Top 5 Best DJ Controllers for Beginners in 2021

Top 5 Best DJ Controllers for Beginners in 2021

Overview

In this complete buyer’s guide, we’ll provide a simple overview of the top 5 best DJ controllers for beginners in 2021 along with everything you need to make a buying decision.

As the market leaders in this category, these are the best entry-level DJ controllers under 500 USD.

The idea of this post isn’t to give an exhaustive review of each controller, necessarily, but instead to help you quickly identify the best DJ controller (or controllers) for your circumstances.


Need some help before we get started? 

Depending on where you’re at as a DJ, you might want to consider checking out these two posts before we jump in:

Post #1: A quick introduction to DJ Controllers: This post is mostly for beginners …it explains everything you need to know before splashing out on a DJ controller.

Post #2: A quick introduction to DJ software: This post provides an overview of the 4 biggest players in the DJ software market right now. It’s worth a read if you’re new to digital DJing, or even just skimming over if you need a recap on the key players and what that means for you.


Who are these DJ controllers for?

Assuming that you’re currently in the market for a DJ controller (or soon going to be), these controllers will be most appropriate if you roughly fall into one of these 4 categories:

  1. You’re an aspiring/beginner DJ that’s just starting out.
  2. You’re a ‘just for fun’ or party DJ on a tight budget.
  3. You’re a ‘just for fun’ or party DJ that wants something basic and portable.
  4. You’re a working DJ (of some sort) that’s looking for a budget backup controller to add to their existing home or studio setup.

How to choose?

As all of these controllers are in the same price bracket (we’ve already done that bit for you), their specs are going to be fairly similar by comparison. With that said, we’d suggest it’s more about which one you prefer and what your objectives are rather than getting too caught up in the specs.

So, once you have an idea of which DJ software you plan on using, what’s MOST important is to consider their unique selling points and what that means to YOU and your situation.

An important note before we get started

One common problem with some of these ‘best controller’ blogs you’ll see online, is that they tend to date very quickly … mainly due to the rate at which new DJ controllers hit the market.

This post, however, is regularly updated by our team as things change or appropriately when new controllers get released. 

In other words, whenever you’re reading this, you can rest assured that it’s as up-to-date as you’re going to get!

Let’s jump in to the list of the top 5 best DJ controllers for beginners in 2021…


1. Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-400, one of the 5 best DJ controllers for beginners in 2021

Description:

The DDJ-400 is a beginner/entry-level controller from Pioneer DJ. It comes with their proprietary music management and DJ software, Rekordbox.

Released in 2018, the DDJ-400 is part of Pioneer’s flagship series of Rekordbox DJ controllers. For perspective, others in the series include the middle-market DDJ-800 and the DDJ-1000 in the higher price bracket.

Power supply:

Powered by USB-connection to your laptop, it has a built-in 24-bit soundcard so you can directly plug in headphones, microphones and speakers. In other words, it’s ready to go out-of-the-box for PC or Mac.

Product slide show:

Birds-eye view of the Pioneer DJ DDJ-400

Birds-eye view

Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 (front angle)

Birds-eye angle

Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 (angle)

Birds-eye angle #2

Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 (front view)

Font view

Pioneer DJ DDJ-400 (rear view)

Rear view

Key features/specs:

  • 2-channel mixer.
  • Compatible with Pioneer’s Rekordbox DJ software (license also includes in-software tutorials for beginners).
  • Also compatible with Algoriddim’sdjay’ for iOS and ‘djay Pro’ for PC/Mac.
  • Layout designed to emulate Pioneer’s CDJ media players and DJM mixer club set up.
  • 3-band EQ as standard, with filter and gain knobs on each channel.
  • Large jog wheels with touch-capacitive response (the track will stop if you touch the top plate).
  • 8 multi-function performance pads for each channel for Hot Cues, Beat Looping, Beat Jump and Samples.
  • ‘Beat FX’ feature and onboard sequencer for enhanced performance capability.
  • Longer pitch fader range than on earlier models, for better manual beatmatching.
  • Size: Width 482mm x Depth 272.4mm x Height 58.5mm.
  • Weight: 2.1kg.

