Top 8 DJ Controllers for Beginners: Learn the Basics and Develop Your DJing Skills!
Last updated: Apr 21, 2020
54Hours of Research
One of the first pieces of kit any aspiring DJ needs in their bag is a good DJ Controller. This is the brain of your setup and it’s an important part of learning the ropes too, for beginners. In this article, we’re going to take a look the options available on the market when looking for the best DJ controller for beginners that money can buy. We’ll have an easy-to-read, quick-look table in which we’ll rank these items, and we’re also featuring a buying guide too.
The choice for DJ equipment is massive, and especially when you’re starting out, this can cause you all sorts of problems. Which is the right one for a newbie? How do you even know what you’re looking for? Well, never fear, because we’re here. And we’re going to walk you through everything you need to know about DJ Controllers to get you started and learning the moves.
Top 8 DJ Controllers for Beginners Review 2020
Good advice when you’re seeking to get into the art of being a DJ and looking for a controller is to watch out for a few things. Try to get a controller that hasn’t got too many channels. It keeps things simpler when you’re starting out. Two is enough. Four is even better, because it gives you more room to grow into it, before you need to upgrade. Included software will save you some significant bucks. Weight and portability are desirable – because that’ll give you scope to get out and about, and learn more from more established DJs. We’ll cover all of this in the detailed reviews and buying guide.
But enough talk. Let’s start getting into this. I’m going to take you through the ins and outs of the best DJ Controllers for beginners, so hang onto your headphones.
The Numark MixDeck Express is a great DJ Controller for the beginner. It comes with Serato DJ Lite software loaded in, and it’s good to go out of the packaging, so you can get to learning a few tricks immediately.
This is a heavy unit, weighing in at a massive 9.7 pounds, so it may be one to leave at home. It’s a pretty bulky unit all around, measuring up at 21 x 12 inches, and with a thickness of nearly four inches – you’re going to need a bigger bag. This is one that could be taken out and about but may be best suited to home use.
It’ll run on Mac or Windows, though. And for the hike in size and weight you do get the advantage of three channels, which is unusual for a DJ Controller at this sort of cost point, and great for when you want to advance to bigger and better things as your skills mount up.
Great ports and connectivity are present on the Numark MixDeck Express and the jog wheels are of the best quality and offer great performance and versatility that reaches far beyond beginner’s level and on to intermediate. This unit may be bigger and bulkier, but you certainly get great bang for your buck with it, and it’ll last you a long time. It’s also an extremely sturdy unit and so it won’t break down before you’re done with it.
This is a great DJ controller from a very reputable manufacturer. Denon have been around for a long while and they offer reliable customer support and infrastructure. This is a nice controller and it pretty much does all you’ll want it to do.
The body of this controller is steel, which makes it robust and transportable, but it also remains quite lightweight – which is the perfect combination for a gigging controller, while also making it nice to take with you when you’re looking to team up with new people and pick up skills.
This unit comes with Serato software, and it’s the beginner’s version. You do have the option of upgrading later to the full version, but that will be an additional purchase, so be aware of that. The unit can be MIDI mapped, if you decide later to depart from Serato completely.
The jog wheels here are touch sensitive, and they’re nice to use. They’re maybe not the ultimate jog wheels when it comes to learning how to scratch, but they’ll definitely get you started. This unit also features really nice faders, with a long range and that’s great, especially when starting out.
The Roland DJ Controller is a unique entry on this list and owes a lot to Roland’s heritage at the forefront of electronic music technology for many decades.
You get a built-in drum machine on this model, which is a great touch, and definitely a throwback to Roland’s history. Same with the built-in sequencer. And these features open up a fun and interesting extra couple of avenues for exploration. Apart from all that, this is a very capable DJ Controller too, and it comes with some great features.
This is a two-channel controller and it runs on Serato DJ Lite, but you do get the option to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro later on, which I think is a very thoughtful addition by Roland – and even more relevant when you consider some of the advanced features that this controller has on board.
For those looking ahead and wanting a DJ Controller that will grow as they grow, the Roland is a great option. The jog wheels are sturdy but highly responsive, and they lend themselves really well to all sorts of activities – but importantly will get you scratching to a very high standard.
This is a great DJ Controller, it’s portable, and it will last for a long time.
Software included with free upgrade
Installation process is tricky
Not as “intuitive” as other units – may need some time to get the hang of things
This could well be the best Pioneer DJ Controller for beginners because it’s a great value unit that is packed full of features that are good when you’re starting out learning how to DJ.
