Dropping tunes has become big business in recent years, with the demand for DJ equipment increasing dramatically. Perhaps you are looking to get your first setup to fulfil a new passion or gain valuable skills towards a career in playing music. It is often beginning that’s the most challenging part in any new venture, no less so with DJing as there seems to be so much to consider.
Beginner DJ Controllers & Advice
Crossfader is here to help you at every stage of your DJ journey. We’ve put together this guide to cut through the noise of the complex DJ marketplace in establishing the essential things to consider when starting so that you can decide exactly where and how you want to start.
Firstly, you’ll need a digital music collection and some way to organise it. You may own your digital music or simply stream it. It needn’t be huge to start with, it will build over time, and your organisation and management will naturally evolve with your growing skill.
In this guide, we start by discussing how you can begin DJing with little to no financial investment. We then move on to great value controllers that won’t break the bank before diving into the best of the crowded beginner DJ controller space. We explore the software DJs use, what equipment they need in addition to the DJ gear, and walk through which type of DJ might prefer certain pieces of equipment and why.
The barriers of old really have been taken care of today. Would-be DJs no longer need a hefty vinyl or CD collection teamed with a pair of decks, a mixer, headphones and a sound system. Chances are, you already have all you need to start DJing!
Learning the fundamentals of putting together a great set can be achieved with nothing more than a smartphone and a free app, such as Algoriddim Djay. There are plenty of other DJing apps, but we’ll concentrate on Djay as it is built with all the right ingredients, equipping users with a transferable skill-set should they wish to progress to another platform. If you have an iPhone, iPad or a compatible Android device, or even a reasonably competent MacBook or Windows laptop, you can get started right away! Just note, you’ll need to have a subscription to a music streaming partner: Beatport, Beatsource, Tidal or Soundcloud. You can also access music from cloud-based folders within Dropbox and Google Drive if you progress to the paid version of the app, Algoriddim Djay Pro.
Algoriddim Djay Pro is no gimmick. It has been developed alongside world-class professional DJs. It unlocks many powerful, in-demand features, such as the industry’s first iOS digital vinyl system (DVS), making it a realistic proposition for scratch and open-format DJs.
For a more traditional, hands-on start to DJing that doesn’t have you relying on a smartphone or tablet screen to control all of the DJ software’s performance features, there’s the Hercules Starlight controller. Coming in at £79, it won’t break the bank and is a firm favourite in the Crossfader office as it comes with everything a beginner DJ needs to get in the mix with the included Serato DJ Lite software.
Starlight has a minimalist design with a bare-bones approach to bells and whistles, or, in this case, upfaders and parameter knobs. The sacrifice is offset by its affordability and extreme portability. So portable, in fact, that the device has proven to be a worthy backup controller for professional DJs. With its crossfader, volume and bass/ filter knobs, this streamlined controller gives tactile control over all needed for piecing mixes together on the road. Add a laptop, music and headphones, and you’re good to go. No additional speakers are required as sound is taken care of by your computer!
Pioneer DJ DDJ-200 / WeDJ
If the physical controls on the Hercules Starlight aren’t enough, get to grips with the Pioneer DJ DDJ-200 controller. Costing £139 from most UK distributors, you’ll get tactile control over a crossfader, upfaders, EQ knobs and filter knobs. And, as a bonus, you have the choice to dive deep with a fully-fledged DJ platform, rekordbox. Primarily, you’ll be encouraged to learn the basics at a slower pace with the also included WeDJ software.
WeDJ is a distilled performance Android and iOS app perfectly designed for mastering the fundamentals of DJing. Just note that a Bluetooth-enabled speaker is required to hear any mixing as the DDJ-200 has no physical audio outputs. This can quickly be taken care of with a smartphone or tablet, which is needed to run the WeDJ software anyway, so no sweat there. See our full review on the DDJ-200 here.
If you’ve already explored these options, or the DJ bug has bitten a little deeper, it makes sense to hone some practical working skills that will scale with your progression to becoming an experienced DJ.
Why use a DJ controller?
