What Is a DJ Controller and How Does It Work?

We cover the most essential information about DJ controllers, from how they work to how they are different from DJ mixers.
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Last updatedLast updated: May 02, 2024
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DJ controllers are an essential device for any professional or aspiring DJs. Even if you want to pursue it as a hobby, a DJ controller is a must-have. DJ controllers are made of a variety of different components and also run on software. They are often mistaken for DJ mixers, but you will be surprised to learn that the two are actually different devices. In case you are new to the world of DJing and mixing music you may wonder, what is a DJ controller and how it works?

Believe it or not but you will also need one to kickstart your DJ career. A DJ controller may look like a small device, but it is an important one. This is especially true as every DJ needs to learn and master it.

This article will comprehensively cover everything you need to know about DJ controllers, how they function, and the benefits they can bring to your DJ career!

How Does a DJ Controller Work?

What Is a DJ Controller and How Does It Work?

A DJ controller is basically a device that DJs use to mix music. It allows them to control DJ software by essentially functioning as a microprocessor. Music mixing software can be hard to control through traditional computer keyboards and touchpads. These controllers are tailor-made for use on specific DJ software. It makes the lives of DJs easy by eliminating the need for a mouse and keyboard.

DJ controllers work in a rather straightforward manner. You have to attach the device to your laptop or computer using either USB or Bluetooth. Make sure the computer or laptop you are using already has working audio mixing software.

Using the DJ controller, a DJ is able to adjust the settings on the software and then mix and edit the music by playing around with the faders, buttons, and knobs.

Many DJ controllers come with preloaded audio cards which allow you to send your music output to the controller digitally. The sound cards are used to adjust and manipulate audio levels, essentially operating as an audio mixer.

To sum it up, DJ controllers are a way of using the music mixing software on your laptop/computer and they work in a relatively straightforward manner as illustrated above.

DJ Setup Components

While a DJ controller is an essential device for every DJ, it alone is not enough to sustain audio mixing and editing. To have a complete and reliable DJ setup, you need other components as well!

Here are some essential components you will have to invest in as well:

  • DJ Turntables: While turntables are obsolete if you are using MP3 music, you will need them in case you are using audio from CDs and vinyl. Most professionals own at least one turntable. They allow you to physically cue songs and scratch. If you want to be considered a serious DJ, get a turntable!
  • Mixer: Again, a mixer is essential only if you are using CDs and vinyls on a turntable. A mixer has many useful features but its most prominent feature is that it allows you to seamlessly transition between tracks. Most great DJs learn their transition skills from practicing on a good mixer. You can also use it to mashup different tracks, plug in your headphones, and connect your laptop/computer.
  • Speakers: If you are passionate about DJing, you will want to eventually play for an audience, and this won’t be possible if you do not own good speakers! However, before you purchase speakers, you should consider the type of audience you will be playing for. If it is for a few friends and family then opt for smaller speakers but if you plan on playing at parties and weddings, then investing in larger speakers may be worthwhile.
  • DJ Headphones: As a DJ it is imperative that you own a good pair of headphones. They allow you to listen clearly and practice your mixes and transitions. They are also great if you want to work at home without being a nuisance.

Besides these essentials, there are also some DJ accessories such as cables, stands, and cases that can help elevate your setup.

Below is a complete guide on cables you can use with your DJ controller setup.


DJ software deserves a section of its own as it can be the defining factor for the quality of your mixing. Even if you use some CDs and vinyl instead of an entirely digital setup, good software is essential for enabling you to use your controller and create mixes.

Using the software, you can mix and edit music by mashing different tracks, experimenting with effects and creating playlists, etc. Many DJ controllers come with pre-installed software that can help you learn and get a hold of the whole music mixing thing. Once you have a hold of it, you can move on to more advanced software.

What Is a DJ Controller Used for?

As we have discussed above as well, DJ controllers are essentially an alternative for the traditional keyboard and mouse. They allow you to control the software on your laptop/computer so you can easily mix and edit music.

DJ controllers have different knobs, wheels, encoders, faders, and other types of buttons that allow you to control the software. Some basic features include play/pause buttons and jog wheels that allow for scratching and adjusting of audio. So long story short, DJ controllers are used to controlling your DJ software and mix music.

You should learn more about the nitty gritty’s of what DJ controllers are used for if you are an aspiring DJ.

Benefits of Having One

What Is a DJ Controller and How Does It Work?

In case you are still not sure about the usefulness of a DJ controller, here is a list of the benefits you get from owning one:

  • One of the most notable advantages of a DJ controller is that it is easy to carry around. Some of the recent controller models are extremely light and portable. This makes them easy to carry around to gigs and parties.
  • Most DJ controllers come with pre-installed DJ software and are compatible with the latest software updates. This eliminated the hassle of purchasing and installing software yourself.
  • You can use your controller to record your sets. This makes your life easy as it is much harder to record using a traditional setup.
  • They eliminate the need to have a traditional setup as you can make do with only a controller and laptop. This means you save a lot of money. You also do not have to splurge on a variety of other components, in fact, you can also find many inexpensive DJ controllers that are for less than $200!
  • DJ controllers also make DJing easier by making it fast and easy to browse your library, create playlists and preview different tracks.
  • Controllers are quite flexible and allow for a great extent of customization. Hence, you can set up your controller in a way that is unique to your style and fulfills your needs as a DJ.

The Difference Between a DJ Controller and a DJ Mixer

People often confuse DJ Controllers and DJ mixers to be the same thing. But as someone who wants to enter the world of DJing, it is imperative that you learn the difference between the two.

A DJ mixer is an audio mixing console you need if you are using CDs and Vinyls. It allows you to transition between music and create different effects and loops.

However, if you own a controller, you do not need a separate mixer as most DJ controllers now have mixers built-in. A mixer would previously require a separate media player so you could use it, and this would create a lot of bulk- making your DJ set up hard to carry around.

Therefore, while a DJ controller fulfills the role of a mixer, it has many more uses as well which makes it quite different from a mixer. A DJ controller also eliminates the need for owning a mixer.

Final Thoughts

If you have made it this far, you now know what DJ controllers are and how they are used. They enable you to control software and create amazing mixes. They also remove the need for you to own traditional DJing devices that tend to be bulky and not portable. You must also be considering investing in one. You may want to look at some of the best available options but in case you are a beginner you should opt for something that is tailor-made for beginners so you can learn.

Every DJ has different needs. If you discover you are someone who leans towards an entirely digital format you should consider an option that is built for DJs that are purely digital. In case you plan on infusing a mix of digital as well as CD and vinyl in your work, you should consider a more traditional option.

Understanding what is a DJ controller and what is a DJ controller used for are the first essential steps in understanding DJing and building your own setup. Now that you have taken this first step, we wish you luck in learning more about DJing and creating amazing mixes!

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