A Quick Introduction To DJ Controllers (and how to choose the right one!)

A Quick Introduction To DJ Controllers ..And How To Choose The Right One

Apart from a few rare exceptions, getting a DJ controller is pretty much a no-brainer place to start for any beginner DJ.

In this post, we’ll quickly make the case of why that is, whilst addressing the two questions you’ll want to ask yourself before you actually buy one.

By the end of it, together with the links we’ll provide, you should have everything you need to make a buying decision!


Why you should start with a DJ Controller

From an innovation perspective, the rise of DJ Controllers is simply defined: they’re smaller, lighter/more portable, and have more capability than any other DJ hardware setup on the market for the price.

Because they run through updatable computer software, controller DJs now find themselves at the forefront of tech & innovation in the comfort of their own bedrooms, for a relatively small investment. In other words, when you have your laptop connected, you’re going to enjoy more FX, performance technology, and other convenient DJ tools all in one unit.

And whilst there’s nothing wrong with getting a set of turntables – or, if you’ve got a spare 5 or 6 grand to spend (and the rest) you could get some pro gear, ie 2 x CDJs and a club mixer – for most beginners, it’s probably not a very practical starting point…

Besides, you can always expand into a more expensive or extravagant setup later on if that’s what you want to do.

For reference, some of the key players/manufacturers in the DJ controller market include Pioneer DJ, Denon DJ, Traktor (a brand of Native Instruments), Rane, Roland, and Reloop.

DDJ-1000SRT pro DJ Controller from Pioneer DJ
Pictured above: DDJ-1000SRT from Pioneer DJ

The difference between a ‘DJ controller’ and an ‘all-in-one DJ system’

A DJ controller is simply an all-in-one unit that hooks up to your laptop via a USB connection. They’ve come an awful long way in the last decade or so, with many units on the market for a number of years now, which, in addition to working as a regular ‘DJ controller’ would, also have a ‘standalone mode’ – which simply means you don’t need a connected laptop to operate it.

These systems (which, by definition, are still ”DJ controllers”) are usually referred to as either ‘standalone DJ systems’ or ‘all-in-one DJ systems’.

What’s probably most important to understand though, is that regardless of whether you choose a DJ controller or an all-in-one DJ system, you’ll still need a reliable laptop as a base to organize your music.

The two questions to ask yourself before buying one

There’s just a couple of simple questions you’ll want to ask yourself before investing in a DJ Controller:

Question 1: What’s the purpose of it?

Is your controller going to be for home use and house parties only, or is it a stepping-stone to playing out? If you’re eventually looking to play out professionally, you might also want to ask yourself “what kind of a DJ am I aspiring to be, exactly?’’ – A Club DJ, a Mobile DJ, a DJ/Producer, perhaps?

Whilst we’re not suggesting you need to map out a detailed five-year plan or anything like that, you should hopefully have some idea of the answers to these questions.

If you’re really not sure what kind of DJ you want to be, consider checking out this post: What are the different types of DJ?

Question 2: What’s my overall budget?

Once you’ve roughly established the purpose of your controller, you’ll need to figure out an approximate overall budget.

If you’re a beginner of some sort, whilst it’s best not to go overboard straight away, you’ll still want to get a controller that allows room for your progression. After all, you don’t want to be upgrading to a better setup 6 months down the track!

Remember also, that in addition to your DJ controller you’re going to need the following:

  • DJ Headphones if you don’t already have some. (I’d say don’t go any cheaper than around $50 USD, although spend a bit more than that if you can.)
  • A half-decent laptop if you don’t already have one or if your current one isn’t powerful enough. (You wouldn’t want to drift much below $500 USD.)
  • Ideally, a couple of monitor speakers. (These days $150 USD for a pair might be a good starting point!)

Whether you get speakers or not will probably depend on your current living arrangements. For instance, if you stay somewhere that you can’t make much noise you may have to just mix in the headphones, which is completely fine if you’ve got no other option. They’re not an absolute necessity to get started!

Although DJ controllers can cost anywhere from $80-$3,000 (USD), you’ll find an excellent selection for beginners in the 200 to 300 dollar range, with upwards of about $700 getting you some solid professional kit!

An important note on DJ software

If you haven’t already, we’d recommend getting a better idea of which DJ software might best suit your situation. You’ll ideally want to do this BEFORE you choose a DJ Controller.

You can usually download a free trial version (or similar) of the software to see if you like it first. You can find all these download links, along with more help choosing the right one for you in this post: A Quick Introduction to DJ Software.

Ready to choose a DJ Controller?

The DJ controller market (and all-in-one DJ system market) is more competitive than ever right now, which is great news for buyers like us!

At the same time, there are also lots of different options and things to consider and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. To help with this, we’ve put together some useful posts which simplify the buying process…

These 4 posts we’ve linked to below cover (what we consider) the BEST DJ controllers and all-in-one DJ systems in the market right now.

In each post, we’ll define exactly WHO the controllers are best suited to, whilst also providing an overview of the specs and features for each controller/DJ system.

Here are those links:


More resources for beginner DJs:

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