Key takeaways/conclusion:

As the market leader in DJ hardware, Pioneer still dominates the DJ booth with its industry-standard club gear. The layout of the DDJ-400 is designed to mirror this workflow, offering beginner DJs a smoother transition to using their club gear if-and-when they decide to play out in bars & clubs.

Although Rekordbox introduced a 3-tier subscription model earlier in 2020 (‘free’, ‘core’ and ‘creative’), fortunately, you’ll still get some of the ‘core’ features when you purchase a ‘hardware unlock’ controller (which includes this one). In other words, unless you decide to upgrade later, you won’t need to pay a monthly subscription for the software.

The DDJ-400 has everything you could possibly need or ask for in an entry-level controller. As long as you’re happy jumping into the Pioneer/Rekordbox ecosystem, there’s no doubt it would make an excellent choice for any beginner DJ.

Approximate price:

Expect to pay somewhere between $250-$350 USD depending on your location. Whilst it’s usually cheaper with Amazon, always consider the pros & cons of ordering through a local retailer/distributor with regards to after-sales service and delivery costs, etc.

Need more help deciding?

Watch Pioneer DJ’s intro video or check out this review/demo. You can also visit the manufacturer’s product page.

Where to buy?

Here are some handy buy links based on a few different locations:


2.Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 

Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 DJ controller

Description:

Part of the broader Native Instruments brand, the Kontrol S2 Mk3 is Traktor’s flagship entry-level controller for beginner DJs.

Released in 2018, the S2 MK3 comes bundled with their proprietary Traktor Pro DJ software, and is part of their latest series of controllers which also includes the Kontrol S3 (a level up from this one) and the Kontrol S4 MK3 in the top-tier price bracket.

Power supply:

Powered by USB-connection to your laptop, it has a built-in 24-bit soundcard so you can directly plug in headphones, microphones and speakers. It’s ready to go out-of-the-box for PC or Mac.

Product slide show:

Traktor Kontrol S2 (birdseye view)

Birdseye view

Traktor Kontrol S2 (front angle)

Birds-eye angle

Traktor Kontrol S2 (front angle #2)

Birds-eye angle #2

Traktor Kontrol S2 (front angle)

Front angle

Traktor Kontrol S2 (front)

Front view

Traktor Kontrol S2 (back)

Rear view

Key features/specs:

  • 2-channel mixer.
  • Compatible with Traktor Pro DJ software (software can be used offline once installed).
  • 3-band EQ as standard, with filter and gain knobs on each channel.
  • Large silicone-damped, touch-sensitive jog wheels with rubber-coated outer rim (scratch friendly).
  • Simplified FX selectors; includes mixer FX control with eight club-grade effects and three filters.
  • 8 multi-function performance pads for each channel for auto-looping, cue points and sampling.
  • Hyper-accurate pitch fader for better beat matching.
  • IOS input/power supply to run the Traktor DJ app.
  • Size: Width 486mm x Depth 265mm x Height 59mm.
  • Weight: 2.4kg.

Key takeaways/conclusion:

The S2 MK3 has a nice build quality and user-friendly feel to it, and it’s the obvious entry-point for an aspiring DJ/producer that’s interested in using Traktor Pro.

Whilst it has to be mentioned that Traktor Pro isn’t seen as the market leader it once was, Traktor controllers are still a popular choice amongst DJ/producers of electronic music (a lot of techno DJs use it) due to their performance/live-remixing capabilities when integrated with the software.

As with the Pioneer DDJ-400, this unit is excellent value for money, and you definitely won’t need to upgrade the software later (there’s only one ‘Traktor Pro’ license). As with all the controllers in this price bracket, its size & portability make it perfect for outdoor gatherings and house parties as well.

Approximate price:

$320 USD / £250 / €280 / $450 AUD

Need more help deciding?

Watch Traktor’s intro video or check out this short video review. You can also visit the manufacturer’s product page.

Where to buy?

Here are some handy buy links based on a few different locations.


3. Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX 

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX DJ controller

Description:

The Mixtrack Platinum FX is Numark’s flagship entry-level controller for beginner DJs. It comes bundled with Serato DJ Lite, which is standard for Serato controllers in this price bracket.

Released in May 2020, it’s the most recent to hit the market in this category.

