Last updated on Jul 19, 2018 @ 3:51 pm

 

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.

WINNER

Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000

  • Price range*: $$$
  • The Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000 is probably the very best DJ controller at the moment. It looks, feels and acts like two CDJ-2000NXS2’s and a DJM-900NXS2 mixer glued together.Read more

 

RUNNER UP

Denon DJ MCX8000

  • Price range*: $$$
  • The MCX8000 can do almost everything: play from USB, play with Serato DJ. With its built-in screens, it’s a mobile DJ’s dream come true. Read more

 

THE REST

 

WINNER

Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000 Rekordbox DJ Controller

IN SHORT

The Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000

The Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000 is probably the very best DJ controller at the moment. It looks, feels and acts like two CDJ-2000NXS2’s and a DJM-900NXS2 mixer glued together. At a little more than USD 1000, it’s also very affordable considering everything you are getting.

Price: $$$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1500 and USD 2000

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: 2 LINE (RCA), 2 PHONO/LINE (RCA), 2 MIC (XLR & 1/4 inch TRS Jack, 1/4 inch TRS Jack)
Outputs: 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA), 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch TRS Jack), 2 PHONES (1/4-inch stereo jack, 3.5-mm stereo mini-jack)
Supported DJ software: Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.9 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • Fantastic jog wheels with built-in LCD screens
  • Great mixer with incorporated beat & sound color effects section
  • Compact design
  • Very affordable at a little more than USD 1000
  • No effect sections per deck
  • Only works with Rekordbox DJ

 

The DDJ-1000 marks a departure from the traditional DJ controller design from Pioneer DJ and their Serato DJ controller line. The most remarkable thing is that the decks mirror actual CDJ decks, with the typical yellow loop buttons on top. The jog wheels are not only very similar to the ones of the pro-level CDJ-2000NXS2, they have large LCD screen built-in that show all relevant track information, including waveforms.

The mixer is really a mini-DJM-900NXS2. It has 4 built-in sound color effects and 14 beat effects that are available even if connected with external sound sources such as turntables or media players. The layout mirrors that of the pro-level mixer and that’s a great thing since it will make it easier for DJ’s to transition from this to professional club setups.

If you are ready to use Rekordbox DJ, then the DDJ-1000 is the best DJ controller your money can buy. I would even say, it’s so good that it might be a good reason to consider switching from other DJ software.

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ Rekordbox DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ

Big and expensive, but very close to a professional DJM+CDJ experience at less than half the price.

Price: $$$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD xxxx and USD xxxx

Level: beginner/mid-level/professional
Power: power supply/usb only
Inputs: 2 PHONO/LINE (RCA), 4 CD/LINE (RCA), 2 MIC (XLR/1/4 inch jack Combo, 1/4 inch Jack)
Outputs: 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch Jack), 2 HEADPHONE MONITOR (1/4 inch Jack, mini-jack), 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA)
Supported DJ software: Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.8 / 5) More information: Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZ review and video

PROS CONS
  • Big CDJ like jog wheels with tension and start/stop speed adjust
  • Sound color effects, hardware mixer with professional grade inputs & outputs
  • Supports Rekordbox DVS
  • Expensive compared to other professional DJ controllers
  • Big to carry around from gig to gig

 

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 and double USB inputs for easy DJ changeovers.

The RZ has a hardware mixer as well, which allows connecting CDJ’s and turntables to it.

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

The price, although being 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).

RUNNER UP

Denon DJ MCX8000 Serato DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Denon DJ MCX8000

The Denon DJ MCX8000 is the only 2-in-1 on the market: it can work as a professional Serato DJ controller but it’s also a standalone Denon Engine DJ controller that works USB drives!

Price: $$$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1000 and USD 1500

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: 2 x Dual RCA Stereo (line/phono), 2 x Dual RCA Stereo (line)
Outputs: 2 x XLR (master out), 1 x Dual RCA Stereo (master out), 2 x XLR (booth out)
Supported DJ software: Serato DJ Pro, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (5 / 5) More information: Denon DJ MCX8000 review and video

PROS CONS
  • 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.
  • The LED ring around the jog wheels might be too flashy for some
  • Big controller to carry around.

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
  • Built-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 done of beat gridding your music.

The screens are good but not great. They are clear enough but are not a match for the screen on a CDJ-2000NXS2, or Denon DJ’s own SC5000 Prime media players. But they are good enough and should help DJ’s stay focused on their crowd & gear instead of starting constantly at their laptops.

The 4 channel hardware mixer looks and feels truly professional, and the double microphone inputs with built-in echo and EQ should interest advanced mobile DJ’s. In fact, the whole unit is a mobile DJ’s dream, with support for Serato DJ DVS, the standalone feature, the professional inputs & outputs…

Price-wise, the MCX8000 hits the mark, considering all the features. The only stand-alone unit I can think of that more or less compares to this is the XDJ-RX from Pioneer DJ, which costs around USD 1.500.

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX Rekordbox DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RX

Fully loaded and reasonably sized, the RX is (almost) the perfect Rekordbox DJ controller.

Price: $$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1000 and USD 1500

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: 2 CD (RCA), 2 PHONO/LINE (RCA), 2 MIC (XLR/1/4 inch jack Combo, 1/4 inch Jack)
Outputs: 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch Jack), 2 HEADPHONE MONITOR (1/4 inch Jack, mini-jack), 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA)
Supported DJ software: Rekordbox DJ, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.9 / 5) More information: Pioneer DDJ-RX review and video

PROS CONS
  • 4 channel hardware mixer with DVS support
  • Onboard Sound Color FX
  • Excellent jog wheels with center LCD screen
  • Support for all the advanced performance features in Serato DJ.
  • Lack of dedicated mic controls means sacrificing a channel when using a mic
  • Headphone controls, channel switches on the front are hard to reach

 

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.

