. The dependency of a computer also makes it a less appealing choice for pro DJ’s.

Lack of standalone capacity is a big miss, considering the price. Needs a heavy spec laptop to operate (especially video features).

Up Feels like DJing with a CDJ/DJM setup. Fantastic onboard screens. Double USBs for easy changeovers. All the features of the DDJ-SZ and more. Color FX on the mic channel (!)
Down Only semi-portable due to its size and weight. The lack of standalone feature is a big minus, and it needs a top of the line computer to operate the video features.
FOR Rekordbox DJ users that use Video in the mixes, have the budget (USD 3.000) and don’t mind the size and the need for a very well featured laptop.

 

TOP PICK! Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX Rekordbox DJ Controller

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX
Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX

As with the DDJ-RZ and the DDJ-SZ discussed above, we have a very similar situation with the DDJ-RX and the DDJ-SX2. The SX2 is the Serato DJ version, the RX the Rekordbox DJ version. Both have almost identical features, except for, you guessed it, hardware support for Rekordbox Sequencer for the RX and Serato Flip for SX2.

Choosing one over the other is a matter of software preference. Rekordbox DJ is very powerful software and although not as established as Serato DJ, it’s built on top of Rekordbox and as such works on the same music library so you can be playing from USB in clubs and from Rekordbox DJ at home without having to prepare your music twice. This is a clear advantage Rekordbox DJ has over Serato DJ and in time, should make it the more popular DJ software choice.

The RX is a top notch piece of equipment and there is one thing that gives it the edge over the DDJ-SX2: the included sound color effects on the mixer. So instead of only having a filter, you get noise, crush, pitch, and filter. I would have preferred a delay, reverb, noise and filter but hey, the world isn’t perfect 🙂

Apart from all that, the DDJ-RX has a fully independent hardware mixer, professional grade inputs & outputs, fantastic jog wheels and a very solid build. Highly recommended, and a top contender for the title of best professional DJ controller.

Channel source switch on the front of the controller is a bit cumbersome to operate.

Up 4 channel hardware mixer with DVS support. Onboard Color FX on the RX. Excellent jog wheels with center LED. Support for advanced performance features in Serato DJ.
Down Lack of dedicated mic controls means sacrificing a channel when using a mic. The front plate controls can be hard to operate in narrow/dark booth.
FOR Djs that need portability combined with but pro grade features (pro I/O, 4 channel hardware mixer…)

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 Serato DJ Controller

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2

The Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 is the updated version of the original DDJ-SX DJ controller. It has very similar features to the DDJ-RX discussed above, but lacks the built-in sound color hardware effects.

On advantage over the DDJ-RX is the compatibility with Rekordbox DJ next to Serato DJ so if you are planning to use both or are unsure what you will end up using, the DDJ-SX2 is a more sensible choice. Apart from this, the DDJ-SX2 is a carbon copy of the RX.

Channel source switch on the front of the controller is a bit cumbersome to operate.

Up 4 channel hardware mixer with DVS support. Excellent jog wheels with center LED. Support for advanced performance features in Serato DJ. Also supports Rekordbox DJ so that is a plus.
Down Lack of dedicated mic controls means sacrificing a channel when using a mic.
FOR Djs that need portability combined with but pro grade features (pro I/O, 4 channel hardware mixer..)

 

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8

The Traktor Kontrol S8 is not a new controller, it came it out almost 2 years ago. But with the recent Traktor Pro update to version 2.11 things got a more interesting for Traktor Pro users: Ableton Link is now integrated with Traktor Pro and the remix decks can now function as sequencers.

Apart from that, the S8 has built-in high-resolution screens, a hardware mixer, full support for Stems with 4 channel faders per deck. There are no jog wheels in sight, but the touch strips do a good job of replacing them (you can nudge and even scratch with them).

Also, if the S8 supports DVS so CDJs and turntables can be connected. Carl Cox famously uses the S8 as a central hub of his DJ setup next to CD’s and/or turntables. And if it is good enough for Carl, it should be good enough for any DJ out there 🙂

Up Gorgeous screens. Best possible support for Stems with the integrated deck line faders. New upgrades to Traktor Pro 2.11 (Ableton Link support, new sequencer feature). Hardware mixer with DVS support.
Down Ditching the jog wheels and the pitch faders might maybe a bit too much for most DJs.
FOR Traktor Pro users that want full Stems support and need the hardware mixer advantages (DVS, connectivity) of the S8.

 

  • Eric Linder

    I’d love to hear how you compare the new dj808 to the one you picked as top choice? Thanks! I’m looking to likely get one or the other.

    • My choice for the MCX8000 is based on the fact it’s a Serato DJ controller AND can play standalone with USB sticks thanks to integration with Engine, it has screens, a hardware mixer with all the ins & outs pro’s need and the build quality is excellent.
      That being said, the DJ-808 is probably a better option if the build in sequencer appeals to you, and if you are not interested in the screens/standalone features; Hope it helps!

      • Eric Linder

        Thanks so much for replying!

        I’ve never DJ’d before, but want to get into it. I’m a bit of a gear-head, and have a bunch of MIDI gear (NI Maschine, lots of DAW software, etc).

        So for that reason, the sequencer appeals to me, but is it a gimmick or is it legit? I promise I won’t keep bothering you, there just haven’t seemed to be many reviews for this yet!

        • I’m here to help you out :-). The sequencer of the DJ-808 is absolutely top notch and is deeply integrated into Serato DJ. So if in your case, the DJ-808 might be exactly what you are looking for. I’m trying to get my hands on an unit for an in depth review so keep an eye on the site for it. Good luck with your choice!

          • Scott Jenner

            I am a big fan of the drums and vocoder built into the Roland 808. BUT as a new DJ, I need a more portable unit like the Pioneer DDJ-SX2.

          • Fair Point Scott. And consider that you can always expand your setup with gear from the Roland Aira range if you want to add a drumcomputer or a vocoder to your setup!

          • Scott Jenner

            I love the Roland DJ-808! If it was not so massive, hands down this would be what I would get. I needed something smaller for mobile work, so I ended up with a Pioneer DDJ-SX2 which I am quite happy with.

      • Scott Jenner

        I’ve heard the Denon MCX8000 has a lot of issues crashing during performances from DJs that own this controller. Has Denon fixed the issues with the built in engine software to address this crash issue?

        • Hey Scott I wasnt’t aware of problems with the built in engine software on the MCX8000. I’ll reach out to Denon and see what they have to say about it. cheers!

          • Scott Jenner

            Thanks Rodrigo. From DJs that own a Denon say they had issues when it first came out. Hopefully Denon resolves these as it looks like a sweet unit.