In this post, I explore the things to keep in mind when buying your first DJ controller. If you are rather looking for an overview of DJ controllers, then browse our list of suggested DJ controllers for beginners.
Budget is, of course, an important factor in your choice. DJ controllers cost anything between 100 dollars up to 3000 dollars, so the choice is big, and the differences between features in the different price ranges is huge.
But no matter what your budget is, there a few factors that should always play a role in your decision. Let’s review them one by one.
As choosing any product, first impressions should play a big role in your decision. Human beings are very intuitive, and if something feels right on first contact, it will most probably continue to feel right and improve. If something feels wrong at first, chances are it will only be downhill from there. Sounds like when you meet someone for the first time? Well, it’s similar. I’m not saying you should fall in love at first sight with your first DJ controller, but at least you should really be pleased with it aesthetically.
Features & functionalities
It’s hard to judge a DJ controllers features & functionalities and how adapted it is for your needs if you are starting out as a DJ, but there are a few things you should keep in mind.
If you want to learn how to DJ, you need to learn the basics first. Traditionally, DJing was done with two turntables and a mixer, which looks like this (just in case you are wondering):
This is really all you need to DJ, but going for turntables and a mixer might a bit a too expensive when you are starting, and also, it takes quite a bit of space.
But if you want to learn the basics of DJing, you should choose a setup that emulates this as close as possible. Even if you feel attracted to controllers such as the Native Instruments S5, that doesn’t have either jog wheels or pitch faders, I wouldn’t recommend this as your first DJ controller. The reason is simple:
You need to learn the mechanics of DJing before anything else, and for that, you need platters, pitch faders, cue and play buttons and a mixer with EQing, line faders, and a crossfader.
If you master the basics, feel free to move on a become the next Chris Liebing. But don’t skip the fundamentals.
So in conclusion, your first DJ controller best have the basic features any DJ controller should have. I would recommend ensuring the components are qualitative and of decent size, so you have room to execute techniques and grow. Don’t go for minuscule jog wheels or tiny pitch faders.
A good example of a beginners DJ controller that ticks all of these boxes is the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2:
It has all the basics you need, the layout is well spaced, the build is qualitative and it works with software (Traktor Pro) that will allow you to grow and move on to more professional hardware.
It also has an onboard soundcard, so it connects directly to your speakers independently from your PC. This is fairly standard these days and only the cheapest DJ controllers don’t have a built-in audio interface.
Please, don’t buy an expensive DJ controller as your first controller, not even if you have the cash to do so! It’s bad economics! I don’t have statistical information, but going by the number of almost new DJ controllers offered on sites like eBay, the number of people that buy a DJ controller, get bored by it after a few weeks and move on to something else is very, very high.
The pricier your DJ controller, the more money you will loose, even if you manage to sell it for a good price afterward. Besides, you just don’t know at the start what type of DJ you will be, so buying premium gear at the beginning is a bit like buying an expensive sports car as your first car. You just dropped 200K on a Ferrari only to find out later you are more of a Maserati person… Bummer!
So, pretty please, even if you are a billionaire, don’t spend more than 400 dollars on your first piece of DJ gear.
I have said it before, and I’ll say it many times again. Much more important than the hardware you are buying is the software that comes with it. If you want to dive into the details of what software/hardware combination I recommend for beginners How To Get Started With DJing In 2017 check this post.
Here I just want to highlight my main point: make sure you understand what software comes with your DJ controller before buying it. If possible, go online, download a trial version and play around with it. If you don’t like it after testing it out, don’t go for it. In the end, you will end up playing with one of the leading packages (Traktor Pro, Serato DJ, Rekordbox DJ or Virtual DJ) as they are the most widely used and by consequence, have the most support in the DJ controller marketplace.
So knowing all this, what would I consider to be the ultimate DJ controller for beginners, the one that ticks all the boxes above and should have everything you need to start your career as a DJ?
At this moment, the crown goes to the Numark Mixtrack Platinum.
It has absolutely everything a starting DJ needs, from excellent jog wheels to a clear transport section and a high-resolution pitch fader. And it is yours for approximately 300 USD. It supports Serato DJ and although you will have to pay to upgrade, the Serato DJ Intro software that comes included with it will give you a head start in the Serato world. Finally, it has two small LCD’s build into the jog wheels, that display key track information and help you to keep your eyes away from your laptop screen.
Buying your first Dj controller can be a daunting task, and should never happen without some form of research.
Hopefully, this article has helped you in your decision. If it has, why not letting me know in the comments below? If it hasn’t, why then not share your criticism below with your fellow readers so I can learn and improve for the future?