Power supply:

Powered by USB-connection to your laptop, the Mixtrack Platinum FX has a built-in 24-bit soundcard, so you can directly plug in headphones, microphones and speakers. In other words, it’s ready to go out-of-the-box for PC or Mac.

Product slide show:

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX (birds-eye view)

Birds-eye view

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX (front angle)

Front angle

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX (birds-eye angle)angle)

Birds-eye angle

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX (front view)

Front view

Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX (rear view)

Rear view

Key features/specs:

  • 2-channel mixer, with 4-deck mixing capability.
  • Comes with Serato DJ Lite (Serato DJ Pro upgrade available/optional)
  • 3-band EQ as standard, with filter and gain knobs for each channel.
  • Large 6-inch jog touch-capacitive jog wheels.
  • Hi-res color LCD multi-function displays on each jog wheel; details essential track data such as BPM, Pitch, and time remaining.
  • 6 x onboard Serato FX  in the center of the controller with convenient on/off toggle (as found on some scratch/battle mixers)
  • 8 multi-function backlit performance pads on each deck for auto-looping, cue points and sampling.
  • Dedicated loop controls; positioned at the bottom-right of each deck
  • Long, sensitive 100mm pitch faders for accurate beat matching.
  • Size: Width 536mm x Depth 246mm x Height 51mm.
  • Weight: 2.3kg.

Key takeaways/conclusion:

It has to be said, the build quality of the Mixtrack Platinum FX is excellent – the buttons, performance pads, and jog wheels all feel great. Also, it’s the only DJ controller under 500 bracket that offers high-res, ‘on jog’ displays – minimizing the time you’d usually spend staring at your laptop.

Like the other 4 controllers on this list, it has all the necessary functionality (and more) required for a beginner DJ that’s just getting started. And whilst there’s no doubt its fantastic value for money, just don’t forget to factor in the software upgrade to Serato DJ Pro later on.

Approximate price:

Expect to pay between $250-$350 USD.

Need more help deciding?

Watch Numark’s intro video or check out this short review/demo. You can also visit the manufacturer’s product page.

Where to buy?

Here are some handy buy links based on a few different locations:


4. Roland DJ-202

Roland DJ-202 DJ controller

Description:

Targeted at DJ/producers, the DJ-202 is Roland’s entry-level controller for beginner DJs. It comes bundled with Serato DJ Lite.

It was released back in late 2017, and is part of their flagship series of controllers that also includes the mid-tier DJ-505 and the DJ-808 in the upper price bracket.

Power supply:

Powered by USB-connection to your laptop, the DJ-202 has a built-in 24-bit soundcard so you can directly plug in headphones, microphones and speakers. It’s ready to go out-of-the-box for PC or Mac.

Product slide show:

Roland DJ-202 (birds-eye view)

Birds-eye view

Roland DJ-202 (birds-eye angle)

Birds-eye angle

Roland DJ-202 (birds-eye angle #2)

Birds-eye angle #2

Roland DJ-202 (front view)

Front view

Roland DJ-202 (rear view)

Rear view

Key features/specs:

  • 2-channel mixer, 4-deck capability.
  • Comes with Serato DJ Lite (Serato DJ Pro upgrade available/optional)
  • 3-band EQ as standard, with filter and gain knobs on each channel.
  • Large low-latency jog wheels optimized for scratching.
  • 8 multi-function performance pads for each channel; for Hot Cues, Loops, Sequencer and sampling.
  • Comes with built-in drum machine, includes samples from Roland’s classic TR-606, TR707, TR-808 and TR-909 drum machines models as popularized in the 80’s with acid house.
  • Onboard sequencer that controls Serato DJ Lite’s sampler for on-the-fly beat creation, with independent sampler volume control.
  • Size: Width 478mm x Depth 297mm x Height 62mm.
  • Weight: 2.1kg.

Key takeaways/conclusion:

There’s no question the DJ-202 is a fantastic option for Serato users, and/or if you’re an aspiring DJ/producer of electronic music. In addition to its excellent performance capabilities, the inclusion of the classic drum machine samples from the acid house-era of the late 80s is a fantastic selling point.