Roland DJ-808 Serato DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Roland DJ-808

The first DJ controller to combine a DJ controller with a voice transformer and a drum machine/step sequencer.

Price: $$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1000 and USD 1500

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: INPUT (1–4) jacks: RCA phono type, MIC IN jack: Combo type (XLR, 1/4 inch TRS phone (balanced))
Outputs: MASTER OUT 1 jacks: XLR type (balanced), MASTER OUT 2 jacks: RCA phono type, BOOTH OUT jacks: TRS phone type (balanced), PHONES jacks: stereo 1/4 inch phone type, miniature phone type
Supported DJ software: Serato DJ Pro
DjTechZone Rating (4.8 / 5) More information: Roland DJ-808 review & video

PROS CONS
  • 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)
  • Big to carry around from gig to gig
  • Sequencer, drum machine, and step sequencer
    might be perceived as a gimmick to some
  • Crossfader curve, channel switches, headphone and mic controls on the front are hard to reach

 

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, because of its built-in screens and its stand-alone capability.

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2 Serato DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2

Big and expensive, but very close to a professional DJM+CDJ experience at less than half the price.

Price: $$$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1500 and USD 2000

Level: beginner/mid-level/professional
Power: power supply/usb only
Inputs: 2 MIC (XLR/1/4 inch jack Combo, 1/4 inch Jack), 2 PHONO/LINE (RCA), 4 CD/LINE (RCA)
Outputs: 2 HEADPHONE MONITOR (1/4 inch Jack, mini-jack), 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA), 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch Jack)
Supported DJ software: Serato DJ Pro, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.6 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • Big CDJ like jog wheels with tension and start/stop speed adjust
  • Sound color effects, hardware mixer with professional grade inputs & outputs
  • Supports Serato DVS
  • Expensive compared to other professional DJ controllers
  • Big to carry around from gig to gig

 

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.

Numark NS7III Serato DJ Controller

IN SHORT

Numark NS7III

3 built-in screens, motorized platters, the NS7III is a beast in the best possible sense of the word.

Price: $$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1000 and USD 1500

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply/usb only
Inputs: (2) Mic (Combo XLR+1/4″ balanced), (4) Sets of stereo line/phono (RCA)
Outputs: Stereo Master (XLRs), Stereo Master (RCAs), Stereo Booth (RCA), (2) Headphone (Stereo 1/4″ and Stereo 1/8″)
Supported DJ software: Serato DJ Pro, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.3 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • 3 built-in high-resolution 7-inch screens
  • Rotating platters with real slip mats and vinyl
  • Hardware mixer with extensive inputs and output
  • Big to carry around from gig to gig
  • Serato DJ hardware features are slightly aging compared to the newer top of the line Serato DJ controllers

 

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.

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX Rekordbox Video Controller

IN SHORT

Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX

Beyond pricey, but at the same time offers a true CDJ+DJM experience. Laptop is still required.

Price: $$$$$ check the price on Amazon More than USD 2000

Level: professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: 2 PHONO (RCA), 4 CD/LINE (RCA), 2 MIC (XLR/Jack Combo)
Outputs: 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch TRS Jack), 2 HEADPHONE MONITOR (1/4 inch Jack, mini-jack), 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA)
Supported DJ software: Rekordbox DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.2 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • Best professional CDJ+DJM experience in a DJ controller
  • Fantastic onboard screens
  • Double USBs for easy changeovers
  • All the features of the DDJ-SZ and more, even color FX on the mic channel (!)
  • Only semi-portable due to its size and weight
  • Still needs a computer to operate, and that one better should be powerful

 

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).

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 Serato DJ Controller

IN SHORT

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2

Fully loaded and reasonably sized, the SX2 is (almost) the perfect Serato DJ controller.

Price: $$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 500 and USD 1000

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs:2 CD (RCA), 2 MIC (XLR/1/4 inch jack Combo, 1/4 inch Jack), 2 PHONO/LINE (RCA
Outputs: 2 HEADPHONE MONITOR (1/4 inch Jack, mini-jack), 2 MASTER (XLR, RCA), 1 BOOTH (1/4 inch Jack)
Supported DJ software: Serato DJ Pro, Virtual DJ
DjTechZone Rating (4.2 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • 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.
  • Lack of dedicated mic controls means sacrificing a channel when using a mic
  • Headphone controls, channel switches on the front are hard to reach

 

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.

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8

IN SHORT

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8

Fantastic controller for Traktor Pro, but it does force you into a workflow without pitch faders and jog wheels.

Price: $$$ check the price on Amazon Between USD 1000 and USD 1500

Level: mid-level/professional
Power: power supply
Inputs: 4 x Dual RCA Stereo (line/phono)
Outputs: 2 x XLR, 1 x Dual RCA Stereo, 2 x 1/4″ (booth)
Supported DJ software: Traktor Pro 2
DjTechZone Rating (4.2 / 5)

PROS CONS
  • Excellent built-in 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.
  • No jog wheels and no pitch faders
  • Big to carry around from gig to gig

 

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 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 🙂


*Price ranges: In order to avoid showing incorrect price ranges for the gear discussed, we work with price ranges. Click on the “check current price” link to find out the current price on Amazon.com at any time.

Between 0 and 500 USD $
Between 500 and 1000 USD $$
Between 1000 and 1500 USD $$$
Between 1500 and 2000 USD $$$$
Above 2000 USD $$$$$