With that in mind, the best way to start DJing is on a laptop with a controller, as you will get the most authentic experience for the least amount of money. Here we explore six of the best entry-level controllers in our guide to buying a beginner controller for 2023! Each of the controllers has the same fundamental DNA. Besides being fun to learn, they are all targeted at DJs who aspire to grow in skill and progress on the DJ ladder. For this reason, they all support one of the big three DJ platforms: Serato DJ, rekordbox or Traktor.
These platforms are the most stable and proven in the industry, and each offers a unique proposition in addition to managing your digital music library. It is worth having a basic understanding of their offerings to inform your decision about which controller you may wish to pursue. Here is a quick overview:
Perfect for open-format DJs who perhaps have a leaning toward a Digital Vinyl System (DVS) as they aspire to become scratch DJs. This is, of course, a generalisation, and it should be noted that Serato DJ supports far more DJ styles than this. DVS DJs have fallen in love with Serato because it leads the market for accurate, low-latency playback and platform stability.
As the biggest manufacturer in the game, Pioneer DJ have some inherited pull with their DJ software platform. That’s not to say rekordbox isn’t noteworthy enough to stand on its own. It most certainly is! With many powerful exclusive performance features, rekordbox has become much more than a necessary music library management tool for club DJs. With its lightning-fast responses to present-day demands, in many ways, it is now the envy of all other DJ platforms.
The previous king of digital DJing in the early days of DVS. They have since honed and refined their strengths to retain a loyal user base of DJs, majorly by long-blending their music with powerful looping tools and profound control over applying layers of effects. Traktor is stereotypically the choice for minimal, techno and deep house DJs because, under the surface, it is a deep and technical program offering immense customisation and tailoring for those mixing styles.
Check our comprehensive DJ software guide here for an in-depth look at these DJ platforms and more.
And, without further adieu, here is our take on six great pieces of beginner kit:
Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX4
Launched in late 2022, Pioneer DJ’s successor to the incredibly popular DDJ-400 follows in its footsteps by emulating the flagship club-standard CDJ/ DJM Nexus layout with access to most of their features, too! Plus, all of the technical aspects of mixing can be automated in order to allow beginners to start having fun putting their favourite tunes together straight out of the box!
Learning to DJ on the DDJ-FLX4 puts you in good stead for entering the club booths, as your workflow will directly transfer over. From the implementation of effects via a big ON/OFF button on the mixer to the looping controls above the jog wheels, everything on this controller is inherited from Pioneer DJ’s Nexus range of club equipment. Preparing your music library with the included rekordbox software will be of direct benefit too, as your playlists can be exported to USB devices for playback on CDJs and XDJs.
The rekordbox software is comprehensive and gives access to features not found with its direct competition, Serato DJ Lite, so the value for money is incredible. Especially considering one of the included features is the ability to record and listen back to your sets! Regarding ease of use, the DDJ-FLX4 is either USB-C bus-powered or A/C powered in order to give mobile devices a charge whilst connected to it. It also features an unbalanced RCA audio output for hooking into most domestic amplifiers or hi-fis.
Available for £279, The DDJ-FLX4 is the only choice for DJs wanting to learn the club-standard layout and workflow. The mobile Rekordbox app to use the DDJ-FLX4 with iOS, iPadOS and Android smartphones and tablets drops in early 2023.
Check out our full review of the DDJ-FLX4 here.
Any musician or producer will tell you that Roland is a household name! Their partnership with Serato DJ is profound. Baby of the bunch, the DJ-202 is Roland’s entry in a lineup of Serato DJ controllers aimed at giving the musician/producer-turned-DJ a bit more to play with sonically when in the mix!
On the surface, the DJ-202 appears to be a typical Serato DJ controller with all the DJ controls you would expect. But it does have some stand-out features making it note-worthy. The first is its generously sized 6” jog wheels. These are the best in class, so if scratching is your thing, these will be of definite benefit. Accessing the Serato effects is done in a somewhat old-school fashion, which is not necessarily bad, and you have generous access to two banks of three. Still, it’s worth noting as this way of working may not be standard practice in Serato DJ for very long.