This is another unit that comes fully loaded with Rekordbox DJ software, and it’s reasonably lightweight, weighing in at 4.6 pounds. You’ll definitely be able to carry this to gigs later and meets while you’re learning the trade. It’s also good in this aspect in terms of its dimensions, measuring up at only 19 x 11 inches, and being just over two inches thick.
This is a two-channel controller and all the features are nicely laid out and pretty ergonomic. It also looks and feels much more like a professional level controller, which will be great for your street cred – which always helps when you’re a newcomer to any scene.
You’re getting Pioneer quality and company service here, which is always worth a mention. And it’s a very assuring factor with any tech purchase, because things can go awry, here and there.
A big disappointment with the Pioneer DJ DDJ 400 is that the sliders are a little bit on the short side, and so you may find that limiting when it comes to getting to a more advanced level of skill.
The jog wheels on the Pioneer effort are really nice, though. And sensitive enough to scratch on, to a pretty decent level. All-in-all, this is a fun device.
Perhaps the best thing about this controller is that it’s simple to use and learn on. It’s also possible to use this unit with a laptop, which is a massive bonus for a beginner’s DJ controller.
It’s pretty small too, which is very helpful, and not just when starting out. It weighs in at only 3.9 pounds, which is fairly lightweight and it’s a neat little piece of equipment.
This thing will work with just about any software you want it to, if you decide to change it out as you become more advanced and learn more skills. It comes with software to get you going, though – which is the important thing, and this is supplied with Rekordbox DJ software included, so at least you can get spinning and see where that takes you.
This is a two-channel controller, which is okay to get started with, but you’ll find that as you progress you’ll be looking for a new unit to be able to reach new heights. The faders on this work well enough, but again they’re on a short scale and that will be fine to begin with – but you’ll very quickly grow out of that and be wanting more range as you start to get good.
Another unit here from the excellent Pioneer and this time we’re looking at the DJ DDJ SB3 controller from the long-established manufacturer that’s popular in the DJ world.
This is another relatively lightweight unit, coming in at 4.6 pounds and measuring up at 19 x 11 inches, being just over 2-inches thick. You get some really nice features on this controller, and it’ll help you to do and learn a lot of things. It does however, only come with Serato intro software, and upgrading to the full version of Serato will be an extra cost, when the time comes.
The jog wheels on the DDJ 400 are of really good quality construction and they’re also very responsive to the touch. They’re accurate and will facilitate a really good range of scratching for a beginner, which is a really nice feature to get on what is only an entry-level machine after all.
This is a well-engineered and nicely built DJ controller with a lot going for it. It’s small, robust and lightweight enough to take with you on trips and excursions, and it’ll look great in almost any DJ setup.
To sum this one up, whilst it’s not the be all and end all of DJ controllers, it is made to really high technical and build standards for a beginner’s level of unit. It will last for a good long while before you outgrow it, and that’s one of the reasons it’s perhaps quite frustrating that you’ll have to go out and spend quite a few dollars on upgrading the software before you’re done with the machine.
The first thing to say about the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is that this is a really, really nice controller to start out using. When it comes to learning how to DJ, this little unit is a beauty.
The first thing you’ll notice about it is the fact that it’s got full-size faders, which is not very common a feature on entry-level DJ controllers and it’s a feature that will make stepping up to a more professional unit later down the line, a lot easier to accomplish with minimum upset and adapting.
The jog wheels are robust and sensitive, you’ll really get a good feel for your beginnings of scratching with this machine, and it’s true that there’s user-friendly features here that wouldn’t be out of place on a controller designed for far more advanced users and skill sets.
Size and weight are both ok. It’s not the smallest controller for beginners on the market, measuring up at 22-inches long. It does measure small in width, though – at just 9-inches, and it’s only just over an inch thick, so it is pretty portable, and it only weighs just over 4 pounds.
Software is included and it’s running on Serato DJ, which is okay to learn with. It does offer the option to upgrade, if you see fit. Overall, this is a good enough starter DJ Controller and it’ll make the concept of learning fun, while having enough features to progress a little bit before you’ll feel the need to trade it in for something more advanced.
This is a versatile beginner’s DJ Controller, because it’s a great option for a wide range of users. This would be a great starter unit for a child, as well as for an adult, and it even carries enough features to be used by a professional DJ on the move.