Just remember, you’ll want to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro at some point if you’re half-serious. Once again, its size & portability make it perfect for outdoor gatherings and house parties!

Approximate price:

Expect to pay between $300-$400 USD.

Need more help deciding?

Watch Roland’s intro video or check out this full video review. You can also visit the manufacturer’s product page.

Where to buy?

Here are some handy buy links based on a few different locations:


5: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 DJ controller

Description:

Released in 2018, The DDJ-SB3 is an entry-level controller from Pioneer DJ. It’s designed to be used with Serato DJ.

Same as the Numark Platinum FX and the Roland DJ-202, it comes bundled with Serato DJ Lite, which is standard for Serato controllers in this price bracket.

Power supply:

It’s powered by USB-connection to your laptop, with a built-in 24-bit soundcard so you can directly plug in headphones, microphones and speakers etc. In other words, it’s ready to go out-of-the-box for PC or Mac.

Product slide show:

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 (birds-eye view)

Birds-eye view

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 (birds-eye angle #1)

Birds-eye angle #1

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 (birds-eye angle)

Birds-eye angle #2

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 (rear view)

Rear view

Key features/specs:

  • 2-channel mixer, 4-deck capability.
  • Comes with Serato DJ Lite (Serato DJ Pro upgrade available/optional)
  • 3-band EQ as standard, with filter and gain knobs on each channel.
  • Large aluminium low-latency jog wheels optimized for scratching (larger than the ones on the Pioneer DDJ-400).
  • 8 multi-function performance pads for each channel for Hot Cues, FX Fade, Pad Scratch and Sampling.
  • ‘Pad scratch’ auto-scratch feature with pre-loaded scratch patterns from hip hop legend Jazzy Jeff.
  • ‘FX Fade’ feature to smoothly blend tracks when using FX.
  • Longer pitch fader range than on Pioneers previous entry-level controllers – for better manual beat-matching.
  • Size: Width 482mm x Depth 272mm x Height 58mm.
  • Weight: 2.1kg

Key takeaways/conclusion:

The SB3 has a unique auto-scratch feature, ”Pad scratch”, which is quite cool. Also, you might have noticed it has slightly larger (and dare I say it slicker) jog wheels than the newer-to-market Pioneer DDJ-400.

It’s a fairly simple equation this one: If you prefer using Serato, and, if you want to stick with a Pioneer controller, then this is probably the one for you. Same as the other Serato-supported controllers on this list, you’ll want to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro at some point if you’re half-serious.

Approximate price:

Expect to pay between $250-$350 USD depending on your location. Whilst it’s usually cheaper with Amazon, always consider the pros & cons of ordering through a local retailer/distributor with regards to after-sales service and delivery costs, etc.

Need more help deciding?

Watch Pioneer’s intro video or check out this review/demo video. You can also visit the manufacturer’s product page.

Where to buy?

Here are some handy buy links based on a few different locations:


6?? Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500

Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500 DJ controller

Not quite making our top 5 best DJ controllers for beginners in 2021, although it definitely deserves a mention, is the Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500! It’s the most advanced controller Hercules have released to date – a follow on from the DJControl Inpulse 200 and the DJControl Inpulse 300.

Priced at around 300 USD, it has an excellent build quality and is very feature-rich for the price. It comes with Serato DJ Lite and also includes the full version of their own software, ‘DEJUCED’. They also released the ”Gold Le” version which comes with Serato DJ pro (instead of Lite) together with carry case if you spend a bit more. You can visit the Hercules website for more details.


Other ‘best DJ controller’ posts:


More resources for beginner DJs:


We do our best: Although we’re very confident we’ve selected market leading products based on their budget ranges (ie the best DJ controllers for beginners), we’re still only human. Our suggestions & opinions may not necessarily reflect the best thing for your situation, so please feel free to do your own research if there’s anything you’re unsure about!

Also, many thanks to Jamie from We Are Crossfader and Phil from Digital DJ Tips for the awesome product review videos we linked to in this post!

Affiliate Disclosure: To help fund our operation, some of the links in this post are affiliate links, which means if you choose to make a purchase we’ll make a small commission from it. It’s important to mention that this commission NEVER comes at an additional cost to you. Ever!


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