What earns the DJ-202 its name, other than its striking black finish with electrifying green accents hinting at its musicality, is a feature tucked underneath the performance pads: a programmable TR drum sequencer. Executing it takes a steep learning curve that may have you opting to leave the feature alone in performance, but the idea is genius and sounds excellent over playing music.
The DJ-202 is competent enough at accessing Serato DJ Lite’s features to serve well as a learning device. Serato DJ Lite is adept at taking beginners through the basics and beyond. It is the retro musical swag that stands the DJ-202 alone as the best remix-on-the-fly option for beginner DJs wanting to drop a beat.
You can pick one up for around £200.
Traktor Kontrol S2 MKIII
Traktor had a desperately needed comeback campaign when this controller dropped in late 2018. The Kontrol series hadn’t had a refresh in five years, and the Traktor platform had fallen massively behind the competition. Cue the Kontrol S2 MK3 announced in collaboration with a whole host of face-lifts to the Traktor software in a bid to become relevant again. This controller has the true spirit of a phoenix about it!
Coming from the creators of a DJ platform with a well-defined target audience, this device caters to that audience whilst making the whole Traktor experience more accessible to the broader DJ community. As one of the best-feeling entry-level controllers on the market, the upfaders really speak to the intended user base by having a good amount of tension, making them perfect for long-blending music. The rotary encoders for taking care of setting and adjusting live loops put to shame the feature on other DJ platforms.
Another stand-out feature of the S2 MK3 is its performance pads which are rubber and RGB illuminated. That said, the USB-bus-powered controller means the pads shine a little dim. Effects are crisp and clean with high resolution and are very easily applied using filter pots. As a bonus, the Kontrol S2 MK3 ships with two DJ platforms: A full licence for the flagship Traktor Pro 3 and access to the iOS app Traktor 2. A USB-A socket to power an iPad resides alongside a power brick jack at the rear to cater for DJs wishing to use this option. Curiously though, the power brick does not ship with the S2 MK3.
It is undoubtedly not the S2 MK3’s lack of modernity keeping DJs from using Traktor. That problem continues to be the lack of development for the Traktor software. If and when Traktor does upgrade, the S2 MK3 should easily keep pace owing to its beautiful simplicity.
Pick up a Native Instruments Kontrol S2 MK3 for around £200. A great way into Traktor!
Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX
As part of a more extensive umbrella of music companies headed by InMusic, Numark has hit its niche for making excellent products affordable! Perhaps because InMusic uses its entire talent pool to share features and production costs across the board. The Mixtrack Platinum FX builds on a solid understanding of the Serato DJ controller market and hits the spot as a distillation of some of the best features that Serato DJ controllers have all packaged into an inexpensive piece of hardware.
The unit comes in wider than average but also shorter in length. This means the unit has space to place! The placement of the buttons, faders, pots and jogs are well-defined, meaning fewer accidental presses. The controller’s real strength is in its implementation of battle-style features such as effect toggle pads rather than buttons sitting above the jog wheels like on older Serato DJ controllers. This makes implementing the effects incredibly intuitive.
Sticking with the battle DJ theme, the crossfader feels a little flimsy, but nothing to complain about at this price point. Importantly, it has an excellent cut-in distance, perfect for learning to scratch on! The performance pads have been taken directly from Akai, another of InMusic’s portfolio of companies, so they feel accurate and performance-ready. And speaking of utilising their parent company’s resource pool. The jog wheels feel as though they have been lifted straight from the Denon Prime 2, a flagship controller! Made with a mish-mash of top-tier components, the value proposition of this Frankenstein DJ controller is superb!
It is worth noting that taking full advantage of the Mixtack Platinum FX’s features requires a subscription to Serato DJ Pro. If you want to be an open-format DJ, this controller will set up your workflow perfectly, so even with the paid upgrade for Serato DJ Pro, the Maxtrack Platinum FX represents good value.
Pick up the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX for around £230 and take advantage of its full feature set with Serato DJ Pro for an additional £9.99 per month.
Hercules Inpulse 500
After the Inpulse 500 debuted, it is safe to say that the DJ industry is now paying close attention to its manufacturer, Hercules. At an entry-level cost, this controller is technically their flagship product. Don’t let the price fool you; the Inpulse 500 is premium throughout.