This DJ Controller weighs in at an incredibly light 11 ounces! Size wise, it measures in at 17 x just 3.4 inches, and it’s just over an inch thick – so it’s extremely portable overall. Most notably, the dimension for its width is ridiculously small, and that might suit a lot of people, depending on their own particular setup and style. It’s hard to overstate just how small and light this DJ Controller is, though, and it’d make a great option for just about anyone that wanted to move around with it without getting weighed down. Cost-wise too, it lends itself well to be a second unit, because it certainly won’t break the bank.
There’s a tradeoff to negotiate here. You can’t have super portability without compromising certain things like the controls. It’s not possible for them to be full size on this unit and so you need to get over that fact if you’re going to consider the Numark DJ2 GO2, but that’s to be expected.
As a result, the jog wheels are obviously quite small and will take a bit of practice to master. The faders too are shorter, because there just isn’t the physical room to make them any longer. For similar reasons, you also don’t get the range of control options that you do on larger controllers
It’s one to get used to, and certainly a great option as a second unit, or for those on a budget. It comes with Serato Intro software, so at least you can get learning, straight out of the box.
Small and light
Great for beginners as well as pros
It’s tough enough juggling records, so I want to make sure that I talk you through some of the features that you’ll be looking at and reading about while you’re looking to get a DJ Controller that suits you. Hopefully, not only will that help you understand a bit more about these gadgets for when you’re selecting one, but it’ll also give you a good head start for when you get yours home. Everyone hates reading instructions, right? You’d rather be spinning and mixing – I get it. So, take a read through the basics here before you buy – it’ll give you a much better idea of what you’ll be looking out for, which features will and won’t suit you, and what to ignore. Then revisit this section when it comes to unboxing your choice of DJ Controller, and you’ll be on the fast track to mixing great tracks in no time.
Benefits of an awesome DJ controller for beginners
If you’re careful to start with, and you pick a controller that lends well to getting a few skills and hours of practice under your belt, then you’ll benefit greatly and be way more likely to stick with the business of learning how to DJ. It’ll give you a much better user experience and you’ll just have more fun with it. Some people make the mistake of buying a controller that is way too complicated when starting out – but that can actually be prohibitive to getting the initial skills down and can be very off-putting for a newbie. Getting the right balance between quality, features and simplicity is vital for a beginner, and so it’s important to choose wisely.
Features to consider when choosing a beginner DJ controller
There are lots of complicated-sounding terms that you’re likely to read on your search, and most of them are simple enough once you break them down. It pays to know what you’re reading about – because the last thing you want to be doing is spending cash on features you’re not going to be using. On the B side – you don’t want to buy a unit that doesn’t include the right specifications to get you making music either. So, pay attention.
There are a few important factors to consider. The number of channels is one, and we’ll discuss that further below. It’s an important aspect of choosing and so we’ll help you out with that. Controls are also an important feature of any beginner’s DJ Controller, and likewise, we’ll give you more information on jog wheels and controls a bit later in this buying guide, so stay awake. Cost is going to come into it for some of you more than others, and we’ll look at some budgetary concerns – things like bundle deals and software come into that.
Each of the controllers in our reviews has a different combination or level of the following capabilities and options. If you stick with me here and have a think, you’ll soon work out which controller is going to give you the most use and the better experience.
DJ software and system requirements
Software is a big deal. It’s what you’re going to be running on and it’ll dictate all sorts of things. The first issue to consider is if the software even comes with the controller that you’re buying. It’s a bonus if it does, because if not, you’ll be spending a fair amount of money on top of your purchase to get the software – so that’s the first thing to check.
Other factors with software are if the software it comes with is your software of choice. If the answer to that is ‘yes’ – then no need to worry, and many units can be MIDI mapped to run on different software. If it’s ‘no’ however, you’ll need to make sure that the unit is compatible with the software that you want to run.
Beware, because not all controllers are compatible with all types of software. Do your research before you buy, not after.
Number of channels
So, with channels, we’re a bit more flexible as beginners than with some of the DJ Controller features. Two is a really good number for starting out. It gives you good options creatively and allows you to build skills adequately, and it doesn’t overwhelm you and put you off spending time getting up to speed with your DJ-ing. It’s sort of a balance between start and progress, though. Many DJs would advise going for something with an extra channel or two when starting out, because as well as prolonging the service life of your controller as you advance, it also serves to coax you into moving forward with your development when the time is right, rather than stagnating at a certain level because you don’t have the scope in front of you to start experimenting when you can.