If you want bang for your buck, stop here! It doesn’t get any better. We’ve looked!
Being the widest in its class, The Inpulse 500 takes the avoidance of accidental button presses seriously with an incredibly well-spread and logical layout. If the way a controller feels under your hand is essential to you, just take note that included with its many luxury features are rubber-lined pots, a metal faceplate over the mixer section and RGB illuminated rubber performance pads. Unheard of at this price point!
Also of note is the level of hardware control you get over the microphone and auxiliary inputs. With EQ and a hardware filter, it is what you would expect from a mid to top-tier controller.
The unit has some ingenious features, too, like LED rings around the input trim controls, which light green, orange or red depending on the hotness of the incoming signal.
The Inpulse 500 also gives access to two DJ platforms, Serato DJ Lite, which, although competent, lacks features you may quickly desire once your skill level increases. You needn’t pay for a Serato DJ Pro licence, though, when you can switch your platform to Hercules’ own Djuiced. In doing so, you will gain access to recording your sets, all eight performance pads and slip and quantise modes, plus a nifty assistant feature which can help you choose your next track according to mood alongside tags, key and BPM.
The only drawbacks are that the EQ controls are not full-kill, and the Serato effects are utilised in an unorthodox way with the filter pots. This is not necessarily a deal-breaker but is disappointing when the controller gets so much right!
Pick up the fully-featured Hercules Inpulse 500 for £211!
Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1
Pioneer DJ live up to their name with the DDJ-Rev1 and bring us an industry first! Being an affordable, dedicated piece of scratching kit for beginner DJs puts this exciting new Serato DJ controller in a lane of its own.
The DJM-Rev1 faithfully mimics the layout of two turntables and a DJM-S mixer positioned in ‘battle’ style: A style where DJs rotate their turntables 90 degrees, so the tonearm does not obstruct their scratching hand on deck.
Because of its battle layout, the jog wheels are larger than 6”, indicating that scratching has taken centre stage with this device. The tempo adjustment faders are like those on other controllers at this price, but because they have been rotated and placed atop the controller, their cheap wobble has become apparent – just something to be aware of.
The impressive mixer section is fully comprehensive and laid out in the same fashion as the DJM-S5, S7 and S9 mixers, where the trim and filter pots sit adjacent to the EQs rather than being uniform with them. Another gripe is that they are in no way differentiated from the EQ pots, so all look and feel the same. This is not in line with how things are on the DJM-S mixers, but at this price point, that is not surprising.
This controller is perfect if you fancy yourself becoming a scratch DJ. The features available to you are comprehensive. The addition of beginner features like a temporary cue button makes this controller perfect for learning how to mix hip hop and the like authentically.
Get the Pioneer DDJ-Rev1 for £259 in black with silver trim or in the limited edition black with gold trim (if you can find a vendor!)
The right choice for you
Your choice of DJ controller ultimately comes down to what type of DJ you want to evolve into. And even if you find yourself leaning more towards a different DJ style part way through your journey, you’d be surprised at how flexible most equipment can be in catering for DJ styles varying from their intended user base. For example, with some creativity, a scratch DJ could put together a great-sounding routine on a Kontrol S2 MK3 even though it is built, ground-up, with deep mixing and effect layering in mind. Or a techno DJ could work around the limitations of the Roland DJ-202’s short tempo adjustment sliders by setting the lowest tempo range in the Serato DJ software for higher adjustment accuracy when manually beat-matching their long blends.
Joining a DJ community like ours is an incredible resource for meeting other learner DJs to share your progress with and post any DJ-related questions for experts to answer. If you struggle to get to grips with anything or want to set yourself a challenge to accelerate your learning, check out our comprehensive list of DJ courses. We cover all major DJ platforms and even have controller-specific courses to catapult you toward becoming a confident and skilled performer.
Are you wanting to take your DJing to the next level?
We offer a fantastic range of DJ courses on all the platforms mentioned above; here are some of our best-selling courses!
And for unrestricted lifetime access to all of our courses, check out our amazing value Complete DJ Package.