Options above the number of two channels usually go as follows. You’ll find 2 + 1 units out there such as our top choice Numark MixDeck Express controller, and as De La Soul once said, (Three) Is the Magic Number. Or you’ll also see units that come with four channels. As I said, this does give you more scope to keep hold of the controller for longer and can even be an aid to progress.
Probably the best way to look at this option when you’re starting is that it’s definitely not essential to have more than two channels, so don’t make it a condition.
Who will be using it?
This partly goes back to what we’ve said elsewhere. Depending on your aspirations, look for a unit that will last you the longest time. If you’re not too serious about learning all aspects of DJ-ing, then don’t go wild when it comes to built-in future proofing. If you are ambitious and want to learn to a more advanced stage, then try to get something that will develop with you, and has more options than you need at the very start.
Internal memory, inputs and outputs
USB ports are your friends. The more a controller has, the more options you have to connect other devices and the more versatile it’ll be. Internal memory won’t necessarily be a feature of your beginner’s level controller, so you may be using a USB stick to store your cues. If the unit is compatible with your iPad or laptop, this is also how you’ll be hooking up. Work out what you’ll need and choose accordingly.
When you’re looking around for your first controller, as we’ve said, it’s important to make sure that it’s got good features for the beginner and that the controls lend well to spending hours practicing and perfecting the art. Not all jog wheels are as easy to use as some, and it’s a great place to look for whether or not the unit is beginner friendly.
Jog wheels should basically be able to take a bit of abuse – because it takes a while to find your touch when you’re starting out. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that they should be clunky, though. That would be awkward, to say the least. What you need as a newbie is something that has a bit of sensitivity to it, but that won’t break or fall apart either.
A massive plus with a jog wheel is if you can also use it to scratch. This will make your controller more usable as your skills and knowledge improve, giving it a longer service life.
Accessories and extras
When you’re on a budget, and when you’re starting out in particular, you want to get the best deal you can get. This is where it’s great to be able to buy something that comes with some of the extras you’re going to have to buy anyway – if the things don’t come as part of that deal. With a controller, you’re going to need additional accessories like a stand. If you don’t already have your headphones, then you’re also going to have to either find a kit that comes with some, or budget for them additionally. The other big thing you’ll need is a nice case for your controller. It’s essential to protect your unit when you’re moving it from place to place.
You have two options with accessories, and as mentioned before, these will partly be decided by your budget, and partly by preference. You can try to get a kit that includes all or some of these items, but you may also have your heart set on a particular type of headphones – and they are an important part of a DJ’s kit – so if that’s the case with you, it’s probably better to avoid a package and buy separately.
This is only a factor in terms of portability, so much as with weight below, this will depend on how often you’re going to take the unit places.
Weight is an interesting factor to the newbie. With learning anything, it’s usually a massive plus to be able to get out and mix – literally – with other students of the art. Whether they be more, less, or equally advanced as yourself. Portability is going to help in this regard, and it’s also true that it’s a great feature for when you’re ready to go out start impressing at events, especially if you don’t own a car, or a big car.
The flip side of the weight issue is that the better-quality controllers tend to be, not exclusively, but tend to be heavier. So, it’s important to maybe look at the factors of weight and portability, but to consider the specification and quality of the unit strongly when you’re doing so.
Tips on using your starter-level DJ controller
Have fun is the main thing here. Like with anything, if learning isn’t fun, you’re way less likely to keep it up. If you can do your best, using this article, to get a controller that suits your needs, then you’ll be on the right track. Then just have a wild time doing it!
You’ll need a USB cable to connect your laptop to your controller in most cases. It’s a great idea to check this when you’re buying, though. And also look to see if the cable you need comes with the unit. If not, budget to buy one.
See above, basically. A lot of controllers will work with your laptop – but not all. Check before you spend.
The Numark MixDeck Express wins the day here, and it’s a deserved victory when it comes to choosing a great DJ Controller for beginners. It’s got everything you need, whilst being simple enough to get started with.
The Denon DJ MC 4000 came close behind the Numark entry and is a really well-made entry-level controller that packs a heck of a lot in. You could definitely do a lot worse than this device.
The Roland Two-Channel Controller was third on our list and it really is a great and very versatile DJ controller for beginners who are just entering the fray and learning all the new skills. We really loved the addition of the drum effects on that unit.
So, whichever you choose, and wherever it takes you – just remember to have fun with it!